Thursday, March 23, 2023

My Favorite Events--WWF WrestleMania IV

 “So sit back and relax, or if you’re like me get on the edge of your seat, because WrestleMania IV is next!”

– Craig DeGeorge, Coliseum Video

It's been thirty-five years since the WWF invaded Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall which at the time was somewhat enveloped as part of the Trump Plaza complex. A polarizing event since the day it occurred, WrestleMania IV has always been one of my favorite editions of Mania. For this "coral" anniversary let's go back to "Atlantic City's Centerpiece" and see why I'm not the only fan with endless love and memories for the fourth installment of WrestleMania.

WrestleMania IV did huge business and it's easy to understand why. The company was riding high on its success at the Pontiac Silverdome with WrestleMania III one year earlier. Hulk Hogan was as recognizable as any sports star in the world and, while I feel the true "Rock 'n Wrestling era" saw its end at WrestleMania III, the mainstream inclusion was still there and thriving. It's part of why I'll never agree that Stone Cold Steve Austin eclipsed The Hulkster as the biggest star in wrestling history. Did Austin sell a few more shirts? It's possible. They were also a helluva lot easier to purchase. In the mid to late '80s almost anyone of any age knew who Hogan was. At the peak of Austin a decade later there were many people who still thought "Steve Austin" was "The Six Million Dollar Man." Trust me when I say that Austin was not the household name that Hogan was. There will never be anyone bigger in professional wrestling in the United States than Hulk Hogan.

Up front I will admit that I did not watch the event live. The first WrestleMania that I remember seeing from start to finish was WrestleMania III on VHS on my birthday in 1987. I do recall seeing highlights of IV on "The WWF Television Network." Despite being a child, I have more memories of wrestling in prime time than the traditional weekend morning slots. Therefore I likely saw highlights on Prime Time Wrestling. Another interesting memory is that, despite never being much of a boxing fan, for whatever reason my mind associated the look of WrestleMania IV with boxing. It makes sense, I'm just not sure how I picked up on it at the time. Personal memories for me also revolve around the build and the aftermath. My dad and I watched both the January 2nd, 1988 Saturday Nights Main Event (Andre's attack on Hogan) and The Main Event on February 4th as they happened. After WrestleMania, like legions and legions of other kids, I was fascinated by the VHS release. A pop-up box featuring The Hulkster? A double tape set? WWF marketing magic at its best.

Speaking of that VHS, this is one of the few Coliseum Video WrestleMania releases that completely trumps the original pay-per-view version. Very little is edited out (I do believe a bit is missing from the Rick Rude-Jake Roberts match which, as you know, is not a big loss) and a bunch of extra content is included. An extended intro, a brief rundown of "WrestleMania Weekend," and special backstage promos. It's a surprise to some that the legendary sequence of Bobby Heenan receiving his "special package" was a Coliseum Video exclusive. It's so memorable, and important to the event, that many figure it was part of the pay-per-view. Speaking of the "WrestleMania Weekend" footage, what you're seeing is actually what turned into what became known as WrestleMania Axxess years later. Look for Brian "Blue Meanie" Heffron in the sequence showing Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat signing autographs!

I know that I'm not a product of my own era and my tastes skew very differently from others around my age, but I never got the need for modern rock music in virtually any event from any wrestling promotion in the past twenty-five years. Other sports don't always go with it, yet wrestling inexplicably feels the need to be "edgy," or something, and shoves "modern rock" down our collective throats. That being said, I love the simple sax intros for Mania 2 and III and the extension of the classic "What The World Is Watching" music intro for IV. Remember, less is more. I recently uncovered info about what seems to be a last minute change in the opening minutes of WrestleMania IV. If you're a follower of the blog on Instagram, you already know what it is! If you don't have a clue, all that I can advise is to stay tuned for the next blog entry.

Back then everyone knew who the celebrity guest were, too. The world recognized Vanna White, Bob Uecker, Robin Leach and Gladys Knight. It isn't like today where people are actually labeled "racist" for not knowing certain WrestleMania celebrity guests. Yes, folks, it's happened. In watching the hype and at the event itself, it's interesting to note that Vanna is rarely mentioned without the full "Wheel of Fortune's Vanna White" title. It had to be something in her contract. There's even a match on a pre-Mania edition of Wrestling Challenge where Gorilla Monsoon corrects Heenan into saying "Wheel of Fortune's Vanna White." It continues many times throughout IV until Uecker suddenly decides that she's "some guy named Vance White."

Speaking of Gorilla, I've made it no secret over the years that I prefer his broadcast booth partnership with Jesse "The Body" Ventura. They tended to be brought together only for special events and to this day I find their commentary somewhat comforting. It felt real, unrehearsed and natural unlike anything you'd hear on WrestleMania today. I'm not putting down the modern product, I'm just pointing out things that even the staunchest of modern day supporters are forced to agree with.

The show itself is long and the crowd is admittedly not as responsive as a WrestleMania audience should be. The reasons for this have been discussed ad nauseam, but I will say that if this same exact show, tournament matches and all, had been held at the Pontiac Silverdome with that size crowd consisting of true wrestling fans, WrestleMania IV would be remembered far differently. I'm not saying that it was the most perfectly booked show ever put out by the World Wrestling Federation, but it definitely holds a reputation in some circles that it simply does not deserve.

I'll go as far as to say that WrestleMania IV frankly wasn't the place for the "five star matches" that many of the shows detractors wish would've happened. Yes, you occasionally did get your "mat classics" like Steamboat-Savage and British Bulldogs-Dream Team at the early WrestleMania shows, but that's not what the name nor the company were built on at the time. It was glitz and glamour, stars and spectacle. What I call the "What The World Was Watching" era began at WrestleMania IV and it was never more true of a motto than at this time.

As far as storytelling in wrestling, it's never been better than right here. One of the single most memorable storylines arguably took off at this very event and culminated one year later in the same arena. That, of course, is The Mega Powers exploding. In addition you had a cast of dozens who nearly all qualify for "legend" status all these years later. I find it very hard to believe that the same will be able to be said about many stars of the modern product. I word it that way as I don't believe it to be the fault of the current talent as much as it is the presentation that they're forced to deal with. Eh, the scripted promos could go, too.

Thankfully we're left with more than just memories three and a half decades later. The WrestleMania marketing machine seemed to really take off with IV, again building off of the success in 1987. Posters, apparel, press materials and other souvenirs are aplenty. The aforementioned VHS tape is arguably the most beloved and remembered release in the entire Coliseum Video WWF library. Back then and even now I also most associate the WrestleMania VCR game with WrestleMania IV, especially since it was released the same year and featured footage from the event.

Lost media has become a big deal in recent years. The definition of such being film, photographic or print content that was known to exist at one time but is no longer readily accessible. There are two forms of "lost media" pertaining to WrestleMania IV that seem to have disappeared. The first was an amazing photo gallery of fan-taken shots during the weekends of WrestleMania IV and V. Most of the pictures were of the wrestlers in and around Trump Plaza. They were truly fascinating photographs and I lament not saving them. The other was a video which was available on YouTube just a year or two ago. It was a press conference, held seemingly the day after IV, in a room likely somewhere in the Trump Plaza hotel. Mean Gene Okerlund interviewed The Macho Man, Elizabeth and The Hulkster in front of dozens of press members. 

As for additional content that is still out there to view, it's actually fairly plentiful. YouTube has collections of 1988 episodes of Wrestling Challenge surrounding Mania IV. The post-event shows feature promos in front of the "glittery globe" interview backdrop with not only the celebrities but also the wrestlers themselves highlighting upcoming feuds-some of which happened and others that didn't. Also on YouTube is a nearly nine minute radio segment off of New York's WFAN featuring early "smart mark" speculation and a call-in from someone in Atlantic Coty the night before. For those without a VCR, DailyMotion has the Coliseum Video extras currently uploaded in amazing quality. As I alluded above, I feel that those extras are essential for full WrestleMania IV enjoyment. Also readily available via Peacock/WWE Network is the last episode of Prime Time Wrestling before the show. Gorilla and Bobby bring the laughs from all areas of the Trump Plaza hotel and casino complete with great glimpses of some amazing Mania advertising.

Although there are a few gems hidden inside of it, I don't highly recommend Bruce Prichard's podcast review of the event. Despite the show being his first WrestleMania he doesn't have much good to say about it. He DOES offer a good reason as to why Savage-Steamboat II didn't happen at the show and it's reasoning that this fan agrees with. Lance Storm, who attended the show, offers a few fascinating photos that he took (including a GREAT WrestleMania IV billboard shot) however his written commentary and review of the show impress me about as much as Prichard's reflections. 

I don't know that anyone has written as much about this show as I have and next time, to celebrate the actual day of the event, we're giving you even more IV! How about an inside look at an actual artifact from the show? You've seen the press kit. Now we're going to go through the actual WrestleMania IV media guide which was only included in the press kit at the show itself. You saw a bit of it on Instagram a few weeks ago, now it's time to see What The World Was Watching just as if you were there covering the show yourself! Stay tuned...

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