When the Rock returned to pro wrestling a few years back and challenged John Cena a year ahead of schedule for the WrestleMania XXVII, it was the first time in years that you saw long-term planning on the part of the WWE.
One of the greatest examples of the long, slow build came in 1988 and 1989, when the late Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Hulk Hogan planted the seeds for their main event confrontation at WrestleMania V at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, NJ.
One year prior, Savage won the WWF Heavyweight Title in a one-night tournament at WrestleMania IV. At the time, Savage was a babyface, but there was still tension between him and Hogan due to their prior battles when Hulk wore the belt. These guys spent a year walking on a knife edge, and you knew where the story was going.
That’s the thing a lot of non-fans don’t get about wrestling. Sure, we know it’s entertainment and we often can correctly guess who will win in the end. But it’s how you get there that is the most intriguing part.
The WrestleMania V match had hints dropped throughout 1988. Remember Hogan hugging Miss Elizabeth after the first SummerSlam? Savage eventually turned heel in a jealousy-fueled angle that led to Mania V.
Their match was actually pretty decent by the standards of the time, although I don’t think today many would watch it and think it was all that good. Savage and Hogan had fought all over the country, so they had their spots down.
My biggest criticism is that the main event of the biggest show of the year didn’t deliver the overdue payoff because you never found out who Elizabeth truly sided with. She got sent away from ringside after getting too involved in the action, and we didn’t see much of her for another 18 months.
If she was going to take a sabbatical, she should have at least raised Hogan’s hand in victory at the end of match, especially given that Savage took Sensational Sherri Martel as his manager soon after.
I think real life was playing into things as well, as there were allegations by Savage that Hogan was too friendly for comfort with Elizabeth outside the ring. I don’t think anyone has ever accused Hogan of having an affair with her, but clearly Savage felt betrayed by Hogan and Elizabeth’s friendship, particularly as the Macho Man’s marriage to her crumbled over the next few years.
As for WrestleMania V, it drew just under 800,000 buys on pay-per-view at a time when the available universe to see such shows was far less than it is today. In fact, I think that number was purely a domestic one as I’m not sure the WWF even broadcast PPVs internationally at the time. Incredibly, Mania V remained the top drawing Mania for a decade until WrestleMania XV dethroned it.