The Piledriver Report 01.24.13: The History Of Vince McMahon’s Wrestling Empire – Part Three
***** Before I begin this week’s article, with the Royal Rumble this upcoming weekend, I had a thought on the whole CM Punk vs. The Rock title match. I am a firm believer that Punk should keep the belt until WrestleMania where he losses the title in the ultimate streak vs. streak match to the Undertaker. However, the WWE seems to be hell bent on having a second in a lifetime match between John Cena and The Rock. This time for the title. I came up with an idea on how the WWE can keep the belt on Punk while still having a storyline reason for John Cena to go after The Rock one last time. At the Rumble, Brad Maddox could interfere causing Punk to get DQed, or The Shield could interfere by hitting Punk in a calculated move that would get intentionally The Rock DQed. At the Elimination Chamber PPV, have the final three men in the RAW match be The Rock, John Cena and CM Punk. With Punk lying on the steel apron structure, The Rock and John Cena go at it. After a few holds and counter holds, Cena delivers a move like a back suplex to pin The Rock. However, John Cena’s shoulders were also on the mat. Therefore, it’s a double pin, and Punk escapes the show with the WWE title. John Cena can claim he had The Rock beat. The Rock can claim that he still holds the advantage in their rivalry from winning WrestleMania XXVIII. They agree to fight for the final time at Mania XXIX, and Punk defends against the Undertaker. Tell me what you think. *****
AFTER THE SILVERDOME
The post-WrestleMania house shows featured Hulk Hogan defending his championship against Harley Race. After just beating Andre, most fans didn’t think an over the hill Harley Race stood a chance against “The Hulkster.” Most of the early Hogan/Race matches ended the same way. After pinning Race, Hogan would start to pose for the fans. While posing, Race would sneak up behind Hogan, and attack him. A bloodied Hogan would then challenge Race to a Texas Death match at the next show. Besides putting the WWF title on the line, Hogan would add a stipulation that a few years later would have made Harley Race the fan favorite in their feud. Hogan vowed that if he couldn’t beat Race in a Texas Death match, he would retire from wrestling.
While Hogan was busy defending the WWF title, Ricky Steamboat was defending the Intercontinental championship in rematches against the ex-champion, Randy Savage. They usually fought inside the confines of the “blue bars” steel cage. During his title reign, Ricky Steamboat’s wife was expecting to give birth to a child. With Steamboat wanting to spend more time at home, the WWF needed to find a new Intercontinental champion. Vince McMahon wasn’t looking for any man to hold the WWF’s second most important title. He chose Jerry Lawler’s cousin, the Honky Tonk Man. Honk Tonk was not the most popular choice for the fans when it came to who should be the new Intercontinental titleholder. Honky Tonk was a mid-card wrestler, who the fans didn’t take seriously. A wrestler like Jake Roberts, Billy Jack Haynes, Brutus Beefcake, Don Muraco, Hercules, Paul Orndorff, or even former champion Randy Savage were all better choices to hold the belt. However, on June 2nd, in a match that aired on June 13, 1987, the Honky Tonk Man beat Ricky Steamboat by reversing an inside cradle and holding the ropes for leverage to win the WWF Intercontinental Champion. While Honky Tonk was never elevated to World champion, like many former Intercontinental champions have, he did something that no other Intercontinental titlist has ever done. He became the longest reigning Intercontinental champion in WWF history. The Honky Tonk Man would hold onto the belt from June 2, 1987 until August 29,1988. It’s a record near fifteen-month reign that will probably never be broken.
The day after the Honky Tonk Man won the Intercontinental title; one of the most controversial superstars in the company’s history was his debut. On June 3, 1987, Shawn Michaels debuted with Marty Jannetty as The Midnight Rockers against the jobber duo of Jose Estrada and Jimmy Jack Funk. Despite their victory, the Rockers first stint in the WWF didn’t last long. According to a Shawn Michaels shoot interview produced by RF Video, the Rockers had a reputation as being two partiers. The night before their first match with the WWF, they were going to go back to the hotel and lay low. However, a bunch of wrestlers asked them to go to the hotel bar where the wrestlers were staying at (as Shawn and Marty were staying in a different hotel), and hang out. Shawn and Marty were sitting at a table with Davey Boy Smith and Jim Powers when Jimmy Jack Funk walked over to the table. He started harassing them about their reputation. “I hear your big partiers,” Funk said as he bit the head of a beer bottle. “Come on, let’s see what you got,” he challenged them. “Come on punk!” Shawn grabbed a beer bottle, and broke it over his own head and left the bar. “Also, Jimmy Jack Funk was going after this girl, who left with Marty.” That’s all that happened. As Shawn tells it, “The next day, we’re into the lunch room, and Funk said ‘What the fuck’s your problem?’ Funk then goes on a tirade about how they tore up the bar.” Shawn and Marty were going to fight Funk and Estrada that night. A road agent told them to that they better work (good in the match). After the match, they saw Vince and he said “Hey, let’s watch throwing stuff in the bar.” In two weeks, the story has grown into something huge. They got a call from the office, and they went to see McMahon. While sitting by his office, Vince said to Shawn, who was wearing cowboy boots, “Nice boots. Made for walking? Just kidding.” The two Rockers entered McMahon’s office, where he then fired the tag team.
NEW TALENT RISES
The year of 1987 was a big year for talent acquisitions. Besides the short-lived stint of the Rockers, the WWF signed Bam Bam Bigelow, Rick Rude, the Dingo Warrior and Ted DiBiase. Bam Bam Bigelow was introduced to the fans of the WWF in much the same way as Randy Savage was. While wrestling, all of the WWF’s heel managers fawned over Bigelow, and wanted him to join their stable. Unlike with Savage, where he gave one big announcement, the WWF dragged out the Bigelow pick. Throughout the month of July, Bam Bam was eliminating a manager each week in the “Battle for Bam Bam.” Through the process of elimination, it appeared that Slick was Bigelow’s choice. However, like Randy Savage a year earlier, Bigelow had a surprise entrant. On August 26, 1987, in a segment that aired September 5, 1987, Bigelow announced that babyface manager Sir Oliver Humperdink would serve as his manager in the WWF.
On June 7th, Rick Rude made his WWF debut by beating Jose Estrada in Sacramento, CA at the Arco Arena. Rude was Bobby Heenan’s newest protégé. “Ravishing” Rick Rude possessed one of the most well defined physiques in the WWF. One of his stablemates, Paul Orndorff also sported one of the WWF’s most muscular bodies. On the August 15th telecast of “WWF Superstars,” Bobby Heenan, with Rick Rude by his side, said that he would have Paul Orndorff with him. He claimed “Mr. #1derful” would admit to the world that the “Ravishing One” had the best body in the WWF. While Orndorff did not admit Rude had a better body, he did have an announcement. He let the world know that he fired Bobby Heenan, and hired Sir Oliver Humperdink as his manager. Throughout the summer and fall, Rude and Orndorff would battle all over the country.
The Dingo Warrior debuted in the WWF on June 17th against Steve Lombardi in Wichita Falls, TX. The Dingo Warrior started out his wrestling career as part of a group called Power Team USA. He went by the name of “Justice.” In early 1986 went to the Universal Wrestling Federation, where as “Rock” he teamed with fellow Power Team USA member “Flash.” After a few months, he left for the Texas-based World Class Championship Wrestling, where he was renamed the Dingo Warrior. After almost three months of appearing in nothing but house shows, the Dingo Warrior made his television debut. However, on October 7, 1987, the Dingo Warrior would undergo another name change. This new identity would become one of the most popular wrestlers in the history of the WWF. On that night, Jim Hellwig was transformed into the Ultimate Warrior. The WWF was never the same again.
One of the WWF’s biggest strengths during the mid-eighties was their production of very creative vignettes that were used to introduce new wrestlers to the WWF. None were more effective then the skits that introduced the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. In his very first skit, DiBiase was the victim of a paper cut from counting his money. When he arrived at the hospital, along with his assistant Virgil, the “Million Dollar Man” bribed a nurse to let him skip to the front of the line. His second vignette showed DiBiase go to a public pool. Since he didn’t want to have to share the pool with “common folk,” DiBiase paid off the pool attendant to kick everyone out of the pool, so DiBiase could swim by himself. Another segment showed DiBiase pay someone at a restaurant off, so he can get seated without waiting for a table. At the end of each skit, DiBiase would chant his soon to be famous catch phrase; “Everybody’s got a price, for the Million Dollar Man.”
Most fans may not realize this, but Ted DiBiase did not make his debut with the WWF in 1987. This was actually DiBiase’s second stint with the company. He last appeared in the WWF in 1979, where he helped put over a heel Hulk Hogan in “The Hulkster’s” Madison Square Garden debut. When he was last in the WWF, he was a scientific wrestling babyface. While, he was still a scientific marvel, eight years later, DiBiase was about to become one of the WWF’s most well known heels. After his vignettes aired, DiBiase took his show on the road. After his first live television appearance, DiBiase offered a woman $100.00 if she got down on all fours, and barked like a dog. After the woman performed the dog imitation, DiBiase refused to give her the money. He said that the woman didn’t do a good enough job. After a match, a sweaty DiBiase paid a teenage Rob Van Dam $300.00 to kiss his foot. During another DiBiase interview, he offered a kid $300.00 if he could do 10 push-ups. Unfortunately, the kid was only able to do 8, and the “Million Dollar Man” wouldn’t give him the money. One of the funniest DiBiase segments involved a kid who was about six years old. DiBiase told the kid that he would give him $100.00 if the child could dribble a basketball 10 times. The kid started to dribble as the crowd counted. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-boom! Just as the kid was about to dribble the ball for the tenth time, DiBiase kicked the ball away from the kid. He said that since the kid didn’t dribble the ball ten times, he didn’t get the money.
All of the skits worked perfectly to get Ted DiBiase’s character over as a millionaire snob heel. During the eighties and early nineties, a wrestler, who was established in a federation other then the WWF, had to work his way up the ladder. In WCW (during the nineties), a wrestler who came into the company after a stint in the WWF was usually thrown in matches near the top of the card. This strategy would initially be successful for World Championship Wrestling. Here is a wrestler that had name recognition, so they would start him in major angles. The problem with that booking philosophy was simple. If you signed the wrestler to a three year contract, and have him in all upper tier feuds for his first 8-12 months with the company, by the time year two approach, there was nowhere for his character to go but down. In the WWF model, their new hire would start in the lower part of the card, while promotional vignettes would help get them over. They would then be involved in a mid-card feud. Next, they would fight an upper mid-carder. Next, they may feud for the Intercontinental title. Finally, if good enough, they would feud with the main eventers, and get a shot at Hogan.
Ted DiBiase’s career path in the WWF was different than most. After a short feud with Jim Duggan, Ted DiBiase was put into a program with Hulk Hogan. Before he was to fight Hogan for the belt, the “Million Dollar Man” had a different strategy to try to become the WWF Champion. To prove that “everybody has a price for the Million Dollar Man,” DiBiase wanted to buy the belt from Hulk Hogan. At the WWF Superstars television taping, which aired on December 19, 1987, Hulk Hogan rejected Ted DiBiase’s offer to buy the WWF Championship. On the January 9, 1988 telecast of WWF Superstars, DiBiase announced that he had purchase Andre the Giant’s contract. He said that after Andre beat Hogan for the championship, The Giant would hand the belt over to the “Million Dollar Man.”
While the “Million Dollar Man” was trying to buy the WWF Championship, Ted DiBiase helped save a fellow wrestler’s career. On May 26, 1987, Jim Duggan and his “hated rival” Iron Sheik were driving together on the NJ Turnpike after a house show when they were pulled over by the police. The NJ State troopers saw Duggan drinking and driving. It was also determined that Duggan was under the influence of marijuana. During the search, they found cocaine, marijuana, and other drugs in one of the Iron Sheik’s suitcases. Despite the big problem of now being known as a drug user, Jim Duggan and the Iron Sheik had another problem: Vince McMahon. At the time, kayfabe still had an iron grip on the wrestling industry. Heels and faces were not supposed to be friends in public, especially two that are in the middle of a violent feud. While Vince sent the Iron Sheik to rehab, Jim Duggan was sent packing. On August 28, 1987, the WWF helped run a retirement show for the legendary promoter Paul Boesch in Houston, TX at the Sam Houston Coliseum. Although he was no longer with the WWF, Jim Duggan was previously booked to work the show. His opponent that night was Ted DiBiase. The “Million Dollar Man” carried Jim Duggan to a tremendous match. Duggan’s work in the match convinced the WWF to give “Hacksaw” another chance, and he was rehired.
During the heat of the summer, the battle for the WWF Intercontinental Championship was heating up. The Honky Tonk Man defended his title against a variety of opponents. Bruno Sammartino, Jake Roberts, Tito Santana and Randy Savage all tried to wrestle the title away from Honky. Led by Jimmy Hart, Honky Tonk was one of the most slippery Intercontinental champions in WWF history. Just when it appeared that his opponent was about to beat Honky for the title, the IC titleholder would either get himself disqualified, or he would leave the ring and get counted out. While the losses piled up, Honky’s title reign continued to grow. The only way to win the championship is by pinning the champion, or forcing him to submit. Honky didn’t always cheat to get himself to lose the match, but not the title. Honky often used illegal methods, such as smashing his opponent’s head with Jimmy Hart’s megaphone, or putting his feet on the ropes for leverage, in order to secure a victory. As the months went by, the Honk Tonk Man started to realize that he was not the typical Intercontinental champion. He knew it, and he let the world know it to. In his promos, he started to refer to himself as the “Greatest Intercontinental Champion of All-Time.” While few can deny that he was in the middle of a successful title reign, one man did have a problem with Honky Tonk labeling himself as the best of all-time.
Randy Savage took great offense to Honky Tonk’s claim. He confronted Honky, and told him to stop. The next week, Honky Tonk gave ten reasons why he is the greatest Intercontinental champion in WWF history. During the segment, Savage went into the ring, and challenged the Honky Tonk Man to a match. Honky turned down Savage’s request because he wasn’t “dressed” to wrestle. On the September 23, 1987 edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event, which aired on October 3rd, a heel Randy Savage fought the rulebreaking Honky Tonk Man for the WWF Intercontinental Championship. During the contest, Randy Savage knocked out Jimmy Hart. This led to the Hart Foundation (Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart) to come to the ring. They helped their manager back to the locker room. Without Jimmy Hart to interfere, it appeared that Savage was on his way to regaining the Intercontinental title. However, Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart ran back to the ringside area, where Bret Hart’s interference caused a disqualification. Thus, allowing Honky Tonk to keep the title. Despite a “successful” title defense, Honky Tonk wasn’t finished with the “Macho Man.” Jim Neidhart and Bret Hart held up Savage, as Honky Tonk was about to hit the “Macho Man” over the head with his guitar. However, in mid swing, Miss Elizabeth stepped in front of Savage and begged the IC Champion to reconsider. Honky threw her to the mat, as Savage struggled to try and escape the Hart Foundation’s grasp. Miss Elizabeth peeled herself off the floor, and left the ringside area. With Elizabeth out of the way, Honky Tonk leveled Randy Savage with a guitar shot to the head. Before the trio can do any more damage to the fallen “Macho Man,” Miss Elizabeth returned. However, this time she was not alone. She pulled the WWF World Champion to the ring by his arm. Hogan charged the ring, and ran off the three heels. When Savage realized what had just occurred, he extended his arm and offered to shake Hogan’s hand. In that instant, the MegaPowers tag team of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage was born.
THE FALL OF JIM CROCKETT PROMOTIONS
While business was booming for McMahon, things weren’t so great for Jim Crockett. Jim Crockett started making, what he thought were sound business decisions, but later turned out to be the death of Jim Crockett Promotions. Mistake #1: He bought Bill Watts’ Universal Wrestling Federation for $4million. While the fans clamored for UWF/NWA dream matches, these bouts would remain a dream. Like McMahon would do 15 years later, Jim Crockett took a guaranteed money making “invasion” angle, and flush it down the toilet. Instead of making back the money he was paying for the UWF in a UWF vs. NWA tour, Crockett had no interest in making the UWF look good. Mid-card Crockett wrestlers Brad Armstrong and Tim Horner won the UWF Tag Team Titles. Jim Cornette bodyguard Big Bubba Rogers would win the UWF World title before losing it to “Dr Death” Steve Williams. A Williams/Flair title unification match would have drawn big business. Many thought that Starrcade 1987 would be the event where all of the titles would be unified. Nothing could be further from the truth. The UWF title was viewed as being on a lower plane then the NWA World and United States titles. Throughout the UWF territory, Crockett ran joint NWA-UWF cards. To kill the territory, and the UWF promotion, these shows had the “UWF matches” booked as the preliminary matches. After intermission, the stars of the NWA would perform in the main events. The inter-promotional Starrcade featured only one unification match. NWA United States Champion Nikita Koloff merged his belt with the UWF TV title, as he squashed Terry Taylor . Where Vince McMahon bought WCW in 2002 mainly for WCW’s video library, it appears that Crockett bought UWF, not to replenish their roster, but they wanted the UWF TV timeslots. The one positive of the acquisition was that the NWA did bring stars like Eddie Gilbert, Steve Williams and Sting into the fold.
Mistake#2: Vince McMahon signed his wrestlers to down sided guaranteed contracts. The each wrestler would get paid a base salary. Then based on ticket sales, merchandising, pay per view figures, etc., the wrestlers would receive a percentage. If the business is good, then the wrestlers tend to make a lot of money. If business is down, then they wouldn’t make as much. In the mid-eighties, the WWF was a cash cow, so their wrestlers were making a lot of money, despite whatever their base salary was. Jim Crockett needed to find a way to compete, so he opened his wallet. He signed guys like Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Lex Luger, and the Road Warriors to big money contracts before the WWF can give them a land of riches. Now that Crockett had these big salaries to contend with, he had to figure out how to pay them. The answer laid in mistake #3: Pay Per View.
After seeing McMahon’s success on pay per view, Jim Crockett felt that he could follow suit. Instead of having only one pay per view a year, like McMahon’s WWF, the National Wrestling Alliance would present four. Their first pay per view event would take place at the “granddaddy of them all,” Starrcade. Unlike Vince’s make or break gamble with the first WrestleMania, Jim Crockett’s gamble with running their very first pay per view was a complete failure.
Whenever there appears to be any form of competition against the WWF, Vince’s initial reaction is always to go through the throat. With news that the NWA was going to hold their first pay per view on Thanksgiving night, November 26, 1987, Vince quickly responded. Vince McMahon announced his own pay per view for the same day called the “Survivor Series.” The rules were simple. The slogan said it all. “Teams of five strive to survive.” Each match on the card featured a series of five on five tag team elimination matches. It was a unique, and intriguing concept.
Seeing that McMahon pulled a trump card to try and ruin Crockett’s plan, the NWA agreed to move the pay per view for earlier in the day. Cable companies were ecstatic. They felt that by airing two wrestling pay per views on the same day that Thanksgiving would become “Wrestling Day.” More importantly to them, the cable industry expected to make a bundle.
Vince McMahon had other plans. Vince made the cable companies an offer. They can either air the Survivor Series, and not Starrcade, OR air Starrcade and not air Survivor Series. They couldn’t have both. As an added incentive for the cable companies to reject Crockett’s Starrcade, Vince told the cable companies that if they aired Starrcade, they would not be allowed to air the next WrestleMania. After the huge success of WrestleMania III, cable companies were not about to risk losing Mania IV. Only five cable companies sided with Jim Crockett and carried Starrcade. The cable companies informed McMahon that he will no longer be allowed to run a pay per view on the same night again. For Crockett, it was too little, too late. His pay per view failure combined with the huge wrestler salaries, and TV contracts led to the fall of Jim Crockett Promotions. Within a year, Crockett would sell his company to McMahon’s greatest rival ever: Ted Turner.
The first Survivor Series took place at the Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, OH. The first match pitted Randy Savage, Jim Duggan, Jake Roberts, Ricky Steamboat, and Brutus Beefcake defeated WWF IC Champion the Honky Tonk Man, King Harley Race, Danny Davis, Hercules and Ron Bass. Honky Tonk was the last man standing for his team, while Ricky Steamboat, Jake Roberts and Randy Savage still remained on the other side of the ring. After an atomic drop from Savage sent Honky over the top rope, the Intercontinental champion kept on walking back to the locker room o lose by countout. Survivors: Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat and Jake Roberts.
In a Ladies’ Survivor Series match, the team of The Fabulous Moolah, Velvet McIntyre, Rockin Robin, and the Jumping Bomb Angels defeated WWF Women’s Champion Sensational Sherri, WWF Women’s Tag Team Champions Lelani Kai & Judy Martin, Dawn Marie and Donna Christianello after Kai was pinned at following a crossbody off the top. Shortly followed by Martin getting pinned following a clothesline off the top after the other Bomb Angel dropkicked Jimmy Hart off the apron. The Survivors: The Jumping Bomb Angels.
There was a special Survivor Series match involving the WWF’s best tag teams. When one member of a tag team was eliminated, his regular partner was eliminated as well. WWF Tag Team Champions Tito Santana & Rick Martel (Strike Force), Davey Boy Smith & the Dynamite Kid (British Bulldogs), Jacques & Raymond Rougeau (Rougeau Brothers), Jim Powers & Paul Roma (Young Stallions), and B. Brian Blair & Jim Brunzell (Killer Bees) defeated Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart (Hart Foundation), Tama & Haku (Islanders), Nikolai Volkoff & Boris Zhukov (Bolsheviks), Ax and Smash (Demolition), and Dino Bravo & Greg Valentine. The end of the match came after Brunzell pinned Bret when Tama dropkicked Hart onto Brunzell, and Brunzell rolling on top for the win. B Brian Blair then pinned Tama with a sunset flip into the ring after putting on a mask.
In the main event, the team of Andre the Giant, Rick Rude, King Kong Bundy, Butch Reed and the One Man Gang defeated WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan, Bam Bam Bigelow, Paul Orndorff, Ken Patera and Don Muraco (substituting for Superstar Billy Graham). Like Honk Tonk Man in the first match on the card, Bam Bam Bigelow was facing a three on one situation towards the end of the match. Unlike the Intercontinental champion, Bigelow didn’t leave the ring for higher ground. He fought back. First, Bigelow pinned Bundy with a slingshot splash into the ring after Bundy missed a splash in the corner. Next, Bigelow pinned One Man Gang after Gang missed a splash off the top. The three on one disadvantage finally proved too much for Bam Bam as Andre pinned Bigelow with a butterfly suplex after Bigelow missed a splash in the corner.
Round One in the WWF vs. NWA TV battle went to Vince McMahon. Round Two would take place almost two months later. Jim Crockett held the finals of the Bunkhouse Stampede on pay per view. The Bunkhouse Stampede was an eighties version of a hardcore battle royal. The wrestlers came dressed in whatever they wanted to wear, and they can bring in any weapon they wanted. Standard over the top rope battle royal rules applied. The NWA ran these matches during several house shows around the country. The winner of each Bunkhouse Stampede would be automatically entered into the final Bunkhouse Stampede of the tour, where they would battle the other Bunk House Stampede winners. The finals were held inside a steel cage. To try and gain a measure of revenge against McMahon, Jim Crockett held his second attempt at pay per view in the WWF’s backyard. Since Vince McMahon owns the rights to any wrestling show at Madison Square Garden, Jim Crockett took the show to Long Island, New York’s Nassau Coliseum.
Vince McMahon found a way to counter Crockett’s pay per view. The WWF created a special wrestling card on cable television for FREE! To make matters worse for the NWA, the main match of this card was also a unique battle royal. The WWF’s battle royal was named the “Royal Rumble.” Unlike normal battle royals, where 20 or so wrestlers would be in the ring until only one remained, the Rumble had a little twist. The Rumble match begins with only two wrestlers in the ring. After every two minutes, a new wrestler will enter the ring. If a wrestler gets thrown over the top rope, and BOTH his feet touch the arena floor, he is eliminated. A wrestler can be eliminated during any time of the match. A “blind” draw determines when each wrestler will enter the battle royal. The first Rumble took place on January 24, 1988 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada broadcast live on the USA Network. The Rumble match wasn’t the only match on the card. Ricky Steamboat beat Rick Rude via disqualification after Rude shoved down the referee. Dino Bravo “set” an unofficial world bench press record at 712lbs. with an “assist” from Jesse Ventura. The Jumping Bomb Angles beat the Glamour Girls (Judy Martin & Lelani Kai) in 2 out of 3 falls to win the WWF Ladies Tag Team Championships. Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant signed a contract for their WrestleMania III rematch, which will take place live on NBC-TV on February 5, 1988 in Indianapolis, IN. After the contract signing, Hogan went to hit Ted DiBiase, but was stopped by Andre, who then attacked Hogan. The Rumble match was next, followed by the Islanders (Tama & Haku) beating the Young Stallions (Paul Roma & Jim Powers) in 2 out of 3 falls.
Unlike future Royal Rumble battle royal, which featured thirty wrestlers in the battle royal match, the first ever edition had only twenty wrestlers participate in the contest. The first two wrestlers in the match were Bret Hart and Tito Santana. The final entrant of the match was the Junk Yard Dog. The wrestler whose stay in the 1988 Rumble match was the shortest was Junk Yard Dog at 2 minutes and 8 seconds. The wrestler who held the Royal Rumble’s Iron Man record in 1988 was Bret Hart at 25 minutes and 40 seconds. The winner of the first Royal Rumble contest was Jim Duggan, who eliminated the One Man Gang.
For the second time in less than two months, Vince McMahon’s show was the bigger success. The Bunkhouse Stampede drew only 6,000 fans for a live gate of $80,000.00. The Rumble drew a sell-out crowd of 15,000 fans. The Rumble set a USA Network television rating of 8.2. To make matters worse, the WWF was known as the cartoon super hero wrestling federation. Whereas, the National Wrestling Alliance was known for their athletic workers. On this night, however, the Royal Rumble show delivered superior matches from a work rate standpoint then the NWA show.
A NEW CHAMPION IS BORN
Two weeks later, the WWF set another ratings splash. On February 5, 1988, the WWF broadcast a live primetime telecast on NBC called “The Main Event.” The show drew a 15.2 rating, which almost double the rating of the most watched RAW telecast. Nearly 15 million people tuned in to see the WWF World title WrestleMania III rematch of Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant.
The undercard featured Randy Savage beating the Honky Tonk Man via countout. In the last match of the night, Strike Force (Santana & Martel) beat the Hart Foundation (Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart), in a match that did not air in its entirety due to come constraints. The middle match was the real main event. Hulk Hogan lost the WWF Championship to Andre the Giant. While Hogan dropping the title was shocking, the controversial ending was even more stunning. When Andre covered Hogan for the pin, the “Hulkster” lifted his should at the count of two. However, the referee continued to count to three. In a funny moment after the match, as DiBiase entered the ring to purchase the WWF championship belt, Andre told the “Million Dollar Man” that he would sell him the TAG TEAM title belt. He then wrapped the WWF World title belt around DiBiase’s waist. While it appeared to everyone that the referee blew the count, there was much more to the story. After the match another official ran to the ring. However, he looked really familiar. He looked just like the referee that officiated the match. “How can this be?” the announcers questioned. There were twin referees in the ring. In a post match Hogan interview, they tried to get the point across that DiBiase hired someone to get plastic surgery to look like the official for the Hogan/Andre match. That referee being Dave Hebner. In actuality, it wasn’t an episode of “Nip/Tuck” that we were watching. The twin ref was actually a twin. He was Dave Hebner’s twin brother Earl Hebner. Besides looking like Dave, the few fans that watched the Bunkhouse Stampede, may have recognized him as a referee on the pay per view. Vince hired away one of the NWA’s top referees, specifically for this angle. While Earl was a major player in the most watched wrestling match in history, he would become a major face in the most controversial title change nine years later.
While most people thought that DiBiase’s plan worked. On that weekend’s WWF syndicated television shows, a clip aired featuring the WWF’s figurehead President Jack Tunney. Tunney said that since the WWF Championship cannot be bought, Ted DiBiase is not the WWF Champion. Since Andre on the title illegally and relinquished all rights to the title when he gave it to DiBiase, he was not the champion either. This had “Dusty finish” written all over it. A “Dusty finish” was made famous by Dusty Rhodes when he was head booker for the NWA. What a “Dusty finish” entailed was when a title would change hands at a house show, and the fans would leave the building thinking that they witnessed a title change. During the next TV show, it would be announced that the title was given back to the other wrestler, because _______ (insert excuse here). Luckily, the fans didn’t have to sit through a WWF version of the “Dusty finish,” since Hogan wasn’t given the belt either. The WWF was without a champion.
Jack Tunney announced that WrestleMania IV would crown a new champion. There would be a 14-man single elimination tournament. Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant each received first round byes, as they are the last two WWF World Champions. However, the top former titleholders would fight each other in the first match in round two.
Besides, Hogan and Andre, the tournament featured Ted DiBiase, Jim Duggan, Don Muraco, Dino Bravo, Ricky Steamboat, Greg Valentine, 1987 King of the Ring winner Randy Savage, Butch Reed, One Man Gang, Bam Bam Bigelow, Jake Roberts, and Rick Rude. WrestleMania IV took place on March 27, 1988 at the Atlantic City Convention Center (Trump Plaza) in Atlantic City, NJ. The first match featured a twenty men over the top rope battle royal. The final three wrestlers in the match were heel wrestlers Bad News Brown and Hart foundation member, Bret Hart, along with fan favorite Junk Yard Dog. Bret and Bad News made a pact to team up against JYD, and split the prize. After eliminating the Junk Yard Dog, Bad News and Bret stood in the center of the ring with their hands raised in victory. Victory would NOT be shared. Brown nailed Hart with the ghetto blaster finisher. He threw Hart out of the ring for the victory. In a rage, Bret ran back into the ring and attacked Bad News Brown, and destroyed the winner’s trophy. This was the start of Bret Hart’s first singles run, and the beginning of his babyface push. The Ultimate Warrior beat Hercules Hernandez. Brutus Beefcake beat the WWF Intercontinental Champion Honky Tonk Man by disqualification. The team of Ax and Smash (Demolition) beat Strike Force (Tito Santana and Rick Martel) for the WWF Tag Team titles. The Islanders and Bobby Heenan beat Koko B Ware and the British Bulldogs.
In the opening round of the tournament, Ted DiBiase beat Jim Duggan. Don Muraco pinned Dino Bravo. Greg Valentine beat Ricky Steamboat. Randy Savage beat Butch Reed. One Man Gang beat Bam Bam Bigelow by count out. Rick Rude fought Jake Roberts to a time limit draw.
Hogan and Andre started off the second round with a double disqualification causing both to be eliminated from the tournament. Ted DiBiase beat Don Muraco to advance into the tournament finals. Randy Savage beat Greg Valentine. One Man Gang drew a second round bye thanks to the Rude/Roberts draw.
In the semi-final contest, Randy Savage beat One Man Gang by disqualification.
In the finals, Randy Savage fought Ted DiBiase. After a ton of interference by Andre the Giant, Miss Elizabeth ran to the locker room to even the odds. Ted DiBiase was on his way to winning the WWF World Championship. He had Randy Savage trapped in the million dollar dream sleeper hold in the middle of the ring. With the referee distracted by Andre, Hogan ran in the ring and hit DiBiase with a chair. Randy Savage slowly came to his feet. Seeing a fallen DiBiase, the “Macho Man” climbed to the top rope, and hit DiBiase with an elbow drop for the pin, and the WWF Championship.
The final match was bout that Ted DiBiase was never supposed to lose. It was planned for Ted DiBiase to win the WWF title at WrestleMania IV, making him the first heel to win the main event of a WrestleMania. DiBiase was going to hold the belt for a year, and then drop the strap to Hogan at WrestleMania V. However, the “Greatest Intercontinental Champion of All-Time” changed all of that.
On “The Main Event” telecast, Randy Savage was supposed to win the Intercontinental title from the Honky Tonk Man. However, Honky refused to job the belt to Randy Savage. A week after “The Main Event” telecast, the WWF decided to scrap their plan of giving DiBiase the World title. With Elizabeth by Savage’s side, they felt Savage would be a better long term draw as champion then the “Million Dollar Man.” The plan that was then put into effect was that Hogan would help his “best friend” win the title at WrestleMania IV. During the year there would be an instance in which Hogan would touch Elizabeth in an innocent, yet guilty looking way. Eventually, Randy Savage would turn on Hogan to step up a match between the two at WrestleMania V.
WrestleMania IV will go down in history as probably the worst WrestleMania as far as crowd reaction. Mid-way through the FOUR hour event, a lot of the crowd headed for the exits. To make matters worse, the television audience also had their attention taken away from WrestleMania. Jim Crockett was finally able to play the same game as Vince McMahon. Vince ruined Crockett’s first pay per view attempt by running the Survivor Series on the same day as Starrcade, and forcing the cable companies to choose between the two shows. Next, when Crockett ran another pay per view featuring a unique battle royal, Vince aired a special on the USA Network, which was headlined by a unique battle royal.
March 27, 1988 was the day when Jim Crockett would fight back. Crockett decided to run his own wrestling special live on TBS called the “Clash of the Champions.” While WrestleMania did great business, a sellout crowd, and 585,000 buys on pay per view, the NWA had every reason to hold their heads up high. Their show drew a 5.8 rating. This equaled a 13 share. WCW’s Nitro show never even reached a share as high as the original “Clash of Champions.” The main event drew a 7.1 rating. At one point during the World title match, they drew a quarter hour rating of 7.8. The 7.1 rating made Flair vs. Sting the most watched wrestling match in cable television history.
While WrestleMania had the hype, the first Clash delivered the goods. The show featured the Match of the Year between Ric Flair and Sting. Their 45 minute draw launched Sting into becoming a main event performer. The “Clash” was also named the show of the year.
The National Wrestling Alliance had a new superstar in Sting. The WWF had a new World Champion in Randy Savage. Now that WrestleMania IV was over, the real test was about to begin. Could Randy Savage help the WWF continue to ride the wave that Hulk-a-Mania launched? Or will Savage be looked at as the guy who failed to replace a legend. 1988 would prove to be the year where the WWF finds out if they can continue to be the number promotion in wrestling, without the advantage of having the top draw in the industry to lead the way.
Sources that were used for this article included “The Wrestling Observer,” www.thehistoryofwwe.com, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wrestling_Entertainment.