There is so much that’s already out there about The Main Event from February 5, 1988, only the most watched wrestling show in history. Some 33 million people tuned in to see the rematch on NBC between champion Hulk Hogan and challenger Andre The Giant. Unlike the SNME specials, this was in prime time on a Friday at 8 PM ET and would feature three title bouts, even if there was only room for two. But did you ever wonder what was on other channels at the time? Can it be tied back to wrestling in some way?
On ABC: At 8 PM, an episode of Full House in its first season. Uncle Joey walks away from comedy when Phyllis Diller comes in and blows up his spot at the club. Lord knows there’s been enough instances of heat being stolen in wrestling. At 8:30 PM there was an old childhood favorite of mine. On Mr. Belvedere, Heather and Angela take a guy from the old folk’s home to Atlantic City, Belvedere comes down with a gambling addiction, and George (Bob Uecker) has trouble coming up with a 20th anniversary gift for Marsha. Much like Mr. Belvedere, the WWF was on the road to Atlantic City for WrestleMania 4.
On CBS: Beauty and the Beast, a George R.R. Martin produced show that lasted three seasons. Currently he eats into the wrestling PPV audiences on those Sundays with Game of Thrones on HBO.
Three matches tonight, and they are all rematches: Honky Tonk Man defending the IC title against Macho Man Randy Savage, Hogan vs Andre, and Strike Force defending the tag titles against the Hart Foundation. Promos at the top of the show include Hogan wearing the “Hogan 86” belt, so keep that in mind.
This show took place at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana and is no longer the biggest event held in the city on February 5. Super Bowl 46 between the New York Giants and New England Patriots was played on that date in 2012 at Lucas Oil Stadium. I don’t want to talk about that game. Ugh. Our hosts are Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura and the crowd is amped. Maybe too much, since the audio sucks and you must struggle to hear Jesse run down Hogan’s chances. Did I mention Jesse is wearing a wizard’s hat with leopard print?
We get a video of Hulk Hogan working out as what would become Jake the Snake’s theme plays, which is something you’d see on Mid-South Wrestling earlier in the decade. There are many close shots of Hogan’s biceps per Vince’s orders. Christ, he looks enormous. No steroid bust yet.
The Honky Tonk Man and Jimmy Hart are with Gene Okerlund. He says that Elizabeth wants him and manages to work in 4-5 Elvis songs. I feel like I’ve seen this same promo on another show. Savage’s promo is plagued by audio issues. Not a good start for this one.
The Honky Tonk Man (C) (w/Jimmy Hart and Peggy Sue) vs. Macho Man Randy Savage (w/Elizabeth) for the IC title
Peggy Sue gets her own entrance, as she was added to the entourage in the past few months. She is Sensational Sherri under a wig, who was the WWF Women’s Champion at the time telling us all how much they valued that division. Jesse Ventura points out that this arena was the last to host a concert by Elvis Presley which is actually interesting and ties in with Honky, who was famously supposed to lose the title here.
Honky starts by preening for Liz, and Macho is outside to attack. Jimmy Hart tries grabbing Savage’s leg but that doesn’t stop him for long. We get the Randy Savage Memorial Multiple Reversal Into a Missed Charge Spot, but Honky misses an elbow. Hart creates a distraction and runs through the ring leaving the megaphone behind for his man to grab and nail Macho in the stomach. Lot of Memphisy kick-punch from Honky, who is quite concerned with Liz. Dude, you have Peggy Sue already. Are you looking for a threesome?
Honky’s trip outside to talk to Liz allows Savage time to recover. Pair of double axe handles from the Macho Man, one to the floor then one in the ring. This really is feeling like a carbon copy of their October 1987 match. Hart with another distraction and Honky hits him by accident and ends up in a sleeper. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Macho Man use a sleeper in any other match, so that’s different.
Outside the ring, Peggy Sue is sassing Elizabeth so Savage releases the hold to put a stop to this. Boy, Liz and Sherri worked A LOT together. That wouldn’t stop all the way up to 1991 at WrestleMania 7. Honky Tonk is outside now, but he gets run to the post and it’s a countout win for the Macho Man, who does not win the title. For you see, Honky had threatened to leave WWF for the NWA with the belt if the finish wasn’t changed. He knew full well that his time would be up without that title. His time as a draw would be over after WrestleMania 4 even if he kept the belt for another 5 months.
There is a post-match angle: Honky has the guitar to swing at Savage, but Elizabeth is in to get in the way. Savage catches the guitar on a swing and then chases Honky away. He then opens the ropes for Liz to establish that he has fully changed his ways and puts her up on his shoulder, which of course he would do later in iconic fashion after winning the world title at WrestleMania 4. For his part, Jesse says he used to respect Savage but feels he’s gone soft even if he’s smashing the instrument on the ring post like a nutcase.
Quick review of WrestleMania 3 and the near three count at the start of Hogan-Andre. We see the contract signing at the ’88 Royal Rumble and surprise! The table gets knocked over onto Hogan. Andre and his benefactor Ted DiBiase give a promo where Andre says he is looking forward to choking Hogan.
Hulk Hogan talks about the alleged three count while still wearing the “Hogan 86” belt. He tells DiBiase he invested wisely. Hogan index funds? Or did he sue a media outlet?
Andre the Giant (w/Ted DiBiase and Virgil) vs. Hulk Hogan (C) for the WWF World Title
The build here deserves some more background because you may wonder where Bobby Heenan went. In truth, this story made Heenan look like the greatest genius in kayfabe. When Ted DiBiase debuted as the Million Dollar Man, he had matches against Hulk Hogan on house shows for the title which he obviously failed to win. DiBiase then tried to buy the title, but Hogan in his usual subtle and understated fashion said “HELLLLLLLLLLLLL NOOOOOOOOO!” So Ted went to Heenan and bought the contract of Andre for $1,000,000 so that he could win the title for him. After this was done, Heenan bought the contract back (supposedly) for $100,000 which would make a tidy profit.
Hogan comes out and it’s the debut of the Winged Eagle belt! That title would stick around for a full decade, but it is strange that he has changed belts from his pre-match promo. One thing I hate about the wrestling literati is those who rip on Andre the Giant because the guy couldn’t move. Not everything has to be a five star match. Maybe it’s my own childhood nostalgia or whatnot, or maybe it’s because he’s Fezzik, but I will never rip Andre. Jesse Ventura is glad that “Dave Hebner” is refereeing and not Joey Marella.
Earl Hebner, debuting here, was a referee in Jim Crockett Promotions up to just a few days prior to this show. On the episode of Pro that would air the day after this show, Earl can be seen as the referee in a match where Mike Rotundo wins the NWA TV Title from Nikita Koloff. Woops! And that’s why you generally have to give proper notice, though Crockett decided to be nice in this case it seems.
To the match: Andre is chilling on the apron as Hogan is all worked up. Ventura on Andre: “He looks like a man on a mission!” Note that he isn’t part of Men on a Mission though I’d pay to see Andre try and rap. Hogan has had enough and attacks DiBiase and Virgil before trying like hell to budge the Giant and knock him off his feet to no avail. Forearms and a running clothesline stun the big guy, but can’t knock him down. Nice little spot as Ted has his cash out, and Hogan steps on his hand on the apron, sending bills flying.
Hogan must have been watching some Ric Flair matches, since he goes to the top rope and is slammed off. Andre tries a falling headbutt a la Chris Benoit that misses and looked as awkward as you’d think. But he grabs Hogan for a choke and this leads to a series of chokes, with the Giant breaking on 4 ½ each time. While Andre can’t move, the crowd that is screeching in horror as Andre does what he can. Irish whip leads to a boot by Andre, but he loses his balance and falls down himself which I imagine wasn’t something he wanted to do given how he couldn’t be knocked down earlier. Hogan ended up on the floor, and Virgil chucked him back in.
Hogan hulks up while in the choke/nerve hold and after he fights it off, scores with a clothesline from the 2nd rope to topple the Giant. And this begins the finish sequence you may have seen a million times: Hogan goes for the leg drop (going in the wrong direction), but Virgil grabs the leg. Going the other way, Hogan hits it and gets the visual pin, but the referee is yelling at Virgil. As Hogan argues, Andre gets up and grabs Hogan. He hits two headbutts and an odd looking suplex before covering. Hogan lifts the left shoulder after the 1 count, but the referee (who is looking straight down) counts to three. Vince is horrified on commentary, but Ventura says there ain’t no instant replay.
Gene Okerlund gets on the apron to interview Andre, who screws up and says he knew he would win the “world tag team title” and is now giving it to Ted DiBiase. Vince questions the legality of this, and Jesse says they have to wait for Jack Tunney. This is a storyline done 5 years earlier in Georgia when Larry Zbyszko bought the NWA National title from Killer Tim Brooks for $25,000. He was stripped of the title, then won the tournament for the vacated belt anyway. DiBiase would not be so lucky, but he would defend the title against Bam Bam Bigelow the next week on a house show and would be seen wearing the belt at televised shows in Boston and Philadelphia the very next day.
The 2nd Hebner arrives in the ring and Hogan sees this and flips out. One Hebner belts the other one, so then the Hulk picks the remaining Hebner and press slams him. He was supposed to toss him (Dave) into DiBiase and the gang in the aisle, but he airmailed the throw and Dave Hebner suffered legitimate injuries as a result. It’s ironic really, since it was Hogan’s turn in Rocky 3 as Thunderlips that led to his rise and that also involved press slamming a guy (Rocky) and throwing him into a crowd.
They cut to Strike Force in the ring, but we have Hogan backstage for comment. He’s in a locker room and it looks quite similar to the one from his original title win at MSG in 1984. Instead of thinking it was an evil twin, Hogan swerves us all by suggesting that DiBiase paid for plastic surgery to make the referee look like the other guy. And here I thought that Hogan Knows Best.
Strike Force (C) vs. The Hart Foundation (w/Jimmy Hart) for the WWF tag titles
Holy crap, we have a third match. But fans, we’re out of time! All we get to see are two things involving this blog’s favorites Rick Martel and Bret Hart. The Hitman hits a piledriver on Martel as it goes off air. On the network version, we then see a finish: Hart goes for a sunset flip, but Martel drops down and hooks both legs to get the pin. Exact same finish Bret would use at SummerSlam 1992 with the British Bulldog.
Verdict: The opening match is a bit paint-by-numbers but the Hogan-Andre match is one of the most historic matches in wrestling history so that alone makes it must see. So I’ve included the match below which is on YouTube (for now).