What if…Paul Orndorff Landed First?
Our story begins on Saturday Night’s Main Event, in the closing seconds of the main event steel cage WWF Title match between WWF Champion Hulk Hogan and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. Bitterness and jealousy over Hogan’s success led to Orndorff to stab his friend in the back, and with Bobby Heenan’s managerial guidance, Orndorff has maneuvered himself into this showdown for the WWF Title. In the match’s final moments, both men climbed the cage and dropped to the arena floor at almost the same time, but referees on the outside disagreed on the winner. The world waits with baited breath as SNME comes back from commercial, with officials viewing videotape to determine the result …
Saturday Night’s Main Event–Dec. 14, 1986:
A capacity crowd, along with the home audience, hold their collective breath as ring announcer Howard Finkel is given instructions from the throng of officials and Federation executives. From their respective corners, WWF Champion Hulk Hogan, the challenger Paul Orndorff and his manager Bobby Heenan watch as Finkel nods, trying to draw clues from his expression. He nods, then finally steps away, drawing a deep breath in preparation.
“Ladies and gentlemen; after reviewing the footage, WWF officials have reviewed the videotape and have determined that … ‘Mr. Wonderful’ Paul Orndorff landed first.”
The official pronouncement of Orndorff as the new WWF Champion is drowned out by the unanimous disdain exhibited by the audience. Hogan protests and demands to see the footage, which is airing on screens in the arena, as well as for the viewers at home; when he does, his expression collapses into despair. With the time signatures synchronized and brought into super-slow motion, the evidence is indisputable; Orndorff’s feet touch the mat with just barely a second’s lead over Hogan’s. Hulkamania’s reign on top of the mountain in the WWF is over, and it is a point that, in a backstage interview, Orndorff and Heenan are none too hesitant to rub in.
“All you humanoids out there,” says Heenan, “you little Hulkamorons–even you, Okerlund–better learn to accept it: Hulkamania is dead. Hulkamania is dead, and the world is a better place for it!”
“How can you say that?” replies Okerlund. “Hulk Hogan is a role model! Hulk Hogan is a wonderful human be–”
“That’s where you’re wrong, little man. This man is a wonderful human being! Hulk Hogan is a self-centered egomaniac. He’s a spotlight-hogging fraud, and we exposed him for the joke he is tonight. He couldn’t care less about the Hulkamorons; he’s only in this for himself. You act like you lost your teddy bear, Okerlund, open your eyes; I just did you and the world a favor. I finally cured the world of the disease called Hulkamania! I flushed it down the toilet, fair and square. I sent that ham-and-egger packing back to the flea markets, and have given this world a real champion. A champion with class, with dignity, a man you can look up to. I have brought you a …” Heenan grins, complimenting the devilish twinkle in his eye. “Wonderful champion. Take it … champ.”
Orndorff smiles, holding the belt up to the camera and pointing at it. “See this, Hogan? It’s mine now. You’re done. You’re through. I proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am as wonderful as I say I am, and you …” Orndorff shrugs. “Aren’t. I proved tonight that I am everything I say I am, that I am the superior athlete that’s been stuck in your shadow … and I extinguished your spotlight, Hulkster. This was your chance to prove to the world that I was wrong, and you blew it. I walked all over you, and more important, I walked out of that cage the winner. You let your Hulkamaniacs down, and now they, just like you, are gonna have to accept the fact that Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff is the man on top of the mountain now!”
Dec. 1986-Feb. 1987:
While Orndorff’s victory etches his name amongst rare men who reached the pinnacle of the business, the photo-finish nature of his victory turns the spotlight into a harsh mistress; crowds taunt him with chants of “you got lucky” and “fluke”. A cover article in WWF Magazine entitled “He May Have The Belt … But Is He Really A Champion?” questions whether his split-second lead in falling off the cage is enough to say he is the superior wrestler over Hogan, and suggests that, were it to come to pinfalls, Orndorff might not fare so fortunate. The article goes on to suggest that the way Orndorff maneuvered his way into a title shot–turning on a friend and baiting him with the opportunity for revenge–points to Orndorff needing to use short-cuts to cover up a lack of ability. Even the commentators of the WWF speculate that perhaps, the WWF is led by a champion who isn’t the personification of excellence (or “wonderful”, as the case may be), but of luck, and that the issue between Orndorff and Hogan is not really settled.
Orndorff and Heenan fire back on WWF programming, vowing to prove each and every time that Orndorff steps into the ring, that he doesn’t need luck or connections but only his superior skills and his lethal piledriver to put opponents on their backs counting the ceiling lights. When, in one notable interview in an early January episode of Wrestling Challenge, Gene Okerlund makes a wisecrack about reaching the bottom step in time as Orndorff leaves the interview dais, Orndorff manhandles Okerlund until Hogan bursts out of the back drives Orndorff back. Hogan issues a challenge for a rematch right then and there, but he is only the latest in a line of challengers. In fact, more then Orndorff’s victory over Hogan, his manner of victory opens the door for everyone, from Roddy Piper to The Dynamite Kid and everyone in between, to throw down the gauntlet.
But on an episode of WWF Superstars in late January, Orndorff himself fast-tracks one man to the top of the list. Orndorff and Heenan appear as guests on Rowdy Roddy Piper’s interview segment, Piper’s Pit. Orndorff and Heenan launch into the now usual tirade, blasting the detractors and telling the ever-growing line of challengers that they aren’t fit to lace Orndorff’s boots. Piper questions Orndorff’s qualifications to be a champion, reminding Orndorff of how he got pinned by Hogan at the first WrestleMania, and caps it off by hopping up on a stepstool, jumping back down to the ground and asking if this meant he was qualified to wear the gold too. Orndorff responds by blasting Piper in the head with the WWF Title. By the following week, the announcement is made that, at Saturday Night’s Main Event on February 21st, Orndorff will defend the WWF Title against Piper, and the official announcement of Orndorff’s WrestleMania opponent (should he make it past Piper) will be made that night.
Over the next few weeks, Orndorff promises to once again prove to the world his superiority, even as he dodges every challenge made his way. Piper, meanwhile, tunes up in the ring, putting people down with lethal abandon as a message directed at the champ, to whom he promises to finish the job he started a year ago when their partnership ended. And when he sending opponents into dream-land with his tight-as-a-vice sleeper hold, Piper taunts his former partner in crime, telling Orndorff he’s never been able to get the job done when it counts, and that on February 21st, it won’t be a fluke when Orndorff goes down for the count.
Hogan, meanwhile, spends the months in between his loss and Saturday Night’s Main Event also tuning up, and campaigning whenever a mic gets in front of him for a rematch. In the ring, Hogan tears through opponents with a meanstreak never really seen before, putting people down in less than a minute most times. The tear that Hogan goes on actually almost breeds a sort of sympathy for Orndorff among the announcers should Hogan get his hands on the champ.
On a Piper’s Pit just week away from Saturday Night’s Main Event, Hogan appears as Piper’s guest. The tension between the two is palpable, but they both grudgingly give each other a respectable handshake, never taking their eyes off one another. After the introductions, Piper asks Hogan what he thinks of the upcoming match.
“Piper, let’s cut to the chase,” growls Hogan. “I’m out here for one reason, and one reason only. I was WWF Champ for two years, I carried this company and all the Hulkamaniacs to the promised land. And because that backstabber Paul Orndorff hits you in the head, suddenly, you get in front of me in the line for a shot at him.”
Piper backs up a step and holds up a hand. “Hey, Hulk, I don’t make the matches, pal. You got a beef, call the guys who wear the suits.”
“No, Piper, I got something to talk to you about, brother. See, I know that the champion, he don’t make the matches, but, dude, he’s got enough jack with the guys who do that he can make magic happen. So what me and the millions of Hulkamaniacs all around the world wanna know from you is this, dude; if you take that ratfink Orndorff, and you squeeze the life right out of him, and you put him down for the one-two-three and win the World Wrestling Federation Championship … are you gonna do the right thing and give me the first shot?”
The crowd erupts; Piper, however, chuckles nervously and scratches his head. “You know, maybe it’s all the fistfights I got into as a boy. Or maybe it’s all the times I got knocked in the head, but I could swear …” Piper chuckles again, only this time, there’s a bit of attitude threaded in it. “I could swear I have the great Hulk Hogan, here on Piper’s Pit, asking me for help.”
Hogan’s face sours, his eyes going wide. “Don’t be like that, dude. I’m here, as a man, asking you to be a man and do the right thing by giving me a shot at what’s mine.”
Piper’s eyes bore holes through Hogan’s, his expression unreadable. Finally, he brings the microphone up to his mouth. “You said we should cut to the chase, Hogan, so let’s just do that, huh?” Piper gets right just inches away from Hogan, keeping his eyes locked on Hogan’s. “I don’t like you. I never have. I never will. And I think you feel the same way about me. So that makes doing you a favor probably the last thing I ever wanna do.” For a few tense moments, punctuated by the crowd raising their voices in protest of Piper’s words, they glare at one another. Just when it looks like the two will part ways, Piper extends a hand. Hogan looks from the hand to Piper’s face, to the crowd, and back to Piper’s face; finally, he takes the hand. Piper shakes, then clamps down and pulls Hogan nose-to-nose. “Let’s get one thing straight, Hogan. I ain’t doing this for your Hulkamaniacs. I ain’t doing this for you, and I sure ain’t doing this to ‘be a man’. You and me, we had a war … and we never settled the score. If it takes putting that belt on the line to get a piece of you and prove who the better man is, then I can pay that price.”
Before Hogan can respond, Paul Orndorff comes storming out of the back, blasting Hogan in the back of the head with the title belt. Before Piper can defend himself, Adrian Adonis is behind him, clubbing Piper in the back. Orndorff joins in, stomping Piper as the crowd rains down upon with their disgust. It takes a team of officials, agents and the towering presence of Andre The Giant to send Orndorff and Adonis scurrying for cover, but the damage is done, and the message is sent.
Saturday Night’s Main Event–Feb. 21, 1987, and The Road To WrestleMania 3:
Anticipation is at a fever pitch for the double main event, and for the announcement about who would be getting the spot in the main event of WrestleMania 3, challenging the WWF Champion. A variety of WWF Superstars campaign for it through promos, from Intercontinental Champion Randy Savage, to Jake “The Snake” Roberts, to Andre The Giant, to Honky Tonk Man. Every one of them makes a great push for their cause (and several of them get shots in on “Mr. Accidental” Paul Orndorff), but the crowd wants none of anyone save one man.
As the show opens, Jimmy Hart leads the WWF Tag Champions The Hart Foundation to the ring. Hart boasts about organizing the partnership between himself and Heenan to take out Piper and Hogan at the same time, then goes on to proclaim the Hart Foundation to be the greatest tag champions in the history of the world and lays out an open challenge. All eyes and cameras swing to the curtain to see who will answer the challenge. When the music of Hulk Hogan hits the PA, the crowd explodes; Jimmy Hart almost jumps out of his shoes in a panic as the former WWF Champion steps into the aisle, hands on his hips. Hogan smiles, and turns to look toward the curtain at his emerging partner. Jaws that were left hanging hit the floor as seven feet of Andre The Giant takes his spot aside Hogan; they walk to the ring calmly, confidently, a victory all but assured.
The Foundation try to get in some cheap shots, but the sheer size advantage of Hogan and Andre pounds down the champs. It only takes a couple minutes of Hogan and Andre making the champs into their personal punching bags before Jimmy Hart calls in the troops; Adrian Adonis and the Heenan Family rush the ring, drawing the disqualification for Hogan and Andre. Hogan and Orndorff spill out into the aisle until they are separated by officials, leaving Andre to take on the rest of the massed crew. The ref calls for a disqualification as Andre starts throwing bodies aside like paper airplanes, while Orndorff and Hogan yell at each other in the aisleway, separated by a sea of suits and referees.
With the main event set to begin, WWF legend and announcer Gorilla Monsoon has the competitors come to the ring for their introductions, and to stand witness for the announcement. “It is my honor,” Monsoon says, “to announce that, after careful deliberation, President Tunney has decided that the man who has the most valid claim to a World Wrestling Federation Championship match at WrestleMania 3 in Detroit, Michigan is … Hulk Hogan. Therefore, Hulk Hogan will face the winner of tonight’s contest, for the WWF Title, live on pay-per-view at WrestleMania 3!”
Those watching on TV are privy to three responses; from the crowd, jubilation. From Roddy Piper, a simple nod and an unreadable expression. From Heenan and Orndorff, livid panic. Both bark and yell, protesting to Tunney’s back as he steps through the ropes, ignoring Orndorff and Heenan as if they weren’t even there. So focused is he on his anger that he doesn’t even notice the bell being rung, until Piper is on him like a rabid dog on a rabbit. Orndorff has to bail out to get away from the human tornado that is Piper, but Piper gives chase anyway. Even when Orndorff trys to buy some time by a rake in the eyes or stomping on the feet, Piper shrugs it off and goes right back on the offense. As Orndorff is peppered with precision punches, suplexes and slams, the crowd starts to get electric; there is a sense of change blowing, a sense that Orndorff’s lightning won’t be striking tonight.
But Adrian Adonis extinguishes the hopes of the crowd by running down and clobbering Piper with a steel chair. The ref calls for the DQ ending, souring the mood of the audience. But before Orndorff, Heenan, Adonis and his manager Jimmy Hart can get too much of an upper hand, Hogan runs down for the save. Adonis eats a big boot, while Jimmy Hart gets his lights put out by Piper. Orndorff and Heenan make tracks, yelling back at Hogan and Piper from the safety of being far, far away, while Hogan and Piper stand side by side in the ring. Once Orndorff and Heenan have disappeared behind the curtain, Hogan and Piper realize who they’re sharing the ring with; for a long moment, fisticuffs seem assured. But it is Piper who diffuses the tension, turning a fist into an hand open for a shake. Cautiously, Hogan accepts the hand. The crowd celebrates as the two heroes solidify their truce, with Piper adding a small parting message that viewers at home can read on his lips:
Get him for me.
In the weeks that follow, the shape of WrestleMania quickly becomes clear: it is a dogfight for the WWF against the allied forces of the Heenan/Hart camps. In no less than seven matches are Hart- and Heenan-managed wrestlers present; in the undercard, “King” Harley Race is slated to face Junkyard Dog in a “loser must bow” match, Honky Tonk Man will fight Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Billy Jack Haynes trades blows with Hercules, and The Hart Foundation are set to defend the WWF Tag Titles against The British Bulldogs. On the top end of the card, Andre The Giant is pitted against The Heenan Family’s resident monster, Andre The Giant; Adrian Adonis puts his hair on the line against Roddy Piper’s (which Adonis prepares for by attacking and cutting the hair of Brutus Beefcake), and in the main event, Paul Orndorff puts his WWF Championship up against Hulk Hogan.
To build excitement, a house show features a massive six-man tag, putting Hogan, Piper and Andre on one side, and Orndorff, Bundy and Adonis on the other. Footage of the wild brawl, in which Hogan’s team absolutely overwhelms the opposition, is shown on WWF TV … but the most compelling moment occurs after the match ends, as the ref raises the hands of Piper and Hogan after Hogan pins Adonis, only to find Andre has left the ring. Hogan calls after his friend, confused, but Andre doesn’t even look back on his walk to the locker room.
WrestleMania III–Mar 29, 1987:
With the Heenan/Hart alliance 4-0 coming into the three marquee matches, the mood of the audience is one of hope tinged with fear, while Heenan and Hart are positively over the moon. Coming to the ring with King Kong Bundy, Heenan and his charge look less ready for a fight and more ready for a celebration. In the back, before he leaves for the ring, Andre is caught by “Mean” Gene Okerlund, who asks him his thoughts on the upcoming match. Andre’s eerie smile is made all the more haunting by his wild, malicious eyes. “Gene Okerlund … when I wrap my hands around King Kong Bundy’s throat and squeeze … I’m going to enjoy every minute of it! I am the one, true giant in the World Wrestling Federation, and I will crush King Kong Bundy like a bug!”
Andre starts to leave, but Okerlund puts a hand on his massive tree-trunk of an arm. “Andre! Wait! What about the situation between you and Hulk Hogan? What’s going on there?”
Andre glares at Okerlund, his breath coming out in loud gusts that sound like a wind tunnel. “I will deal with Hulk Hogan when the time is right. Tonight is not the time.” With that, Andre leaves and gets on the cart to shuttle him to the ring. And while not a classic in terms of workrate, the drama as the two behemoths clash is thrilling nonetheless. When Bundy manages to land his Bundy Splash on Andre, the audience holds their collective breaths … until Andre kicks out with authority, shoving Bundy off like he were a wrestler half the weight. Bundy unloads as best he can, but Andre, now enraged and on a mission, will not be denied. When Andre hoists Bundy up in the air, the Pontiac Silverdome becomes a sea of flashbulbs. When Andre covers Bundy for the three count, the crowd, and Heenan, explode. Andre reboards the cart and heads back to the locker room, leaving Bundy behind to taste the wrath of Heenan’s tongue. Microphones pick up Heenan telling Bundy how fat and worthless he is, and that he never should’ve picked up Bundy’s contract. Bundy looks contrite and downright depressed until Heenan reaches out and slaps Bundy across the chest. Heenan’s hand is barely back at his side before he realizes the scope of the mistake he has just made; Bundy’s eyes go wide with anger, his hands reached out like eagle’s claws toward a mouse. Quickly, Heenan scurries out of the ring, falling through the ropes and stumbling down the long aisle as fast as his feet will carry him, as Bundy slowly, patiently, stalks Heenan to the crowd’s delight, seething with rage.
Jimmy Hart accompanies “Adorable” Adrian Adonis to the ring for his hair vs. hair match against Roddy Piper, barking in his megaphone the whole time. Piper, by contrast, is not only carried to the ring by the cart, but preceded by a full Scottish bagpipe group. As soon Piper gets to the ring, he pounds on Adonis, throwing lefts and rights in a hailstorm. It takes a lot of cheating, and the assistance of Jimmy Hart (with a distraction while Adonis uses the megaphone as a weapon), for Adonis to get the upper hand. But the rowdy Scot won’t stay subdued for long, and Adonis begins to get desperate to polish off his opponent and keep his luxurious blonde mane. Finally, Adonis makes the crucial mistake of going to the top rope, allowing Piper to slam him down to the mat and mount a comeback. After peppering the prissy Adonis with stinging jabs and roundhouses, Piper renders his cherub-like opponent unconscious with a sleeper. From the back comes Brutus Beefcake, who assists with the head-shaving as revenge for his scalping a few weeks earlier. The portly Adonis, now bald, is helped to the back while Piper basks in the glow of his victory, a fitting way to retire.
The ovation in the Silverdome as Hulk Hogan is ushered to the ring is deafening, but instead of playing up to it with grand gestures, Hogan’s face is one of steel and determination. Likewise, Paul Orndorff’s reception is deafening, but in the opposite direction of Hogan’s, and Orndorff refusing to accept the crowd’s disapproval only eggs on the massed audience. When the match officially begins, Hogan overpowers Orndorff with his size and strength, but more surprisingly, Hogan busts out sound technical wrestling on par or better then Orndorff’s, giving the champ a nasty surprise. Everything Orndorff tries to dish out, Hogan gives right back with interest; in fact, the match looks to be a totally one-sided obliteration of Orndorff, which would suit the crowd just fine. But Heenan distracts the ref, which allows for Orndorff to pull brass knuckles out of his tights and clock Hogan, opening up the challenger’s head and dropping him like a rock in a lake, but he only stays down for two. Orndorff takes control, making sure to taunt the crowd by using Hogan’s mannerisms as he lays a beating on the challenger. Hogan backdrops out of an attempt at a piledriver, but collapses from the exertion, and that gives Orndorff enough opportunity to try again, sticking Hogan like an exclamation point. But Hogan pops back up on his feet, eyes alert even amidst the curtain of blood on his face, shaking his head. Orndorff, knowing what’s coming, goes sheet white and shakes his head, but he cannot stop the inevitable comeback. Hogan rocks Orndorff back with right hands and then puts him on the mat with the big boot, but as he comes off the ropes, Heenan reaches in and grabs his ankles. Hogan reaches over, pulls Heenan up and over the top rope and into the ring, where he begs for mercy. Hogan doesn’t even consider it, hoisting Heenan high up in the air and slamming him down next to Orndorff. The second attempt at the legdrop connects, this time on two victims … but instead of going for the pin, Hogan delivers a second legdrop, covers and gets the three count to the loudest pop in wrestling history. Bloodied, battered and tired, Hogan stands in the ring triumphant, holding the belt aloft with his former best friend beaten and unconscious at his feet. It is a sweet vindication, proving once and for all that Orndorff’s victory was merely a fluke. And by the tears coming down his face, it is obviously the sweetest, most cherished victory.
The following week’s Wrestling Challenge has a special segment, a celebration of Hulk Hogan’s reclaiming of the WWF Championship. Announcer Vince McMahon is on hand to present the title belt to Hogan, who accepts it with grace and pride as the capacity crowd gives him a standing ovation. But before Hogan can speak, he is interrupted by Andre The Giant, who wrenches the microphone from McMahon’s hand and gets chest to chest with Hogan.
“Fifteen years I have been undefeated,” says Andre. “Fifteen years, and I have no championships of my own. And when I get the chance to win the Tag Team Championship belts, you leave me high and dry. I should crush you, Hulk Hogan. But I’m gonna give you this one chance. April 28th. Saturday Night’s Main Event. Give me the title shot you know I deserve.” When Hogan doesn’t answer fast enough, Andre reaches out and piefaces the champ; Hogan stares up from the mat for a moment before jumping back up.
“I don’t fight my friends,” says Hogan, his voice trembling just a little.
Andre fingers the gold chain around Hogan’s neck. “Then maybe I need to do what Mr. Wonderful did.” With that, Andre yanks and rips the breaks the necklace, then drops the remains at Hogan’s feet. Hogan looks down at the chain and cross, then back up to Andre’s face, which is adnorned with an expression so blank and matter of fact, he might be carved of stone.
Before Hogan can answer, Paul Orndorff hits the ring and clobbers Hogan from behind. Andre steps back as Orndorff assaults Hogan with clubbing blows and punches, then manages to get Hogan in place for a piledriver. Andre watches it all without changing expression, until Orndorff yells at Andre while he has Hogan in place for the move. Andre puts his hands on Hogan’s feet and helps spike the champ into the mat like a javelin … but the horror is only begun, as Orndorff grabs the title belt, positions it on the mat, and gets Hogan up for another piledriver. With McMahon and numerous officials on the outside, begging Orndorff to stop, Orndorff drops down, spiking Hogan’s head into the belt. Orndorff mocks the crowd by doing Hogan’s taunts, while Andre keeps the officials from getting in the ring. Then, as Orndorff is mimicking Hogan, Andre grabs him, holds up one lone finger, then points down to the arena floor. Orndorff smiles and nods, and directs Andre to clear the area while he drags the more-or-less unconscious Hogan to the floor. Andre scares away all the officials and pulls up the floor mats, exposing the concrete. Ignoring the protests of the crowd and the officials, Orndorff picks up Hogan and drills him into the concrete with a third piledriver. Bobby Heenan meets Orndorff and Andre in the aisle, shaking hands and celebrating as they leave Hogan broken and unconscious while officials scream for the paramedics.
With the next Saturday Night’s Main Event looming close, WWF President Jack Tunney wastes no time in resolving the issue, appearing by way of a taped statement on all WWF programming the following week. With a heavy heart, he reads a prepared statement: “It is my unfortunate responsibility to inform the WWF fans that, due to the heinous and unprovoked assault on WWF Champion Hulk Hogan by ‘Mr. Wonderful’ Paul Orndorff and Andre The Giant, Hulk Hogan will not be medically cleared to defend the World Wrestling Federation Championship at Saturday Night’s Main Event. As this is a violation of rules calling for timely title defenses, we have no choice but to strip Hulk Hogan of the WWF Title. A 20-man battle royale will be held on April 28th, on Saturday Night’s Main Event, to determine the new WWF Champion. I have no doubt that the attack on Hulk Hogan was orchestrated and manipulated by Paul Orndorff, Andre The Giant and Bobby Heenan. Regrettably, due to the automatic rematch clause for prior champions, I am obligated to include Mr. Orndorff in the battle royale. However, I am under no such obligations concerning Andre The Giant, and I will not reward his actions with an opportunity to win the vacant WWF Championship.” Tunney takes a deep breath, a sullen look casting over his face. “Unfortunately, due to the extent of his injuries, it is unlikely that Hulk Hogan will be able to appear on Saturday Night’s Main Event in person to relinquish the title belt. We will, however, have an update on his condition courtesy of a live via satellite interview. It is our sincere hope that Hulk Hogan will be able to make a full and speedy recovery.”
Almost immediately, wrestlers trip over each other trying to throw their hat into the ring; some, like Tito Santana and Junkyard Dog, enter for the chance of a lifetime. Some, like Harley Race and One Man Gang, enter, driven by greed and a lust for the spotlight. And for some, like Hillbilly Jim, or King Kong Bundy, vengeance is the prize, be it for a friend or against a former ally. One thing, though, that almost everyone can agree on, is that Paul Orndorff is Public Enemy #1.
Saturday Night’s Main Event–April 28th, 1987:
Gene Okerlund appears, live via satellite, bedside in the hospital with Hulk Hogan and his wife, Linda. Hulkamaniacs are left in a state of shock when they see their hero, who has always seemed superhuman, on his back, his head and neck locked in place by a large brace.
“Hulk Hogan,” says Gene, “tonight, because of injuries inflicted upon you by Paul Orndorff, you have to forfeit the WWF Championship. What are your thoughts?”
“Well, Gene, I understand why I’m being stripped of the title,” says Hogan somberly. “I’m not happy about it, but I understand it. What bothers me is that, for the second time in a few months, a guy who said he was a friend of mine … a guy who I invited into my home, sat around a dinner table with … for the second time, this man has found a way to take the WWF Championship away from me on a technicality. He can’t beat me in the ring legit, so he has to find some back door, like a coward.”
“If you could say something to Paul Orndorff, what would it be?”
“Look at my wife, dude. Look at the suffering, the pain she’s going through. You took this way beyond the ring. You took this past the point of no return, past titles and pinfalls. You took this past wrestling. You’re a sick excuse for a human being.”
“What is your prognosis, Hulk? When can we expect a return?”
Hogan holds Okerlund’s gaze for a moment before answering; the haunted look in Hulk’s eyes answers the question before Hulk can. “The doctors say my neck is jacked up. They say getting in the ring would be a big risk. One wrong move, one bad fall, one piledriver … they say I could end up being pushed around in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, if I’m lucky. I tell ‘em, ‘You don’t know the Hulkster’, but they say I could be Zeus himself, and the situation would be the same.” Hogan pauses and sniffles. A tear looks to be forming at the corner of his eye. “That’s awful hard for me to hear. I tackled beasts like King Kong Bundy … I brawled with Roddy Piper … I broke the Camel Clutch. I’m supposed to be a superhero and a role model.” The tear tumbles down Hogan’s cheek. “Now … I gotta be one for my family.
Okerlund’s voice trembles nervously. “So … what does this mean for Hulk Hogan?”
“It means, Gene, that I’m done. I’m takin’ the doctors’ advice. I gotta do right by my wife, and if that means hanging up the boots … then that’s what I gotta do. I hope the fans, all my Hulkamaniacs out there, I hope you understand. I hope you keep takin’ your vitamins, and sayin’ your prayers, and keep trainin’ … but I hope you also know when the fight’s too big that you gotta walk away. There ain’t no shame in knowing when to quit.”
The retirement hits both the audience and the wrestlers like a shockwave. In backstage interviews, friends of Hogan renew vows of revenge against Paul Orndorff, whether he ends the evening WWF Champion or not (an outcome they unanimously promise not to occur). Orndorff, Heenan and Andre, meanwhile, are jubilant; Lord Alfred Hayes catches the trio celebrating with champagne. Upon seeing the group in celebration, Hayes turns to the camera, says, “If my superiors wish to punish me for this insubordination, so be it, but I will not interview such contemptible people,” and walks away.
One by one, twenty men approach the ring for the shot of a lifetime. Hillbilly Jim, Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, Honky Tonk Man, Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, Tito Santana, King Kong Bundy, Rick Martel, Tom Zenk, One Man Gang, Harley Race, Junkyard Dog, Hercules, Nikolai Volkoff, Jake Roberts, Davey Boy Smith, The Dynamite Kid, Brutus Beefcake and Paul Orndorff. Even with fellow Heenan Family members, and friends in Jimmy Hart’s stable, in the ring, Orndorff approaches with severe caution; there are no friends in a battle royal, not with stakes like this. All eyes are on him.
And no sooner does the bell ring then Orndorff dives under the bottom rope and runs for cover. Many try to snag him before he gets out, but with the match, and the WWF Title on the line, chasing Orndorff is second to survival, and attentions refocus on keeping from being eliminated. Once Orndorff sees the opportunity for a safer re-entry, he slides in and helps toss out Hulk Hogan partisan Hillbilly Jim. King Kong Bundy manages to do away with the Can-Am Connection by himself, and Junkyard Dog gets a measure of revenge against Harley Race by dumping him.
Just as they entered, the participants are eliminated one by one, although none without putting up the fight of a lifetime. When the show enters its last commercial break, there are only four men left standing, all exhausted and slumped in opposite corners, eyeing the remaining competition: King Kong Bundy, Randy Savage, Brutus Beefcake, and Paul Orndorff. Anybody watching can see that, while nobody in the ring exactly considers each other friends, the eyes of Bundy, Savage and Beefcake are all trained on Orndorff. The crowd explodes when all three charge Orndorff; they don’t care who does him in, just so long as someone does.
The threesome of Bundy, Savage and Beefcake only last so long, as the opportunity to win overrides teamwork, and Orndorff is able to duck out as the three fight amongst each other. Bundy is the first of the final four to fall, when Beefcake and Savage put aside differences for a moment to get rid of the human mountain together. On the arena floor, Heenan makes the mistake of taunting Bundy, who chases the obnoxious manager back to the locker room.
Beefcake is the next to be eliminated, suckered into charging Orndorff, who taunts Beefcake with Hogan mannerisms; when Beefcake runs, Orndorff drops down and pulls down the top rope, sending Beefcake sailing over it and to the floor. Even as he is led away by officials, Beefcake vows the fight isn’t over.
With Bundy and Beefcake gone, the final two are Orndorff–the man responsible for ending Hulk Hogan’s career–and Randy Savage, the arrogant and sadistic high-flyer who crushed Ricky Steamboat’s throat. It seems like a recipe for audience apathy, but the crowd suddenly rallies behind Savage, cheering him on as he peppers Orndorff with jabs, suplexes and slams. When Savage ascends the turnbuckles, the crowd is on their feet, ready to accept Savage as their savior if he can stick the dagger in Orndorff’s heart. But Andre lumbers down and distracts Savage. With Savage’s attention elsewhere, Orndorff gets to his feet, stumbles to the corner and pushes Savage, who falls to the arena floor. And just like that … through conniving, cheating and help from the outside, Orndorff once again secures the WWF Championship. Orndorff ignores the deafening chorus of hatred coming from the audience as the referee presents the WWF Championship belt to the now-two-time champ, who celebrates in spite of (or, possibly, to spite) the reception his victory gets.
Our story continues in the summer of 1987. Paul Orndorff is champion once again, having used help from his friends in Bobby Heenan’s stable of wrestlers to secure the vacant WWF Championship. But Orndorff finds that having the championship belt doesn’t guarantee respect … and will quickly make paint a bullseye on one’s back …
There isn’t a moment when Orndorff and Heenan are on WWF television that they don’t brag about two things: Orndorff being champion again, and putting Hulk Hogan “in a retirement home with the other fossils” (as said by Heenan in one interview). Heenan demands that, this time, Orndorff proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is not an accidental champion, and he deserves–nay, is owed–respect.
But, as Orndorff shows nobody respect, he is given none in kind. WWF Magazine runs a cover story that echoes the story from the prior year, with the banner: “He’s got the belt again … but is he any more of a champion?” Commentators and interviewers constantly take swipes at Orndorff’s credibility as a champion, both for his methods of winning, and his keeping his contenders at arm’s reach with excuses and dodges.
In June, Orndorff and Heenan are the guests on Jake Roberts’ Snake Pit interview segment. Orndorff and Heenan go on for what is only a couple minutes, but seems like an eternity, about Orndorff being more of a champion then anyone before him, and how he will set the standard for champions for generations to come. Finally, Roberts has enough and gets right in Orndorff’s face.
“Let me ask you something, boy,” says Roberts, his voice louder then normal (but still a cold growl), “do you think that belt makes you a man?” Orndorff opens his mouth to reply, but Roberts keeps on rolling, now backed off and pacing. “You see, in this day and age, it’s not like a hundred years ago, when a man’s worth was easily measured, his growth marked by an event: he’d bring home a buffalo, or catch an outlaw. But today, the rituals and the traditions are no more; there is no more line one crosses that can show when a man truly is a man. The only way one can measure the content, the character, the strength of a man anymore, is by his actions and the context in which his actions are taken.” Roberts stops, pivots on his foot and looks right into the eyes of Orndorff. “You are definitely a low-down, rotten, miserable, pathetic excuse for a human being … but you’re no champion.” Roberts turns his back again, and adds, “And you’re definitely no man.”
His lip curled with rage, Orndorff springs forward, belt raised to clobber Roberts in the head, only to find he has been suckered; Roberts spins back, connecting with a punch right on the jaw that drops Orndorff to the floor. Heenan calls for his troops, but instead gets a squadron of Heenan haters: King Kong Bundy, Hillbilly Jim, Brutus Beefcake, and Randy Savage. Heenan and Orndorff back away until they hit the walls of Roberts’ set. “You see, boy,” says Roberts, “a real man woulda looked me in the eyes while he took me on instead of waiting till I turned my back. And a real man, a real champion, would pick himself up off the ground, square his shoulders and stand against his challengers instead of lying their like a kicked dog.”
Heenan promises to make everyone pay as he helps his charge get to his feet and beat tracks for safer ground, but the image of the championship reign is now unshakably cast as that of a coward. To combat it, Orndorff begins fielding challenges on WWF television … but only accepting challenges by long-time losers and scrubs like “Iron” Mike Sharpe and Steve Lombardi. Orndorff, who, despite the disdain of fans and commentators alike acquitted himself nicely in the ring, would roundly beat these “challenges” fair and square … only to blatantly attack his fallen foe afterwards and drill them with a piledriver (be it on the mat, a chair or, his favorite, the title belt), which would net him a reversed-decision DQ loss. With his opponent unconscious on the mat, Orndorff always follows up his dastardly attack by confronting the camera, pointing at his victim, and saying; “Next time, it could be you.” The message is clear for all who dare oppose his title run: Paul Orndorff will not stop at just pinning his opponent. And with Andre at his side, rare is the fool willing to get in Orndorff’s face without a platoon of like-minded fools behind him.
But whatever warning Orndorff is sending his would-be contenders, none of them seem to heed it. Seemingly with every passing week, Orndorff earns new attention; Tito Santana, Don Muraco, Ken Patera, Ricky Steamboat, Jim Duggan and even the un-retired Billy Graham join the voices of Savage, Roberts, Bundy and others as people knocking on Orndorff’s door by racking up convincing wins, issuing challenges and earning the support of fans. Week after week, someone throws down the gauntlet … and week after week, Heenan and Orndorff promise to continue proving Orndorff’s superiority by mowing down all the “ham-and-eggers” that keep popping up, but never actually delivers on any of his threats. It gets to be such a running gag that WWF Magazine dedicates an entire issue to the champ’s ever-growing list of admirers, with the headline “The line keeps growing behind Orndorff … who has his number?” and an article breaking down every challenger’s attributes, obstacles, notable wins and loss, and quoting odds. Tied in the lead, with 3-1 odds in favor of the challenger, are King Kong Bundy and Randy Savage.
As summer rolls on, taped vignettes begin to appear for a new player in the WWF: Ted DiBiase, who proclaims himself to be the Million Dollar Man. Personal appearances in stadiums earn him the ire of the crowd, as he promises to pay people hundreds of dollars for completing the most menial and humiliating of tasks, only to sabotage them to get out of paying. His claim that “everybody has a price for the Million Dollar Man” and his twisted, arrogant belly-laugh gets under the skin of everyone who sees him … but he manages to captivate the people nonetheless, by promising that, at the next Saturday Night’s Main Event on September 23rd, he will make the biggest acquisition ever, one that will put the WWF on notice.
And with SNME looming, the question of who gets a crack at Orndorff’s WWF Title becomes all-important. With so many worthy contenders to choose from, there is no clear favorite, and as far as the champ and his manager are concerned, the challengers are interchangeable. On an episode of Wrestling Challenge three weeks before SNME, the question is answered; Randy Savage, the man ousted in the battle royal to crown a new champion and the man many feel will be Orndorff’s undoing, will face Andre The Giant in a grudge match, while Orndorff will defend against the other man considered to be his greatest threat, King Kong Bundy. And, to ensure that Orndorff doesn’t get his win with help from Andre as he did in the battle royal, the title defense will be inside the confines of a steel cage. The news doesn’t sit will with Heenan, who expresses so in a taped interview.
“This man is the WWF Champion!” Heenan exclaims. “He’s a hundred times better then the two-bit jerks in the locker room! He is Mr. Wonderful, a role model, a folk hero … and he’s gonna be locked up inside a steel cage, like some kind of criminal. This is a disgrace! A man like Paul Orndorff, a champion like Paul Orndorff, shouldn’t be subjected to horrors like being stuck in a cage with Shamu; he should be revered, put on a pedestal with men like Ronald Reagan! He should be facing the creme of the crop, the best wrestlers money can buy, not some bloated penguin who gets winded trying to breathe! This is an injustice! This is–”
“Bobby,” Orndorff says, putting a hand on Heenan’s shoulder. “It doesn’t matter how much better I am then that tub of goo. It doesn’t matter how much the match-makers have it in for Paul Orndorff. They don’t like me and want me in the spotlight anymore then Hulk Hogan did … and look where I am now.” Orndorff pats the belt that is fastened around his waist. “I’m Mr. Wonderful, the World Wrestling Federation Champion. You know what that means? Lardboy Bundy? He can’t hold a candle to me. I’m wonderful. He’s just a big fat sack of goo. He’s a whale … and I am an athlete.” Orndorff turns to the camera, a grin on his lips. “I won this belt almost a year ago inside a steel cage. You know what happened to the guy I beat, King Kong Bundy? He’s busy getting pushed around in a wheelchair by his old lady. So not only are you facing Mr. Wonderful, the WWF Champion, you’re facing the guy who retired a man you couldn’t even beat. What makes you think you got a chance against me?”
Saturday Night’s Main Event–Sep. 23, 1987:
During the opening contest on Saturday Night’s Main Event, commentators Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura are surprised by a telephone call patched through to the broadcast: none other than former WWF Champion Hulk Hogan. McMahon and Hogan exchange pleasantries, and Hogan announces his therapy and recovery are coming along nicely, and he’s anxious to get back to living life without wheelchairs and crutches. After a couple minutes, Ventura can stand no more and jumps in.
“McMahon, would you ask some real questions, or just shut up?” Ventura barks, then keeps going before McMahon can reply. “Hulk Hogan, you’ve seen how wonderful a champion Mr. Wondeful Paul Orndorff has become. Much better then you, in fact. Are you ever gonna get up the guts to pull yourself up off the couch and face him?”
“That’s just not in the cards, broth–”
“Cut the crap, Hogan!” snaps Ventura. “The fact of the matter is, Paul Orndorff is ten times the wrestler you are. He proved it, he took the title away from you, and now you’re too scared to climb in the ring with him. It’s just like Bobby Heenan has said all along; you’re in this for yourself. You’re an egotistical jerk, and because the suits finally found someone better then you, you’d rather fake an injury and watch Press Your Luck at home instead of facing the music, isn’t that right?”
McMahon butts in for just a moment. “Jesse! How dare you–”
“It’s okay, Vince,” says Hogan. “Jesse’s bitter cause he chickened out and never faced the Hulkster.”
Ventura stammers through half-words and muttered syllables before throwing his headset down and storming off. Once Ventura is gone, McMahon apologizes and asks Hogan the purpose of the call.
“Well, ya know something, Vince, I heard that the WWF has a big event comin’ up on Thanksgiving called the Survivor Series. And the way I figure it is, it isn’t a big event in the WWF without Hulk Hogan. So I’m here to tell the world that, on Thannksgiving Day, the Hulkster and all his little Hulkamaniacs will be at the Survivor Series!”
Vince McMahon says Hogan’s announcement is fantastic news indeed, and it proves to be the only shining light amidst a dark, depressing evening. The grudge match between Randy Savage and Andre The Giant, Savage’s biggest opportunity to step up to the plate and prove himself worthy of a top slot, turns ugly as Savage is overwhelmed by Andre’s size and strength. Savage is tossed around like a piece of paper in a hurricane by his much larger opponent, clubbed and beaten at will, until he can barely stand, but Andre refuses to even try for the pin. Finally, Savage’s manager, Elizabeth, can’t take anymore and leaps up on the apron to beg for mercy for her charge. With a crocodile’s grin on his lips, Andre advances on Elizabeth, who freezes like a deer in headlights. But before Andre can do the unthinkable, Savage drags himself up and clips Andre’s knee, bringing the giant down to one knee. With Andre cut down to size, Savage summons up what is left in the tank and starts hammering Andre with jabs to the head and dropkicks. A double-axehandle from the second turnbuckle makes Andre wobble on his knee, but doesn’t drop him, so Savage goes to the top and hits another axehandle. But as he goes up for a third strike from the top, a huge man, bald with tattoos of flames on his head and wearing a flaming jumpsuit, storms down to the ring and shoves Savage off the top turnbuckle, drawing the DQ. The big man grabs a steel chair and slides in the ring as Ted DiBiase saunters down the aisle, laughing as the massive, flamed monster pummels Savage with the chair. Andre joins in, torturing Savage as SNME goes to commercial.
When SNME comes back, Savage is being carried away by paramedics, while DiBiase is in the ring, alongside the tattooed behemoth and Gene Okerlund, who demands to know what is going on. “Little man, it’s quite simple,” says DiBiase. “I’m the Million Dollar Man. What I want, I buy. And what I want more then anything is the World Wrestling Federation Championship. So I’ve made a deal with the WWF Champion, Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff. See, he’s got a lot of people looking for him, and he needs protection. So I am providing him with the best protection money can buy: this is Bam Bam Bigelow. Anybody looking for Paul Orndorff will find Bam Bam Bigelow. And for this, Mr. Orndorff will pay me in a title shot when the time is right, and he’s disposed of the filth that is nipping at his heels.”
“You can’t get away with this!” cries Okerlund. “You can’t throw money around and expect everyone to just bow at your feet!”
“Okerlund, I could buy and sell a hundred of you before lunch without breaking a sweat. Money talks, and when it does, everybody wants to listen.” Paul Orndorff and Bobby Heenan enter the ring, shaking hands enthusiastically with DiBiase. “Gentlemen, I trust you’re pleased with the arrangement.”
“Absolutely! Absolutely!” exclaims Heenan. He looks in the camera, then says; “Humanoids … all you ham-and-eggers in the back … King Kong Bundy … Savage … Jake Roberts … everybody, take a real close look. It doesn’t get any better then this. You got the money to grease all the wheels … enough muscle to repel the 82nd Airborne … the greatest athlete alive today …” Heenan smiles as wide as the Grand Canyon. “And the brains to bring it all together in one place. Mr. DiBiase–can I call you Ted?” DiBiase nods amiably. “Ted, it’s a pleasure doing business with you. At the first available opportunity, you have my word you’ll get your title shot.”
The new alliance caps off the night with a successful defense of Orndorff’s WWF Title against King Kong Bundy, courtesy of assistance from Orndorff’s new associates, who keep the door to the cage guarded, leaving the gargantuan Bundy stuck inside the cage when he has the advantage. A reappearence by Randy Savage to get at Bam Bam Bigelow seems to open the door of opportunity for Bundy, but Andre closes it, literally, by slamming the door in Bundy’s face. A beaten and exhausted Orndorff is pulled out through the door by Andre, giving Saturday Night’s Main Event the sour note to leave on of Orndorff and his cohorts celebrating as if they’ve achieved a noble accomplishment.
The month between Orndorff’s tainted victory over King Kong Bundy and the next Saturday Night’s Main Event on November 11th sees the new partnership–which the announcers nickname the “Brain Trust” (except for Gorilla Monsoon, who –bring “Ravishing” Rick Rude into the circle, while DiBiase finally steps into the ring and proves himself quite skilled. With the array of talent, strength and managerial brilliance, Heenan tosses out a challenge to any five men to get together a team and face them at the Survivor Series. And, on top of that, throws out an open challenge for any man to face Orndorff at Saturday Night’s Main Event on November 11th in a straight-up wrestling match.
Naturally, the second challenge has a million takers, and nobody from the Brain Trust shows to be in any rush to name the lucky man to get a shot. However, the first challenge has but one taker: Randy Savage. He accepts the challenge in a pre-taped promo that airs on Superstars, and his words send chills down the spines of everyone watchin:.
“Paul Orndorff … Bobby Heenan … Ted DiBiase … Andre The Giant … Bam Bam Bigelow …” he says, glaring into the camera with eyes cold as the ocean’s floor. “Two times … two times, you’ve tried to put the Macho Man out of action. Two times, you’ve tried to put the Macho Man down, ooh, yeah. Two times, you pulled a surprise on the Macho Man. Five guys, and you couldn’t get the job done in two tries, no, couldn’t get it done. Well, never again! The Macho Man is through playing your game, and I’m gonna make you play mine, ooh yeah! A game of madness. Gonna take you to places none of you have ever been, dig it, deep in the madness. You like surprises? Well the Macho Man’s gonna bring some surprises of his own at Survivor Series. And if I can get my hands on you, Orndorff, at Saturday Night’s Main Event, they’re not gonna carry you out on a stretch when I’m done with … they’re gonna soak you up with a sponge! You wanted my attention, and now you got it! Survivor Series … Saturday Night’s Main Event … a back alley or a parking lot … it doesn’t matter to the Macho Man Randy Savage! I’m coming for each and every one of ya, and I’m not gonna stopuntil every one of you is beaten and broke! Dig it!”
And to put even more rain on the Brain Trust’s parade, WWF officials put three of the four members of the Brain Trust in action at Saturday Night’s Main Event, none of them getting pushovers either: Bigelow a piece of Bundy, Ted DiBiase and Rick Rude team up against Jake Roberts and Brutus Beefcake, and Orndorff’s offer of an open challenge is circumvented and Randy Savage is named the number-one contender. Heenan cries foul at every opportunity, proclaiming a conspiracy exists to push Orndorff out of his rightful place in the spotlight as revenge for crippling Hulk Hogan, and threatens legal action if the Orndorff/Savage match isn’t cancelled. Predictably, the WWF officials don’t blink, and Heenan’s lawsuit never materializes, leaving Orndorff stuck facing the company’s hottest wrestler, and the man who has declared he is out for the blood of the champ.
Saturday Night’s Main Event–Nov. 11, 1987:
The men standing against Bobby Heenan’s Brain Trust strike first blood on Saturday Night’s Main Event, as Jake Roberts and Brutus Beefcake take on, and defeat, Ted DiBiase and Rick Rude, although not without struggle, as Heenan, Andre The Giant and DiBiase’s manservant Virgil all attempt to insert themselves into the match. Roberts and Beefcake, however, show astonishing teamwork, as if they’ve been partnering for months instead of minutes, dispatching the interlopers without causing their team to suffer. The well-oiled teamwork leaves the Brain Trust rattled and disjointed, allowing Roberts to score the DDT and the pinfall on Rude. Before Heenan can marshal his forces together, Beefcake and Roberts make tracks away from ringside.
But the anti-Brain Trust movement stalls when King Kong Bundy succumbs to the youth and surprising agility of Bam Bam Bigelow. Of course, Heenan and Andre insert themselves and help cost Heenan’s former charge the match, but his streak of losses in high-profile matches frustrates him. When Gene Okerlund meets Bundy in the aisleway, Bundy explodes after Okerlund asks him how he feels about losing.
“It sucks, Gene, it really sucks! Every time I turn around, Bobby Heenan and his goons keep stickin’ their nose in my business! You can’t fight a guy when you gotta worry about 10 other guys trying to jump you! So, you know what? Randy Savage … I know you’re listening, I know you’re watching. I want you to know two things; tonight, I won’t let them do to you what they did to me in the cage with me. I will have your back tonight. And secondly, I heard you say you’re gonna take on the Brain Trust at Survivor Series. We may not have shared word one in the back–heck, I don’t even know if we got a thing in common, except for hating Bobby Heenan and his cronies. But I do know that I want a piece of every last one of the Brain Trust just as bad as you. So at Survivor Series, Randy Savage, expect to see me standing on the apron on your side, ready to tear Bobby Heenan’s boys limb from limb!”
Now backed by Bundy, Randy Savage enters the ring more determined then ever to dethrone, defeat and destroy Paul Orndorff. The champ approaches the ring looking terrified; when Bundy fakes out Orndorff with a playful lunge, Orndorff jumps off the group and nearly out of his boots. And with his fear rattling him to the marrow, and Bundy acting as gatekeeper, Orndorff is left to fend for himself against a focused, driven Savage, who puts the champ on the defensive from the opening bell. For a solid ten minutes, Orndorff’s sole offense comes in the form of the occasional eye rake or cheap shot punch, which Savage brushes off anyway and keeps coming at Orndorff. Even leaving the ring provides no sanctuary for the champ, as Savage is right behind, and Bundy is there to cut off any attempts at a retreat. But when Savage positions Orndorff for his patented diving elbow off the top rope, the Brain Trust swarm the ring; Bundy is attacked by Bigelow and Rude, while DiBiase grabs the title belt. Savage is distracted long enough for DiBiase to come from behind, clobber Savage with the belt and run; the ref, distracted by the chaos, turns around in time to see DiBiase fleeing with the belt in hand and signals for the disqualification.
Outside, Bundy suddenly rages and begins to fight off both Bigelow and Rude. DiBiase tries to jump in the melee, but does so just in time to meet the cavalry: Jake Roberts, Brutus Beefcake and Ricky Steamboat. With the numbers game running against them, DiBiase, Bigelow and Rude have no choice but to run … but Orndorff, still groggy, is stuck in the ring with Savage, and a quartet of enemies on the outside, forming an impervious curtain across the aisle. When Orndorff sees Savage coming to his feet, Orndorff tries to escape, but literally runs into Bundy and falls down on his ass. Savage drops down, now with a microphone in hand, which he hands to Roberts.
“Look close, boy,” says Roberts. “It’s every man’s desire to outrun that which he fears … just as it’s every man’s fate for that which he fears to catch up one day. Today, you tripped and fell, boy, and we caught up. We five men are who await you at Survivor Series, Paul Orndorff; we five men will preside over delivering you unto your fate.” A twinkle of a smile–pleasant on anyone else, but downright chilling on Jake The Snake–touches Roberts’ lips. “And this man will be be the coach who leads us to victory, and you to your demise.” Roberts, Bundy, Steamboat and Beefcake part so Orndorff has a clear view of the entrance, but before the man steps through, he knows; the familiar crunching power chords send Orndorff–his skin now sheet white, his eyes as big as planets–scurrying like a dog in front of a speeding car. When, dressed in street clothes, Hulk Hogan steps through the curtain, he is greeted by a thunderous ovation by everyone in the building … save for Orndorff, who scrambles to his feet and runs through the audience to get away.
Survivor Series–Nov. 26, 1987:
Randy Savage’s team, with their coach Hulk Hogan, approach the interview area backstage. Immediately, Gene Okerlund gravitates to Hogan and asks; “Hulk Hogan, the world was shocked to see you on Saturday Night’s Main Event two weeks ago when you came forward as coach of this team here tonight. What are your plans for your team here tonight? How have you coached them?”
“Well, you know something, Mean Gene,” says Hogan, “I gotta correct you on one thing: these five dudes aren’t ‘my’ team. While the Hulkster has been trainin’ and going through therapy, these five men have bonded together because they all hate Bobby ‘Weasel’ Heenan and that slimeball Paul Orndorff. These men came together and made a team, and then they called me and said, ‘Hulkster, be a part of the team. Be the coach.’ I told them, you don’t need me; you got Ricky Steamboat, former Intercontinental Champion. You got Jake The Snake Roberts, master of the DDT. You got the walking mountain himself, King Kong Bundy. You got the Barber Brutus Beefcake. And you got madness personified, Macho Man Randy Savage. You don’t need the Hulkster. And they said ‘No, but wewant the Hulkster.’ So my plan as coach is real simple, Mean Gene; I’m gonna let these guys do what I know they do best, what I know they can do, and that’s beat Heenan’s weasels within an inch of their life!”
“Jake Roberts, you gotta have something to say!” says Okerlund.
“A scared man runs. A scared man is liable to do just about anything to stay alive. A scared man, he doesn’t have his head so clear, and that’s when he’s gonna make mistakes; when he’ll show that soft underbelly, allow his weak point to show.” Roberts chuckles and pulls his bag off his shoulder; he loosens the tie and pulls out Damien. He looks the snake in the eyes, kisses its head, then says; “That’s when a snake will strike; when his prey is weak and careless. Paul Orndorff … you and your men are weak. You’re scared. You’re running. Tonight, we strike.”
“Team Captain Randy Savage, do you have anything to add?”
Savage is quiet for a handful of seconds, staring at the camera, his eyes squinted. “Ain’t no need to say anything, Mean Gene, ain’t no need. All our talking is gonna be done in the ring, dig it! DDTs, avalanches, flying elbows, whatever it takes! We’re coming for each and every one of you, and we’re taking you out!”
The ten-man main event starts off hot, with Savage’s team trading off quick tags, keeping the ring cut off and showing the kind of teamwork that everyone expects from the Brain Trust; on the other side of the ring, Heenan’s soldiers can’t seem to get any traction, as every pairing leads to a dissection of his strategy by the fiery Savage-led team. It is only through double-teaming by Andre and Bigelow that they are able to draw first blood, eliminating King Kong Bundy by with illegal double-teaming while Heenan distracts the ref. From the floor, Hogan yells at the ref, who admonishes Hogan to keep his composure or risk ejection from ringside. Fortunes don’t improve for Savage’s team as Brutus Beefcake is eliminated only a minute later, rendered unconscious by Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Dream sleeper hold.
But the 5-3 advantage of the Brain Trust doesn’t even seem to register with the remaining members of Savage’s team. In short order, they regain the advantage with their earlier formula of quick tags and isolation techniques. DiBiase, Rude and Orndorff all find themselves in jeopardy, and even Bam Bam Bigelow is served notice that his size will not buy him any advantage through intimidation. But Andre’s entrance into the match against Ricky Steamboat grinds the progress to a halt, as everything Steamboat throws at the behemoth bounces off harmlessly. Andre invites Steamboat to try his best shots; Steamboat bounces off the ropes and tries a couple clotheslines, which register no effect. But when Steamboat leaps into the air off the run and chops Andre between the eyes, the giant is noticably stunned. Steamboat quickly ascends the turnbuckles and leaps, planting his knifeblade-like hand right on the forehead, taking Andre down to one knee. Once again, Steamboat comes off the ropes, leaps for another chop and connects. Andre is sent tumbling out to the ground; the ref begins a count, which he stops himself several times to check on Andre’s condition. When the prone giant shows no signs of movement, the ref has no choice but to continue the count. When the ref hits 10, the Brain Trust’s largest man is eliminated.
Rocked by the loss of Andre, the Brain Trust try to swarm their opponents, but in the melee, wires get crossed; the Brain Trust doesn’t see that a tag is made to Jake Roberts, and Bigelow tries to pin Steamboat. Instead, when the ref goes down for a three-count, it is on Rick Rude, who accidentally gets hit by Paul Orndorff and DDT’ed by Roberts. In the blink of an eye, a 5-3 deficit is erased, and the teams are even.
But once again, the tide turns for the Brain Trust. Orndorff, having spent most of the match hiding, barking orders from the corner and taking cheap shots, finally tags in when Steamboat, having come back into the ring, has taken a pounding from Bigelow. But rather then take a chance that Steamboat might find his second wind, Orndorff goes for the cheap victory, rolling up Steamboat with a handful of tights. Despite Hogan yelling at the top of his lungs, the referee makes the count, putting Savage’s team back at a disadvantage, 3-2. Once again, Hogan gets a stern warning for his vocal outburst, which the crowd boos.
Roberts comes in and goes after Orndorff, who quickly tags out to Bigelow, who presses his size and strength advantage to beat down Roberts. The crowd chants “Jake The Snake” to try and infuse the superstar with a second wind, but Bigelow neutralizes it with raw power, and the enthusiasm of the crowd gives way to despair as a 3-1 match-up seems likely. But when Bigelow goes for a back body drop, Roberts finds enough presence of mind to hook Bigelow’s head and spike him with the DDT, knocking Bigelow unconscious. Roberts struggles, but makes it to the corner before Bigelow even stirs, and gets the tag; Savage ascends the turnbuckle, leaps, drives the point of his elbow into Bigelow’s heart and scores the pinfall, making the sides even yet again.
But once again, the match breaks down; Orndorff rushes Savage and sends him into Roberts, which knocks the Snake to the floor. Bigelow manages to get free from the throng of referees trying to get him to leave ringside and attacks Roberts as Savage and Orndorff spill to the floor. Hogan pulls Orndorff off Savage, which prompts the ref to jump out and get in Hogan’s face; while Hogan and the ref argue, Bigelow tosses Roberts back in and DiBiase makes the cover. Heenan directs the ref’s attention to the ring; he slides in and makes the three-count, leaving Savage without allies, against Ted DiBiase and Paul Orndorff.
Orndorff and DiBiase work the two-man advantage for a while, keeping Savage from getting much of any offense in; but the fighting spirit of Savage obviously won’t be extinguished, as he keeps pulling himself up to his feet. When Orndorff telegraphs a back body drop, Savage stops and throws Orndorff face first into the mat, then runs over and throws a forearm across DiBiase’s face, sending him to the mat. Drawing on some kind of reserve of energy, Savage peppers Orndorff with jabs until the champ goes running and tags in DiBiase as he climbs up the mat again. DiBiase, too busy being stunned by the sudden tag, ets yanked in by Savage and beaten from pillar to post. As Savage climbs the turnbuckle to deliver his elbow on a prone DiBiase, the Million Dollar Man’s servant, Virgil, climbs up and pushes Savage off. When the ref doesn’t call for the immediate DQ, Hogan jumps up on the apron and demands the disqualification; once more, the ref yells at Hogan for overstepping his role, but this time, he has back up in the form of several other referees, who all support Hogan. Reluctantly, the ref calls for the disqualification; DiBiase protests the decision and refuses to leave ringside. With the ref’s back turned, Orndorff charges Savage–who is still tyring to shake off his fall from the top–and clobbers him in the back of the head. As Orndorff takes Savage down to the mat, DiBiase takes off around the ring; Orndorff covers and DiBiase reaches in, holding Savage’s feet, while the ref counts to three. The other refs arrive a half-second too late, as DiBiase lets go and taunts Hogan and Savage, in the ring together as Hogan checks on his team’s captain.
But as the ref holds up Orndorff’s hand, Orndorff tears it away and gets in Hogan’s face, holding up the WWF Championship belt, and mocking Hogan’s neck injury by holding his own and pretending to limp about like an old man. Hogan glares at Orndorff, as still as a statue as Orndorff continues berating Hogan. Suddenly, Orndorff spits in Hogan’s face; it is too much for the former champ to bear. From out of nowhere, Hogan hauls off and slaps Orndorff stiff across the face, the force putting Orndorff on the mat. Hogan fires off a few words of warning to the champ, and turns his back to check on Savage; Orndorff stands up and blasts Hogan in the back of the head with the belt, then picks him up and nails a piledriver. Paramedics rush to the ring and carry Hogan off on a stretcher as Survivor Series fades to a close.
Saturday Night’s Main Event–December 7, 1987:
Even though there is only 11 days between Survivor Series and the next Saturday Night’s Main Event, the WWF is electric with activity and speculation; there is the matter of who will be getting a title shot at Paul Orndorff on SNME. The strange officiating in the main event of Survivor Series is another issue. And, of course, Hulk Hogan. Word is passed down that the second two issues will be deal with in a special address by WWF President Jack Tunney.
The first, however, is handled right away. To the disappointment of many, Orndorff avoids a title defense, as WWF officials feel that there is no clear #1 contender. However, Orndorff’s mood is soured by the news that while he won’t be defending, he won’t get the night off either; alongside matches pitting Rick Rude against Brutus Beefcake, and a grudge match between Jake Roberts and Ted DiBiase, Orndorff is partnered with Bam Bam Bigelow against Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage in the main event.
Saturday Night’s Main Event opens up with Rick Rude facing Brutus Beefcake. While the Barber mounts a formidable offense, the self-proclaimed “sex appeal” of the Brain Trust manages to overcome Beefcake and puts him away soundly with a Rude Awakening. It is an auspicious start for the evening.
The big moment everyone wants to see–one that doesn’t involve DiBiase or Orndorff eating their teeth, that is–is Tunney’s address. Tunney approaches the ring to a receptive but anxious crowd. “First off,” he begins, “I am going to address the officiating during the main event of Survivor Series. After viewing tapes, it is undeniable that there was bias shown by the referee assigned in that match that I believe can be traced back to none other then Bobby Heenan, Ted DiBiase and Paul Orndorff. The referee, Dave Hebner, has been suspended pending an investigation, which I believe will l implicate these three men. And rest assured, if this does come to light, I will not hesitate in leving fines, suspensions and stripping of titles or title shots.” Tunney pauses, straightens his lapels, then says; “Now, I would ask that Hulk Hogan please join me in the ring for the remainder of my address.”
“Real American” hits the PA, ushering in Hulk Hogan, who is dressed in street clothes and wearing a soft neck brace. When Hogan gets in the ring, he offers Tunney a hand, but Tunney does not accept it, earning him boos. “Hulk Hogan, I have asked you to join me based on your actions at Survivor Series. I understand that the referee unquestionably showed bias against your team, costing you the victory. However, your actions following the match, when you struck World Wrestling Federation Champion Paul Orndorff, were a gross violation of the agreement that allowed you to be at ringside for the match. You were a special guest of Randy Savage’s team; you do not have a license to manage, nor are you an active competitor. I cannot have people–people who are not employees of the WWF–striking WWF talent.”
Hogan’s eyes are as wide as the moon. “So what I’m hearing from you, Jack,” Hogan says disdainfully, “is that, even though Paul Orndorff got in my face and spit on me, because I don’t get paychecks from you, I gotta take it?”
“Mr. Hogan, I am still the President of the WWF, so I would ask you show me the proper respect.”
“Listen, brother, I’ll show you the proper respect when you show me some respect. Instead of firing the dude who intentionally broke my neck, you give him a title shot. Instead of calling him out here on the carpet and yelling at him like a kid for spitting on me, you get angry at me for slapping the taste out of his mouth!”
“Hulkster, I understand your frustration, but unprovoked brawls are not how we settle things in the World Wrestling Federation. They’re solved here in the wrestling ring.”
Hogan steams for a moment, then a light bulb goes off. “You say that things got solved here in the ring?” Tunney nods, so Hogan continues. “Then how about me and that snake in the grass Orndorff settle things the right way, in this ring, once and for all?”
The crowd explodes with support for the idea. Tunney has to wait a full three minutes before the crowd is calm enough for him to be heard. “I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I must decline. Your injuries forced you to retire from active competition. I simply cannot overlook that. It’s a legal liability … it’s a moralliability.”
“Then I’ll sign a medical waiver. I don’t care what it takes, Mr. President; I want that a piece of mangy dog Paul Orndorff! I will do whatever you ask of me; I’ll sign a waiver, I’ll bring lawyers, I’ll bring doctors, I’ll get President Reagan himself to come down here and gimme the okay, dude. The fans want it, the Hulkamaniacs need it, the WWF needs it!”
Tunney is once again drowned out by the crowd; Hogan urges their chants of “bring him back” louder by tearing off the neck brace and posing. Hogan looks Tunney dead in the eyes, his gaze as serious as a heart-attack. Finally, reluctantly, Tunney offers a hand; Hogan grabs it and shakes, sending the crowd into a higher state of euphoria.
The bombshell announcement of Hogan’s return creates a celebratory mood in the arena … that is, except in the camp of the Brain Trust, who refuse to grant interviews. Likewise, the normally verbose Jake Roberts cuts his pre-match interview very short, telling Gene Oklerund; “Ted DiBiase doesn’t need words from me to know what’s in store for him. He bought this trouble for free at Survivor Series. Tonight, I will deliver unto him that which he deserves.” The normal deliberate, methodical demeanor of Roberts is thrown aside when he gets in the ring, going after DiBiase before he can even make it to the ringside area, throwing him into the guardrails and the steel steps. Even in the ring, away from the dangerous steel surroundings, proves unsafe for DiBiase, as Roberts skirts the line of disqualification in his quest to destroy DiBiase. An eye rake momentarily stops Roberts, long enough for DiBiase to get to the arena floor, but Roberts follows behind, grabs a camera cord and strangles DiBiase. Virgil clubs Roberts on the back to save his employer, who scurries for the safety of the back. Roberts wheels around, surprising Virgil by brushing off Virgil’s attack. Roberts grabs Virgil, tosses him in the ring, then DDT’s him not once, not twice, but three times, each time yelling out “This is for you, Ted!” Medics rush up the aisleway as Roberts walks away from the ring, looking unsatisfied as the official announcement proclaims the match thrown out with no winner.
For the bulk of the main event, Orndorff spends his time on the apron, letting Bam Bam Bigelow do all the dirty work … and take all the punishment, as Steamboat and Savage unload on the monster with precision teamwork. But rather then be concerned about his partner, Orndorff keeps looking over his shoulder, as if expected Hogan to come looking for his head. But eventually, even Bigelow needs to tag out, and when he does, Orndorff–his back turned to the match, looking down the aisleway–is shocked. Even worse, on the other side of the ring, Steamboat tags out to Savage, who comes in ready to take Orndorff down and get the pinfall that has eluded him twice. Steamboat cuts off Bigelow, leaving Orndorff without help; Bobby Heenan calls for reinforcements, but DiBiase can’t even get through the curtain without being ambushed by Jake Roberts. Rick Rude tries to come out, but gets intercepted by Brutus Beefcake. And when the fresh and rested Andre The Giant comes lumbering out, he gets cut off by his former friend, Hulk Hogan. With no one left to help him, Orndorff begs for mercy from the raging Macho Man; instead, he gets a taste of his own medicine by way of a Savage piledriver. Savage ascends the turnbuckles as Orndorff lays prone and his troops are neutralized; this time, the elbow connects with the black heart of the hated champion. Savage hooks the leg as the referee issues the three-count, giving Savage a clean pinfall victory over the WWF Champion. Once Orndorff’s troops fall back to safer ground, Savage’s allies congregate in the ring. One by one, they line up to shake hands with Savage. Hogan is the last in line, and when he comes face to face with Savage, the picture polarizes the crowd; for some, Savage’s near-year-long chase of Paul Orndorff’s title is now a goal everyone knows he can achieve, and rightfully deserves. For others, the now-returned Hulk Hogan is a man on a mission of vengeance and justice. It is Savage who extends the hand first; Hogan accepts it, but the glare between the two of them betrays the friendly gesture. There is respect … but there is also a clash of destinies.
Our story continues as 1987 gives way to 1988. Hulk Hogan, after almost 10 months on the shelf with an injured neck, has declared his intentions to come back to the ring for Paul Orndorff’s blood and the WWF Title. Standing in his way are several men: Orndorff’s allies in the Brain Trust … and another challenger in Macho Man Randy Savage, who has stepped up in Hogan’s absence and shown he has what it takes to not only defeat Orndorff, but the character to be called a champion. Only one will get the opportunity, though …
Dec. 1987-Jan. 1988:
As 1987 gives way to 1988, the chaos in the WWF surrounding the WWF Championship and the Brain Trust goes from boil to overflow. WWF Magazine runs a cover story with a triangle of Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Paul Orndorff, with the headline “Two Men, One Goal”, looking into the question of whether Hogan and Savage’s pursuit of Orndorff will lead to a clash that will leave Orndorff safe from both. At every chance, Heenan tries to reassure Orndorff that his erstwhile challengers will end up cancelling each other out, leaving him in the clear … but a string of convincing victories by Savage, and a rising groundswell of support for Hogan, undercut Heenan’s confidence.
In early January, it is announced that the WWF will have a prime time special called The Main Event on NBC on February 5th, and a WWF Title match is guaranteed (despite protests from Heenan and Orndorff). The announcement immediately fuels speculation about who will be awarded the coveted prize. Despite impassioned pleas from Heenan and Orndorff to name his opponent so he may properly prepare, WWF management remains steadfast in their position: a contender will be named when he is chosen, and no sooner. And because management won’t name one, the two main contenders take to interviews to campaign for themselves.
In a pre-taped interview, Randy Savage offers a chilling warning; “The Main Event, February 5th, 1988. It’s a big day, a very special day. That’s the day that the Macho Man Randy Savage will go into the history books as the man that took down Paul Orndorff, ooh yeah! You couldn’t beat me in November, you couldn’t beat me fair and square at Survivor Series, and I pinned you one-two-three in December! The Macho Man has your number, Orndorff! I’ve got your mind, I’ve got your soul, and I’m coming to take your belt next! Dig it!” Savage pauses, taking off his glasses. When he speaks again, his voice is calmer … but, somehow, scarier. “And as for Hulk Hogan … the Macho Man respects everything you accomplished, ooh yeah. What happened to you, what Orndorff did, that was wrong. But for nine months, I’ve been the man taking it to Orndorff. He can’t beat me, and he can’t take me out! The Macho Man has earned the shot to be the World Wrestling Federation Champion, oooooooh yeah. You don’t get shots handed to you just because you show up and say you want one! If you want a piece of what’s left of Paul Orndorff after I get through with him, ooh yeah, you got yourself a deal. But if you think the Macho Man is gonna get outta the way for you after I worked as hard as I did to get here, you got another thing coming, Jack! And if that don’t cut it, then I’ll see you in the ring! Dig it!”
Within a week, Hogan issues his own message; “You know something, with some things the more they change, the more they stay the same. When I left, Paul Orndorff was a big phony, trying to step into my shoes when he wasn’t good enough to step out of his own shadow. And now that I come back, and I see Paul Orndorff, he’s get friends with money, big guys watching his back, and he’s got the World Wrestling Federation Championship … but I know the truth, dude. I know all about you, brother. You’re running scared; scared of the largest arms in the world. Scared of the Hulkamaniacs, and scared of Hulkamania! And you know something, my Hulkamaniacs, Paul Orndorff is right to be scared. He’s right to be running from me, because he called down the thunder, and now the thunder gods are angry, and they demand I take Paul Orndorff and squeeze him till he pops! But you know something else … some things have changed. Because now, I don’t just have Paul Orndorff to look out for, I got Macho Man Randy Savage. Well, let me lay it out on the line for you, Macho Man; you say you’ve earned your spot by workin’ hard. You say the Hulkster just waltzed in here and is demanding a shot. But the fact of the matter is, the Hulkster’s been workin’ hard, too, dude; workin’ hard to walk again, workin’ hard to lift, workin’ hard every day, in the gym, trying to get back what Paul Orndorff took from me:nine months of my life. So the fact is, Macho Man, the Hulkster isn’t taking what’s yours; the shot at Paul Orndorff belongs to Hulk Hogan. And if you got a problem, jack, then we can get it on in the ring and see whether the Madness can stand toe-to-toe with the Mania, and if you really deserve a shot at the WWF Championship. And maybe, after I beat that miserable dog Paul Orndorff and take back the WWF Title, maybe I’ll ask for a match with you so we can settle this. But make no mistake, dude; I get the shot first!”
During an episode of Superstars, as Vince McMahon is scheduled to interview the Koko B. Ware, Ted DiBiase, accompanied by Virgil and Bam Bam Bigelow, storm the interview dais. McMahon demands to know what the meaning of their intrusion is, to which DiBiase responds with laughter.
“Little man, your role here is to close your mouth and hold this microphone!” DiBiase yanks the microphone, and McMahon’s hand, under his mouth as he faces the camera. “I’d like to welcome my guest. He’s your World Wrestling Federation Champion, Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff!”
Orndorff and Heenan come out to their usual chorus of disapproval. Everyone shakes hands, and after the pleasantries, Heenan asks why they’re “out here with the humanoids”.
“Well, Bobby,” says DiBiase, “I’ve watched Superstars and Wrestling Challenge … I’ve seen WWF Magazine … I hear what people are talking about: who’s getting the shot at The Main Event? Randy Savage … or Hulk Hogan? The whole world is talking about which one’s gonna get a piece of you at The Main Event, and they all act like whoever it is, it’s a foregone conclusion that you’re gonna lose. But I know you, Paul Orndorff; I know you’re a true champion, and a superior competitor. I know you could stare down a rabid bull. I know for a factyou could beat either of those two yahoos on any given day because I’ve seen you do it before!” The crowd boos this minor twisting of history, but DiBiase continues undaunted. “Now, I know you could take either one of them, but you’re like me; you want to do it on your time, not on the command of some idiot in a suit. So I have a solution for you. Remember how I brought in Bam Bam here to help the cause, and how I did so on the condition of a title shot? How about you grant me that title shot for The Main Event?” Heenan and Orndorff both cloud over with worry, so DiBiase quickly moves into spin control. “Listen … you know I don’t have it out for you, so you know I’m gonna play it by the rules! Worst case scenario, I beat you … the belt stays in the Brain Trust, and I give you a rematch at WrestleMania! Best case scenario, you beat me, and you get to put off Hogan and Savage once again! It’s win-win, Paul!”
Heenan and Orndorff discuss it for a moment, then enthusiastically accept the deal, sealing it with handshakes. For two weeks, the fans, and the wrestlers, of the WWF have to live with the concept of the company’s two most loathsome men squaring off against each other for the company’s richest prize. But two weeks after the deal, on Wrestling Challenge, Jack Tunney reads a prepared statement regarding the title match on The Main Event:
“There has been some confusion regarding the WWF Title match, and the challenger for it, scheduled for The Main Event on February 5th. WWF officials have been deluged with requests and campaigning by WWF superstars who all believe they are the most worthy contender. During our deliberations, Paul Orndorff and Ted DiBiase took it upon themselves to broker a deal for DiBiase to claim the challenger’s position at The Main Event. Under no circumstances was this an action authorized by WWF management; Mr. DiBiase and Mr. Orndorff, his championship status not withstanding, are not in a position to nominate challengers and book matches on their own, and we will not honor any ‘deal’ these gentlemen might have reached. One day, Mr. DiBiase may be the recipient of a WWF Title shot, but it must be earned through hard work and an exemplary win-loss record, not through backdoor deals. As for Mr. Orndorff’s challenger, we have weighed the top contenders–Macho Man Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan–and their claims to the spot. After weighing all factors, it has been determined that, while Hulk Hogan does have a rightful claim to a match with Paul Orndorff, his inactivity hinders his claim; consequently, the win-loss record of Randy Savage, combined with his recent success against the WWF Champion, makes him the more deserving contender and, thusly, will face Paul Orndorff on February 5th. However, we cannot ignore the enmity between Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff, and that the issues between them surround the WWF Championship; therefore, at The Main Event, Hulk Hogan will have a match with Andre The Giant. Should Hulk Hogan defeat Andre, he will be awarded a WWF Championship match against the winner of the Orndorff/Savage match at WrestleMania IV.”
The Main Event–February 5, 1988:
With a third high-profile match–a return match pitting Jake Roberts against Ted DiBiase–the first prime time special on network TV for the WWF seems destined to be memorable, perhaps even historical.
And right off the bat is a memorable moment, as Randy Savage steps up to conduct an interview with Lord Alfred Hayes. Just as Hayes finishes introducing the #1 contender, and before Savage utter a single syllable, Hulk Hogan steps onto the set, eyeing Savage shoots the glare right back as Hogan approaches him, getting nose to nose with each other. After several long, tense seconds, Hogan extends a hand and mutters two words; “Good luck.” Savage takes Hogan’s hand, pumps it a couple times, and then just clasps it, staring at Hogan. Hogan leaves without saying another word, and before Hayes can ask Savage about the encounter, or the match later on, Savage takes off too.
Before the DiBiase/Roberts showdown can get underway, Roberts speaks with the referee and makes a request; the barring of Virgil from ringside. The referee agrees, leaving DiBiase distraught, furious and on his own against a very angry Jake Roberts. As soon as the bell rings, Roberts lives up to his nickname and strikes like a snake, knocking DiBiase silly. It’s only through a rake to the eyes, after taking a pounding for six long minutes, that DiBiase is able to mount an offense, and even then, it’s short-lived; Roberts counters most of what DiBiase throws at him, leaving DiBiase no choice but to run. Roberts follows DiBiase out, walking right into the trap: Bam Bam Bigelow comes roaring down the aisle like a freight train. The ref signals for a disqualification, but Bigelow and DiBiase ignore the ringing bell and drag Roberts into the ring, where he is beaten until Randy Savage runs them off with a steel chair.
While the investigation into referee Dave Hebner’s activities surrounding the Survivor Series match ended up clearing him of wrongdoing, the crowd still greets him with open hostility as he prepares to officiate the Hogan/Andre match. Hogan eyes the ref with suspicion, but keeps his mind focused on toppling the massive mountain of a human being across the ring from him. Andre uses his size to overpower the Hulkster, and wisely targets Hogan’s neck with clubbing forearms and wrenching the neck with vises and headlocks. Hogan has to expend valuable strength to kick out of Andre’s pinfall attempts, which are made all the more difficult as, once again, the ref shows bias and counts quicker for Andre. Despite what looks to be crippling pain in his neck, and an opponent that can manhandle him at will, Hogan mounts a comeback and, in a moment that sends flashbulbs exploding, picks up and body slams Andre. But when Hogan goes for the pin after the leg drop, there is no ref to make the count; instead, he’s in the corner, talking with Bobby Heenan. Hogan grabs the ref and yells at him, which prompts the ref to signal for the disqualification; the crowd comes unglued, until a second ref, that looks just like Dave Hebner slides into the ring and starts arguing with the assigned ref. Hogan, like the audience, watches the argument between the two identical men in utter confusion; Heenan watches in horror, as if he’s seen a ghost. Several people from the front office come out to try and make sense of the issue, but no official announcement is made about the result of the match, and the officials, the referees and Hogan all disappear together into the back, leaving a horrified Heenan with his client to face the angry mob.
Regardless of the confusion surrounding the Hogan/Andre match, the main event goes on, captivating even the other wrestlers, who gather around monitors to watch the match. Without teammates to hide behind, Orndorff employs mind games and tries to stall Savage, but the Macho Man takes the fight to the champ, putting Orndorff on the defensive. But unlike previous times, Orndorff uses Savage’s temper against him, and manages to turn the tide because of it. Several Savage comeback attempts fall flat thanks to cheating by Orndorff. But Orndorff’s ego proves his undoing, as he toys with Savage too long and gives him the opportunity to stage a true comeback. Despite interference from Bobby Heenan, Savage manages to fight back and get Orndorff in position for his patented flying elbow; but, once again, Savage is denied the opportunity by Ted DiBiase, who shoves Savage off the turnbuckle while the ref is distracted by Heenan. Orndorff struggles and gets an arm over Savage, but amazingly, Savage kicks out, and kicks out again after a weak Orndorff piledriver. But Savage can’t manage to kick out when DiBiase reaches in and holds his feet while Orndorff uses the ropes for leverage. Just like that, Savage’s chance is stolen away, again.
In their private locker room, the Brain Trust celebrates with champagne. Gene Okerlund draws the short straw and has to interview Heenan, whose smugness is six steps beyond intolerable. “Okerlund, I told you, I told the world what they were dealing with when Paul Orndorff became champ!” he crows. “I said you were getting the most superior athlete ever to hold the WWF Title, and look at us! Look at what we got! Every challenger he’s faced, he’s beaten. And the suits, their big plan to destroy Paul Orndorff and the Brain Trust … putting Mr. Wonderful in a WWF Title match tonight against Savage, and Hulk Hogan in a #1 contender’s match? It fell apart! They got nothing left! They’re done! Orndorff can’t be sto–”
“Wait,” Okerlund says, putting a hand to his ear. “I’m getting word …” Suddenly, Okerlund’s eyes almost pop out of his head. Heenan demands an answer, but Okerlund silences him with a hand. After a few more seconds, Okerlund snarls at Heenan. “You! You make me sick!”
“What? What did I do?”
“Don’t hand me that! Your referee friend came clean! How you locked Dave Hebner in a closet and paid off his twin brother to replace him and throw the match for your client! Don’t try and deny it, weasel; your fake referee friend confessed!” Heenan’s face nearly collapses as Okerlund exposes the ruse. “Well, I’ll have you know that, since WWF officials found out about your plan, they’re awarding the match by disqualification to Hulk Hogan!” Heenan gulps, his skin turning white; he doesn’t need Okerlund to state the obvious, but Okerlund does anyway. “Your ‘champion’ will face Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania IV!”
The Road To WrestleMania IV, Part 1:
The month in between The Main Event and the final Saturday Night’s Main Event on March 7th brings more dire news for the Brain Trust: announced for WrestleMania IV, Randy Savage will finally get a piece of Ted DiBiase, Jake Roberts will look to take out the “Beast From The East” Bam Bam Bigelow, and Ricky Steamboat will do battle with Rick Rude. To prepare for that, the final SNME before WrestleMania is booked with teaser showdowns: Steamboat faces off against Bigelow, Rude against Roberts, and DiBiase and Paul Orndorff team up against Hulk Hogan and Savage.
All of this is just more grist for the mill in Bobby Heenan’s mind, as he takes to the WWF airwaves every chance he gets–even invading the announce booth on one occasion–to decry what he sees as a vast conspiracy, stretching from the referees to the executives and everyone in between, aimed at the Brain Trust. For Rude and Bigelow, they’re being saddled with athletes below their caliber; for DiBiase, management is conspiring to keep him from reaching the pinnacle of the business, all the way to putting a dangerous lunatic in his way. And for Paul Orndorff, it’s the usual cries of bias and favoritism for Hulk Hogan and a conspiracy to shove Orndorff into obscurity.
Never mentioned, however, is the biggest member of the Brain Trust, Andre The Giant. On an episode of Wrestling Challenge in late February, as Heenan and his troops commandeer an interview with Lord Alfred Hayes meant for Tito Santana, Andre cuts in and addresses the oversight.
“Bobby, what about me?” he says in the middle of Heenan’s list of complaints.
Heenan brushes Andre away without even looking at him. “Not now. I’m talking.”
Andre puts a hand on Heenan’s shoulder and turns him around. “No, now. Where’s my title shot, Bobby? Where’s what you promised me? Where’s–”
Heenan shoves Andre’s hand off. “We can talk business and what’s best for the Brain Trust later, Andre. Right now, I’m busy, okay?”
Andre grabs Heenan, spins him around and lifts him off the ground by his lapels until they’re nose to nose. “We will talk about it right now, Bobby Heenan! You promised me many things, and I’m tired of waiting! I–”
DiBiase tries to make Andre break his hold on Heenan; when Andre piefaces DiBiase away, Virgil tries to avenge his employer by smashing the metal briefcase over Andre’s back; Andre barely even flinches. He dumps Heenan unceremoniously on his butt, reaches out, snatches the briefcase and hurls it to the arena floor, where it breaks on the hinges. The look on Andre’s face is enough to send everyone leaping off the interview dais … everyone, save for Alfred Hayes and Bobby Heenan, who is trapped with Andre standing in front of the stairs. Andre reaches down and pulls Heenan up from his position on the floor, all the way up to eye level and laughs. “Well, Bobby Heenan,” Andre says with a chuckle. “are you ready to talk about your promises now?”
Heenan is so frightened, he can barely form a syllable, let alone a word or sentence. “P-p-p-put me, put me down, put me down!”
“Oh, no, I’ve got you right where I want you, and now you’re gonna talk!”
“I can’t, I can’t do anything until after WrestleMania! Paul, he’s booked up fighting Hogan, and he’s got the tag match in a couple weeks! Why don’t we–” Heenan wriggles until he’s too hard to hold; Andre, again, dumps him. Heenan takes a minute to stand up, straight out his jacket and tie, clears his throat and says; “Why don’t we talk about this after WrestleMania, after all this is behi–”
But Andre is down the stairs already, waving Heenan’s words away without even looking back. For a moment, Heenan is paralyzed with confusion. Heenan breaks it with a shake of his head and runs after Andre, who won’t even look in Heenan’s direction as they disappear behind the curtain.
Saturday Night’s Main Event–Mar. 7, 1988:
Right before Bam Bam Bigelow heads to the ring to face Ricky Steamboat, the Brain Trust cuts a quick interview with Gene Okerlund. Conspicuous by his absence is Andre The Giant, whom Heenan says is home in France, tending to some family business and that tonight, the Brain Trust will prevent WrestleMania from being “blighted” by Hulk Hogan and his friends when they take out the whole lot of them.
The campaign begins with Ricky Steamboat’s fight against Bam Bam Bigelow. Initially, Steamboat’s strategy of speed and quick strikes pays off in rattling the tattooed monster, but Bigelow manages to ground Steamboat on an aerial attack gone awry. From there, Steamboat spends the next several minutes being bounced around like a pinball as Bigelow has his way with the former Intercontinental Champ. But an attempt at a headbutt from the top rope comes up short when Steamboat rolls out of the way, giving the Dragon the time to recover and mount a comeback. But his path to victory comes to an abrupt halt when Rick Rude comes down to the ring, and while Bigelow occupies the ref, nails the Rude Awakening. Bigelow covers and gets the tainted three-count.
Ring attendants bring a plush red carpet to cover the mat in the ring, as well as two leather-backed chairs and a nice table. WWF President Jack Tunney stands at the head of the table and asks to be joined by the two men scheduled to wrestle in the main event at WrestleMania IV. Paul Orndorff comes with Bobby Heenan and Ted DiBiase alongside, while Hulk Hogan only has his wife escorting him. Once seated, Tunney addresses the two.
“Tonight, we will sign the contract to make official the main event of WrestleMania IV on March 27th,” Tunney says with a fair bit of boasting in his voice. “And that will be Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff defending the World Wrestling Federation Championship against the challenger Hulk Hogan. This match is being billed as The Final Encounter, and per the stipulations of this contract, it will be just that; should you, Hulk Hogan, fail to defeat Paul Orndorff for any reason or under any circumstances, there will be no rematch. Similarly, should you, Paul Orndorff, lose the WWF Title, there will be no former champion’s right of return match clause. This will truly be the final encounter between you, gentlemen, so I suggest that you do everything in your power to bring about a satisfactory conclusion to the match for yourself.” Heenan pulls the contract over and urges Orndorff to sign it, which he does with great glee. As he does so, Tunney continues. “I should mention that, after considering the long history between you, and certain circumstances that have come to pass, there is an additional stipulation on the match; and that is that the piledriver shall be an illegal maneuver for the match. Mr. Orndorff, should you use it at any time, the match will end immediately, and the WWF Championship will be awarded to Hulk Hogan.”
Orndorff is on his feet so quickly, his chair flies back and hits the ropes; Heenan and DiBiase are right there beside him, all yelling on top of each other at Tunney, who betrays not a hint of emotion. It is Tunney looking to his right that stops the voices; Hogan rises from his chair, holding the contract in front of him. Hogan looks right in Tunney’s eyes as he turns the contract to confetti. An attendant brings Hogan a microphone when he demands one; when he speaks, Hogan’s voice is calm and collected, not at all the histrionic Hulkster everyone knows.
“I didn’t come here tonight to sign a contract on a match that’ll give that no-good snake in the grass a reason to complain about how he didn’t have it fair when I beat him from here to China,” says Hogan, talking to Tunney but looking at Orndorff. “And I didn’t go through weeks and months of therapy and training and workouts so I could be treated like I’m an egg about to break.” Hogan stands stock still a moment, then suddenly tears his shirt off, his breathing rapid and loud. When he speaks, it is the old Hulk Hogan … but with a twinge of anger. “I’m Hulk Hogan, not some curtain-jerker in a flea market! The largest arms in the world! Hulkamania, running wilder then ever! I trained and I went through therapy and I worked out and said my prayers and took my vitamins and did everything I had to, brother, so I could get back here, take everything that thischump, this paper tiger, could dish out, and show that his best doesn’t measure up to my worst!” Hogan looks to Tunney now, who has taken a step back and looks like a deer in headlights. “So you go back to the lawyers, you go back to your little boardrooms, and you get a new contract! One that doesn’t have the piledriver barred. In fact … you get the lawyers to draw up a contract that has no holds barred!” Linda Hogan hangs on her husband’s arm, begging him to reconsider, but Hogan shakes his head. “No, Linda. There’s a reason this chump, this hack, was behind me his whole career, looking at me in the spotlight; it’s because he was never good enough to get in it on his own. He had to stab a buddy in the back and put him on the shelf to get a piece, and look at him; he still hasn’t been able to handle it. I need to send him back where he belongs, back with all the two-bit jokes who don’t have what it takes to get it done like a man!”
“Fine, you want no-holds-barred?” Heenan thrusts his hand across the table. “We can live with that! You got yourself a deal!”
Hogan takes Heenan’s hand, shakes it once, then squeezes until Heenan is literally hanging on the table, his face twisted in a mask of pain. Hogan shakes hands with Tunney and stops to pose once for the crowd before leaving the ring to prepare for his match later on. Orndorff, DiBiase and Heenan watch Hogan leave, all with lips curled up in revulsion.
Rick Rude makes a beeline out of the ring when Jake Roberts comes in with Damien in his sack, but once the snake is secured in a corner, Rude shows no fear of Roberts. While Rude’s no-trick-too-dirty approach is normally an advantage over your average white-clad hero, he finds Roberts, whose own moral center seems to reside in the shadows, not so easily put off. As the minutes quickly tick by and Rude finds himself more on the defensive then the offensive, he calls in reinforcements in the form of Bigelow. The ref calls for the DQ, but the plan quickly backfires anyway, as Steamboat comes charging back out and sends Rude packing for the safety of the back. Bigelow, meanwhile, makes the mistake of whipping Roberts into the ropes and going for a back body drop; Roberts grabs his head and sticks the DDT, rendering the flamed behemoth unconscious.
Even if Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan aren’t excited about partnering with one another, the crowd is, and gives them a king’s reception. But their tenuousness about partnering shows its effects on their in-ring work fast, as an initial flurry of offense by them gets short-circuited by Ted DiBiase and Paul Orndorff, who cut the ring in half and use lots of double-teaming. When Savage is in the ring, he is merely beaten and humiliated by both of his opponents; but when Savage manages to tag to Hogan, DiBiase and the champ target Hogan’s fragile neck. Every clubbing blow, headlock or neck vice erodes the confidence in Hogan to overcome this critical handicap at WrestleMania just a little bit more. When Hogan manages to capitalize on some miscommunication between DiBiase and Orndorff and tags in Savage, the tide finally starts turning; Hogan fights off DiBiase, while Savage takes it to Orndorff, the legal man. As Hogan brawls with DiBiase on the outside, Savage manages to drop the elbow on Orndorff and scores the stunning victory for his team.
But Bobby Heenan calls out his troops, who turn the proud moment into a debacle, overwhelming Hogan and Savage and beating them into submission. Heenan tosses in a steel chair and the WWF Championship belt. DiBiase grabs the chair and presses the edge of it against the prone Savage, crushing his windpipe. When he tires of this, DiBiase drags Savage to his feet and locks on the Million Dollar Dream, refusing to break the hold even as Savage hangs in his arms, dead weight. Orndorff, meanwhile, with help from Bigelow and Rude, batter Hogan until he’s limp and unable to fight back; Orndorff puts Hogan into position and, re-enacting a moment from a year prior, used the WWF Championship belt as a prop with which to piledrive Hogan into. Officials, paramedics and other WWF Superstars swarm the ring, sending the Brain Trust running, but the damage is done; Savage and Hogan are carted off on stretchers.
The Road To WrestleMania IV, Pt. 2:
For the weeks following Saturday Night’s Main Event, the WWF takes an odd position regarding their two top stars and their roles in WrestleMania IV: on the one hand, every mention of the upcoming event, or a rundown of the card, still has Savage vs. DiBiase and Hogan vs. Orndorff (with the updated no-holds-barred stipulation, final-encounter stipulations) listed as happening. But commentators also readily admit on every show that there are no updates concerning the condition of Hogan or Savage. Neither is seen in any active capacity on WWF television, not even a pre-taped interview. No one will acknowledge the elephant in the room, but with every passing minute without a health update, with every moment of seeming denial by the WWF to answer questions, the elephant stampedes over the expectations of fans.
The one group of people willing to bring it up, however, is the last group the audience wants to hear from: the Brain Trust. Every week, the Trust invades interviews, tapes their own, and even sits in (uninvited) with the commentary crew, proudly proclaiming Savage and Hogan are finished. After weeks of it, coupled with the contradictory message coming from the WWF, the idea that Hogan and Savage won’t be at WrestleMania IV starts to sound plausible. And with only one week to go before the event, Heenan comes out on Wrestling Challenge in an interview with Gene Okerlund to address the obvious concern if they can’t show.
“Okerlund,” says Heenan with a grin, “it’s real simple. It’s obvious the management around here is jerking you and all the other humanoids around. Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan are done. Finished. Crippled. They aren’t gonna be at WrestleMania. We took care of them at Saturday Night’s Main Event. We showed the world, one more time, just why men like Paul Orndorff and Ted DiBiase should be leading this company instead of being stuck on the sidelines while chumps like Savage and Hogan are sucking up all the spotlight. WrestleMania needs to be about new blood, new leadership, new faces. Men like you and Tunney can cling to your Hulksters all you want, but even the WWF can’t say he’ll be there. So I’m asking–no, Tunney, I’m telling you, I’mdemanding you come out here right now, and do the right thing; admit to all these humanoids that Hogan and Savage won’t be at WrestleMania, and make the only replacement match that makes sense: the WWF Champion Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff defending against the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase!”
Heenan and his troops all turn to the curtain, waiting. When nothing happens for a few seconds, Okerlund begins to deride Heenan’s demanding Tunney come out as preposterous; Heenan tells him to shut up and wait. “Any minute now, Tunney’s gonna come through and kiss my feet for saving WrestleMania with my brilliant idea!” he proclaims.
Heenan and his friends turn to the curtains again. But instead of a middle-aged man in a suit, the music of “Real American” hits, ushering in Hulk Hogan and, right alongside him, Randy Savage. Heenan’s jaw hits the floor; before he can direct his troops, a third man comes through the curtain and stands behind Savage and Hogan, arms crossed, eyes wide with malicious glee. It is Andre The Giant, who claps Hogan on the shoulder; Hogan turns and shakes Andre’s hand. Hogan tears his shirt off and poses, alongside Savage who poses as well, neither showing any sign of being crippled or broken. Heenan and the Brain Trust can do nothing but stare, frozen in place with fear, at their two main enemies, flanked by a former comrade-in-arms, their grand design once again undone, and all they have schemed and plotted to accomplish, now threatened to the marrow.
WrestleMania IV–March 27, 1988:
As WrestleMania IV gets underway, the four opponents for the Brain Trust, along with Andre The Giant, all converge on the backstage interview area. Gene Okerlund wastes no time in getting to the most intriguing, confusing matter at hand, and asks Andre what’s going on with him and the Brain Trust.
“I made a mistake listening to that weasel, Bobby Heenan,” says Andre, wringing his hands together as he talks. “He made promises and he talked big. But all I ever was to him was an obstacle he needed out of the way. Well, Bobby Heenan, tonight, I’m gonna be right in your way.” Andre smiles big; their is a murderous, mad glint in his eyes. “I will be standing in that aisleway for each of these men’s matches. And if your men so much as come near the ring when they shouldn’t, I will wrap my hands around their throat and squeeze until their eyes pop out. And if you get near me, Bobby Heenan …” Andre punches one Thanksgiving-turkey-sized fist into the other and laughs.
Okerlund moves on to Hogan and asks him his thoughts and if he has any last words for Paul Orndorff. “Ya know something, Mean Gene,” he begins, “the time for talkin’ is through! Tonight’s the night that all the Hulkamaniacs all around the world have been waiting for. Tonight’s the night that all my friends and all the guys here in the World Wrestling Federation who got an ounce of class have been beggin’ for, brother! And that is that tonight, Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff is gonna pay for all the sins he’s done, all the crimes he’s committed. And when it’s all said and done, and all the smoke is cleared, all the dust is settled, it’s gonna be the Hulkster who stands tall as the new WWF World’s Champion!” Hogan pauses, then adds, “But you know something, dude, there’s one guy who ain’t so happy about this. The Hulkster isn’t talking about Bobby ‘The Weasel’ Heenan, or Mr. Megabucks Ted DiBiase, or even Jack Tunney. No, the dude who ain’t happy about all this …” Hogan turns and points a finger at Randy Savage. “It’s you, brother. I know you think you deserve the title shot tonight, dude, especially after you beat Paul Orndorff again. I know you think you got the shaft, dude, and that you’re bitter about me getting the shot, but I’m here to tell you, to promiseyou, this, brother: once I get done beatin’ Paul Orndorff for the WWF Title 1-2-3 tonight, once that’s done and out of the way …” Hogan stabs a finger in Savage’s chest. “I’ll see to it you get the shot you deserve.” Hogan offers an open hand; Savage looks at it. For a few long, tense moments, everyone holds their breath–the audience, the announcers, Gene Okerlund, even the other wrestlers around them. Finally, Savage takes the hand and shakes it wordlessly.
The first of the Brain Trust’s test on the evening is Rick Rude’s battle against Ricky Steamboat. While Steamboat has an edge on being more well-rounded of a competitor, Rude has something Steamboat doesn’t: a willingness to break the rules. After Steamboat’s initial burst of offense, Rude gets the upper hand and uses cheats whenever Steamboat begins to regain momentum. When Steamboat manages to capitalize on a mistake by Rude and nails the top rope crossbody, the crowd jumps up in anticipation of the three-count; instead, Bobby Heenan reaches in and pulls Rude’s foot under the ropes, stopping the count. When Steamboat gets up to yell at Heenan, Rude gets up, grabs Steamboat from behind and nails the Rude Awakening for the three-count.
At first, Bam Bam Bigelow’s face-off with Jake Roberts looks to be another victory for the Brain Trust, and a quick mop-up at that. But Roberts’ refusal to lie down and occasional dip into the grey area of the rulebook to stymie Bigelow keeps the match going longer then anyone expects, and throws off Bigelow’s gameplan. Time and again, Bigelow gets Roberts in a pinning combination, only for Roberts to stubbornly kick out, and that begins to wear on Bigelow’s nerves. Bigelow’s frustrations finally get the better of him; he rips off the turnbuckle pad in one corner and sets to whip Roberts into it. Roberts stops himself before he makes impact, then sidesteps to allow the freight train of Bigelow to crash into the exposed steel. Roberts grabs Bigelow by the head and spikes the monster with a DDT for the three-count. Heenan stands in his man’s corner, jaw on the floor, but is prompted to run for the hills when Roberts reaches for the bag containing Damien.
Before Ted DiBiase can even get to the ring, Randy Savage ambushes him in the aisle. Virgil can only stand and watch, blocked by Andre The Giant, as his boss gets tossed into the guard rails and the steel steps, all still in his suit, and all before the bell rings. Once finally in the ring (and with the match now officially begun), Savage hammers on DiBiase with jabs, looking to make short work of his nemesis. But before Savage can polish him off with an elbow drop, Virgil grabs Savage’s leg. Andre comes over and, when Virgil tries to use the metal briefcase as a shield, the world’s largest athlete punches the briefcase itself, right into Virgil’s face, knocking the manservant out cold. The distraction is enough for DiBiase to stop Savage’s momentum by shaking the ropes, causing Savage to crotch himself on the turnbuckle. From there, DiBiase sketches out a methodical dissection of Savage, focusing on one of the high flyer’s knees to ground him. Through the use of precision attacks and submission moves, Savage is left hobbled and limping, unable to run or climb, and certainly not to fly. But as none of DiBiase’s efforts pay off with a victory, he becomes frustrated and leaves the ring. His eyes happen upon the discarded (and dented) briefcase, which he goes for … until Andre steps on it. DiBiase forgets who he is speaking to and starts denigrating Andre. Andre just smiles as DiBiase blathers on; when he finally asks why Andre isn’t bothered, Savage, from behind, wraps a camera cord around DiBiase’s throat and squeezes. At four-and-three-quarters on the ref’s count, DiBiase, slumped down on the ground, almost unconscious, finds the metal briefcase in front of him, grabs it and swings it up and backwards. The metal case smacks Savage right between the eyes; he immediately lets go of the cable and falls backwards, while DiBiase crumples forwards. The ref has no choice but to administer the out-of-ring count, but neither man has so much as twitched by the time the ref reaches the end, and he has no choice but to throw the contest out as a double count-out, putting the Brain Trust at 1-1-1 on the evening.
Finally, the main event, the Final Encounter, arrives; Hulk Hogan comes to the ring in the unfamiliar role of challenger, but welcomed as a conquering hero anyway. While waiting for Paul Orndorff, he converses with the assigned referee, Dave Hebner, whom has been double-checked as being both honest and the proper Hebner brother for the job. Orndorff is welcomed like a war criminal in a hostile country; when he passes by Andre, the giant smiles maliciously, making both Orndorff and Heenan back up a step. Once the match begins, Hogan presses his strength advantage over Orndorff, and even busts out some surprising technical skills. It is an unorthodox strategy (which the commentators mention), but quickly it pays off, as Orndorff, the more technical of the two, becomes frustrated quickly by Hogan’s gameplan. Orndorff manages to get in some shots on Hogan, but Hogan’s strength becomes more and more a problem for the champ. When Hogan’s offensive tactics shift from neutralizing and humiliating the champ to pure dominance and power, Orndorff finds the first opportunity he can to bail to the floor. When Hogan gives chase, Orndorff surprises him by pulling a handful of white powder out of his trunks and blinds Hogan with it. Orndorff quickly hits a drop toehold, sending Hogan face-first into the steel steps, opening up a gash on Hogan’s forehead. From there, Orndorff utilizes the no-holds-barred stipulation to his fullest extent; whether it is scraping his boot or tearing at the wound with his bare hands, blasting Hogan across the back with a steel chair, or just taking him outside and throwing him into the guard rail, Orndorff shows there is nothing too low for him to stoop to. Once Hogan is exhausted and bleeding, Orndorff sets to work punishing Hogan’s neck; with every blow, Hogan winces and screams like he’s being shot with a rifle. Hogan manages to reverse a piledriver attempt, but is unable to capitalize. Heenan uses the moment to slide his man the WWF Title belt, which Orndorff uses to put a dent in Hogan’s bloodied forehead. With Heenan screaming from the sidelines to finish him off, Orndorff positions Hogan over the belt and sticks the piledriver picture-perfect on the title belt. The crowd is almost silent when Orndorff makes the cover … but when Hogan kicks out with authority at 2 and rises to a knee, the audience explodes. Hogan goes through his Hulking-up motion, but Orndorff knows better then to punch; he grabs the belt again and plasters Hogan, then gets off another piledriver, only for Hogan to spring right back up before Orndorff can even cover. Orndorff tries the belt shot again, but Hogan catches it, rips it out of Orndorff’s hands and tosses it aside. Hogan unloads with rights, then, when Orndorff is reeling, introduces the champ’s head to the four turnbuckles, the fourth one 10 times in a row. Hogan poses for the crowd with his hand cupped to his ear, feeding the challenger their support. He points to Orndorff and makes a motion like a piledriver, which the crowd goes nuts for. Hogan nods, drags Orndorff to his feet and bounces Orndorff’s head off the mat with his own finisher; then, for good measure, Hogan adds his own big leg drop across the throat. When the ref’s hand hits the mat three times, the arena virtually explodes; confetti drops from the ceiling and fireworks go off. The locker room empties of friends and well-wishers, all congratulating Hogan on his victory; Andre embraces Hogan and raises his arm in the air.
But the celebration pauses when Randy Savage ends up face to face with the new champ. The crowd, the wrestlers in the ring and Hogan himself all hold their breath as Savage eyes up the new champ. Then, Savage extends a hand; Hogan wastes no time in grasping it. Savage raises Hogan’s arm; another night, down the line, they will be opponents. Right now, however, there is no place for jealousy or bitterness or rivalry; the champ … the real champ … is back where he belongs.