(Damn Andy Goss, stealing my thunder again…) – Live from Nashville, TN – March 12/ 88
– Your hosts are Vince & Jesse.
– We of course discuss the Hogan/Andre/evil referees controversy first. Funny story about that situation: I was watching some of those old Superstars shows from Feb / 88, and they did an angle whereby every time Jesse Ventura would start to talk about the Main Event, Vince would have the truck bleep out his entire diatribe, by order of Jack Tunney. 13 years ago, I of course had no clue why they were doing that, but now I realize that obviously those shows were from the taping cycle BEFORE the Main Event was shot, but aired AFTER it showed on NBC. And since Vince was like Howard Hughes with all the paranoia about anyone possibly leaking the Mystery Finish, he obviously didn’t want to tell Jesse anything in advance and thus came up with the censorship angle to hedge his bets.
– Brutus Beefcake v. Greg Valentine. Beefcake overpowers Valentine, but gets slugged down. Beefer comes back with the high knee and a slam, however. Big boot and Hammer is reeling. Beefcake gets a pair of atomic drops and an elbow, and rolls up Valentine for two. Weirdest moment ever: Vince has been commenting the whole match on Beefcake’s bizarre tights (you know, the ones with the big split down the side of the legs) and when Beefcake does the rollover pin attempt, the camera is aimed squarely at his crotch, and an uncomfortable Jesse quips “Well, that’s more of Beefcake than we really needed to see.” Vince immediately jumps all over Jesse for even noticing, and they spent the rest of the show slinging gay innuendos at each other, making for some very awkward commentary. Anyway, Beefcake hammers away, but Valentine cheapshots him and drops an elbow. He goes up with another one, and drops the hammer for two. Figure-four, but they’re in the ropes. Greg, however, keeps on the knee until Brutus bails, drawing Honky Tonk Man out of the dressing room. Honky mocks Beefcake until Valentine tosses him back in. Valentine pounds away with elbows and goes for the figure-four, after going to work extensively on the knee in Flairish fashion. Figure-four attempt is blocked by Beefcake with a handful of tights. Again, but Beefcake kicks him away. He comes back and fires back on Valentine, and gets an elbow. Sleeper in the center of the ring, but Greg barely makes the ropes and they tumble out. Jimmy Hart taunts Beefcake into releasing the move and chasing him, which allows Valentine to jump him on the way in and hit a backdrop suplex for the pin at 9:48. But WAIT! In fact, Beefcake lifted his shoulder at two, and he’s the winner. I’ve always hated that finish, but Beefcake worked his ass off here and it was a ***1/4 match as a result. 1 for 1. (To think we’ve reached a point where the double backdrop suplex pin is no longer on my top 10 most hated finishes list.)
– Hulk Hogan v. “King” Harley Race. This a rather famous match for two reasons, which will be explained when we get there. (What a tease.) The storyline here is that Hogan is right pissed off because of the Andre situation and ain’t taking no shit tonight. Here’s a neat touch of continuity from the generally sloppy production crew: Hogan does one of those cheesy pre-match promos with Mean Gene backstage and rips his shirt during the course of it. When he comes out for the match immediately after, the shirt is still ripped. Why is this neat? Because those promos are generally done either WAY before or WAY after in post-production, usually before. So someone actually remembered that Hogan needed a torn shirt. For the evil flipside of this, check out The Main Event, where Hogan cuts a “backstage promo” wearing the 86-88 version of the WWF title belt, and when he “heads off to the ring” 5 seconds later the belt mysteriously metamorphizes into the now-classic WWF title belt! (Metamorphizes is totally a word.) Anyway, Hogan no-sells a pre-bell attack, but Race gets a pair of headbutts. Hogan no-sells that, too, and just unloads on him. Hogan gets a pair of clotheslines, and then hits another one that sends Race over the top, where he hits a ringside table gut-first on the edge. That innocent-looking blow to Race’s gut would actually result in a career-ending injury. Hogan posts Race, but gets jumped by him soon after. Race tries a piledriver on the floor, but can’t pull it off. Hogan atomic drops him and posts him again. They head back in, where Hogan chops away and chokes Race out with his wrist tape (!). Man, this match is so much like a prototype of Hollywood Hogan that it’s scary. Clothesline with the tape and Hogan keeps slugging away. Hogan stops to choke Heenan, allowing Race to nail him and get a kneedrop. Belly to belly sets up another kneedrop and a piledriver. Race dumps him and puts him on that same ringside table, but misses a dive off the apron and goes through the table himself. And that, my friends, is the first recorded table spot in North American wrestling. (Well, if you’re not counting the times that Randy Savage piledrove dudes through tables in Memphis, sure…) There seems to be some debate over exactly which table spot injured Race in this match, but I think the first one did more specific damage – this one was the usual “Fall down, break table” type with the weight distributed evenly over the surface. It certainly couldn’t have HELPED the internal injury, however. Back in, Race hammers away and goes up for a diving headbutt, which gets two. Hulk up, yada yada legdrop at 7:24. Again, everyone busts ass and it’s one of Hulk’s better TV matches that I’ve ever seen. I’d call it about ***1/2 given the timeframe and innovative stuff here. 2 for 2. (Also notable about this feud was the series of ridiculous columns in PWI at the time where one of the writers talked about seeing a bookie, who set odds on this particular series of house show matches for people to bet on. And now this happens FOR REAL.)
– Ted Dibiase v. Randy Savage. Yes, Vince actually gave away the main event to Wrestlemania 4 two weeks before the show, so it’s not a new thing. Savage goes out to abuse Virgil, and Dibiase attacks. Back in, Ted hammers away and chokes him down. Elbow and Dibiase pounds away in the corner. Elbow off the middle leads to more choking. Savage reverses a whip and elbows him back, then a high knee sends Dibiase dramatically flying out. Back in, double axehandle and Dibiase begs off. Clothesline gets two for Savage, however. Savage gets a hotshot and another elbow, and Dibiase now bails. Savage calmly invites him back in as they play mindgames with each other. Savage loses that battle, however, turning his back and getting jumped. Dibiase drops a pair of fists and chops away. A charge hits foot, and Savage gets an elbowdrop for two. Kneedrop misses, so Dibiase tries a spinning toehold to work the knee. Savage kicks off and Dibiase bails, but it was purposely done, as he then pulls Savage out of the ring and brawls with him. Virgil smokes Savage from behind to turn the tide. The ref tosses Virgil as we take a break and return with Dibiase getting a double axehandle and elbow for two. He hits the chinlock and uses the hair to keep Savage down. Savage elbows out and suddenly hits a clothesline out of nowhere. Backdrop, but Dibiase cheapshots him and the ref is bumped. Savage tosses Dibiase and follows with an axehandle, but Andre just CLOBBERS him. Man, DUMB DUMB DUMB move to follow Dibiase out to where the Giant was. Liz wisely runs back to get the cavalry as Andre just absolutely lays a shitkicking on Savage until the ref revives and counts him out at 11:42. Heel beatdown follows, you-know-who makes the save to set up the finish of WM4. Total PPV quality match with psychology and a story and everything, hovering around **** and blowing the Wrestlemania main event out of the water. 3 for 3. (“blowing the WM main event out of the water” isn’t really saying much given both guys had worked multiple matches already at the end of a four-hour show.)
– The Killer Bees v. The Islanders. This is actually a bit of videotape magic, as this match is 2/3 falls but only the first fall was shown. Brunzell slams Tama to start, for two. Bees double-team him, and a Blair rollup gets two. Brunzell works the arm, but misses a dropkick. Tama gets a suplex for two, and Haku dropkicks him for two. Tama pounds away, but gets atomic dropped. Haku gets back in, and he and Brunzell clothesline each other. Hot tag to Blair, who sends Haku out and slams both guys. Rollup on Tama gets two, but he’s left wide open for a Haku superkick and Tama gets the pin at 3:38. Standard tag action. 4 for 4.
– One Man Gang v. Ken Patera. This is the designated “final 30 minutes squash” for the evening. Gang attacks to start and chokes him with his own Olympic pants. Patera fights back and gets a bearhug. Gang rakes the eyes to break, but Patera tries a full-nelson. Well, points for effort, I guess. Patera keeps pounding, but Gang trips coming off the ropes and falls on top for the pin at 3:07. I assume that ending was screwed up or rushed somehow, but it was so ridiculous and out of place that I can’t give the match a point as a result. 4 for 5. The shattered ringside table appears to be whole and intact again, thus showing what order the matches were taped in. (Perhaps the table has John Cena’s genetics and just returned 6 weeks early for dramatic effect?)
The Bottom Line: Man, that first hour was one of the best televised shows that the WWF has ever done. The rest was the usual filler, but definitely check out Hogan-Race and Savage-Dibiase if you’ve never seen them.