WrestleMania IV – Tournament To Crown A Champion

WrestleMania IV (1988)Event: WrestleMania IV
Date: March 27, 1988
Venue: Trump Plaza (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
Attendance: 18,165

This is the first of the WrestleMania DVDs that are broken into 2 parts.  In my version it’s a double sided DVD with only a couple of matches on the flip side.  There are 16 matches on the card – the most in WrestleMania history.  I remember this being a HUGE event as the whole Hogan/Andre thing had gone down in months previous with twin referees.  Incidentally if you’ve never seen THAT fiasco you need to check it out… it’s pure brilliance.

20-Man Battle Royal
Bad News Brown defeated nineteen other participants by last eliminating Bret Hart

For the second time in 2 WrestleMania’s, Bret Hart is the last person eliminated in a 20-man battle royal (he was also eliminated last by Andre The Giant at WrestleMania 2).  Bad News plays the part of bad ass heel to perfection.  For those that don’t remember Bad News, he was essentially the first person to play the “Stone Cold” character that Austin would make so famous – he hated EVERYBODY.  Good guys, bad guys, etc.  He and Hart team up toward the end of the match to eliminate their common foe.  Hart’s posing to the crowd and the announcers begin talking about how Hart and Brown have made a deal and they’re going to split the prize money.  Bad News hits Hart with his finisher (The Ghetto Blaster) and tosses Hart out of the ring to win the day.  This year, Hart takes revenge immediately and starts a feud at the same time.  After being double crossed, Hart comes back into the ring and destroys the trophy that Brown was presented with after winning the match.  The feud that followed was the first time that I remember Hart being a singles wrestler worth watching.

First Round Tournament Match
Ted DiBiase (with Virgil and André the Giant) defeated Jim Duggan

Before this match starts Gorilla and Jesse go to great lengths to let us know that only the winners will advance.  If there is a double DQ or count out those participants will not move on.  In retrospect this is a dead giveaway of what’s to come and if I’d known then what I know about the wrestling business I would have been pissed that they essentially gave me the results of the Hogan/Andre match before the tournament even started.  These first round matches are 15 minute time limits which is a good thing as most of them aren’t all that great.  DiBiase carries Duggan through a couple of minutes playing the cowardly heel to perfection.  The finish comes when Duggan goes for his three-point-stance tackle and Andre pulls his feet out from under him.  Duggan goes to retaliate and Andre cold cocks him.  DiBiase covers for the pin.  Not a bad match considering Duggan is involved.  HOOOOOOOOOO!

First Round Tournament Match
Don Muraco (with Billy Graham) defeated Dino Bravo (with Frenchy Martin) by disqualification

Muraco and Bravo are both ripped up here (especially Muraco) which tends to lead to bad matches.  This one is actually pretty good.  It’s tight and relatively quick with Bravo hitting a pile driver on Muraco only to have “The Rock” kick out.  Muraco regains the advantage and gets the win by DQ when Bravo pulls the referee in front of him to avoid a flying forearm by Muraco.  Would have liked to see a clean finish but Bravo’s the heel here so a DQ fits with the storyline.

First Round Tournament Match
Greg Valentine (with Jimmy Hart) defeated Ricky Steamboat

Steamboat comes to the ring with his son “The Little Dragon” for pretty much no reason.  Gorilla makes a reference to Steamboat as “the excellence of execution” which would go on to be Bret Hart’s moniker.  Jesse Ventura also makes a reference during his match to his friend Barry Blaustein who would eventually make the outstanding wrestling documentary Beyond The Mat.  Now that we’re beyond that… let’s get to the match.  One word… PHENOMENAL!  I honestly think this match was wasted on a first round tourney match.  Tons of back and forth with numerous close calls and teased finishes.  Valentine gets the win when Steamboat comes off the top with a cross body block and Hammer rolls through for the pin.  I’m not sure what kinds of politics were going on in the locker room but Steamboat is getting buried and it’s a shame cause he brings out the best in just about everyone he works with.

First Round Tournament Match
Randy Savage (with Miss Elizabeth) defeated Butch Reed (with Slick)

Nice little first round match here.  Reed is playing the huge heel here with Savage the super hot baby face.  Ventura and Monsoon talk repeatedly about how Reed needs to use his power to win this match.  Ventura goes on a rant about how he’d much rather have Slick at ringside with him rather than Liz.  This of course leads to Reed paying more attention to Liz than he should.  That momentary lapse allows Savage to catch Reed and slam him off the top.  The Savage flying elbow gets Randy the victory and sends him to the second round against the winner of the next match.

First Round Tournament Match
One Man Gang (with Slick) defeated Bam Bam Bigelow (with Oliver Humperdink) by countout

I’ve always been a big Bam Bam fan and I also have fond memories of OMG so I was really looking forward to this match.  I remember Macho vs. OMG so I knew the outcome of this match but had no recollection of how it went down.  For the couple of minutes that they’re going at it, this is a good little match.  Bam Bam goes into the ropes and Slick pulls down the top rope and sends Bigelow to the floor.  He gets back to the ring apron and the ref continues to make the count right in his face (a super quick count I may add).  From here we get a cheap Bam Bam count out putting Gang into the second round.

First Round Tournament Match
Rick Rude (with Bobby Heenan) and Jake Roberts fought to a time-limit draw

Prior to this match we get an interview with Hulk Hogan.  It’s COMPLETE rambling.  Hogan goes on a rant about how he’s going to carry the Hulkamaniacs on his back when the Trump Plaza falls into the ocean… um… kay.  The match itself is average at best.  Obviously there is no winner here so it’s a LONG match (at least by comparison to some of the other stuff on the card).  A couple of times during the match the crowd goes with the BORING chant which I think is a bit harsh.  Both Rude and Snake are working hard in there.  There’s some good back and forth here and it’s a pretty even match throughout.

The Ultimate Warrior defeated Hercules (with Bobby Heenan)
I’ve never been a huge Warrior fan.  Sure he’s got all kinds of charisma but when it comes to his in-ring stuff I’ve always thought he left quite a bit to be desired.  This is typical big man stuff and it’s the beginning of a two year long push for the Warrior (which of course would culminate with him and Hogan at WrestleMania VI).  Warrior no sells a few Hercules clothesline attempts and then proceeds to beat on him for a few minutes.  The end comes when Hercules hits Warrior with a suplex and the ref counts both men’s shoulders down.  Warrior gets his shoulder up at the last second to give him the victory.  As this wasn’t part of the championship tournament and there was no title on the line it kind of feels like a throwaway match.

Quarter-Final Tournament Match
Hulk Hogan and André the Giant (with Ted DiBiase and Virgil) fought to a double disqualification

This match right here is why we’re having the tournament in the first place.  Hogan beat Andre at WrestleMania III which started it all.  The rematch was finally held at the first ever Main Event show where we were given the now famous “Twin Dave Hebner” angle in which Andre won the title and then sold it to The Million Dollar Man.  WWF President Jack Tunney declared the title vacant which necessitated the tournament.  After only about 5 minutes or so, the match turns into a complete cluster fuck with Million Dollar Man and Virgil getting involved and with Hogan and Andre both using chairs.  They both get DQ’d and are out of the tournament.  After the match, Hogan gives Virgil a suplex on the outside of the ring (a real weak looking suplex) and the proceeds to pose down as if he’s won the title.  The net net of all of this is that the winner of the NEXT match will get a bye into the finals.

Quarter-Final Tournament Match
Ted DiBiase defeated Don Muraco (with Billy Graham)

DiBiase is out alone with no Virgil and no Andre.  Knowing what I know now I’m really glad to see that DiBiase gets a victory on his own without any outside interference.  As these guys are wrestling for the second time the matches are getting shorter but this on gets going quickly.  DiBiase ends the match after an outstanding looking clothesline / slingshot on the top rope.  It’s on to the finals for DiBiase!

Quarter-Final Tournament Match
Randy Savage (with Miss Elizabeth) defeated Greg Valentine (with Jimmy Hart)

Savage is out once again and Elizabeth is looking better and better throughout the night (which is saying something!)  Another serviceable match that lasts around 6 minutes or so.  Valentine has the upper hand for the majority of this match and is really working Savage over with some power moves, chokes, etc.  Savage pulls the victory out of nowhere when Valentine goes for the figure four and Savage turns it into a small package for the pin.  Solid match though it’s looking like Savage is getting tired.

WWF Intercontinental Championship
Brutus Beefcake defeated The Honky Tonk Man (c) (with Jimmy Hart and Peggy Sue) by disqualification

The Honky / Beefcake feud was one of my favorites from this time period.  It was played to perfection with Beefcake coming SO close to getting the title and always coming up short.  This match was no exception as both guys were on their game.  Honky goes for his finisher and Beefcake manages to get out of it.  He slaps on his sleeper in the middle of the ring and Honky’s lights are going out FAST.  Jimmy Hart does the only thing he can do to hold onto the title for HTM and knocks the referee out cold with his megaphone.  Beefcake gets a tiny bit of revenge when he gives Jimmy a haircut while Honky is still “asleep” in the ring.  Hated to see Beefcake lose here but there’s really something to watching the heel Honky Tonk Man hang onto the title time after time.

The Islanders (Haku and Tama) and Bobby Heenan defeated The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith and The Dynamite Kid) and Koko B. Ware
Six-man tag action that includes Bobby Heenan and Koko B. Ware.  This has crap just written all over it.  There’s a really bad storyline behind this where the Islanders have kidnapped Matilda the bulldog.  Heenan is in this match in full dog catcher gear.  Eventually we get to a point where all 6 men are in the ring.  The referee finally gets some control back, sending the Bulldogs back to their corner.  The Islanders proceed to pick up Bobby Heenan and drop him on Koko B. Ware for the win.  That’s right… Koko got pinned by Bobby Heenan.  “Hall Of Famer” Koko B.Ware got pinned by Bobby Heenan.  Can you tell that I’m still bitter that Koko is a hall of famer?  He sucks.  Period.  Fucking bird man.

Semi-Final Tournament Match
Randy Savage (with Miss Elizabeth) defeated One Man Gang (with Slick) by disqualification

Savage is back for his 3rd match of the night.  Liz is wearing her 3rd outfit of the night and is now in a beautiful black evening gown… yowser.  Gang has a huge advantage here as he’s MUCH larger than Savage and has been sitting out since the first round after receiving a bye.  After some early offense from Savage, Gang takes over with some power moves.  Slick gets into it with Elizabeth which draws the the eye of the referee.  At this point, Slick slides over and tosses his cane to OMG who cracks Savage over the back of the head with it.  With Savage in the middle of the ring, Gang chooses NOT to throw the cane out and pin the man, but rather continues to try and hit Savage with it.  He keeps this up until the referee turns around and catches him in the act.  Savage to the finals!

WWF Tag Team Championship
Demolition (Ax and Smash) (with Mr. Fuji) defeated Strike Force (c) (Rick Martel and Tito Santana)

I’ve talked many times in the past about how I’m not a big fan of tag team wrestling, but Demolition is probably my all time favorite duo.  From their entrance into the federation they began running people over and I absolutely LOVED it.  Martel and Chico are the reigning champs and I remember thinking that there would be no chance that they’d be able to hold onto the titles against the unstoppable Demolition.  Some good power moves here from the demonic duo and some great high flying moves from Strike Force.  The unthinkable almost happens as Martel has Smash in a Boston Crab dead center of the ring for a LONG time.  Tito hits his flying forearm on Axe knocking him to the floor.  Tito then goes after Mr. Fuji who throw his cane into the ring.  Axe cracks Martel over the back of the head and Smash roles over to get the pin and the titles.  Thus began the longest tag title reign in WWF history – 478 days!

Tournament Final For The WWF Championship
Randy Savage (with Miss Elizabeth and Hulk Hogan) defeated Ted DiBiase (with André the Giant)

Andre accompanies DiBiase to ringside but Virgil is no where to be found.  Jesse and Monsoon continue to go on and on about how many times Savage has wrestled and that DiBiase is rested after receiving a bye into the finals.  About three or four times Savage goes into the ropes and Andre trips him (of course behind the referee’s back).  Savage then sends Elizabeth to the back presumably to get her out of harms way.  During this time, DiBiase takes the upper hand and really starts to lay into Savage.  A couple of minutes later Liz returns with none other than Hulk Hogan to even the score outside the ring.  The next time Andre gets involved Hogan is right there with a chair to ensure that Savage doesn’t get destroyed.  At this point, Savage and DiBiase go back and forth until DiBiase locks in the Million Dollar Dream right in the middle of the ring.  Andre’s got the referee distracted and Hogan sneaks in and slams DiBiase with a chair.  Savage recovers and hits DiBiase with the elbow to get the 1-2-3 and the championship.  Savage and Liz stick around to celebrate with Hogan and the show goes off the air.

General Thoughts

  • You go from 93k fans at WrestleMania III to just over 18k here.  Sure it’s at Trump Plaza which was HUGE at the time but to me that’s a step back.
  • I remember Vanna White being a big name but they really go all out here to tout her “star power”.  Bob Uecker is apparently infatuated with here and is going to great lengths to find her.  Boring.
  • It’s a shame that Rick Steamboat left the WWF for a while after this.  He’s an outstanding performer and deserved a better run with the Federation.  For further detail check this out.
  • As I watched the final match it really pissed me off that not only did Savage not get the victory clean, but Hogan stayed around for the pose down.  Sure they were probably already laying the groundwork for the Mega Powers main event at WrestleMania V but it just rubbed me the wrong way.  This was Savage’s moment in the sun and he should have been able to enjoy it on his own (with Liz of course).
  • The older I get, the more I appreciate the heels.  Growing up I was always a “good guy” fan but I’m really starting to realize how difficult it is to be a really good “bad guy”.  Not only do you have to know how to wrestle, but you’ve got to be able to do all the underhanded stuff too… and make the crowd hate you.  These are the kinds of things that were lost on me when I originally watched these shows back in the day.
  • This is a REALLY long show.  That said, it’s not the longest show (WrestleMania V is a few minutes longer) but this one FEELS long.  I think it’s basically due to the fact that there are a ton of matches (each in the 6-10 minute range).
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