Big changes on the March 1988 Saturday Night’s Main Event: Hulk Hogan no longer is the champion! However on this show, he has an issue with Race. No, not people of color but King Harley Race. WrestleMania 4 is coming and many other key players are here: Andre the Giant, Ted DiBiase, Randy Savage, and even tournament entrants One Man Gang and Greg Valentine. The show from Nashville kicks off with Vince McMahon saying that he’s from the South! Jeez, didn’t expect that from the guy who put hillbilly gimmicks on many southerners and was rather ashamed of his roots. Co-host Jesse Ventura rips on Vince and says he has a red neck.
There is a review of Hogan getting “pinned” at The Main Event in February. Jesse declares that the footage is clearly doctored which is very Alex Jones of him. Of course, Jesse literally hosted a show called Conspiracy Theory. The Body says this will be resolved at WrestleMania 4.
Gene Okerlund is with Greg The Hammer Valentine and manager Jimmy Hart, and the Mouth of the South declares that Hammer carried Brutus Beefcake in their tag team. He’s not wrong. I mean, how am I supposed to take issue with that? Heels need to LIE. Beefcake makes a lot of barber puns with Okerlund and Jesse rightfully rips it apart when they go back to the arena.
Brutus ‘The Barber” Beefcake vs. Greg “The Hammer” Valentine (w/Jimmy Hart)
Ventura is on fire, saying that referee “Dave Hebner” should have part of his head shaved so they can tell the twins apart. Not a bad idea. If this was JBL, he would just say “Baron Von Raschke” as if that makes any sense. This is such a weird feud: they break up at WrestleMania 3, but Beefcake is put against Adrian Adonis who then gets fired. So he switches to the manager Johnny V while Hammer is stuck tagging with the pile of suck named Dino Bravo. So this never got resolved. They go back and forth early before Hebner does the “get between the guys in the corner to allow the heel a cheap shot” thing. Valentine hits a forearm off the top and gets a figure four, but because they are both near the ropes he holds on for leverage until the count of five. Smart. Brutus falls out of the ring and Valentine has the “Flair-Tommy Young” shoving match with Hebner.
Meanwhile the Honky Tonk Man comes to the ring and says some generic stuff about Beefcake which gets him ejected to allow for the NBC ad break. Valentine goes back to the leg before literally showing ass when Brutus pulls on his trunks. The Barber follows a back elbow with a sleeper but both men fall through the rope. Jimmy Hart hits Beefcake to create a distraction and the Hammer back suplexes him into the ring. It is the double pin and Beefcake gets his shoulder up to get the win and this fucking drives me nuts. Why the hell were both promotions so in love with this finish? Just during this time period:
– Beefcake over Valentine
– Ultimate Warrior over Hercules, WM4
– Bret Hart “pins himself” at ’88 Survivor Series
– Hercules over Haku at WM5
And those are just the ones I remember without looking up. In any event, Valentine is on the floor and Beefcake sneaks up and through the ropes cuts off a small amount of hair. That’s kind of a dick move actually.
Harley Race, still with all his intestines, and Bobby Heenan are with Gene Okerlund. Race vows that Hogan will not only bow to him but also kiss his feet. Hogan disagrees in his usual subtle fashion.
Hulk Hogan (C) vs. King Harley Race (w/Bobby Heenan)
Couple of notes: Interesting that Race is billed as King even if the event is in Tennessee. Jerry Lawler had filed suit before this and won, so the WWF was legally not able to have Race wear a crown and robe in the state of Tennessee. This is because the WWF did a show in Memphis saying “The King” would be there which seems to be a shady move. Hogan and Race had a pair of excellent matches in the aftermath of WrestleMania 3 at Madison Square Garden, one of which is on YouTube.
Heenan is chased backstage to start by Hogan and when he comes back Harley gets the jump on things but Hogan no sells a 3rd headbutt. While Hogan starts on offense, his music keeps playing like this is an ECW New Jack match or something. We’d get a dusting of ECW hardcore style later on. Hogan’s hand is taped which gets Jesse bitching since that would likely be against the rules of the time. The King is clotheslined out of the ring and there is a table there. Hmmm. Funny how there never was one before. Race is picked up and sent shoulder first into the ring post. Heenan is back and Race regains some control and goes for a piledriver on the floor, but Hogan backdrops out of it. Somewhere, a young Steve Austin saw this and was impressed, vowing to do that in every match if he ever becomes a main eventer.
Ventura is unhappy about the lack of a count from the referee with guys out of the ring, and as if on cue Hogan does the “roll in, roll back out” thing to break the count. The Brain gets involved again and Vince calls him “Bobby the Heenan Weasel”. Back on track, he starts discussing this new Hogan attitude as he chokes Race with his wrist tape. The Hulkster is prepping like it’s a tournament for the ECW or CZW title. Heenan grabs Hogan’s leg and Harley takes command with the best of his arsenal: belly to belly suplex, the measured knee drop, and a piledriver. That last move might have risked another lawsuit from Lawler.
And now why this match is famous: Hogan ends up outside and Harley Race lays him on a table. He gets up on the apron and tries a headbutt but the Hulkster moves and Race crashes into the table. Back in those days, tables were not pre-cut or anything so the metal part impacted Race’s abdomen, causing a hernia and putting him out of action until late 1988. Of course he finished this match and worked the WrestleMania 4 battle royal because HE’S HARDCORE! HE’S HARDCORE! HE’S HARDCORE!
Despite all this, Race hits a headbutt from the top rope. But Hogan kicks out at 2 and the Hulk Up begins. No big boot, just a clothesline and leg drop for the win. Heenan hits the ring but Hogan can’t grab him because Heenan sprints across the ring and flies over the top, landing on the feet on the floor. No other manager in history could do that. Hogan’s preening for the crowd is funny, he goes around to all sides at least 2-3 times as if he was a statistician trying to create a proper sample size to figure out which size gets the posing first.
Okerlund is with the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, who says it’s nice to see Hogan pose without the belt. Gene says Ted doesn’t have it either, which DiBiase blames on politics. That is frickin’ hilarious because it was ACTUAL politics that kept him from a WM4 title win. Had Honky Tonk Man lost the IC title at the Main Event to Savage as planned, DiBiase wins that tournament. Ted’s opponent tonight is Randy Savage, who says that Elizabeth is his platinum doll. Well, alright then, who am I to argue?
“Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase (w/Virgil and Andre the Giant) vs. Randy “Macho Man” Savage (w/Elizabeth)
This match was apparently something of a dry run for the WM4 tournament final and there are some similarities. Andre’s appearance was a “surprise” even though the MegaBucks were joined at the hip during this time. Virgil gets near Elizabeth at the start which distracts Savage and allows DiBiase the early advantage. I’m glad to hear Ventura advocate for Savage again after running him down as “soft” at times on the Main Event show. This crowd cares a lot more than the Trump Plaza one did, and nothing is at stake here.
DiBiase does some terrific selling as usual, and I start to wonder what a 1988 DiBiase reign would have looked like. Dave Meltzer has said that it would have ended with Hogan regaining the belt at WM5. But who does he face as champion? If Savage is IC champion, he’s out. Bam Bam Bigelow had a bad knee and was on his way out by June. Jake Roberts had too much baggage going on between injuries and drugs. Hacksaw Jim Duggan is a possibility because his program with Andre got over huge (even main eventing MSG in July) and Duggan and DiBiase had undeniable chemistry dating back years. Still, not a ton of options as opposed to Savage, who could face any number of heels (DiBiase, Andre, One Man Gang).
DiBiase puts on a spinning toe hold, which was actually his original finisher on WWF TV in 1987. He gets kicked off to the outside and Savage follows but it’s a minefield there with Andre and Virgil, the latter of whom gets ejected. Later, we get a ref bump and outside Andre goes to town on Macho. Elizabeth, as she would at WM4, runs to the back as Jesse calls her a coward. DiBiase distracts the recovered ref from Andre doing damage and when done instructs him to count out Savage, which he does. Match is over, but Hogan runs down with a chair to clear the ring.
Jesse Ventura is with Bobby Heenan and the Islanders before their match with the Killer Bees. The Brain has his normal outfit on, except for one of those beekeeper masks. Nice foreshadowing of the dog outfit for WrestleMania 4. Amusing too is the smile on Haku’s face the entire promo. Who was going to tell him not to smile?
The Islanders (w/Bobby Heenan) vs. The Killer Bees
I’ve read from results sites that this was cut back from two out of three falls on the broadcast and to that I say, “thank God!” I don’t mean to infringe on the Iron Sheik’s gimmick, but I hate B. Brian Blair. Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of 1984 WWF on YouTube because it is a fascinating transitional time for the company. Guys like Piper, Orndorff, Bob Orton, and Ventura all made their way into the company. Blair arrives too and bores the shit out of me with every appearance. His finisher is an abdominal stretch into a rollup. That’s unexciting even by 1984 standards. Jim Brunzell starts by going for his Proto-Okada dropkick but misses. The big man Haku gets up for a dropkick of his own which gets a two count, and the Tongan responds by threatening to deck the referee. Brunzell takes some punishment including a cut on the bridge of his nose, and I can’t recall blood on SNME since the Lanny Poffo broken nose in March 1987.
Hot tag to Blair, or lukewarm tag. More like a cold tag. Crowd does not give a crap as you see no one moving or yelling but the crowd sweetener is in effect. Blair goes for a rollup because that’s what he does, but Haku destroys him with a clothesline with the referee distracted and the Islanders get the win. The Islanders wouldn’t last to the summer as a team; Haku would stick around but Tama was fired for general unreliability and would turn up in 1989 WCW as the Samoan Savage. They briefly added Sivi Afi to the team in the spring but after getting tattoos to be part of the team, it was disbanded.
Slick and One Man Gang are with Okerlund. In the opening promo montage (which I rarely cover), Slick called the U.S. Olympic Team “losers” for their performance in the 1988 Calgary Olympics the previous month. The U.S. only won 6 total medals in Calgary. (By contrast, they won 28 in 2014) Slick says that Gene ought to know, since his “loser son” was on that “loser hockey team”. That team went 2-3 in pool play and missed the medal round, with a bad 4-1 loss to West Germany sealing their fate. Slick makes mention on George Steinbrenner being appointed to head a commission to improve American performance in the Olympics. The Doctor of Style says he’s a loser too, with his 2nd place Yankee teams.
One Man Gang (w/Slick) vs. Ken Patera
Ventura calls Steinbrenner “Daddy Big Bucks” like something out of “Annie”. Patera gets a jobber entrance off the commercial break and the former Olympian starts about as well as the U.S. team. He gets caught by Gang taking his ring jacket off, which seemed to happen a lot to Kenny. The 1972 Olympian has an unsightly elbow brace that is light brown. How about black next time, okay? I’m not going to argue that Patera wasn’t excellent in the early 1980s as heel in AWA, WWF and elsewhere. But this run as a babyface after his time in prison was comically bad. When he wasn’t getting ripped by Heenan for his prison time, he was getting injured, having torn a bicep shortly after his return.
Match has one of the strangest finishes you will ever see. Double clothesline in the center, but the Gang falls forward and gets a pinfall. Must have been short on time, or maybe this was edited. I doubt a One Man Gang match went much longer than 5-7 minutes. Post-match, Patera fires up and tries to slam Gang but when he gets him up Slick jams his cane right into Patera’s upper back. Alright, that’s enough about Patera.
Hulk Hogan is with Okerland, and the former champ is laughing like a maniac. He says that DiBiase threw the rulebook out, so it’s a new Hulk Hogan. You know, just like Slaughter in 1991 and the weird “dark side” Hogan of late 1995. The Hulkster shows his understanding of compound interest by constantly referring to his rival as “the multi-Million Dollar Man”.
Verdict: Terrific show through the first three matches, despite the double pin spot. They did a great job building to WrestleMania 4, though it is interesting how they were not allowed to promote where you could see WM4, which would have been PPV and closed circuit in competition with staying home and watching NBC. The weekly TV didn’t do much of a build since the brackets set matchups between mostly non-rivals. But Race-Hogan and Savage-DiBiase are very fun matches.
Next time: A new champion! And where’s Hulk Hogan?