This Smark Wrestlemania Rant by Scott Keith is part of a series of reposts counting down to this year’s Wrestlemania. They are re-published “as is” with relative commentary from when they were written. Enjoy!
The SmarK Retro Re-Rant for Wrestlemania IV
– Live from Atlantic City, NJ.
– Your hosts are Gorilla Monsoon & Jesse Ventura. Ah, those were the days.
– With Wrestlemania XX being slotted for a four-hour show, I figured we might as well take a look at the first time a show was scheduled for that long, and just how incredibly boring it could be. This show was of course set up by the infamous Andre the Giant title win and twin referees, featuring a 14-man tournament for the WWF title. The show is in the Trump Plaza Convention Center, which is less of an arena than a giant bingo hall, which makes for a bizarre atmosphere, to say the least.
– Opening match: A Battle Royale. Who the f*ck opens a major show with a battle royale? If ever there was a cheap way to get everyone a piece of the gate, this is it. We’ve got the Hart Foundation, Young Stallions, Sika, Danny Davis, The Killer Bees, Bad News Brown, Sam Houston, The Rougeau Brothers, Ken Patera, Ron Bass, Junkfood Dog, The Bolsheviks, Hillbilly Jim, Harley Race and George ‘The Animal’ Steele. The usual donnybrook to start, as Steele just stands outside and pulls at legs randomly. First man out is Sam Houston, via Danny Davis. Talk about your bad exits. Sika goes quickly as well. I forget if he’s Rikishi’s dad or Rosey’s dad. Bunch of directionless punching as Steele still won’t get into the ring, and the Bees keep pulling themselves back in. Steele pulls Neidhart over the top to eliminate him. Ray Rougeau and Brian Blair eliminate each other, and Jim Brunzell also ends up on the floor in the process. Ron Bass gets dumped by JYD as the thrillride in the ring continues. Gorilla marvels at Danny Davis still being in after the grueling match. Yeah, 4 minutes in. Hillbilly gets tossed by Bad News. Paul Roma dumps Davis with a fireman’s carry, but Jim Powers gets tossed by Bad News. Race and JYD get into a headbutt contest, and that goes nowhere, and then Patera gets rid of both Russians, but Bad News dumps him from behind. Jacques Rougeau is disposed of by Race. JYD headbutts Race right over the top, leaving us with a final four of Roma, JYD, Bret Hart and Bad News. Bad News quickly gets rid of Roma, but heel miscommunication allows JYD to hold off the heels. He headbutts both, but they regroup, pound on him, and toss him. Bret thinks that Bad News is gonna split the trophy with him, but he was kinda dumb in those days, and sadly he falls victim to a Ghetto Blaster (enzuigiri) and gets tossed to give Bad News the win at 9:43. BAD NEWS SCREWED BRET! This would actually kick off Bret’s babyface turn and lead to his singles career. I don’t rate battle royales, but this one was pretty bad. Bret smashes the trophy, then rams Bad News into his birthday cake and attacks him after signing the contract.
– WWF title tournament, first round: Ted Dibiase v. Jim Duggan. Remember the days before Dibiase had a theme song? The sad thing is that this was an AWESOME brawl in their Mid-South days, which circulated on a million comp tapes. They fight for the lockup to start and Duggan slugs away and gets an atomic drop. Dibiase goes over the top on the melodramatic sell and stalls for a bit. Back in, Dibiase throws some chops, but gets clotheslined. Duggan pounds away in the corner, but eats boot on a blind charge and messes up the sell, as he’s out of position for Dibiase’s followup. Ted pounds on him and gets a lariat, which Duggan doesn’t sell properly. Must be stoned tonight. Dibiase hits him with an elbow off the middle and the fistdrop for two. How come no one uses that fistdrop anymore? Duggan gets a laughable sunset flip for two. Well, it’s the thought that counts. Dibiase hits him with a knee and another fistdrop, but Duggan reverses a suplex and catches Dibiase coming off the top. Duggan makes the comeback with a clothesline and a powerslam. He goes for the three-point stance, but stands in front of Andre like a MORON and gets tripped up. Fistdrop finishes for Dibiase at 5:01. Anyone that stupid deserves to lose. Fairly entertaining little match. *1/4
– WWF title tournament, first round: Dino Bravo v. Don Muraco. Muraco is managed by Superstar Graham at this point, before his relationship with Vince got REALLY bad, and he’s using ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’Â as a theme. Man, that’s one movie that Hollywood is probably tripping all over themselves to remake now. Both guys are roided to the gills. Guess it’s a special occasion. They trade shots in the corner and Muraco powerslams him out of there, and follows with a splash for two. Armdrags, but Bravo gets his own and drops an elbow. Gut wrench suplex and he stomps away, but misses a knee in the corner and Muraco goes after it. He keeps going with a spinning toehold, but they slug it out with forearms and both go down. Bravo throws the ref into Muraco’s path and it’s a ref bump. Bravo gets the sideslam, but the ref calls for a DQ at 4:55. That’s the fastest referee revival I’ve seen this side of Earl Hebner. Â½*
– WWF title tournament, first round: Ricky Steamboat v. Greg Valentine. This was assumed to be a no-brainer win for the Dragon to set up a rematch with Savage. HO HO, silly us. Criss-cross to start and Steamboat gets his trademark armdrags and works on the arm, and slugs Hammer down for two. Back to the arm, but he gets some shoulderblocks for two. Steamboat goes out and skins the cat back in, and dropkicks Valentine from behind for two. That looked sloppy. Back to the arm, as Jesse drops the name of future Beyond the Mat documentary maker Barry Blaustein. Valentine comes back with chops and chokes away, then yanks him off the ropes. He drops the hammer for two. Steamboat escapes a backdrop suplex and rams him into the turnbuckle to come back, and grabs another armbar. Hammer escapes with an atomic drop and a clothesline, then works the throat over on the apron. Back in, he slugs Steamboat into the corner, but Steamboat fires back with some NASTY chops for two. A slam attempt is reversed for two. Valentine with the gutbuster and he goes to work on the legs, but Steamboat shoves him off into the turnbuckles. They exchange some primo chops, which would get over HUGE these days, and Hammer takes the worst of that. Steamboat gets two. Hammer goes to the eyes, much to Jesse’s delight, and gets a shoulderbreaker for two. He goes up with a forearm shot off the top, which somehow sets up the figure-four, but Steamboat chops out of it. Hitting the guy in the leg is usually advisable if you’re using the figure-four as your finish. Steamboat comes back with a back elbow and goes up with the flying chop, and that gets two. He rams Valentine into the turnbuckles 10 times and goes up to finish, but apparently his temper has clouded his judgment, because Hammer rolls through for the clean pin at 9:09. Valentine was pretty game for this one. This would prove to be Steamboat’s first swan song in the WWF, as he waves goodbye to the fans and leaves for the NWA. ***1/4
– WWF title tournament, first round: Randy Savage v. Butch Reed. First outfit for Savage tonight: Bright blue robe, fuchsia tights. Liz’s dress matches the robe. Savage dodges Reed to start, but gets caught in the corner, and Reed drops a fist on him. He pounds him in the corner and gets a suplex, and an elbowdrop gets two for Reed. Savage bails, so Reed necksnaps him on the apron and stomps away. Back elbow and Reed drops a fist off the second rope, but puts his head down and Savage comes back with some timely pugilism. Reed catches him with a lariat, however, and goes up. Slowly. Very slowly. So slowly that he has time to put the moves on Elizabeth, allowing Savage to slam him off the top and finish with the big elbow at 4:06. Basic babyface Savage match, as he gets pounded for a while and makes the surprise comeback. Â¾*
– WWF title tournament, first round: Bam Bam Bigelow v. One Man Gang. This was shortly after Bam Bam’s big debut, which is why the result was so perplexing. I’m not sure what Bigelow did to screw up his monster push, but he must have done SOMETHING to piss off Vince. Gang attacks him in the corner and slugs him down, and then splashes him in the corner. Another charge misses and Bam Bam overpowers him into a splash for two. Crossbody gets two. Fistdrop gets two. Bigelow comes back with a clothesline and no one is selling. Bigelow finally headbutts him down and goes to finish, but Slick pulls him out of the ring and Bigelow can’t beat the count back in at 2:58. This was slightly ridiculous because Bigelow was clearly on the apron and the count should have been broken. Â½*
– WWF title tournament, first round: Ravishing Rick Rude v. Jake Roberts. This was interesting, because the famous angle between these two over Cheryl Roberts was taped BEFORE Wrestlemania, but didn’t air until after, so really the fans were getting the blowoff on a feud they didn’t know existed yet! Rude overpowers him into the corner and does some posing to start, but Roberts faceplants him. Rude slams him and slugs away, but Roberts gets his own slam. Oh, cruel hand of irony. Jake slugs him into the corner, where Rude sees Damian and walks into an arm wringer. Jake works on the arm, but Rude slugs him down, although he is unable to break free of the move and Jake brings him down to the mat with him. Jake holds the wristlock and turns it into an armbar, but Rude brings him to the top and finally slugs out of it. Jake catches him with a kneelift, however, and goes for the DDT, but Rude slips out. Back in, Jake goes back to the armbar and they criss-cross, but Jake catches him with a slam, but whiffs on the kneelift and Rude takes over. Considering Jake nearly flew out of the ring on the missed kneelift, Rude should be glad it DIDN’T hit. The poor guy would have had a broken jaw from it. Rude hits the chinlock and hangs on through Jake’s escape attempt. Finally Roberts flips him off, but Rude goes up with an elbow and clotheslines him down for two. Back to the chinlock. Rude elbows him down for two and goes back to the chinlock, as the crowd is increasingly lulled to sleep. Jake tries to suplex out, but Rude hangs on. He turns it into a cover for two, allowing Jake to bail. Rude holds him on the apron and elbows him down, however, for two. Back to the chinlock. That goes on forever, completely telegraphing the result. Jake finally powers out with a jawbreaker and picks up the pace by slugging away on Rude and backdropping him. Short-arm clothesline sets up the DDT, but Rude powers him into the corner. Blind charge hits boot and Jake hits him with a gutbuster for two. Rude comes back with a backdrop suplex, however, for two. They clothesline each other for the double KO, but Jake recovers first. They head to the corner, where Rude gets two, and it’s a 15:00 draw, at 15:13. I guess the timekeeper was lulled to sleep, too. *1/2
– So your quarterfinals look like this:
– Andre v. Hogan
– Dibiase v. Muraco
– Savage v. Valentine
– One Man Gang – Bye.
– Ultimate Warrior v. Hercules. Ah, the days when Warrior was only considered vaguely weird instead of outright insane. They exchange shoulderblocks and get nowhere, and then fight into the corner with a lockup. Warrior throws chops, but misses a pathetic clothesline, and Herc puts him down with three clotheslines. Selling isn’t exactly Warrior’s strong point. Warrior fires back with his own, and then another one. I see where Batista gets his moveset from. Warrior misses a punch and Hercules dumps him, but gets pulled out himself and they brawl outside. Back in, Herc slugs away, but Warrior still won’t sell, and he fires back as they awkwardly fight it out in the corner. Hercules brings him out of there with an atomic drop, and dodges Warrior’s charge, setting up the FULL NELSON OF DEATH. Gorilla thinks it’s over, but Warrior pushes off and gets the pin at 4:35. That weak finish would be erased by Warrior’s monster push to come. DUD
– WWF title quarterfinals: Hulk Hogan v. Andre the Giant. The whole saga is recapped for those who need it. This feud is one of those cases where they started out with a bad match and got worse each time. Andre attacks to start, as vigorously as he could move by that point, and pounds Hogan with the CLUBBING FOREARMS. Having seen Hogan wrestle Big Show a million times, Andre really doesn’t look that tall here. Hogan fights back with clotheslines and goes after Dibiase, then rams him into Andre and starts throwing chops. Andre falls into the ropes and gets tangled up, so Hogan capitalizes by tearing his shirt off and posing. Well, no one ever said he was a great strategist. He slugs on Andre to no avail, and Andre finally goes down. He drops elbows, but Andre chokes him down on the mat. Andre is painfully slow here. Dibiase gets his shots in from the outside, and Andre chokes him from behind and turns it into a VULCAN NERVE PINCH OF DOOM. And we move to tape #2. That’s the worst tape break I’ve ever seen. Anyway, Andre continues choking, but Hulk miraculously comes back, which is a development I didn’t expect at all. Punch punch punch clothesline and Hogan goes for the slam, but Dibiase brings in a chair and breaks it up. Our combatants fight over it, and it’s a double DQ at 5:14, giving the winner of Dibiase v. Muraco a free trip to the finals. Horrible, horrible stuff, as Andre was obviously in no shape to be out there. -** Hogan, sportsman that he is, beats up Virgil and nearly kills him with a suplex on the floor because he didn’t want to go down with him. And then he slams Andre too. What a hero.
– WWF title quarterfinals: Don Muraco v. Ted Dibiase. Muraco brings him in with a slam to start and clotheslines him, and drops an elbow, and a powerslam gets two. He hammers away and gets a back elbow, then drops the Asiatic Spike from the second rope, for two. Snapmare into a necksnap and Muraco yanks him out of the corner and gets a standing dropkick for two. Man, Muraco is game tonight. Dibiase bails and avoids the wrath of Superstar Graham, but heads back in and Muraco slugs on him. Muraco whips him into the corner and yanks him out again, but Dibiase hangs onto the ropes and uses the leverage to pull Muraco into the turnbuckles. Now THAT’S smart. Dibiase chokes away and clotheslines him for two. Knee to the gut and the FISTDROPS~!, which get two. Muraco comes back with a kick to the head, but Dibiase slams him and goes up for Elbow That Never Hits. It doesn’t hit. Muraco makes the comeback with a nice clothesline as Dibiase bumps all over, but he walks into a hotshot and that finishes for Dibiase at 5:35. This was all a major style clash, with Dibiase bouncing off Muraco like a pinball, but Muraco seemed energetic enough to make it worthwhile. *3/4 Dibiase goes to the finals.
– WWF title quarterfinals: Greg Valentine v. Randy Savage. Another matchup you didn’t see much of. Savage and Liz now have matching pink outfits, and Savage has changed to the classic bright red trunks. Once he went to long tights it totally ruined his mystique. Valentine attacks to start and hammers away in the corner, but Savage takes him down with a kneedrop for two. Hammer quickly forearms him and goes up with a forearm from the top, and drops an elbow for two. Shoulderbreaker gets two. Valentine tosses him and follows with an elbow to the floor, and lays in the chops outside before sending him into the railing. Back to the apron, where Valentine hammers on the throat and chokes away. Back in, he works on the leg a bit, but Savage does a bit of damage control by making the ropes. Valentine keeps coming with a drop suplex for two. Backbreaker gets two. Savage suddenly comes back and gets the double axehandle for two, but chases Jimmy Hart and gets caught with a cheapshot. Savage blocks a suplex and gets his own, but goes up too soon and gets caught coming down. He tries to charge and crotches himself as a result, and Valentine goes for the figure-four, but Savage reverses to a cradle for the pin at 6:06. This never really got going. *
– Intercontinental title: Honky Tonk Man v. Brutus Beefcake. Sherri Martell is playing Peggy Sue here. You know, not to overthink the characters here, but did it strike anyone else as weird that Beefcake had an almost-sexual fascination with cutting other guy’s hair? I mean, here’s a guy who comes from San Francisco, and enjoys putting other men to sleep and then dominating them with a pair of large scissors, essentially marking his territory with a bad haircut. And this stems from having his hair cut by another confused, formerly-butch, wrestler in the form of Adrian Adonis. So is this like some kind of sick rape-revenge fantasy being lived out on our screens? And you thought Rob Feinstein was a perv. They fight over a lockup to start and Honky pounds on him, but gets his foot caught by Brutus, who atomic drops him. And then he MESSES UP THE HAIR. Oh, it’s on now. Back in, Honky wants to slug it out, but then changes his mind and hides in the ropes. Brutus rams him into the turnbuckles to take over and gets a high knee, but Honky bails again. Brutus pulls him back in and dodges a kneelift, but misses an elbow. Honky stomps away on the mat and drops a fist, and Brutus gives a goofy sell of it. Jimmy Hart gets some cheapshots from the outside and Honky goes for Shake Rattle N Roll, but elects to keep punching instead. Another try, but it’s too close to the ropes and Brutus hangs on to block. Beefcake fights back and backdrops him, and Honky begs off from this flurry of offense, but it’s NO MERCY from Beefcake, as he hooks the sleeper. It’s not looking good, so Jimmy Hart waffles the ref with the megaphone and Beefcake releases the move like a moron. Beefcake is more excited about getting a chance to cut Honky’s hair than winning the title, so he goes for his scissors, but Jimmy steals them. Beefcake chases him down and gives him a haircut, which shows a distinct lack of focus on the task at hand. Peggy Sue dumps water on Honky to revive him, and we’ll call it at DQ at 9:00, although the actual match was only 5:00 or so. Beefcake would get MUCH better in 1989, before the boating accident turned him into what he became later in his career. Â½*
– The British Bulldogs & Koko B. Ware v. The Islanders & Bobby Heenan. This was the blowoff for the abysmally stupid dognapping angle, and Heenan is wearing a dog-proof suit. Once again, Tama (Sam Fatu) is the twin brother of Rikishi, although minus all the bulk at this point in his life. I stand by my assertion that all samoan wrestlers should be forced by law to carry around their family trees on a 3×5 card. Dynamite pulls Tama in to start and hiptosses him, but he begs off. DK slingshots him into the corner and out to the floor. Back in, Smith slams him, but misses an elbow. Haku comes in and grabs a headlock on Davey Boy, and they collide in mid-air and Davey Boy gets two. Slam gets two. Crucifix gets two. Davey Boy hits the chinlock, but he gets taken back into the Islander corner and worked over. He comes back with a press slam on Tama, but Haku comes in and pounds on him. Back elbow, but Koko gets in and takes both Islanders down with a headscissors. Dynamite clotheslines Haku, but walks into a kick in the corner. And that finally brings the Brain in, as he stomps on Dynamite and then tags out to Tama again. Backdrop on the Kid and Tama slams him to set up a pump splash, but it hits knee. Hot (?) tag to Koko, which the crowd doesn’t really pick up on, and the heels collide. Haku clotheslines him, however, and pounds away. So Koko is YOUR face-in-peril, as Tama goes up with a shot, and Heenan bats cleanup again. He stomps and chokes away, but Koko slugs back and whips him into the corner. Koko dropkicks him into the post, but takes too long and the Islanders jump him from behind. It’s BONZO GONZO and the Islanders drop Heenan onto Koko for the pin at 7:28. This went NOWHERE, with no flow to it and no heat on anyone. Â¾*
– Jesse stops to pose for the fans, because I guess the show just needed MORE filler or something.
– WWF title semi-final: Randy Savage v. One Man Gang. Winner of this gets Dibiase for the title. Savage and Liz have matching purple outfits, and Savage has moved back to the fuchsia trunks again. They fight over a lockup to start and Savage hits him with an elbow, then necksnaps him using the beard for leverage. Gang powers him into the corner, however, and pounds away. He uses the CLUBBING FOREARMS until Savage goes down, and that gets two. Elbowdrop gets two. Big splash misses and a corner splash also misses, which allows Savage to come back with some fisticuffsmanship, and Gang bails. Savage follows with the axehandle to the floor, and back in he tries a slam, to no avail. Gang chokes him down while Slick puts the moves on Elizabeth (HIM she runs from, but Lex Luger she shacks up with?) and Gang tries to use the cane for no good, but alas the ref sees it and it’s a DQ at 4:12. I have no idea what they were shooting for here, but this obviously wasn’t it. DUD They would have a much better match on SNME a couple of weeks later.
– WWF tag team titles: Strike Force v. Demolition. Remember the days when an oddball, thrown-together team winning the tag titles was something DIFFERENT? Hard to believe there was a time when Demolition hadn’t yet won the tag titles, but here it is. They still have one of the greatest themes ever written. By this point in Strike Force’s reign, the pretty-boy act had worn thin and the crowds were ready for a heel team to beat them. I, for one, was cheering for Demolition vociferously at the closed-circuit location where I was watching in 1988. Smash pounds on Martel to a face pop to start, and catches a crossbody attempt, but Santana dropkicks them over. It’s a donnybrook and Strike Force cleans house and double-teams Smash with a clothesline. That gets two for Martel. The crowd is SERIOUSLY burned-out by this point, which was approaching four hours into the show. Ax comes in, but gets armdragged by Santana. Strike Force works on the arm in the corner, but Ax headbutts Martel and brings Smash in, who walks into a hiptoss. Back to Santana, as they keep switching off and stay on the arm. Santana tries a leapfrog and gets clotheslined by Ax from the apron, however, and it’s CLOBBERING TIME. Ax keeps Tito in the corner and they unload on him, and now the heel fans start making themselves heard. Ax gets a powerslam for two. Smash chokes away and they do some cheating, and it’s a suplex for two. By the way, I assume everyone knows that Smash is Barry ‘Repo Man / Blacktop Bully’Â Darsow, but in case you don’t, now you do. Ax comes in, but puts his head down and Santana catches him with an elbow, but Smash smartly drags Tito back to the corner again. Tito catches a fluke flying forearm (with great sell by Ax), and it’s hot tag Martel. It’s dropkicks for everyone! He knocks Smash down and gets the Boston Crab, but Tito brawls with Ax, allowing Mr. Fuji to bring the cane into play. Ax nails Martel, good night, and we have new champions at 8:00, to one of the biggest face pops of the show. Standard formula stuff. *1/2 The Demos would reign forever, finally losing the titles 14 months later to the Brainbusters, who were busy losing the NWA titles to Barry Windham & Lex Luger at approximately the same time this was happening!
– WWF World title finals: Ted Dibiase v. Randy Savage. Thank god it’s almost over. Final outfits for Savage & Liz are matching white, and Savage is back to the red trunks again. Dibiase has Andre with him, Savage has Liz. Now there’s a mismatch. They fight over the lockup to start and Savage elbows out of the corner, but gets tripped by Andre. The crowd already can read 18 chapters ahead of the bookers and starts calling for Hogan. They exchange hammerlocks and Dibiase goes down, but Andre trips Savage again. Would YOU argue with him? Crowd wants Hogan again. Dibiase starts on the arm, but Savage reverses, so Dibiase rams him into the corner and pounds away. Clothesline gets two. Sunset flip is blocked by Savage, and he comes back with a clothesline for two. Dibiase takes a breather and regroups. He starts hammering on Savage and chops him down, and a back elbow. Another one misses and Savage elbows him down and necksnaps him on the top rope (with a great oversell from Dibiase), and a high knee puts Dibiase on the floor, into the protective arms of Andre. Savage finally gets smart and sends his woman to the locker room, sacrificing himself, as this gives Dibiase the chance to lay him out and drop the fists for two. Crowd knows why she’s gone. Dibiase hits the chinlock, and that’s Hogan’s cue. He takes a seat at ringside and Dibiase slugs away in the corner. Andre goes for Savage, but now Hogan makes the save. Dibiase clotheslines him and drops an elbow for two. Suplex gets two. Gutwrench gets two. Dibiase goes up, but gets caught and slammed, and Savage goes for the kill. Elbow misses, however, and Dibiase hooks the Million Dollar Dream. Andre gets a shot in, drawing the ref over, and thus Hogan comes in and blatantly cheats, hitting Dibiase with the chair, and Savage finishes with the flying elbow to win his first World title at 9:17. Definitely not their best match, as they were both burned out and surrounded by angles. **1/4 I don’t get how it would have been booked for the original ending – Dibiase winning the title – however. I can’t see them ending a Wrestlemania in 1988 with the heel winning, but that’s what was supposed to happen.
The Bottom Line:
A long, boring, dull, BORING show filled with C-list celebrities (Vanna White?) that was mainly there to serve as a prelude to Wrestlemania V and the HUGE money match that was Savage v. Hogan. It wouldn’t be until recent years, when fans were more open to seeing 20 minute matches on a major show, that they could properly run a four-hour Wrestlemania.
Recommendation to avoid.