It was March 27, 1988 and the grandest stage of them all was set for WWE, then WWF (World Wrestling Federation), to crown a brand new world heavyweight champion at WrestleMania IV. The event was held at the Historic Atlantic City Convention Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., although the host was advertised as the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino due to the sponsorship from businessman and future president Donald Trump, who sat ringside.
Over 19,000 fans strong, and many more watching from home, laid witness to the “Macho Man” Randy Savage winning four matches in one night to be crowned the new heavyweight champion of the world. The juggernaut of a feat overshadowed Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant battling to a double disqualification in their WrestleMania rematch. Here on the anniversary of WrestleMania IV, Sporting News’ Mark Lelinwalla looks back on the memorable event and grades each match.
20-Man Battle Royal
Lelinwalla: The final three superstars were Junkyard Dog, Bret Hart and Bad News Brown, with the latter two heels forming an impromptu alliance to plot against the babyface JYD. They tossed Junkyard Dog out the ring and boasted, as Bad News hoisted Hart’s hand up in the air as they continued to gloat. Just then, came the sneak attack, as Brown did his Ghetto Blaster modified dropkick finisher out of nowhere to eliminate Hart.
Just as Bad News was beginning to celebrate in the ring, an angry Hart gathered himself and dropkicked Brown out of the squared circle. He then proceeded to stomp on and destroy Brown’s huge Battle Royal trophy. That laid the groundwork for Hart’s turn from heel to babyface, a hero role he’d enjoy for years to come.
First round tournament match: “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase vs. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan
Lelinwalla: Hacksaw should have realized he was in trouble when “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase strolled down to the ring with his bodyguard Virgil and Andre the Giant. Undeterred, Hacksaw had gained the upper hand and was pounding away on DiBiase, even getting in his famous three-point stance for his finisher.
But that’s when Andre the Giant tripped him. When Duggan got up to address Andre, “The Eighth Wonder of the World” greeted him with a roundhouse right with DiBiase simultaneously burying a knee in his midsection. He covered Duggan and got the three count in an otherwise forgettable match.
First round tournament match: Dino Bravo vs. “The Rock” Don Muraco
Lelinwalla: Two powerhouses in this one, Bravo had failed to deliver his piledriver twice and was getting beat down. That’s when the Canadian wrestler slickly sandwiched the referee between he and Muraco’s flying forearm.
When Muraco went to check on the official, Bravo hit him from behind and delivered a sidewalk slam, which the groggy ref registered the pin for. Or so Bravo thought. While Bravo celebrated his perceived win, the ref disqualified him for moving him into the line of fire with that forearm. A nice twist at the end to just an OK match.
First round tournament match: Greg “The Hammer” Valentine vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat
Lelinwalla: Valentine laid into his tough as nails gimmick hard, while Steamboat displayed his all-around ring wizardry in a surprisingly intriguing match that delivered its fair share of drama. “The Dragon” scaled the ropes and delivered his flying chop and moments later was perched back on the top turnbuckle.
This time, Steamboat attempted a flying high cross body, which connected, but with too much momentum. Valentine wound up on top of him and leveraged the pin. Steamboat alleged that Valentine grabbed his tights during the pinfall to no avail.
First round tournament match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Butch Reed
Lelinwalla: Reed dominated Savage, but spent a little too much time perched on the top turnbuckle gazing at Miss Elizabeth. Savage capitalized by recovering and chucking Reed off the ropes. He then scaled the top turnbuckle and delivered his elbow smash for the pin. A good ending to an otherwise shoulder shrug of an alright match.
First round tournament match: One Man Gang vs. Bam Bam Bigelow
Lelinwalla: Bam Bam was showing just how gifted of an agile big man he was, going from a clothesline into a cartwheel and then a cross body seconds later. But this match had a clumsy ending, when Slick, One Man Gang’s manager, pulled down the ropes as Bigelow was whipping toward them. Despite Slick doing that right in front of the ref’s face , Bam Bam was counted out instead of OMG being disqualified. Didn’t make much sense.
First round tournament match: Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs. “Ravishing” Rick Rude
Lelinwalla: Too many twisting arm locks wrist locks and headlocks and reverse chin locks, which all combined to throw this match into slow motion. Plus, commentators Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura made several references to the 15-minute time limit, so you already knew where this match was going — a time-limit draw, which was the exact result. The crowd’s chants of “boring” pretty much summed this one up in a match that could have been way more compelling.
Singles Match: The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hercules
Lelinwalla: The match was relatively calm — as calm as one with Warrior could be — until Hercules cinched in his full nelson. That’s when Warrior used his feet to push off the middle ropes, with Hercules slamming him backwards with a German suplex.
However, both Hercules and Warrior had their shoulders down. The ref counted to one, two … and Warrior lifted his right shoulder off the canvas just in time to sneak in the clever win. That didn’t stop Hercules from pounding on Ultimate Warrior and wrapping his chain around the Warrior’s neck after the bell. The Ultimate Warrior was able to power out of it and celebrated his WrestleMania victory by swinging Hercules’ chain around his head. Fun fact: This marked Ultimate Warrior’s first WrestleMania match.
Quarterfinal tournament match: Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant
Lelinwalla: This was the Hogan-Andre highly-anticipated WrestleMania rematch coming off WrestleMania III, in which Hulk memorably bodyslammed Andre to the thrill of the 90,000 fans strong at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich. and many more watching from home. The highlight of this rematch came when Hogan Hulked up and tore his way out of a chokehold, before clotheslining Andre against the turnbuckles.
Hogan signaled for the bodyslam and was about to hoist him up, when Virgil got up on the ring apron to distract the ref. DiBiase clobbered Hogan with a chair shot to the back. Hogan thought about giving chase to DiBiase, but bashed Andre with the chair instead.
Andre wrestled the chair from Hogan and returned the favor for what was ruled a double disqualification. That didn’t stop Hogan from suplexing Virgil on the exposed concrete outside the ring and then scooping up Andre and slamming him in the squared circle to the crowd’s delight. The slam wasn’t received with as much jubilation as WrestleMania III, but fans still enjoyed the moment. Plus, the match made for good storytelling drama.
Quarterfinal tournament match: “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase vs. “The Rock” Don Muraco
Lelinwalla: Virgil wasn’t in DiBiase’s corner due to the whooping Hogan put on him. And Muraco pounded away on “The Million Dollar Man” for much of this match. But DiBiase was eventually able to work his way back into the match and snared the win by catching Muraco in midair and dropping his neck onto the top rope for the quick cover and pin.
The match as a whole, though? Eh. Filler material at best. With the win and the Hogan-Andre double DQ, DiBiase earned a bye straight to the final.
Quarterfinal tournament match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Greg “The Hammer” Valentine
Lelinwalla: This match really laid the groundwork for Savage’s arduous road in this tournament, as Valentine was choking and pounding away at the “Macho Man,” before softening up his knees and legs in attempting his figure-four leglock.
Savage changed the momentum with a flying axehandle from the top rope, but when he tried the maneuver again, Valentine greeted him with a punch. He then hauled Savage’s body to the middle of the ring for another figure-four try — this time, though, “Macho Man” turned it into a small package for the pinfall.
Intercontinental title match: The Honky Tonk Man (champion) vs. Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake
Lelinwalla: The end of this match definitely saved it, as The Honky Tonk Man went for his Shake, Rattle & Roll swinging neckbreaker finisher only for Beefcake to hold onto the top rope to stop the move at the “Roll.” Bruti then got around to trapping the champ in his sleeper hold.
Sensing that Honky Tonk was fading fast and in danger of losing his belt, manager Jimmy Hart hopped up onto the ring apron and distracted the ref. Then, he pummeled the official with his megaphone, but that turned into a big mistake, as Beefcake wound up whipping out some scissors and going to town on Hart’s hair. When the ref came to, Honky Tonk was disqualified, but held onto his belt thanks to Hart. Ah, the days when wrestling managers ran rampant.
The iconic moment of Andre the Giant choking former MLB sportscaster Bob Uecker followed this, as Uecker was looking for fellow-WrestleMania IV guest, Vanna White, and instead found “The Eighth Wonder of the World.”
Robin Leach, late host of the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” television show, was also amongst this WrestleMania’s special guests. In addition to Trump sitting ringside, boxing legend “Sugar” Ray Leonard was also in attendance.
Six-man tag team match: The Islanders (Haku and Tama) and Bobby Heenan vs. The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid) and Koko B. Ware
Lelinwalla: Heenan had been promising a surprise during the buildup to this bout and then he unveiled it in the form of a dog handler suit that would be worn while training an attack dog. Of course, this was in reference to the Bulldogs’ pet bulldog and mascot, Matilda, who was too loveable to strike any fear to anyone but Heenan.
While The Islanders and Bulldogs traded heavy artillery early on, fans yearned for the chance to see Bobby “The Brain” getting scrambled in the ring. The moment came when Koko B. Ware pummeled him with fists and sent him crashing to the ground via a dropkick.
That led to all six wrestlers rushing the ring in “pandemonium” as Monsoon called it. The end came when The Islanders scooped Heenan up in a heap and splashed him onto Koko, as “The Brain” registered the win for his squad to heavy boos from the crowd. Heenan had no idea where he even was.
But it wasn’t over yet, as the Bulldogs and Matilda chased Heenan down in the aisle, with the dog even chomping down on the manager’s suit.
Semifinal tournament match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. One Man Gang
One Man Gang leveraged his weight against “Macho Man” early and it seemed to be a good idea, considering that this marked Savage’s third fight of the night. Gang went for an early big slam and pin on a fatigued Savage, who shrewdly draped his leg on the bottom rope. He broke out of another pinfall seconds later.
Watching Savage soar through the air with a double axehandle off the top ropes to the outside was a sight to behold. But it didn’t give him the win. What ultimately awarded Savage with the victory was the ref spotting Slick’s cane being tossed into the ring, sparking the disqualification. Gang smashed the cane over Savage’s back as he writhed in pain, although he’d recover enough to take to the top ropes and topple both OMG and Slick in one shot moments later.
Although the match was short-lived, it did a solid job of advancing the story of a fatigued Savage laboring onto the final for his fourth fight of the night.
Tag team title match: Strike Force (Tito Santana and Rick Martel – Champions) vs. Demolition (Ax and Smash)
Lelinwalla: The Strike Force brought its brand of high-flying tag-team moves, while Demolition delivered with its smashmouth chicanery in what turned out to being a very entertaining match with good pace. The turning point came when Martel trapped Smash in the Boston Crab and Santana flew through the air with a cross body on Ax to cut off the ring.
All that was left was for Smash to submit, which he was getting ready to do. But Mr. Fuji got up on the ring apron to distract the ref and Santana greeted him with a punch to the face. The impact of the blow sent Fuji’s cane careening into the ring, where Ax quickly seized it unbeknownst to the ref.
With Santana clobbering Fuji, Ax slid into the ring and bashed Martel with the cane, breaking up the Boston Crab. Smash rolled onto Martel and covered him for the slow one, two, three, as Demolition was crowned the new tag-team champs in a stellar match for that period of time.
Tournament final match for the vacant heavyweight championship: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase
Lelinwalla: The build to this storyline was clear, as DiBiase was the fresher man, having only fought two bouts to Savage’s more grueling three matches. While the two started off slow by wringing each other’s arms, Savage upped his offense by dropping DiBiase’s neck on the ropes and then kneeing him to the outside.
He scaled the ropes and was set to launch into one of his many aerial assaults on the night, when Andre the Giant stood between him and the fallen DiBiase outside of the ring. Right then, it became clear that Savage would have to defy odds to win the title. Thinking fast, he convened with Miss Elizabeth before she made a frantic dash toward the locker room area. DiBiase used a snapmare before cinching in a reverse chin lock, as fans chanted “Hogan! Hogan!” Seconds later, they got their wish, as Elizabeth returned with Hogan to even the odds.
Hogan immediately pulled up a chair and took a seat, keeping a watchful eye on Andre across the ring. As DiBiase dropped Savage in the corner with some punches, Andre attempted to drag “Macho Man” out of the ring. That prompted Hogan to make a beeline toward Andre, as he bashed him on the back.
DiBiase had Savage grounded when “The Million Dollar Man” uncharacteristically scaled the top ropes himself. Savage quickly got up in time to chuck DiBiase across the ring, before rapidly going for his elbow drop finisher. The attempt came too soon, as DiBiase rolled out of the way and locked in The Million Dollar Dream sleeperhold seconds later. With the ref’s attention on Andre outside, Hogan seized the moment to get into the ring and whack DiBiase in the back with a chair shot.
With DiBiase sprawled out flat on his back, Savage again ascended the top turnbuckle and this time nailed his flying elbow drop as camera flashes joined him in the air. He got the one, two and three, as Savage’s first reign as WWE world heavyweight champion began.
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