Howdy, folks. This week in RTB, we’re setting the way-back machine to 1987, back to when we were but young pups, and said our prayers, trained and took our vitamins. But all is not well in the world we are about to enter; oh, no, dear reader … this is a world of shame and disappointment … a world where a question we never would’ve imagined would be answered the way it was. That question is …
What if Hulk Hogan accepted Ted DiBiase’s offer to purchase the WWF Title?
Our story begins as Hogan is being interviewed about DiBiase’s offer. The deadline has passed, DiBiase is demanding an answer, and Hogan is in front of a sell-out crowd, ready to deliver the answer …
“I’ve thought long and hard about this, Mean Gene,” says Hogan, not just holding the WWF World Title, but cradling it, his head down. “A million dollars is a lot of money, even for the Hulkster. Make no mistake about it, Mean Gene, The Million Dollar Man is a coward; he doesn’t want Hulkamania to run wild on him.” He pauses, and looks at the camera. There is a tear in his eye, threatening to tumble down his cheek. In almost three years of reigning as World Wrestling Federation Champion, it is at once the most poignant moment his reign … and despite many a beating from bigger, more violent opponents, it is the first sign of weakness-real weakness-he has ever shown.
“W-w-what are you saying, Hulk?” Gene Okerlund asks. He speaks for everyone in the audience, and the millions watching on TV, the hundreds of thousands of children who are sitting on the edge of their chairs, with tears of their own in their eyes. This can’t be happening goes the thought of every single person who ever called themselves a Hulkamaniac.
Hulk takes a deep breath, exhales, and lowers his head again. He was brave enough to stand down King Kong Bundy in a steel cage … brave enough to fight off the entire Heenan Family … brave enough to fight off the challenge of Andre The Giant. But he is not brave enough to say what he has to say and look the fans in the eye.
“What I’m saying, Mean Gene,” says Hogan, “is that I’ve decided to accept Ted DiBiase’s offer.”
The live audience gasps in unison. Even Okerlund cannot hold back his shock. “You can’t be serious!” he exclaims. Hogan looks at Okerlund, and the look in Hogan’s eye screams of hurt and shame … but still, with force, says don’t make me repeat myself, please. Nevertheless, he can’t help but pursue it. “But what about your fans, Hulk Hogan? What will you say to them, in restaurants, in airports and shopping malls? How will you-“
The sound of Ted DiBiase’s music cuts off any further lecturing from Okerlund. He is laughing in that maniacal way only he can as he comes out, his manservant Virgil in tow, carrying two briefcases. DiBiase makes his way up the stairs, still cackling, and extends a hand towards Hogan. Hogan stares at it, then at DiBiase, who doesn’t appear to be fazed at all by the rebuff. Okerlund directs his attention to DiBiase as DiBiase snaps his fingers for Virgil to come up onto the platform.
“I hope you’re proud of yourself, Ted DiBiase,” Okerlund says with contempt. “You took an American hero and suckered him into selling his soul for money. You’re disgusting!”
DiBiase chuckles, then leans into the microphone, his eyes inches away from those of Mean Gene. “You see, little man, I’ve said it before … in fact, I must’ve said it a million times: everybody’s got a price for the Million Dollar Man. You,” he says, then points into the crowd, “that fat tub down there, the granny behind …” He lets the statement trail off, and looks at Hogan. “Some just have a higher price then others. But when The Million Dollar Man sees something he wants, he always finds the right price.” Another mad cackle, and he snaps his fingers again. Virgil opens one of the briefcases and produces a contract. Cameras sneak a peak inside and find the briefcase filled to the corners with wrapped bricks of money. DiBiase takes the contract and a pen from Virgil. “My attorneys have gone over this,” he says with pride, “and it’s a very simple deal, Hogan. You will forfeit the World Wrestling Federation Title to me, and in exchange, I’m going to make you an instant millionaire.”
Hogan looks from the briefcase, to the fans, then back again. The crowd has no reaction to him when he looks in their faces; merely a stunned, horrified silence, as if they don’t know this man before them. He has betrayed them, and any thought of backing out of the deal is wiped from his mind as he sees the glares of disgust and blossoming hatred on the faces of his now-former fans.
“WWF President Jack Tunney won’t let this stand, DiBiase,” says Okerlund defiantly. “He won’t let you just walk into the WWF and buy off your opponents. You have to earn the WWF Championship. Like this man did, and the men who came before him. This won’t stand.”
DiBiase smiles as Virgil closes the briefcase. DiBiase puts the contract on the briefcase and puts his signature to paper. “You don’t think I’d initiate this deal without backing myself up legally, little man?” DiBiase laughs, and the moment of hope everyone feels from Okerlund’s statement-that DiBiase’s transaction will not stand as a valid title change-erodes. DiBiase doesn’t need to elaborate (although he does): the laugh says he’s covered every last base. “If a standing champion refuses to answer a challenge, he is compelled to forfeit the title to the number-one contender. All I’m doing is greasing the wheels of time. Tunney can’t do anything, Okerlund. Now stop interrupting.” DiBiase hands the pen to Hogan; again, there is a moment of hope, as Hogan pauses, his hand on the pen, his eyes locked on DiBiase’s. But the moment evaporates, and Hogan takes the pen, puts it to paper, and signs the contract. Virgil takes the completed contract, folds it, and puts it in the briefcase on the ground. DiBiase holds his hands out, and Hogan hands over the prize that has made him what he is for almost three years; the mantle which has defined him, and the company, since 1984. No sooner is it in DiBiase’s hands then DiBiase is cradling it greedily, as if someone might come and snatch it from him. Virgil extends the briefcase containing the money, and Hogan almost forgets about it. When he grabs it, he does so almost as if he is dirtying himself by touching the briefcase. There is no standing ovation or goodbyes from the crowd as he descends the stairs to the arena floor, and through the curtain. DiBiase is busy crowing about how he finally found the weakness in Hulkamania that no one else could: greed. Hogan cannot argue with that.
The fallout from the Hulk Hogan’s decision sends shockwaves through the WWF. None of his friends are ready to label him a sellout, but no one can defend his actions, either. Hogan’s reply is simple: he leaves WWF television, throwing the upcoming Survivor Series event into upheaval with only a few weeks to go.
The November 11th edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event is loaded, and starts off with the blow-off for Randy Savage’s feud with the obnoxious Honky Tonk Man, even though Honky’s manager, Jimmy Hart, finagles a contract for a non-title match. True to form, Honky is a coward of the worst order, running from Savage every time Savage begins to get momentum, and attacking only when Savage makes an error (which, with Savage’s temper, are many). Honky seems well on his to polishing off his nemesis with his Shake, Rattle & Roll, but Savage reverses the move into a back body drop, and quickly ascends the turnbuckle for his elbow drop. Moments later, the pinfall is counted, and Savage has rid himself of the albatross that is Honky Tonk Man.
Ted DiBiase’s night, however, starts off on bad footing. During an interview prior to his first World Title defense against Paul Orndorff, Bobby Heenan and Andre The Giant interrupt DiBiase and Virgil. Heenan gamely shakes DiBiase’s hand and Mean Gene asks Heenan what he and Andre are doing out here.
“It’s simple, humanoid,” The Brain says. “We had a deal, DiBiase. If you couldn’t buy the belt off Hogan, you wanted to hire Andre to take it off him.” The crowd erupts into boos and taunting, but in classic Heenan fashion, he ignores them. “I figure, since that deal fell through, you’d be kind enough to offer Andre a consolation prize and give him the Title shot he so rightfully deserves.”
DiBiase laughs; Heenan seems unshaken, but Andre’s face clouds over. “That’s not how it works in the business world,” says DiBiase. He gives Andre a clap on the arm, and flashes a disingenuous smile. “Don’t worry; I’m sure I can get you a title shot against Honky Tonky Man.” DiBiase breaks into laughter again, ignoring his guests. Heenan tries to calm Andre, but the giant is angry. Heenan and Andre exchanged words off microphone, but their exchange is short, and ends with Andre pushing Heenan away and grabbing DiBiase by the throat.
“I went undefeated for fifteen years, Ted DiBiase!” Andre bellows. DiBiase’s face is a mask of terror above the massive paw of Andre. “Fifteen years it took me to earn a shot at the World Wrestling Federation Championship, and you come here and buy it? And you deny me a shot at what should rightfully be mine?”
“Andre, listen to-“
Andre shoves Heenan again, who decides discretion is the better part of valor and runs away. Virgil tries to pound away on Andre to get the mammoth to release his employer, but all this does is annoy the giant. With his free hand, he pushes Virgil away and tightens his grip on DiBiase. “I betrayed a friend, Ted DiBiase! I was ready to sell my soul to you! Where is my title shot?“
Before DiBiase can answer, Virgil uses the WWF Title to hit Andre in the back (aiming for the head, but not quite reaching). The hit stuns Andre long enough for him to release the hold on DiBiase, who follows Heenan’s example and runs away, leaving Virgil to the wrath of the angry giant. Andre dispatches Virgil with a massive headbutt and stomps off in chase of the WWF Champion.
DiBiase is not seen again until his title defense later against Orndorff (and minus Virgil). The crowd gives Orndorff the ovation they had normally saved for someone else, but with that person gone, the former Hulkamaniacs are willing to accept the first person to step up to the plate and put DiBiase in his place as their hero. Fueled by his rage at DiBiase for suckering his friend into a Faustian bargain, Orndorff surprises a cocky DiBiase and wages a one-sided war for nearly ten minutes, with DiBiase getting in little offense beyond a couple punches. After two piledrivers (and throwing Virgil over the top rope), Orndorff seems to have DiBiase beaten easily. But his anger at DiBiase overrides his awareness, and proceeds to beat DiBiase with closed fists. After failing to stop at the referee’s five-count, Orndorff is disqualified. It takes Randy Savage and Rick Steamboat, along with WWF officials, to pull Orndorff off of DiBiase, who escapes the danger in the ring only to walk into the irate Andre in the aisle. DiBiase drops the title belt and leaps over the railing, escaping through the crowd, and the show ends with Andre holding up DiBiase’s bought belt.
The unbridled hatred of DiBiase by the entire roster only intensifies as Survivor Series approaches. Two teams are shaken up due to the loss of Hogan; Hacksaw Jim Duggan’s team is changed up to include Jake Roberts, Brutus Beefcake, Don Muraco and Ken Patera. Meanwhile, Randy Savage, along with Paul Orndorff, Ricky Steamboat, Andre The Giant and Bam Bam Bigelow, now leads the team formerly led by Hogan; on the other side of the ring, Ted DiBiase captains Butch Reed, One Man Gang, King Kong Bundy and Rick Rude.
The match is a wild affair, with Savage’s entire team all trying to get at DiBiase, who only tags in when one of his opponents is sufficiently beaten for him to capitalize. The first elimination is a two-for-one deal, with Bam Bam and the One Man Gang being counted out while brawling on the floor. King Kong Bundy uses his size to crush Ricky Steamboat, but instead of eliminating The Dragon, gets himself eliminated by refusing to release a blatant choke. Steamboat seems like easy pickings for the next man in, Butch Reed, but Steamboat rolls him up and scores a surprising pinfall, leaving DiBiase and Rude to face four men.
Unfortunately, the four-on-two advantage doesn’t last long, as DiBiase comes in and finishes off Steamboat with his Million Dollar Dream. A fresh Paul Orndorff sends DiBiase scurrying back to the apron to let Rick Rude to stop the angry Mr. Wonderful. Unfortunately for his teammates, Orndorff’s anger for DiBiase clouds his judgment; he leaves and chases DiBiase around the ring; DiBiase sneaks back in on the other side and Rude, patiently waiting, ambushes Orndorff and makes short work of him, making the teams even again at two.
Savage goes after DiBiase, who quickly tags out to Rude; while holding the upper hand, Savage tags out to Andre, but the decision proves costly. Rude mounts a comeback, and, with frequent tags between him and DiBiase, wear down Andre enough for DiBiase to apply the Million Dollar Dream. The move weakens Andre severely, but he manages to crush DiBiase in the corner. However, the move is too much for him, as he staggers out of the ring and collapses, unconscious and is counted out. Savage wastes no time in charging Rude and pummeling him, but is double-teamed, and spends the next several minutes being beaten by both opponents. It is only the ironically fortunate interference of Virgil that saves Savage; as Savage is whipped into the ropes, Virgil reaches in to trip Savage, but Savage reverses and Rude gets tripped. When he gets up to yell at Virgil, Savage rolls him up and gets the pinfall. DiBiase hesitates coming in, but Savage drags him in and starts beating on him. DiBiase is hardly able to mount any kind of comeback, as Savage’s furious attack-fueled by the rage almost everyone feels towards DiBiase since his acquisition of the WWF Title-puts DiBiase on the ground. Savage takes the opportunity, ascends the turnbuckle and connects with his trademark flying elbow drop for the pin. The crowd erupts in cheers, and Savage’s fallen teammates come back to the ring to celebrate his victory, but is more then just a victory: it is the coronation of a new champion of the people. With a simple three-count over the WWF Champion, Randy Savage has thrust himself into the role vacated by Hulk Hogan: the man whose charge it is to rid the WWF of the vile and despicable types like Ted DiBiase.
The December 7th edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event is promoted heavily between Survivor Series and the broadcast day, hyping up a Survivor Series rematch between Randy Savage & Andre The Giant against Ted DiBiase and Rick Rude. But equally hyped is a taped interview for the fans at home, done by Gene Okerlund, with the missing-in-action former WWF Champion, Hulk Hogan.
The interview isn’t long, and is more disturbing then informative, but it is the first time in over two months that Hogan is seen (or mentioned) on WWF television, and his first opportunity to explain his actions. His voice is calm and cool, he doesn’t wear his familiar yellow Hulkamania shirt or bandana, and sunglasses cover his eyes.
“I didn’t take the money because I was afraid of Ted DiBiase,” says Hogan (never looking at the crowd). “I took the money because a million dollars is a lot of money. I’m not greedy, but I’m not foolish, either; when a million dollars falls into your lap, it’s hard to push it away.”
“But what about your standing as a role model?” asks Gene. “What about the thousands upon thousands of children who look up to you? What do you tell them when you see them?”
“I still say my prayers, Gene, and I still take my vitamins, and train constantly. I still do all that, and if a little kid asks if he should, I tell him ‘Hell, yes’. But when it comes to the money … I’ve had some kids come up and ask why I sold the title. And I tell them to ask their parents; they’ll understand why. Car payment, and a mortgage and credit cards, yeah, those parents understand perfectly. Taking the money doesn’t change who I am.”
“But to your fans, your Hulkamaniacs,” Gene retorts, “it does change you. They see you as a coward and a sell-out.”
Hogan shrugs. “There’s not much I can do about that, Gene. If they want to boo me when they see me in the street or the airport or the McDonald’s, that’s their choice. I’d hope they try and see things from my point of view. I can’t change what I did. And even if I had the opportunity to go back and say no, I wouldn’t. That World Wrestling Federation Championship meant the world to me; I defended it for almost four years, and did so proudly. But when you’re champion, you’ve got a lot of people aiming for you. Not that I’m complaining, but when you have to deal with guys like One Man Gang, and King Kong Bundy, and Andre The Giant, those are big men, and big men equal serious risks, Gene Okerlund. Any one of those guys could put a person-even the Hulkster-in a hospital bed and end their career. I can’t risk someone like Bundy or Andre injuring me so badly I can’t wrestle again; what’ll happen to my wife and family?”
“So you’re saying you took the money to protect your family, in case you’re hurt.”
“I’m saying I did what I had to do to give myself some breathing room in my life.”
“Last question, Hulk. You’ve been gone for two months. Bottom line: are you coming back, and if so, when?”
Hulk delays in answering, giving serious consideration to the question. “That depends. Right now, the people aren’t very happy with me, and I don’t want to come back to that. The people need time to think about what I’ve said and what I’ve done, and see it from my point of view. If and when they come around, and realize I did what I had to-not to betray the WWF and its fans, but to protect myself and my family-then maybe you’ll see the Hulkster again. It all depends on the people.”
Following the interview is the main event, and unlike the match at Survivor Series, Savage is not alone, but Rude and DiBiase make Savage feel alone, as they isolate him in their half of the ring for the better part of eight minutes. It is all he can do to avoid being pinned, taking every last ounce of strength to keep from losing. The window of opportunity finally opens for Savage to tag when Rude whips him into the ropes and bends down for a back body drop; instead, Savage seizes his moment, and plants Rude with a copy of Rude’s Rude Awakening, but is unable to capitalize for a pin. Instead, both men crawl to their corners and tag out, but DiBiase freezes in place when he sees Andre come in the ring, almost stalking his prey. DiBiase mimes an offer to buy Andre off, extending a hand after the offer is made to seal the deal. Andre accepts the hand, then pulls DiBiase in for a big bear hug. An attempt by Rude to break the hold ends in failure when Andre drops DiBiase and smacks Rude down, and Andre goes right back to taking it to the WWF Champion.
However, in another scene similar to Survivor Series, a whip into the ropes is a set up for Virgil’s interference, and this time, Virgil gets his target. A winded DiBiase uses the few seconds bought to him by Andre’s and the referee’s distraction with Virgil to take off the turnbuckle padding in his corner, exposing the steel bolt beneath. DiBiase is done in time before Andre can turn around, and he slams Andre in the back with a double axe-handle. Andre is surprised long enough for DiBiase to lead him over to the exposed turnbuckle and ram his head into the steel. Andre is rocked and almost out on his feet; again, DiBiase drives Andre’s head into the steel, bringing the giant to one knee. With Andre cut down to size, DiBiase applies the Million Dollar Dream. Rude intercepts the match-saving interference from Randy Savage, and Andre slowly drops to both knees, then collapses on his side, unconscious. The referee declares the match over and awards the victory to DiBiase and Rude, much to the chagrin of the fans. Officials, along with Randy and Miss Elizabeth check on Andre, who manages to come to, but still obviously stunned. It seems like a very depressing ending to the event …
But the event ends on a high note anyway, as Jack Tunney comes over to the interview platform by the entrance. Mean Gene wastes no time in asking why Tunney is out here.
“The WWF will be holding a special prime-time show called The Main Event on NBC, February 5th, 1988.” The crowd bursts with excitement, but the voice of Mean Gene cuts them off.
“But that’s not all you’re out here to talk about, is it, Mister President?”
“No, it’s not. It seems as though Ted DiBiase cannot manage to defeat his opponents without resorting to unfair tactics,” says the WWF President. “And with his pinfall loss to Randy Savage at Survivor Series, it looks to me that Ted DiBiase is a man running scared. Therefore, at The Main Event, Ted DiBiase will defend his World Wrestling Federation Title against Macho Man Randy Savage. And I will be at ringside to monitor the events.”
Mean Gene carries on about how good the news is, while DiBiase yells at the President from the aisle. For the crowd, two months is a long time to put up with Ted DiBiase, but the idea of the Million Dollar Man being repaid for tarnishing the name of Hulk Hogan is a dream no one wants to wake up from. And, for the fans, the dream can become reality in two months.
January sees the feud between Ted DiBiase and Randy Savage escalate to new heights, as Savage has to not only contend with DiBiase and Virgil, but the hired thugs DiBiase contracts to stifle Savage’s chances of winning at The Main Event before it even comes about. An episode of Superstars sees what looks to be a dramatic turning point in the feud, as Savage is slated to face One Man Gang. Savage uses his speed to his advantage and has the behemoth ruffian in place to finish him off, but the interference of Virgil changes the match’s course … and, quite possibly, Randy Savage’s opportunity at the WWF Title.
Virgil’s timely interference lets One Man Gang recuperate and pummel Savage without mercy, for as will be revealed after the match, he has been paid not necessarily to win this match, but to make sure Savage leaves it on a stretcher. And, after repeated big splashes off the second rope, Randy Savage is coughing up blood. The match is thrown out, but the prognosis for Savage is grim: broken ribs, surely not well enough for him to compete any time soon.
With The Main Event two weeks away, Ted DiBiase’s confidence that he has dodged his a most lethal bullet is dashed as Jack Tunney appears on Superstars with a special announcement.
“Due to the injuries suffered at the hands of One Man Gang, Randy Savage has been forced to forfeit his World Wrestling Federation Championship match at The Main Event,” says the President in front of the assembled audience, which boos the news viciously; the idea of the “most deceptive champion in the company’s history” (as christened by the most recent issue of WWF Magazine, in a scathing cover article) escaping yet another title defense is repulsive beyond imagine. However, Tunney stills the negativity; “However, Ted DiBiase will still defend his title at The Main Event, against an as-yet undetermined, but suitable opponent.”
This draws out DiBiase immediately, who gets right in Tunney’s face. “Randy Savage was the number-one contender! I will not defend my title against some undeserving joe schmoe you pick at random!”
“You will defend that title at The Main Event, Ted DiBiase,” Tunney replies, “or I’ll strip you of it instead!”
DiBiase cannot buy or argue his way out this a predicament, and leaves in a huff, shoving Virgil aside. The idea of a mystery opponent lights a candle of speculation under the crowd and commentators alike. Theories abound from the commentators, from Jake Roberts to another shot for Paul Orndorff, to the one dream shared by everyone: a return, and redemption, of the WWF’s immortal hero, Hulk Hogan.
As the final moments tick away towards Ted DiBiase’s date with a mystery opponent at The Main Event, the nervousness builds. For a week, the commentators suggest nearly everyone in the WWF, but no word comes from the offices of Jack Tunney, not to anyone’s surprise. Fans, wrestlers and administration alike, hate DiBiase and the opportunity to outsmart him is worth more then giving him advance notice.
Finally, his moment of truth arrives; DiBiase stands in the ring, his music playing. He has removed his suit and handed over the WWF Title to the referee, but his nerves are getting the best of him, and his impatience makes him snatch the microphone from Howard Finkel’s hands. “Send him out, already!” he yells. “Whoever it is, send him out!”
No music plays, and for a moment, DiBiase is sure he’s been had. But the man who walks through the curtains needs no music. His presence is enough to inspire awe in every man, woman and child in the arena, including the WWF Champion. Andre The Giant walks to the ring amidst a sea of cheers; it is the moment fans have waited for, two moments, in fact. Andre will finally win his first WWF Championship, and Ted DiBiase will be squashed like a bug.
The positive feeling starts to fade a few minutes in, as Virgil insinuates himself on his employer’s behalf. The referee admonishes Virgil not to get involved, but moments later, while Andre has DiBiase in a bearhug, he jumps up on the apron again, right in Andre’s line of sight. Andre joins the referee in yelling at Virgil, who has dropped down to the arena floor again. Even Jack Tunney has come around the ring, to go one step further and order Virgil back to the locker room. However, DiBiase has slithered over to the corner and picked up a conveniently left-behind set of brass knuckles. He slips them on, climbs up to the second turnbuckle, and when Andre turns in his direction, DiBiase leaps and swings. The punch connects with Andre’s head, sending the big man to his knees. DiBiase wastes no time in circling the big man and applying the Million Dollar Dream. The referee bends down to ask Andre the question, and then, it happens; the referee turns towards timekeeper and signals for the bell. Everyone is confused, except for DiBiase, who grabs his belt from the referee and makes tracks for the locker room.
His escape is interrupted by the appearance of Randy Savage coming from the locker room. His ribs are bandaged, and he is obviously still not one-hundred-percent, but he looks as ready as ever to go. DiBiase looks from the entrance back to the ring, trapped and panicking. He makes his move for the guardrail and the safety of the crowd, but is met with a right hand instead. DiBiase falls down and scurries backwards, away from his attacker.
A man steps over the guardrail; he wears a faded denim jacket over a black t-shirt and jeans. Sunglasses obscure his eyes, peering over some shadow that is way past five o’clock. A bandana, also black, covers his head. But DiBiase can see through, and so can the fans. Hulk Hogan has returned, and without a word, he makes his intentions known: he is out for blood. A vicious, very un-Hulkster beatdown ensues in the closing moments, with DiBiase’s head bouncing off the guardrail all the way back up to the ring. Once in the ring, Savage joins Hogan and Andre in the ring, and they all take turns dissecting the WWF Champion until officials (except for the one who called the match) break up the melee, but the crowd is on their feet and demanding for DiBiase’s head on a platter.
The very next episode of Superstars starts off with the news that Jack Tunney will have comment on the WWF Championship. Naturally, speculation is rampant, especially among three of the four men very closely involved in the matter: Andre The Giant, Randy Savage and Ted DiBiase. The only person who doesn’t make a statement is the one most people want to hear from: Hulk Hogan.
“WrestleMania is next month, Ted DiBiase,” Andre says in his taped statement. “President Tunney won’t let what you did at The Main Event go unpunished, DiBiase.” Andre holds up his massive hands, grasping an imaginary throat. “And neither will I, Ted DiBiase. When WrestleMania comes around, neither will I.”
“You know the Macho Man is looking for a little payback, a little payback, ye-eah,” says Savage in a calm, almost eerie tone of voice. “The ribs are hurtin’, but that’s not gonna stop me, dig it. I beat you once, Million Dollar Man, and when Jack Tunney names me the number one contender for WrestleMania, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Macho Man is gonna beat you again! Dig it!“
Ted DiBiase is the most excited of the bunch, and understandably so, and he doesn’t even try to hide it. “I don’t care what that big galoof Andre has to say, I don’t care what Savage has to say, and I don’t care what Tunney has to say. I am the World Wrestling Federation Champion, and nothing and no one … not even you, Hulk Hogan … is going to change that! This belt is mine, and it’s gonna stay that way!”
The program closes with Jack Tunney’s announcement, delivered on tape from Tunney’s office. “Last week on The Main Event,” he begins, “Ted DiBiase’s victory over Andre The Giant was shrouded in controversy. After an exhaustive investigation, it has been discovered that referee Dave Hebner was forcibly detained in his locker room for this match. Furthermore, Ted DiBiase paid for Dave’s twin brother, Earl, to act as referee instead, and throw the match in favor of DiBiase. This kind of collusion and conspiracy is not surprising coming from a champion of DiBiase’s caliber, but it cannot be tolerated. Therefore, effective immediately, Ted DiBiase has been stripped of the World Wrestling Federation Heavyweight Championship, and a fourteen-man tournament to crown a new World Champion will commence at WrestleMania on March 27th. Two men will receive a bye to the second round, one of which being Andre The Giant. The second man to receive a bye will be determined in a match at Saturday Night’s Main Event, on March 7th, between Macho Man Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan.”
The message sends shockwaves through the company. DiBiase complains bitterly at every event at how there is a conspiracy in the WWF to steal what is rightfully his. Andre and Randy Savage both dispute this (and, naturally, both insist they will beat DiBiase for the title). The only person who doesn’t issue comment-about his feelings toward the issue, or even to confirm his appearance at Saturday Night’s Main Event-is Hogan.
March, 1987: Saturday Night’s Main Event
Saturday Night’s Main Event starts off with a live interview with Hulk Hogan, the first words Hogan has had for the WWF audience in three months. He is still dressing in jeans and a denim jacket, and still hidden behind sunglasses, and he doesn’t yell or bark as he used to; instead, his voice is firm and cold.
“Mean Gene,” he says, “three months ago, I told you and the world that I did what was right for my family when I took the money Ted DiBiase offered me for the WWF Title, and I stand by my statement: for the security of my family, I did what I had to do. The jeers and the angry fans in the airports and restaurants were difficult to deal with, but I knew if they were in my position, they would’ve done the same thing.
“But you know what? Someone very important disagreed with me. My family disagreed, Gene. One by one, they all came up to me and told me I wasn’t the husband, the father, the son they knew. I wasn’t acting like the person they loved. And they knew that, deep down, I was betraying myself. I was running scared. One by one, they all told me that if this was what was to become of me by protecting my family, a man closed off from himself and from the world, then they’d rather live without me. And that’s when it hit me, Mean Gene. I didn’t protect them; I made fools out of them.” Hogan bows his head, and his voice quivers when he speaks again, showing the first shred of emotion. “I made a fool out of them, and myself.”
Suddenly, he walks down the stairs and picks up two things resting at the foot of the dais: an empty oil drum and a leather satchel. When he gets back on top of the platform, he hands the satchel to Mean Gene and says; “Doesn’t weigh much, does it? A few pounds, few more with the bag. I fought King Kong Bundy, Andre The Giant, One Man Gang,” he says as he points to the satchel like a judge pointing to a condemned man, “and those few pounds were enough to do what none of them could: those few pounds pinned Hulk Hogan and defeated him.” Hogan takes the satchel away, opens it and dumps the contents-hundreds upon hundreds of dollar bills-into the barrel. He then produces a book of matches from his jacket pocket, strikes one and drops it in the barrel, igniting the money. As he stands over the barrel, Hogan removes his glasses, revealing eyes as cold as gunmetal. “The money doesn’t matter to me anymore, DiBiase. I don’t want it. And maybe I’ll win the WWF Championship back at WrestleMania, and maybe I won’t. You don’t have to worry about Hulkamania running wild on you, DiBiase. You already bought off Hulkamania. Because now, DiBiase … there is a price to pay for the damage you’ve caused. And I will do whatever it takes to make you pay.”
The spine-chilling interview is a precursor to a fantastic match between Hogan and Savage later on, which is observed at ringside by the opponent for the winner, Andre. Eventually, Hogan capitalizes on a missed top-rope elbow by Savage and scores a pinfall with his trademark legdrop. Savage offers a congratulatory hand after getting up, and Hogan warily accepts it. However, Andre entering the ring breaks up the gesture, and the show closes on a eerily familiar sight: Hogan and Andre, standing inches apart, staring at one another.
March, 1987: WrestleMania IV
Anticipation is at a fever pitch for the World Title tournament. The crowd is electric with the idea of one of fourteen possible champions emerging tonight, with Andre The Giant the odds-on favorite to win. Everyone cheers for someone different, but the crowd-and most of the commentators, aside from Jesse Ventura-all agree on one thing: Ted DiBiase’s number is up. With thirteen other competitors gunning for the belt, and especially the prestige of being the one to knock him out of the tournament, he has the worst odds of all to make it to the end.
That surety is quieted some when DiBiase beats Jim Duggan in the first match of the night. Duggan puts up a vicious fight, and makes DiBiase earn the victory over twelve long minutes. DiBiase makes sure to mock the crowd on the way out, pantomiming over his waist that the belt will be coming back to him. This earns him a lot of boos, but he ignores it, confident he can beat the odds and get his belt back. Afterwards, DiBiase’s opponent for the quarterfinals is decided when Dino Bravo manages to defeat Don Muraco to advance. In following matches, Ricky Steamboat makes Greg Valentine submit and, thanks to a double-disqualification in the match pitting Jake Roberts against Rick Rude, gets a bye to the semi-finals.
The next bout is one of the more anticipated bouts, as it has one of the fan favorites to win the tournament, Randy Savage, against Butch Reed. It is a hard-fought match, with Reed taking full advantage of Savage’s still-sore ribs to weaken the Macho Man. But “The Natural” falls victim to a small package, and just like that, Macho Man is in the quarterfinals. The celebration is short-lived, however, when he finds out his opponent for the next round will be none other then the man who injured his ribs, One Man Gang, having disposed of Bam Bam Bigelow in the primary round.
When the tournament resumes, the first match up is Ted DiBiase’s showdown with Canadian strongman Dino Bravo. The crowd is almost salivating at the idea of a burly, musclehead like Bravo getting his chance to tear DiBiase limb from limb, and roundly cheer the normally hated Bravo as his music begins. But when Bravo emerges from the curtain in street clothes, the crowd is confused. Bravo has a microphone with him, and eliminates all confusion with his explanation: “Mister DiBiase has given me several reasons why I should not bother continuing in tonight’s tournament. Several thousand reasons!” Bravo laughs contentedly, then makes what everyone suspects official; “So, because of his generosity, I will repay Mister DiBiase and forfeit my match against him tonight.” DiBiase stands in the ring, cackling and yelling to Bravo that he’ll get the first shot at the title when DiBiase wins it later … but DiBiase’s moment is spoiled when Hulk Hogan comes through the crowd, grabs a chair and waffles DiBiase in the back. DiBiase goes down hard, and Hogan has time to hit DiBiase with two big legdrops across the upper back before officials escort him back to the locker room. The crowd turns on the interruption of DiBiase’s long-deserved beating, and rouse DiBiase on his way back to the locker room.
Following the spectacle of Hogan’s mad rampage is Savage’s match against One Man Gang, and the sight of Savage taking his time coming to the ring, holding re-taped ribs is yet another deflating moment for the crowd. One Man Gang wastes no time in using his size advantage to his benefit, ground the aerial specialist with hard punches to the body, shoulder thrusts and stomping Savage as he lies motionless on the ground. The crowd is dejected, as the scene harkens back to the previous encounter between these two, and the mood drops even further when DiBiase and Virgil come out to ringside. Virgil provides a distraction, keeping the referee’s attention while DiBiase goes behind the ref. One Man Gang brings Savage over and holds him while DiBiase loads up with his brass knuckles and swings; at the last second, Savage drops, and the blow connects with One Man Gang. DiBiase is aghast (while the crowd has jumped to their feet) and bids a hasty escape, as One Man Gang crashes back, out cold. Savage rolls on top of One Man Gang, and when the referee finally gets away from Virgil’s distraction, he makes the count and Savage advances. There is little hope for Savage to make it much further, though, as his condition is worse then ever, and either of the two men who could be his next opponent-Hulk Hogan or Andre The Giant-are bigger, stronger, and not nursing heavily injured ribs.
Hogan and Andre pick up right where their last encounter left off: glowering at one another. Neither man say anything to one another; they just stare at each other, Hogan’s eyes cold and hostile, while Andre’s are empty and emotionless. The bond between them is long since put to rest, and this man before him is not the Hulk Hogan he knew anyway. There is no reason to have any feelings for him then adversarial, and when Hogan finally makes a move-a shove-Andre grabs a handful of Hogan’s hair and hits him with a headbutt. DiBiase comes out as the match progresses, watching with great interest; one of these men will eliminate Savage, and whoever does could be his opponent should he beat Steamboat (of this, DiBiase is confident that he will). DiBiase has no preference which one-Hogan is bigger then he is, and enraged to boot, while Andre is angry and huge. His questions are answered when Hogan goes to pick up Andre for a bodyslam, only to topple backwards and be crushed under the weight of Andre. Andre gets to his feet and uses Hogan’s own weapon, the legdrop, against him to score the pinfall. Even though Andre was the odds-on favorite to win, it was purely based on size; Hogan was the man everyone wanted to see win it, so he may redeem himself. Andre’s victory is not a received badly by the crowd (although it is by DiBiase, who is terrified to being alone in a ring with an angry Andre), but he is not the sentimental favorite. Now, though, with a severely injured Randy Savage up next for Andre, it is taken as writ that Andre will finally capture the World Wrestling Federation Title.
When the tournament continues, it is Ted DiBiase versus Ricky Steamboat. Both men are fresh from receiving byes, and go at each other for ten long minutes, trading move for move, chop for chop, punch for punch. For every hammerlock, there is a counter; for every cross body block, there is a roll-through. By far, it is the most scientifically impressive match on the card, and as the minutes roll on, the advantage slowly shifts to Steamboat, who uses his speed and agility to wear down DiBiase. When Steamboat applies his double-chickenwing, the crowd goes nuts; Steamboat has him locked in the move, in the center of the ring. There is no escape … until Virgil comes down, slips the knuckles into the ring and distracts the referee. Steamboat releases the hold and starts towards Virgil. DiBiase crawls to the knuckles, puts them on, then advances; Steamboat turns around in time to see the swing and ducks. DiBiase’s full-force swing is wild, and sends him spinning around with his back to Steamboat. Steamboat again slaps on the chickenwing, and the crowd noise is insane as they DiBiase’s elimination only moments away. They even see DiBiase’s head nod furiously, quitting from the pain, but the referee is still distracted by Virgil, who now sees that their plan has fallen apart. Desperate, Virgil hops up on the ring apron and shoves the referee, who stumbles backwards and collides with Steamboat, causing him to drop the hold. As DiBiase falls to the mat, Steamboat turns and confronts the referee. The Dragon and the referee have a heated exchange, and neither of them sees DiBiase rise to his feet. He sneaks up behind Steamboat and applies the Million Dollar Dream, dragging him back towards the center of the ring. The referee looks for Virgil, who exited without being seen moments ago, and upon not finding DiBiase’s interfering second, attends to Steamboat. He checks the arm once, twice, three times. On the third, it falls, and DiBiase, by way of blind luck, advances to the finals.
Randy Savage walks very slowly to the ring for his next, and likely final, match of the night. Every step is obviously a lightning bolt of pain coursing through his body, every breath a gust of fire in his chest. The referee, already in the ring, asks Savage if he is sure he wants to continue, and Savage is emphatic: yes. There will be no quitting from Randy Savage, not with the World Wrestling Federation Championship, the ultimate goal of every man to set foot in the company, but two matches away. As the referee continues to question Savage, Andre comes to the ring, a look of concern on his face. Savage is an injured man, an easy pick, and that he doesn’t mind. What he does mind is causing the man more grief and pain … but, he keeps telling himself, pain is part of wrestling. Inflicting pain until your opponent cannot continue is the object night in, night out … so why should tonight be any different?
The bell rings, and Savage limps his way to the center of the ring to stand toe-to-toe with Andre. All around them, the crowd is coming unglued, and for a moment, both men take the time to look around and see why; coming down the aisle, they see the reason. It is Miss Elizabeth, Savage’s valet. She is running full tilt to the ring, and eschews her ladylike demeanor to enter the ring. She is crying, and she walks up to Randy, begging and pleading for him not to continue. He gives her the same answer he gave the ref: no, there will be no quitting from Randy Savage. Not now, not ever. She pleads again, but he gives her the same answer, and now she is not only crying, she is enraged. She is screaming and sobbing at the same time, demanding that he quit before he injures himself for good.
A giant hand falls on Elizabeth’s shoulder and gently turns her around. She peers up into the eyes of Andre, shell-shocked and afraid. Andre asks her a question; for a moment, she cannot speak, she is so surprised. He begins to repeat it when she happily screams out “Yes, yes, yes!” Andre looks to Savage and repeats the question, this time with a hand extended. Savage, clutching one arm to his ribs, looks from Andre to Elizabeth. Finally, Savage nods and accepts the hand. Andre nods back, says something to the referee, and leaves the ring. The referee says something to Howard Finkel, who announces to the crowd that Andre The Giant has forfeited the match, and that Randy Savage will advance to the finals. Miss Elizabeth embraces Savage, still crying (out of relief now), and the two walk out of the ring to await their final call to the ring.
Randy Savage’s reception as he walks to the ring is as loud as the crowd has been tonight. He carries the hopes of 14,000 people screaming fans (and countless more watching on TV) with him, who give him as much support as they can, hoping it will carry him beyond the threshold of pain and towards victory. In the ring, he meets DiBiase, who eyeball each other cautiously. For Savage, he is mindful that his ribs are a bright red bullseye, and DiBiase will not hesitate to attack them. For DiBiase, he is unsure of if Savage is playing up the injury, and Savage’s well-known temper is also a factor… and, worst of all is the memory that at Survivor Series, Savage pinned him.
As expected, DiBiase goes for the ribs from the onset, punishing Savage with move after move targeting the injured torso. Elizabeth stands at ringside, hardly able to watch, although many a time DiBiase taunts her after attacking Savage’s ribs again. Savage’s offense is minimal and ineffective, and the energy of the crowd is all but gone when DiBiase slaps on the Million Dollar dream. Elizabeth cheers her charge on anyway, but there seems little hope until Savage does the only thing he can do: shoves himself and DiBiase backwards into the corner. What he doesn’t see is that the referee is in the corner, and is crushed underneath their bodies. When they stagger forward, the referee crumples to the mat, and DiBiase, oblivious to what has happened, reapplies his finisher until Savage is lying completely motionless on the mat. DiBiase leaps to his feet, arms raised in the air, only now to notice that the referee is unconscious as well. DiBiase orders Virgil to rouse the referee while he rolls Savage over and pins him. The referee doesn’t even move, but Elizabeth acts anyway, reaching in and pulling on DiBiase’s foot. DiBiase stands up, glares at Elizabeth, and leaves the ring, stalking her. Behind Elizabeth comes Virgil, and she is trapped.
Suddenly, the crowd erupts; Hulk Hogan is running down to ringside, brandishing a chair. He comes up behind Virgil (who has no idea anyone has come to Elizabeth’s rescue) and swings, hitting Virgil square across the back, dropping him like a stone. DiBiase’s eyes go wide with shock and fear. He jumps back in the ring, and Hogan follows, leaving the chair behind. Hogan advances, motioning for DiBiase to bring it on, backing DiBiase against the ropes. Elizabeth circles around to that side and pulls on DiBiase’s foot. He turns around to try and swipe at her, and Hogan rushes in, clobbering DiBiase in the small of the back. DiBiase can no sooner react then he is whipped into the ropes and eats a big boot to the face on the way back. The crowd is insane, and feeds off of Hogan, who looks to the audience for reassurance. The crowd is more then happy to oblige, and he springs off the ropes. The arena is lit twice as bright as flashbulbs capture Hogan in midair, descending with his leg extended, ready to crush DiBiase’s chest. As Hogan delivers it, Savage, who has been stirring and coming around, finally makes it to his feet. Hogan is ready to deliver the legdrop again, but Savage hobbles over and stands in the way. For a moment, there is tension between the two, and Hulkamaniacs everywhere fear the worst: that Hogan’s anger at DiBiase will cause him to explode and ruin Randy Savage’s rightful shot at his first World Wrestling Federation Championship. The fears are quelled when Hogan claps Savage on the shoulder, goes over to rouse the referee a bit, and drops down to the arena floor. Savage, meanwhile, makes his way to a turnbuckle and ascends slowly. The crowd is on their feet screaming, urging him to move faster, before DiBiase can recover enough to move. Like Hogan’s legdrop, Savage’s pose and flight are bathed in the flashbulbs, and when the point of the elbow finds DiBiase’s chest, the noise reaches its crescendo, a peak that will not quiet for minutes. The referee, still groggy, crawls over and makes a very slow count … one … two … three. Fireworks go off, confetti falls from the ceiling, and the locker room pours out in celebration of Randy Savage’s ascent to the status of World Champion. His old rival, Ricky Steamboat, is the first to offer a congratulatory hug, and is followed by numerous friends. Andre, who agreed to bow out of the tournament in exchange for a title shot (as soon as his ribs are better), offers his congratulations as well. But no moment is remembered by fans quite as much as Hulk Hogan, the former champion, the iconic hero, coming in the ring and taking the World Title belt from Savage; the audience, and the gathered crowd in the ring, stand in shock for a moment, until Hogan wraps the belt around Savage’s waist and clasps it. He then offers one more handshake, then leaves the ring and walks down the aisle. Savage’s friends hoist him on their shoulders, with Hogan watching from afar. One day, Hogan knows, his path will lead him to the title again. His immediate future, however, is concerned with Ted DiBiase. The WWF will be presenting a new event in August, called SummerSlam; on that day in August, Hogan will finally get DiBiase where he wants him (preferably in a steel cage, to keep the meddling Virgil out of it), and there, he will make Ted DiBiase pay the price … a price that no amount of money can pay off.
A nod of the head to some of my usual suspects … Kurtis, a not-so-Silent Bob to my Jay, who gave me a hell of an idea that saved this column from the scrapheap. Also thanks to the fans, who didn’t drop off the face of the earth when they saw last week’s wasn’t a controversial topic like Montreal, but embraced it in the spirit of the column: good, clean entertainment. The invite, as always, stands: if you got an original, interesting idea, send it in … week after next (cause next week’s is already planned out), I’m doing the first reader-suggested column. Will your name be on it? You’ll just have to wait and see.