WWF WrestleMania IV Review feat. Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase

Logo for WWF WrestleMania IV
Image Source: WWE
EventWrestleMania IV
DateSunday March 27 1988
VenueTrump Plaza/Boardwalk Hall
LocationAtlantic City, New Jersey, USA

WWF WrestleMania IV

WWF WrestleMania IV is often considered to be amongst the worst of the entire series. This is due to the 14-man tournament which sounded exciting on paper, but played out rather poorly in practice, even by 1988 standards. Nevertheless, it is still fondly remembered by many who watched the show at the time that it happened, as well as being the defining moment for one of the all-time greats in Macho Man Randy Savage.

The story for WrestleMania IV was all about the WWF Championship. Hulk Hogan had ruled as the titleholder from January 23 1984 to February 5 1988. On the latter date, during a special known as The Main Event (which drew an insanely large TV audience), he lost the gold in a WrestleMania III rematch to Andre The Giant via the screwjob to end all screwjobs: referee Dave Hebner inexplicably counted Hogan down for three despite his shoulders being up after two. We then learned, in a classic moment, that there were not one but two Dave Hebners! Earl Hebner had been brought in and bought off by The Million Dollar Man himself, Ted DiBiase, because Andre then tried to sell the belt to DiBiase. WWF President Jack Tunney intervened (though not before Hogan comically wondered where Ted was able to get the plastic surgery for the second referee, not considering the possibility that they might have been twins) and stripped Andre off the title, putting it on the line in a tournament. Normally, there would be 16 participants, but here, Tunney gave Hogan and Andre a bye, and declared that they would face off at the quarter-final stage (this tactic would be repeated at Survivor Series 1998, when The Undertaker and Kane received a bye for the 14-man Deadly Game tournament).

Therefore, the stakes were high throughout the night, as the cream of the WWF’s crop gathered to battle, not necessarily knowing who they would have to conquer in order to reach the top of the WWF mountain. There were other attractions still to be found, though, and the first of those would open this event, that being a good old-fashioned Battle Royal.

(Oh, I almost forgot: on the same night at Mania IV, the NWA/Jim Crockett Promotions held the very first Clash Of The Champions special on TBS as a way to counteract previous WWF attempts to limit the potential success of their previous PPV events Starrcade 1987 and Bunkhouse Stampede 1988. The show featured the famous 45-minute time limit draw between Ric Flair and Sting, which would be the springboard towards Sting becoming an all-time legend. It’s hard to gauge the true impact of the COTC programme on the viewership for WM IV, but it no doubt left some sort of dent, and it was a sign that the company was willing to fight the WWF, even if it took over seven years and a man named Eric Bischoff for that battle to become truly competitive.)


20-Man Battle Royal

Back to Trump Plaza, and after Gladys Knight handled America The Beautiful (the WWF/WWE got far bigger names to sing that song in the 1980s than they do nowadays), we kicked things off with a match that would see the winner be awarded with a gorgeous gold trophy. Okay, a gold trophy, because the WWF didn’t exactly push the boat out with the design of the prize here (and we would soon see why). The entrants were as follows: The Hart Foundation, The Junkyard Dog, The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, Ken Patera, Hillbilly Jim, The Killer Bees, Bad News Brown, The Bolsheviks, Outlaw Ron Bass, The Young Stallions, George “The Animal” Steele, King Harley Race, Sika of The Wild Samoans, Sam Houston and Dangerous Danny Davis.

Now, nobody would ever describe the Battle Royal held at WrestleMania 2 involving WWF wrestlers and NFL footballers. However, that was still more memorable and action-packed than this bout, which just felt like pure filler, even though it was the first bout of the card. It wasn’t bad, but it was just really uneventful and plodding. It came down to Bret Hart (who was still a heel, just like his tag team partner Jim Neidhart), Bad News Brown and JYD, and the two villains teamed up to eliminate Dog. At this point, Bret and Brown agreed to share the trophy, being bad guys and all, but Brown decided to betray his sudden pal (being a loner and all) and hit him with the Ghetto Blaster to eliminate Bret and win the match for himself. Feeling screwed for the first of many times, Bret attacked Brown after the match and smashed up the trophy (now you know why the WWF bought it from the 1988 equivalent of Cash Converters), turning babyface in the process. The Anvil would also cross to the right side in subsequent weeks, so while this match was instantly forgettable, it did result in a face turn for a man who would become one of the company’s biggest stars of the 1990s, so it did serve a long-term purpose.

It was now time to start off the tournament, and Robin Leach (host of Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous) was on hand to read out a scroll proclaiming the rules of the event. This was a neat little addition, even if it was unnecessary, as it brought some prestige to what is often viewed as a bunch of guys in their underwear pretending to fight. Even so, you knew something big was taking place.


WWF Championship Tournament First Round Match
Ted DiBiase vs. Hacksaw Jim Duggan

Starting off the tournament, The Million Dollar Man battled a true American hero in Hacksaw. These two had a history in Mid-South Wrestling, so both men appreciated the opportunity to duke it out at WrestleMania. The match didn’t last too long (this would be a theme for the night): with Virgil and Andre in his corner, DiBiase benefitted from their involvements, as a Virgil distraction allowed The Giant to trip up and strike Duggan, making him easy prey for a DiBiase pinfall. The Million Dollar Man was off the mark, and if the finish of this bout was anything to go by, it wouldn’t be a case of toppling DiBiase alone for whomever wished to become the new WWF Champion.

WWF Championship Tournament First Round Match
Don Muraco vs. Dino Bravo

When WWF fans recall the Golden Age, it’s doubtful that they remember the phase when Don Muraco was managed by Superstar Billy Graham, but that’s what we had here as the original Rock collided with Dino, who had Frenchy Martin as his cornerman. This was even more forgettable than the content of the Battle Royal, and it ended when Bravo got himself disqualified after drawing the referee into the line of vision to take a Muraco forearm. Don had advanced, while for Dino, this was as close as he ever came to a WWF Title opportunity on a PPV event.

WWF Championship Tournament First Round Match
Ricky Steamboat vs. Greg Valentine

Next up, we had an eye-catching collision as The Dragon battled The Hammer. Ricky brought his wife and young son (future NXT performer Richie) to ringside, while Valentine had his usual manager Jimmy Hart by his side. What would win when you throw a dragon in there with a hammer? Turns out, it would be the hammer: Greg got the slightly surprising victory, albeit with a handful of tights. This was the best bout so far, and it pretty much ended Steamboat’s first WWF tenure, with him being severely downgraded from the position of Intercontinental Champion one year earlier. Valentine was something of a dark horse based on his history of winning belts, so it was understandable that he would advance, in hindsight.


WWF Championship Tournament First Round Match
Macho Man Randy Savage vs. Butch Reed

The Macho Man’s big night began here as he took on The Natural one, Butch Reed, in the latter’s only noteworthy WWF bout. This was acceptable enough when you consider that Savage had a long evening ahead of him (from a kayfabe standpoint, it would make perfect sense that the performers wouldn’t go all-out early on as they had to converse energy for a potential three further matches). Savage took the pin with the Big Elbow, and he was now on his way.

WWF Championship Tournament First Round Match
Bam Bam Bigelow vs. The One Man Gang

I started watching the WWF in 1991 and first discovered Bigelow in early 1993, so it blew my mind to later discover that he had already been in the WWF five years earlier. Here, he was facing the future Akeem in a battle of the big men, and the spectacle of this made it a first round highlight. Bigelow got counted out due to the involvement of Gang’s manager Slick, and this was more or less the end of Bigelow’s first WWF stint as well. Was there a secret rule to this tournament that you would disappear from the company if you fell at the first hurdle? After all, Steamboat, Bigelow, Muraco and Reed were all gone within months.

WWF Championship Tournament First Round Match
Jake Roberts vs. Rick Rude

Especially when you consider that these two would stick around for a long time, coincidentally after contesting a match where there was no loser. That’s because The Ravishing One and The Snake fought to a fifteen-minute time limit draw (surely ten minutes would have sufficed for a tournament that had four rounds in one night), though it was the best match of the round, partly due to the credibility that each performer had and partly because, well, they were just that damn good in the ring. As noted, the time expired on this one meaning that both were eliminated, thus setting up a bye for one of the quarter-finalists, and if you know your wrestling psychology, you’ll recognise that a heel would be the beneficiary, but who might that be? (Insert CM Punk head-scratching gif here.) For Rude and Roberts, this would only be the beginning of a legendary feud that would run for most of the year, and one that would become very personal indeed.


The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hercules

After a fun interlude which saw Vanna White give her thoughts on who might advance further in the tournament (which also revealed that One Man Gang would get the aforementioned bye; I told you a villain would get that opportunity), we had a short break from the WWF Title situation for this showdown. Warrior had yet to make it big, so this was him essentially filling time between the more significant bouts on the card (a role he would never have to play again on PPV). Hercules, meanwhile, was still viewed as a potential top heel prospect, even if he very rarely threatened to break through the glass ceiling. This was another unmemorable content, though nothing less than a five-star classic would have changed that perception of this contest. Warrior won and, by August, he was a made man, so it’s good that he was able to pick up his first WrestleMania win here.

WWF Championship Tournament Quarter-Final Match
Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant

I should mention before we go any further that for the original VHS for WM IV, fans were given two videotapes to contain all of the action, which always made this event feel super-special. However, there was an intermission message to switch to tape two, and it occurred during this match of all matches! Seriously, this was the most high-profile bout of the whole card, and this is the one that was interrupted? Thank goodness for DVDs and Blu-rays that would divide cards more sensibly (actually, thank goodness for streaming, which brings together programmes of any length in one full presentation). Anyway, this was the third showdown between these two legends (who were already legends by 1988), and with a win apiece, not to mention the WWF Title being at stake in the tournament, there was intrigue as to who might come out on top. One would assume that it would be The Hulkster, since the odds of Andre beating Hogan for a second time seemed low.

However, fans weren’t expecting that the match was a bit of a cop-out, since it went to a double disqualification. Returning the favour from earlier, Ted DiBiase tried to get involved and tossed a steel chair into the ring, but in the chaos, both men struck with chairshots, and while modern referees would decide that whomever hit the first strike took the DQ, here both men were penalised and, therefore, both men were eliminated. Hogan did bodyslam Andre again afterwards (I wonder if that hurt his back as much as it allegedly did at WM III?), but the fact remained that Hulk was out, and therefore he would not regain his WWF Championship here in the big surprise of the night. However, if Hogan was not going to win the tournament as one would have understandably predicted beforehand, just who would? By the way, the fact that Hogan vs. Andre is never discussed as a Mania match that never happened twice, and how nobody remembers Hogan slamming Andre at a second straight Mania here, should tell you that the action here was actually inferior to their much-panned WM III clash. That’s the difference that a grand spectacle makes; without that, it’s just another match, even when it’s Hogan vs. Andre.

WWF Championship Tournament Quarter-Final Match
Ted DiBiase vs. Don Muraco

As much as the WWF liked to ensure that heels cheated to win in 1988 (and, guess what, fans booed them for it rather than thinking they were cool; imagine that), there comes a point where a villain has to get at least one victory off his own accord in order to be credible. DiBiase was back out into Trump Plaza to earn that triumph here, as he caught a charging Magnificent Muraco off-guard to pick up the three-count. Hogan and Andre both going out meant that another bye was on offer, and wouldn’t you know it? The dastardly Million Dollar Man got that reward (he would have faced Hogan or Andre otherwise), meaning that he was now already in the final match, and every other remaining participant was merely battling to see who got to face Ted.


WWF Championship Tournament Quarter-Final Match
Randy Savage vs. Greg Valentine

Because of the earlier draw between Rude and Roberts, this was the last quarter-final clash, and it was probably the best bout of the whole night. Savage and Valentine could definitely go, with Randy obviously being younger and quicker than The Hammer, making this an enjoyable battle. Again, it was the Big Elbow that secured the win for Savage, who had changed his trunks from earlier on, and Elizabeth had also changed her dress. It wasn’t acknowledged on commentary, but these attire switches between bouts were part of what made the Randy & Liz combo so special; who else would think to do that? Very few. But the Macho Man did, and it’s a memorable part of his journey to the WWF crown. (As an aside, some were very disappointed that we didn’t get a Savage vs. Steamboat rematch here, but it made far more sense in 1988 to maintain the face vs. heel formula than to put on a clash that was all about “work-rate”.)

WWF Intercontinental Championship Match
The Honky Tonk Man (C) vs. Brutus Beefcake

In another break from the tournament, the IC Title was on the line. Honky Tonk Man had worn the gold for almost ten months which was creeping up towards record territory, but The Barber had gotten over enough since his babyface turn at WM III that, if anyone was going to dethrone him on the biggest show of the year, it likely would have been him. So, of course, he didn’t. Not through a lack of trying, mind you, but merely the heel shenanigans of his opponent’s manager. Beefcake had HTM trapped in the sleeper hold, but Jimmy Hart cold-cocked the referee with his megaphone, allowing Honky’s female sidekick for the night Peggy Sue to pour water over HTM to wake him up. Cue The Barber chasing Jimmy Hart around and cutting some of his hair (as if Hart was gonna let Beefcake chop off his famous mullet) before Honky and Sue took Jimmy, and they all ran off like the antagonists in a bad 1980s rom-com. Beefcake won the match, but not the title, and as it turned out, Brutus never would win a title that he seemed poised to capture on more than one occasion.

Then, we got a memorable backstage promo. Bob Uecker, who had appeared at WM III as well, tried to interview Andre The Giant. Mr. Baseball was renowned for his sense of humour, and he put that to great use here. After he asked The Giant to “get your foot off my shoulder” (which in itself made me laugh), Andre responded by taking both of his hands and throttling Uecker for a few seconds. The visual was enhanced by Bob’s daft facial expression, turning this from a throwaway discussion to an often-replayed piece of footage. So, for anyone who wants to create a WrestleMania moment in the future, just find a way to create magic with a celebrity in a backstage skit and you’ll be fine.


Six-Man Tag Team Match
The British Bulldogs & Koko B. Ware vs. The Islanders & Bobby Heenan

For some reason, the WWF felt the need to throw another attraction onto this already top-heavy PPV event. It’s a random piece of WrestleMania trivia to note that despite being known primarily as a manager and a commentator (or a “broadcast journalist” to use his own words), Bobby Heenan actually wrestled at WM twice, and both bouts took place in Trump Plaza. Even more amazingly, he actually won this one for his team; sure, he got assistance from Haku and Tama, but he still pinned Koko (which should demonstrate how low on the booking team’s radar that the Birdman was). Afterwards, though, he paid the price, as Davey Boy Smith and The Dynamite Kid set their pet bulldog Matilda on Heenan in the aisleway. Two side notes: I loved the long, yellow staircase as I felt it added a further air of mystique to this show, and I hated the visual of Heenan being attacked by Matilda, due to my own lifelong fear of dogs.

WWF Championship Tournament Semi-Final Match
Randy Savage vs. The One Man Gang

Because Hulk Hogan had been eliminated, Randy Savage was now the lone remaining babyface in the tournament, and since Ted had received a bye, this would be the only semi-final clash. Funnily enough, good guy Randy also had to contend with a monster of a man that had received a bye himself, meaning that all the odds were now against the Macho Man. Which of course meant that he advanced, but only after interference from Slick which led to Gang using a cane (is that the same as Mr. Fuji’s cane? The world needs to know). Either way, Savage was going to the final, and he was now just one match away from immortality.

WWF World Tag Team Championship Match
Strike Force (C) vs. Demolition

In our sole remaining pause before the WWF Championship was decided, Tito Santana and Rick Martel put their doubles belts on the line against Ax and Smash. Santana and Martel were very much a product of their time, being a bland white-meat babyface duo that had little in the way of personality or pizzazz, but who always did things the right way, which pleased fans no end. Actually, even in 1988, fans were more interested in the black leather, white spike-wearing, facepaint-sporting bad-asses known as Ax and Smash, as evidenced by the minor pop that the challengers received when winning this match, following the use of Mr. Fuji’s cane (I’m still waiting on an answer as to whether Slick and Fuji shared a cane or not). Demolition would embark on a Tag Team Title reign that lasted for 16 months, setting a record for the longest such run that would amazingly last up to the end of 2016, though the fans who wanted to cheer them wouldn’t get to do so until Survivor Series.


WWF Championship Tournament Final Match
Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase

And so, at long last, we have the end of the WWF Title tournament. Remember that while Ted DiBiase was wrestling for the third time, he had enjoyed a good rest for an hour or so after beating Don Muraco, whereas Savage was now competing for the fourth time (after completing his third costume change), and was pretty much spent. Yet it was the biggest match of their careers, and with the vacant WWF Championship on the line, surely they could find that one last bit of extra strength to get over the line and win the gold. DiBiase decided instead to have Virgil and Andre join him one final time at ringside, furthering his chances of winning the belt. In response, Elizabeth went and got Savage’s Mega-Powers pal Hulk Hogan, who was now in long red tights, a red Hulkamania T-shirt and a red Hulkamania bandana. Do you think he liked red, brother?

This is one of those matches where everyone remembers the ending but little else, which is a shame as this was a good bout, and the best Mania main event so far, which is impressive when you consider that the two participants had already competed several times earlier in the night, meaning that we were getting all that they had left by this point. In the end, though, the chicanery of Virgil and Andre would be their downfall: when the heel “managers” tried to get involved, DiBiase had slapped the Million Dollar Dream on Savage, which allowed Hogan to sneak in behind the referee’s back and whack Ted with a steel chair (what a heel move, albeit revenge for the twin referee scandal). This allowed Savage to ascend to the top rope and hit the Big Elbow, thus getting the three-count, winning the tournament and becoming WWF Champion! Fans were ecstatic; the Macho Man had won the big one, and denied the evil Million Dollar Man in the process. Hogan (who simply had to get involved in the headline clash, because he’s Hulk Hogan) helped Savage and Elizabeth to celebrate as the show went off the air. All seemed rosy, but little did we know that in the same building at WrestleMania V, Savage and Hulk would go head-to-head to culminate an all-time great storyline.

Quick sidebar: there has long been a rumour that the original plan was for Ted DiBiase to win the tournament and the title, and to presumably lose it to Hogan at a later date (SummerSlam, perhaps?). However, if you believe the whispers, because Honky Tonk Man had previously refused to lose his IC gold to Savage, the knock-on effect led to Randy winning here. I don’t believe that story is true, because while Honky was over as a detestable heel, he wasn’t so over that Vince McMahon would change plans to such a large extent based purely on him whining. My guess is that, while Honky might have convinced McMahon to sidestep having him drop the IC strap to Randy in late 1987, it had no bearing at all on what happened here in Trump Plaza.


WWF WrestleMania IV ended on a high, but it was a real drag getting there. Across the whole show, even with there being multiple byes within the tournament, we had 16 matches, and more than half of them were pretty dull. The Battle Royal had a fun climax and post-match angle but little else to offer, the other non-tournament clashes are hardly worth revisiting, Hogan vs. Andre was a let-down, and if you take away Savage’s bouts, nothing remaining from the tournament left an impression in the ring.
WrestleMania IV is notable for Savage winning the WWF Title, Bret Hart going babyface and Andre The Giant strangling Bob Uecker. Otherwise, while it provides a ton of nostalgia, WM IV is really weak, so I can understand why it’s considered to be one of the least entertaining Mania shows in history.