March 27, 1988
Trump Plaza, Atlantic City, NJ
Ah the fourth instalment of Wrestlemania. The show every reviewer dreads writing about as it is so long (to my knowledge the longest event in WWE history outside of Wrestlemania XX) and filled with many nothing matches as we’ll get to soon enough. Despite that, the show is actually quite significant historically due to the fact that the main attraction of the card was a 16 man single elimination tournament to crown a new WWF champion. Yes, the initial reign of Hulkamania is over. See, it all dates back to the big Hulk Hogan vs Andre the Giant rematch for the WWF title on a TV special known as the Main Event back in February. In a controversial rematch involving twin referees (Dave and Earl Hebner), Andre picked up the win and was crowned the new WWF champion, having finally conquered his arch-rival. Moments after winning the title however, Andre handed the belt over to his new associate, the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase who had stated in the weeks leading up to the show that he intended to purchase the world title. Of course, President Jack Tunney would have nothing of such shenanigans and declared the transfer void, stripping Andre of the title and holding it up as the prize for the tournament to be decided at Mania. And so here we are...
I should also point out that on the night of this event, all those tactics McMahon played against the NWA came back to bite him in the ass, as the opposition held the very first Clash of the Champions on free to air television in competition with Mania. Of course, many chose to go with the free option, costing McMahon numerous PPV buys. The main event of that card? Ric Flair vs Sting in a 45 minute classic. But alas, onto Mania.
We kick things off in Trump Plaza with our broadcast team of Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura and we are set to go as the ring is filling out for our first contest of the evening.
20 Man Battle Royal:
This is basically an excuse to get the rest of the roster on the card to kick off the show. The participants are Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, Jim Powers, Paul Roma, Sika, Danny Davis, B. Brian Blair, Jim Brunzell, Bad News Brown, Sam Houston, Jacques Rougeau, Raymond Rougeau, Ken Patera, Ron Bass, Junkyard Dog, Nikolai Volkoff, Boris Zhukov, Hillbilly Jim, Harley Race and George ‘the Animal’ Steele. So basically everyone not involved in something of note. These days this would probably be a pre-show match. Bob Uecker joins the commentary team for his second straight year as a celebrity guest at Wrestlemania, and we are under way with typical battle royal action. Winner of the match is awarded a giant trophy set down at ringside. In the end, it comes down to Bad News Brown and Bret Hart who are both heels, after banding together to eliminate JYD. The two seem to agree to split the winnings, but Bad News jumps Bret from behind, tossing him over the ropes to get the win at 9:47. Bret is pissed and destroys Bad News’ trophy out of frustration. This was really the moment that started the face turn of the Hart Foundation, a role they would continue in for the rest of their run as a unit.
Uecker leaves Gorilla and Jesse in the booth after the opener to track down Vanna White who is also a celebrity guest of the evening.
Back in the arena, celebrity guest Robin Leach makes his way out and starts off the tournament with a championship proclamation. We are now ready to start our night long tournament.
FIRST ROUND TOURNAMENT MATCHES:
Jim Duggan vs Ted DiBiase w/Virgil & Andre the Giant
And we start things off with the man responsible for this whole mess as the Million Dollar Man locks up against the patriotic Hacksaw. DiBiase has come into the company in a huge way, getting involved in the main event picture instantly on arrival, and having purchased Andre’s contract from Bobby Heenan. Looking at the competitors, its obvious who is winning this one, as Duggan does not belong anywhere near the world title picture, even if he did win the inaugural Royal Rumble on a TV special in January. Despite the crowd support for Duggan, the Million Dollar Man quickly puts the Hacksaw away with a fist drop at 5:01 following a short battle featuring some Andre interference. DiBiase is on his way to the quarterfinals.
Gene is standing by in the locker room area with Brutus ‘the Barber’ Beefcake. He’s challenging Honky Tonk Man for the IC belt later tonight
Don Muraco w/Superstar Billy Graham vs Dino Bravo w/Frenchy Martin
Another first round match here, with the new heel Bravo up against the veteran face in Muraco. Bravo is fresh off allegedly setting a new bench press record at the Royal Rumble in January, which Ventura points out. Muraco is joined by the legendary Billy Graham who would act as his mentor for the year before splitting ways from the company. Oh and can I just say Muraco is clearly on something here as he is huge compared to the year before, living up to his moniker of ‘the Rock’. The match itself is pretty ugly, but its short as expected in the first round, with Bravo being DQ’ed at 4:55 for pulling the referee into harm’s way, despite thinking he has won. Muraco is on his way to meet DiBiase in the next round.
Bob Uecker is now backstage with Honky who responds to Beefcake’s early comments.
Ricky Steamboat vs Greg Valentine w/Jimmy Hart
Steamboat has fallen quite far since the previous year when he won the I.C belt, but he’s still a great in ring competitor. He’s up against Valentine here in our next first round match, who has split from the tag team ranks to have a go at singles competition again. Steamboat brings his newly born son out to ringside, handing him to his wife in the crowd, which is a nice moment. That son would later follow in his father’s footsteps and currently competes on NXT at the time of writing. The match is pretty decent for the time it is given, but tonight is not the night of the Dragon, as Valentine picks up the win after rolling through a cross body to score a pinfall at 9:11. Could have been better with more time, but the card was stacked as it was. Sadly this is the end for Steamboat for now, as he would be back to the NWA in the new year (and just in time for a classic war with Flair).
Gene is now standing by with the Bulldogs, who are looking to get their hands on Bobby Heenan later tonight.
Randy Savage w/Miss Elizabeth vs Butch Reed w/Slick
Next to Hogan, Savage is really the fan favourite in this tournament, and it shows with the ovation he receives as he makes his way to ringside. Here he battles Reed in a quick match without anything of note. Savage puts Reed away with a flying elbow at 5:09 to advance on to face Valentine in the next round. Reed is on his way out of the promotion here, as he would join the NWA to form Doom with Ron Simmons.
Uecker is again in the locker room area, this time standing by with Heenan, who doesn’t seem to be too concerned about the Bulldogs and Koko.
Bam Bam Bigelow w/Sir Oliver Humperdink vs One Man Gang w/Slick
Our next first round match is a battle of the big men, as the ever popular Bam Bam looks to capitalise on his strong showing at Survivor Series and take down Slick’s muscle, the One Man Gang. Sadly, Bigelow’s moment in the sun is over, as he falls quickly to the Gang via count-out in this one at 3:00. We won’t see Bigelow again on PPV for a few years, at which point he will hopefully have more success than this run.
Jake Roberts vs Rick Rude w/Bobby Heenan
And here’s our last match to round out the first set of tournament matches. Rude gives his usual pre-match shtick on the mic before Roberts makes his way down the aisle. For now, there’s not a huge deal of beef between the two, but that would change as things got personal later in the year. Early on, Gorilla and Jesse start talking about how the two competitors are wasting time, which gives some idea as to where this is going. The match is pretty boring as the two seem to be stalling for time. Things pick up towards the end as Rude goes for a cheap cover using the ropes, but the time limit expires before the three count is made, ruling the match a draw. It was technically supposed to be 15:00 but it went a little longer at 15:14. Well, we had to have the standard time limit draw somewhere in the tournament, but this was very slow and plodding. OMG now has a bye to the semi-finals, and the first round is complete.
Celebrity guest Vanna White is backstage with Gene at the tournament board, discussing the quarter-final matches that are set for later on. Its Hogan vs Andre, DiBiase vs Muraco, Savage vs Valentine, and OMG with a bye.
Ultimate Warrior vs Hercules w/Bobby Heenan
We take a break from the tournament now for a match to put over the new face on the block, the Ultimate Warrior who is making his PPV debut and would become a major player in the years to come. He kicks off his never ending feud with the Heenan family here, taking on Hercules. This stems from a previous match between the two in which Warrior broke Hercules’ chain, leading to Hercules destroying Warrior with the chain in retaliation. Warrior makes his energetic entrance and quickly puts away Hercules with a bridge suplex at 4:37. Typical Warrior squash to establish the next big face of the company.
We now get a recap as to the developments in the Hogan/Andre feud which I’ve outline above, before the next round of the tournament commences. Andre and Hogan were given a bye to the quarter-finals, having both been the former champions.
TOURNAMENT QUARTER-FINAL MATCHES:
Hulk Hogan vs Andre the Giant w/Ted DiBiase & Virgil
This is the third one on one encounter between these two legends, and many expected Hogan to get the win in the rubber match here, en route to being re-crowned champion at the end of the night. It was not to be however. This match is nowhere near the level of their encounter the year before, as the big match feel is missing, and Andre has sadly deteriorated a great deal in the past 12 months. DiBiase introduces a chair into the mix, which both men smash each other with. The referee calls the double DQ at 5:22 although technically Andre should have won since Hogan struck first. After the match Hogan goes crazy, taking the chair to Andre and suplexing Virgil on the outside. Hogan’s dreams of reclaiming the title are put to an end, but he poses to the fans for what feels like an eternity all the same.
Gene is now in the back with Savage who proclaims he is on the way the title.
Don Muraco w/Superstar Billy Graham vs Ted DiBiase
DiBiase is alone here, as Hogan has taken out Virgil and Andre is still recovering from the previous match. But just like his previous match, it seems like a foregone conclusion that the Million Dollar Man will advance here, especially now that Hogan and Andre are gone. Short match as is the trend tonight, with DiBiase putting Muraco away with a stun gun at 5:36. DiBiase is on his way to the finals due to the result of the Hogan/Andre match.
One Man Gang is now in the ring as his bye to the next round is announced.
Randy Savage w/Miss Elizabeth vs Greg Valentine
A fairly competitive match here as the two former IC champions pummel each other with stiff shots all round, especially from the Hammer. After some back and forth, Valentine goes for the figure four, but Savage counters into a roll-up to score the three count at 6:08. The Macho Man advances as we wrap up the quarter-finals.
Back to Gene and Vanna at the tournament board. The sole semi-final match will see Savage face the Gang, whilst DiBiase has a bye.
WWF Intercontinental Championship:
Honky Tonk Man (c) w/Jimmy Hart & Peggy Sue vs Brutus Beefcake
So the never-ending reign of the Honky Tonk Man rolls on here, as the Barber attempts to wrestle the strap from his clutches. Beefcake is pretty over here, and the crowd are hot for him to finally put us out of our misery with regards to Honky’s reign. Sadly it was not to be though, as after Beefcake took the advantage, Jimmy Hart gets up on the apron and nails the Barber with the megaphone, allowing Honky to retain cheaply with Beefcake taking the DQ win at 6:47. Honky’s reign continues.
In a famous Wrestlemania moment, Uecker is standing by with Andre. Andre reveals DiBiase paid him to take out Hogan from the tournament and that was exactly what he did. He then chokes out Uecker in a comic moment.
British Bulldogs & Koko B. Ware vs The Islanders & Bobby Heenan
This six man tag match is a result of the Islanders kidnapping Matilda from the Bulldogs a few months back. Heenan is hilarious as usual, coming down to ringside decked out in a protective outfit. We get a fun little match here, with Heenan playing the cowardly heel role on his team, tagging in when the Islanders have control of the match. Things break down into an all out brawl between both teams, during which the Islanders manage to slam Heenan down onto Koko behind the referee’s back. This gives the Brain the upset three count at 7:34. Post-match the Bulldogs chase Heenan to the locker room with Matilda. But the Brain lives to fight another day.
At this point in the show, Howard Finkel announces Jesse Ventura to the Trump Plaza crowd. The Body poses from the broadcast position to a massive response for a heel announcer.
TOURNAMENT SEMI-FINAL MATCHES:
Ted DiBiase is brought out to ringside as his bye to the final is announced. He’s up against the winner of the next match.
Randy Savage w/Miss Elizabeth vs One Man Gang w/Slick
Savage enters this one with more than just the size disadvantage, as he has wrestled 2 matches thus far whilst the Gang has sat the previous round out. The match is a foregone conclusion as we aren’t going to have two heels in the finals though. Savage starts out well early on, but the Gang begins to pummel the Macho Man as time wears on, but he brings in Slick’s cane, striking Savage for the DQ at 4:13. Gang and Slick celebrate their actions despite not advancing but Savage responds by knocking the big man onto his manager. Savage is on his way to the biggest match of his career at this point.
Gene and Vanna are again at the tournament board, hyping the final match.
WWF Tag Team Championship:
Strike Force (c) vs Demolition w/Mr Fuji
Strike Force come in as the champs to a nice response from the crowd, but Demolition gets quite the pop as well considering they are the heels. This is really a change in the guard of the tag team division, as Demolition would dominate the scene for the next few years. They pick up the win through heel shenanigans, as Ax nails Martel with Fuji’s cane allowing Smash to steal the win, and the titles for the badass team on the scene at 8:02. And what a reign they would have.
Robin Leach is back at ringside, this time bringing the new WWF championship belt. Its the famous winged eagle design in case you were wondering. The celebrities are now announced as ring announcer Bob Uecker finally gets to meet timekeeper Vanna White whom he has been searching for the entire night.
Randy Savage w/Miss Elizabeth vs Ted DiBiase w/Andre the Giant
This is what our tournament has all come down to. Its nice to see some fresh faces on both sides of the title picture. DiBiase is out to huge heat with Andre once again in toe, stacking the odds against the beloved Macho Man. Early on we see plenty of Andre interference which results in Savage whispering something to Elizabeth. Elizabeth heads backstage as the announcers suggest Savage wanted her out of harm’s way, but moments later she returns to ringside with the Hulkster as the crowd goes bananas. Hulk takes up a chair as the competitors continue to go at it with the gold on the line. Andre ends up interfering once again, but the referee reprimands the Giant, allowing Hogan to smack DiBiase with a chair shot behind his back. Wow, such a heelish move, but Hogan can do what he likes as we know. Nonetheless, Savage manages to capitalise, going to the top to hit is patented elbow drop to score the win, and his first WWF championship at 9:17. Post-match, Savage celebrates his win with the Hulkster. Huge moment for the Macho Man even if Hogan is stealing the spotlight a little. The classic Mega Powers pose closes the show as Hogan and Savage hold Elizabeth on their shoulders and all is well in the kingdom of the Macho Man.
This is a LONG show to say the least. At points it really tends to drag, but it was an interesting idea, and the show long quest for Savage to take the gold provides us with a memorable pay-off at the end of the night. In saying that, its not the kind of show I’d watch again soon. The guard seems to be changing here, as a few new additions to the roster are replacing those we have become accustomed to as we enter the last years of the 80s. Savage is the champion, although Hogan is still firmly established as the face of the company. For the next 12 months, its all about the Mega Powers. Hogan would actually take some time off after this show, giving Savage his chance to control the ship, but he’ll be back in time for our next PPV outing in August. Decent show overall
Three Stars of the Night:
- Randy Savage – this can’t go to anyone else. 4 matches in the one night, and the biggest win of his career to date
- Ted DiBiase – wrestled one less than Savage, but had his working boots on as usual. Sadly these first few months of his WWF career would be the highest the Million Dollar Man would be on the card, never seeing another PPV WWF title shot
- Greg Valentine – difficult to decide, but he put on a decent showing with Steamboat in the first round despite its time constraints and then followed up with Savage later in the night
Final Grade: 6 out of 10
A very long show in the books. I'll be back over the course of the week with Summerslam 1988. Until then, get at me on twitter: @mpmcc91