After a year of watching a trillion and a half WWF/E matches for a Greatest WWF/E Match Ever Poll, I realised that I never got around to re-watching any of the Randy Savage/Ted DiBiase singles matches from Savage's first WWF Title run. I couldn't remember which was which by the time it came to putting a ballot together, so I never bothered with any of them even though I figured I probably would've voted for one had I got around to them all again.
The Wrestlemania IV match I remember well enough to know that it wasn't anything I'd consider for a top 100, but a quick check of my Savage set has 4 matches that I remember being worth seeing for one reason or another. 3 from MSG and 1 from the July WrestleFest event in Milwaukee. There's also a cage match from Philly on a later disc that I don't think I've seen before (which seems strange given that a friend and I motored through 22 discs of Savage a couple summers ago...albeit in a drunken haze), but that's something for another day. I'll stick to the four for now:
Randy Savage v Ted DiBiase (MSG, 4/25/88)
This is worked like a "first" match of a feud, where things start off with a basic face/heel dynamic and you get the sense neither guy is much of a fan of the other, but there's no clear signs that they're feuding. Then by the end you've got Savage losing his nut and wanting to murder DiBiase and we're all set for the return match where you know Savage will come out swinging. First part of this is Savage working Ted's arm and I was digging it. I was sort of bipolar on Savage for a while last year, but now I pretty much love the guy again and his facial expressions are totally awesome to me; like a coke fiend whose dog's just been snatched and he's gonna machete everybody in sight until it's returned to him. DiBiase isn't as much fun on offence, which is the story with all of these matches, sort of unfocused and not really doing a whole lot worth noting. He does have amazing snap bumps off of Savage's neck whips across the ropes, though; landing back-first on the mat and flipping all the way over onto his stomach, barely using his hands for assistance at all. It's a "signature" DiBiase bump, but it always look terrific and the way he bumps around for Savage's shit is one of my favourite things about all of their matches. Virgil's better at running distractions out on the floor than I had remembered as well. He adds a lot to their cage match especially. Finish to this sets up a rematch with DiBiase getting the count out win and then prancing around the ring with the belt before Savage realises it was HIM that stole his little dog and tries to cut his face off. Nice "start" to their series and I could definitely see someone going to bat for this as their best match.
Randy Savage v Ted DiBiase (MSG, 5/27/88)
Return match, and Savage does indeed come out swinging. So much so that he WASTES DiBiase with a double forearm in the opening seconds and breaks his face. He just flies across the ring in a blur of beard and cape and sunglasses and fuggin' ploughs right into him. About 5 seconds later DiBiase's nose is all fucked up and he's on the floor writing his name on the blue mats. Savage is only in control for a couple minutes this time, but he's even more nutty and rabid than he was in the first match; like he's only in control because he's so *out* of control. Yeah...I like how that sounds. Eventually DiBiase takes over by launching Savage over the top, and from there he works on top for about 5 minutes. Still not really feeling DiBiase in control, though. He's good at giving Savage all of his hope spots and the crowd is there with him all the time, but I much prefer him eating all of Savage's stuff and seeing how he'll incorporate his favourite bumps, like the flip bump after being caught with a punch to the gut coming off the middle rope or the "snap" bumps that I mentioned in the last match. His bump for Savage's neck whip across the top rope is a little different this time. In the last match he flipped over by practically using only his neck, whereas this time it was more akin to the way Rock would sell a Stunner. They tease Savage's comeback before he's tossed out to the floor again, and we're back to Ted in control for another couple minutes. One thing I definitely could watch DiBiase do all day is level Savage with those awesome fist drops. Finish is quite nifty, although they're too busy showing us Liz jawing with the ref' (!) to catch the set up for it. DiBiase takes the pad off the turnbuckle and tries to ram Savage's head into it, but it's reversed and it's Ted that takes the shot. Randy rolls over for the pin and Virgil just stomps him in the head before the ref' can count the three. Post-match Savage takes a swing at people with a chair, and with two matches down and no clear winner, I guess the next logical step would be a cage. Think I prefer their first match to this, although it isn't by much. The two strike me as being very different despite the fact they're both bringing the same "stuff" each time out. This one also has the blood, which, intentional or not, adds to the whole dynamic of the feud.
Randy Savage v Ted DiBiase (Cage Match, MSG, 6/25/88)
I liked some of this, but for the most part I don't understand why it's been pimped as much as it has over the years. I honestly don't remember what I thought of it at the time I last watched it, so maybe I dug it then myself, but this time it struck me as the kind of match that has two guys busting out some nice shit that doesn't really amount to much or mean anything in the grand scheme since they're working 'my turn, your turn' the majority of the way. They have some nice ideas and both guys are great as always at taking the other's stuff, but the problem with those ideas is that they seem to both have different ones... and they both want to run with their own idea... and ideas start cancelling ideas out and eventually I'm left thinking "I wish I was watching that Rick Rude/Roddy Piper cage match right about now." It's frustrating, because what I liked about this I *really* liked. Virgil was awesome as the guy that just would not let Savage get out of that cage, climbing up the outside of it to keep him from getting out, slamming the door on his head, etc. There's a great spot where Savage hits an atomic drop on DiBiase - which he sells by going face-first into the cage and bouncing back into another one of his awesome snap back bumps - and he starts crawling around the ring looking for the door. He's groggy and doesn't quite know where he is, checks two corners and finds no door, checks the third and sees it *is* the door, starts crawling out and Virgil just slams it shut in his face. This is the big blue cage, so there's no Terry Gordy force behind it and Savage doesn't eat it like Kerry Von Erich did, because if he did I can only imagine his head would be left looking like Robert Patrick's when Arnie shot him in the face with a shotgun that one time, but it's a really cool spot regardless, made even better by Savage's theatrics beforehand. Ted's near escape out the door right afterwards is a HOT near escape, although Virgil standing right in front of him and not doing anything while Savage is literally dragging him back in by the tights seemed sort of ass backwards given his involvement the rest of the time. Finish is also pretty cool in that Virgil continues to be the bane of Randy's existence, heading up the cage to cut him off AGAIN, only this time DiBiase's right there with him. Some dude even jumps the rail and climbs the cage to help Savage, although he does a U-turn as soon as Virgil starts trying to punch him in the face. Double noggin-knocker puts Ted back in the ring (never noticed if he did the snap bump when he fell but it wouldn't surprise me if he did) and Virgil on the floor, and Savage's escape gets a MONSTER pop. If you don't mind 'my turn, your turn' style pacing and structure then I could see you really digging this. Not enough to the point where I could understand it being pimped as a must-see cage match, but certainly more than I did. I still think there's enough here for it to be at least "fun", but if it's laid out better then I think it could be really fucking good. I'm interested in seeing what they do with the Philly cage match, at least.
Randy Savage v Ted DiBiase (WrestleFest, 7/30/88)
Right after I watched this I thought it was probably their best match. Upon further reflection I'm not so sure. There's really isn't that much between this and the first two MSG matches, though. I think this one goes the longest, but they fill time with some new stuff, like Savage starting early by hitting the ropes, coming off with a low punch to the gut, hitting the other side and coming back with a knee lift that DiBiase sells by spilling to the floor. We also get Savage selling a leg injury for a couple minutes which is always good times, but it doesn't really go anywhere and he winds up switching between both legs so... well, I guess it wasn't that great. This has the best finish of the non-cage matches at least, and it comes following an awesome nearfall after Savage takes a drive-by chair shot to the head. Savage also reminds me of Dustin Rhodes from time to time in these matches, in the way he'll use the ropes and the corner to get back to his feet while he's taking a beating. Nothing observation, really, but I like Dustin and I like Savage and I thought that was pretty neat.
So with all four down, I can't say I'm disappointed that I never voted for any of them in a top 100. I definitely don't think any of them are bad, and the three non-cage matches are actively really good. The cage match has its moments but it's not really my thing. Out of all of them, I'm probably leaning to the 4/25 match as the best. They work a feud-starter as well as I would hope and it sets things up really nicely. The MSG return match with DiBiase getting his nose cracked is worked as the return match should be; full of Savage trying to kill a motherfucker and nothing like their first. I prefer Savage's early stretch of working the arm in the first match to anything in the second, though (DiBiase's awesome bumps are in both). Cage match is a fine MSG blow off all things considered; Savage got the win and that's what people were there to see. The WrestleFest match felt like a non-cage "blowoff", and that gave the people what they wanted as well. Combine elements from all of the regular singles matches and you've got yourself a FOUR STAR MATCH~ or something. So yeah, 4/25 was my favourite, but I wouldn't have voted for it had I got a chance to re-watch it before submitting a ballot. Glad we got that cleared up.
Back to 1992 WCW next time.