Add to Technorati Favorites

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Retro Mania - Four

It’s 1988, and some more funky graphics and weak 80’s ‘rock’ herald the start of Wrestlemania 4, live (well, 21 years ago) from Trump Plaza, Atlantic City. Yup, old wiggy from The Apprentice was involved with Mania even way back then.

This year, Gene Mean greets us from the middle of the ring, welcomes us to Wrestlemania, and hands over to Gladys Knight to sing us into the show.

America is Beautiful, shining seas, cutaway shots of famous buildings and bald eagle, grace being shined, and we’re out.

The biggest trophy in the world ever is brought out, which is apparently for an Invitational Battle Royal, and we all know the rules about big trophies. If they are presented, they get smashed on someone’s head. It’s the law.

Gorilla (he’s said ‘happening’ twice) is with Jesse, dressed like Crocodile Dundee’s camp brother, and Bob Uecker is back. In fairness, he was pretty good the year previous, so inviting him back and not Susan “Uh-oh” St James is a good call.

Battle Royal participants – Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart (The Hart Foundation), Jim Powers, Paul Roma (The Young Stallions), Sika, Danny Davis, B. Brian Blair, Jim Brunzell (Killer Bees), Bad News Brown, Sam Heuston, Jacques and Ray Rougeau, Ken Patera, Ron Bass, Junkyard Dog, Nikolai Volkoff, Boris Zhukov (The Bolsheviks), Hillbilly Jim, Harley Race and George Steele.

Steele starts on the outside for some reason, and starts by grabbing the Anvil on the leg. Sam Heuston is out first, and Sika follows soon after. The announcers missed the first one because they were talking Baseball, and then Uecker worryingly says “Uh-oh” three times. Steele hasn’t got in the ring yet.

Steele pulls Anvil out while Jesse and Uecker talk about Vanna White, a glamourous TV show........person. I don’t really know. The Rougeaus and Killer Bees start eliminating each other, with only Jacques surviving. JYD slings Bass, and Steele glares at him. The Animal still on the outside, and Gorilla thinks he has been eliminated, while Jesse thinks he has been outside all the time. I agree with The Body, for example.

Hillbilly Jim is next out, and in the ring Davis is getting the most heat. He is thrown out to the crowd’s delight, and then Jim Powers exits stage left. Nikolai is flicked over by Patera, Zhukov comes in to avenge him partner, and he in turn is thrown out. Five left – JYD, Bret, Harley, Paul Roma and Bad News Brown.

Harley disappears and has run his race after a shot from JYD, and then Brown rids the ring of Roma. Bret and Bad News, both out of Stampede and both heels at this point, double up on the Dog as is traditional at the end of a Battle Royal. But usually the face gets rid of one heel after a mix-up –in this case they just throw him out. After the heels celebrate, Bad News hits Bret with a blind inzugiri.

Bret now begins to do what he did best, which is sell like a mad thing, and make the big guy look good. He does this very well, because Bad News throws him out in short order. We get so used to clever and elaborate finishes to Battle Royals these days that this seems really tame.

Bret isn’t happy. So much so that he comes back in the ring and dropkicks Bad News out of there and then (surprise, surprise) kicks the trophy to pieces. The crowd cheer for this – was this the start of the babyface turn?

Ueck is then off to find Vanna, and we’re left with Gorilla (who says happening again) and Jesse, who talk over Howard Finkel. They’d get fired for that now.

Howard is basically explaining the rules of the tournament, and hands over to Robin Leach (I don’t know) to give a proclamation. Howard says Leach is from the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. I guess that is a TV show. I thought it was a Good Charlotte song. Leach (who I’m pleased to note is English) waffles for a bit and says “whereas” a lot.

Hacksaw Jim Duggan then emerges as the first competitor in the tournament, followed by Ted DiBiase, who has Virgil and Andre with him. The announcers seem surprised to see Andre, I guess because Andre is in the tournament.

I should explain that the tourney is a King of the Ring like setup to decide the champion, since the belt was vacant after an Andre v Hogan match on Saturday Night Main Event ended in a BS finish. Andre has sort of won, and handed the belt to DiBiase, who had supposedly “bought” it. But the ref was screwy, and this was actually a scripted Hebner double-cross, and not like in Montreal nine years later.

Duggan basically punches and kicks for a bit while Ted overbumps, and in the end DiBiase (who was a terrific wrestler) basically is dragged down to Duggan’s level and does little but the same, with the odd elbow drop and clothesline.

Eventually Duggan takes control and readies himself in his famous three-point stance, but Andre casually trips his ankle. That was genuinely the best piece of outside interference I’ve ever seen, as Andre just tripped Duggan and then looked totally nonchalant. The ending is a bit off, because Andre punches Hacksaw who gets kneed in the back and fistdropped by DiBiase, but the ref saw the Andre punch, so should have simply DQ-ed Ted. Oh well. Duggan is gone, DiBiase progresses, and will later face the winner of the next match.

Brief interview with a rambling Brutus Beefcake, who apparently will be wrestling Honky Tonk Man later. Maybe that’s for the title of “Greg Valentine’s worst ever partner”. Or maybe the IC belt. One of the two.

Dino Bravo – an Italian born Canadian entering to the strains of the French national anthem, with the ridiculous-looking Frenchie Martin as his manager. He will face Don Muraco, accompanied by Superstar Billy Graham.

The match is very 1980s WWF. Two big guys wrestling slowly and hitting power moves. It’s fine for what it is, but you get the feeling that the biggest start involved in Graham, so it’s quite off-putting. Bravo hits his signature Side Slam after a ref bump, and when the ref comes to he disqualifies Dino. It’s hard to see why on first glance, and Gorilla starts to say it is because he pulled the ref in front of him to take the bump from Muraco rather than him. This is indeed the case, as we see after a replay, but shouldn’t it have been made to look more obvious? Never mind.

To Uecker, still talking about Vanna White backstage, and about interview Jimmy Hart and the Honky Tonk Man. It’s standard stuff, with Uecker saying that Hart will lose his hair. Is it a hair match, or is it just because Brutus has a Barber gimmick?

Steamboat against Valentine next. The Dragon has Rey Mysterio with him, I think. Oh wait, no, it’s a very small child. Not sure why, must be his son.

The match is decent, and midway through Jesse says that a friend of his in California thinks that Steamboat will win it all. He then name checks this wrestling expert as Barry Blaustein. This goes no further, but Barry Blaustein is the guy who made Beyond the Mat.

The match ends when Ricky hits his trademark flying cross-body but Hammer rolls it through for the pin. Nice finish. I like seeing stuff like that that is clean, but sneaky, and comes out of nowhere.

Gene Mean has The Bulldogs and Koko B Ware with him. Davey and Dynamite seem to have their dog with them, but Koko is sans Frankie. They all basically say they are going to get Heenan.

Butch Reed is in the ring with his manager Slick, and then Macho Man’s awesome music hits. Savage is babyface at this point, and gets a major cheer.

I like Reed and Slick in this one. They nicely play their schtick over the top to make it like a pantomime, and draw some nice heat to contrast the very over Savage. Reed dominates with power moves early but Savage turns the tables after Reed takes an eternity getting to the top rope. Macho Man throws him off and then quickly hits (well, he missed, but pretended he hit) his big elbow, and that’s it. He progresses by hitting about three moves.

Uecker keeps on talking about Vanna white backstage, when Heenan shows up with The Islanders. I don’t really listen to what Bobby says, because the actions of Haku are interesting me. He simply rubs his hands together and stares at the screen, but does it so unflinchingly it is very odd.

In the ring is One Man Gang, once again with Slick, and his opponent is one of my favourite big guys of all time Bam Bam Bigelow. Bigelow works as a babyface here, which was a rarity for him. He is also the smaller man here, because One Man Gang was huge.

Bigelow’s manager seems to be Moolah with a fake beard. Oh wait, it’s Oliver Humperdinck. Bigelow generally dominates, but loses via a count-out after Slick low bridged him and Gang didn’t let him back in the ring.

Hogan talks at Gene Mean is probably his best Wrestlemania interview thus far, ranting about Andre and explaining why he’ll win the tournament.

Bobby Heenan leads Rick Rude to the ring next for another Tournament match. Rude grabs the mic and explains that “the odds are in my favourite”. Ok Rick, whatever you say (or said).

Familiar eerie music can only mean the imminent arrival of Jake the Snake, and this oughta be good. Both guys had their character off pat, and it shows right at the start when they lock up, only for Jake to simply stand aside and let the Ravishing one fall on his face. Quality.

The match is full of holds, counters and mat wrestling, which I enjoy but some of the crowd don’t buy into. Eventually Rude settles into a pattern of sitting on a reverse chin lock, but Jake hits the big comeback. He often tries to get to a DDT but can’t lock it in. They haven’t picked up the pace and the match is suffering.

In the end both men hit each other and look exhausted. I’m just thinking that the commentators could make more of the fact that both guys look out of it, and should they go through this would hinder them. However, Rude pops his feet on the ropes for a pin. The ref counts one, then rings for the bell. So Rude wins and the ref can’t count? Or maybe Jake is awarded the match because the ref catches Rude cheating?

Nope, draw. No explanation, no reasoning, just a draw. Both men are out. Even then, Jake doesn’t get the natural post-match revenge, as Rude and Heenan escape Damien’s clutches. That was a let down.

After Gene Mean tries in vain to make Vanna White sound interesting (I’m sure she was terrific on Wheel of Fortune, and she’s very pretty, but isn’t able to sound like she knows anything about wrestling) we go to Ultimate Warrior v Hercules in a “wrestling” match. This ought to be a “HGH on a Pole” match.

This gives new meaning to word ‘boring’, and very slowly these two bumped into each other and pretended they were clotheslines. In the end, Hercules had Warrior in his full nelson, and Warrior flipped backwards off the turnbuckle with the agility of a cat, and looked phenomenal in cradling Herc in a pinning situation.

Of course I’m joking.

Warrior sort of bounces off the corner, falls backwards onto Hercules, and the pair of them lie there as though Herc has Dragon Suplexed Warrior. The ref begins to count and Warrior raises a shoulder at two, with Herc still down. The bell rings, Herc thinks he has won, but Warrior’s arm is raised. That was hardly a squash from Warrior, so it’s interesting to see that he didn’t get a consistent monster push from the off.

Extensive Hogan/Andre video package follows this, which is both good and bad. It is very detailed, going back over a year to when their animosity started, but the clips shown aren’t very clear. You don’t see Hogan winning at Mania 3, the famous Saturday Night Main Event controversial finish which led to tournament isn’t fully explained, and all this would be helped by a clarifying voiceover. Exposition was never Gorilla Monsoon’s strongpoint, so all this build-up is kind of pointless as people either know why things have got to where they are without the video, or are no confused because of it.

Anyway, it’s as you would expect for Hogan v Andre. Hogan has to sell for much of the match, which he of course isn’t totally adept at. Andre was nigh-on immobile by this point, and the mystique of this match must have gone after two previous high-profile encounters in the previous 12 months.

Andre doesn’t seem to have much heat from audience, but Hogan is met with a decent reception. This crowd is one of the quietest Wrestlemania crowd ever. DiBiase and Virgil accompany Andre, and interfere to such an extent that a chair ends up in the ring. Use by both men means that we get a double DQ. Hogan attacks Virgil on the outside and hits the weakest suplex ever, in the aisle. Basically it looks like crap because Virgil put his feet down before he hit the deck and Hogan didn’t fall back and take the necessary bump either.

Hogan slams Andre for the hell of it, and celebrates.......erm....for no good reason but to pop the crowd a little, I guess. This takes like five minutes, with even the commentators getting bored.

Savage promo next, and he bigs up Hogan before stating that he’ll win the tournament. I think he did, anyway, he isn’t always easy to understand.

Muraco v DiBiase now, officially a quarter final match but since Hogan and Andre are gone it’s basically a semi, because the winner would get a bye in the next round. Winner of this is straight to the final.

In the end, DiBiase wins it reasonably cleanly, catching Muraco from the ropes and hitting him with a move we would now call a Hot Shot, used to call a Stun Gun, and back then they called a clothesline.

One Man Gang is forced t come to the ring to get his hand raised in a forfeit, and then it’s Valentine v Savage for a chance to meet the future Akeem.

Midway through the match Valentine hits a shoulder-breaker, now there is a move you don’t see often anymore.

Savage’s intensity is good in this match, and he looks like he is desperate to win. He does, rolling Valentine up in an inside having blocked the figure 4.

More Vanna nonsense and then out comes Honky Tonk Man, dancing to his famous music and accompanied by “Peggy Sue” and Jimmy Hart. Brutus is out to take him on, and however you want to knock both Ed Leslie and Wayne Ferris these two guys were pretty over.

Monsoon, as ever, calls him Bruti, which I never understood.

The match is satisfactory. It’s hardly a work of art, but it has enough little dips and peaks to make it reasonable. However, it’s yet another BS finish, because Brutus has the sleeper on Honky, having avoided HTM’s dreaded neckbreaker, but Jimmy Hart levels the ref. Some dull post-match activity is highlighted by Brutus cutting Hart’s hair. DQ means Brutus wins but doesn’t get the title.

Backstage to Bob Uecker, who speaks to Andre, who seems happy to have dealt with Hogan. He then throttles Uecker in that now-famous scene.

Generic jungle drums and birds tweeting means it’s a vaguely racist, or at least offensively stereotypical, south pacific gimmick. Heenan leads to the ring Tama and Haku, The Islanders, who along with Heenan with wrestle The British Bulldogs and Koko B Ware with their respective pets. Heenan has some sort straight-jacket-like top on, presumably to defend against the bite of Matilda the Bulldog.

Savage battles One Man Gang next, and, guess what, another DQ. The Gang goes after Savage with a cane soon enough, and although a distraction means the ref misses the first couple of swings, he catches the big guy cheating and this one is over. Savage is in the final.

Backstage to Gene Mean and Vanna, who excuses herself because she has to go to the ring. Cue Uecker to turn up looking for her seconds later. He says that she wrote letters to him, and when questioned by Gene, says “yeah, a guy called Vance White.” What, a guy called Vance White? He thinks a guy was writing to him? My God, if this had been picked up on he caught have been brought back to manage Billy and Chuck. Nice to know the comedy was lame even so long before Gerwitz turned up.

Back to the ring, and shoddy dubbed in music greets Demolition, who will take on the Strike Force team of Rick Martel and Tito Santana. Demolition get the upper hand until Tito hits “the patented flying forearm” according to Gorilla. Where do wrestlers go to patent moves? How do you even get that passed?

Demolition (heels) win after manager Mr Fuji creates a distraction and allows Martel to get clobbered by a cane. New champs, and yet another match which doesn’t have a satisfactory flow to it. Maybe I’m being harsh. What is becoming evident is that a late 80s PPV contained matches very similar to a modern-day TV show. Mania now is so much more fulfilling, and WWE should be given credit for creating compelling PPV TV that both satisfies and intrigues.

Main event time, and here come the celebs. Bringing the belt to the ring is Robin Leach, to irritating piano music. He is either trying to show the belt off either side of the aisle or he’s drunk, because his path to the ring is not a straight one.

Next is Uecker to “Take me out to the Ball game” to be the announcer. He humorously swings at a pretend pitch and then looks behind as if he missed it. That’s pretty funny. Then a drunk guy (not Leach) appears in the aisle and hugs Uecker. Bob doesn’t mind, but security do. Heeeeeeeeeeee’s Outta Here!!

Here comes Vanna to a bigger pop than some of the babyfaces on the roster. Probably because half of the audience are high-rollers at the casino and not wrestling fans. Uecker looks happy, which is strange because Vanna is hot, and very much not a dude.

Andre grabs the ankle of Savage early in the match to the annoyance of the audience, who start to cheer for Hogan. That would actually make sense, although it’s quite annoying for Savage that he is the new guy trying to be put over as top dog but people still want Hulk.

To be fair, the match is very slow. It’s understandable since the guys have already worked, especially Savage, and would be legitimately tired and would have to sell it anyway. Savage goes to jump onto DiBiase on the outside but Andre stands in the way. Randy goes over to Liz and tells her something. The crowd understand what is happening as while she is disappearing up the aisle they start cheering for Hogan.

Sure enough, she re-emerges with the Hulkster to be in Randy’s corner. I know it was years too early and would have made no business sense, but wouldn’t it have been cool for Hogan to join DiBiase at this time?

Decent psychology here by wrestlers and commentators as they position Savage as trying to end things quickly and DiBiase trying to wear Savage down even more. To this end, DiBiase avoids a top rope elbow and slaps on his Million Dollar Dream. The ref is bizarrely distracted by Andre, though, and this allows Hogan to come in and slam DiBiase with a chair. What the f.....? Damn that was a heelish manoeuvre, and hardly makes Savage look like a worthy champ does it?

Elizabeth is either genuinely overcome with emotion or does a great job acting like she is crying. Gorilla is also emotive, as he says he has “Goosebumples”, whatever they are.

They celebrate, and we’re out for Mania number four. A poor show, it has to be said. Star power at a premium in the tournament, and way too many dodgy finishes. Would it have killed One Man Gang or DiBiase, or many other folks for that matter, to simply lose cleanly? Really?

Bizarrely, with such a dead crowd, we’d head to Trump Plaza again the following year, where once again Savage and Hogan featured heavily in the main event.......

No comments: