Sunday, April 13, 2014

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania IV

If you want to see how radically storytelling in professional wrestling has evolved in the Internet age, compare WrestleMania XXX and its "Daniel Bryan and the Internet Smart Fans vs. Triple H and the Glass Ceiling" meta-storyline with 1988's WrestleMania IV. Back in '88, there was no widespread Internet filled with rumor mills, dirt sheets and message boards full of "insiders" with backstage storyline gossip. The WWF was still maintaining kayfabe in public appearances, and all the dirt sheets were underground newsletters that you had to subscribe to in order to hear the latest gossip. As a soon-to-be 14-year-old fully willing to suspend his disbelief, i had no idea who would win the main event at WrestleMania IV, and hell--i had no idea who would be in the final.

See, WrestleMania IV is the year of the tournament--a one-night single-elimination 14-person tournament to fill the vacant WWF World Heavyweight Championship. On February 5, 1988, NBC aired The Main Event on prime time TV, featuring a title rematch of the WrestleMania III clash between Hogan and Andre. This time, the match ended in controversial fashion when Andre covered Hogan for what should have been a one-count, but was counted three by referee Earl Hebner, evil twin of the scheduled official Dave Hebner, trapped in a locker somewhere backstage after "The Million Dollar Man," Ted DiBiase (Andre's new manager, having bought his contract from Bobby Heenan), bribed Earl to count a bogus three and award the title to Andre, who would then surrender the belt to DiBiase. (Follow all that?) However! President Jack Tunney invalidated the transaction, claiming "no sale" as the title can only change hands by pinfall or submission (someone tell that to Vince McMahon in 2007 when he awards the title to Randy Orton before he even wrestles a match that night). Thus, we have the first-ever WWF championship vacancy, and the aforementioned tourney.

In 1988, there was no Internet speculating about which hot babyface would be given a chance to run with the gold. Not many people knew that Ricky Steamboat was slowly being jobbed out of the company by bitter management, nor did anyone know that Hogan was about to take a sabbatical to film a movie (the classic No Holds Barred, featuring Tiny Lister as Zeus, an unstoppable monster heel nowhere near as lazy as his eye!). All we had at Hilbert Junior High was speculation, and most of us thought that the winner of the tournament would emerge from the Hogan/Andre second-round bout. So obviously we had no idea what was going to happen.

If only the actual wrestling were as dramatic as the storyline...

For the first time, we do not get shitty light jazz opening the show; instead, we get shitty generic hard rock with a slot machine-based title graphic. We also get Mean Gene Okerlund introducing Gladys Knight, who performs a little bit of an awkward a capella medley of "America the Beautiful," "My Country 'Tis of Thee" (or whatever the hell that song's called), and "America." Gladys is wearing a sequined jacket with more product placement on it that a NASCAR driver, and i'm not entirely sure what that's all about. But hey! We once again have Gorilla Monsoon, Jesse The Body, and Bob F. Uecker. Jesse and Uecker are apparently going to spend the show fighting over guest timekeeper Vanna White, continuing the WWF's tradition of treating ladies like prizes to be won, i guess. The 80s, amirite? I dunno if Uecker spent the week before 'Mania on a tanning bed, but he looks more bronzed than the battle royal trophy the referees are hauling to the ring right now. Speaking of which, let's go to match #1:

Match #1: 20 man battle royal

Howard Finkel introduces the participants: Bad News Brown, The Bolsheviks (Nikolai Volkoff and Boris Zhukov), The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart), The Killer Bees (B. Brian Blair and Jim Brunzell), Danny Davis, George Steele, Harley Race, Hillbilly Jim, The Rougeau Brothers (Jacques and Raymond), The Young Stallions (Paul Roma and Jim Powers), Junkyard Dog, Ken Patera, Ron Bass, Sam Houston, and Sika. That's right, Sam Houston, perennial WWF jobber to the stars, is on a WrestleMania card. Man, the WWF was one roster spot away from having a completely stacked card: 14 dudes in the tournament, four undercard matches, and a 19-man/1 jobber battle royal. So close. (For that matter, i had totally forgotten the Outlaw Ron Bass ever existed before watching this match. Other than him slashing up Brutus Beefcake's face on an episode of Superstars of Wrestling, he didn't really amount to shit.)

The only important action in this battle royal takes place at the end, after a few wacky spots including George Steele (who never actually entered the ring, so ok) yanking Jim Neidhart over the top rope by his beard, and "King" (sigh) Harley Race trying to trade headbutts with Junkyard Dog and failing miserably, because he apparently learned nothing at last year's 'Mania. Eventually it's just JYD vs. heels Bret "Hitman" Hart and Bad News Brown, a Scary Black Man from Harlem who briefly flirted with becoming the WWF's top heel. Hart and Bad News team up against JYD and eventually toss him over the top, which they celebrate by high fiving and holding each others' arms in the air. Gorilla speculates that they're looking to split the prize money, until BAM! Bad News blindsides the Hitman with a "Ghetto Blaster" back brain kick, NES Fighter Hayabusa-style (and yes, the Scary Black Man's finishing move was called the "Ghetto Blaster"). Bret careens out of the ring and Bad News is awarded a trophy that is taller than all but the most French of battle royal participants (except Andre's in the tournament this year, so never mind). As Bad News cockily yells "I AM THE WINNER!" repeatedly at no one in particular, Bret sneaks back in, dropkicks Bad News out of the ring, and begins a systematic dismantling of the trophy, thus starting a grand tradition of Bret Hart throwing temper tantrums in the ring to fully turn babyface (although, really, you can't blame him for the last one).

Winner: Bad News Brown after eliminating Bret Hart in 10:40

Uecker leaves the broadcast booth to go find Vanna (apparently his budding romance with The Fabulous Moolah last year never got off the ground), leaving Gorilla and Jesse to blab aimlessly about the attendance at Trump Plaza while Howard Finkel is in the ring explaining the time limit rules of the WWF World Title tournament. Hey, guys....guys? GUYS! Shouldn't we be listening to this? Finally, Gorilla says "oh, hey, let's go down to Howard Finkel for the tournament rules," just in time for Finkel to say "and now, to read a special proclamation, please welcome the host of Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous, Robin Leach!" Smooth segue, Gorilla.

The "proclamation" is just a vehicle for Robin Leach to say a bunch of hooey about the title vacancy. I can't bring myself to pay attention to all of it, but i think it goes something like, "Whereas Hulk Hogan needs time off to film the shittiest wrestling movie since Blood Circus, and whereas the WWF took advantage of the lack of Internet smark fans to spring Dave Hebner's evil twin on everyone to invent the most convoluted storyline possible with which to take the belt off Hogan without him looking weak, and whereas we're just gonna come up with a way to put the belt back on him anyway when he comes back; therefore, here's a cool-ass tournament that will still prominently feature Hulk Hogan no matter the outcome. HOGAN! HOGAN! HOGAN! I'm Robin Leach, and I DO KNOW WHY." Was i close?

Tournament Match #1: "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan vs. "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase (w/Virgil & Andre the Giant)

Let's see...DiBiase is currently the top heel in the company, gaining birth-of-the-universe level heat by throwing around his millions attempting to buy the WWF's top title, and was instrumental in the conspiracy which necessitated this very tournament. "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan bellows "HOOOOOO" and eats his own boogers. I wonder who's going to win this.

As the wrestlers make their way to ringside, Gorilla and Jesse cover for Monsoon's earlier blunder by recapping the time limits: 15 minutes in round 1, 20 minutes in round 2, 30 minutes in round 3, and no time limit in the final. Aw, they want us to think there's a chance the final might go over a half hour. That's precious.

These two have years of work together in the old UWF, where they hung out before making the big time. Jesse points out that we have a respected technical wrestler in the ring vs. Hacksaw, who "don't know a hold from nothin.'" He and Hacksaw are about on the same level with their grammar, though. Hacksaw breaks convention and knocks the Million Dollar Man out of the ring with an actual wrestling hold--an atomic drop! DiBiase then tries an Irish whip, has it reversed, and runs into a Duggan clothesline, which Ted flops like a champ for. Man, you wanna watch a wrestler that knows how to bump around the ring, watch Ted DiBiase, especially the dive he does off the top rope that ends in Duggan punching him in the gut. The laws of Earth physics do not dictate that flying into a fist should cause you to jump into mid-air, flipping over until you land on your ass, but wrestling physics is a different beast, thank god.

Jesse talks about what a travesty it would be if Duggan won the tournament (once again, we agree) while Hacksaw lays it on, eventually signaling for his three-point-stance-into-a-clothesline finishing move (because he used to play football, i guess? I think that was the logic behind that move?). However, Andre reaches into the ring to trip him up with the referee's back turned, and when Hacksaw spins around to attack the giant, he gets decked in the face while the ref's vision is obscured, and he gets a knee in the back from DiBiase for his trouble. One, two, three, and that's all she wrote. Credit to Hacksaw here, amazingly--he struggles while DiBiase pins his shoulders to the mat, finally kicking out after the hand slaps three. So many wrestlers lie completely prone on the mat until the three count, and then suddenly they're super animated again. Sure, makes sense. Leave it to Hacksaw Jim Fucking Duggan to add some realism to the proceedings. USA! USA! Boogers!

Winner: Ted DiBiase via pinfall and outside interference in 4:54

We take you now to the interview area, where Mean Gene Okerlund is heaping lavish praise on Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake's johnson. No, seriously. "All right! Brutus the Barber Beefcake...please, you've already given me my haircut...take a look at this! Brutus, this is incredible. What a package."

Beefcake is barely paying any attention to any of this, as he's preoccupied with his hedge clippers, which i'm sure are the same ones he stole from "Adorable" Adrian Adonis last year. "But Brutus, what about the Honky Tonk Man's manager, Jimmy Hart? He's interjected himself into his men's matches on a number of occasions." "Yeah, he's interjected himself...and i have my blades sharpened to a razor's edge! And if he gets in the way of these...snip snip snip! A little off the top? A little off the side?" I haven't seen a dude this obsessed with hair since Sam Malone on Cheers. Anyway, wild-eyed rant over; let's go back to the ring for the war of the huge-titted dudes.

Tournament Match #2: Dino Bravo (w/Frenchy Martin) vs. "The Rock" Don Muraco (w/"Superstar" Billy Graham)

Don Muraco, having hooked up with a not-yet-entirely-ravaged-by-steroids "Superstar" Billy Graham, has become a tie-dye wearing babyface called "The Rock," which at the time certainly put off many fans of former Green Bay Packer Larry McCarren. Dino Bravo at this point has recently "set the world powerlifting record" thanks to a dubious spot/assist by Jesse Ventura, and he has yet to ingest a hail of bullets in a mafia hit, so he's got that going for him.

Jesse hilariously claims to be the originator of tie-dye and accuses Billy Graham of learning everything from Jesse and then passing it on to Muraco, which i guess he thinks is gimmick infringement or moveset infringement or something. Monsoon points out that Graham was once WWF champ and Jesse never was, to which Ventura responds "that's because i never went for it as hard as he did. Plus he beat an easy champion." Love the hilarious dig at Bruno Sammartino. Good stuff.

The bell rings and it's straight to the clusterfuck of hot garbage and missed spots! Muraco slams Dino Bravo too far from the turnbuckle to try a corner splash, but he does anyway and sort of awkwardly drops into a pin after landing on his feet next to Bravo. That's followed up with...i'm not sure what. I think Bravo anticipates some sort of strike from Muraco and sells it with a fall to the mat, but Muraco kinda...stands there. Man, this is lousy.

They sort of get their groove back after a bit--there's a cool/scary moment where Muraco gets hung in the ropes but gets out right away, and Bravo hits a decent-looking piledriver--hey, remember when that move wasn't banned? Anyway, the winner of this match takes on DiBiase, so we already know the babyface is gonna win. Bravo gets disqualified when he pulls the ref into the path of Muraco, laying him out. So there you go. Muraco's stupid Roman gladiator theme music is piped in WAY hotter than the commentary, and it's really distracting and i can't hear Jesse talk about whether or not the DQ was justified. God, fuck this whole situation. Let's get back to Bob Uecker already.

Winner: Don Muraco via DQ in 4:53

Oh hey, there's Bob! He's rambling about how he's run into Vanna in the backstage area and that they're gonna take a walk around the convention center after his interview. He's completely full of shit, of course. Speaking of full of shit, here comes Intercontinental Champion The Honky Tonk Man, strumming a guitar that he doesn't know how to play and claiming that Ueck's actually looking for "something else," although he doesn't specify what. Ueck brings up Beefcake and Honky starts rambling about his shake, rattle and roll or whatever, and just like that, boom! He takes off. Well, that was uneventful. Uecker says "you guys are never coming over to my house!" which...well, i guess he told them.

Tournament Match #3: Greg "The Hammer" Valentine (w/Jimmy Hart) vs. Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat (with Ricky "Little Dragon" Steamboat, Jr.)

One of the men in this photo is currently under contract to NXT, WWE's developmental minor league:

It's not the kid in the hat, unless that's Prince Albert?

The baby in this photo is NXT superstar Richie Steamboat, who has been out of action for a year with a back injury. Yep--this baby's old enough to have already fucked up his back taking sick bumps. Feel old yet? Well, i suppose not if you were born in 1987 too. This kid is also the reason why Honky Tonk Man is IC champ--just after Steamboat beat Randy Savage in the best WrestleMania match to date to win the strap, he told Vinnie Mac that he needed time off to be with his wife as she had their baby. Vince got butthurt because they were about to give Steamboat the monster push, so they had him job to the worst technical wrestler they could think of--which actually ended up kickstarting one of the best chickenshit heel championship runs of all time. Your loss is Honky's gain, Dragon.

No Jimmy Hart with "The Hammer" at ringside, since he's wandering around harassing baseball commentators backstage with the aforementioned Tonk. Wait, no, there he did he get down there that fast? Surely the preceding interview wasn't pre-taped, was it? Surely not, no!

Jesse gives a shout out to Beyond the Mat director Barry Blaustein for the second 'Mania in a row, as apparently ol' Barry picked Steamboat to win the tournament. Well, he's doing his thing right now, alternating between high-speed sequences with deep armdrags and wristlock rest holds. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Valentine's holding his own as the two competitors go back and forth, trading sick-sounding chops, clotheslines and shoulderbreakers. Hey, wait a minute--what the hell is Dave Hebner doing refereeing this match? Why in seven hells is Jack Tunney letting a Hebner twin officiate anywhere near this tournament? You'd think that as a precautionary measure, WWF officials would tell Dave, "look, we're sorry, we know it's not your fault, but we need to make 100% sure these tournament results are definitive and that there's no controversy"--oh, wait, never mind. Wrestling without controversy is like porn without dialogue. Without something goofy to snark at you're just sitting there staring at a bunch of bulging dickheads, and that's no fun. So forget i brought it up. Slap that mat, Dave.

Unsurprisingly, the match isn't terrible, since these guys are two of the company's best workers. But they only get nine minutes to do their thing, so it wraps up when Steamboat hits his trademark flying bodypress, which Valentine rolls over into a grab-the-tights pinfall. See? Hebner fucked up and didn't catch Valentine cheating! Any other ref would have obviously seen this chicanery--oh, what the hell am i saying?

Winner: Greg Valentine with a handfull of tights in 9:12

Interview time again! Mean Gene is backstage with the British Bulldogs, Koko B. Ware, the Bulldogs' pet pup Matilda, and Koko's bird Frankie. Much love the the Bulldogs, but they have nothing to say here that i remotely give a shit about. Something about training Matilda to hunt weasels, because Bobby Heenan is actually wrestling in a six-man tag match with the Islanders against these guys later in the show. Whatever. Davey Boy and Dynamite are sort of terrible interviews, and Koko is doing his best Little Richard here, so i'm just gonna focus on Matilda. WHO'S A GOOD PUPPY? YESSUMS YOU IS A PUPPY.

Tournament Match #4: "The Natural" Butch Reed (w/Slick) vs. "Macho Man" Randy Savage (w/Elizabeth)

COLOR CHECK: "Macho Man" and Elizabeth are color-coordinated in violet blue, and damn, does Elizabeth look foxy. Gorilla agrees, and Jesse implores him to not start drooling all over their broadcast booth. "The Natural" Butch Reed is already in the ring, strutting, posing, and acting altogether jive soul bro-ish. His manager has had an influence, i suppose. Reed has the early advantage in this bout, reversing a vertical suplex and following it up with an elbowdrop to a prone Savage. Jesse foreshadows the storyline of the night here, pointing out that the winner of this tournament may have to wrestle four times, as Savage continues to absorb punishment from the future NWA World Tag Champ (seriously, weren't Doom badass? I remember them as being badass).

Finally, Reed climbs to a turnbuckle and stops to jaw at Elizabeth, and there's the opening Savage needs. He dashes to the corner, tosses Reed off the turnbuckle, hits the flying elbow, and just like that, we have our winner. Jesse credits Elizabeth with the distraction--"i don't know, maybe showing him a little leg or something"--but the primary takeaway here is that Savage took a beating all match and managed to capitalize late and get a quick-strike pin. Damage done, as Savage has to now go through "The Hammer" in round 2.

Hey wait--is it, like, some purposeful ironic thing that a guy called "The Natural" bleaches his hair blond? Holy Christ, it's 2014 and i finally got that.

Winner: Randy Savage via pinfall in 5:07

Back to Uecker backstage, where he continues to bullshit about hanging out with Vanna White. The Islanders and Bobby Heenan crash the party though, and after Ueck rants for a spell about how Bobby Heenan stole Matilda a few weeks back and it was a horrible outrage and such, Heenan shoots back with a "you had 700,000 votes to get into the Hall of Fame. You'd have had more than that but you ran out of stamps." BURN! That's pretty much all that matters here. More stuff about the Bulldogs and Koko B. Ware, etc. More tournament already!

Tournament Match #5: One Man Gang (w/Slick) vs. Bam Bam Bigelow (w/Oliver Humperdink)

Slick is back at ringside with The Man Who Would Be Akeem, and Gang has to contend with one of the most athletic big men in wrestling history, Bam Bam Bigelow (who is coming out to some seriously cheesy saxophone rock. This shit makes Huey Lewis & the News sound like John Coltrane and honestly was probably a lead-in for one of the previous WrestleManias.

Anyway, this match is a travesty from the get-go. Bam Bam gets a little offense, but after a cartwheel he connects with a splash which is more of a "i'm just gonna collapse on One Man Gang here," which looks like shit. Bam Bam hits a flying headbutt and as he runs to the ropes to follow up, Slick cranks on the top rope behind the ref's back and Bam Bam goes flying out of the ring.

Now, here's where it gets stupid. The ref (some joker who apparently needs to yell everything out of his piehole) begins counting immediately, and continues to count Bam Bam out while he's on the ring apron and taking punched from One Man Gang. In any other match in the WWF, the dude in the ring making contact with the dude outside the ring would constitute a break of the count, and the ref would start counting over. Instead, because the director of the show has dictated that this match has three minutes to work, the ref just screams in Bam Bam's face from between the ropes. "SEVENNNN! EIGHHHHHT! NIIIINE! TEN!" Ding ding ding, countout victory for the One Man Gang. Early WWF pay-per-views were weird this way, as they felt like they needed at least one DQ and one countout per show, just to mix it up a bit, and it often felt forced (like here).

Bam Bam is pissed and for good reason, as he was sticking his head back into the ring just as the ref screamed "TEN!" This match seriously pushes suspension of disbelief--due to the result AND due to the managers at ringside. Oliver Humperdink, you look like a walking faberge egg with a beard. Stop it.

Winner: One Man Gang via countout in 2:56

Interview time! Mean Gene talks to Hulk Hogan. Fee fi fo fum. All the kids are asking if it was really a three count in February (because kids can't tell when a shoulder is off the ground, apparently). Hogan says something about slamming Andre so hard that the fault line from New Jersey to Tampa, Florida is gonna crack, sending Andre falling to the ocean floor. The hell are you talking about, Hogan? There's no fault line on the East coast. I just googled it to make sure, so i know i'm right. You are a weirdo. Now he's ranting about Donald Trump and his family ending up in the ocean after the earthquake, and i guess they can hold onto Hogan's back for safety as he dog paddles and backstrokes them toward shore. But Hulk, if you're doing the backstroke while they're on your back, won't they drown? Oh, fuck this. Can we get to the match of the night, please?

Tournament Match #6: "Ravishing" Rick Rude (w/Bobby "The Brain" Heenan) vs. Jake "The Snake" Roberts

Now we're talkin'--here comes "Ravishing" Rick Rude, one of the smarmiest, greasiest, shitbag heels ever to grace a wrestling ring. Coming down the aisle to "The Stripper" (a version with just as much cheesy sax as Bam Bam's music, only here it totally works, because it's The fucking Stripper), he immediately goes to work on the mic insulting every dude in the house. "I just wanna let you little boys know that you're taking a huge gamble letting your ladies see my ravishing body. So keep the noise down while i take my robe off and show the world why the odds are in my favorite. Hit the music." Yes, he said "favorite." He can't be flawless all the time, otherwise dudes like me would have no hope. RUDE TIGHTS CHECK: Airbrushed picture of Some Chick who is not Cheryl Roberts.

Speaking of Cheryl Roberts, here comes her husband Jake, who is all business and steely-eyed determination. ABOUT CHERYL: This match is a killer preview of the feud these two end up having in the Summer of '88, after Rick Rude brings a lady into the ring after a match to try to plant a "Rude Awakening" tongue kiss on her, only to have her explain that she's Jake Roberts' wife. Rude gets pissed and starts grabbing her wrist while berating her, and Jake comes down to make the save, kickstarting a feud that to this day is the template in my head for a classic, knock-down wrestling feud that has nothing to do with titles and everything to do with two guys who just completely hate the shit out of each other. Check this shit out, it's classic:

But hey, we're getting ahead of ourselves. No feud here, just two dudes trying to advance in a tournament for the World Title. An early exchange of body slams sends Rude into the corner where a besacked Damien lies in wait, leading to quick gag with Rude pulling a "YIPE!" face as he runs right into a Jake Roberts wristlock. Both wrestlers are working a methodical style here, which is not the best idea when you only have a 15-minute time limit to work with. Jake motions for the DDT, and as he tries to slap it on, Rude takes a dive to the mat and slithers out of the ring himself, cowering with Bobby Heenan and strategizing for a bit before slinking back into the ring. The wrestlers reset and Jake manages to go back to the wristlock before hitting a bodyslam and trying for a kneelift that Rude avoids, sending Jake to the mat and giving Rude the upper hand. Heenan yells at Rude to not waste any time, which is an indication that they're going to waste as much time as they can. Case in point: Rude is currently milking a reverse chinlock for all its worth. Rest hold city! Jake powers out, but is met with a flying fist from the top for his trouble. A clothesline from Rude and he saunters over Jake for a lazy two-count. Yeah, they're really working this methodical approach, and Heenan's not liking it. Back to a reverse chinlock! Seriously! Was Rude busy listening to Gorilla and Jesse while Finkel was telling everybody the rules?

A flying fistdrop on a prone Snake leads to another lazy, cocky two-count, and now even Jesse is getting pissed at Rude. "Gorilla, i agree with ya--he's gotta hook a leg, hook an arm, and actually go for this!" The crowd is starting to chant "boring," which is funny because while this is a slow match, it's also the one that's been worked the smartest so far. Sure, it's rest holds on rest holds, but at least we're telling a story here, you know?

Eventually there's a late flurry of action and Rick covers Jake in the corner, using the ropes for leverage, but the bell rings before the ref hits three. Rude thinks he's won, but sure enough, it's a 15-minute time limit draw. See? Don't use chinlocks in a single-elimination tournament, you numbskulls! Monsoon and Jesse point out that the One Man Gang cruises to the semifinals with a bye, while Jake releases the snake from his sack. That's not a metaphor; that's literally what he does. Literally literally, not Gorilla Monsoon "they're literally hanging from the rafters here!" literally.

Winner: time-limit draw at 15:00

And that's the end of round one! Mean Gene and Vanna White stand in front of a big ol' tournament bracket and recap round one. Vanna's rocking a leopard-print dress and Mean Gene immediately brings up the fact that Bob Uecker's been harassing everyone about finding Vanna, to which she replies, "who?" Nice. Gene asks Vanna what her picks are in round 2, and go figure, she picks the babyfaces to sweep. "You like Elizabeth, Vanna?" "She's terrific! That's what he needs, a woman person behind him." A woman person.

Match #8: The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hercules (w/Bobby Heenan) (non-tournament match)

Well, the man just passed away, but it's hard to sugarcoat the fact that the Ultimate Warrior was complete garbage in the ring. Apparently this feud started when Herc and Warrior had a tug-of-war with Herc's chains in the ring, having some sort of "who's stronger" pissing contest that's so popular in this, the most dick-wavingest of all sports. Warrior broke the chain because they gimmicked it with a weak link while Hercules has the might of a Greek demigod, The Warrior channels all the rocket-fueled gods of the cosmos or some shit. Let's go with that. Left handed punch! Right handed punch! Clothesline! The Warrior's expended his entire arsenal of moves and we're only two minutes in. Eventually Herc goes for the full nelson and--say it with me, y'all--if the fingers lock, it's over! Of course, the fingers do not lock, and Warrior pushes off the turnbuckle, leading to the classic back-suplex-into-a-double-pin-but-one-dude-gets-the-shoulder-up finish. Warrior gets his shoulder up and he gets the win, although Herc and Heenan start celebrating immediately as if they scored the pinfall. This leads to a cute little call from Howard Finkel, bellowing "HERE is your winner!" as Dave Hebner (officiating a non-tournament match, as he should be to make his penance for getting stuffed in a locker on Feb. 5) raises the Warrior's hand. Hooray, the Warrior i assume keeps an undefeated streak or something going while he swings Herc's chain over his head. Cocaine is a hell of a drug.

Winner: The Ultimate Warrior via pinfall at 4:29

As the camera lingers on "Sugar" Ray Leonard in the crowd, we get a video recap of the Hulk Hogan/Andre feud, just in case two people out there have no idea what the history is between the two most famous professional wrestlers on the planet. Well, i guess that means it's time for Hogan/Andre III. Well, this is sure to be an epic tilt, positioned the way it is in the middle of a show crammed full with 16 matches.

Tournament Match #7 (Round 2 Match #1): Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant (w/Ted DiBiase and Virgil)

Andre immediately goes on the attack with headbutts, chops, and roundhouse rights, all the signature moves of an unhealthy, overweight giant well past his prime. Hogan fights back and conks Andre's and DiBiase's heads together, and as Andre falls into the ring ropes and gets tied up, the crowd explodes because Hulk can finally rip his t-shirt off! Yay! ...Man, it's kinda sad that getting stuck in the ropes ended up being one of Andre's signature spots late in his career.

Andre gets free and a clothesline knocks him to the mat, he's so woozy. Hogan drops a trio of elbows before getting grabbed by Andre in a choke. Ah, the classic signature Andre choke. Breaking at the four count and going right back at it, over and over. You can get another good two minutes out of an Andre match this way. Hogan's prone on the mat so Andre his the Big Ass Drop and follows it up with some knees. And then more choking. Always with the choking. The hands move into a trapezius squeeze on Hulk's shoulders, and it's high drama now. Referee Joey Marella drops Hulk's arm once, twice,! Hulk fights back and breaks the hold, because he does that sort of thing! Punch! Clothesline! He signals for the body slam, and Virgil leaps to the apron to distract the referee! DiBiase sneaks into the ring with a steel chair and cracks Hogan in the back with it--which is VERY IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER FOR LATER, OK? Hogan chases Ted out of the ring, and DiBiase leaves the chair in the ring, so of course Hulk and Andre start fighting over it. Hulk gets it first and cracks Andre over the back with it, which is completely stupid if you're well aware that the ref could ring the bell and disqualify you immediately for it. But it's Hulk Hogan and he's special, so instead the ref merely reprimands him and tries to pull the chair away. Instead, Andre gets control of it and cracks Hulk over the head with a sickening *PING* that would earn him a fine in today's WWE for the likely concussion it caused. Sure, NOW Marella calls for the bell. It's a double-DQ and both men are eliminated, allowing the winner of DiBiase/Muraco to coast into the finals! OH NO!

Hogan chases DiBiase out of the ring and down the aisle, where Ted hilariously tosses Virgil right into Hogan's path. As DiBiase heads for the showers, Hulk says "what the hell" and executes the world's worst suplex on Virgil, unceremoniously dumping him onto the yellow carpet of Trump Plaza. Hogan heads back to the ring, and as Jesse and Gorilla realize that both men have been eliminated, Hulk bodyslams Andre and commences with the posing, because eliminating yourself from the tournament to reclaim the belt you wore for four years warrants a celebration.

Winner: Double-disqualification at 5:22

Dear god, he's still posing. He's walking to the back and he's still posing. So many posing. I think we've gotten through "Real American" about four times already. Someone take Rick Derringer out back and shoot him already, will ya? Wait, don't do that yet; Demolition still has a tag title shot tonight.

Interview time! Mean Gene has the Macho Man and Elizabeth, who have changed into matching pink outfits (COLOR CHECK: it's pink for Round 2!). Savage proclaims that Hulk Hogan is a "cheated man, not a defeated man," which i suppose is technically true, since Hulk hasn't been cleanly pinned since sometime in 1983 maybe. Savage rants some more about how he's gonna take down Greg Valentine and run all the way to the end of the tournament and take the title as one half of the Megapowers, and Elizabeth demurely agrees, and it's all quite lovely. Let's go back to ringside, why don't we.

Tournament Match #8 (Round 2 match #2): Don "The Rock" Muraco (w/"Superstar" Billy Graham) vs. "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase 

Muraco's music is still mixed way too high, which is unfortunate because it completely sucks. DiBiase comes down to ringside by himself, minus Virgil, who was ostensibly murdered in the aisle by Hogan. No Andre, either--i guess they're probably feeding him oxygen and five buckets of chicken in the locker room to get his strength back. Graham is at ringside in a BITCHING hot pink suit, by the way. Someone find me a version of that for my wedding.

Early advantage by Muraco, who jumped DiBiase before the bell and won't let up, throwing DiBiase around like a bumping, selling rag doll. DiBiase eventually gets out of the ring for a breather, but runs into Graham, who threatens him with a cane. And now i see that the hot pink suit has tie dye in it. CANCEL THE SUIT. CANCEL. THE. SUIT. I guess it's standard black for me. Sigh.

DiBiase catches a break when The Rock tries to launch him out of the corner, but DiBiase counters by letting Muraco's momentum carry him into the ring post. Muraco crumples into the corner and Ted starts in with the choking. Oh, good, that asshole ref from the OMG/Bam Bam match is refereeing this one. "OOOONNNNNE! TWOOOOOO! THREEEEEE! FOUUUUUUUR! OOOOOONNNNE! TWOOOOOOO! THREEEE! FOUUUUUUUUR!" God dammit, dude, take a Xanax. Clotheslines and fistdrops from DiBiase and he's back in control. Eventually he climbs to the second turnbuckle, dropping backwards onto the mat when Muraco rolls out of the way of the back elbowdrop. It would have been a sweet looking elbow, but it's an even sweeter bump because falling backwards allows DiBiase to do yet another epic fish-flop in the ring.


Muraco has one last flurry in him, connecting with punches and clotheslines and DiBiase begs off from his knees (the classic "don't hurt me, valiant babyface wrestler man" chickenshit heel pose), and Muraco bounces off the ropes, only to have DiBiase catch him and use his momentum to guillotine him on the top rope. It looks vaguely badass and it's good for the pin. DiBiase advances to the finals and everyone acts like that was never the plan all along. Hmm, the other guys left in the tournament are Greg Valentine, One Man Gang, and "Macho Man" Randy Savage. Man, that Valentine/DiBiase final is gonna be a clinic!

Winner: Ted DiBiase via pinfall in 5:44

Interview time! Bob Uecker has yet to actually run into Vanna White, and he's starting to crack from the pressure of oncoming blue balls. He's in the middle of discussing how worried he is "for Vanna" because he can't find her, when Demolition (aka Masked Superstar and Repo Man) and Mr. Fuji (aka Ethnic Stereotype #587) enter the scene to stick their tongues out and growl at everyone. "WELL UECKER!" says Smash. "IT'S JUST A COUPLE OF MINUTES AWAY! You remember in your baseball days when someone would take a baseball bat and hit you over the head with it? What happened? YOU WENT DOWN. Well, Strike Force, Master Fuji has ordered us to hit YOU over the head, and YOU'RE gonna go down!" I think Smash may have a warped idea of how baseball is played, but who cares. That whole train of thought was delightfully batshit. Uecker is unnerved. "I've never eaten sushi neither," is his retort to Mr. Fuji basically "ah so"-ing at him the whole time. Hoo boy.

"Must be October the 31st already." Nice one, Bob!

One Man Gang and Slick are in the ring as Howard Finkel explains to the crowd that he gets a bye and will face the winner of the next match. This is the pre-Titantron era, so i suppose there's no gargantuan tournament bracket in the room for everyone to reference to see how they're doing in their pool, so Finkel's gotta explain it to everyone. man, all these byes have to be blowing everyone's picks out of the water. Warren Buffett will sleep easy tonight.

Tournament Match #9 (Round 2 Match #3): Randy "Macho Man" Savage (w/Elizabeth) vs. Greg "The Hammer" Valentine (w/Jimmy Hart)

Jeez, i have no idea who is going to advance to take on the heel One Man Gang here. Savage comes down to the ring to what Jesse and Gorilla claim is a thunderous ovation, but i can't hear anyone over the music. Gorilla says "it sounds like fifty thousand in here when in reality it's only twenty or twenty-five" (actual attendance: 18,165--either Gorilla's exaggerating or he thinks there are only twenty-five people in the arena, in which case he's hallucinating). They get to the ring and Elizabeth removes Savage's pink, red, and black sequined robe to reveal a rainbow lining underneath. I...did not take Savage for a progressive gay rights activist, but i am thrilled to learn he's an ally.

Savage takes it to Valentine early with elbow smashes, a few turnbuckle shots, a snapmare and a quick flying kneedrop into a two-count. Good stuff early. Valentine fights back with a forearm and a few varieties of elbow shots of his own. A shoulderbreaker leads to about one and a half for The Hammer as he now controls the momentum and tosses Savage out of the ring. More elbows from the apron and now we're back into "Randy Savage takes a beating" underdog babyface mode. Ventura points out that even if Savage comes back to win this, he has to take on the Gang, who has only wrestled for about three minutes so far. Valentine hits a shitty standing suplex, landing Savage on his side, and a backbreaker, hitting a two-count each time. Savage starts to fight back and climbs the ropes for a flying axehandle, but he takes too long and Valentine catches him on the way down. Savage crumples to the mat while Valentine does a patented front face-flop and takes a breather on the mat himself (man, Valentine wishes he was Ric Flair SO MUCH). As Valentine uses the ropes to climb back into a kneeling position, Savage takes a running start to attempt a knee in the back, but Jimmy Hart screams at Valentine to dodge, which he does! Crash goes Savage's head into the mat as Valentine pulls him to the center of the ring to slap on the figure four. But the Macho Man grabs Valentines head and rolls him into a small package for the win. Boom! Macho Man moves on to the semis to take on the One Man Gang. Hmm, there goes my prediction for the final from earlier.

Winner: Randy Savage via small package pinfall in 6:05

Well, it's the end of Round 2, so let's go back to the big bracket board with the big bracket broad, Vanna White (sorry) who is still insisting to Mean Gene that she's never heard of Bob Uecker. You canNOT tell me that Vanna's never seen an episode of Mr. Belvedere. That makes no goddamn sense. She explains that she still likes Hogan in his match with Andre (uh...), and reminds Gene that she things Savage and Liz make a great team. Well, good. "One Man Gang also in the semifinals. Let's go back to Gorilla and Jesse." Ha! So, i suppose we're not expecting the Gang to advance too much farther if Mean Gene's basically giving him a cursory "oh yeah, him too" during the analysis.

Match #12: Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake vs. The Honky Tonk Man (w/Jimmy Hart and Peggy Sue)(c) for the WWF Intercontinental Championship

To this day, when people discuss their rankings for Greatest Intercontinental Champion of All Time (which wrestling fans still often do, even though these days the IC belt means about as much as a fan belt), they still mention The Honky Tonk Man, for no real reason other than the fact that he said so. I think The Kids These Days may not realize exactly what Honky's M.O. was: wrestle like shit, bump like gold, get disqualified on purpose and keep the title. Even Jesse fesses up to it during Honky's entrance: "what this guy may lack in ability, he makes up for in luck." He is dancing with his "girlfriend," Peggy Sue, who--spoiler alert!--is actually Sensational Sherri in a wig. The more you know!

OK, it's confession time: in junior high, Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake was my favorite wrestler. I excuse it like this: i was a dumb fucking kid. Everyone was behind Hogan and Savage, and so i wanted to pick a guy to get behind that was more of an alternative to the big two. So, Beefcake it was. During an English class in 8th grade, we were instructed to speak extemporaneously in front of the class on a subject given to us by a classmate, so as to build out comfort speaking in front of others. One of the cool kids in class asked me who my favorite wrestler was, and i just went on a tear about how awesome Beefcake was, with his fishnet wrestling tights and his strut, kids snickering at the homoerotic undertones to my "speech" the whole time. Ah, youth. At least i i've never worried about embarrassing myself in front of people--that comfort zone has gotten me far in life.

"Oh he's got the big trimming shears out!" says Gorilla as Beefcake heads to the ring. He apparently didn't notice them during the interview earlier (although who could, with Mean Gene going on and on about Beefcake's package?). Jesse is nervous that Beefcake's gonna try to cut Peggy Sue's ponytail off. Jesse, it's just a wig--stop your fretting. Beefcake starts off with an atomic drop and grabs Honky Tonk and--instead of laying into him with a fist--messes up his hair, which sends Honky flying out of the ring in a rage as he tries to shape it back into place. Aaaand it's the only interesting thing that happens until the end of the match. Shitty "power" moves and punches and kicks left and right until Beefcake counters Honky Tonk's "Shake, Rattle & Roll" swinging neckbreaker (the one wrestling move Honky Tonk knows) and gets him into the dreaded sleeperhold, provoking Jimmy Hart into a desperation braining of the referee with his megaphone. Well, that'll definitely save the title. Once Beefcake realizes that the ref is out cold, he goes for his haircutting tools, which Jimmy Hart tries to grab and flee under the ring with. Beefcake grabs him, pins him to the ring steps, and gets to clippin'. It's all very reminiscent of one male dog humping another male to assert dominance, but with shears. Ah, Intercontinental Title--last year you were the prize for which Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat valiantly tore the roof off the Silverdome. This year, you are an afterthought as Peggy Sue wakes up Honky Tonk with a carafe of water so his precious pompadour is not sullied by the Barber's shears. When i was a kid i was disappointed that Beefcake didn't win the title, but ecstatic that he got Jimmy Hart's head in his hands. Like, jumping around the room ecstatic. I was a weird fucking kid.

Winner: Brutus Beefcake via DQ in 6:30

Fucking hell, there's an hour left in this show, and i still have to recap a match in which Koko B. Ware locks up with Bobby Heenan.

Back to the Ueck! He's still stressing about Vanna White, but forget her, it's time for his legendary interview with Andre the Giant! Andre gloats about how he considers himself still "undefeated," and about how DiBiase paid him off to keep Hogan out of the tournament. Uecker tries to say something in response, and then...this.

Just kick back and watch the interview; it's like a minute long--THE BEST MINUTE OF YOUR LIFE. Why is there no "Andre Chokes Uecker for 30 minutes" video on YouTube? This is a travesty.

Match #13: Bobby "The Brain" Heenan & The Islanders (Haku & Tama) vs. The British Bulldogs & Koko B. Ware (w/Matilda)

Oh shit! I forgot that Heenan wrestles this match in an attack dog trainer's jacket and reinforced pants! Ha! That's awesome. I fully anticipate that being the only enjoyable aspect of this match. Jesse insists that Matilda is a vicious animal; meanwhile, in Dynamite Kid's (horribly written) autobiography, he goes into detail about how it was almost impossible to ever get her to chase a heel manager, to the point where they once had to pick her up and run after a guy with her in their hands. Aw, WHAT A SWEETIE.

OK, i take it back--there's some pretty good action in this match early on. Davey Boy throws Tama around with a slingshot into the corner and a crucifix counter into a two count; Koko gets in some offense with a double headlock/leg scissors that takes down both Islanders at once. Dynamite whips Haku into the corner while Heenan is looking stressed as hell on the apron, but Haku counters with a big bare foot to Dynamite's face. "Heenan looks like a Chinaman, doesn't he Monsoon?" WHAT? I don't even know what that means! People, does this man look like a Person of Asian Descent?

"He reminds me of the cook on Bonanza," says Jesse. I don't even know.

Heenan actually gets some offense in, punching and kicking Koko B. Ware and connects with Sort of A Kneelift, but Koko fights back and dropkicks Heenan into the ringpost. The Islanders run in to bail out their manager, and now it's six-man pandemonium, which means that the end is near! The ref gets distracted with the Bulldogs as the Islanders lift Heenan into the air and splash him down onto a now-prone Koko, and it's good for the three-count! This is almost exactly the same as last year's six-man tag ending, where non-wrestler "Dangerous" Danny Davis got the pin for his team. Go with what works, i suppose. Heenan hi-tails it for the locker room as the Bulldogs give chase with Matilda. Heenan eventually trips on the steps and gets caught by Matilda, who attacks him with KISSES. Oh, hey, maybe this is the story that Dynamite was telling in his book! Was he referencing WrestleMania IV when he talked about how terrible she was at attacking people? I don't remember because his book was awful.

Winners: The Islanders and Bobby Heenan at 7:30

Howard Finkel pauses the proceedings to acknowledge "the presence of one of the all-time greats...JESSE 'THE BODY' VENTURA!" Jesse climbs onto a platform and absorbs the adulation of the fans as he poses for them not an hour after selling disgust at Hogan's posing. I'm not sure if they did this at two straight 'Manias in order to satiate Ventura's ego and make him feel better because of his Agent Orange-induced forced retirement, or if they're selling his vain heel persona, or what, but whatever. Pointless posedown from the color commentator. Why the hell not?

Cut back to the ring, where Finkel now explains that Ted DiBiase has drawn a bye and will advance to the finals of the WWF World Title Tournament, where he will meet the winner of the next match. Holy crap, the One Man Gang/Ted DiBiase final is gonna be BRUTAL.

Tournament Match #10 (and our only semi-final match): One Man Gang (w/Slick) vs. Randy "Macho Man" Savage (w/Elizabeth)

COLOR CHECK: Savage and Liz are now decked out in sparkling black, and Liz is still a dish. The commentators point out that Gang's been chilling in the locker room and Savage had trouble with Valentine, but Monsoon points out that Savage has something that the Gang doesn't, and that's "heart." "Bret Hart?" retorts Jesse.

Gang dominates early, but eventually Savage gets an opening and goes on an offensive flurry, hitting his flying double axehandle off the top rope and onto the arena floor, and it's still a thing of beauty after all these years. But apparently someone in the writer's room decided that it would stretch credibility for Savage to score a pin over the 747 after wrestling twice already, because Screaming Ref eventually busts the Gang using Slick's cane to crack Savage over the back, and OMG gets disqualified, sending the Macho Man into the finals. Man, is Slick the world's dumbest manager or what? You've got a dude who weighs 400 pounds against a 240-pound guy who's winded from wrestling two other opponents, but you still insist on tossing a weapon into the ring. Good job, Slickster! You fucking idiot!

Winner: Randy Savage via DQ in 4:05

Back to the bracket room as Vanna White bids Mean Gene goodbye, as she has to head to ringside, and just as she leaves, Uecker comes screaming into the room looking for Vanna. "Where is she? Haha! She's here!" No, Bob, you just missed her. And you know what? She doesn't even know who you are, dude. "She wants to see me! She wrote me all kinda letters!" "She wrote you letters?" "Yeah! Some guy named Vance White."


Well, that punchline came out of absolutely nowhere.

Match 15: Demolition (w/Mr. Fuji) vs. Strike Force (Tito Santana & Rick Martel)(c) for the WWF World Tag Team Championship

OK, this match is 100% a battle of theme music. Demolition has a screamin' "hard rock" theme courtesy Rick Derringer, the guy who recorded Hogan's "Real American."

Meanwhile, the clean-cut tag team champs Strike Force (who joined forces after the breakup of the Can-Am Connection and defeated the Hart Foundation for the belts in October '87) trot out to the ring to the dick-softening strains of "Girls in Cars" by some douche named Robbie Dupree, basically Kenny Loggins without the edge:

When it came to Yacht Rock, this dude couldn't even keep a dinghy afloat. Seriously, this dude's on a beach with fucking seagulls behind him and he's singing limp-ass nonsense like "They pass you on the road with a smile and you have to look twice/And you wonder to yourself could a girl really look that nice?/Girls in cars/I like girls in cars." Meanwhile, Rick Derringer's all screaming about how Demolition is a walking disaster and painted destruction. I mean, Rick Derringer's a cheeseball, but next to Robbie Dupree, he may as well be fucking Slayer.

Demolition, many 80s wrestling fans will remember, were one of the most dominant tag teams in all of WWF history. Bill Eadie (Ax) had floated around the WWF and the indies for years in various shitty gimmicks (Masked Superstar, one of the Machines with Andre), as had Barry Darsow (Smash), who was previously Krusher Kruschev in the NWA. They finally caught on with a gimmick that, while a blatant ripoff of the Road Warriors (hell, they're both basically dressed like Lord Humongous), were still so over that when they win the tag titles here, you can see the audience cheering like wild even though the pretty boy Strike Force were supposed to be the good guys.

Oh, yeah, the match - 12 minutes of boring and then Rick Martel slaps the Boston Crab on Smash. Fuji distracts Tito Santana and the ref long enough for Ax to take Fuji's cane and bash Martel with it, leading to the three-count. Hey Slick, take some notes, will ya? Demolition go on to hold these titles for almost a year and a half, a continuous reign that to this day has not ben matched, and they win the belts two other times after that. Strike Force breaks up and Tito Santana becomes "El Matador" and Rick Martel becomes "The Model." While we're speaking of shitty gimmicks: apparently losing a tag team championship used to cause severe emotional trauma and re-evaluation of your marketability as a pretty boy. One wrestler abandons the idea and tries something a little more ethnic stereotype-y, and one just doubles down on the whole pretty boy thing and takes it to the next level.

Note: this .jpg was found on the internet with the name "rickmartelawesome.jpg." NO THIS IS NOT AWESOME. If you think this is awesome than you're probably a fan of Buff Bagwell and Scotty Riggs, and their shit-tastic WCW entrance music too.

So glad i managed to work that in to one of these recaps. You can thank me after you've flushed your ears out with lye.

Winners: Demolition via pinfall in 12:33 to win the WWF World Tag Team Championship

And so we finally come (after 15 goddamn matches) to our main event. But of course, first we have to say hi to our guest timekeeper and announcer. But before that, we get Robin Leach mincing down the aisle with the WWF championship belt. He wanders down the aisle with a red pillow on which rests the classic "winged eagle" version of the WWF title belt, which was debuted only weeks earlier in the match where Hogan immediately lost it to Andre. He of course then stops by his good buddy Donald Trump with the belt, and a realization washes over me: everyone's cheering Robin Leach because he shows them how the rich and affluent live. Everyone here is cheering Donald Trump because his building is hosting WrestleMania. Everyone is booing "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase because he rubs his money in everyone's face...because Donald Trump sure doesn't do that? There's a weird disconnect here that i'm sure would make a great wrestling blog piece on its own, but for now, it's something for me to smirk questioningly at.

Anyway, weren't we going to introduce the guest ring announcer? Here comes Mr. Baseball for the second year in a row! "And he still hasn't found Vanna!" says Monsoon. He comes out to a weird Moog-style version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" that my fiancee immediately points out sounds like something out of the Clockwork Orange score. I guess Vanna's lucky that the Lone Ranger theme never poked its head out of the ether tonight. Speaking of Vanna, Uecker is now introducing her, and she comes out to a big cheer and some weird-ass game show-style music. "Gorilla, we all know she knows the alphabet, but here she's a timekeeper. Do you think she can, you know...count to 10?" Don't ever change, Jesse.

Bob walks Vanna around the ring as he exclaims "finally!" and she waves to the crowd and...kissed Uecker on the cheek! Hooray! Ueck can barely process it as he starts to wobble like he's gonna faint, but he shakes it off like a champ and starts announcing our combatants for the Championship match.

Tournament Match #11 and the finals of the WWF World Heavyweight Championship Tournament: "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase (w/Andre the Giant) vs. Randy "Macho Man" Savage (w/Elizabeth)

DiBiase comes down with Andre, because of course he does. He hasn't gotten all this way to the final to take his chances without his 7-foot-5 enforcer. But after him comes Savage and Liz, and COLOR CHECK! They are radiant in white, as Jesse and Monsoon discuss how they don't like Savage's chances after having wrestled three times in the evening. And ok, can someone PLEASE explain to me why DAVE HEBNER IS THE REFEREE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH? God DAMMIT. Ted DiBiase, the man who paid off Hebner's identical twin once before to impersonate him, is in this final match, yet no one thinks that as a precautionary measure, maybe we should go with Tim White or Joey Marella? The lack of narrative consistency here is absolutely killing me. Ah well. The bell rings, and here we go.

Collar-and-elbow tie-up, and Macho Man is backed into DiBiase's corner, but he fights his way out with an elbow, only to be immediately tripped up by Andre when the ref faces DiBiase. And now, the narratives of the evening all converge: Andre was tripped up Hacksaw Jim Duggan in the first round, and he's back here to do the same, and Savage is immediately protesting to the ref. The fans are immediately chanting "Hogan," as though they can already see where this is all heading. Another fast sequence of hammerlocks and reversals (these two could probably work a four-to-five star match if they were given the chance), and Andre trips Savage yet again! Savage points accusingly and Andre, stone-faced, acts nonplussed as to why Savage isn't concentrating on his opponent instead of him.

An exchange of arm wringers and DiBiase starts to take control with a clothesline and a two count. But a botched sunset flip gives Savage an opening to punch DiBiase straight in the head and respond with a clothesline of his own, which is good for a Savage two-count. A pause to confer with Andre and Ted again takes control with Irish whips, chops, and an elbow smash, but loses the momentum when Savage ducks another whip and responds with an elbowsmash. He grabs DiBiase's head, runs to the ropes, leaps over the top, and draped Ted's throat over the top rope, leading to a truly majestic flop by the Million Dollar Man, leaping backwards, landing on his shoulders and bouncing back up and over himself to land on his face. Incredible. (I just spent a few minutes looking for an animated gif of this flop, by the way, and found nothing. Internet, you have failed).

A high knee sends DiBiase out of the ring, and when Savage climbs to the top rops for his trademark double axe-handle, Andre steps right in front of DiBiase and dares Savage to jump, to the point of casually looking up at him and saying, "jump!" Savage has had it with this shit. He walks over to Elizabeth and whispers something in her ear, sending her dashing to the locker room for reinforcement. Who could she possibly be fetching for her man? Duggan? Don Muraco? Hey, what about Sam Houston? He hasn't done shit since the battle royal.

Oh, it's Hogan. Well, sure, ok. I guess the crowd was right, since they started chanting "Hogan" immediately after Liz vanished backstage. He's huffing and puffing and wearing red spandex tights, as that's apparently what Hulk Hogan chooses as casual wear after a wrestling match. He pulls up a chair and takes an imposing seat in Randy's corner, and the crowd is eating it up. DiBiase is rattled, but still in control, and Hogan immediately makes his presence felt as Andre pulls Savage out of the ring behind the ref's back and Hogan immediately makes a beeline across the floor to sock Andre in the head. Still, DiBiase is still taking it to Savage, as he's slowly running out of gas. Elbow drops, a pretty vertical suplex, and it's another two-count, but Savage doesn't have much fight left. A gutwrench suplex gets DiBiase another two, and he follows it up by climbing to the top rope, where Macho Man catches him with his remaining energy and slams him to the mat! A spark of energy and Savage goes for the flying elbow and....misses! Flashbulbs explode as Savage crashes to the mat, and when DiBiase's back on his feet, it's right to the Million Dollar Dream, DiBiase's cobra clutch-style sleeperhold. And now it's time for Hogan's revenge.

Remember how DiBiase snuck into the ring and cracked Hogan with a chair during his match with Andre? Well, DiBiase gets Savage to close to the ropes, and when Andre swats them away (to prevent a break of the hold? Sure, let's go with that), Dave Hebner starts yelling at Andre, which gives Hogan the opening he needs to waltz into the ring with a chair and return the favor. CRACK! Down goes DiBiase! Jesse Ventura is LIVID as Savage signals for the flying elbow once again, and this time he hits it! One...two...three...and UNDISPUTED World Wrestling Federation Heavyweight Champion, Randy "Macho Man" Savage! DiBiase is screaming in protest as Ventura gets his back. "I can't believe he'd do that in front of all his fans!"

Winner: Randy Savage via pinfall in 9:27 to win the WWF World Heavyweight Championship

But now, "Pomp and Circumstance" blared through the arena, and the celebration is on. And the man who was the WWF's most hated heel for two years while he tormented his lovely manager, verbally abused her, and used her as a human shield against retaliation from innumerable babyfaces, gives credit where credit is due: after soaking in the adulation of the fans, he hoists the lovely Elizabeth on his shoulder, and as tears stream down her face, she holds the WWF World Heavyweight Championship on her shoulder. It's all very powerful and lovely, honestly--a three-year story of beauty and the beast beginning another chapter as the beast achieves redemption, reaching the pinnacle of his industry only after recanting his evil ways and showing his lady the respect she richly deserves. Seriously; it's a tear-jerking moment.

If only we could see through Hulk Fucking Hogan to see it. Seriously, could someone get Hogan out of the ring? He keeps hugging Savage and shaking his hand and playing to the fans to give Savage props and, dude, it's OK. The fans get it. Could you leave the fucking ring and give Savage and Liz their due? Maybe? Hogan's even the one who places the belt on Liz's shoulder, for Pete's sake. Sigh. I wonder if maybe this will eventually become a plot point for the WWF to exploit when Hogan comes back after filming his stupid movie? Hmmm? You think? Ugh, fucking hell. Well, let's at least try to enjoy the moment for what it is, even though Savage needed a chair shot from Hogan to get there. God forbid the WWF let him win on his own, without the Hulkster's tacit approval. Still--if you watched this show in 1988, you likely still get goosebumps from this iconic image:

WrestleMania IV is an overly-rushed mess of mediocre five-minute matches where the WWF crammed 16 bouts into three and a half hours in an attempt to complete a one-night tournament event AND have enough secondary matches to get everyone else in the company on the show. Not a single one of the matches would rate past three stars (Ruse and Roberts being the only ones who come close), but narrative-wise, it delivered one of the all-time great moments in a wrestling ring--Elizabeth getting the very public appreciation she deserved for the three years of work prior to her charge's World Title victory. In a company where women are so often treated during this period as objects to be fought over or won, it's a very sweet moment of validation, and it's absolutely a brilliant emotional note to close the show on. To acknowledge that this is a team win, and not an individual win, is huge. It's just too bad that, ya know, they had to shoehorn Hogan into that team.

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