That Was Then 07.11.13: The Year That Was 1988
Posted by Rory James on 07.11.2013
Macho Madness reigning supreme? The first SummerSlam? Surely there’s some good action to be found? Click to find out.
Welcome to another week of ‘That Was Then….The Year That Was'. I am Rory James, and this week I am looking at the year that was 1988. Before we get to that, I'd just like to take a moment to comment on the feedback for last week's column. As with my initial entry in this series, the feedback that I have received in the comments and via email has been, for the most part, positive and intelligent. Thanks for the recommendations of matches missed. I'm planning to do the occasional ‘round-up' column, where I cover reader suggestions for years that I have already looked at. Please keep these suggestions coming. With that out of the way, let's get to it.
1988 was an interesting year for the WWF. For the first time since their national expansion, the company chose to go with a new face as the WWF Champion. Randy Savage's run as WWF Champion was great from an in-ring perspective. Not to be left at the sidelines however was Hulk Hogan. The former champion was involved directly with Savage's run, as partner, friend, and eventually, as foe. In addition to changes at the top of the card, the year saw another addition to the organsation's pay-per-view schedule, with the inaugural SummerSlam taking place in August. I found selecting matches for this year to be difficult, as it one of the few WWF years that doesn't have a stand out collection of matches that you would find on any fan's all time favourite list. Having said that, there are some gems to be found. Let's take a look at them.
WWF Womens Tag Team Championship: The Glamour Girls vs. The Jumping Bomb Angels - Royal Rumble 1988
I should preface my discussion of this match my admitting that my knowledge of 1980's Japanese wrestling, and Japanese Women's wrestling in particular, is almost non-existent. Therefore, I have no other matches of this style to compare this contest to. This match gets a recommendation partially due to the fact that high calibre WWF women's matches are a relative rarity. I think Jesse Ventura sums up what makes this match stand out on commentary, stating that 'the lady wrestlers, at times, seem even more vicious than the male wrestlers'. The intensity and pacing of this contest are just superb. The Angels are a breath of fresh air when compared to the majority of WWF in-ring action. High speed, high impact action is their signature. Their opponents, the more 'traditional' veteran team, do a great job of keeping up with the pace. The 2 out of 3 falls stipulation is perfect for TV, as the ad breaks do not interrupt the actions. WWE should consider using this stipulation more often in 2013. Although the contest loses steam a little at the end, the double team finish is awesome, as is the crowd reaction to it.
The Royal Rumble Match - Royal Rumble 1988
This is far from the most exciting Rumble match in WWE history. However, it would be included on the list on historical merit alone. It's an added bonus that it is an entertaining contest. There is much to enjoy here. Harley Race provides some highlights, firstly with a comical 'see-saw' elimination attempt from Jake Roberts. Race's elimination is one the best one, as he nails his head on the ring apron on the way out. Brutal. San Houston also takes a cool elimination off of the shoulders of Ron Bass. The Hart Foundation really hold the match together, particularly the first half. Their teamwork keeps thing moving at a good pace. The match slows briefly once all twenty superstars have entered, but soon picks up again. The final moments, with Jim Duggan fighting back from a two on one situation, are really enjoyable and a fitting conclusion to a solid match.
WWF Championship Match - Randy Savage vs. Ted Dibiase - Saturday Night's Main Event 12.03.88
Savage and Dibiase would have many great matches in 1988, and this is the first one to make the list. This took place two week before WrestleMania, which is crazy when you consider the match ended up headlining that card. Even crazier is that we get a similar finish to what happens in the Mania match, with Hogan coming down to balance out Andre The Giant and Virgil in Dibiase's corner. Being a free to air match designed to build to Mania, this one ends in a (very fast) count-out. The action that leads to that finish is solid, with Dibiase and Savage showing a great deal of chemistry. The stacked odds that are Virgil and Andre on the outside lead to Savage fighting from underneath. This scrappy fighter element of Savage's character would reach its pinnacle two weeks later. Very interesting match to watch here, considering what is to come.
Hulk Hogan vs. Harley Race - Saturday Night's Main Event 12.03.88
This is in many ways a 1980's dream match, with the face of the WWF taking on the one time cornerstone of the NWA. This is a brawl rather than a wrestling match, but the commentating team of McMahon and Ventura do a good job of building some logical psychology for the match's style. Hogan is presented as a man on the edge, doing anything it takes to maintain momentum en route to trying to reclaim his stolen championship. Race is said to be desperate to derail that momentum and send Hogan into the championship tournament with a loss. Hogan throws out many of his illogical heel moves in this one, but for once it does fit the story the announcers are helping to build. Race sells for Hogan as if his career depended on it. He bounces all over the ring. It's strange to see the grizzled veteran reduced to typical Hogan fodder, but he sure does make the most of it. The match also includes what I think (don't quote me on it) is the first table spot in WWE history. Race misses a splash off the apron on a prone Hogan, and goes straight into the table he is laid out on at ringside. It's not the most impressive table spot of all time, but cool and unexpected for the era. This is a fun, yet brief contest.
WWF Championship Tournament Final - Randy Savage vs. Ted Dibiase - WrestleMania IV
Although the final is the match I have listed, I would recommend watching all four of Savage's tournament matches. While quality wise, the other three are nothing exceptional, together they tell a compelling story. If there was ever a way to consolidate someone as a star in one night, then this was it. Savage wrestles four matches with four very different opponents. He and Liz even make a costume change for each match, a nice touch. As for this match, it is the best match of the tournament, and a great crowning moment for Savage. Although Hulk Hogan's involvement does steal some of the spotlight, it sets up a slow burning storyline that would culminate in the following years WrestleMania main event. Good storytelling makes this worth a look.
Steel Cage Match for the WWF Championship - Randy Savage vs. Ted Dibiase - 25.06.88
In compiling this list, I had to choose between this contest and the Savage/Dibiase encounter from Wrestlefest. While the latter is a contest that is worth watching, this one has a little more going for it. It takes place in Madison Square Garden, which provides a fantastic setting as usual. The steel cage stipulation forces the wrestlers to change things up a bit. By this point, they had faced each other many times and developed some great chemistry. This match is built around both men trying to escape the cage. The escape attempts are pretty convincing. There is one spot where Dibiase has a clear opportunity to escape the cage but comes back down to attack Savage. The announcers cover this by saying that he has ‘jelly legs' and can't climb. I've watched it back a few times, and Dibiase is selling this. However, his seeling is so subtle that it almost looks like he isn't doing it. There are also a few cool moments in this match that make it worth viewing. At one point, Dibiase gets his legs tangled in the ropes and cage. Savage scrambles up the cage to escape, only to be met with a right hand from Virgil. Virgil again comes into play, stopping a Savage escape attempt by smashing the cage door into his head. The finish to the match is interesting. With both men at the top of the cage, Virgil heads up to try and knock Savage down. A fan climbs up the cage to try and stop Virgil, with security quickly getting him down. Savage capitalises on the confusion by grabbing Virgil and Dibiase and smashing their heads together. Both fall off the cage, Dibiase to the mat and Virgil to the floor, and Savage escapes to win. I can't find anything online that suggests the fan was a plant, but this seemingly unexpected interaction actually adds to the effectiveness of the conclusion. Have a watch and see what you think: plant or genuine fan invasion?
Steel Cage Match: Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant – Wrestlefest 31.07.88
Although nothing could ever top the WrestleMania II match in terms on spectacle, atmosphere or importance, this match may be the best that these two ever had from an in ring perspective. The addition of the steel cage allows Andre to hide the shortcomings that his failing body had lumbered him with by this point. He looks like a monster in this contest. Andre uses the cage to his advantage throughout, tying Hogan to it with his t-shirt, using it and an exposed turnbuckle to bust him wide open and generally dominating The Hulkster. Andre biting Hogan's open wound is an awesome moment. Hogan as usual sells the beating like it is the worst he has ever taken, but the intensity of Andre's offence makes Hogan's inevitable comeback all the more enjoyable. This is a sound contest and a great way to finish their rivalry (from a one on one perspective at least).
The British Bulldogs vs. The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers - SummerSlam 1988
This is the final two on two pay-per-view match of the British Bulldog's WWF run. That makes it worth watching alone. It's also a hot opening contest that the heel team dominate for the majority. Although going to a time limit draw is an odd choice for an opening contest, this match is still worth watching. It's a pretty formulaic tag team contest, made all the more interesting by just how irritating the heel team are. The Rougeaus are so smarmy and conceited that you are genuinely rooting for their opponents to make their comeback and kick some ass. A simple match, yet one that I still enjoy watching.
The Mega Powers vs. The Mega Bucks - SummerSlam 1988
The impressive thing about this contest is that there are moments when you actually believe the bad guys will get the win. Despite this being the 80's WWF, the place where the show always ends with the good guys getting their hand raised, these two teams do a great job of making you think that might not happen. One of the things that help make this possible is Jesse Ventura as the guest referee. Man, he is so charismatic in this contest. The tension between him and the good guys is so awesome, and when he goes to fast count the Mega Powers, you really want to reach into the TV screen and slap his face. The finish, with Liz removing her skirt to reveal…..a skirt, is pretty tame but fun. This isn't the most exciting match on this list, but it's still one that I would recommend.
Elimination Match: Demolition, The Conquistadors, The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, The Brainbusters & The Bolsheviks vs. The Rockers, The Powers of Pain, The Young Stallions, The British Bulldogs & The Hart Foundation - Survivor Series 1988
This match is simply epic. While it isn't the first ten-team Survivor Series match (that was last year), this is the one that really shows how awesome the tag division was in the WWF back in the day. Each team has a unique quality to them, meaning that the style of the match changes throughout. Just look at some of the talent in the ring for this one. Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Dynamite Kid, so many awesome competitors. The pacing of this match is so good that you never feel it drags, despite it going over forty minutes. The addition of the storyline between Demolition and the Powers of Pain, that saw a double turn take place at the end of the match, just adds to the drama. The stand out team for me is the Rockers. Their energy level in this contest stands out above all the other awesome teams involved. This match is so hard to describe in words, you just have to watch it to appreciate it. Epic contest.
So that was 1988. Randy Savage really anchored the main event scene in the WWF all year, providing fans with some quality contests. It's interesting to consider whether Hogan's involvement in Savage's affairs was in any way a hindrance to his title run. While getting the rub through association with The Hulkster surely gave Savage some star aura, it could be argued that it took the focus away from the championship and the new champion. 1988 was a year of change for the WWF in some ways, while in others the status quo was maintained. On the bright side, there was some solid, in unspectacular, action to be found inside the WWF ring.
Thanks again for taking the time to read. Please feel free to sound off your thoughts in the comments section, or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All feedback is appreciated, even the members of the grammar police who are having fun with the column each week. It's better than no readers at all. See you next week, when we head to the 00's for the first time. Until then……