Dubbed, “The Ultimate Challenge”, Wrestlemania VI was a one match show. Everything on WWF TV at the time was done to build up this match. And there was good reason. It was the most important match for the company since Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant at Wrestlemania III. Hulk Hogan was on his way out to do a movie and the WWF needed The Ultimate Warrior to be the man to take his place. Actually, they needed someone hip to rejuvenate Hogan’s slightly stale act too. Warrior was probably the right guy since his popularity was at an all time high. But technically, the money in Warrior was in him chasing the title, not being the one to hold it for very long. Thinking back, it might not have been bad to give it to Rick Rude or Ted DiBiase, and then have Warrior chase them for the championship, rather than having Hogan drop it to Warrior. But then again, this was one of the biggest money matches in the history of the company. The Warrior was already Intercontinental Champion and his popularity was nearly as high, or higher at the time, than Hogan’s. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into people paying money to see him. It was a short lived feud, and one of the reasons babyface vs. babyface feuds don’t work is because once the match is over, the feud is probably over unless someone turns heel.
The build up was incredible for this match. They first touched each other at the Royal Rumble. They both threw everyone else over the top rope and the two of them were in the ring together. They both went into the ropes. Hogan dropped down, Warrior jumped over him, Hogan missed a clothesline as Warrior ducked it, and then they hit the double clothesline that put both of them on the floor. Then they finally came to blows at Saturday Night’s Main Event as they teamed up together in a match. After they won the match, the Genius and Mr. Perfect jumped them, dumping Hogan out of the ring. Warrior fought off both guys until Hogan came back in the ring and Warrior accidentally hit Hogan. It was at this time that I figured out, even as a young wrestling fan, that the belt was going to switch hands at Mania. When Warrior hit Hogan, there weren’t many boos. It was exactly what the WWF had wanted. Someone else who could take the ball and run with it. At least, thatâ€™s what they had thought, though it didn’t necessarily happen that way.
The rest of the card was very suspect. There weren’t any other top matches, and probably the hottest secondary feud was Dusty Rhodes vs. Randy Savage. They faced off in an inter-gender tag team match. It was Dusty Rhodes and his valet, Sapphire vs. the Macho King Randy Savage and Queen Sherri. The match was a joke, but in an interesting twist, Elizabeth came down ringside to support Dusty and Sapphire. It was never shown that she hated Savage, only that she hated Sheri. This was important, because Savage and Elizabeth would get back together at the following Wrestlemania in one of the greatest love stories ever seen. Rhodes and Sapphire won the match thanks to Elizabeth who tripped up Sherri. Sapphire had no wrestling experience and did one suplex that only looked like a suplex because Sheri bumped big for her. And, she should’ve stayed out of spandex.
I was only twelve years old, but I knew what was going on. I knew that Hulk Hogan really didn’t fight Andre The Giant for real at Wrestlemania III. I knew that there was a team of people who came up with ideas, though I didn’t know that Vince McMahon was the owner and not just the announcer until a few years later. But still, in February of 1988 as a twelve year old fan who understood some of the business, I was still saddened even though I knew what was coming. Let’s go back slightly.
In 1987, the WWF had their most lucrative WrestleMania yet with Mania III. The buyrate was spectacular and they filled the Pontiac Silverdome. Even though they marketed the match between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant as the first time they ever wrestled, it wasn’t. And it was a spectacle, even though the match was bad. How can you top that? Well they couldn’t, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Fast forward to February of 1988. Ted DiBiase, aka The Million Dollar Man, said he was going to buy the WWF Championship belt. Hogan responded on an episode of WWF Superstars of Wrestling by saying that the belt wasn’t for sale. On The Main Event, which was broadcast live on a Friday evening on NBC, Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant had their WrestleMania III rematch. When I heard that they were doing a live show on national television a month before Wrestlemania IV, I knew something drastic was going to happen. And then on the morning of the show, the San Jose Mercury News Sports Section did a story on the show, writing exactly what the finish would be. I was heartbroken while reading that Hogan would get double crossed by the referee and lose the belt to Andre. But I was the talk of the school that day. I told everyone I knew what the finish was going to be. But deep inside I was upset about what was going to happen. I was a heartbroken fan that night. I guess that means the angle was played out perfectly. Andre The Giant won the match because the referee was paid off by The Million Dollar Man (they used twin refs, Dave and Earl Hebner for drama) and then The Giant subsequently gave the belt to DiBiase. DiBiase had just bought the championship like he said he would.
But, president Jack Tunney said that DiBiase couldn’t buy the championship and declared the title vacant. Wrestlemania IV would be the place where they would hold a tournament for the championship. It would be a 14-man in the tournament, but Hogan and Andre would have their third match in a year to start off the second round after being given a first round bye. There were also some really good possible match-ups, with the best being Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and Randy Savage locking up in a rematch of their Wrestlemania III classic, but the WWF decided to screw the fans out of that match and had Steamboat lose to Greg Valentine in the first round. Either McMahon had heat with Steamboat, as was the reason Steamboat dropped the Intercontinental Title so quickly to the Honky Tonk Man in 1987, or he wanted to save that possible match-up for later, even though Steamboat would soon leave to the NWA where he’d have classic matches with Ric Flair and eventually win the 10 pounds of gold. With Savage, DiBiase, Steamboat, and Rick Rude in the tournament, there was a possibility of some really good matches. But of course, the WWF couldn’t give us the good matches. Rick Rude and Jake “The Snake” Roberts wrestled to a mind numbing 15 minute draw, knocking them both out of the competition. And in the worst case of overbooking Greg “The Hammer” Valentine defeated Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat in a decent match. The Hammer would go on against Savage in the second round, who beat “The Natural” Butch Reed in the first round, and we would never see Steamboat vs. Savage part two.
They were pushing DiBiase as the favorite because of what happened at the start of round two. Hogan vs. Andre started off the second round and Ted would face the winner. He beat Don Muraco in the second round who defeated Dino Bravo in the first round. There were two trains of thought by fans. First, Hogan would win and he’d face DiBiase. Or Andre would win, and would forfeit his third round match to DiBiase as he said before the tournament started. But none of those things happened. Hogan vs. Andre was an awful punch-fest that was called a double disqualification and caused most of the fans in the Trump Plaza to groan. Both Hogan and Andre were eliminated, and DiBiase would get a bye into the finals. The problem with having Hogan only there for one match is that WWF fans were always trained to understand that Hogan would be in the main event. This time, Hogan was gone early and it caused a lot of the fans to leave as well. Only the die-hard wrestling fans were going to stick around for four hours without Hogan.
After defeating Reed, Savage also went through Greg Valentine in a decent match. He would go on to face the near 400-pound One Man Gang. The Gang defeated Bam Bam Bigelow by countout earlier. Bigelow was the hottest young wrestler in the federation just one year prior. It was the dumbest finish of the night as Bigelow sat there and watched the ref count him out while he was standing on the apron trading blows with the Gang. Savage defeated the Gang in another terrible finish as the Gang decided to use the his manager Slick’s cane on Savage right in front of the referee.
So the table was set. It was Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase in the finals of the tournament to declare the new WWF Champion. There were five other matches outside of the tournament and none of them were very good. Bad News Brown turned Bret Hart face by winning a battle royal to start off the show. They double teamed the Junkyard Dog and threw him out and then Bad News double crossed Hart to win the match. The Barber, Brutus Beefecake beat the Honky Tonk Man by DQ in a meaningless match for the Intercontinental Belt. The one match that was meaningful out of the five undercard bouts was Demolition defeating Strike Force to win the tag belts, though in my opinion they didn’t win it in convincing enough fashion to get them over as a WWF version of the Road Warriors.
Jesse Ventura and Gorilla Monsoon as the announcing team made Savage out to be a complete underdog for having to wrestle four times and with Andre in DiBiase’s corner, they sold it like Savage had no chance. That was until Elizabeth brought out the Hulkster, giving the fans one more chance to see their favorite, and also to even up the sides. The finish was good, albeit a little rushed as Hogan broke DiBiase’s Million Dollar Dream sleeper with a chair shot to the back and Savage was able to hit his elbow off the top to finish the match and be crowned champ. Since Hogan would be doing No Holds Barred with Tiny Lister and David Paymer, Savage would have a full year’s run with the belt. To foreshadow Savage turning on Hogan the following year, they had Elizabeth bring Hogan down to the ring hand in hand. That subtlety was great and it kicked off the single greatest angle they did which would “explode” at WrestleMania V.
There wasn’t a single standout match on this show, and the tournament final was fine, but unspectacular.
In some cool trivia, Ted DiBiase was actually supposed to win the tournament. He was going to get the WWF Championship and Savage would get his IC Title back. But the Honky Tonk Man didn’t want to drop his IC belt to Savage. Vince then changed his mind to go with Savage as the top guy rather than DiBiase.
Results Bad News Brown won a 20-man battle royal Brutus Beefcake defeated Intercontinental Champion Honky Tonk Man via DQ The Islanders & Bobby Heenan defeated the British Bulldogs & Koko B. Ware via pinfall The Ultimate Warrior defeated Hercules Demolition defeated Strike Force for the Tag Team Championship Round One, Championship Tournament: Ted DiBiase defeated Hacksaw Jim Duggan Don Muraco defeated Dino Bravo by DQ Greg “the Hammer” Valentine defeated Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat via pinfall Randy “Macho Man” Savage defeated Butch Reed via pinfall One Man Gang defeated Bam Bam Bigelow via countout Rick Rude and Jake “the Snake” Roberts wrestled to a 15-minute draw Round Two, Championship Tournament: Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan wrestled to a double DQ Ted DiBiase defeated Don Muraco via pinfall Randy Savage defeated Greg Valentine via pinfall Semifinals, Championship Tournament: Randy Savage defeated One Man Gang by DQ Finals, Championship Tournament: Randy Savage defeated Ted DiBiase to capture the World Wrestling Entertainment Championship