Welcome everyone to this special year-end article, in which I’ll take you back to some of my favorite matches of 1988 as well as reveal who were the top wrestlers in the WWF, based on the points. I only reviewed the WWF in 1988, but I will add the NWA once I get to 1989. Enjoy!
BEST MATCHES OF THE YEAR
First of all, a basic top five list with my favorite matches in 1988. The reviews that I will leave below each match are copied from the respective shows they took place, so feel free to skip those you’ve seen if you wish.
5. Ricky Steamboat vs. Greg Valentine (WrestleMania)
This finally looks a bit better on paper, doesn’t it!? Classic Steamboat armdrags to start, going after the arm immediately. Valentine cuts him off and dumps him, but Steamboat skins the cat and dropkicks him for two back in. Valentine finally drops Ricky throat first on the ropes to stop Steamboat for good, chopping away and hitting the hammer for two. Backdrop suplex is blocked by The Dragon, though, who whips Hammer into the corner and goes right back to working the arm.
Valentine escapes that with an atomic drop and a clothesline, going after the throat on the outside. He only succeeds in waking up The Dragon, however, who fires away with some violent chops. Valentine catches him with a gutbuster and he goes to work on the legs. He gets into a chopfest with Steamboat, which doesn’t sound like a good idea, and indeed Ricky wins that one.
Hammer goes to the eyes to cut him off, though, and hits a shoulderbreaker. He drops a forearm off the top and is thinking Figure Four, but Steamboat chops his way out of it. The mega flying chop gets two. Steamboat sends Valentine into the turnbuckles a lot of times and goes up for the kill, but Valentine rolls over for the upset win to advance.
Good match between two great workers. Steamboat proceeds to do his classic pose and wave goodybe to the fans, having just worked his final match for the WWF before leaving to have the best trilogy ever with Flair in the NWA the following year. I can understand Valentine getting the win here, but considering Valentine wasn’t going to get a mega-push and the winner of this would meet Randy Savage in the next round, I would’ve personally put Savage over Steamboat instead in return for III. Valentine could’ve been protected with a DQ or some kind of finish that could set up a future program for him, but it is what it is. ***
4. Team Mega Powers vs. Team Twin Towers (Survivor Series)
In what has to be both the most hilarious and distracting moment of the night, Koko has the back of his tights blurred on the Network. He had WWF written on his ass, so I’d assume they blurred it to avoid legal actions from the Panda. The big secret here, though, is… did the B. in Koko B. Ware stand for Blurredass all along?
Much like at WrestleMania earlier that year, Savage and DiBiase start the main-event of Survivor Series. DiBiase starts in control, before Savage connects with a clothesline and tags in Hercules, and DiBiase is having none of that. Rooster takes advantage of the distraction to hit a jawbreaker on Herc, who brings in THE BLURREDMAN to play Ricky Morton. Haku misses a legdrop, though, and Herc’s back in to pound on him. Hogan gets in to drop some elbows and a double-team big boot alongside Hillbilly gets two. A really nice missile dropkick by Koko gets two. Hogan gets back in to run wild on Rooster with the Usual, before allowing Savage to pin him like the great friend and tag partner he is via the Macho Elbow at 6:10.
- Red Rooster eliminated (1 point to Randy Savage)
Haku gets in to bump around for the Mega Powers, before eventually catching Hogan with a dropkick. Hogan obviously no-sells it and even hulks up to hit some clotheslines before tagging Herc back in. He drops some elbows for two, but Haku gets the side suplex and it’s time for the AFRICAN DREAM. Herc tags in Hillbilly, who gets absolutely squashed in the corner and hits the showers (or did he? Gorilla always talks about how he’s been wearing the same boots since 1985 after all…) once Akeem follows up with the 747 at 10:00.
- Hillbilly Jim eliminated (1 point to Akeem)
Koko jumps Akeem immediately and brings him to his corner, but that one doesn’t work out as well as he probably expected. Akeem pounds him down, tags in the Big Bossman, Bossman Slam and Koko The Blurredman is gonzo at 11:45.
- Koko B. Ware eliminated (1 point to Big Bossman)
Hogan comes in to tease his big showdown with the Bossman, which gets a nice reaction as expected. Hogan pounds and pounds on Bossman but fails to get him down, as then Bossman puts him down after Hogan runs into a single spinebuster. Simple and effective psychology, enough of a tease to leave the fans wanting more, and Bossman brings in Akeem. Bossman continues to choke Hogan from the apron, allowing Haku to headbutt Hogan for two. DiBiase comes in with the million dollar fistdrops, but Hogan shockingly no-sells it and is immediately back up. It’s sad to see DiBiase going from being the hottest heel in the company to whatever he’s doing here, just a few months after the fact. Herc gets back in to finally get some of DiBiase. Virgil trips him up, though, and DiBiase pins Hercules with a cheap roll-up at 16:35.
- Hercules eliminated (1 point to Ted DiBiase)
DiBiase mocks Hercules on his way out, allowing Savage to catch him with a cheap roll-up of his own at 16:57.
- Ted DiBiase eliminated (1 point to Randy Savage)
Thankfully Hogan mentioned there were no weak links in his team earlier. Whatever you wanna call the three of them, they’re all gone now and it’s down to Hogan and Savage. Feel free to call them dead weight if you want, but weak links they are NOT, brother. Haku misses a headbutt on Savage, but connects with a thrust kick on Hogan. Akeem beats up Hogan for a while, but Haku is back in with a suplex for two before putting Hogan in a nice and comfortable massage, otherwise known as a nerve hold by some. Bossman hits the Bossman Slam but stops to celebrate instead of, you know, WINNING, and goes to the top (?) only to miss a splash. What in the hell was that all about? Savage comes in for the hot tag, only to get hit by Slick as he runs the ropes. Slick goes after Liz on the outside, forcing Savage to go after him. Suddenly everyone’s on the floor, but while Savage goes back inside, Bossman handcuffs Hogan on the ropes and gets counted-out while doing so for the REALLY LAME elimination at 23:24. I know you wanna protect him in defeat, but compare this to Andre’s elimination in the prior match… Bossman just looks dumb here.
- The Big Bossman eliminated
He beats up Hogan with the nightstick before finally going to the back, leaving Hogan cuffed to the bottom rope. Meanwhile, inside the ring there’s still a match going on, and the heels double-team Savage until the ref DQs Akeem for kicking too much ass at 25:00…
- Akeem eliminated
And yes, it’s down to King Haku alone with the Mega Powers. Guess how that one ends. Slick taunts Hogan with the handcuff key, but Haku misses a superkick inside the ring and superkicks Slick by accident instead. That allows Elizabeth to steal the key from him, Hogan’s free, hot tag, the Usual, boot, leg, thanks for coming at 30:10.
Apart from the really lame eliminations of Akeem and the Big Bossman, this match was fine a did a good job of teasing future encounters, particularly DiBiase/Hercules and Hogan/Bossman. ***1/4 After the match, Hogan completely ignores Savage and instead poses, before grabbing Savage’s wife (who was with him on the mat) and putting her in his shoulders. Uh oh. Wrong fucking move, big boy. Savage indeed poses with Hogan after a while to close the show, but not before giving him a very brief look while he has Elizabeth in his arms. Very brief look, but enough to let you know Savage is starting to get just a little bit sick of Hulk Hogan. Rightfully so, might I add.
3. Vacant WWF Championship: Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase (WrestleMania)
Finally!!! They lockup to start as Andre already trips up Savage to make his presence felt. He does it twice, and the crowd starts chanting for Hogan. DiBiase goes after the arm but Savage clotheslines him a couple of times, and DiBiase bails. Back in, DiBiase gets a few shots until Savage necksnaps him on the ropes, and a high knee sends Ted into Andre. He goes up but Andre shields DiBiase, and Savage sends Liz to the back, and the Hogan chants get louder!
DiBiase hits the chinlock, and out comes Liz with the Hulkster, who takes a seat at ringside. Andre again trips Savage, and this time Hogan is immediately there to attack him. DiBiase gets a number of nearfalls inside the ring, with an elbowdrop, a suplex and a gutwrench suplex. DiBiase goes up only to get slammed off, but the Macho Elbow misses. It’s Million Dollar Dream time with Andre adding a shot, which brings Hogan inside for a chair shot to DiBiase’s back. A second Macho Elbow attempt connects, and three seconds later Savage is the undisputed WWF Champion.
Easily the match of the night and the reason why this show is remembered. Although it wasn’t technically as good as Steamboat vs. Valentine, it was still a good match and had drama and a story to support it and elevate it. The Mega Powers celebrate to close the show, as the build-up to WrestleMania V officially begins! ***1/4
2. Team Warrior vs. Team Honky Tonk Man (Survivor Series)
The former members of Dream Team (V2), Beefcake and Valentine, get at it to start. Davis comes in, and he’s out via the Barber’s sleeper at 1:20.
- Danny Davis eliminated (1 point to Brutus Beefcake)
It’s back to the explosion of the Dream Team, but Beefcake escapes the Figure Four and tags in the Blue Blazer. For those of you who might not know, this is Owen Hart playing the gimmick. Blazer does some lucha things and quickly brings in Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell, who hits an elbow on Valentine for two. In comes Bad News, who absolutely beats the living crap out of Brunzell. Brunzell gets his little hope(less) spot, but misses a charge and the Ghetto Blaster sends Jumpin’ Jim jumpin’ back to the showers at 5:30.
- Jim Brunzell eliminated (1 point to Bad News Brown)
Sam Houston tries his luck next, and that one doesn’t go very well. Brown destroys him, but Valentine hits Brown while trying to add a shot of his own on Houston from the apron. That’s it for the loner Brown, who says ‘enough of this bs’ and walks away at 7:45, getting counted-out.
- Bad News Brown eliminated
The heels can’t believe Brown would actually walk out on them, and that distraction allows Houston to almost eliminate Valentine with a roll-up, but it only gets two. A sunset flip goes horribly wrong, and in comes Ron Bass to beat him up. A couple of clotheslines get two, but Houston still doesn’t want to tag out. That ends up costing him and his team, as he’s gone via powerslam at 20:10.
- Sam Houston eliminated (1 point to Ron Bass)
Warrior finally joins the match to clean house, launching Blazer onto Bass but it only gets two. Honky comes in, immediately taking a high cross for two. Honky soon catches Blazer with a knee to the midsection, and in comes Valentine only to walk right into a gutwrench suplex. Powerslam is followed by another splash, but Honky pushes him off and Valentine’s figure four puts him away at 12:20.
- Blue Blazer eliminated (1 point to Greg Valentine)
Beefcake comes in to get some of Valentine, who brings in Bass to work over Beefcake. Honky’s back in to hit the Shake Rattle & Roll, which Beefcake escapes before Bass gets involved. Honky’s back in control and goes up, only for Brutus to slam him off. Atomic drop sets up the sleeper, but Honky bails and he’s outta there. Beefcake follows him for some reason, and we get a double elimination at 15:45.
- Honky Tonk Man & Brutus Beefcake eliminated
Warrior is now alone in there with Bass & Valentine, and that smells BIG trouble. Nah, who am I kidding.. Warrior basically no-sells a bunch of stuff for a minute, before running over both heels and putting Bass away with a double axehandle at 17:30. Yes, a double axehandle!
- Ron Bass eliminated (1 point to Ultimate Warrior)
A few seconds later, Valentine eats one as well and that’s all she wrote at about 18:00. A good opener that exceeded my expectations. ***1/2
1. WWF Tag Team Championship: Demolition vs. The Hart Foundation (SummerSlam)
The Harts turned babyface recently and dumped Jimmy Hart, who still owns their contract and is thus allowed to be at ringside. So that is exactly what he does, supporting their opponents, Demolition!
The challengers start in control, with Neidhart connecting with a massive shoulder block on Smash. Ax catches Neidhart with a boot to the face, who strikes back with an uppercut before getting Bret in. Jimmy Hart distracts the ref, allowing Smash to hit a shoulderbreaker on Bret followed by an armbar to take over.
They work over Bret’s arm, pounding on it and even smashing the arm into the post to get the heat. After a few minutes, Bret finally connects with a clothesline and gets the hot tag to Neidhart, but Ax distracts the ref and he misses the tag, getting the crowd even more on the Foundation’s side.
The Demos continue to work over Bret, who finally gets separation with a boot to the face and brings in Neidhart for real, getting a standing ovation from the crowd! Neidhart cleans house, dropkicking and bodyslamming everything that moves before hitting an assisted slingshot to the outside on Smash, with the crowd losing it at this point. Back in, Neidhart hits a running powerslam for a very close and hot nearfall.
Neidhart brings Bret back in, and a double-team shoulder tackle gets two. Ax gets in to save another pinfall attempt, which brings Neidhart in too. Fuji gets on the apron to distract Neidhart as well as the referee, allowing Jimmy to give Ax the megaphone for a shot to Bret, and Smash gets the pin to retain.
While not as classic as their… well… classic match at the same event two years later, this is still a fantastic encounter. Meltzer gave this *1/2, which I just can’t possibly understand. The psychology over Bret’s arm and the eventual heat spot that followed were fantastic, to the point where the babyface hot tag got a standing ovation!! To the modern wrestling fan, this is your go-to match from this show. ***1/2
We’ll now take a look at the top five wrestlers of the year, based on who got the most points throughout the year in my reviews – across PPV and SNME.
5. Ted DiBiase
Kicking off our top five is ‘The Million Dollar Man’ himself. DiBiase’s year was full of ups and downs, with the highlight being wrestling for the World’s title in the main-event of WrestleMania against Randy Savage. A number of main-event matches throughout the year gave him a few extra points, as did his two wins throughout the tournament for the vacant title at WrestleMania. He’s since gone to the midcard, and I don’t expect to see him make the list in 1989, especially with NWA joining the party.
- Best match: Vs. Randy Savage – WrestleMania IV
- Total number of points: 20
4. Demolition Ax
Truly one of the highlights of the WWF in 1988, Demolition won the tag titles all the way back at WrestleMania from Strike Force, and haven’t looked back since. With successful title defenses over the likes of Strike Force and The Hart Foundation, as well as good performances on PPV, they deserved the spot in the top five.
- Best match: Demolition vs. Hart Foundation – SummerSlam
- Total number of points: 20
3. Demolition Smash
Just like the song says: here comes the Ax, here comes the Smasher. Not much to add apart from what was already said. Smash is ahead of Ax since he picked up a few more pinfalls in their matches than Ax did.
- Best match: Demolition vs. Hart Foundation – SummerSlam
- Total number of points: 20,5
2. Hulk Hogan
Hogan started the year as WWF Champion, successfully retaining over King Kong Bundy at the first edition of SNME in ’88. H ogan would soon drop the gold to Andre in February, and had arguably his worst WrestleMania of the golden Hulkamania era at IV, but his number of wins and main-event appearances helped him get this second place. Can ‘The Hulkster’ jump to first place in 1989?
- Best match: Team Mega Powers vs. Team Twin Towers – Survivor Series
- Total number of points: 22
1. Randy Savage
Was there ever any question? Even though Savage’s reign as the babyface WWF Champion hasn’t been great, and he’s sort of an afterthought compared to ‘great friend’ and the real top babyface Hulk Hogan, nobody was more consistent than Savage throughout the year. His performance at WrestleMania IV is one of the few highlights from a very poor WrestleMania, and he had a number of really good matches with Ted DiBiase as well as the tag matches at both SummerSlam and Survivor Series. Based on my point system, Randy Savage is officially the WWF’s best wrestler of 1988. Ohhhh yeahh!
- Best match: Vs. Ted DiBiase – WrestleMania
- Total number of points: 34,75
Honorable mentions to the five men that complete my top ten: at #10 with 10 points Brutus Beefcake; at #9 with 11 points Jake Roberts; at #8 with 11,25 points Rick Rude; at #7 with 12,5 points The Ultimate Warrior; and at #6 with 14,25 points Andre the Giant. And in terms of matches, the hidden gem of the year has to be Bret Hart vs. Paul Roma, which you can find on the January 12th edition of Prime Time Wrestling on the WWE Network.
As always, thank you for your time. Kicking off the year 1989 will be an edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event. Until next time!