I have very serious doubts about Donald Trump as a politician, but the fact that he convinced the WWF that he could host Wrestlemania again after the dead crowd of 1988 was kind of amazing. However, Congress is a different animal. I imagine dealing with Vince McMahon is similar to negotiating with certain foreign dictators given the McMahon power moves against WCW at the time. Let’s jump into the deep end and explore some questions about this event.
Why Atlantic City again? Didn’t they want a better crowd?
Money talks. My guess is that Trump signed a two event deal, which makes sense given the money being laid out. I’m pretty sure if they could have played a stadium, they might have given that the main event was scorching hot. The Trump people did manage to add 2,000 additional seats into the venue.
Why wouldn’t a stadium have worked for this show?
You’ll see that coming up since there wasn’t too much build for many of these matches. Just random guys thrown together, which was the style at the time. Not sure they had the stomach to try a stadium, but they had the right main event for it.
Didn’t something happen with the WWF and the state of New Jersey around this time in 1989?
Why yes, and that thing was to deregulate pro wrestling in the state so they wouldn’t have to keep those pesky doctors around and be subject to state athletic commission meddling. The WWF was trying to do this in all states, mostly having success. This was extremely controversial because it involved officials testifying under oath and exposing the business which was verboten at the time. Nothing sticks in my brain quite like Connie Chung of CBS News saying “Wrestling is fake.”
What about WCW? Weren’t they told by cable companies not to meddle with Wrestlemania again? So why did they run a Clash show anyway?
Cable companies were pissed at Turner and Jim Crockett for running Clash 1 because they felt it ate into Wrestlemania 4 PPV buys. Over the course of 1988, things had evolved somewhat and with Turner in charge of WCW, they had better connections with cable operators. Turner was attempting to launch TNT (which happened on October 3, 1988) and was adding TBS into even more outlets. On the flip side, cable was growing weary of Vince McMahon a bit after Summerslam 88 didn’t draw as many buys as hoped. So Turner ran Clash of the Champions 6 opposite Wrestlemania 5, with the most memorable match being the 56 minute battle between Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair. This would be the last time that would happen where one company would run a show on free TV opposite a PPV.
Did the Clash show hurt the number of PPV buys?
No. This show had 767,000 buys on PPV which was astronomical for the time and the most for any event WWF had until Wrestlemania 15 in 1999. The Clash show drew only 6,000 to the cavernous Louisiana Superdome in part because booker George Scott did not want to promote the Flair-Steamboat match for fear it would be giving away the house show program on free TV. For that stupidity, he was fired.
There were a lot of guys returning to the WWF during this period. Why was that?
This show features many guys who came back to WWF after multiple years away. The explanation for that is this: when Turner took over WCW in late 1988, Vince McMahon was willing to sign anyone and everyone who had some name value to block them from showing up in WCW. Hence the returns of Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka, and even Big John Studd. The latter was even given a Royal Rumble victory!
Randy Savage was a heel world champion coming into the event. How weird was that?
So weird that it was the only time a heel held the WWF title from the Iron Sheik in January 1984 until Sgt. Slaughter in early 1991. That’s a very long time, and the DiBiase thing doesn’t count.
What is the strangest Donald Trump factoid from the time period?
Donald Trump had a board game in 1989 called “Trump: The Game” which was similar to Monopoly only more complicated. It was a flop but I will not judge because I owned a ton of weird board games. Still in my mother’s basement is the Sale of the Century board game. The white whale for me is the Family Ties board game, but I can’t find it in the house.
Onto the wrestling. I saw this event on PPV live and remember it vividly. Back in those days, Wrestlemania started at 4 PM Eastern, which is a schedule I think they should return to simply because it would be better for the European audience. The hosts are Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura, and the Body was on FIRE on this day. This show is probably his magnum opus.
Show opens with Vince McMahon at his Vince-iest: yelling “The MegaPowers….EXPLODE!” I wish he could still do those promo packages. Here to “sing” America the Beautiful is then-WWF Women’s champion Rockin’ Robin, who happens to be the sister of Jake Roberts. What a downgrade from Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight, as she was awful and seemed to have no singing chops at all. This had to be some sort of rib. Jesse says that she should stick to wrestling and shouldn’t quit her “daytime job”.
Hercules vs King Haku (w/Bobby Heenan)
The build: Hercules was in the Heenan Family until he was “sold” to Ted DiBiase to be a slave. That’s rather awkward, though at least they picked a white guy because that would have been a major shitstorm otherwise. After a feud with the Million Dollar Man, Hercules then was programmed against the Heenan Family. King Haku won the crown officially from Harley Race at the 1989 Royal Rumble in a very rare heel vs heel match.
The match: Classic Howard Finkel screwup here when he announces Haku as “King Tonga” which was his old 1986 name. It was carefully dubbed out of all releases, but since I have the original broadcast, I have the sound here. Love the silence afterward as Vince is probably screaming at everyone about this. The King is carried to the ring by 6 job guys because that’s what heel kings do. Ventura points out that Heenan is a busy man today, and by God does he have himself a night. Hercules swings his chain to clear the ring at the start, but Haku attacks from behind to get the jump. Jesse says you have to be prepared at Wrestlemania, which is something that would be ignored in that Sheamus-Daniel Bryan debacle at WM28.
When Hercules does gain control, he inexplicably just leaves the ring to slowly chase Heenan. Ventura says he got Donald Trump his seats in the front row for the second year in a row. Haku does the backbreaker spot where he holds Hercules and does it multiple times. I’m a fan of that one. Bearhug and Jesse and Gorilla debate the merits of the hold, but the crowd chants “boring”. Wow, that was quick. Herc powers out then comes off the top but Haku hits that crescent kick in a nice spot. The King misses a splash off the top, and is back suplexed into a pinning combo for Herc, who instead of bridging like a man, just rolls his shoulder to avoid the double pin.
Verdict: Some nice spots here and there. Funny how the opener here did a double pin spot the same way they did in the Flair-Steamboat 3rd fall at the Clash the same day. It’s a George Scott booking trope, which is funny since he had been fired from both organizations at this point.
Gene Okerlund is with the Rockers who are very excitable, but not in a “I just did uppers” kind of way. Marty takes the lead here and says they will rock and roll and strut and stroll and move like “grease lightning”…no word if Olivia Newton-John will be in their corner.
Twin Towers (Akeem and Big Bossman w/Slick) vs The Rockers
The build: The Towers were background players in the MegaPowers breakup on the Main Event 8 weeks earlier. They were top of the card players as a team, and Bossman was main eventing as a singles wrestle on house shows. The Rockers were still establishing themselves and were in a feud with the Brain Busters earlier in 1989.
The match: Classic Davids vs Goliaths here. Gorilla says you don’t get to pick your opponent and say how much he should weigh while Jesse claims he used to do that. Cat and mouse game early with Rockers using their speed. I should note that it’s refreshing to hear Jesse Ventura commentary about the Twin Towers without references to jet fuel burning and inside jobs by the government. Rockers work the arm of Akeem and do quick tags to the point where they are both in the ring at all times. Marty is caught and squished between the big men. Jesse says that referee Joey Marella has a hard time counting to five, taking a shot at Gorilla’s real life son. Rockers do a no-tag double team that sets Jesse off. But now it is time for one of the greatest clotheslines you will ever see, by Akeem of all people on Shawn Michaels.
“I believe he irritated Akeem!” says Ventura. Bossman gets tag and goes up top but misses a splash. Jeez, that’s two matches in a row for that. Marty sneaks in to low bridge the Bossman and Jesse is cranky again. Double dropkick sends Akeem to the outside. Bossman gets two missile dropkicks…well sort of since Shawn was late on his so he just kind of floated over the fray. Michaels would get caught off the top by Bossman on his next try and get a sick looking spinning spinebuster. Holy moly. Akeem splash (Air Africa!) ends it.
Verdict: I really like this match a lot because it played to everyone’s strengths. I will never tire of Jesse Ventura complaining during tag matches. Shawn Michaels sold so well in this one that he should have been made Donald Trump’s apprentice on the spot. But I could see an argument where the Rockers swap places with Strike Force on this card. (Which didn’t happen allegedly because they didn’t want anything to upstage Savage-Hogan and the Rockers vs Busters would.)
Newcomer Tony Schiavone is with the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase and his then-new Million Dollar belt. Ted says that Trump and Henry Kravis are here to see him because they are in his class. On his way into the ring, DiBiase and Virgil stop to shake hands with Trump. Man, that’s a meeting for the ages: Virgil and Trump. (Secretary of Meat Sauce?)
“Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase (w/Virgil) vs Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake
The build: None to speak of here, just two upper midcard guys with nothing to do at this point. That would change for DiBiase later on this show.
The match: Classic case of neither guy could go over and neither guy could lose. But the commentary is excellent at least. Jesse asks what kind of credit Ted could get for the belt in the casino, and Gorilla says a million bucks. Ventura then rips on Gorilla for gambling, saying he would lose all that money in three hours. They make reference to Henry Kravis again and his large deal that had been made: he led a leveraged buyout of Nabisco in late 1988 for $31.4 billion ($62.8 billion in 2016 dollars) which was the largest in history. Gorilla asks why those rich guys would be here and Jesse says “to see him wrestle!” Ventura says that “cheating is how all the great fortunes were made” which is funny because there were many insider trading scandals during that time. Trust me, this is more interesting than the wrestling. Virgil on the apron when Beefcake gets the sleeper. Both guys end up outside in a slugfest in front of Trump and are counted out. The Barber beats up Virgil afterward then gets his hedge clippers. When Ventura protests, Gorilla says “the match is over, Jess” to which Jesse says “well, then this is assault with a deadly weapon!”
Verdict: Nothing match here, but Beefcake would have a great 1989. He would move on to Randy Savage after this, while Ted would be active later.
Lord Alfred Hayes is shown at the Bacon, Bagels and Biceps Brunch with the Bushwhackers, who tell him their strategy with a mouthful of food garbling everything.
The Bushwhackers vs The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers (w/Jimmy Hart)
The build: Rougeaus had an issue with the Bushwhackers because they were quite uncivilized. Yeah guys, me too. Was never a fan of them even as a kid. I just thought they were gross.
The match: Love that Rougeau theme music, making its only Wrestlemania appearance. Bushwhackers do their walk to the ring and Jesse claims he saw Gorilla doing that strut on the casino floor. Ventura think these guys are on the “joy juice” or “maybe some other kind of juice”. Well, no shortage of guys on juice here today that’s for sure. Jimmy Hart gets beat up to start and his jacket is taken. Ventura says that this happens because “Jimmy’s small and ‘cuz there’s bullies” which is true.
Once again this match is not good but commentary saves it: they discuss immigration in light of the Rougeaus “move” to the United States and Gorilla makes a weird remark along the lines of “we already have all the poor and tired” when Jesse asks if we should tear down the Statue of Liberty. Gorillas aren’t fully evolved anyway, and Monsoon gets Luke and Butch confused. Jacques is such a great douche, starting a “USA!” chant while applying an abdominal stretch. Bushwhackers get a battering ram then a double gutbuster out of nowhere for the win.
Verdict: I don’t blame Luke and Butch for changing their style because they made more money doing this than doing wild brawls as the Sheepherders. The Rougeaus were just kind of middling for a long time. Neither of these teams were serious title contenders.
Sean Mooney tries to meet the Bushwhackers in the aisle, but is licked by both of them. He compares it to a dog that really likes you. Meanwhile on the replay of the finish, Gorilla is astonished that Luke hooked the leg. I was rather tickled by that.
Mr. Perfect vs Blue Blazer
The build: Curt Hennig still has a perfect record coming into this match, and this was a debut of two things: the colorful singlet he was famous for and the dropping of his real name. The Blazer is of course Owen Hart and he had been dazzling in all of his TV appearances. There was no one quite like him in the promotion at the time.
The match: I am going to dispel a myth once and for all right now about Mr. Perfect and Red Rooster. Hennig was always going to be Mr. Perfect. When he was AWA champion the year before, Pat Patterson would describe him in meetings as someone who could do it all and that he was just about perfect. This is according to Bruce Prichard on the Wooooo Nation podcast (and later on his Something to Wrestle With pod), and he explained the Red Rooster as well which will be covered later. Ventura calls this a sleeper match and that he ran into Curt’s dad Larry “the Ax” Hennig earlier. Those Minnesota boys stick together. Jesse thinks he knows who the Blazer is, but will only state facts and doesn’t know quite yet. Not a conspiracy though. Blazer does a hip lock after a flip and puts Perfect outside. Then a baseball slide dropkick, revolutionary stuff for 1989 WWF. Blazer goes for a splash off the top, but Hennig gets the knees up. Jeez that move has failed in three matches now and it is 0 for 3. Gorilla says it makes him glad he retired, and Jesse says “me too” meaning he’s also glad Gorilla retired. Jesse says hi to his family, and Gorilla accuses him of being his only fans. Ventura promises a surprise later.
The Blue Blazer hits a f’ing overhead belly to belly suplex. Standard stuff now but in context it looks amazing. A crucifix by Blazer gets a 2.9 count and the crowd buys it as a finish. Perfect says enough and lays waste to the masked man with a huge forearm. Perfectplex finishes a dandy of a match, that I only wish got about 5 more minutes.
Verdict: Wish this got more time, but by God we needed to get Dino Bravo on the card. By some accounts, Owen Hart was the best wrestler in the world in 1988 and not just for junior heavyweights. Hennig was also incredible until his back woes in 1991.
Jesse Ventura unveils his surprise: he is introduced to the crowd to a loud ovation and poses for a bit. “There’s no conceit in the Ventura family, Jesse has it all,” says Monsoon.
Mr. Fuji is shown running the 5K on the boardwalk the day before. He says he is in “superior shape” and oddly ENDS the terrible promo with “let me tell you”.
Run DMC is out to play the Wrestlemania Rap. This was slightly past their peak, but still miles ahead of Flo Rida. To his credit, Donald Trump sat in his seat through the whole thing. Gorilla was not a fan, stating “A little bit of that went a long way with me!”
Demolition cut a good promo on Fuj the Stooge the overstuffed rat. These guys were much better talkers than I remembered.
Demolition (C) vs The Powers of Pain and Mr. Fuji for the WWF World tag team titles
The build: This goes back a long way to the summer of 1988. When the Powers jumped to the WWF, they were brought in as Tito Santana’s mercenaries to take down Demolition. And they managed to win non-title matches off TV. They got good reactions, though some of that is attributed to people thinking they were the Road Warriors. At Survivor Series 1988, Fuji turned on Demolition saying that they had stopped listening to him and that the Powers of Pain were better. They had a match in Milwaukee on Feb. 3 where Fuji threw salt to cause a DQ so he was brought into the match making it 3 on 2.
The match: Gorilla makes an excellent point on this match: while it is 3 on 2, it’s better to have Fuji in the match so he could be controlled instead of random interference. And he’s also a much easier guy to pin theoretically than the Warlord or Barbarian. This analysis is not something you’d get from that hack JBL today. (Maybe Corey Graves, though) Demolition controls much of this match, and Gorilla and Jesse debate if the Powers of Pain have “Wrestlemania jitters”. Fuji avoids getting in until it’s to his advantage, and he gets a falling headbutt to nuts of Smash. Fuji later gets caught missing what looked to be a senton. Eventually everything breaks down, Fuji goes for the salt but misses Smash and is left alone. Tag to Ax sets up the Demolition Decapitation on Fuji for the win.
Verdict: This was like a blowoff, but they would have more matches at the end of 1989 and start of 1990. Demolition got ripped at the time as Road Warrior knockoffs when there was enough of a difference in my opinion. The Powers were the ripoff team. By the way: why did they get to keep the Powers of Pain name from WCW/NWA? Because Crockett never trademarked it. D’oh!
Tony Schiavone tries to talk to Macho Man Randy Savage but he has none of it and looks unhinged, even for him.
Dino Bravo (w/Frenchy Martin) vs Rugged Ronnie Garvin
The build: None. Though it’s funny how you have three French-Canadians here even if Garvin is billed from Charlotte, NC.
The match: Before we start, we get the re-introduction of Superfly Jimmy Snuka who comes to the ring and takes a bow. Then he just leaves. No angle or anything. As mentioned, this was to keep him away from WCW. Garvin is attacked when he goes to throw the yellow towel to the crowd. The less said here the better. Someday, I am going to refuse to even talk about Dino Bravo matches. He wins with a side suplex. Afterward, Garvin attacks from behind and does the Garvin Stomp on Frenchy, who was on his way out of the company.
Verdict: Bravo sucks. That’s all I got.
Brain Busters (w/Bobby Heenan) vs Strike Force
The build: The Busters were on the way up after wins over the Rockers on house shows early in 1989. Their credentials were well established, much like Strike Force who were tag champs a year earlier. Section309 blog hero Rick Martel returned as a singles wrestler early in 1989 and this was the reformation of the team. Interesting fact: Both these teams lost respective world tag titles on the same day (March 27, 1988), Arn and Tully to Lex Luger and Barry Windham at Clash 1, and Strike Force to Demolition at Wrestlemania 4.
The match: The Busters has sweet looking jackets, something brought back in 2016 by Dash and Dawson in NXT. Arn from the outside knees Martel in the back, but our hero has fire. Tito is in and they get dropkicks on each guy. Arn Anderson and Martel square off and in an humorous twist, Arn does a leg scissors on Ricky. But Martel fights out and actually gets the Boston Crab on before Tully breaks it up with a thumb to the eye from his spot on the apron. Santana and Tully are in and Tito gets a figure four on his old football teammate at West Texas State. Martel and Arn are in and we get dual figure fours! Tito and Tully do the Ric Flair Bridge Into Backslide Spot© for a two count. Tito goes for flying forearm but Blanchard ducks and Martel gets hit with the move and falls to the floor. Arn gets slammed off the top and Tito can now maybe tag, but Martel is holding his face and won’t tag in.
Martel decides he’s had enough and walks out, and that is the end of babyface Rick Martel in the WWF. In the ring, Tully has a wry grin because the Horsemen-style beatdown can begin. It concludes with the Arn spinebuster followed by one of the best spike piledrivers you will ever see. Nothing but professionals in that ring, that’s for sure. Oh how I wish Tully could have stayed clean. Busters win, and Tito loses his 4th consecutive Wrestlemania tag match.
Verdict: Rick Martel is one of the greatest babyfaces of all time, and for WWE.com to leave him off a top 50 list is a travesty. But that said, the time was right for a heel run. This is also a very good match on its face with four really good workers at the peak of their powers.
Rick Martel is with Gene Okerlund and says it’s time Mr. Tito stops riding his coattails and that he wanted to be a singles wrestler. “His timing was way off!” says Martel. Mean Gene says “Strike Force was supposed to be a team, a team!” Yes, he says “a team” twice.
Back to Gorilla and Jesse, and Monsoon says you don’t settle arguments in the team out in the ring. Ventura says that “laws are made to be broken” and that’s another Jesse proverb. Gorilla declares that this is a long way from being over: No kidding, those guys would still be at war in the 1993 Royal Rumble!
Piper’s Pit with guests Brother Love and Morton Downey Jr.
The build: Roddy Piper had been gone for two years to make movies, and in 1988 Brother Love took the “interview segment” slot on Superstars that had been vacant. Piper had been teased by WCW in December 1988 (in promotions for the movie They Live) so that prompted Vince to bring Piper back to the fold to block. Morton Downey Jr. was a talk show host that was a sort of hybrid between Howard Stern and Jerry Springer. He would have wackos on his show and would instigate fist fights, a precursor to the Trash TV seen in the 1990s. He was famous for his smoking habit.
The segment: It’s long, but there are parts that I really like. They tease Piper first, but it is Brother Love in a kilt. He comes to the ring and does an interview with “Brother Rodney” which is an empty chair and Love does a fantastic Piper impersonation in a way to put himself over. “Hey, not bad!” says Jesse but Gorilla thinks he’s as soft as a grape. Downey comes down smoking a nail as per usual and wants to high five Love, but has to grab his hand and hold it up for him to high five (as seen in the GIF above). That amuses me so much that 27 years later I do that from time to time.
Piper finally comes out and engages Love first. He eventually runs him off by tearing off the kilt…but you don’t see that on the Network version because it’s cut out. Eh, who wants to see Bruce Prichard in his underwear anyway? Downey had been tossing cigarettes at them the whole time and he has a go with Piper. Downey to his credit was up to doing this, but the material wasn’t all that great. He kept blowing smoke in Piper’s face, saying it’s healthy and Piper can live as long as he has. (Piper died at 61, Downey died at 69 despite the constant smoking) Piper finally responds by grabbing a fire extinguisher and spraying it at Downey in a famous moment.
Verdict: This ran a bit long and wasn’t that great but I still like it because of the little moments like the Piper impersonation and the high five spot. I know I am in the minority with that opinion.
Gene Okerlund throws to the No Holds Barred trailer. That movie will require a whole other blog post. (Someday….)
Sean Mooney is with Donald Trump and conducts a stuttering stammering interview where he won’t make eye contact with the real estate mogul (and future President of the United States). It’s incredibly uncomfortable to watch, far more uncomfortable than even watching No Holds Barred.
Jesse Ventura is pissed off about Hogan going to Hollywood (even if Rocky III was before Predator) and goes off on a shoot-like rant about how Hulk is invading his territory and there isn’t room for both of them. But Jesse says he’ll give Hogan a Hollywood job: driving his limo. He storms off and when he comes back Gorilla calls him “unprofessional” but Jesse has none of it.
Recap of Savage winning the title at Wrestlemania 4 is shown, all with Hogan lurking in the background and including the “what a threesome” line from Gorilla. Then the finish of Summerslam 88 that involved Ventura as special referee, and the Survivor Series 88. Savage saving a handcuffed Elizabeth on SNME in January 1989, and Hogan saving Savage from the Twin Towers on Superstars shortly after. And finally their breakup on The Main Event. More detail on this all later.
Gene Okerlund asks Hulk Hogan for his thoughts: “Well you know, you’re exactly right Mean Gene! One year ago brother, me and the Macho Man were as one. We were best of friends, we would do anything to win together brother. And if you would have told me one year later, right in the very same place that it started, in the Trump Plaza, that we would be locking horns, going head on head for the WWF championship I’d have called you a liar Mean Gene! But you know something, I should have seen this thing coming, man. As the Megapower team was formed brother, as the Summerslams and as the Survivor Series went down, as Megapowers started growing together, the Mania was a little bit ahead of the Madness, man. But it really didn’t matter. You were either in or you were either out brother. Either you believed or you didn’t man! You were either ready or you weren’t! But Macho Man made me feel that he believed in the Three Demandments of the prayers, the training and the vitamins. He made me believe he was in my corner, Mean Gene. He also made me believe he was ready to fight all odds. That’s why I stuck with him, brother. That’s why we stayed together so long.”
Oh wait. He hasn’t mentioned Donald Trump and fault lines yet. So Gene gives him a part two:
“Oh yeah he did more than just attack the Hulkamaniacs, brother. He went so far as to put our manager the lovely Elizabeth right between us, man. It was him that was eaten alive by the jealousy. It was him that eaten alive by the lust, brother. It was a simple fact that the Macho Man couldn’t be the man that all my Hulkamaniacs wanted him to be, brother. He couldn’t handle the load! He couldn’t handle the pressure! But what really tore us apart was the way he was so jealous of Hulkamania. The way he put Elizabeth between us. The way he manipulated her. The way he twisted this whole beautiful thing around! But I found out one thing Macho Man: you’re not a believer in the Demandments brother. You’re a cheap shot artist. You take anything you can get as quick as you want. You were never in my corner. You were always on the outside, waiting for me to make the first move! But just like Donald Trump, Macho Man, I hope you’re ready, brother. Because Donald Trump has questions in his own mind. He sent a whole team of seismologists out here to check the foundation of the Trump Towers because when the Megapowers explode off the launching pad brother, as we erupt over the whole Atlantic City, he was worried about the foundation. He was worried that the thousands of people in the arenas might become unseated and swallowed up by the earth. Donald Trump: don’t worry about my Hulkamaniacs! They’re survivors. They’re ready! But YOU Macho Man, I don’t care where you stand, I don’t care what you believe in, all I want from you is your best. I want you to be ready. I want the Macho Madness to be at its peak because when Hulkamania rules, when Hulkamania lives forever, when Hulkamania puts you down on your knees, I want the whole world to realize I beat you at your best. And at the end of Wrestlemania 5, I will be the World Wrestling Federation champion! And what ‘cha gonna do Macho Man when the whole world full of Hulkamaniacs destroy you?”
Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs Andre the Giant (w/Bobby Heenan) with Big John Studd as special guest referee.
The build: Jake was facing Rick Rude on SNME in October 1988 when Andre interfered. Andre was afraid of the snake Damien and had a “heart attack” in the ring. This fear of snakes would be played up and caused his elimination from the 1989 Royal Rumble as he ran away from the python. As for Studd, his feud with Andre went all the way back to 1983 when he came to the WWF.
The match: Jakes’s best work was always based on psychology and not as much to do with wrestling so you might think he could get a decent enough match out of this. You’d be wrong. Gorilla compares this to David versus Goliath and Ventura humorously points out that David used a foreign object. The sense was that Jake couldn’t win, and even Gorilla says he can’t get the DDT on Andre. And much of Jake’s heat was predicated on his cool finisher. Andre mostly beats the crap out of Jake here, save for the “Andre gets tied in the ropes” spot. Ventura is upset with Gorilla’s favoritism and says he’s now worse than McMahon. Never gets old. Jake is chopped out of the ring and you can clearly see they just put a purple string over the I in the IV from the Wrestlemania 4 banner. How cheap is that? Andre does the old King of the Mountain spot, keeping Jake out of the ring. Roberts grabs the bag with the snake and walks around, Andre just crushes Studd from behind in the corner. Andre gets a shove back from the guest ref.
But here’s Ted DiBiase to grab the snake and takes off with it! Good to see Andre kept that relationship strong. The Giant starts choking out Studd, a guy he never really liked in real life. Jake catches up to Ted and gets the snake back and throws it into the ring to cause Andre to flee. Jake wins by DQ.
Verdict: Nice way to move Jake and DiBiase into new things, though legal issues would keeo Roberts away in the summer. Andre would spend the late summer doing 20 second jobs to the Ultimate Warrior. Studd quit the WWF on June 6 so his term was a complete waste. (According to various sources, it was due to his pay and because of the in-ring abuse he was taking from Andre)
Sean Mooney is with fans in the “Bob Uecker seats” i.e. very far back. Some idiot keep yelling “Jake’s the best!” over and over and Mooney says you’ve heard all he’ll say. Well, this was better than the Trump interview.
Tony Schiavone is with Sensational Sherri in an odd segment, or so it seemed live. She runs down Rockin’ Robin and with good reason. Sherri compares herself to Liz and says she’s hotter. Of course she would be paired with Savage right after this event so in that context it makes sense. On a Prime Time Wrestling special, Sherri had a “debate” with Rockin’ Robin over the Megapowers situation.
The Hart Foundation vs Honky Tonk Man and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine w/Jimmy Hart
The build: Jimmy Hart had been fired by the Hart Foundation in 1988, and gave away parts of the contract to other tag teams. So this was just “Bret and Anvil fight more of Hart’s guys”, who were not yet Rhythm and Blues. (Thank God) While not mentioned explicitly on the broadcast, the idea here was that the Harts could win their contracts back from Jimmy. This is also a rematch from Superstars 2 1/2 months earlier.
The match: Gorilla and Jesse have a discussion about tag team composition and Ventura says it’s best when you have guys with contrasting styles. Then when Gorilla weighs in with the “well in my book” Jesse says that Gorilla’s book is thing and doesn’t have too many pages. Ventura adds that Jimmy Hart has the megaphone because Gorilla’s PBP isn’t up to snuff. Anvil gets slingshotted in for a shoulder tackle on Hammer. The Harts would do a lot of interesting stuff in their day. Gorilla and Jesse disagree on if Anvil was biting Hammer and the Body thinks Gorilla has bad eyesight.
As the heels control, they discuss Honky’s long IC title reign saying it was longer than Pat Patterson’s. Ventura: “Pat Patterson? What a relic he was!” I am laughing so hard at Jesse, who just gives no shits about burying anyone but isn’t doing it too maliciously. I would love to see a 1984 Valentine versus 1993 Bret Hart match. Bret takes Honky’s Shake Rattle and Roll finisher, but Hammer is in to try the figure four. When that fails, a gutbuster gets a two count.
Gorilla starts talking about how his finisher (the big splash) would have finished Jesse off. Ventura says that he’d have to be 72 years old to have been there for that era. Hart takes Neidhart, who runs wild with tackles and dropkicks. Big clothesline drops Hammer, but Honky makes the save. Bret gets some of his trademark offense in on Honky and it breaks down. When that happens, Bret gets the megaphone from Anvil, who got it from Jimmy Hart who had dropped it. Not the strongest win here, as Jesse points out.
Verdict: Not a bad match here and you got a showcase of Bret Hart selling while in peril. Everyone got their stuff in. Not bad at all.
Ravishing Rick Rude w/Bobby Heenan vs The Ultimate Warrior (C) for the WWF IC title
The build: This was a long time coming. These guys actually had matches in World Class before coming to the WWF in 1987. They teased a feud around the time of the Slammys in 1987 when Rude won the Jesse the Body Award over Warrior. Rude actually got the first win over Warrior, in a late 1987 house show in Ontario. Their actual feud started at the Royal Rumble when during a Posedown contest, Rude attacked Warrior from behind with a bar. When officials revived Warrior, he beat them all up and it is a shame to see the great Nick Bockwinkel have to put up with that.
The match: This is not as good as the Summerslam match, but it is still very good and you can see these guys have chemistry. Which is funny because Rude was not able to work with Hogan and Flair for varying reasons, yet he could work Warrior well. Jesse Ventura is pumped about his guy Rude, who refers to the Atlantic City sweathogs as he takes off his robe revealing a picture of the IC title on his tights and the Warrior on his backside. Neat spot to start: Rude tries a knee but Warrior has the belt on so Rude gets the worst of it. Rude gets tossed around early. Bearhug awfully early by Warrior, but Jesse says it won’t work because Rude’s abdominal muscles are too good. Rude gets out with an eye poke and hits a missile dropkick…which gets a 1 count. The Ravishing One is almost like a babyface here the way this has started. Referee Joey Marella stops the eye poke when Rude goes for that again. Warrior bites him, but Rude gets the knees up on a splash. Nice piledriver from Rude, but he’s selling before he can cover. Rude goes to gyrate his hips, but can’t because it hurts too much. Awesome.
Rude with a clothesline and gets a long two count. Warrior hits a tackle and plants Rude a few times. But the Warrior misses a Stinger Splash, and Rude goes for the Rude Awakening, which Warrior breaks right away. Rude goes out, comes back in and is clotheslined out. Warrior tries a vertical suplex to bring him back in, but Heenan grabs the leg and holds on with all his might as Rude covers for the pin and the IC title, the first ever held in the Heenan Family in 4 ½ years in the WWF. Warrior chases the Brain all around and gives him a crappy looking press slam as Gorilla reminds us Bobby has to face the Red Rooster later.
Verdict: I was STUNNED by this when it happened. As an adult, I enjoy the match even more because of Ventura, who was always a very strong advocate for Rude.
Bad News Brown vs “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan
The build: None. Though both guys had a lot of success higher on the card in the last year and may have deserved better.
The match: How good could this be? Duggan tells “Hoooooooo!!!” a bunch of times. Both guys get DQ’d when Bad News gets a chair and Hacksaw uses the 2X4. Duggan parades around with snot hanging out of his nose and Jesse is disgusted as am I.
Verdict: Killing time before the next time killer before the main event.
Gene Okerlund is with the Red Rooster, who says it will be a great day in the barnyard when he wins. Yes, really.
The Red Rooster vs Bobby “the Brain” Heenan (w/Brooklyn Brawler)
The build: First off, according to Bruce Prichard (who would know) the reason why Terry Taylor got this gimmick was because Vince thought he was very cocky. Yep, that’s all there is. He was managed by Heenan and had a win streak going, then started losing. All the while, Heenan would be condescending saying that Rooster was limited and that he wouldn’t go very far. On the January 1989 SNME, Rooster attacked Heenan after having enough of being berated. They had a summit on Prime Time Wrestling, but Heenan slapped Rooster and Brooklyn Brawler took it from there. Rooster beat the Brawler on the March 1989 SNME.
The match: It’s nice to see the babyface get revenge, but how meaningful is it when the opponent is so compromised? This is over in about 30 seconds. Heenan hits the post and that’s it. Brawler is in for the beatdown and bails before Rooster can get at him.
Verdict: The Red Rooster has a higher winning percentage at Wrestlemania than The Undertaker. Taylor was never going to be a star in WWF even with a normal gimmick, his career died with the UWF in 1987. Blowing out his knee at Summerslam 1989 against Mr. Perfect didn’t help much for him to stick around and at least lose.
Gene Okerlund is with the lovely Elizabeth, who says she will be in a neutral corner and will support both men going forward. This wouldn’t go down like that. She prays for neither man to get hurt. Yes, her and Vince.
Tony Schiavone is in a vacant locker room saying everyone wants to see this match. Alright then.
Sean Mooney after a production snafu is on the floor taking predictions. Most say Hogan, but one adult male is pro-Savage.
Hulk Hogan vs “Macho Man” Randy Savage (C) for the WWF World title, Elizabeth in a neutral corner
The build: Holy crap, I can’t do this justice since it’s only the greatest long term booking ever done. Take all the things alluded to earlier: add in Hogan hugging Liz with Savage shooting a disapproving look. Note how Hogan hogged the spotlight. Savage would wear trunks that said “Megapowers” on them, Hogan would wear his usual. Hogan eliminated Savage from the 1989 Rumble and things flared up there but Liz made the save. After the turn at the Main Event, Savage by all accounts was scorching hot as a heel champion. In a match with Bad News Brown after the turn, Savage played babyface during the match and with one change in his look after the win, turned the crowd against him. So brilliant. You can argue Savage is more of a tweener from today’s eyes since he was right on some of this.
The match: Jesse is upset that the champion is coming out first. Please note the unreal security for Liz walking down that narrow aisle: this is due to demands Randy Savage made, and if anyone touched Liz (including security!) he might not do business. Pat Patterson is there to be a buffer between Liz and the yellow shirted security. Ventura is calling Hogan the “Lust-er” and “Lust Hogan” which amuses me and says Liz is a gold digger and will take off with the winner. “This is truly what the words ‘main event’ was meant for,” says Jesse in a very serious moment before calling Hogan’s fans “the Pukesters” because “that’s what they are!”
This is the best Wrestlemania match Hulk Hogan ever had. Better than the Rock at WM18, even. Hulk overpowers Savage early, and Macho hits the outside. Jesse and Gorilla have a heated debate over Elizabeth and managers in general. Gorilla says Jesse never had a manager, but Jesse says he had Fred Blassie back in 1981.
Macho bails again and now Hogan is going out to chase. Liz is used as a shield. Jesse actually suggests that maybe a punch in the nose for Liz wouldn’t be so bad. Good God, Jesse I love ya but I can’t endorse that. Hogan does a drop toe hold and gains a front chancery, showing off some mat chops. Macho gets out of a side headlock with a back suplex. But an elbow misses and Hogan is on top with closed fists as Jesse points out. Thumb to the eye then a double axe handle from Savage gets two, then an armbar. Crowd chants for Hogan now, as Macho uses the hair to keep Hulk down. Jesse says it ain’t cheating unless you get caught, and that’s the American way. Hogan pulls the tights and Savage flies thru the ropes to the outside and Hogan goes and fetches him. Hogan with a forearm, elbows, and then a boot rake of the eyes. Jesse argues that Hulk’s a dirty player. Hulk get booted with his head down, then a clothesline. Ventura points out cheers for Savage, and Hogan has now done a mild blade job.
Jesse wants Savage to win so there will be two champions he likes (Rude and Savage), “champions kids can be proud of” as he puts it. He suggests the ref stop the match for blood, and Gorilla says that won’t happen in this type of match, a sort of oblique shot at the 1988 Great American Bash Luger-Flair finish in Baltimore. Hogan comes alive with hope spots, but misses an elbow. Hogan rammed into the corner, and Savage rolls him up and grabs the trunks, but only gets two. Hulk then grabs Savage’s boot before Macho goes at the cut above the eye. Then he stomps the hand for good measure. Savage gets distracted and now Hogan on top with punches and a clothesline to the corner.
Hogan picks up Savage and bodyslams him over the top to the floor in a pretty crazy spot for the Hogan match. Ventura suggests Macho take the countout. Liz is there to help but Savage wants none of it and points the finger at her. Hulk tries to ram Savage to the post, but Liz stands in the way no doubt inspiring that Tienanmen Square guy two months later. Savage escapes and runs Hogan to the post. Macho grabs Liz and tells her to get away from Hogan, and at this point she is ejected from ringside by the referee. With the distraction gone, Savage goes up top for the double axe handle to the floor and Hogan hits the railing too. Macho works the throat now. The Savage gets some wrist tape for a choke and Jesse loves this, calling it a “Jesse the Body move”. He chokes Hulk to the mat and goes up for the big elbow which connects.
Hogan does a huge kickout at two. Jesse says no one has kicked out of that, which is not true. Believe it or not, George Steele kicked out of it Wrestlemania 2. Three punches, big boot, leg drop, and it’s over. “THIS MAKES ME SICK!” bellows Ventura. Hogan puts the belt on to start the posedown and Savage leaves. Jesse goes on another rant against Hogan, saying he will stoop to any level and that he might come back and take this guy out. They replay the finish, and on the pin Ventura says that Hogan is pulling the tights despite not hooking the leg at all. That gets me every time, and is a fitting hilarious conclusion to the Jesse Ventura Wrestlemania 5 experience.
Verdict: Great match, of course. But given how red hot Savage was, I think they left money on the table. There was more money in a Hogan chase for the belt. I don’t care about No Holds Barred promotional work and all that. Book a DQ or countout finish here. Have Hogan DQ’d on a misunderstanding so he can still pose. Then do house shows with Hogan chasing and Savage escaping via DQ loss because of Sherri, something to that effect. You can even bring in Zeus to help. Make the blowoff Hogan and Savage in a cage at Summerslam.
Summary: This show is very very long, even though its shorter than last year. But there are better matches on this card. The crowd isn’t great but aren’t comatose like at WM4. It’s a great trip down memory lane because 1989 was a year I swallowed everything the WWF would feed me. I got every PPV that year and watched Superstars/Challenge/Prime Time weekly. Plus Jesse Ventura is funnier on commentary here than most comedians, and he’s not even trying to be funny. Wrestling Observer named this “Worst Major Show of 1989” which is total BS. The Survivor Series was worse, and so was the Royal Rumble. And don’t forget the Starrcade 1989 tournament debacle. I’ll gladly stand behind this show, and not because I just wrote a ton of words on it. (and now annotated those notes!)