After the massive success of Wrestlemania III, Vince McMahon knew he needed to find a way to top it. But how? He couldn’t build a bigger match than Hogan vs. Andre, and there wasn’t a bigger stadium than the Silver Dome. So he had to come up with something completely different: the first ever one-night tournament for the WWF Championship.
Getting there required some controversy: The long-awaited rematch between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant took place on Friday, February 5. The match ended with a shocking pin by Andre a few minutes in, as the referee counted three when Hogan obviously kicked out. It was revealed that this was the evil twin of referee Dave Hebner, his more famous brother Earl. Who, as we would find out at Survivor Series 1997, was a scoundrel all along. Andre gave the title to his manager, Ted DiBiase.
WWF President Jack Tunney quickly swooped in to rectify the situation: DiBiase was not the champion, and since Andre forfeited the title it would be on the line in a fourteen man tournament at Wrestlemania. Since Hogan and Andre were the last two champions, they’d both receive a bye in the first round. And then they would be locked in to face each other in the second round. Get ready for the rematch of the century.
Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura are our hosts tonight.
20 Man Battle Royal
Participants: Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, Young Stallions, Sika, Danny Davis, Brian Blair, Jim Brunzell, Sam Houston, Bad News Brown, The Rougeaus, Ken Patera, Ron Bass, Junkyard Dog, The Bolsheviks, Hillbilly Jim, Harley Race, and George Steele.
Comes down to Junkyard Dog, Bad News Brown, and Bret Hart. Bad News and Bret team up to eliminate JYD, then Bad News hits Bret with the Ghetto Blaster and throws him out. Second time Bret finished as the runner-up at a Wrestlemania Battle Royal.
Rating: *. Standard battle royal.
Bad News celebrates with a massive trophy, but Bret comes back and smashes the trophy. Jerk. This was also the Hart Foundation’s face turn.
First Round Tournament Match: Jim Duggan vs. Ted DiBiase
Former stablemates from Mid-South wrestling face-off. DiBiase has Andre and Virgil in his corner. This is a battle of DiBiase’s technical prowess against Duggan’s brawling ability. Duggan looks to have it won with the Three Point Stance Clothesline, but Andre grabs his foot and DiBiase scores a Knee Lift and a Fist Drop for the pin in five minutes.
Rating: *. These two had pretty good chemistry.
First Round Tournament Match: Don Muraco vs. Dino Bravo
Muraco is managed by former WWWF Champion “Superstar” Billy Graham. This is probably the most roided out match on the card. Basic match ends when Bravo pulls the referee in front of him to take a shot from Muraco. Bravo is disqualified, Muraco advances.
Rating: *. Not bad for the length.
First Round Tournament Match: Ricky Steamboat vs. Greg Valentine
Everyone is rooting for Steamboat vs. Savage in the second round, but Steamboat was buried under Vince McMahon’s doghouse at this point. This is a good match, especially when Steamboat is on offense. Steamboat appears to have the match on after the Flying Body Press, but Valentine rolls through for the pin.
Rating: **½. I love Ricky Steamboat.
First Round Tournament Match: Randy Savage vs. Butch Reed
Nothing much here. Savage wins in four minutes with the Flying Elbow. These matches are flying by.
First Round Tournament Match: One Man Gang vs. Bam Bam Bigelow
Bigelow debuted with a lot of hype and was showcased in the main event of Survivor Series, so it’s surprising to see Gang take him out here. Dull match ends with Bigelow being counted out after three minutes.
Rating: ¼*. I think Bam Bam had a bad knee.
First Round Tournament Match: Jake Roberts vs. Rick Rude
Alright, now we have a good match-up. And they get plenty of time. And yet…it turns out to be pretty dull. Rude works a heat segment for over ten minutes that’s mostly just him sitting on holds. Jake makes his comeback, but Rude slips out of the DDT. Double Clothesline puts them both down. Rude gets a roll-up with his feet on the ropes, but the bell rings because the fifteen minute time-limit has expired. Well, that was disappointing. Both men are eliminated and One Man Gang has a bye to the semi-finals.
Rating: *. Plodding. I love Rude, but he wrestled some really dull matches.
Ultimate Warrior vs. Hercules
Alright, I was wrong: This is the most roided match of the night. This is a Clothesline match. And there are lots of Clotheslines. Hercules locks in his Full Nelson, but Warrior counters by springing off the ropes into a pin. Huh, maybe that’s where Bret got the idea for the Wrestlemania VIII finish.
Rating: ¼*. Not a good match.
Second Round Tournament Match: Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant
Crowd is mega into Hogan and this match, but they can’t recapture the electricity of the previous year. Andre dominates for a few minutes. Hogan starts his comeback, but DiBiase cuts him off with a chair shot. Hogan gets the chair from DiBiase and smacks Andre with it right in front of the ref. Andre gets the chair and hits Hogan, leading the referee to call for a disqualification. Both men are disqualified, meaning the winner of DiBiase vs. Muraco will have a bye to the finals. Boring match, weak finish.
Rating: ½*. Big drop from last year.
Second Round Tournament Match: Don Muraco vs. Ted DiBiase
Five minute match. DiBiase drops Muraco across the top rope and pins him. Nothing of interest. These matches are too short to matter.
Rating: *. Nothing special.
Second Round Tournament Match: Randy Savage vs. Greg Valentine
Savage is the only face left, so the outcome is preordained. Valentine works over Savage’s leg to set up the Figure Four. When he goes to lock it in, Savage gets him in a Small Package for the pin. Savage moves on to face One Man Gang, winner gets DiBiase in the final. Decent match for the length.
Rating: **. Appreciate the psychology.
Intercontinental Championship: Honky Tonk Man (c) vs. Brutus Beefcake
Honky has been champion for nearly a year at this point, having won it from Ricky Steamboat shortly after Wrestlemania III. This isn’t a very good match. I could try to explain the ending, but it would take forever. A bunch of stuff happens, refs get bumped and revived, and Beefcake wins by disqualification.
Rating: ½*. A mess.
Bob Eucker interviews Andre backstage. Andre says DiBiase paid him to get Hogan out of the tournament. Then he famously chokes Eucker out.
British Bulldog and Koko B. Ware vs. The Islanders and Bobby Heenan
Decent tag match here, but like everything else on the show it’s too short. Heenan keeps tagging in to get cheap shots. Finally, Koko gets some licks in on The Brain. We get a pier six brawl, which allows The Islanders to slam Heenan onto Koko for the pin.
Rating: **. Liked it for the length.
DiBiase comes out so they can announce that he has a bye to the finals. That’s a waste of time on a show that’s running too long.
Tournament Semifinals: Randy Savage vs. One Man Gang
David vs. Goliath match has Gang plays the immovable object and Savage sticks and moves. Savage scores with the Double Ax Handle all the way to the floor. Back in the ring, Slick throws his cane to Gang. Gang swings and misses, but gets caught by the referee and disqualified. That’s a silly finish. Savage advances to the finals to face DiBiase.
Rating: *. Four minutes?
World Tag Team Championship: Strike Force (c) vs. Demolition
Strike Force were Tito Santana and Rick Martel, clean cut babyfaces. They were long-reigning champions at this point, having taken the belts from The Hart Foundation. Demolition was relatively new, but it was clear their time had come. Demolition tune up Tito to build up the hot tag. Martel comes in and manages to lock Smash in the Boston Crab. Mr. Fuji gets on the apron, distracting the referee and allowing Ax to grab the cane and hit Martel with it. Two cane finishes in a row? Smash got the pin and Demolition won their first tag titles.
Rating: **. Would have loved if they’d gotten 15 minutes instead of eight.
WWF Championship Tournament Finals: Ted DiBiase vs. Randy Savage
Savage has Elizabeth in his corner, DiBiase has Andre. I think I know who I’d prefer in this situation. Andre makes his presence known right away, tripping up Savage as he hits the ropes. Then Savage has a chance to hit the Ax Handle to the floor, but Andre stands in his way. Savage tells Liz something and she runs back to the locker room. DiBiase gets heat on Savage for a few minutes, then Hogan comes down the ramp. That evens things up.
Savage throws DiBiase off the top and goes for the Flying Elbow, but DiBiase moves and follows up with the Million Dollar Dream. Andre tries to interfere (no reason why he would do this), which distracts the referee and allows Hogan to smash DiBiase with a chair. Savage hits the Flying Elbow and gets the pin to win his first WWF Championship. Good enough match considering how many combined matches they had already wrestled in.
Rating: ***. Really enjoyed the hijinks at ringside.
Hogan and Savage celebrate. And yes, Hogan upstages Savage. The seeds are planted for the next Wrestlemania.
Overall: This isn’t a very good show. There are just too many matches. Even with the show being four hours, they had to rush almost everything. Sixteen matches is a Wrestlemania record that will never be broken for good reason. I wish they had cut the tournament down to eight participants and given everything more time.