At WrestleMania IV, wrestling fans witnessed a changing of the guard as a new WWF champion was crowned following the fourteen man WWF championship tournament.
After four years as champion, Hulk Hogan failed to recapture the belt during his second round double elimination against Andre the Giant. However Hogan was able to gain a measure of revenge against “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, who had conspired to rob Hogan of his belt back in February of 1988.
During the final round of the tournament, Hogan helped his friend Randy “Macho Man” Savage by countering the interference of DiBiase’s henchman Andre the Giant as well as blasting DiBiase with a chair. The end result was that Savage was the new WWF champion. Behind the scenes, the WWF had put the belt on “Macho Man” because they were going to use Hulk Hogan’s popularity to take the Hulkster and the WWF to even greater heights.
WWF kingpin Vince McMahon had decided that he was going to enter the film industry with his own film starring Hulk Hogan. Hogan had gained many accolades for his appearance in Rocky III, small roles in other films, as well as several guest spots on television. If the film was a success it not only meant additional revenue for the film but even more public recognition of Hulk Hogan and the WWF.
McMahon was taking a gamble both in terms of the film and in terms of his wrestling promotion. While Hulk Hogan was unquestionably a proven commodity in the wrestling world, his box office appeal was still largely unknown. The WWF also had to cope with the loss of Hogan for several months while he filmed his new movie. Could the WWF carry on without Hulkamania?
Vince McMahon believed that it could. However it was made clear to Savage that he was merely holding the belt while Hogan filmed his movie. Once the film was made, the WWF would make arrangements for Hogan to regain the WWF championship. Savage had no problem with this and agreed to McMahon’s terms. As Hulk Hogan recalls in his 2002 book Hollywood Hulk Hogan:
The agreement was that Randy would take the belt and keep it until I was done making No Holds Barred. Then I was going to get the belt back. And Randy was comfortable with that. He was a horse’s ass sometimes, but when it came to business he was always on the money, always ready to give and take.
And what of Wrestlemania IV’s success? With Clash of Champions providing a PPV caliber show for free on Superstation TBS, how did the WWF’s fourth Wrestlemania fare? As many suspected, Clash of Champions put a dent in the WWF’s PPV buys. This may have pleased Jim Crockett Promotions but their delight was short-lived when PPV providers delivered an ultimatum to both WWF and JCP-no more scheduling shows against their competitor’s PPV’s. The real loser in this wrestling war was the PPV providers and they weren’t going to have their buyrates harmed by counter-programming.
As Hogan, Savage, and Elizabeth celebrated Savage’s title win, the fans were witnessing a new era in WWF history. While Hulk Hogan was no longer WWF champion, he had a new role as the champion’s friend, a partnership known as the Mega Powers.
Hulk Hogan made his final appearance on WWF television before he left to film No Holds Barred. The match aired on the May 14, 1988 edition of WWF Superstars and saw the Hulkster defeat Russian menace Boris Zhukov by pinfall. After the match, Zhukov’s tag team partner Nikolai Volkoff and manager Slick ran in to attack Hogan only to find themselves quickly defeated by Hogan.
With Hogan gone from the WWF, the “Macho Man” was the company’s number one babyface. Savage quickly began a program against “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, defending his WWF championship against the man he had defeated in the finals at Wrestlemania IV. Savage’s early matches against DiBiase usually ended with DiBiase winning via count-out after interference from DiBiase’s bodyguard Virgil. However the wily Savage quickly learned how to deal with Virgil’s interference and he began winning matches against DiBiase, pushing back DiBiase’s bid to win the WWF championship.
Despite Savage’s victories against DiBiase, “The Million Dollar Man” was relentless, challenging the champion time after time. No doubt frustrated by his failure to defeat Savage, DiBiase tried a new avenue of attack on the July 9, 1988 edition of WWF Superstars. The WWF champion (accompanied as always by Miss Elizabeth) was being interviewed by Craig DeGeorge when Andre the Giant and Andre’s manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan came out and interrupted the interview.
While Savage confronted Andre and Heenan, Ted DiBiase Pearl-Harbored “The Macho Man”, knocking him senseless. DiBiase’s bodyguard Virgil then restrained Elizabeth while Andre, DiBiase, and Heenan triple-teamed Savage. Elizabeth was forced to watch her man suffer a humiliating beatdown.
The following week on Superstars, an Update segment aired where it was announced that the WWF champion had challenged Andre and Ted DiBiase to face him and a partner of his choosing in tag team competition. The fans began to wonder-would Andre and DiBiase accept Savage’s challenge and if they did, who would be Savage’s tag team partner?
The WWF continued the angle the following week on WWF Superstars when Andre and DiBiase accepted Savage’s challenge. Then a wild card was thrown into the game, the match would be officiated by a special referee, none other than former WWF Superstar Jesse “The Body” Ventura. WWF President Jack Tunney had appointed “The Body” but would Ventura keep things fair? Ventura was well known for his years as a heel wrestler along with his current role as a color commentator who favored the heels. This made many fans wonder whether the deck was already stacked against “The Macho Man”.
It didn’t take long for Savage to reveal his partner, a man who still had a score to settle with Andre the Giant and Ted DiBiase; none other than Hulk Hogan. Hogan announced that the Mega Powers would face DiBiase and Andre (who called themselves “The Mega Bucks”) at SummerSlam, the WWF’s latest PPV offering. Hogan made it clear that not only was he joining forces with “The Macho Man” but that the lovely Elizabeth would be managing him as well.
After weeks of promotion, the first SummerSlam PPV debuted on August 29, 1988 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, the home of the inaugural Wrestlemania. The show featured a variety of interesting matches, including a sensational Intercontinental Championship win by the Ultimate Warrior over the Honky Tonk Man and a WWF Tag Team Championship match between the current champions Demolition and one-time champions the Hart Foundation.
Later on during the show, special referee Jesse Ventura was questioned about the money that he’d taken from Ted DiBiase. Ventura said that he’d be a fool not to take money but did not clarify whether or not the added income would have any effect on how he called the match. Wrestling fans had seen what could happen when a referee favored the heels. The legacy of crooked referee Danny Davis was still well remembered by WWF fans.
With a match shrouded in mystery and intrigue and the pitting of two all-star tag teams, the first SummerSlam’s main event had the potential to become a match for the ages. Would the match live up to the hype? Join me next time as we look at the match as well as the Mega Powers’ tragic destiny.
Thanks again to Graham Cawthon for his awesome resource page The History of WWE!