POMPUS HOGAN AND MACHO CIRCUMSTANCES
(THE ONE WITH THE NEVERENDING TOURNAMENT OF BAD BOOKING AND WORSE MATCHES)
The year was 1988. Hulk Hogan had been at the top of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) mountain since winning the championship back in January of 1984. Since then, three WrestleMania events had come and gone and with the smashing success of WrestleMania III, it became clear that Vince McMahon had developed a winning financial formula sure to provide great pay-per-view (PPV) events for years to come.
Or just do a tournament.
On the one hand, I understand the thinking here. How do you possibly follow up WrestleMania III? In so many ways that show was everything Vince could have wanted out of his perennial PPV extravaganza. He had his beloved superhero, a terrifying monster challenger, and a worldwide audience ready to soak it all in. Trying to top that at WrestleMania IV would have been impossible. Instead, Vince played the long game. He started building toward WrestleMania V. Hogan is still the superhero, but he needs a challenger. Talents like Andre the Giant don’t grow on trees, so a different kind of obstacle was required.
The plan was simple, as all good stories are. Give Hogan a partner, a friend, someone beloved as he is, and let jealousy and pettiness drive them apart. It’s not a story you can tell in a few months; this would take a whole year to marinate. WrestleMania V would be Vince’s big follow up to WrestleMania III. Unlike WrestleMania 27, which basically was sacrificed as a shameless promo for WrestleMania 28 a year later, there would be an important role for WrestleMania IV to play on the road to the payoff...
Meanwhile, Hogan was the champ, having defeated Andre the Giant. You might think there were no more worlds for the Hulkster to conquer. Andre, however, was not finished. He allied himself with "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase and challenged Hogan to a WrestleMania III rematch. In February of 1988, in the most watched pro wrestling event of all time, a staggering 33 million Americans watched Hogan and Andre wrestle for the WWF Championship. The match was painful to watch as poor Andre was in even worse physical condition than a year prior. He could barely move around the ring, but at the end of the 10 minute contest, he covered Hogan after a routine suplex and though Hogan kicked out before the three count, the referee, Earl Hebner, kept slapping the mat and called the pin on Hogan.
It was Earl’s twin brother Brian, paid off by DiBiase to screw Hogan. Andre was declared the champ but immediately sold the title to "The Million Dollar Man". Well, that didn’t fly with WWF President Jack Tunney, who said the WWF title can not be sold. Apparently you can pay off refs but not each other. Instead of restarting the match (which is such a "Rock" thing to do), the championship was declared vacant and a tournament was set up for WrestleMania IV to crown the new champ.
Now, I actually like pro wrestling tournaments. The knock against them is you can’t promote any matches beyond the first round, unless you spread the tournament over multiple nights (which is what made King of the Ring work, mostly). This was going to be a one-night affair, and the top-billed match was Hogan vs. Andre III. But that match was guaranteed to happen in hour one. But so what? If you’re a mark you don’t care where a match is placed on the card. If that’s a match people want to see (and apparently 33 million did), then who cares if it's hour one? If you’re a smart, you just have to trust that the guy booking the tournament will give you good match-ups and a satisfying final match.
But we’re talking about WrestleMania IV.
Who booked this tournament? This was horrible. Double count-outs, time-limit draws, seemingly-arbitrary byes being handed out before and during the event. Potentially great match-ups (like Savage vs. Steamboat II) not happening. It was a great idea, and a wonderful change of pace event after WrestleMania III, but it was booked like Vince took a sabbatical and left his monkeys with typewriters sketch it out. Fourteen men is too many and ensured the matches would be short and the tournament would not be given time to "breathe" throughout the evening. Hogan and Andre, of course, were double-DQ’d, because why not. That’s actually okay as it allowed the two best guys on the show to take the spotlight.
DiBiase had only recently debuted as "The Million Dollar Man", and he was pushed brilliantly. He had great talent in the ring to back up his now-legendary gimmick and WrestleMania IV gave him a great spotlight to work with; throughout the night the crowd gave him plenty of heat. This whole show was built around him. He instigated everything and though he was new to the main event scene and not the biggest guy, he performed like a natural.
The other hero of the event was, of course, Macho Man Randy Savage. It is unnecessary to walk you through the reasons why he was the clear number two guy in the company. He was a certified superstar. Was he Hogan? Not at all; he was an entirely different kind of babyface. Unlike Hogan, who began his WWF main event career as the America-loving, Sheik-beating super good guy, Savage was the first superstar heel who face-turned because the fans just loved him. He acted differently, talked differently, carried himself differently, but he was every bit as great. Vince has a bit of an up and down track record when it comes to guys he selects as "eventual replacements for the current top guy." But Macho Man was the clear choice to carry the belt between WrestleMania IV and V.
The story of the tournament for these two could not have been told any better. DiBiase heeled his way to the final round, with an assist from Andre in his first match, and by way of a bye thanks to Andre’s designed double-DQ against Hogan. DiBiase had one clean win to propel him to the finals and the crowd was firmly against him all the way. Meanwhile, Savage worked like an iron man, wrestling four guys throughout the evening. He was accompanied in each match by the lovely Elizabeth, sporting a new outfit each time. By the time they got to the main event, she looked like an angel in her all white dress.
Now, I freely confess this is not the best main event "match" in WrestleMania history. It’s probably in the bottom 10, in fact. It’s short, mostly spot-less, and the crowd, though they gave it their all, was just too tired to give it the proper reaction it deserved. But it’s really hard to judge this main event on the merit of the match itself. With the other main events, you can discuss how well-booked the feud was, how hot the crowd was, if the match was the right one to go on last, if the wrestling was good, if it had the right finish, etc. This is the first and probably will be the only main event in WrestleMania history where everyone knew there was only one clear main event but no one knew what it would be until we got there. It’s very untraditional.
When you arrive at Savage vs. Dibiase, you realize this main event isn't the culmination of a month’s long grudge; this is about crowning a new champion without Hogan doing the job. Fans at the time didn’t realize this of course. They were seeing it as Savage being the only hero left standing who could give Dibiase his comeuppance. Still, even though many I’m sure will disagree, I think this belongs where it is on the countdown. This main event showcased fresh faces to the title picture for the first time in modern pro wrestling history. A fresh main event heel was given the spotlight and excelled; a fresh main event babyface was given the ball and he more than ran with it.
Looking at the lineup from the first eight WrestleMania events, this one always stood out as the odd duck. Hogan had a presence in the main event here, certainly (mugging for the camera and hogging the spotlight while Savage and Elizabeth were trying to celebrate), but this is the only one of the first eight (let’s just pretend WrestleMania 9 didn’t happen) to feature two guys not named Hulk. When you’re crowning a new champion under the circumstances such as these, it’s good that the main event was so fresh. For that reason, it is placed here, as the number 19 best main event in history.
Sound off, Cagesiders. Too high or too low? Thoughts on the main event as the climax to a long, long PPV? I don’t think there’s any dispute over who was in the main event spot; most of the grief comes from the overall booking of the tournament. Would an elite-eight have been better? Imagine a three hour PPV with 7 tournament matches, and other bouts inbetween rounds (battle royal, tag match, IC match, etc)…
- Savage vs. One Man Gang (Savage wins clean)
- DiBiase vs. Jim Duggan (DiBiase wins with help from Andre)
- Steamboat vs. Greg Valentine (Steamboat wins clean)
- Hogan vs. Andre (Hogan wins because poor freaking Virgil misses a chair shot)
- Savage vs. Steamboat (Savage wins with a rollup)
- Hogan vs. DiBiase (DiBiase wins via shenanigans)
- Savage vs. DiBiase (Savage wins because Hogan is really a heel at heart and hits an unsuspecting DiBiase with a chair…just like what really happened)
Post your thoughts on the main event and where you think it should rank on the countdown.
Join us tomorrow as we take a look-back at the sequel everyone expected, most bought, but few really wanted. See you then!
- Ranking Mania main events #20: Hogan & Mr. T vs. Piper & Orndorff
- Ranking Mania main events #21: Triple H vs. Chris Jericho
- Ranking Mania main events #22: Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy
- Ranking Mania main events #23: Triple H vs. Randy Orton
- Ranking Mania main events #24: Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice
- Ranking Mania main events #25: John Cena vs. The Miz
- Ranking Mania main events #26: Undertaker vs. Sycho Sid
- Ranking Mania main events #27: Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter
- Ranking Mania main events #28: Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna
- Ranking Mania main events #29: Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow