In our second of three WrestleMania special editions of Last Week in Wrestling, we will be taking a look from March 22 to March 28 as WrestleMania season starts to kick into full gear.
The most recent Manias have taken place in the first week of April, so this week we have a nice mix of the 80s and 90s events to work our way through before we hit the bumper edition next week.
This week we come across the WrestleMania V WWF title tournament, Hogan’s victory over Slaughter at WrestleMania VII and the change of venue, the drama surrounding WrestleMania 13’s main matches, and one of the few recent Manias we have covered so far: WrestleMania 26.
March 27 1988
WrestleMania 4: WWF Title Tournament
As mentioned in last week’s LWIW edition, Hulk Hogan was the main man in the early WrestleManias. He headlined 1 – 3, 5 – 8 and although not advertised to wrestle, he was involved in the show-closing moments in Manias 4 and 9.
After defeating Andre the Giant WrestleMania III, Hogan continued on his winning ways throughout 1987 until his famous re-match with the Giant was booked for The Main Event on February 5 1988. In front of a record-setting 33 million viewers and a whopping 15.2 TV rating, Hogan astonishingly lost the title to Andre when the evil Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase bribed assigned referee Dave Hebner’s twin brother Earl to count a quick pinfall on Hogan, even after Hogan had clearly kicked out.
Andre immediately surrendered the title to DiBiase, but only days later DiBiase was stripped of the title following the controversial ending, so it was announced that the belt would be up for grabs in a 14-man tournament on March 27 1988 at WrestleMania V.
The tournament itself was a bit of a letdown. Potential mouth-watering matches between Ricky Steamboat, Randy Savage, Jake Roberts and Rick Rude did not happen as in the first round Steamboat lost to Greg Valentine, and Roberts and Rude fought to a draw. Hogan and Andre, both obviously too big to be involved with the riff-raff in the first round, got a bye to face each other in the quarter-finals where they were both also eliminated after a double disqualification, resulting in Ted DiBiase advancing straight to the finals after he beat Jim Duggan in the first round and Don Muraco in the quarters.
So all the early eliminations of big names left Randy Savage to take the main spotlight. He wrestled four times in four different matching outfits with Miss Elizabeth, beating Butch Reed, Valentine, One Man Gang and Ted DiBiase on his way to winning the vacant title. Savage was made this night. The odds were stacked against him as he faced two “fresh” opponents: One Man Gang in the semis and DiBiase in the finals (after they had received byes after the aforementioned Roberts-Rude draw and Hogan-Andre double DQ), so overcoming the odds really cemented him as a heroic top babyface and someone to challenge Hogan for some of the top spot limelight.
But in true Hogan fashion, he couldn’t let Savage have his time in the spotlight alone. During the main event, Elizabeth brought Hogan out to help even the odds at ringside as DiBiase also had Andre out with him. Hogan was involved in the closing moments of the match too, and as Savage celebrated with his title belt, guess who was right beside him raising his arm and posing along with the new champ- you guessed it, limelight hogger Hogan.
This reliance on Hogan being involved in some way or another in the main event of Mania would be repeated in the future. Vince’s over-reliance on Hogan staying strong and not being able to fully pass the torch, or even take a percentage of the torchlight was evident throughout his first WWF run. Savage, Ultimate Warrior, Ric Flair, Yokozuna and Bret Hart all would have moments taken from them in the years to come because Vince was obsessed with having Hogan being the show-closing attraction.