Anyone who knows wrestling will tell you that Wrestlemania is WWE’s biggest pay-per-view every year. Those same people will tell you that Starrcade was NWA and WCW’s biggest pay-per-view every year.
But unlike Wrestlemania, Starrcade often fell victim to bizarre promotional ideas that transformed the show into one giant gimmick. Starrcade ’89 consisted solely of two round-robin tournaments with a points systems to determine the ultimate winners.
Starrcade ’90 centered around a tag team tournament with largely unknown teams from around the world. Starrcade ’91 was a “Lethal Lottery” consisting of nothing but random pairings of wrestlers competing in tag matches, with a battle royal for a main event. Starrcade ’95 was a “US vs. Japan” best-of-seven series. And Starrcade ’97 was held under the theme, “Card Subject to Change”.
But Wrestlemania? Sure, there have been a few strange choices made over the years (Wrestlemania 15 revolving around who would referee the main event, Wrestlemania 2000 having no regular one-on-one matches), but there has never been any unifying theme officially imposed on WWE’s biggest show that would keep its biggest stars from settling their scores.
Except, of course, for Wrestlemania IV, which was dominated almost completely by a bloated 14-man tournament for the WWF title, where nearly every match lacked any kind of backstory between the randomly-competing participants.
Growing up, Wrestlemania IV was the one WWF tape I never rented from the neighborhood video store, as I wasn’t sure whether I’d be charged double for the two-VHS set and was too embarrassed to ask. I don’t give my younger self enough credit, it turns out.
I know Wrestlemanias these days shatter the six-hour mark; regardless, the three-and-a-half hour Wrestlemania IV somehow remains the longest Mania ever, thanks to an ungodly 16 matches ranging in quality from terrible to passable.
But the show’s problems begin in the opening sequence, which claims that the event emanates from Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino, when in fact it is held in the Atlantic City Convention Hall across the street.
That’s like billing a Wrestlemania site as “New York/New Jersey” instead of East Rutherford.
And sure, Wrestlemania 4 is *sponsored* by Trump Plaza, but that doesn’t mean that Wrestlemania 34 will be held at Snickers, now does it?
After Gladys Knight sings a patriotic medley in this Nascar-inspired sweater, the action begins with a 20-man battle royal.
An impossibly tan Bob Uecker joins the commentary team and breaks kayfabe on the show’s actual venue…
…while Gorilla, when he’s not calling the event, “a happening”, points out that the Battle Royal participants weren’t important enough to be booked for anything else on the card.
JYD, as always, wears the word “THUMP” on his butt. You’d think he would have put “TRUMP” on there instead for this occasion.
Speaking of fashion, a very puffy Bret Hart wears a leotard on this night.
Still, that’s better fashion sense than George Steele…
…who wears one of those mesh shirts Jeff Hardy would later wear.
Scratch that. He’s actually not wearing a shirt at all.
The battle royal comes down to Bad News Brown and Bret Hart, who teamed up to eliminate the last few opponents. Unfortunately, Bret forgets how battle royals work and thinks the match is over…
…leaving him easy pickings for elimination by his former Stampede colleague.
As you would expect, Bret destroys the prize trophy. The battle royal wasn’t much, but at least it would have provided a nice change of pace from the never-ending barrage of singles matches – would have, I say, because instead it was the opening match.
Bob Uecker wisely bails out to track down Vanna White rather than get stuck in the announce booth watching the tournament…
…which Robin Leach of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous introduces in grand, Genius-like fashion by reading off a scroll.
And speaking of the rich and famous, the event’s guest of honor Donald Trump sits at ringside. Who would have thought that he would one day become one of the most powerful men on the planet by buying Raw?
The announcers talk over Howard Finkel’s explanation of the rules of the tournament, so they have to explain them over again. Jesse Ventura, for instance, thinks it’s important to inform viewers that only the winners advance – just in case they thought you could get to the finals by losing.
Also, the time limits for each match would be 15 minutes in the first round, 20 in the second, 30 in the third, and no time limit for the finals. So the tournament could potentially last nearly 6 hours, not including the finals. In reality, it would only feel that long.
Case in point: Ted DiBiase sets the tone for the rest of the evening by making a long entrance down a long aisle…
…then defeating Hacksaw in a non-descript match that you won’t believe lasts only five minutes.
But the bigger story is backstage, where Mean Gene stands in awe of Brutus Beefcake’s package.
Next up we get our first entrance music of the night, as Dino Bravo poses in the ring to “La Marseillaise”…
…while Don Muraco enters with Superstar Billy Graham to an instrumental version of “Superstar” – as in, “Jesus Christ Superstar.” At least no one’s calling him the King of Kings or anything.
Bravo pulls the referee into the way of a Muraco forearm, causing a ref bump.
When the referee comes to, he slaps Dino on the shoulder three times during a pin attempt. Bravo, thinking that the referee has somehow confused him for the canvas, believes he has gotten a three-count and celebrates…
…only to learn that he has lost by disqualification.
Next up is the match between Greg Valentine and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat…
…who enters while holding his baby boy, Ricky “The Richie” Steamboat. If you’ll recall, Richie cost his dad the Intercontinental Title shortly after Wrestlemania 3 by being born.
The little guy may not know where he is, but Gorilla Monsoon imagines he knows it is “some kind of a happening.”
No one mentions that Earl Hebner, the impostor referee who screwed Hogan out of the title in the first place and started the whole controversy leading to tonight’s tournament, is officiating the match.
(And yes, that is Earl, not Dave)
Meanwhile, more than a year after favoring the Hart Foundation, Danny Davis still isn’t allowed to referee.
Surely Steamboat would win this match and go on to face Randy Savage in the second round – a rematch of their classic from the previous year’s Mania that would no doubt steal the show (and besides, Valentine doesn’t get warmed up until 30 minutes in, well beyond this match’s 15-minute time limit).
But in an effort to ensure that absolutely no memorable matches take place, the WWF has Valentine win by reversing a body press. It is at this moment that wrestling fans realize they should have just watched Clash of the Champions on TBS for free.
But Steamboat still gets to go on to the second round, right? In fact he does not, because, as Jesse Ventura so helpfully informed us at the beginning of the tournament, you can’t advance unless you win. Damn technicality.
For what I’m sure are unrelated reasons, Steamboat would leave the company within weeks.
Any hope of Macho Man squaring off with The Dragon may have just been extinguished, but fans can still look forward to Randy Savage versus…
…an opponent. In this case, it’s Butch Reed.
One of the only memorable things about this pay-per-view is Randy and Liz’s sartorial splendor (which is Ranallo-ese for “dressing good”).
Macho Man abruptly beats Reed in just over four minutes, as if Savage is trying to conserve his energy for some reason.
Bam Bam Bigelow enters to what sounds like the Saturday Night Live theme to take on One Man Gang.
Bam Bam seriously misinterprets the concept of a “cartwheel splash”…
…then falls victim to some trickery by Slick, landing on the floor and getting counted out within three minutes of the opening bell. Bigelow, who clearly paid attention to the rules of the tournament, is distraught because he doesn’t advance.
Hulk Hogan then cuts a standard promo about creating a massive seismic event by slamming Andre, then offering assistance to future president Donald Trump as he rescues Ivana, Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr. from falling to the bottom of the ocean.
The final match of the first round sees Rick Rude take on Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Now, you’d think that with a feud as red-hot as Rude versus Roberts, there’s no way their match could fall flat, but their match on this night comes before their feud even started.
Rude and Roberts end up going to an unlikely time limit draw. Not unlikely given how aimlessly they work even as the time limit approaches, but unlikely in the sense that few wrestling matches have a time limit of exactly fifteen minutes, thirteen seconds.
Dave Meltzer would give it minus two stars (then again, he rated Hogan-Andre minus four stars, because Dave is a big baby sometimes).
But you don’t have to take the Observer’s word for it, as the live audience begins to chant, “Boring” after maybe the third chinlock.
Rick, despite the referee only counting to two, and despite his pin attempt on Roberts being the weakest you’ll ever see, thinks he has won, when in fact he and Jake have both lost.
After the first round of the tournament, the WWF wisely decides to break up the monotony of six straight singles matches by holding… a singles match. In this case, it’s a non-tournament bout between the mighty Hercules and the newcomer, The Ultimate Warrior.
Like so many before him on this night, Herc gets the jobber entrance, while Warrior storms to the ring sporting a headband from the McEnroe collection.
What should have been a short, four-and-a-half minute match turns into, by virtue of a blown-up Ultimate Warrior, a very long four-and-a-half minute match.
At the end of the plodding match, we get the old double-pin swerve where Warrior pops his shoulder up at the last second to gain the somewhat confusing victory. But if you can’t trust Dave Hebner’s evil twin to make the right call, who can you trust?
Hercules, like Rick Rude and Dino Bravo earlier in the broadcast, thinks he has won. He has not.
You know, anyone who has watched Wrestlemania IV all the way through has experienced whatever the opposite of time dilation is; what seems like minutes to an outside observer feels like hours to the WM4 viewer. It’s almost trivial for this event to be featured on a wrestling site when it should be carefully studied by the world’s top astrophysicists.
Luckily, at this point Vince has the good sense to give the viewers an intermission from this terribly boring event, but not before those same viewers get a chance to commemorate that terribly boring event with official merchandise.
After the intermission, we get a highlight reel of the build to tonight’s Hogan-Andre match, such as when Andre first promised to win the WWF title and sell it to Ted DiBiase. Right about then would have been an opportune time for Jack Tunney to step in and tell everyone that he can’t sell the title, thus avoiding this whole vacant-title fiasco.
We revisit the screwjob of Hulk Hogan by DiBiase, Andre, and the crooked referee, except they cut out the part where we find out he’s crooked (and an impostor), probably because Earl Hebner has already refereed two matches tonight without incident. When you’re running so low on officials that you’re forced to hire a man who seven weeks earlier tied up one of your real officials and impersonated him for money, it’s probably a sign that your wrestling event has too many matches.
But that’s all water under the dam, says the malapropic Gorilla Monsoon, who certainly resembles that remark.
And now it’s finally time for the feature match! No, don’t get excited. It’s only a second-round match between Hogan and Andre. There’s still two hours and eight matches left on this damn show. Out comes Hogan and…
…wait, is that Vince McMahon opening the curtain for the Hulkster?
Gorilla pegs the attendance at “at least 20,000 strong”, but probably closer to 25,000. It was 19,199, officially.
You’d think a venue with such high ceilings would be able to fit more fans, but there are only two levels. Photographic evidence proves that they were not literally hanging from the rafters.
From the opening bell, Hogan works circles around his opponent (no, really), and the crowd eats it up like pasta at a shopping mall.
Virgil and DiBiase struggle to get Andre loose before the Hulklster can deliver the stinkface.
Then, five minutes into the biggest advertised match, they go to the finish. Ted DiBiase hits Hulk with a chair behind the ref’s back, so Hulk picks it up and, in full view of the referee, hits Andre with it.
Naturally, the referee immediately… starts giving Hogan a five count to get rid of the weapon? Is that how disqualifications work?
Hogan grabs the chair away from the referee and tries to smash Andre with it a second time. Andre blocks it, sort of drops the chair on Hulk’s head, and only then does the referee signal for the bell for a disqualification – a double-disqualification…
…at which point Hogan smashes Andre again.
The Hulkster chases after Ted and his manservant, suplexing Virgil half-way to the arena floor (gravity takes care of the other half).
Then, in an unbelievable act of irresponsibility, Hulk body-slams Andre, knowing full well it could cause a catastrophic earthquake along the eastern seaboard.
Hulk does his patented posing for the 20,000-minus in attendance, but Jesse Ventura, unwilling to play along and let the dumb finish be a little more palatable to the audience, rains on Hogan’s parade and reminds the home viewers that Hogan is out of the tournament and title contention.
Then it’s Gorilla’s turn to keep the finish stupid, refusing to believe The Body’s theory that the DQ was intentional on DiBiase’s part to give him an easier path to the title. No, insists Monsoon, it was just a really dumb thing that happened for no good reason.
The tournament continues with Don Muraco entering to his self-aggrandizing theme music, taking on Ted DiBiase, entering to no music, as the Million Dollar Rap hasn’t been created yet.
Even without the aid of Andre or Virgil, DiBiase wins rather suddenly by hanging up Muraco on the top rope.
Randy Savage then beats Greg Valentine with a small package in another match officiated by Crooked Earl Hebner.
Once again, the fans are given a break from the never-ending tournament of singles matches, being treated this time to… another singles match. Sweet Don Muraco!
Now, it’s the Honky Tonk Man defending his Intercontinental belt…
…which (and I don’t know why in the name of the Harris Brothers it does) appears to feature the Schutzstaffel insignia…
…against Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, whose shears are so sharp, Monsoon tells us, they can cut paper.
I believe Crayola sells a pair that sharp.
Jimmy Hart knocks out the referee with his megaphone while Brutus has Honky in a sleeper hold. Beefcake, like Dino Bravo, Rick Rude, and Hercules, assumes he has won and jumps for joy.
But there is no bell forthcoming, so Brutus chases down Jimmy Hart and gives him a decent haircut for once before the referee comes to and awards Beefer the match by DQ.
After eleven straight dry-as-a-BYU-frat-party singles matches, we get a six-man tag match – and one with a feud behind it, at that!
Bobby Heenan gets slammed by The Islanders onto Koko for the win, but afterwards the Bulldogs chase down the Weasel.
Matilda is so mad at being dognapped by the Heenan Family that she has to be dropped onto Bobby by Davey Boy to make it look like she’s attacking him.
In a further attempt to keep the audience’s interest, the Federation out of the blue gets Jesse Ventura to pose.
In Randy Savage’s semi-final match against One Man Gang (who got a bye due to the Roberts-Rude draw), the Macho Man goes from 0 to 60… and back again.
Fortunately, despite being out of gas after a combined 14 minutes of action across three matches, Savage gets a lucky break when the ref catches Gang with manager Slick’s cane.
Demolition has much better luck with their manager’s cane, using Mr. Fuji’s walking stick to win the tag team titles from Strike Force. Perhaps if Don Muraco had used Billy Graham’s cane, he would have made it to the finals.
And speaking of the finals, at long, long last, it’s time to decide the next WWF Champion, as Ted DiBiase takes on Randy Savage.
But first, it’s time to bring out all of the event’s celebrities once more.
Bob Uecker, who will serve as ring announcer, gets a friendly hug from a fan with a cigarette in his mouth who sneaks under the railing.
Here, Mr. Baseball greets the event’s host.
You know, the Four Seasons Hotel would have been a more suitable sponsor than Trump Plaza, as it feels like we’ve completed an entire solar revolution since this show began.
Next comes Vanna White, whose entrance music on the WWE Network has been dubbed over with the UK theme song for Wheel of Fortune. Pretty clever!
The tournament began with Robin Leach reading off a scroll, and it’s ending with Bob Uecker reading off a yellow piece of paper torn from a legal pad.
A relatively fresh “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase enters, although the graphics consistently call him “Ted DiBiase ‘The Million Dollar Man'”, which I hope bothers you as much as it bothers me.
Savage then enters for the fourth and final time of the night. With all the grabby fans trying to get a piece of Elizabeth and all the other performers, and with all the uniformed security trying to clear a path to the ring, these entrances look more like perp walks. The only thing missing is for Macho Man to pull his robe over his head and hide his face from the cameras.
Speaking of perps, nobody is going to mention that Ted DiBiase’s associate Earl Hebner, the impostor referee paid off by Ted DiBiase to take the title off Hogan and put it on Ted DiBiase, is officiating the main event where, yes, Ted DiBiase yet again has a chance to win the title.
Savage, who dressed in the Hulkster’s signature yellow and red for this final match, doesn’t think to bring Hulk Hogan to ringside and even the odds until the match is nearly over, but he eventually tells Elizabeth to do just that.
By this point in the night, Hulk Hogan, knowing he won’t be wrestling again, has changed out of his yellow trunks and into his street clothes: red spandex tights, weight belt, a Hulkamania bandanna, cowboy boots, wrist tape, baby oil, and no shirt.
The crowd finally comes alive when Savage attempts – and misses – the flying elbow. DiBiase applies the Million Dollar Dream, but as the referee gets tied up with Andre, Hulk Hogan finds an opening to cheat…
…smashing Ted in the back with a chair.
Savage hits the elbow for a three count to win the title and, more importantly, end this damn show.
Gorilla Monsoon refers to Randy, Liz, and Hulk as a “threesome”, and the seeds of jealousy are planted for Wrestlemania V, which, by the time this show ended, was only about a week away.
After this wasteland of a wrestling card, it’s a wonder Vince McMahon ever held another one-night tournament again, let alone dedicate an entire pay-per-view to it like King of The Ring. When the main event can be generously described as “adequate”, yet still manages to be the best match of the sixteen on the show…
…and when, after 210 minutes, the only parts anyone will ever remember are the victory celebration and an interviewer getting choked out…
…you know your big gamble didn’t pay off.