Welcome to another look-back at WrestleMania, good people of SmarKVille! On the last edition of our series, we were treated to arguably the most popular wrestling event in history. While what I’m about to review won’t exactly be “good” (or if any watchable, at all), it’s a pretty historic show in itself, featuring the first and only one-night tournament for the WWF Title, and an amazing championship win by the Macho Man. With the intro out of the way, let’s carefully head towards the show…
Date: March 27th, 1988
Venue: Trump Plaza Convention Center
Location: Atlantic City, NJ
Your hosts for the night are Gorilla Monsoon & Jesse Ventura, with Bob Uecker joining them exclusively for the opener.
“Mean” Gene Okerlund introduced us to the show, then treated us to a live performance of ‘America The Beautiful’, courtesy of Gladys Knight. She did great.
And since I’m a super kind human-being, here’s the bracket for you people below:
20-Man Battle Royal
Here are the participants: Bad News Brown, King Harley Race, The Junkyard Dog, Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, B. Brian Blair, Jim Brunzell, George Steele, Ken Patera, Jacques Rougeau, Raymond Rougeau, Paul Roma, Jim Powers, Nikolai Volkoff, Boris Zhukov, Hillbilly Jim, Ron Bass, Danny Davis, Sika & Sam Houston.
You can expect a bunch of Battle Royal tropes and spots here in this give-everyone-a-payday opener. The crowd was into the action at least, which made it slightly worthwhile. At last, we were left with Bret Hart, Bad News Brown, and Junkyard Dog. Bret and BNB decided to team up, which is a nice callback to their time together in Stampede. They eliminated Dog, but Bret stupidly celebrated first, thinking he’d be splitting up the prize with Brown. Brown obviously blasted him with the Ghetto kick, then threw him out for the victory at 9:47. Bret then destroyed Brown’s trophy afterward for betraying him, marking one of his first breakout moments in a singles rank. An average Battle Royal, but far from bad. [**]
FIRST ROUND: Ted DiBiase [w/ Andre The Giant & Virgil] vs. Jim Duggan
Although this was meant to be nothing more than a throwaway tournament opener, it was somewhat entertaining enough to not waste your time. DiBiase was in full bumping mode here, and Duggan seemed extra motivated than usual getting to work with his old Mid-South nemesis. He even pulled out a sunset flip at one point! This came to an end when Andre tripped Duggan from ringside, allowing DiBiase to knee him from behind before following with a fist drop to advance at 5:02. [**]
FIRST ROUND: Don Muraco [w/ Superstar Billy Graham] vs. Dino Bravo [w/ Frenchy Martin]
Muraco looked absolutely ridiculous getting accompanied to the ring by Billy Graham and wearing his grandpa T-shirt. He was an embarrassing shell of his former self by this stage, botching simple moves in the first minute of the bout in hilarious fashion. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Bravo actually looked better than him here. Bravo tried to take advantage after a ref bump, but he was disqualified at 4:54 due to pulling the referee into the collision. What a stupid finish. And there’s even more of this to come! [*]
FIRST ROUND: Ricky Steamboat vs. Greg Valentine [w/ Jimmy Hart]
Steamboat’s last hurrah in his first WWF run saw him battling Valentine in a technical-hard-hitting, Mid-Atlantic-style contest. Valentine held serve for most of this, with Ricky doing a masterful selling for his attacks as expected. Seeing these two traded chops on each other urged me to check out some of their other matches. Valentine taking his trademark bumps for Steamboat’s chops might be cartoonish, but I’d be lying to say I wasn’t entertained by it. Valentine got the win by rolling through Steamboat’s crossbody into a pin full of tights at 9:10, but this was a good sendoff for the Dragon all the same. [***¼]
FIRST ROUND: Randy Savage [w/ Miss Elizabeth] vs. Butch Reed [w/ Slick]
Savage plugged Reed right into his babyface formula, except that said formula was still a work in progress. Reed was on offense for 80% of this, and though I’m usually a fan of his, I thought he was too dull here working on top. Butch went up top, but he took too long eyeing Elizabeth, allowing Savage to slam him off and drop the Macho Elbow for the pin at 4:08. Not one of Randy Savage’s finest performances, that’s for sure. [*]
FIRST ROUND: Bam Bam Bigelow [w/ Oliver Humperdink] vs. One Man Gang [w/ Slick]
Bam Bam Bigelow feels like the WWF late ‘80s incarnation of Keith Lee. He was given a rub on TV right after his debut, received a star-making moment in his first PPV appearance, then became an afterthought and was released shortly thereafter. He and Gang were putting on a serviceable bout until the putrid non-finish grinded everything down to a halt. Bigelow fell to the floor after Slick pulled down the ropes, and the referee instantly declared it a double count-out at 2:59, even though Bigelow was on the floor for not even 5 seconds. Another dumb finish tonight. [½*]
FIRST ROUND: Jake Roberts vs. Rick Rude [w/ Bobby Heenan]
They opened this last first-round tournament matchup with some solid exchanges that saw Rude bumping and feeding Roberts’ stuff in an entertainingly theatrical fashion. I admit they had me doubting myself a little bit whether this will age better or not. Unfortunately, this turned into a long, never-ending affair filled with tedious Rick Rude chinlocks. Roberts made one of the most boring comebacks I can remember before the 15:00 time limit draw came to a close. The one redeeming value I got from this is how humorously-looking Rude’s tights were. It gave me a pretty good chuckle! [*½]
The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hercules
I’m no Hercules hater, but he’s not going to carry a green as grass Warrior to anything remarkable. Warrior still hasn’t quite got his act down yet, so the crowd didn’t provide that much of a reaction for him. Herc tried to submit Warrior with the full nelson, but the latter kicked the turnbuckle to pin both men down before lifting his shoulder up at the last second at 4:38 for a fluke win. Was there any reason why Warrior shouldn’t completely squash Herc here? This was about what you’d expect from these two. [½*]
QUARTER-FINAL: Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant [w/ Ted DiBiase & Virgil]
This was never going to be on the level of their other highly-acclaimed encounters, but it never tried to be. Andre is getting really immobile at this period, but he has always been a smart worker who can get the best out of his limitations. It wasn’t much different here. They kept this short and basic to accommodate him, and the crowd was hot all throughout. I hated the double DQ finish, as Hogan was literally the first one to fire the chair shot at 5:22, and Andre only did it after. Yet another idiotic ending in a bunch of them tonight. Hogan cleaned house post-match so he could do his obligatory poses to the fans. I’ve seen worse. [*¾]
QUARTER-FINAL: Ted DiBiase vs. Don Muraco [w/ Superstar Billy Graham]
DiBiase now had to come out alone due to the ending of his first-round against Duggan. Muraco put on a better showing than his previous match with Bravo, with him being more comfortable on offense than earlier. This was largely carried by DiBiase’s selling, bumping, and heel work. He caught an oncoming Muraco with a stun gun to pick up the win in 5:34. A solid enough quarter-final round bout. [**]
QUARTER-FINAL: Randy Savage [w/ Miss Elizabeth] vs. Greg Valentine [w/ Jimmy Hart]
Valentine’s methodically vicious attacks mixed well with Savage’s sublime selling. The layout of this worked due to the above statement, even if it was questionable to barely give Savage any offense on his biggest night ever. Valentine cut off Savage’s axe handle only to take a ‘Timber!’ bump in a cute spot. He then tried a Figure-Four on Savage, only for Macho to counter it into a cradle to score the win at 6:06. I feel this would have benefited much more had it been given at least 5 more mins to strengthen its final stretch. [**½]
WWF Intercontinental Title: The Honky Tonk Man (c) [w/ Jimmy Hart & Peggy Sue] vs. Brutus Beefcake
Yeah, no. Not even Honky Tonk Man’s tremendous heat-drawing ability could save this garbage. Beefcake looked like he was more concerned about cutting Jimmy Hart’s hair than winning a championship. They did a couple of lame comedy spots to hide the wrestling limitations of both men, and it downright stunk. Beefcake won by DQ at 6:30 after Jimmy knocked down the referee, which was another dreadful finish in a string of them tonight. He then celebrated in the ring like a total doofus. A complete and utter disaster in the worst way possible. [DUD]
The British Bulldogs & Koko B. Ware vs. Bobby Heenan & The Islanders
This was a breath of fresh air compared to all the other matches on this show. Bobby Heenan arrived in a dog training suit to protect himself from Matilda, but he ran away from her anyway when the Bulldogs made their entrance. God bless the Brain. This was an enjoyable six-man tag that saw the Bulldogs and Koko showing off their zealous movesets whilst the heels, Heenan in particular, bumped their asses off in an almost over-the-top manner. Heenan eventually got the pin for his team at 7:30 after the Islanders barged in and sky lift slammed him onto Koko. He didn’t get to celebrate, though, as Matilda instantly chased him to the entryway while he ran away in horror. [**½]
SEMI-FINAL: Randy Savage [w/ Miss Elizabeth] vs. One Man Gang [w/ Slick]
This is Savage’s third match into the show, so the Gang Man logically decimated him since he received a bye earlier. The story was okay, but we’ve seen it played out twice beforehand, so there’s no reason to get excited about it. Slick handed a cane to Gang after the referee was busy with Liz, but OMG failed to hit Savage with it in time as Macho kept avoiding the shot. The referee turned back to see this and awarded the win to Randy at 4:12 via disqualification. Savage finally advanced to the final after three exhausting rounds, and I’m ready to be done with the show at this point. [¾*]
WWF World Tag Team Title: Strike Force (c) vs. Demolition [w/ Mr. Fuji]
The birth of Demolition’s record-breaking tag title reign came in the form of a decent tag team contest. Tito and Martel are the faster, more experienced team, so they used that bit of advantage in their favor, overwhelming the Demos from the get-go with quick movements and classic tag IQ. Smash cut off said shine by catching Tito in a bearhug and dropped him onto an Ax clothesline, which was a neat transitional spot. Strike Force looked like they got this in the bag when Martel locked Smash in a Boston crab, but Mr. Fuji interfered, opening the door for Ax to hit Martel in the back with a cane shot at 8:02 for the win. I could see myself liking this more had the crowd been hotter. [**¾]
WWF World Heavyweight Title, Tournament FINAL: Randy Savage [w/ Miss Elizabeth] vs. Ted DiBiase [w/ Andre The Giant]
The crowd started a “Hogan” chant right away after Andre tripped Savage, essentially telling us this will focus more on the outside drama rather than the in-ring action. Savage and DiBiase had some technically smooth exchanges in there, but it was aimless and lacked any real substance to stand out. After a few minutes into the bout, Savage instructed Liz to go to the back and bring Hulk Hogan out to even the numbers. Hogan soon arrived to huge cheers from the crowd, making me feel a little bad for Savage as he had his moment in the sun ruined by one man’s presence. As the referee was dealing with Andre, Hogan walked up behind DiBiase and blasted him with a chair. This gave Savage the opportunity to go up and drop the elbow for the victory and the belt at 9:20. The final shot of Savage lifting up Elizabeth as she held up the belt will forever be etched in my mind as one of pro wrestling’s most beautiful images. This was a solid, albeit highly disappointing, WrestleMania main event. [***]
Clocking in at an absurd 3.5 hours and featuring a preposterous number of thirteen matches, this WrestleMania is an impossible slog to sit through. The whole show collapsed under its own weight as a result of this, causing it to drag on and on without ever feeling like its gonna end. And don’t even get me started on the number of non-finishes throughout the event! Randy Savage’s crowning was an unquestionably amazing moment for the ages, but it required an exhausting journey to get there. This is the worst WrestleMania ever in my book.
That will be it for this edition of WrestleMania review, thank you very much for reading! Stay tuned for the next installment of the series, where I will be reliving a highly memorable ‘Mania, featuring the culmination of a year-long storyline between the Hulkster and the Macho Man – the implosion of the Mega Powers!
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