1989 was a strong year for the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). The Mega Powers angle between Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage created a strong buyrate for WrestleMania V and rematches between the two throughout the spring and summer generated healthy gates. In addition, the company expanded its revenue streams by adding The Royal Rumble to its pay-per-view lineup in January. And other competitors were faltering as the American Wrestling Association (AWA) was on its last legs and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) was riven by divisions between Executive Vice President Jim Herd and talent like Ric Flair. Times were good for the WWF’s Golden Age.
However, there were some cracks underneath the surface that the WWF would grapple with as 1990 began. The company’s star, Hulk Hogan, wanted to make his mark on Hollywood and WWF owner Vince McMahon wanted to find the next big act to replace him. And without Hogan it was unclear whether casual fans, who fueled the WWF’s rise throughout the late 1980s, would continue to tune in. Intercontinental Champion the Ultimate Warrior appeared the most likely successor, with a physical build similar to Hogan’s and laying claim to being the second-biggest star in the company. Both men had been kept away from each other in storylines and McMahon looked at a clash between them as a way to resolve the conundrum. And beyond the Hogan-Warrior transition there were questions as to who the big heels of the company would be. Randy Savage and Ted DiBiase had failed in their efforts to win the WWF Championship, reduced in standing by multiple losses. Mr. Perfect, Rick Rude, and Zeus were considered possibilities but Perfect had not held a singles title yet, Hogan refused to work a program with Rude, and Zeus was limited in the ring. So, the WWF was on the look for new talents that they could slot into main event programs and continue to draw houses on par with those of the late 1980s.
And then there was the issue of steroids in the industry. Wrestlers throughout the Golden Age looked larger than life. It fed into the cartoon-like nature of the WWF product, but as the WWF’s popularity grew the media began to ask more questions about how various talents acquired their physiques. Questions would swirl throughout the year, although the impact of this speculation would not be felt until later.
This column, which will be released on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, will review all major WWF television shows and pay-per-views throughout 1990. Wrestlers win/loss totals will also be provided for their matches, noteworthy house shows will be broken down, and at the end of each week a review will be provided of major backstage news that affected WWF booking and business.
The following was the WWF’s roster going into 1990:
Faces: Al Perez, Brutus Beefcake, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Ronnie Garvin, Hercules, Hulk Hogan, Hillbilly Jim, Roddy Piper, Dusty Rhodes, Jake Roberts, the Red Rooster, Tito Santana, Jimmy Snuka, the Ultimate Warrior, Tugboat, Koko B. Ware
Heels: Akeem, Bad News Brown, the Canadian Earthquake, Dino Bravo, Ted DiBiase, Rick Martel, Mr. Perfect, Rick Rude, Randy Savage, the Big Bossman, the Genius, the Honky Tonk Man, Greg Valentine
Tag Teams: The Bolsheviks (heels), the Bushwhackers (faces), the Colossal Connection (heels), Demolition (faces), the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers (heels), the Hart Foundation (faces), the Powers of Pain (heels), the Rockers (faces)
Enhancement Talents: Tim Horner, Jim Powers, Paul Roma, the Brooklyn Brawler
And here is a list of the WWF’s champions to begin the year:
WWF Champion: Hulk Hogan (defeated Randy Savage on April 2, 1989 at WrestleMania V)
WWF Tag Team Champions: The Colossal Connection (defeated Demolition on December 30, 1989 on WWF Superstars)
Intercontinental Champion: The Ultimate Warrior (defeated Rick Rude on April 28, 1989 at SummerSlam ’89)
The first WWF television broadcast of the year was a New Year’s Day edition of Prime Time Wrestling. The hosts for the show were Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan, commentating on WWF news while the show compiled matches from house shows and other WWF events.
Monsoon and Heenan spar over Heenan managing to get Roddy Piper kicked off of Prime Time Wrestling at the end of 1989 so he could take his old job back. Heenan is not off to a good start as he is not aware of what today’s feature match is. All of the matches on this broadcast, unless otherwise noted, were taped at the Von Braun Civic Center in Huntsville, Alabama on December 13.
Opening Contest: Bad News Brown pins Mark Young after the Ghetto Blaster at 4:53:
Brown was a top contender for Hulk Hogan’s WWF Championship the year prior, nearly defeating Hogan on an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event. He came to the WWF in early 1988 from the Calgary-based Stampede Wrestling, where he worked for six years and won the promotion’s North American Heavyweight Championship four times. Young was a Stu Hart trainee and the adopted son of Chief Jay Strongbow, who was working for the WWF in a backstage capacity. He was coming off a token run in WCW, where he was given a breakdancing gimmick, and scored victories over other enhancement talents like Barry Horowitz the previous year. Decked in long tights that bear the American flag, Young forces Bad News to take a powder after several dropkicks. After weathering a beating from Brown, Young scores a near-fall from a reverse flying body press off the second rope, but a blind charge allows Brown to hit the Ghetto Blaster to win the first match of 1990. Young got a lot of offense for an opening act, with the WWF seeking to paint him in the same light as Jim Powers and Paul Roma during this time period. Since this is not a star-versus-star match, a rating will not be officially applied.
Monsoon and Heenan discuss the Royal Rumble that is scheduled for January 21 before kicking it to Gene Okerlund to hype the card. Since the match concept is only in its third year, footage is shown from last year’s event, so fans get an idea of what a Royal Rumble match looks like. Big John Studd’s victory is never mentioned because he flamed out shortly after winning.
Heenan is drinking on camera and when asked if he gave it up, he answers “Next year.” Monsoon says that there will be extra security for the Rumble drawing to make sure that no one swaps numbers or steals them. This happened last year when Ted DiBiase paid Slick to get the thirtieth number. Heenan volunteers to do it, but Monsoon scoffs at that suggestion.
Hercules defeats John Justice via submission to a torture rack at 2:37:
Rising through the ranks of the NWA’s Central States territory, Mid-South Wrestling, and Championship Wrestling from Florida (CWF), Hercules came to the WWF in 1985. After spending his first few years as a heel, he turned babyface when Heenan tried to sell him to Ted DiBiase. The WWF spent the latter part of 1989 and early 1990 positioning Hercules as a top babyface, giving him screen time as an ally of Hulk Hogan. During the bout, which took place in Nashville, Tennessee at the Municipal Auditorium on December 12, Hercules gives some comments about the Royal Rumble in the split screen. He says winning the Royal Rumble will require him to muster all of his power. Following up on those comments, Hercules throws Justice across the ring, clotheslines him, and finishes him with a torture rack.
There is a discussion about how some cable companies are not carrying The Royal Rumble and are threatening not to carry other WWF pay-per-views in 1990. Monsoon says that this violates that Bill of Rights, so fans need to burn up the phone lines to those companies to get them to change their minds.
A replay of a match from WWF Superstars where Dino Bravo faces Reno Riggins airs. In that match Bravo refused to pin Riggins after hitting multiple sidewalk slams, so the Ultimate Warrior runs in and knocks Bravo out of the ring with a couple of clotheslines. The Canadian Earthquake, an ally of Bravo, gets in the ring, and distracts the Warrior so Bravo can grab a chair and lays out the Intercontinental Champion.
Monsoon wonders if the Rockers might have the same fate as Demolition at last year’s Royal Rumble where each of them might draw the first two numbers and be forced to wrestle. Then, Monsoon pivots and jokes with Heenan that the same might happen to the Colossal Connection.
The Rockers defeat Pat Rose & Arvil Hutto when Shawn Michaels pins Hutto after a flying fist drop at 3:36:
The Rockers – composed of Michaels and Marty Jannetty – were starting to come into their own by 1990. Forming in Central States Wrestling in Kansas City in 1985, the duo took on the name of the Midnight Rockers and went to the AWA, where they won the tag team titles twice. Fired from the WWF for too much partying in 1987, the Rockers were able to work their way back into the company by the spring of 1988. The Rockers stood out because they relied more on aerial moves at a time when most of the WWF’s teams were brawlers or mat technicians. Their only hindrance was size, but good matches in 1989 with the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers and the Brain Busters kept them over. Rose was a territorial talent that won tag team championships in southern promotions that aligned under the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) banner. The Rockers keep the jobbers off guard, flattening them with double dropkicks and then lifting Hutto to throw onto Rose. Jannetty beats up Hutto for a while before tagging in Michaels, who flies off Jannetty’s shoulder with a fist drop for the win.
In keeping with their conversation before the Rockers match, Heenan speculates on what would happen if Hulk Hogan drew the first number in the Royal Rumble. He also says that WWF talent need to look into blackmailing the security guard who presides over the Rumble drawing.
In the Event Center segment Sean Mooney segways into a series of Rumble promos. Mr. Perfect, with the Genius, says that he looks forward to seeing Hogan in the match. Koko B. Ware tells fans not to forget about him in the match. The Honky Tonk Man promises to play “twenty-nine hits” in the match, while the Hart Foundation put over the luck of the draw and how they can wrestle in singles matches.
Heenan feigns calling into a satellite dish provider to order The Royal Rumble before Monsoon makes fun of him because he does not own a dish or descrambler.
Al Perez pins the Brooklyn Brawler after a spinning suplex at 7:39:
Perez was best known for his run in World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) in 1987 where he was positioned as a top heel and feuded with Kerry von Erich over the company’s world title. After that Perez had a brief run in Jim Crockett Promotions, he was signed by the WWF in late 1989. This match comes from a Madison Square Garden show on November 25 and is joined in progress. New York fans are not into the match, with several “boring” chants taking place after Perez and the Brawler botch a powerslam spot. The Brawler works Perez’s leg over when Perez gets it caught in the ropes but get thrown off the rope rope and pinned with a spinning suplex. The finish was impressive, even if it negated all of the leg work that the Brawler did up to that point. Perez did not do a lot to distinguish himself in the match and going fifty-fifty with the Brawler, who was pushed down to enhancement level status by this point, was not a good omen for his future.
Heenan hypes the Brother Love segment scheduled for The Royal Rumble where Queen Sherri will be a guest and Sapphire. And he says he has a picture of Sapphire in his home to ward away burglars.
The tag team title change that took place on WWF Superstars several days ago between Demolition and the Colossal Connection airs. An ailing Andre is exposed in the bout as Haku wrestles most of it and Andre steps in to choke, headbutt, and drop an elbow. Fans are shocked that Demolition get squashed.
Heenan gloats about the Connection’s victory, which Monsoon chalks up to Demolition not being prepared. Heenan puts over the strategy of leaving Andre on the apron because he only needs to come in once to change the tide of a match.
A replay of Jake Roberts appearance on the Brother Love show on WWF Superstars airs. Love tries to stir the pot by pointing out that Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, and Hacksaw Jim Duggan might become Roberts new enemies in the match. Roberts recites some nice lines about doctors being unable to cure cancer, politicians unable to stop wars, and how Love does not walk on water so he should steer clear of him.
Heenan claims that Roberts is a coward and cites his source as Ted DiBiase. Heenan also claims that he will become the Manager of the Decade and claims to be putting something together in a couple of months so he can make a run at managing the WWF Champion again.
Gene Okerlund provides The Royal Rumble Report. The Bushwhackers hype their match with the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, claiming that they will show the world what they are made of. Greg Valentine and Jimmy Hart say that Ronnie Garvin fell into their trap of accepting a submission match, with Valentine promising to end Garvin’s career. And in Royal Rumble promos, Randy Savage and Sensational Sherri vow to stand tall at the end of the match and Bad News Brown claims the match stipulations are a great fit for his personality. Tito Santana recaps the way a Rumble match works and says he is going to get ready, while WWF Champion Hulk Hogan says the other twenty-nine men will feel the power of Hulkamania.
A replay of Rick Rude defeating Mario Mancini on the December 30 episode of WWF Superstars airs. After winning, Rude refuses to kiss a woman in the crowd because there is not a woman in Huntsville, Alabama that he finds attractive.
After running down the way Southern women look, Monsoon keeps nagging Heenan about tightened security over this year’s Royal Rumble drawing.
In a set of Event Center promos, Randy Savage and Sensational Sherri say Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, and Roddy Piper better take heed that he is going to win the Royal Rumble. Hacksaw Jim Duggan warns the Big Bossman that he is going to get revenge for everyone that the Bossman has beaten up after he wins matches.
Monsoon tells viewers that those who are wrestling earlier in the card on the Royal Rumble will not be in the Royal Rumble match. Heenan calls WWF Champion Hulk Hogan dumb for competing in the Rumble because he could get hurt. Monsoon makes a good point that if that is true Heenan needs to take the Colossal Connection out of the match.
The Hart Foundation defeat the Bolsheviks via disqualification when Boris Zhukov is caught using a boot at 9:39 shown:
After losing the WWF Tag Team Championship to Strike Force in 1987, the Hart Foundation were still trying to climb back to the top of the WWF’s tag team ranks. The team, made up of Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart, started in 1985 when Bret rejected the WWF’s initial pitch to join the singles ranks with a cowboy gimmick. They spent 1989 feuding with Rhythm and Blues and the Brain Busters, and the WWF quietly split the team up, plugging Bret and Neidhart into singles roles. Neither man got much out of that, though, so 1990 saw them reunited. The Bolsheviks, a USSR-friendly tag team composed of Nikolai Volkoff and Boris Zhukov, debuted in 1987 but its fortunes mirrored that of the geopolitical force they represented. The team struggled in feature matches throughout 1989, losing to the Bushwhackers and the Rockers. Bret was doing his trademark “Give my ring glasses to a fan” bit by this point, but only handed them to the lucky attendee rather than putting them on their face. In a twist from a lot of Foundation matches, Neidhart gets placed in peril. The match is only interesting when the Foundation are doing things because the Bolsheviks rely on boring strikes for most of their offense. Zhukov makes the save when Neidhart uses a slingshot forearm to deck Volkoff, and the Bolsheviks are caught using a boot on Neidhart to draw the disqualification. The Harts were clearly the better team, but these two are bound to have a rematch later based on the inconclusive finish. Rating: *
After the bell, Bret gets beaten down by the Bolsheviks until Neidhart can grab the boot and clear the heels out of the ring.
Having processed Monsoon’s criticism of the danger of the Colossal Connection being in the Royal Rumble Heenan now wants to pull his team from the match. Monsoon tells him that is not possible.
Monsoon urges fans to call their cable company to make sure that they can get The Royal Rumble.
The Last Word: Aside from the usual fun banter between Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan there was not much to enjoy on this telecast. The big sell for The Royal Rumble is on and in the era before the match came to associated with winning a WWF title match at WrestleMania there were a slew of top contenders to consider. Having Hulk Hogan in the match made him an immediate favorite, but Randy Savage also got a lot of play on this broadcast as a threat.
Up Next: WWF Superstars from January 6!