It was 25 years ago today in 1988 that the WWF Heavyweight Title tournament took place at WrestleMania IV.
The tournament came about after the infamous title switch during which Andre the Giant pinned Hulk Hogan and then attempted to bequeath the belt to the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. Then-WWF President Jack Tunney ruled that while Andre had indeed won the title, he could not hand it over to someone else, and thus had vacated the belt. Tunney ordered the champion to be determined at Mania IV.
These days, title tournaments are commonplace, but in 1988 in the WWF, there had not been a championship tourney in years (I’m guessing the last one was when the Samoans regained the Tag Team Titles in 1980 — that story is worth its own post someday).
On paper, the big match in the Mania IV brackets was a rematch between Hogan and Andre, which ended when both were disqualified for beating the bejesus out of each other with steel chairs. This eliminated them from the tournament, essentially guaranteeing a new champion.
Randy “Macho Man” Savage wrestled four matches that night en route to winning the belt, pinning DiBiase in the finals. I don’t remember the specifics, but I’m fairly sure that DiBiase had been pegged to take the belt originally, and then plans changed. Poor DiBiase, he would have been a great champ.
Savage, however, was a good choice at the time, too. His win started a slow, year-long build to Hogan challenging him for the belt at WrestleMania V. This program is right up there with John Cena vs. Rock and Triple H vs. Batista as one of the best slow burns to a big match in WWE history.
The actual tournament at WrestleMania IV was not strong on paper – it certainly wasn’t the caliber of some of the great Japanese tournaments, and honestly I’m not even sure it approached the early King of the Rings that took place in my back yard in Foxboro, MA. Here’s a good image of the brackets and winners.
I remember being disappointed that there were no surprises in the tourney, such as babyface vs. babyface or heel vs. heel. In fact, none of the matches other than DiBiase vs. Savage even stands out in my mind today.
Among the non-tournament matches on the card, the most notable ones were Demolition defeating Strike Force (Tito Santana and Rick Martel) for the Tag Team Titles and Bad News Brown winning a battle royal, which was actually the babyface turn of Bret “Hitman” Hart, who whacked Brown after the battle royal with the winner’s trophy.
I did not see WrestleMania IV live. However, it was the first Mania I ever saw on videotape, as the closed circuit tour of Manias ended in my area and the show started to appear on certain cable systems that were early birds on pay-per-view scene. In fact, by August 1988, I was able to order SummerSlam on PPV myself.