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Good morning and welcome back to another installment of the column series known as “The Day that (Insert Wrestling Promotion) Died” exclusively here WrestlingHeadlines.com, a LordsofPain.net company. Previously on this column series, we discussed The Day that WCW Died and I pinpointed a specific date which fundamentally changed the way that WCW operated moving forward. In WCW’s case, once Eric Bischoff became intoxicated by his NWO heel turn, his focus shifted from making WCW as a company strong to keeping the NWO relevant. Less than 2 years later, WCW lost its #1 spot in the wrestling industry to the WWE and less than 5 years later, it was gone as a company.
Today, we’ll focus on the World Wrestling Federation (now known as WWE) during 1989 when a foolish creative/talent decision was made that exposed the wrestling business and made a huge mockery of it as well. WWE went from doing amazing business through Wrestlemania 5 with the MEGA POWERS EXPLODING to the outhouse by SummerSlam 1989 and never recovered until about 8 years later. Vince McMahon made a major mistake that not only sent his promotion in decline but also diminished the star power for BOTH Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage in the WWF. Bad decision making created the beginning of the end for the Hulkamania Era which ruled the WWE from Hogan’s late 1983 debut through the Hulkster’s 1993 exit. It took Hogan turning heel in WCW and joining the NWO for him to become the top wrestling star again (following a few years of WCW rehashing his older babyface character).
Before I begin, I want to give credit where credit is due… This column series was inspired by Entertain the Elk’s YouTube Channel which has shows titled “The Day (Insert Show or Movie Series) Died” which goes into detail regarding a specific moment when a television show or film franchise made a bad decision that diminished the value of the show/franchise significantly. That channel is defintely worth bookmarking.
THE DAY THAT THE WWE HULKAMANIA ERA DIED
The story about the booming growth of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now known as WWE) can told with two specific men. First of all, Vince McMahon Jr., who bought the World Wrestling Federation from his father during 1982 and this followed over a decade of proving himself to his Dad by working various jobs within the company. During 1982, the WWE was the main Northeast territory at a time when wrestling promotions agreed to stay within their designated geographical area. Vince McMahon Jr., however, had other intentions on what to do with his purchased WWF company that fundamentally change the pro wrestling business forever.
Things were changing during the 1980s… For one, the 1980s is often labeled as the “Decade of Decadence” for a reason. Eventually, the economy began to boom following major revisions in the Tax Code that provided businesses more capital to invest in their companies or to take major risks on expanding it. Also, following the 1970s and early 1980s, Interest Rates finally came down. Thus, to a younger Vince McMahon Jr., he had the ability to pay less in taxes on his earnings AND he was able to borrow from Banks at a lower interest rate than before. Additionally, Vince operated out of the New York area which gave him a major financial advantage against other territories with those Tax/Interest Rate advantages. Most of the major banks are either headquartered or have a presence in New York City. Plus, most of the Media was also located in New York City as well.
As luck would also have it for Vince McMahon, the rise of Cable Television began to quickly boom during the early 1980s. Cable Television has a distinct advantage over broadcast because of how the programming was universally the same in each home that TBS or USA Networks aired. For example, Ted Turner owned the TBS station but he also owned the Atlanta Braves. Well, if you had Cable Television, you were watching many Braves games no matter what geographical region where you made your residence. Same premise for airing Pro Wrestling on Cable Television… WWF had USA Networks to air their content while NWA Mid Atlantic (eventually became WCW when Ted Turner bought it) had TBS. Following the 1980s, the only survivors happened to be WWE and NWA (now WCW) because they had the distinct advantage of being on a top Cable channel.
During the early to mid 1980s, however, Vince’s push to get onto Cable Television and also to attack the regional Broadcast Television networks with syndication was thought of as “unprofessional” and breaking the “time honored tradition” of the territory system. Vince McMahon no longer needed boundary lines… He just needed television to turn his company from a regional company to a national one…
And then Vince McMahon began to buy talent. Remember my point about taking advantage and making risks regarding a world with lower taxes and lower interest rates in place? Well Vince McMahon, refusing to abide by the old territory system, began to raid rival territories of their top talents. No one was safe, as Vince made lavish promises to wrestlers of higher paydays than the ones they received in their territories. How? Because many wrestlers made great livings as the top guy of a territory. Vince had grander plans of making the wrestling business more lucrative nationwide… For one, by airing his programs nationally via Cable and Syndication, the WWF could now tour more places than ever. Secondly, WWF began to look at Merchandise specifically marketed towards children as a major revenue stream. Toys, video games, shirts, foam fingers, you name it, the WWF sold it at live shows and elsewhere.
The last trick Vince McMahon had up his sleeve was the invention of Wrestlemania during 1985.
Now, other wrestling promotions had big events too during the 1980s… NWA had two big annual events in the Great American Bash and Starrcade, for example. But those events were very regional. The desire of Wrestlemania was to make it a nationwide known event that was sought after by everyone across the country and the characters performing on that card would be infused into the country’s pop culture. Vince McMahon made sure to book non-wrestling celebrities on his show and he used the growing Mtv Cable channel to help promote his events. “Rock N Roll” wrestling as they called it and it helped create a national demand for the Wrestlemania event and for the WWE itself.
Throughout the WWE’s talent raids of the territory promotions, the signed many great stars… But Vince needed 1 guy to put them over the top. One guy who could be the obvious face of the company that you could market nationwide. The funny thing is that Vince found that one guy in a wrestler whom his father, Vince McMahon Sr., terminated years earlier…
Terry Bollea was a wrestler who began his career during 1977 and eventually made his way to the WWF by 1979. He wrestled under the names of Terry Boulder and Sterling Golden while earning the nickname of “Hulk” after having size and obvious muscle mass that resembled the famous Marvel comic book hero who actually had a hit television show at the time. When Terry joined the WWF under Vince Sr., that promotion was pushing ethnicities and wanted him to portray an Irish performer. He was soon renamed to Hulk Hogan… Early on, he worked often as a heel for Vince Sr. and even feuded with Andre the Giant (fact that WWE often denied for its Wrestlemania 3 hype). In addition to working for Vince Sr., Hogan found success touring in Japan as well.
Then, a movie role presented itself that would change Hulk Hogan forever. During the 1980s, the script for Rocky 3 was created and it called for a larger pro wrestling character to face Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky in a charity fight. Hulk Hogan was perfect for the role… He had the look, the charisma to play the dastardly “Thunderlips” character, and a great ability to cut a promo to sell the character on the big screen. Rocky 3 would be a huge smash hit at the box office, as it easily topped its prior 2 films in the series financially to a tune of $270 Million during 1982.
The funniest part about this movie role for Hulk Hogan? Vince McMahon Sr. did not want Hogan participating on this movie and in fact, released Hogan as a WWF talent because of it.
WWF’s loss was American Wrestling Association‘s gain… Hogan joined AWA during 1981 following his WWF exit and was naturally becoming a fan favorite based on his talent and a fairly decent amount of experience as a wrestler. AWA noticed how fans reacted to Hogan and quickly changed him from a heel to a babyface. Then, 1982 hit and Rocky 3 came out. Suddenly, AWA was employing a movie star on their roster! Hogan’s babyface reactions kept growing and growing to the point where fans would damn near riot as Hogan was unable to defeat heel Rock Bockwinkel for the AWA Title.
Fast forward to late 1983… Vince McMahon (removing the “Jr.” part, moving forward in this column) had signed talent from many territories, had the Cable/Syndication television infrastructure in place, had Merchandise offers lining up, and was dreaming of one day having major top drawing events… But he just needed 1 major star to be the face of the company. That is not to diminish the many great talents that he had signed from territories, as they’d each play crucial supporting roles soon. Vince wanted someone who was tall and muscular who looked like a movie star that he could put on posters, merchandise, TV Guide, and even sports magazines. If only a territory had such a guy.
Hulk Hogan was signed by the WWE during late 1983. By Janury 23rd, 1984, Hogan defeated the Iron Shiek to become the WWF Champion at Madison Square Garden.
The rest, as they say, was history… BOOM, plans are put in place to have Wrestlemania 1 during 1985. Hey, Mr. T, who was also in Rocky 3 and was growing into a major celebrity, wants to participate? And we can have him tag up with Hulk Hogan? Sure… Wrestlemania 2 was just OK but Wrestlemania 3 with Hulk Hogan accepting the challenge from Andre “the Giant”. Holy cow, look at those amazing posters? And to somehow put 93,000 (or 78,000) fans into the Pontiac Silverdome too? And believe me, as a kid during 1987 who had yet to blossom into a hardcore pro wrestling fan, I definitely heard about Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant and everybody at school wanted to know the results of Wrestlemania 3 afterward.
But I’d argue that while Wrestlemania 3 was great, it wasn’t the peak of the WWF’s “Hulkamania Era”. That came with Wrestlemania 5 which was a smashing success on a growing Pay Per View market and its buyrate would hold the viewership record until Starrcade 1997 beat it more than 8 years after it.
-Wrestlemania 5 and the Mega Powers = The PEAK of the Hulkamania Era-
So Wrestlemania 3 happened and what was next for the Hulkster? Well, milking that Andre the Giant feud a little more longer was up next. In fact, Hogan’s amazing WWF Title reign that lasted 4 years came to an end on February 5th, 1988 when Andre the Giant, with some help from the “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase, screwed Hogan out of the WWE Title thanks to the help of a lookalike referee. After the match, Andre gave the WWF Title to Ted Dibiase and this caused the WWF President (on screen) Jack Tunney to respond by declaring the title vacant. The new WWF Champion would be crowned at Wrestlemania 4 which was a one night bracket style tournament to determine the new champion. The show was hyped to have another Andre vs. Hogan match guaranteed to happen but it had intentions on making someone else become WWF Champion.
Now, something to note here for 1988… Hulk Hogan was going to need time off following Wrestlemania 4 to film a WWF financed movie called No Holds Barred. This fact will become very important later in this column, but my point right now is that it created an opening for the WWF to catapult another star to the top.
Initially, the WWF was going to crown Ted Dibiase to become the new WWF Champion. But that booking was way too obvious and sort of redundant since Ted tried to “buy” the WWF Title just months ago. The WWF Creative Team and Vince had other ideas, as a recently turned babyface wrestler was quickly gaining popularity. The “Macho Man” Randy Savage joined the WWF during the middle of 1985 (just missing that first Wrestlemania) and he was initially a heel. He had a great early angle where he wanted to inquire the services of a manager and all of the great male managers such as Bobby Heenan, Freddie Blassie, and Jimmy Hart were all potentially up for that job. Nope, Randy Savage used his HOT and BEAUTIFUL real life wife named Miss Elizabeth instead. The Macho Man drew heat with her, too, as the heel Savage would berate and belittle her for his heelish mistakes in the ring and would often use her as a human shield against babyfaces.
From 1986 to 1987, Savage ruled the midcard as an excellent heel Intercontinental Champion who drew heat not just by his actions towards Miss Elizabeth, but his raw intensity as a character and incredible in-ring work. His feud with Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat is the stuff of legends and their match at Wrestlemania 3 is still talked about to this day. As the way things should go, Savage outgrew his midcard role and was ready for bigger and better things. Yet, for 1988, the WWF needed a top babyface star to replace Hulk Hogan while the Hulkster was filming No Holds Barred. Savage was turned into a babyface, fans began to show like and appreciation towards him now instead of heat, and Macho even had a few on-screen moments with Hulk Hogan to show a potential friendship between the two characters.
At Wrestlemania 4, the Macho Man Randy Savage defeated Ted Dibiase to become WWF Champion thanks to a little help from his new babyface buddy, Hulk Hogan. After the match, Hogan and Savage embraced each other in the ring and Miss Elizabeth was there for the celebration as well. Hulk Hogan could now go film No Holds Barred while the WWE could continue to draw big crowds with Macho Man and Elizabeth in the main events. WWE’s business during the late Spring and Summer of 1988 did just fine and didn’t skip a beat with Savage on top. Macho was a legitimate draw and Elizabeth’s star power grew as well now that she and Macho were the faces of the WWF. Both could now make personal appearances together for media and the fans ate them up as the “first couple of the WWF”.
After No Holds Barred wrapped its production, Hulk Hogan returned to help hype first first ever SummerSlam event during 1988. Hogan and Macho were now officially named the Mega Powers as a team and they feuded with the Mega Bucks team of Ted Dibiase and Andre the Giant. Summerslam 1988 was a HUGE event thanks to his major headlining match… Think about that for a second… A tag match with no titles on the line made this initial event a major success. Hey, the WWF the same exact thing for Wrestlemania 1 too with a Tag Team match headlining a show. To just pour gasoline on the fire of the growing Mega Powers, the ending of SummerSlam 1988 main event saw Miss Elizabeth tear off her dress to distract Ted and Andre with her red panties… I believe it was at that moment when a young Mr. Tito said “yeah, I like girls”. The Mega Powers celebrated their victory with Elizabeth after the match…
But Hogan seemed just a little too excited to be around Miss Elizabeth during that celebration and you could begin to see the on-screen jealousy brewing with Macho Man. Between this and early 1989, the WWE kept staging events where Hogan seemed to be enjoying the company of Miss Elizabeth too much and Randy Savage was growing more and more jealous by the week. Then, on the Main Event show on February 3rd, 1989, the Mega Powers were wrestling the Twin Towers (Akeem and Big Bossman) when the ringside Miss Elizabeth took a bump during the heat of the action and Hulk Hogan actually carried her to the back (like a groom holding his bride) for medical attention. This caused Savage to be alone with Bossman and Akeem to take a beating. This caused Savage to become enraged and he attacked Hulk Hogan in the medical area where Miss Elizabeth was being treated.
Wrestlemania 5 became the show that hyped the Mega Powers “exploding”, as the Main Event match was set between Macho Man Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan with the hype of Miss Elizabeth being ringside BUT being in a “neutral corner”. Fans ate it up! Wrestlemania 5 probably helped make Pay Per View become a major successful revenue outlet for Cable Companies regarding non-boxing events. As I noted above, Wrestlemania 5’s buyrate held firmly as the #1 brought wrestling Pay Per View until WCW’s Starrcade 1997 (headlined by Hulk Hogan vs. Sting) finally beat it. Mind you, 1997 had much more homes with Cable and Pay Per View availabilities, too.
Hulk Hogan defeated Macho Man Randy Savage to become the WWF Champion again at Wrestlemania 5… So, what was the WWF going to do next?
And that’s when the WWE’s Hulkamania Era began to die.
Vince McMahon was about to make a major mistake.
– The Day That WWE’s Hulkamania Era Died – SummerSlam 1989-
I’ve always maintained that the wrong person won at Wrestlemania 5… Had Macho Man Randy Savage weaseled his way out of that match to remain WWE Champion, the WWE could have had a huge rematch at SummerSlam 1989 and maybe even headline Wrestlemania 6 with Hogan and Savage again (maybe in a cage?). Macho Man more than proved that he was a great character and a draw. Yet, for the rest of 1989, Randy took a backseat to a Hollywood actor who wasn’t trained as a wrestler and would not become a full-time wrestler.
Hulk Hogan’s movie No Holds Barred was released to the public on June 2nd, 1989. It made about $16 million on a reported $8 million budget. In other words, it was a film probably most enjoyed by younger wrestling fans who convinced their parents to take them to this movie (100% guilty as charged). And look, Hulk Hogan has every right to make movies. After all, the Rocky 3 film appearance is partially responsible for his booming growth as a babyface. That’s not the issue.
The issue is the FACT that Vince McMahon tried to take the events of the No Holds Barred movie, which is known to be make believe as a film, and tried to portray them in a WWF ring. HUGE MISTAKE. In other words, the movie character Zeus actually became a WWF wrestler under that same name. Thus, the character that Hogan defeated in No Holds Barred where there are scripts, producers, cameras, and multiple takes, was now a WWF wrestler to be taken seriously. Even though on the credits for the movie, it clearly read “Thomas ‘Tiny’ Lister as Zeus”, wrestling fans were now forced to believe that Zeus was a legitimate wrestler and not just a movie character. It just didn’t work, especially with the WWF’s foolish expectation that Zeus would translate easily as a wrestler. This is much different than say Mr. T wrestling in the WWF. In Rocky 3, Mr. T was named “Clubber Lang”. In the WWF, he wrestled as Mr. T which is what he was called in real life. The Zeus character in the movie No Holds Barred was the same Zeus wrestler in the WWF.
Fatal mistake… You see, during the late 1980s, the whispers that Pro Wrestling was “fake” or “scripted” were getting louder especially as more eyes were on the WWF’s national television product. On top of all of that, Vince McMahon‘s public designation of the WWE as an “entertainment” company to get away from Athletic Commission regulations also painted the image to wrestling fans that what they were seeing for years wasn’t a real sporting event. However, wrestling fans still enjoyed the product because of the great performers in place like Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, and many other TRAINED professionals. But then when the WWE tried to push Zeus as a legitimate wrestler, it was a big slap in the face to many wrestling fans.
SummerSlam 1989 = “The Day that WWF’s Hulkamania Era Died” because they followed through with having Zeus co-headline this big Pay Per View event by teaming up with Macho Man Randy Savage against Hulk Hogan & Brutus “the Barber” Beefcake. This match was BAD, too… Sorry, but Zeus was a movie character and not a trained wrestler. Unfortunately, it showed and it made Hogan look weak in the process and made Savage look second rate because the SummerSlam 1989’s hype was all about Zeus getting revenge on Hogan. Worse yet, it took a loaded purse of Sheri Martel’s to cause Zeus to lose the match.
When Vince McMahon pushed Zeus as hard as he did, it fully exposed the business for the worse… Fans were no longer suspending disbelief and in my opinion, that caused them to look at other parts of the WWF critically. For example, the Ultimate Warrior‘s WWF title run… Following that great Wrestlemania 6 match with Hogan, the Warrior struggled to convince wrestling fans that he was a credible tough guy and great in-ring worker. WWF’s business continued to shrink with him as champion during 1990 and things became even more ridiculous when the WWF turned Sgt. Slaughter into an Iraqi sympathizer to portray the Desert Storm war inside a WWF ring. And guess who predictably beat Slaughter at Wrestlemania 7. Hulk Hogan…
On top of the WWF’s exposed booking to make the business look phony, additional knockout punches were on the way… WWF had multiple legal problems in the form of Sexual Harassment lawsuits and the federal trial of Vince McMahon for alleged Steroid distribution was coming up. Following Wrestlemania 8 during 1992, wrestlers were suddenly getting smaller in size and many other longtime talents soon left the WWF. Jake Roberts can rip the WWF for pushing Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart as champion but they didn’t have much else to push back then following legal controversies (including Roberts who bolted to WCW during 1992!). WWF had to reinvent its roster several times from 1992-1996 until deciding to change their Creative direction and deciding to push stars like Steve Austin, Mick Foley, and the Rock during 1997-1998.
Nothing against the actor who portrayed Zeus, but Tiny Lister WAS AN ACTOR and NOT A WRESTLER. He was reportedly paid well to recreate his Zeus character for the WWF and I don’t blame him one bit for taking Vince’s money. But I blame Vince for the idiotic idea of trying to shove No Holds Barred down our throats to make more Box Office/Rental money off that WWF financed film instead of caring more about the integrity of his wrestling product. And it wasn’t over by Summerslam 1989. We kept this Hogan vs. Zeus feud going through Survivor Series 1989 and then actually made a “No Holds Barred” additional Pay Per View event by the end of 1989 to push the Zeus/Hogan feud one more time. If making Zeus appear as a wrestler was a good idea, why did the WWF always hide him in tag matches?
Most of all, WWF’s creative attention on reliving the No Holds Barred movie on WWF television limited any potential of Macho Man Randy Savage to become an even bigger star. While Savage repeatedly tagged up with Zeus, the hype was always about Zeus vs. Hogan. Meanwhile during 1989, Savage was just the WWE Champion earlier in the year. Now, he was yet another opponent discarded by Hulk Hogan. Ever notice that as a theme for Hogan? Anyone he defeats, they seemed to sink downward on the card. Now you see why “Rowdy” Roddy Piper REFUSED to work a singles program with Hogan and why Piper won their first encounter at Starrcade 1996. Piper was a smart man…
Macho Man’s remaining career in the WWF was to be retired by the Ultimate Warrior, midcard feud with Jake Roberts, winning the WWF Championship on Wrestlemania 8 that didn’t headline the card, and being placed in the announcer’s booth because Vince didn’t see any value in having Randy wrestle again. Then in WCW, Savage was in the same position… Always the 2nd banana to Hulk Hogan and never getting the opportunity to avenge that Wrestlemania 5 loss. Savage ALWAYS lost to Hulk Hogan and he became legitimately bitter about that later in his life.
Yet, it was Randy Savage who helped make Wrestlemania 5 into a major success. WWF made a major mistake by not continuing to push Randy Savage as a main eventer, by himself, following that event. Instead, it was Zeus time and it lost many WWF fans as a result. Meanwhile, the WWF became increasingly dependent on Hulk Hogan and lacked valid opponents for him moving forward. Though his match with Sgt. Slaughter is underrated from Wrestlemania 7, the premise that Slaughter would sympathize with Iraq was ridiculous. Sid Justice was NOT ready to headline Wrestlemania 8 and the Wrestlemania 9 fiasco with a much thinner Hulk Hogan defeating Yokozuna after Bret Hart couldn’t was awful.
In hindsight, the Hulk Hogan babyface character may have PEAKED at Wrestlemania 5 but he may have also peaked with his Andre “the Giant” feud during 1987-1988, too. After beating the “undefeated” Andre, who else was there to defeat? Macho Man Randy Savage extended Hulk Hogan’s babyface run by at first giving him a great on-screen friend and then giving him the most psychological opponent that he’s ever faced. But, Hogan made short work of Macho through just 1 major event at Wrestlemania 5 and it was on to portraying Zeus as the real threat instead of Savage for the rest of 1989.
By the WWE actually going through and executing the SummerSlam 1989 match between Hulk Hogan/Brutus “the Barber” Beefcake vs. Zeus/Macho Man Randy Savage, this makes August 28th, 1989 as the official day that the WWF’s Hulkamania Era died…
Funny part about this story is that World Championship Wrestling (WCW) actually brought in Tiny Lister to basically relive the Zeus character (renamed “Z-Gangsta”) for their Uncensored 1996 DISASTER of an event. Unlike the WWE, however, Eric Bischoff learned from his mistake and soon realized two things: (a) babyface Hulk Hogan was no longer effectively drawing and (b) WCW needed a creative direction change.
In other words, using Zeus for the WWF during 1989 killed their Hulkamania momentum and kept weakening them through 1996… But WCW using Zeus (or “Z-Gangsta”) served as a major wake-up call to Eric Bischoff to quickly fix things and position WCW to defeat the weakened WWF in just a few months after that fateful Uncensored 1996 event.
So, WWE… Have you learned your lesson yet by trying to push celebrities into wrestling roles yet? Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it (George Santayana 1905-1906).
So just chill… Until the next episode!
Play my Super Mario Maker 2 courses on the Nintendo Switch:
Die Hard (themed after the Bruce Willis Film): 2YH-48W-HMG
Die Hard 2 – Die Harder: QQ1-MHW-YTF
Die Hard with a Vengeance: 5MB-2YG-VRG
Hoarding the Toilet Paper: 43G-S79-TVG
Star Trek 2 – The Wrath of Khan: 1LV-L7L-KDF
Inside Her: FC1-TW9-7YG
Star Wars vs. Star Trek: N3X-R6M-Y9G
Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time Wrong Warp: 2RX-QCV-N9G
Super Link Bros: HBD-H5C-QRF
Santa Bowser Came Early: GL8-F48-3XG
Super Wrestling Bros: 0H6-9HT-S5G
WWE Royal Rumble: SDH-JC2-HFG
WWE Elimination Chamber: P3B-5DJ-91G
WCW World War 3: BT4-W1Y-HRG
Extreme Championship Wrestling: 42J-4GT-W3G
BEST OF TITO’s POLITICAL CARTOONS
– Alfred E. Vince McMahon on Wrestlemania 36
– WWE’s “Developmental System”
– How Triple H views CM Punk’s physique
– How Pro Wrestling Controversies keep pulling me out of the Retirement Home
– Seth Rollins cannot resist the Internet!
– Truth About WWE’s “Executive Directors”
– More Truth About WWE’s “Executive Directors”
– Jim Cornette as Godzilla against Indy Mudshow Wrestlers
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