WWF WrestleMania IV (3.27.88) review
March 27, 1988.
I was going to do more lead-in shows for WrestleMania, like I did last year, but WWF did it for me; dropping Main Event and SNME right before to detail the big storylines. Also, this show is mostly the WWF title tournament (consisting of FOUR rounds) so there’s not much room for anything else. That didn’t stop the WWF and there’s so much superfluous crap on top of the tournament including the tag titles, the IC title, a Warrior match and an opening battle royal. Which only exists for the boys to get a pay day who didn’t make the already bloated card.
We’re in Atlantic City, New Jersey at the Trump Plaza Convention Center. It’s embarrassing that the WWF, at the peak of its powers, ran a fucking casino for the biggest show of the year and only drew a paltry 18,000. No wonder Trump likes Vince McMahon so much. Trump Plaza went to shit just a few years later after Donald, genius that he is, opened another casino a mile down the road in an already bloated market. By the early 90s Trump Plaza was horrifically in debt and no longer sustainable. The building stood empty for years afterwards because Trump couldn’t afford to have it demolished. It was eventually demolished in 2021, after lying empty and unused for seven years. Unlike the other venues I’ve spoken about on this journey, I couldn’t give a shit about this one. It wasn’t fit for purpose and never should have been used for WrestleMania. It’s borderline small to host a major TV show, let alone the biggest show of the year.
Hosts are Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura (and Bob Uecker who had such a blast last year he’s back again). This is the longest WWF show to this point, clocking in at 3.5 hours. Early crowd shots show us what a terrible venue this is. An absolute dogshit venue. Gladys Knight is on hand to sing “America the Beautiful”.
Her NASCAR sponsorships all came through for the show. Good to see. Gladys is 44 here and looks great. Much better than most wrestlers when they hit the 40s.
Invitational Battle Royal
Who invited them? Vince, presumably. This battle royal is for a whopping great big trophy. This is a way to get undercard guys a pay day but there’s some big names in there, mostly tag teams, who can’t compete in the title tournament. The biggest names are Harley Race, JYD, George Steele, Hillbilly Jim and Ken Patera. Sika is in there and gets eliminated early. This was his final WWF appearance and he retired shortly afterwards.
“I used to hate battle royals” – Gorilla. You and me both, brother. There are a load of guys in there and the only action is eliminations. Shout out to Jim Brunzell for going over the top and rolling back in a few times to keep it fresh. Although this would become a meme. “The Bees are gone” – Uecker. But who will pollinate the flowers now? Paul Roma? I can’t see Outlaw Ron Bass doing it. He doesn’t have the agility.
FINAL FOUR: Bad News Brown, JYD, Paul Roma and Bret Hart. The heels (Bret and Brown) team up but miscue. It’s every man for himself Gorilla! Roma gets tossed out and the heels have a chat about strategy. They throw Dog out and celebrate together, suggesting splitting the win but Brown hits Hart with the Ghettoblaster and takes the duke. This turned Bret, and eventually the Hart Foundation, babyface. Although Brown did a good job of being a badass rather than a heel. The match sucked but at least they got Bret over.
My favourite part in all this is Bret giving the trophy a couple of worked kicks in the process of breaking it before remembering he has to smash it up.
Of all the participants the most surprising ‘final PPV appearance’ is probably George Steele, who was such a big player in the 1987 storylines. He retired in the summer, thanks to Crohn’s disease, and wasn’t seen again until the Oddities angle in 1998. Steele was never eliminated here, thanks to a knee injury that prevented him taking part, and could have been used in a feud with Bad News after this. Would have made sense, no?
WWF TITLE TOURNAMENT ROUND ONE
Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant got a bye to the quarters. Robin Leach is out here to read the proclamations regarding the tournament. No expense spared on the celebrities this year, huh? The former Daily Mail reporter was a host of various TV shows in the 1980s including Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. I am not a fan.
Jim Duggan vs. Ted DiBiase
They paired these guys up because of their killer matches for Mid-South but those were wild, bloody brawls. Duggan in the WWF, however, was a completely different beast. All overblown child-friendly mannerisms and irksome patriotism. Due to the draw, DiBiase is in the Hogan-Andre side of the draw, and it’s implied that should DiBiase meet Andre it’ll effectively be a bye for Ted. Duggan is so bad here. His basic movements are all weird and his bumps stink. Ted beats him with a fist drop after Andre gets involved. Awful match. The referee was watching when Andre socked Duggan in the kisser too. Should have been a DQ.
Don Muraco vs. Dino Bravo
Muraco, now dubbed “The Rock” has switched manager’s from Mr Fuji to Superstar Billy Graham.
Which means he’s now sporting the tie-dye and is in surprisingly good shape here. He’s all motivated too! It’s weird to see. Maybe he’d been promised a push if he got in shape. Bravo is out here popping off moves. This is what happens when you get two jacked up guys only five minutes to fill. Bravo pulls the ref into a forearm shot, which actually looked good! Bravo hits his sideslam but the ref has already disqualified him. This was fun! I enjoyed it.
Ricky Steamboat vs. Greg Valentine
The winner gets Savage or Butch Reed in the QFs, so naturally everyone assumed it would be Savage vs. Steamboat II. Little did they know this was Steamboat’s final WWF appearance until his return in 1991. Steamboat didn’t want to miss his son’s birth, which is why he dropped the IC title and here he carries his son, Richie, to the ring. Looking back, it’s crazy how Steamboat put his family before the business when so many others didn’t. He was a great guy, as well as a great worker.
They hit a decent pace here, but the chemistry isn’t there. Valentine doesn’t take bumps like everyone else, and he throws Steamboat off. Ventura randomly name-drops Barry Blaustein here, saying he tipped Steamboat to win the title tonight. Blaustein was most famous, at this point, for writing on SNL but would go on to direct Beyond the Mat. I can’t imagine Vince would be happy about him being name-dropped on today’s programming.
They frequently find themselves out of position here and there are little corrections that look dumb. The worst one is Valentine getting kicked off from the Figure Four and having to stagger all the way across the ring to walk into the buckle. It’s a shame the match has so many glaring issues, because they bust their asses trying to make it good. I blame Valentine for most of it. His delayed bumps get worse as the match progresses. Steamboat goes up top but Valentine rolls through a crossbody and pins him clean to send Ricky packing from the WWF. This was not the good match we would hope for.
We stop off to acknowledge the presence of gadabout, mark, failed casino owner and future President of the United States, Donald Trump. His hair looks bad.
Butch Reed vs. Randy Savage
Reed is another wrestler on his way out of the WWF. He’s been here for a couple of years but hasn’t done anything of note. Randy Savage had two formula matches. The good one involved him chasing people around, fighting the odds and numbers and generally being in charge. The bad one is the one he adopted in WCW. Where he’s just get beaten up the whole match, then does one move and hit the Big Elbow. Guess which one he goes for here? Savage progresses in a dull five-minute match.
Video Control takes us back to Bob Uecker who is searching for Vanna White. Vanna was in Playboy in 1987, no wonder the WWF was interested. Vince was probably a subscriber.
Bam Bam Bigelow vs. One Man Gang
Bigelow started hot in the WWF and was the star of Survivor Series 1987, but the wheels came off his push. This will be his final WWF PPV appearance until 1993. Bigelow suffered from resentment backstage over his rapid rise in the WWF, which caused him to leave early. He also suffered a knee injury in 1988, which didn’t help. They throw in a bizarrely shitty finish here where Bigelow gets counted out on the apron. A complete waste of time.
Hulk Hogan cuts one of his most insane promos here where he promises to slam Andre the Giant through the Trump Plaza and break off the Faultline. I don’t know where to start with that. Probably that there’s no fault line around Atlantic City. He promises to pin Andre on the ocean floor. He also suggests that Donald Trump should let go of his material possessions and look after his wife and kids. Hogan finishes saying he’ll backstroke everyone to safety so they don’t drown. Maybe if you didn’t break the arena by body slamming Andre in the first place, they wouldn’t need saving? You ever think of that, brother?
Rick Rude vs. Jake Roberts
This is another Rude match that looks great on paper, but it isn’t. This is just before the Cheryl Roberts angle, where Rude hit on Jake’s wife and had her face emblazoned on his trunks. Cheryl should have gone off with Rude and saved herself some misery. Jake has been divorced three times and has eight kids. This match is very, very boring. It’s all rest holds, and nothing happens. Monsoon is critical of the tactical approach in a 15:00 time limit. I wish they’d had a 10:00 time limit instead. Or just run a DCO.
With both guys eliminated, One Man Gang gets a bye to the semi finals. He’ll face either Randy Savage or Greg Valentine. On the other side of the draw Ted DiBiase faces Don Muraco. The winner faces Hulk Hogan or Andre the Giant.
But don’t take my word for it, Vanna White (from Wheel of Fortune fame) is here to talk us through the draw. Vanna talks about DiBiase and says she doesn’t like people being ‘bought’, which makes sense as Hugh Hefner bought her nudity the previous year. She predicts wins for Hogan and Savage.
Hercules vs. Ultimate Warrior
Vince hasn’t quite decided to pull the trigger on Warrior just yet. Herc has been trying to teach him how to work, which isn’t happening so far. Warrior is dogshit awful. He can’t do anything. I have no idea what Vince McMahon saw in him. I saw him work in Texas a few years before this and he’s learned NOTHING. They run the double pin, babyface gets his shoulder up thing they used on Valentine-Beefcake recently. Hey, at least this was short and relatively inoffensive. Vince tried to stick Warrior in with everyone who he thought he could get a tune out of him over the next couple of years before eventually giving up.
Video Control gives us a video essay of the Hogan-Andre feud going back to Andre’s turn and including recent events that have seen Hogan lose the title through dodgy officiating and Andre lose the belt by selling it to Ted DiBiase.
WWF TITLE TOURNAMENT QUARTER FINALS
Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan
Both these guys got byes through R1 because of their title reigns. Monsoon references “Wild” Red Berry, who retired in 1965. It’s a deep cut. Monsoon claims the building has 25,000 fans in it, which is impressive as the attendance was 18,000 and the building literally can’t hold 25k. Hogan, idiot that he is, does all his posing with his back to the hard cam. And he wants to be in movies? Andre is even worse here than at the Main Event. He struggles to stand. Unlike at the Main Event show, Hogan isn’t up for carrying the match on his back. Hogan goes for the slam, but DiBiase jumps in and chair shots him. Hogan takes the chair and hits Andre, which should be a DQ, but the ref lets it go and then goes double DQ after Andre uses it too. Of the three Hogan-Andre singles matches (87-88 era), this is easily the least of them.
Post Match: Hogan poses while Real American plays through THREE TIMES. Jesus. The ego on this guy. You didn’t even win!
Savage was wearing baby blues for the opener. He’s switched to pink and Liz is colour coordinated. Elite tier power couple. I also love that the camera focuses on Liz while Savage is cutting a promo. Foreshadowing Savage’s jealous insanity in the years to come. They really were looking at her!
Don Muraco vs. Ted DiBiase
The winner is now in the final thanks to the Hogan-Andre finish. Imagine the alternate universe where Don Muraco beat One Man Gang to win the belt on this show? Muracomania lives! He was in good shape, considering the miles on his bump clock, but he’s nowhere near over enough to win. So, Ted has to win here, which telegraphs Savage’s next two matches. It’s just not a well put together tournament at all. The crowd don’t care about this either, which should further show how well booked it isn’t. Muraco runs into a Hot Shot and that finishes. Hey, at least they had a good finish!
They bring One Man Gang out here to receive his bye.
Greg Valentine vs. Randy Savage
As with DiBiase-Muraco, the whole tournament is telegraphed now. If they put this on before the DiBiase match, they might have been able to get some tension going but now? No shot. Instead, we get another Savage formula match, where he just gets beaten up the whole time. It’s such a pity he nailed down a formula match with Honky Tonk Man and stopped doing it. Hammer goes for a Figure Four but Savage rolls him up to head to the semis.
Back to Vanna White, who suggests Hulk Hogan will win tonight’s tournament. Um. I’m not sure Vanna has any idea what’s happening.
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Honky Tonk Man (c) vs. Brutus Beefcake
The only way the women’s champion, Sherri Martel, can get on this show is by cornering Honky, wearing a wig and pretending to be someone else. Beefcake has replaced his sexy gear and has his ‘cut up by scissors’ gear. Honky is someone I’ve gained respect for on this watch through. He’s a better worker than I’ve ever given him credit for. WWF missed a trick by only having him around for 3-4 years. My judgement clearly clouded by a childhood hatred of him. Considering they billed this as one of the big singles matches on the card, it’s bad.
At one point Honky goes for the Shake, Rattle and Roll and realises he’s in completely the wrong place. He has to let go and then he goes for it again, right by the ropes and Brutus blocks it. What a gaff that was. Beefcake has it won with the sleeper so Jimmy Hart KOs the ref with the megaphone. Beefcake’s revenge is to cut Jimmy’s hair while Honky sells the sleeper like death.
Beefcake is restrained from murdering someone with the garden shears. The referee never recovers but we call it a DQ and Honky keeps the belt.
We’ve got an HOUR left on this show. Off to see Bob Uecker again as he’s joined by Andre who tells us he was here tonight to eliminate Hogan, not to win the belt.
Islanders & Bobby Heenan vs. British Bulldogs & Koko B. Ware
Heenan is wearing the kind of suit they use to train police dogs.
Dynamite Kid looks healthy. It’s been a while since that was the case. This is match #13 on this card and the crowd feels tired. Heenan doesn’t look out of place, even with the suit on. He was so good at heat/cowardice/bumping that they even put him in with Warrior to teach him how to work later in the year. Islanders dump Heenan on Koko and he gets the winning fall. This never got going.
Post Match: Jesse Ventura poses for the fans for some reason. If only he was capable of a comeback in 1988, he’d have made a small fortune. Then we get Ted DiBiase to accept his bye to the final.
WWF World Championship Semi-Final
Randy Savage vs. One Man Gang
Savage and Liz have switched to black. Those robes must have cost him a couple of bucks.
Savage doesn’t have black trunks though, he’s wearing pink still, which should constitute some kind of fine. How hard could it be to get some black trunks? The crowd does not give a fuck about this. They’re tired and it’s painfully obvious who’s winning here. Let’s just get to the final.
Slick takes exception to Liz outsmarting him earlier. However, Gang is stupid enough to hit Savage with Slick’s cane with the referee looking right at him. This was absolutely nothing. Savage advances to the final.
See what I mean about the tournament? It didn’t need to be a full tournament here. They just didn’t have the ideas to put it together. If you missed my previous review, I wanted two semi-finals on this show; Savage vs. Steamboat and DiBiase vs. Duggan (or any babyface tbf). That way Savage can recreate his classic match from last year on route to winning the belt. Meanwhile DiBiase can get Duggan to make him look like a star and make the final mean something. You could also book Hogan to beat Andre somewhere on the card. Hell, you could do it as the main event if you wanted to and put DiBiase over the belt.
Back to Vanna White, who chickens out on predicting a winner because she must go ringside…for reasons.
WWF Tag Team Championship
Strike Force (c) vs. Demolition
Strike Force have held the belts since beating the Hart Foundation back in October and the fans are sick of them already. Babyface Rick Martel just didn’t work. He comes across as fake and phoney and people can see through it. I never liked Demolition. They’re a weird BDSM wearing, Roadwarrior knock off, Mad Max wannabe team. Eadie and Darsow (aka Ax and Smash) are both passable for big dudes, but I was never into the gimmick.
The match is lousy too. Fuji throws the cane in and Ax blindsides Martel with it so Smash can pin for the belts. They proceed to stink up one of the best tag divisions in wrestling history for an entire year until Arn & Tully save it.
Robin Leach, the fucking weirdo, brings out the WWF title for the main event. All the ringside slime get to manhandle it. I hope Savage doesn’t kiss it later.
Guest ring announcer is Bob Uecker, who’s been good value for all his backstage bits tonight. Ventura is hot that he’s called “Mr Baseball” when he only averaged .200 (14HR, 74RBI). He introduces guest timekeeper Vanna White. Trump level celebs tonight.
WWF World Championship
Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase
FINALLY! There’s no Virgil here because Hogan killed him earlier. Team Savage have switched to a white ensemble. How wholesome!
Andre gets in Savage’s way immediately and the crowd chant “Hogan” smelling the inevitable. Savage and DiBiase ran a trial match for this on SNME and it was good. This match? Nope. No idea why it’s so inferior but they just don’t get going. It doesn’t help that the crowd are absolutely burned out and do not want to watch wrestling anymore. Hey, I feel you.
After Andre stops Savage for the third time, Savage sends Liz to go and get Hogan. If that fucking egomaniac was actually watching his buddy’s match in the first place, maybe he’d come down here under his own power. Andre tries to interfere again, and Hogan runs over to punch him in the ear.
Savage misses with the Big Elbow, gets slapped in the Million Dollar Dream so Hogan, cheater that he is, runs in and chair shots DiBiase. Savage finishes with the Big Elbow to win his first world title. It’s a shame he couldn’t do so without Hulk’s help and that would figure into the booking of the next 12 months. The match wasn’t good, but at least we end the night with the belt on Savage.
“What a threesome” comments Monsoon. Yikes. There’s no way Savage would share. Come on, brother, the Hulkster just needs a handjob from the first lady of professional wrestling, dude. I wouldn’t put it in her Randy, I respect the Macho Madness and the Mega Powers too much, man.
If that paragraph isn’t a tester to see if anyone is actually reading these then I don’t know what is. Also, I’m really sorry for the mental images that it might create in your head, brother.
Aside from the Mega Powers standing tall at the end of the show and maybe Ricky Steamboat’s somewhat emotional departure, there is nothing worth seeing on this show. WrestleMania IV is arguably the worst of all the WrestleMania shows because unlike the other shitty ones, the product was hot at the time. They popped their biggest TV rating, ever, weeks beforehand. There was really no excuse for putting on a PPV this bad, let alone it being WrestleMania. 16 matches and I don’t think any of them would make it onto a comp tape of any kind unless you had one with all the title switches on it. A disaster.