By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
When people (including myself) complain about the length of modern PPVs, I do sometimes think back to the experiences I had with my first Wrestlemania: Wrestlemania IV. A relatively mammoth show for the time period, four hours allowed the WWF to cram in sixteen matches and necessitated an unprecedented two VHS box to house the full experience. Unlike modern PPVs however, IVs tournament structure meant a selection of matches that weren’t exactly what you’d expect on the Grandest Stage of them all. Often maligned as one of the most boring Manias of all time, it is one that I remember fondly if primarily due to the innocence of youth when I first encountered it.
With the WWF Title vacated after the twin referee storyline that had temporarily seen Andre the Giant, then The Million Dollar Man, hold the title that Hulk Hogan had had around his waist for over four years, Wrestlemania IV saw a show-wide tournament to crown the new WWF Champion. Even at an early age, I knew that Hogan won everything, so with a bye to the second round (admittedly, against Andre), I assumed Hogan would win yet again. Little did I know.
What I liked most about this Wrestlemania in hindsight was the number of wrestlers it introduced to me that I still like today. From Bad News Brown winning the opening Battle Royal by ending a short-lived alliance with Bret Hart (which cost Brown his trophy, the Calgary native smashing it to smithereens), to the British Bulldogs teaming with Koko B Ware in a losing effort against The Islanders and Bobby Heenan, they all left some form of indelible mark on my fandom. Even wrestlers who weren’t showcased greatly here went on to be people I sought out in the future. The opening round match between Rick Rude and Jake Roberts was the most boring thing I had ever seen as a child; both men are easily among my favourites of all time over twenty years later.
The action surrounding the tournament perhaps led to the show dragging way beyond any reasonable runtime, but it also showcased all aspects of what the WWF had to offer at the time. Brutus Beefcake would defeat the Honky Tonk Man in the Intercontinental Title Match by disqualification, only to get a measure of revenge by cutting Jimmy Hart’s hair. The WWF Tag Team Titles would change hands as Demolition began a record-breaking run at the top of the division by defeating Strike Force with the assistance of Mr Fuji’s cane. Buried at the end of the first round, an early WWF sighting of the Ultimate Warrior saw him – not yet the fully polished article – defeat Hercules by rolling his arm on a double pin. They would even find time for some celebrity tomfoolery as Bob Uecker spent a large chunk of his time seeking out Vanna White for a kiss.
To the tournament itself. Hindsight is twenty twenty, but the booking was pretty odd looking back. Bam Bam Bigelow going out in the first round, no repeat of Steamboat versus Savage in the second round, the aforementioned Rude/Roberts draw; not everything made a lot of sense. What did happen was the one thing that they seemingly set out to do that evening – they made Macho Man Randy Savage a star.
With Miss Elizabeth by his side and with a change of clothes for each contest, Savage looked a million dollars every time he stepped into the ring that night. Defeating Butch Reed in the first round, he would then watch as Andre the Giant and Hogan eliminated each other in a pretty tedious double disqualification (notably, the match was split in half by the need to change the VHS), all bets were off. He took out Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine, before taking a beating from the One Man Gang en route to a disqualification victory.
The best thing about Wrestlemania, outside of the crowning of Savage as WWF Heavyweight Champion, was the long termism of the WWF’s booking from this moment forward. As Savage battled to take on the combined might of Ted Dibiase, Andre the Giant and Virgil in the final, the arrival of Hulk Hogan – brought out by Elizabeth – evened the odds. A chair shot to the back of Dibiase behind the referee’s back from Hogan would allow Savage to scale the top turnbuckle and drop the elbow for the three count.
Even at that very moment, the seeds were being planted for next year.
As a child, I just thought it was cool for Hogan, Savage and Elizabeth to celebrate Savage’s title victory together. Little did I know that this triumvirate of the WWF landscape at the time would explode later in the year, Savage destroyed by jealousy of the relationship between Hogan and Liz. This moment being the catalyst for the ill feeling that would lead to the two men headlining the next Wrestlemania.
Because that is what makes Wreslemania IV worthwhile – the booking. Seeing Savage rise to the top in one night was something that I knew was special, even at a time when I knew very little about wrestling. Watching the Mega Powers fall apart is an angle I got to appreciate as an adult, and without the highs of IV, you don’t get the lows of the following year. That, my friends, is pro wrestling in a nutshell.