The Piledriver Report 02.08.13: The History Of Vince McMahon’s Wrestling Empire: Part Four
The World Wrestling Federation didn’t have to worry about the drawing power of their new World Champion. Their new torchbearer fought Ted DiBiase throughout the spring and summer in World title matches that were unlike any ever seen in the WWF. The McMahons presented wrestlers, such as Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales, Billy Graham, Bob Backlund, and Hulk Hogan as their World Champions. While these men had charisma, or were extremely popular with the fans, they did not present five star classics to the fans. Randy Savage was the first WWF Champion who was an incredible worker. The fans recognized this, and it showed their appreciation with their wallets. The Savage/DiBiase feud did better house show business then most of Hulk Hogan’s post-WrestleMania feuds.
A MACHO CHAMPION
While the Savage/DiBiase war was wrestling in packed houses, and great matches, there was one feud that delivered five star matches in terms of ring psychology. At a TV Taping on March 19th, after his victory over preliminary wrestler Jake Milliman, Rick Rude went up to a lady at ringside to deliver his “Rude Awaking” kiss. The woman rejected Rick Rude after telling him that she was married to Jake Roberts. When he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, Cheryl Roberts slapped Rude in the face. Rude grabbed Cheryl’s arm, until Jake “The Snake” made the save. On May 7th at a house show in the Boston Gardens, Rick Rude went to invite a woman into the ring, but Jake Roberts, who wanted revenge against Rick Rude, prevented her to enter the ring. On an interview that aired on June 11th, Jake Roberts introduced his wife, Cheryl Roberts, to the capacity crowd. Cheryl let Rude know that he wasn’t man enough for her, or for Jake Roberts. More head games were played between the two combatants. Each wrestler, along with Cheryl Roberts, were on TV each week trying to gain the upper hand on the other. At a TV Taping on July 14, 1988 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Rick Rude took their psychological war one step further. In a match that aired on August 7th, Rick Rude entered the match wearing wrestling tights that had Cheryl Roberts’ face air brushed on it. Their feud started before WrestleMania IV, extended into the summer, and reached its climax at the second annual Survivor Series.
While Savage was busy fighting DiBiase across the country, and Jake Roberts was battling Rick Rude, Hulk Hogan was busy trying to make the jump from being the most popular wrestler in history to becoming a huge movie star. Hulk Hogan spent the middle of 1988 in Atlanta, GA with Vince McMahon in filming a motion picture called “No Holds Barred.” The film was about “a pro wrestling champion called Rip (Hogan), who is faithful to his fans and the network he wrestles for. Brell, the new head of the competing World Television Network, wants Rip to wrestle for him. Rip refuses and goes back to his normal life. In order to raise ratings, Brell introduces a show called “The Battle of the Tough Guys”, which was a violent brawling competition (think UFC/MMA). A man called Zeus wins the competition. Brell uses Zeus to try to get at Rip. A battle between Rip and Zeus is enviable.”
The movie was Hogan’s first movie in the role as a lead actor. However, the movie would turn out to have greater significance for the World Wrestling Federation. Vince McMahon was a body building enthusiast. He trained hard, had big arms, but genetics and age hadn’t been kind to Vinnie Mac. Now matter how hard he tried, Vince couldn’t obtain the same physique that made his wrestlers famous. During the filming of “No Holds Barred,” Hogan was getting packages of steroids shipped to him by Dr. George Zahorian. Zahorian worked for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission. He worked all of the WWF’s TV tapings when they came to town. Doctor George wasn’t just a worker of the state, but he went into business for himself at the matches. If you needed pills, painkillers, or steroids, all you had to do was visit Dr. Zahorian. While hanging out with Hogan in Atlanta, the “Hulkster” convinced Vince McMahon to start taking steroids. Vince agreed, and starting getting the steroids from Dr. Zahorian, just like his wrestlers. At the time, Vince’s decision to use steroids was no big deal. However, history would later show that Vince’s attempt at gaining his body builder physique would almost lead to his downfall.
When the filming of “No Holds Barred” was complete, Vince’s focus was completely on the squared circle. More importantly, the WWF was preparing for its summer version of WrestleMania. The WWF called their summer pay per view “Summer Slam.”
A SUMMER SPECTACULAR IN BORN
At the JUNE 21, 1988 TV Tapings, during an interview Andre the Giant interrupted the WWF Champion. The 7 foot 5-inch behemoth distracted Savage long enough for Ted DiBiase to attack him from behind. DiBiase, Andre, and Bobby Heenan triple teamed Savage, as DiBiase’s bodyguard Virgil forced Elizabeth to watch the onslaught. The attack was aired on July 9th. Later that same day, in a segment that aired on July 16th, the “Macho Man” challenged Andre and DiBiase to a tag team match. On the July 23rd edition of WWF Superstars, the heels accepted Savage’s challenge. It was then announced that Jesse Ventura would be the guest referee in the match. At the TV Tapings on July 13, 1988, Savage had a major announcement to make. In a segment, which aired on August 1, 1988, Randy Savage announced that his tag team partner in the match would be Hulk Hogan. The interview was Hogan’s first appearance at a wrestling event since April. In the interview, the “Hulkster” told the fans that Miss Elizabeth is now his manager as well. The battle, which was labeled as the MegaPowers vs. the MegaBucks, would take place at the very first SummerSlam.
Summer Slam 1988 took place on August 29, 1988 in Madison Square Garden. The opening contest pitted the Rougeau Brothers against the British Bulldogs in a match that ended in a twenty-minute time limit draw. Bad News Brown pinned Ken Patera. Rick Rude beat the Junk Yard Dog by disqualification due to outside interference from Jake Roberts. The Powers of Pain (Warlord & Barbarian) beat the Bolsheviks (Nikolai Volkoff & the Iron Sheik). The Ultimate Warrior beat the Honky Tonk Man to capture the WWF Intercontinental Championship. Dino Bravo pinned Don Muraco. WWF Tag Team Champions Demolition beat the Hart Foundation. The Big Bossman pinned Koko B. Ware. Jake Roberts beat Hercules. Hulk Hogan & Randy Savage beat Ted DiBiase & Andre the Giant in the main event.
The closing moments of the main event were used to help plant the seeds of an eventual Hulk Hogan/Randy Savage feud. Towards the end of the match, Miss Elizabeth climbed onto the ring apron and removed her skirt, exposing a bathing suit bottom. This distracted DiBiase and Andre long enough for the MegaPowers to gain control and score the victory. After the match, Hogan wrapped his arms around Elizabeth, and gave her a gigantic bear hug. This didn’t sit well with the “Macho Man.” Hogan placed Elizabeth on Savage’s shoulder. However, when Hogan went to balance Elizabeth, his hands were a little too low on Elizabeth’s back for the “Macho Man’s” liking. Over the next five months, Savage’s jealousy in regards to Hogan and Elizabeth’s relationship would get the better of him. Summer Slam would only be the starting point.
NEW BLOOD RISES
On September 13th, in a segment, which would air on WWF Superstars October 1st broadcast, the WWF introduced a new wrestler into the company. Much like with Ted DiBiase the previous year, the WWF used several pre-taped vignettes to hype his World Wrestling Federation debut. His first vignette showed this wrestler playing pool by sinking every ball on the table. A week later, he was shown thrown a perfect bull’s eye on a dartboard. On October 15th, he sent seen playing chess like Bobby Fischer. Later segments would include him shooting baskets, throwing a football and hitting a baseball. No matter what the sport was, he played it to absolute perfection. He had to, as this man wasn’t your average Joe. He was perfect; “Mr. Perfect” Curt Henning. “Mr. Perfect” would become one of the greatest workers in the WWF’s history. He came to the WWF fresh off of a stint as the American Wrestling Association World Championship. Henning was the complete wrestler. He was a great worker, an arrogant attitude, and terrific mic skills. He might have started his career by showing that he was “perfect” in every sport, except wrestling. However, it wouldn’t be long until the fans saw that he was “absolutely perfect” as a wrestler as well.
Another newcomer to the WWF rings was the Big Boss Man. Boss Man, who was Big Bubba Rodgers in the NWA/WCW, was billed as being a former prison guard from Georgia. In his early WWF matches, after defeating his opponents, the Boss Man would drag his beaten foe to the ropes. Boss Man would then handcuff the wrestler to the rope, and beat him with a night stick. His “hard style of justice” wasn’t just relegated to preliminary wrestlers. On the October 22nd edition of WWF Superstars, the Big Boss Man interrupted a Brother Love interview of Hulk Hogan. He attacked Hogan with his night stick, and then handcuffed Hogan to a guard rail, where he beat on Hogan some more.
On the same night, the National Wrestling Alliance’s top tag team and half of the Four Horsemen wrestling stable, Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard made their WWF debut as Bobby Heenan’s “Brain Busters” tag team. Not only did the Blanchard/Anderson signing put a temporary rest hold on the NWA most popular quartet, but also it proved that any wrestler could be signed away from the competition.
THE ROAD TO WRESTLEMANIA
With Hogan out for revenge on the Big Boss Man, the main event of the 2nd Annual Survivor Series was set. Hulk Hogan and his tag team partner Randy Savage teamed up with Koko B. Ware, Hillbilly Jim, and Hercules against the Big Boss Man, Akeem, Ted DiBiase, “King” Haku, and the “Red Rooster” Terry Taylor. After Hogan and Savage were the final two survivors in the match, Hogan touched Miss Elizabeth in a “too friendly” way. This infuriated Savage, as he was pointed and cursing at an ignoring Hulk Hogan.
Earlier in the show, the Ultimate Warrior, the Blue Blazer, Jim Brunzell, Sam Houston, and Brutus Beefcake defeated the Honky Tonk Man, Greg Valentine, Ron Bass, Bad News Brown, and Danny Davis after the Ultimate Warrior became the sole survivor. In the elimination match involving the WWF’s tag teams, The Powers of Pain, Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart, Davey Boy Smith & the Dynamite Kid, Jim Powers & Paul Roma, and Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty defeated WWF Tag Team Champions Demolition, the Conquistadors, Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard, Jacques & Raymond Rougeau, and Nikolai Volkoff & Boris Zhukov. The Powers of Pain tag team were the lone survivors. During the match, Mr. Fuji abandoned Demolition, and switched allegiances to the Warlord and the Barbarian. In an instant, the Powers of Pain went from being one of the most popular tag teams in the WWF, and became their most hated. Demolition, on the other hand, went from being booed to becoming wildly cheered. Little did the fans know at the time, but this would be the last time the British Bulldogs would step foot in a ring together. Andre the Giant, Dino Bravo, Mr. Perfect, Harley Race, and Rick Rude defeated Jake Roberts, Ken Patera, Jim Duggan, Tito Santana, and Scott Casey when Curt Henning and Dino Bravo were named the last survivors.
The Survivor Series wouldn’t be the last time Savage would start to yell at Hogan. On January 15, 1989, the WWF presented the Royal Rumble for the first time on pay per view. The undercard featured a “posedown” between the Ultimate Warrior and “Ravishing” Rick Rude. The under card matches included: Jim Duggan, Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart beat Dino Bravo, Jacques & Raymond Rougeau in a Best 2 out of 3 falls match. WWF Women’s Champion Rockin’ Robin pinned Judy Martin. King Haku pinned Harley Race to be the “official” King of the WWF. Months before the bout, Bobby Heenan managed “King” Harley Race. When Race suffered an injury that put him on the sidelines, Heenan pronounced Haku as the new “King.” Even tough, Race was now back from his injury, Haku did not want to abdicate the thrown. Since Heenan managed both men, he worked both corners of the ring torn between whom to side with. In a strange bit of trivia, the Haku/Race match was not included on the US release of the Royal Rumble 89 home video. In the main event, “Big” John Studd won the 30-man over the top rope Royal Rumble. There were two memorable moments in the battle royal. The first happened after the opening bell. The WWF World Tag Team Champions, Ax and Smash of Demolition were the first two participants in the match. Instead of standing by waiting for the third entrant, both competitors went after each other like they were sworn enemies. The other memorable moment was when Hulk Hogan threw Bad News Brown and Randy Savage out of the battle royal. This led to another Savage outburst. It was short lived however, as Miss Elizabeth ran to the ring to smooth things over between the two wrestlers.
THE MEGA POWERS EXPLODE!
While it was obvious that tensions were starting to run high between Hogan and Savage, they were scheduled to team up with each other on February 3, 1989 on the WWF’s second annual live “The Main Event” prime time special. Their opponents that evening were The Twin Towers (Akeem and Big Boss Man). Hogan pinned Akeem after hitting him with a legdrop. The Mega Powers victory was only a side note for the evening. During the contest, Randy Savage was thrown outside of the ring where he landed on top Miss Elizabeth. Seeing Elizabeth knocked out, Hulk Hogan picked up the fallen manager, and carried her back to the arena’s medical room. While Hogan was gone, Akeem and the Big Boss Man double teamed the WWF World Champion. After Hogan returned to the ring, Randy Savage slapped Hogan in the face and left the ring. After the match, Hogan met up with Savage in the medical room. Savage yelled at Hogan for leaving him in the ring by himself. He then accused Hogan of having “lust for Elizabeth.” Savage struck Hogan in the head with the WWF Championship belt, and started to beat on the “Hulkster.”
The line was drawn. The feud was about to begin. Only one question remained, “which wrestler would get the support of Miss Elizabeth?” Would she stand by her man, the “Macho Man, or would she continue to serve as Hulk Hogan’s manager? Miss Elizabeth decided that she would remain in a neutral corner during the Hulk Hogan/Randy Savage WWF World title match at WrestleMania V.
Hogan was the company’s top babyface. After turning on the “Hulkster,” Randy Savage was now the company’s top heel. While they were the clear number ones, two wrestlers stepped up to the plate as the number two babyface and the number two heel. These two men were the Ultimate Warrior and “Ravishing” Rick Rude.
When he entered the WWF, the Ultimate Warrior was a ball of energy. After winning the Intercontinental title from the Honky Tonk Man at Summer Slam 1988, the Ultimate Warrior’s momentum grew stronger and stronger. Rick Rude was determined to shut down the Warrior’s rise to stardom. The first step by Rude was to prove that he had the better physique. He challenged the IC Champion to a body building pose down at the Royal Rumble. Unfortunately for Rude, the fans turned the body building pose down into a popularity contest. Rude, feeling that the fans screwed him, attacked the Warrior with a steel workout bar. While the Ultimate Warrior wanted revenge for the brutal attack, Rude wanted to take the Warrior’s Intercontinental championship. Their match was signed for WrestleMania V.
On April 2, 1989, the WWF presented WrestleMania V at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, NJ. This was the first time that one arena was the home to consecutive WrestleManias. The show opened with the WWF Women’s Champion “Rockin’” Robin singing the national anthem. As added attractions to the show, Run DMC performed a WrestleMania rap, and Roddy Piper returned to host a special “Piper’s Pit” with Brother Love and TV talk show host Morton Downey Junior. Hercules pinned King Haku. The Big Bossman & Akeem defeated Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty when Akeem pinned Michaels. Brutus Beefcake fought Ted DiBiase to a double count-out. The Bushwhackers beat Jacques & Raymond Rougeau when Luke pinned Raymond. Mr. Perfect pinned the Blue Blazer. This was the first match where Curt Henning wore his singlet wrestling trunks. WWF Tag Team Champions Demolition defeated the Powers of Pain & Mr. Fuji in a handicap match. Dino Bravo pinned Ron Garvin. Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard beat Tito Santana & Rick Martel. During the match, Rick Martel walked out on Tito Santana. Jake Roberts beat Andre the Giant by disqualification after Andre attacked guest referee Big John Studd.. Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart defeated the Honky Tonk Man & Greg Valentine when Neidhart intercepted Jimmy Hart’s megaphone, tossed it to Bret Hart, who then used it on Honky for the pin. Rick Rude pinned the Ultimate Warrior to win the WWF Intercontinental champion. Jim Duggan fought Bad News Brown to a double disqualification. “The Red Rooster” Terry Taylor pinned Bobby Heenan in 31 seconds. Hulk Hogan pinned Randy Savage to win his second WWF World championship.
After losing his title to Hogan, Savage decided to take out his frustrations on the World Wrestling Federation. His first target was one of Hogan’s closest friends. On the April 22, 1989 edition of the “Brother Love Show,” Randy Savage and his new manager Sensational Sherri interrupted the segment. When Brother Love’s guest, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, started throwing insults at Sherri, she slapped him across the face. Savage then attacked Beefcake, while Sherri cut off some of Brutus’ hair.
Throughout the spring and summer, Randy Savage pulled double duty in the ring, as he feuded with both Beefcake, and Hulk Hogan. One night, Savage would face “The Barber.” In the next town, he would face Hogan in a WWF World title match. He was being pulled in two directions, but help was on its way in a most unusual form.
Hogan left wrestling in the Spring of 1988 to film a movie called “No Holds Barred.” Hogan’s character was that of a championship wrestler. Like all wrestlers, the main character had a new hated rival. This heel character was called Zeus. Vince being Vince, decided to bring in the man who played Zeus. In an interview with Gene Okerlund, Zeus mentioned that “he was the real star of “No Holds Barred” because he was bigger, badder, and he would kick Hulk Hogan’s butt.” He show the world that he wasn’t just all talk. Before a Hogan/Boss Man steel cage match that was held on the May 28th edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event, Zeus attacked the Hulkster in the ringside area.
With Zeus’ hatred for Hogan made apparent, Randy Savage now had a partner in crime. On the July 8th “Brother Love Show” segment, Savage and Zeus issued a challenge to Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake to a tag team match.
The two teams were set to battle at Summer Slam 1989 in East Rutherford, NJ on August 28, 1989. Hogan and Beefcake beat Savage and Zeus after Hogan pinned Zeus with the legdrop. After the match, Miss Elizabeth helped Beefcake cut off Sheri’s ponytail. In the blow off match to their eight month feud, the Ultimate Warrior regained the Intercontinental title from Rick Rude. WWF Tag Team Champions Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard defeated Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart in a non-title match in a dream tag team match. Dusty Rhodes pinned the Honky Tonk Man. “Mr. Perfect” Curt Henning pinned the “Red Rooster” Terry Taylor. Rick Martel, Jacques & Raymond Rougeau beat Tito Santana, Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty. Jim Duggan & Demolition defeated Andre the Giant, the Big Bossman, & Akeem. Greg Valentine pinned Hercules with his feet on the ropes. Ted DiBiase beat Jimmy Snuka via count-out.
Throughout the fall, Hogan continued his feud with Randy Savage, as well as defending the title against Bad News Brown. Meanwhile, the Ultimate Warrior was beating Andre the Giant in record time in house shows across the country. The winter months featured title matches between Hogan and Curt Henning
The Ultimate Warrior defended his Intercontinental championship against Dino Bravo. Both champions were on a roll, and both were on a collision course with each other.
The decade of the eighties came to a close with the most popular wrestler in the industry’s history holding the WWF World Champion. The fans were starting to wonder who would be the man that would lead the WWF through the next decade. There was a man who was being groomed for that position. The year 1990 would determine if the WWF was ready for life after Hulk Hogan. The first step was about to begin with a simple challenge; an “Ultimate Challenge.”
Sources that were used for this article included “The Wrestling Observer,” www.thehistoryofwwe.com, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wrestling_Entertainment.