This episode of Classic Wrestling Memories focuses on the rise of “Macho Man” Randy Savage to Main Event Status, and his feud with “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase over the WWF Championship. The story of Savage turning babyface and allying with top hero Hulk Hogan can be considered the apex of the company’s national popularity during the “Rock and Wrestling” Era.
Prologue: Macho Madness
After the legendary Intercontinental Championship match with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat at WrestleMania III, Savage finished his year long feud with George “The Animal” Steele. In June, The Honky Tonk Man defeated Steamboat for the IC strap. Honky then began referring to himself as the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time. Since Savage was at that time the longest reigning Intercontinental Champion, he took offense at this claim.
October 3rd, 1987 – Savage challenged Honky for the IC Title. Rumors over the years claim that Honky refused to drop the title to Savage. Whether this was true or not, it was one of the biggest angles at the time. During the match, Savage landed the Elbow, but Bret Hart ran in and broke the count. The Hart Foundation and Honky triple-teamed Savage until Elizabeth ran backstage and brought Hogan in to save the day.
The Set Up: Everybody Has A Price
December 1987 – Ted Dibiase boldly proclaimed that he will buy the WWF Heavyweight Championship from Hulk Hogan. Hogan considered this offer but then gives a resounding “Hell No”. If Dibiase wants the championship, he can win it in the ring like everybody else.
January 1988 – Dibiase, frustrated at not being able to purchase the championship, reveals to the world that the WWF Championship will still be delivered to him. He then introduced the man that will do it, Andre The Giant.
Act One: The Pin Heard Round The World
February 5th, 1988 – One of the most famous angles of all time, and also the most-watched wrestling match of all time in the US, saw Hulk Hogan lose the WWF Championship to Andre The Giant after a crooked referee made a bad count. The match scored a 15.2 rating and 33 million viewers. To put that into perspective, that’s like “America Idol in its prime” type numbers. In real life, WWE had quietly hired Earl Hebner, the twin brother of referee Dave Hebner. Earl had actually been working in the Carolina territories. Since this was 1988, long before the internet was commonplace, almost nobody knew who he was. In fact, Earl had been working for the Crocketts as late as the previous week. So Earl counted a pinfall for Andre, even though Hogan’s left shoulder was clearly up. Andre then immediately relinquished the belt to Dibiase. The plan had worked!
Fans were bewildered! A world without Hulk Hogan as the champion? Dave Meltzer wrote in the Wrestling Observer newsletter dated February 15th, “All I can say is that I hope whoever came up with that finish got a nice bonus in this week’s paycheck”.
What some fans may not know, Dibiase was billed as the WWF Champion for a few weeks.
Act Two: WrestleMania IV
Jack Tunney made the decision a few weeks later to vacate the WWF Championship since none of the three major players had a valid claim to the title. He then declared a new champion would be crowned at WrestleMania IV in a 14-man tournament. Hogan and Andre drew automatic byes into the second round due to them both being former champions.
Andre’s mission this time around wasn’t to win the tournament, but to ensure Hogan did not advance. Andre accomplished this by causing the match to end in a double-disqualification. This also caused Dibiase to draw a bye into the finals. Savage was not so lucky. He had to defeat three opponents to secure his spot in the finals. In the end, Hogan stood in Savage’s corner to keep Andre at bay so Savage could finally pin Dibiase to win the title.
Act Three: The Mega Powers vs. The Megabucks
The next several months saw Savage defend the title on the house show circuit against Dibiase. Hogan took time off after four years on the road to be with his family for the birth of his daughter Brooke. He also filmed No Holds Barred during this time. Then in August of 1988, Savage and Hogan headlined the inaugural SummerSlam event against Dibiase and Andre. Heel commentator Jesse “The Body” Ventura served as guest referee. Despite the obvious payoff of Ventura to be a biased referee, the babyfaces secured the win to end the feud.