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WRITTEN PODCAST RECAP: Something To Wrestle With Bruce Prichard on WrestleMania IV – inside the NWA/WWF PPV battle, why the show ran in a casino, why Steamboat-Savage II didn’t happen, Bruno’s exit, Frenchy Martin’s most important contribution to the business and more (Ep. 94)

Something To Wrestle With Bruce Prichard – Episode 94

Recap by: Jeff Rush

Air Date: 3/30/18

DIRECT LINK TO LISTEN/DOWNLOAD

WrestleMania IV

Bruce started with the WWF in the summer of 1987, and says Vince already had in his head the main attraction for WrestleMania IV – another Hulk/Andre match.

In November of 1987, Bruce first heard of the plan to put the title on Randy Savage and that Hogan would be filming a movie the following summer.

Conrad goes down the list of previous Mania locals and asks if there was pressure to make the show bigger each year. Bruce confirms, saying Vince always wants to top the previous year’s show.

By running Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, they felt they were bringing Mania back to the Northeast and also giving the show a “big fight feel.” The venue offered to pay for the show and pick up all the hotel expenses, which Bruce feels was a pretty handsome deal.

Conrad inquires about money involved, but Bruce wasn’t really involved in that end of things at this time.

The Atlantic City Convention Center is a total dump. WWF had to pour a lot of effort into making it look as nice as it did for the show. Everything you see in the building on screen was added by WWE. Bruce calls the place a giant barn and likens it to the Cow Palace in San Francisco.

They left the place in the shape they built it and were able to use it all the following year for WrestleMania V.

At one time, Vince considered returning to Madison Square Garden for this Mania and also looked at Florida.

Conrad notes that WrestleMania III was obviously huge, but by running Mania in a casino, it raised the level of prestige the show had.

When pressed for things he liked about running the show in Trump Plaza, Bruce says the accessibility to the hotel was great. There wasn’t a lot else about it that lent itself to running a major production.

Premium ticket prices were higher for this show than previous Mania’s, but the cheap seats were still made affordable for families. Given the limited amount of seats available, though, Conrad feels the way the show was run kept wrestling fans away from being able to attend.

Bruce says they learned from this show how better to position the fans in front of the hard camera.

WWF managed to pull in a similar total in ticket sales for this show as they had for WrestleMania III, but in a far smaller building.

The Main Event on NBC in prime time ran seven weeks prior to WrestleMania IV. (Crazy to think today, where “the road to WrestleMania” begins in the hype to the Royal Rumble around the start of the year. That’s roughly three months prior to the show. Additionally, the main event of Lesnar vs. Reigns has been seen as an inevitability for this years show since prior to last years Mania. In 1988, though, little more than a month and a half out from the show, even though the company knew where they were going, wrestling fans had no idea what was in store for WrestleMania.)

Conrad wants to know if they ever considered scrapping the tournament completely and going with a Hogan-Andre rematch. Bruce says no. They knew Hogan was leaving and Andre was no longer in working condition.

The tournament concept was born out of needing to get the championship off of Hogan and putting someone else in the title spot.

There were a lot of people in the company that were “afraid of the unknown,” wary of moving away from Hogan as the focus of the company.

Bruce feels Hogan transcended the title and, at this point, Hogan and WWF were one in the same.

There were arguments on both sides of the coin here as to whether it was smart for Hogan to go into films (particularly in hindsight, considering his lack of success). Bruce says people feel he was the WWF, but at the same time, others were tired of seeing him and wanted to move on to the next big thing.

Bruce was 25 at this time and living his dream. This was his first WrestleMania and was a production unlike anything he’d ever seen. Experiencing it first hand and being a part of the show was awe-inspiring, like walking through a maze in a dream.

WWF moved away from the Video One production facility in Baltimore at this point and began running things in-house in Connecticut. Bruce says no one lost a job over the move; they all came along. Kevin Dunn wasn’t high on making the move and almost didn’t do it, now he’s running the show.

Also around this time, Bruce let go of Craig DeGeorge and brought in Sean Mooney.

Conrad back things up here to NWA’s Starrcade, held the previous November. WWF countered with Survivor Series. NWA blinked first and agreed to move their show earlier in the day so fans could watch both. Vince countered by telling cable companies around the country they could only carry one, and if they chose Starrcade, they would not be permitted to carry WrestleMania IV. Almost every cable company in the country went with Survivor Series, thusly crippling Starrcade.

Vince then took it a step further in January, creating the Royal Rumble and running it on USA Network to counter the NWA’s next big PPV, Bunkhouse Stampede.

This brings us back to WrestleMania IV, where the shoe is on the other foot, and WCW runs the very first Clash of the Champions on TBS to counter Mania.

Bruce says WWF learned about the Clash running against Mania sometime after the Royal Rumble.  (It’s funny, because the tone he uses here says, “It didn’t bother us at all,” when you know Vince had to be pulling his hair out. He already hated the tournament format (or maybe this is where that hatred was born?) with the company left not having a clear main event match to promote, and here’s Crockett advertising the first ever title match between Ric Flair and Sting for free at the same time.)

Bruce says the way NWA marketed their show was great business. He feels Sting vs. Flair in 1988 didn’t have the allure it sounds like it would today, but notes this was the show that made Sting.

Accepting he will receive hate tweets, Conrad says Sting came out of the night more of a made man that Randy Savage did. Bruce, of course, disagrees. Comparing shows, Bruce says the only thing he remembers about the Clash is the main event.

(It’s funny, as there were several names on the Clash show, such as Arn and Tully and the Powers of Pain, who would be appearing at Trump Plaza the following year at WrestleMania V.)

Bruce says the age-old eye test for a wrestler entering the company of “Do I see them in the main event of WrestleMania?” is something that exists.

Conrad asks about the bracketing for the tournament. What initially appeared on television was later changed. Bruce simply says Vince changed his mind, but then adds the initial bracketing that aired was probably just a mistake.

Conrad notes that, according to the original bracketing, Savage and Dibiase would’ve theoretically faced off in the semi-finals, and that Rick Rude was the most likely name to face Savage or Hogan in the finals. Bruce wants none of this talk.

Conrad shifts to Bruno Sammartino here. He’d recently left the company and started making appearances in various media outlets. Bruce speculates that issues between Bruno and Vince stem from Bruno’s contentious relationship with Vince Sr. He adds that Bruno’s departure simply came down to his son, David, being fired. Once the son was gone, the dad was gone.

Back to Mania, Conrad notes that a caption in WWF Magazine prior to the show referred to Savage as the WWF Champion. Bruce says the editor of the magazine was reprimanded. As a result, Bruce had to proofread all future issues of the magazine.

Bruce then takes a moment for a Meltzer rant.

On to the show, Bruce thinks Gorilla and Jesse did a fine job on commentary, despite some criticism that they phoned it in.

The opening match is a 20-man battle royal. Bruce says the point was to get a lot of guys on the show right off the bat.

Bob Uecker was on the show once again. He was friends with Dick Ebersol and enjoyed himself the previous year. Everyone liked having him on the show. Uecker said on TV that Vince called and asked him to be a part of the show. This was at a time when the viewing audience only knew Vince as a commentator. Bruce says this probably irked Vince.

Word association for the participants in the battle royal is pretty uneventful. We do get an excellent rendition of Nikolai Volkoff’s singing of the Soviet National anthem. Also, Bruce is not a fan of Jacques Rougeau. Also, I can type Jacques Rougeau without error. Hell yeah. After Conrad flips Bruce enough s**t for not making this portion of the show fun, Bruce starts getting silly with impressions. Finally, Conrad presses Bruce for a Stu Hart impression and this segment is gold.

This match would launch the Hart Foundation’s babyface run, as Bret was double-crossed by Bad News Brown to end the match. The two would feud through the summer. They were familiar with each other from their time in Stampede and Vince thought they would have a good run together.

Bruce says the trophy they used for this match was “a piece of s**t.”

Dibiase vs. Jim Duggan is up next, kicking off the tournament. Robin Leach, host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous made an appearance here. Dibiase famously appeared on this program. Bruce says Vince’s house was used for the shoot. Bruce says Leach was a really nice guy, “one of the boys.”

Though Dibiase and Duggan had some classic matches in Mid-South, this one was a clunker. Bruce calls it “average, at best.” He says most of the matches on this show weren’t all that good.

Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake cuts a promo backstage. Conrad does the #BTFBB shtick here and Bruce says one day Brutus is going to kick Conrad’s ass. They go back and forth here and it makes me think what a weird running gag this is:
(a.) Conrad resents that a silly character like Beefcake is the one who ended Mr. Perfect’s undefeated streak, beating him at WrestleMania VI. He begins voicing his displeasure by referring to him derisively as “Brutus “The F**king Barber” Beefcake, in running fashion on the show.

(b.) Beefcake takes note of the uptick in Twitter followers and general notoriety and adapts usage of the #BTFBB hashtag, believing it carries “bad ass” appeal.

(c.) Conrad alludes to supposed heat he has with Beefcake as a “work,” as it’s clear he realizes the #BTFBB has taken on a lie of it’s own.

(d.) Conrad clearly still can’t get himself to actually say something nice about Brutus “The F**king Barber” Beefcake.

Only in pro wrestling (podcasts), folks.

Dino Bravo vs. Don Muraco is next. Bravo’s manager was Frenchy Martin. Though he was getting up there in years at this point, he was still effectively playing the weaselly heel manager. Most notably, according to Bruce, Frenchy also taught him how to smoke weed on a plane.

Discussing the characters involved in this match, Bruce notes that Vince has a penchant for remembering guys back when. So having “Superstar” Billy Graham manage Muraco here, he was picturing having an in-his-prime Graham working alongside a vintage Magnificent Muraco. It was not to be.

We chat a bit more about Graham and his rocky relationship with the company. A few years later, Graham was speaking out against the WWF on the heels of the steroid trial.

Ricky Steamboat battled Greg Valentine in another first round match next. During this time, Steamboat was bringing his infant son, Richie, to the ring during his entrance. Bruce says Ricky felt strongly about doing this, but that he and Vince hated the move. Additionally, Steamboat wanted his wife, Bonnie, to accompany him to the ring. This was ruled out, as common sense wrestling psychology states that young babyface wrestlers must appear available to the audience that finds them attractive. More so, the fact that Bonnie was also a good-looking woman would further turn the audience against Steamboat. It was a total heel move.

Conrad points out that Ventura went heel on Steamboat’s baby boy, criticizing his fat cheeks, etc. Super underrated work here.

A lot of folks assumed when they saw the bracket, that Steamboat and Savage were lined up to have a rematch of their classic from the year before. Instead, Valentine went over and the match would never happen. Conrad asks why. Bruce incredulously states in a way that says he’s had to answer this question many times in the past that it made no sense for two babyfaces to square off, that it “would’ve been death,” not good for either guy. (I don’t know. Count me in as one of those fans that was disappointed to miss out on what seemed like a surefire opportunity to give the audience the match they wanted. More so, I feel they were in the process of establishing Savage as the new babyface of the company. Having the two wrestle another great match with Savage getting the victory and an endorsement by Steamboat afterwards in the form of a handshake seems like it would’ve been the perfect opportunity to close the door tightly on Savage’s heel past and propel him to the next level. He would get that in some ways by having the Hulk dust sprinkled on him at the close of the show, but getting an additional boost by Steamboat would’ve been a nice touch. I don’t see Bruce’s point here.)

Conrad then points out a cool thing about Valentine. He defended the IC title against Junk Yard Dog at the first WrestleMania, at WM2, he and Beefcake dropped the tag titles to the British Bulldogs, and now at WMIV, he’s competing for the Heavyweight championship as a part of this tournament. All three titles in the first four Manias. No one else can claim that. (I would add that Valentine followed up one of the most famous WrestleMania matches ever in Savage-Steamboat at WMIII by wrestling them BOTH at the following years show. It would be like the Miz wrestling both Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker at WMXXVII.)

Bulldogs are not yet in the WWE HOF. Conrad feels this is because of both the way Smith died, and the fact that Dynamite is in a wheelchair. He goes so far as to predict that the Bulldogs will be inducted the year after Dynamite dies, though he did choose his words carefully.

Randy Savage vs. Butch Reed is up next. This immediately brings us to a rendition of Jive Soul Bro, as performed by Jim Cornette.

Butch Reed left the company shortly after this match. Bruce says this was a result of Butch working himself into a shoot, hoping his grumbling would get him into a better position. Instead, Vince had enough and sent him packing.

Butch was in the conversation for having an IC title run, but it didn’t really go any further than that.

One Man Gang eliminated Bam Bam Bigelow in the next match. Bruce thinks Bigelow was injured at the time. He loved both guys, but feels the match couldn’t be what it should have been as a result.

Bam Bam once said in later years that Vince had told him he would win the tournament. Bruce says he could see Vince telling Bigelow he could be a champ one day, but highly doubts he ever told him he would win the tournament.

Conrad then recites Hogan’s ridiculous promo about dogpaddling the Trump family out of a fault line in Atlantic City, opened by Hogan slamming Andre. He tries to get Bruce to dish on Hogan’s drug usage here, but instead ends up with a partial Warrior impression.

Jake Roberts faced off against Rick Rude in the final match of round one. It was a painful 15 minutes draw filled with stalling.

Vanna White appeared in a backstage segment next with Mean Gene. We get a bit here where Conrad implies Bruce slept with Vanna during the lead-up to the show.

Next up is the Ultimate Warrior vs. Hercules. It was a horrible four-plus minute match. Bruce says it doesn’t hold up well now, but was also terrible back then. This leads both guys to agree that WrestleMania IV was probably the worst ever.

Additionally, Conrad notes that no one could’ve predicted the Warrior would be the guy to get a clean pin on Hogan just two years later.

At last, we arrive at the match the show was built upon – Hogan-Andre III, a match so big it would presumably destroy the earth.

It went to a double DQ in five minutes.

Bruce says there was no friction with Hogan over the finish and his elimination from the tournament.

Macho Man and Liz changed matching outfits for each match in this tournament.

Dibiase and Muraco is next, with the Million Dollar Man going over in a few minutes. Crazy how close Don Muraco came to reaching the finals. But seriously, listening to the outcomes, I remember my thought process watching this as a kid. Looking over the brackets at the start of the show, you automatically assumed Hogan would beat Dibiase in the semis to advance. As Bruce points out, what the hell would be the point of a tournament if Hogan was just going to end up in the finals anyway? The show was so plodding, and you look back at it as being the mess it was, but as a kid, I was on the edge of my seat.)

Savage battles Valentine in a pretty good six-minute match. It ends with Savage rolling The Hammer into a small package. Bruce feels wrestlers today don’t understand how meaningful a finish like this can be.

Honky Tonk Man defended the IC title against #BTFBB next. Beefcake won by DQ, and gave Jimmy Hart a trim afterwards. Meltzer hated the match, which flustered Bruce.

*DIRTBAG BEEFCAKE STORY ALERT*

As the story goes, Brutus sold his comp tickets to someone who was busted outside the building attempting to scalp them. Beefcake denied this.

We got the famous Andre choking a bug-eyed Uecker backstage segment next. Conrad says it’s iconic. Bruce says they had no idea it would be viewed as such years later; it was just a backstage pre-tape.

The Bulldogs and Koko B. Ware vs. the Islanders and Bobby Heenan was up next. The Islanders had stolen the Bulldogs mascot, Matilda, in the lead-up to this match and, as a result, Heenan wore a dog trainer’s outfit to the ring. Bruce says it was really hot in the building and Bobby was already sweating his ass off. By the end, he didn’t care if the dog “f**ked him. He just wanted the whole thing to end.

Savage fought One Man Gang in the only semi-final match on the show. Savage won by count out. Bruce says the match was pretty bad. The logic used back then with referee distractions, etc, isn’t viewed all that kindly today and this is a prime example of that.

Conrad speculates that the live crowd must’ve totally lost track of everything going on with the tournament format at this point. Bruce says they gave updates to the live crowd, but there was so much information that it was probably just as confusing.

Demolition won the tag titles from Strike Force in the next to last match on the show. This victory would start their dominance of the tag division over the next few years.

We get some talk here about Demolition being viewed as Road Warrior knock-offs, but then other fans discovering Demolition first and seeing the Warriors as the rip-offs instead. Conrad admits he was a part of the latter group.

The main event is the tournament final between Savage and Dibiase. Robin Leach was set to present the title belt prior to the match. Bruce says Vince approached him, telling him they’d f**ked up big time. Bruce didn’t know what he meant until Vince pointed out that Leach was wearing a suit instead of a tuxedo. Here, Bruce was worried about what he might’ve done wrong and, instead, came to realize Vince was looking at the bigger picture.

Conrad talks about how the whole crowd was anticipating a Hogan run-in during this match and how it undermined Macho Man’s crowning moment. The match was good, but everyone knew what was coming. They weren’t the usual wrestling crowd, they were just there to see the big stars, and in this case, that meant Hogan.

In the end, Hogan came in and hit Dibiase with a chair behind the ref’s back, setting up Savage for the win. Conrad says this whole process made Savage look like a second, or even third wheel. Bruce disagrees and defends the booking.

Randy was fine with Hulk being out there because he felt he got an endorsement from Hogan.

(It’s weird because Bruce says here they were taking a chance on having a new face lead the company, and that they stacked the deck in Savage’s favor with a Hogan endorsement to help secure his success. But he has mentioned previously that they knew by WMIV where they were going with the Mega Powers explosion for WMV. So which was it? Would things have worked out differently had Savage blown up huge as champ and gone on a Hogan-esque type run? Questions.)

Bruce feels in hindsight, the tournament format for this show sucked. Conrad calls the show a flop.

Conrad inquires what the feeling was backstage following this show, assuming it was a celebratory, party atmosphere for most Mania’s, but maybe not this one. Bruce says that was never the case. It was always work. He felt set back by having such a major event on a Sunday that it through the rest of his usual workweek into upheaval.

Bruce’s rapid fire answers to listeners Facebook questions:

– Jimmy Hart loved his new haircut.
– There was talk about eventually having Andre turn face against Dibiase.
– Lot’s of names were likely talked about as far possible entrants into the tournament, but it was what it was.
– King Kong Bundy and Paul Orndorff weren’t in the tournament because they weren’t in the company.
– Bruce wasn’t betting a lot back then.
– Butch Reed was over in Florida.
– The winner of the battle royal got that beautiful trophy.
– Bruce doesn’t care who listens to this show; it doesn’t affect his behavior.
– The booking of the tournament carried with it lots of ifs, but the finals were set from the start.
– Bobby Heenan hated the long, carpeted entrance stairs.
– In some states, to this day, you’re required to have a manager’s license to be at ringside.
– Macho was business as usual following the show.
– Wrestlers were given a restaurant pass at Trump Plaza.
– Andre is a little bigger than the Big Show.
– There might be an Andre companion piece to the HBO special.
– Bruce was very young in the late 80’s and didn’t get to spend a lot of time around Andre.
– Randy Savage sings Alone With My Baby Tonight.
– There was never consideration to getting Trump involved at either WMIV or V.
– The VHS of the show is two tapes long because they didn’t make tapes long enough that were of the quality they wanted to get it all onto one.
– Gorilla Monsoon gambled a lot that weekend.
– Face vs. Face or Heel vs. Heel matches would not have worked on this show.
– Hercules could’ve worked with a brick wall and not complained.
– There was never any talk about giving Andre entrance music because not everyone had it back then.
– Robin Leach ribbed Macho Man by locking him in his dressing room prior to the main event.

The last answer was Bruce being glib. It was great, though, because just as things were about to wind down, it brought out a nice little spat between Bruce and Conrad over Bruce not being more entertaining.

Review: I would have to honestly state that the episode covering WMIV was far more entertaining than WMIV itself. I suppose I’m just a sucker for episodes that cover this era, but there was so much good stuff here. I did assume there would be some discussion of the rumor that some many wrestlers appeared to be hungover on this show and that it added to the lackluster performances we witnessed, but that was not to be.

Regardless, this episode checked a lot of the boxes that typically make for an excellent episode – Meltzer rant, Stu Hart impression, stories about Vince’s idiosyncrasies, and #BTFBB. Just when it seemed like an argument between Conrad and Bruce would not rear it’s head, we went out with a nice dose of exasperation.

If you enjoyed the Main Event and Saturday Night’s Main Event episodes, this is the final installment of that chapter and well worth the listen. Rating: 9/10

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