The SmarK Rant for NWA Halloween Havoc 89 – 10.28.89
(I’ve had a bunch of people asking if I was going to review this one in my 89 redo run, but I already had done it a couple of years back, so in case you missed it, here it is again!)
Live from Philly, drawing 7300.
Your hosts are Jim Ross & Bob Caudle
Tom Zenk v. Captain Mike Rotunda
Could there BE a more WCW opener? Poor Mike was drifting aimlessly with the breakup of the Varsity Club, clinging to his amateur wrestling gear like Tito Santana wearing his Strike Force tights in 1991. Zenk overpowers him with shoulderblocks to start and Rotunda bails. Back in, Rotunda tries his own power moves, but Zenk gets a hiptoss and puts him on the floor again. Back in, Rotunda gets a cheap knee in the corner and thumbs him in the eye, and tosses him to a HUGE face pop from the hostile Philly crowd. Zenk comes back in with a sunset flip and Rotunda bails again for more stalling as JR actually relates Rotunda’s history as a football player at 9 years old. Zenk works a hammerlock as some guy tries to get a “Retardo” chant going. Thankfully that one didn’t catch. Rotunda works a headscissors as JR also points out that he’s still wearing Varsity Club gear months after the breakup of the stable. Rotundo works the headscissors, but holds the ropes and gets caught, and we get MORE stalling. Back in, Zenk goes to a headlock and now the crowd is sick of the match as it’s obviously a draw coming, but Rotunda hurls him to the floor to wake them up again. Mike necksnaps him on the way in. Some guy in the front row just yells “ZENK, YOU’RE WEAK!” Sick burn, bro. Sometimes the simple cuts are the deepest ones. Rotunda with a suplex back into the ring for two. And now it’s time for the ABDOMINAL STRETCH OF SWEATY DEATH, but Mike holds the ropes again and gets caught. And we go to a chinlock because why not? Zenk fights out, but walks into the lariat and the crowd pops big for that. Zenk makes the comeback and rolls through a crossbody out of the corner for the pin at 13:30…and gets booed out of the building. Perfectly Acceptable Wrestling here that threatened to get boring but never did. **1/2
Meanwhile, Bruno Sammartino feels like refereeing a Thunderdome match might be the most difficult challenge he’s faced in his career. To his credit, Bruno plays this silly role 100% straight and he’s ready to stop the match when someone throws in the towel.
The Midnight Express & Steve Williams v. The Samoan Swat Team & The Samoan Savage
The Savage is of course Fatu’s twin brother Sam, better known as Tama. The Samoans yell and stick out their tongues a lot to emphasize how savage and wild they are, but the palm trees embroidered on their ass somewhat undercuts that badass image. Despite the hostile, heel-loving crowd, the Midnight Express and Dr. Death are crazy over as 100% babyfaces. We get an extended staredown to start and Lane clotheslines the Savage out for a cheapshot from Bobby and it’s another staredown. Back in, the Express double-teams Savage and Bobby fires away with punches on the SST, and it’s another mid-ring staredown. JR presents the secret original of Bobby Eaton here: He was a teenager working on the ring crew, and one night someone got injured and a replacement was needed, so they stuck him in there and the rest is history. Huh. Williams comes in and destroys the Samoans with shoulderblocks and Philly goes APESHIT. Steve Williams as a babyface was one of the all-time great hot tag guys and it’s kind of a shame he spent so much time as a heel in Japan. Speaking selfishly as a fan of tag wrestling. Doc slugs away on Fatu and gets a clothesline out of the corner, and then more clotheslines for the other heels just in case they needed one. The Samoans bail and Jim Cornette insinuates that they are CHICKENS for doing so.
Right, something like that. Lane trades martial arts with Samu and the Express keeps him in their corner for some abuse, so Samu backs off for some advice from the other Samoans. That advice? “If you gain 500 pounds like cousin Rodney, I bet you’d get the World title!”
Lane works an armbar on Fatu, but tries a crossbody and Fatu powerslams him. Lane brings him right back into the babyface corner, however, and they stay on the arm. Amazingly, the Express have had the shine going for 11:00 now! Eaton with a bulldog, but Savage runs him into the top turnbuckle to block and Eaton takes a hellacious bump off that. And then Savage tosses him and Eaton takes another crazy bump to the floor, and finally the Samoans drop him crotchfirst on the railing and JR is fearing for his life. Eaton wisely backs off and thinks it over in the aisle, so Fatu follows him out there and hiptosses him onto the concrete. Back in, Eaton actually gets a sunset flip on Savage for two, and Fatu comes in with a headbutt for two. Eaton fights back again and rams Fatu’s head into the mat, but you know how THAT goes. Always a great spot when a Samoan pops up and superkicks the babyface. Samu slugs away on the ropes and the Samoans triple-team him in the corner, and Savage gets a sideslam for two. The Fatus hit Bobby with a double headbutt and Savage goes up for a pump splash, but he hits the knees and Bobby does an amazing babyface sell as he desperately crawls for the tag. And Doc gets the hot tag and WHAT DID I SAY about Steve’s hot tag prowess? The man just destroys them and hits everyone with press slams and a powerslam on the Savage for two. Lane comes in with a neckbreaker on Savage that gets messed up and it’s BONZO GONZO. Enzuigiri on the Savage, but Lane gets rammed into Cornette and Savage pins him at 18:17 to deflate the crowd. This was a bummer, but there was a bigger story being told here. Tremendous match! ***3/4
Meanwhile, Terry Funk and his six-pack (as opposed to the malt beverage six pack he usually has) are ready to fry Sting and Flair in the electric fence and produce FRIED CHICKEN.
The Cuban Assassin v. Tommy Rich
The Cuban slugs away to start, but Rich comes back with slams and elbows him out of the ring as JR notes that Rich went into “relative obscurity” in the 80s before re-emerging here, in the NWA, where we wrestle! He’s the comeback story of the year! Meanwhile, the Philly crowd chants “Tommy Rich sucks” to put him in place. Rich works an armbar and gets an ugly sunset flip for two. I feel like the wrestling world is ready for the Saudi Arabian Assassin as a character. His finisher would have to be a cutter of some kind, I assume. Anyway, now that I’ve thoroughly dated this rant and lost whatever respect I’ve built up, we go back to watching Rich hold an armbar until Fidel escapes with a devastating slam. Rich is like “OH NO YOU DON’T!” and goes right back to that armbar. I’m aghast to think that Rich was just involved in the hottest angle in all of wrestling a couple of years previous in Memphis and now he’s doing this shit again. If he’s not rupturing someone’s testicle on a ringpost, I don’t care. Assassin gets his own armbar as JR refers to Rich as a “youngster”. I mean, a quick reveals that Rich is only four years younger than Jim Ross himself, so….yeah. Assassin tries a piledriver, but Rich backdrops out, so Cuban goes back to the chinlock. That doesn’t finish, so he goes up top and Rich slugs him down and THIS MATCH IS STILL GOING. Cuban misses a bodypress and the Thesz Press finishes for Tommy at 8:20, thank god. ½*
NWA World tag titles: The Freebirds v. The Dynamic Dudes
OH BABY. So this is one of the most epic reverse crowd reactions ever seen, as the supposed babyfaces redefine “getting booed out of the building” and sleazeball heels the Freebirds are given a hero’s welcome. Sadly, the Dudes’ terrible music is overdubbed, so we miss a lot of the bile from the crowd there. But more is coming. Shane and Hayes trade rollups and the crowd makes sure to boo when Shane is on top. Shane works a headlock and gets a bad neckbreaker and it’s over to Johnny “Mr. Excitement” Ace. Johnny with a dropkick and he works Garvin’s arm, and then Hayes comes in and they work his arm as well. The crowd has just had enough of the Dudes and boos everything they’re doing, with the reaction getting more and more vitriolic as the Dudes clean house with double dropkicks. JR and Caudle are trying to call the match normally and the fans are just completely hijacking the match on behalf of the Freebirds. More lame double-teams from the Dudes on Hayes and a bulldog gets two for Ace. “That reeks of the Midnight Express!” notes Jim. Yeah, it reeks all right. Johnny holds a headlock on Garvin and does the silly babyface spot where he backdrops the other guy while holding the headlock, and the crowd just shits all over it. BOO, THEY SAY! Ace with another headlock and the crowd completely buries him, and Hayes gets the punch from the apron and suddenly the place EXPLODES. Garvin puts him on the floor with a kneelift and Hayes adds a shot behind the ref’s back, and the Birds are smart enough to play it up for the crowd every time Ace has to sell getting kicked in the head. Hayes in particular is all over this situation. PS comes back in and slugs away in the corner and we get a “boo / yay” spot years before it was a thing, and Garvin backdrops Ace and whips Hayes into him with a corner clothesline. Hayes tries a DDT, but Ace grabs the ropes to block and makes a “hot” tag to Shane Douglas, and it’s the coldest hot tag ever. Shane rams them together and people are just booing this out of the building, and they go for the double suplex, but Hayes trips Ace and Garvin falls on top to retain at 11:28 for an insane face pop. Had both teams been better, they could have milked this into legendary territory, but neither team was any good and it was just kind of a normal bad match with a crazy crowd. *1/2
The Steiner Brothers v. THE TAG TEAM COMBINATION OF DOOM
The Steiners theme is overdubbed so I’m assuming they were using “Welcome to the Jungle” at this point. Everyone brawls to start and the Steiners hit them both with suplexes out of the ring, and of course the Steiners are A-OK with Philly. Doom regroups and the Steiners clothesline them over the top again. Back in, the mysterious Doom #1 pounds on Scott in the corner, and we’ll call him a made-up name like “Ron Simmons” to make it easier. The Steiners clear the ring again and it’s over to the equally mysterious Doom #2, whom we will dub “Butch Reed”, and Rick slugs him down and goes to a chinlock. Simmons comes in for a suplex, but Rick blocks it and gets a powerslam, basically deadlifting him on that one. Scott comes in with a clothesline off the middle rope on Simmons, but Ron hits Rick with a jawbreaker and Reed gets a clothesline to take over. JR has already lost track of his “Doom #1 / Doom #2” notations. I mean, Reed has an elbowpad! How much easier can it be? Scott with a german suplex on Simmons and he drops an elbow for two while Woman yells “GET THOSE STEINERS!” at ringside. Really earning your pay there, Nancy. Doom catches Scott in the corner and slowly pounds on him while JR declares that “The backgrounds of Doom are as mysterious as their identity.” Poor guy, it must have been killing him not to be able to talk about Ron Simmons’ college career and Reed’s paper route or whatever. They work Scott over in the corner and Bob is pretty sure the locker room is gonna be put on notice by Doom. Perhaps if the note reads “They kind of suck”, sure. Reed tosses Scott and he comes back in with a sunset flip for two, but Reed gets a neckbreaker for two. Simmons with a powerslam for two and they hit a double slam for two. Scott fights over and tags in Rick, but of course the ref misses it, allowing Doom to hit a stuff piledriver for two. Back to the chinlock on Scott, but he fights out and it’s hot tag Rick. Backdrop for Reed and Scott hits the Frankensteiner on Simmons to put him on the floor while Rick powerslams Reed. This brings Woman into the ring and she loads up Ron’s mask, allowing him to headbutt Rick for the upset win at 15:25. This was OK. **3/4 Even with the win here, Doom was mostly dead in the water for months and then suddenly gelled and got awesome in 1990. I’ve seen people advocating for it as a lost classic or something, but COME ON.
US title: Lex Luger v. Brian Pillman
Pillman was definitely using “Rocket” at this point, so that’s gotta go. The crowd is already chanting for supposed super-heel Lex Luger before he even makes his entrance. They fight over the lockup to start and Lex pounds on him in the corner, but Pillman slugs away in the corner and gets a backdrop and dropkick to send Luger running, then he follows with a baseball slide and chops on the floor. Back in, Luger evades Air Pillman, so Brian chases him around the ring and walks into a knee on the way in. Lex pounds him with elbows to take over and works him over in the corner, but Pillman comes out of the corner with a bodypress for two and goes to the arm. Amazingly, Pillman has already mostly turned the hostile crowd. Pillman works the arm, but Lex slugs away from that and follows with a knee to the gut. And then Pillman gets another hiptoss and dropkick and back to the armbar again to keep Luger off his feet. Lex finally pounds him in the corner to break, but Pillman dodges a blind charge and goes up, only to miss a flying splash. Luger faceplants him and NOW the dudebros in the audience are back cheering for Lex again. Lex drops him on the top rope and follows with a clothesline, but Pillman fights back with chops until Luger hits him with a front and back clothesline, then a delayed suplex as the crowd goes NUTS. That gets two. Lex drops a pair of elbows, but Pillman fights back, so Lex dumps him. Pillman comes back in with a sunset flip for two, and Luger charges with another clothesline and lands on the floor. Pillman makes the comeback and slugs away in the corner, but Lex takes him down with an atomic drop and they head up for a superplex, which Pillman blocks. Sunset flip from the top gets two for Pillman and they trade chops, allowing Pillman to make the comeback with a back elbow. He tries Air Pillman again, but Luger lands in the ropes and it only gets two. Neckbreaker and Pillman goes up to finish, but he misses a missile dropkick and Luger stunguns him for the pin at 16:45. Hell of a match here and Pillman managed to turn the crowd with his work. The only real downside is that Pillman didn’t have a killer finish at this point and it was hard to buy him ever as a serious threat to the title at any point. ***3/4
The Road Warriors v. The Skyscrapers
Hawk has a funny promo before the match, as Chris Cruise notes that “Some people consider you the underdogs” and Hawk deadpans “People are stupid” in response. Regardless, this was BIGTIME and the crowd is going nuts before the bell even rings. Sadly, it couldn’t live up to the hype and neither could the Skyscrapers. Hawk works the arm on Spivey and they trade shoulderblocks until Spivey is finally the first one to sell. Sid comes in and tries a clothesline, but Hawk hits his own as I ponder how Sid could botch a clothesline. That’s our Sid! LOD double-teams Sid and he immediately no-sells it, and then Animal is unable to knock him off his feet either. Finally a flying shoulderblock puts him on the floor. Hawk wants the test of strength with Sid and uses the power of MONKEY HORMONES to win that one, but Sid still won’t go down. Animal tries working the arm, but he gets caught in the heel corner and worked over a bit. Back to Hawk and Sid puts him down with a clothesline to take over and follows with the helicopter slam. Spivey with a side slam for two. Sid drops Hawk on the railing and Spivey follows with a suplex for two. Skyscrapers with a double-team clothesline in the corner and poor Sid is just the least-coordinated guy you’ll ever see here, limbs flailing around like a baby deer. Thank god for Spivey holding it together. Hawk fights back with a suplex on Spivey and JR’s predictions of the match not going 10:00 are sadly untrue as we cross that mark long after they should have wrapped things up and kept Sid from getting exposed. False tag and Spivey misses a blind charge and runs into Hawk’s boot, and it’s hot tag Animal. Shoulderblock for Spivey and he slugs it out with Sid and gets a powerslam behind the ref’s back, at which point Teddy Long brings in the key gimmick for the DQ at 11:45. This definitely went too long but wasn’t quite as terrible as I initially remembered it. *1/2
THUNDERDOME: Sting & Ric Flair v. Terry Funk & The Great Muta
This is anything goes, in a prototype of the Cell cage, with the only way to win being a towel thrown in by either Gary Hart or Ole Anderson. Thankfully, Funk’s fake Ennio Morricone music is left intact here, which is kind of funny because it’s OBVIOUSLY Morricone being aped and yet they’ll obsessively scrub stuff that only vaguely sounds like someone else’s work. So in fact, a bunch of the crap on the side of the cage immediately catches on fire, and Muta jumps up the cage and sprays it out with his green mist! No fire extinguisher needed. Flair throws throwing leather on Funk right away, but he comes back with a slam and Flair returns in kind and keeps throwing nasty chops before dumping Funk to the floor. Back in, Sting comes in and runs Funk into the cage outside as Funk does his best to hang from the cage by his neck but can’t quite pull it off. Back in, Flair just LAYS into Funk with chops and drops a knee. Sting comes in with a dropkick and Funk’s had enough and tags out to Muta. JR: “Sting started out as a member of a team called the Blade Runners, and I think his partner has not progressed like this kid has!” SICK BURN. Flair gets an atomic drop on Muta and now it’s Muta’s turn to take the chops, and Sting runs him into the cage as everyone fights on the floor. Back in, Muta takes over on Sting and hits the power elbow and follows with a legdrop. Funk and Muta double-team Sting and take turns dropping elbows, so Flair saves and we drop the pretense of the tag match as he pounds on Muta with chops and follows with a suplex. Sting necksnaps Muta on the top rope and they double-team Muta with an atomic drop into a clothesline, but Funk breaks up the Scorpion. The heels double-team Sting and goes after Funk with more chops as Funk heads out and take more crazy bumps on the cage. Sting and Muta climb the cage and fight up there, and Muta touches the top and gets shocked. Why would you ACTUALLY electrify the cage? It’s supposed to be worked! Funk and Flair fight in the other corner and Funk hangs from the cage like a madman while Flair chops him, and Sting gets a very delayed press slam on Muta in the ring. Funk tries to climb out of the cage like a lunatic and Sting follows him up while Flair and Muta trade chops on the floor. Funk hanging onto the cage for his life while Sting flies around on a rope and kicking Funk is an amazing visual. Flair gets the figure-four on Muta, but he changes his mind and goes back to Funk again. Muta hits Flair with an enzugiri and works the leg with the Indian deathlock while Funk ties Sting onto the cage with the rope. The heels hit Flair with a spike piledriver, but Sting escapes the knot and flies off the rope with a dive onto Funk to make the save. Muta climbs the cage again and it looks like they’re killed the current, thank god. Flair goes to work on Funk’s knee while Sting and Muta fight in the corner of the cage. Muta tries the moonsault and Sting brings him down while Flair gets the figure-four on Funk, and Sting splashes him off the top for added torture, but Gary Hart will not throw in the towel. Muta goes after Bruno and that goes badly for him, and finally Ole punches Gary Hart out and the towel goes flying to give the babyfaces the win at 22:00. Started tentative but once it turned into complete chaos with guys swinging off the cage like Tarzan it got pretty awesome. ****
Still not up to the amazing level of Bash 89 or WrestleWar, but a hell of a show in its own right! Strong thumbs up, and a Happy Halloween to all!