By WrestleWar ’89, WCW was going through some changes. The show would see the third of the classic encounters between Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair whilst the company as a whole was attempting to adapt by pushing newer and bigger stars. This show in particular shows the oddity that was WCW in 1989, with dwindling stars sharing the roster with future megastars, the bizarre nature of the event compounded by a concert from future country Hall Of Famers The Oak Ridge Boys. Although Adam Nedeff described it as “literally a one-match show”, the rest of the show too is of note and will be subject to this review.
The show opens with our commentary team of Jim Ross and Bob Caudle, who announce there are five title matches. Gary Michael Cappetta introduces The Oak Ridge Boys, who sing the US national anthem in front of troops personnel and US flags in the most American display ever.
Ross announces a hair vs. hair stipulation for Eddie Gilbert and Kevin Sullivan in their US tag title clash has been removed.
The Great Muta (w/Gary Hart) vs. Doug GilbertMuta was originally scheduled to face JYD.
The originally advertised bout was for the undefeated Muta to face Junkyard Dog but JYD simply no-showed the event, hence Gilbert’s placement in this match.
Muta spits his mist before unleashing a flurry of kicks and chops on Gilbert until Doug gets a few power moves in. We learn via Caudle that Muta is an expert in seven different martial arts. Shortly after, “The Pearl Of The Orient” hits his patented handspring back elbow in the corner.
Eddie Gilbert comes out for a brief distraction but it is a non-factor. A backbreaker, a moonsault, Muta wins.
An impressive squash win in just over three minutes, it positions Muta greatly, who is clearly of interest to WCW at this point. As for the match, it was good for what it was and likely better than it would have been if JYD was there. Good for what it was, it got the job done in making Muta seem like a legitimate threat, with JR commenting that Muta should look at the title picture.
Star Rating: *
Ric Flair cuts a quick backstage promo calling Steamboat “the greatest wrestler on the face of this Earth” but he would not beat Flair again.
Butch Reed vs Ranger Ross
Hard to tell if it’s a Network dub, but Reed comes out to an extremely generic theme, which sounds like a SNES background theme. Ross comes out with a gaggle of armed forces. A young Boris Johnson seems to be the referee, as Jim Ross tells us it is Byron Scott.The referee has the haircut, at least, of future British prime minister Boris Johnson.
Jim Ross described this match as “the obligatory Caucasian booking committee putting two black guys together” on Grilling JR.
Ross gets the early advantage, knocking Reed around until a clothesline cut-off, shortly followed by three elbow drops. Reed applies a long chin lock, using the ropes. Meanwhile, the commentators gush about Ranger’s military training.
A flying shoulder block does it in just under seven minutes.A shot of a camera flash reflection as Reed hits a diving shoulder block.
Dave Meltzer commented that “nothing happened in the first six minutes” of the match, which is a great observation as nearly nothing happened at all. No build, no heat, no moves. It was a dull and thoroughly uninspiring match-up.
Star Rating: ½
(For reference, this means 0.5 stars, not 1.5)
US champion Lex Luger cuts a promo. He says Michael Hayes’s plan to prove himself by going solo will be ineffective. Luger’s hair looks great but his promo skills didn’t sound it.
Dick Murdoch vs. Bob Orton (w/Gary Hart) (Bullrope Match)
Both competitors are already in the ring for this bull rope match as “Captain Redneck” Dick Murdoch competes against Bob Orton, with Gary Hart in his corner. The duo had a bout at the previous Clash Of The Champions that lasted a matter of seconds with an Orton win so this is the rematch.
Both men start hesitant, with Orton trying to run on the outside but being pulled back and to the floor. Jim Ross says: “This is not going to be very scientific, quite obviously.”
The fans pipe up when Murdoch takes off his cowboy boot and thwacks Orton, a spot that would go on to be used in every stereotypical southern match type.
Murdoch yanks Bob off the top rope and ties the rope multiple times around the legs for a hogtie. Some elbow drops, a cover: one, two, three. Oh, that’s it. The finish came out of nowhere, with a few elbow drops garnering the win over “Cowboy” Bob. Gary Hart comes in but is attacked; Orton jumps Murdoch. Orton hangs Murdoch over the ropes but the hangman spot looks pretty bad as Dick is touching the ground. Props for safety, but the move now looks a lot worse. The fans simply do not care. Nobody cares really as one referee (young Boris) comes out but the segment is not as focal and serious as WCW clearly wanted.Murdoch passed out after being hung over the ropes.
The match was nothing. What could have been a fun, southern-style brawl was a plodding, nothing of a match. The bout is one of the last major matches for both men who are passe in a WCW brimming with younger talent on this card alone, including The Great Muta, Sting, and Rick Steiner.
Star Rating: -*½
Michael “P.S.” Hayes promises to beat Lex Luger on his own, which of course means he won’t.
The Dynamic Dudes vs The Samoan SWAT Team (w/Paul E. Dangerously)
Dangerously introduces his own team before the match, Samu and Fatu being put over as having ended The Midnight Express. Then come Shane Douglas and Johnny Ace, with their blonde mullets, skateboards they bring to the ring but don’t use, and artificial babyface nature. They seem somewhat over here despite how fans would later turn on them. The girls scream when The Dudes show their rip-off tights.
Paul E. gains major heat by doing very little, which keeps crowd engagement. Fatu is slammed face first but as a Samoan savage, he has a very hard head so he no-sells it. Ace stamps on his toe as the SST are barefoot. The faces have frequent tags and stay on top until a savate kick lands. Dangerously causes a distraction, allowing a double wishbone on Ace.
A double headbutt and powerslam score a near-fall on the future John Laurinaitis. Another wishbone. Ace is put in a Boston crab as Dangerously chastises him via the arena microphone. A cool monkey flip spot as he gets the tag. A series of dropkicks from Shane until he is downed with a huge clothesline.
Samu hits a diving splash but Ace just breaks it up. Fatu is ejected whilst Johnny hits a diving dropkick to Douglas who is in a bodyslam position. The future “Franchise” falls onto Samu and the Dudes score a big upset win. The crowd go berserk at the result.Ace hits a diving dropkick to Douglas, who is held by Samu.
The match is easily the best of the night thus far. I really enjoyed this one, which showed just how hot The Dynamic Dudes were at the time and the hatred towards Paul E. The match told a great story and made both teams look great coming out of it, with the fans eating up everything that went down. Simple old-school, it was a great effort by all, with a well-received surprise win.
Star Rating: ***½
We get a backstage interview with the judges for the world title match as Lance Russell interviews Lou Thesz, Pat O’Connor, and Terry Funk. Thesz calls it “the match of the century” and Funk is oddly calm and collected, a far call from the usual “Middle Aged And Crazy” screaming Funk.
Michael “P.S.” Hayes (w/Hiro Matsuda) vs Lex Luger (c)—United States Championship
For some backstory, on the March 8th edition of World Championship Wrestling, Hayes turned on partner Luger to force his team to lose a tag match, with Hayes joining forces with Hiro Matsuda.
Hayes enters first, dressed in spangly purple, silver, and yellow tassels, walking out to Badstreet U.S.A. before reigning champion Luger comes out accompanied by some jogging men.
After some basic lock-ups, Hayes hits a botchy leg sweep but Luger kicks out before one. A lot of stalling occurs, with Hayes garnering easy heat. “Purely Sexy”’s attempt at a DDT is thwarted by a Lex back bump—never seen that counter before. Luger starts hitting some armdrags, which is rather out of character. Lex shows his strength, catching a crossbody and hitting a backbreaker.
The crowd are all in on Luger for a catching choke and 10-count punches, until Hayes evades a crossbody as the champion dives outside. Hayes applies a headlock until rammed into the turnbuckles and gets elevated after a reversed bulldog. Luger gets in a military press slam, and then another, and a third. Lex taunts for the torture rack but Hayes slips out for the DDT.
Then we get what Meltzer called “the worst ref bump in history” as the referee is not touched but taken out as Hayes and Luger bump heads. Terry Gordy makes his return and pushes Hayes onto Luger, with Lex’s foot on the rope out of the referee’s sight, which gets the three. New champion, Michael Hayes is the United States titleholder.Hayes won with Terry Gordy’s help, unable to win with his DDT.
This match had a lot of stalling which managed to garner investment, with Luger looking great and Hayes still credible enough as champion (which he would go on to hold for 15 days). The debut of Gordy was perhaps a little wasted as he did not hit any moves or make a grandiose return, but it feeds into Hayes’s claim of doing it himself. A strong match overall with a surprise winner, it shows how much of a hard time Luger gets generally when he was more than able to put on a competent performance.
Star Rating: ***
A young “Stinger” is backstage with Lance Russell. Sting looks and sounds a lot like Tully Blanchard as he cuts an artificial babyface promo, with Russell declaring: “Is he ready or is he ready?”
Sting (c) vs The Iron Sheik (w/Rip Morgan)—Television Championship
Some kids run out in face paint before Sting arrives. Sting has his own face paint on but not his normal surfer look. In his early days, Sting’s face paint looks more like a video game template when finding what closest resembles his look.
Morgan gets a distraction before the Iranian Pearl Harbor’s Sting with the flag before choking him with part of his attire. It takes ages, but eventually, Sheik’s robe comes off to reveal some salmon-coloured tights. A Stinger splash, a scorpion deathlock and “Sheiky Baby” submits.
Fine enough squash. WCW apparently let Sheik’s contract roll over at $100,000 a year so the promotion deliberately jobbed him out to try to get him to quit. Sting looked pretty good, beating the ex-world champion in two minutes but there is little else to say other than that.
Star Rating: 1/2
Steamboat is interviewed and says this is Flair’s last chance, and the best man will win.
Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat (c)—NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Flair arrives with a gaggle of 40 different women and six lead ladies, some of whom clearly are not wearing bras. Steamboat, with an odd theme, arrives with his family, including son Richie on ponyback.
Steamboat comes out in a dazzling red kimono and white tights number, so—in the words of OSW Review—“What Bar?” is he? He is a white chocolate Twin Peaks.
Despite the fact this is clearly the main event, it does not go on last. It is also the third of the classic trilogy of matches. There is no way I can do this match justice, considering it is probably the best match of the best feud of all time but I’ll try nonetheless.
Both men are hesitant, taking time to lock up, not wanting to make any early mistakes to avoid the other getting the advantage and later potential judge penalisation. Steamboat hits the first big move with a hip toss. It does not take long for things to turn unscientific as both men resort to a slapping contest. Steamboat chops Flair across the ring before a backdrop.
Flair retreats. Everyone makes note of Flair’s hours of diligent training, with Caudle remarking he is in the “best condition of his life.” Steamboat systematically dissects the arm, including with a deep armdrag. Ross says this is the NWA where “we wrestle”, in a thinly-veiled jab at the WWF. A hammerlock continues the targeting of “The Dragon” onto Ric. The crowd go mental after the Flair flop. Flair has him in a fireman’s carry and places him on the top rope, temporarily lunging his face into Ricky’s ‘dragon’. A dropkick sends Flair outside as it is announced that 15 minutes have passed. A more agitated Steamboat abuses the referee, very unlike him.
It is revealed that all three judges have awarded their points to Steamboat, giving him a huge advantage. Flair gets in strikes and throws Ricky outside only for Steamboat to immediately return fire. Flair goes for the Ray Stevens spot he is now more famous for but is caught in the tree of woe. Flair sends Steamboat over the top but this is ruled accidental by referee Tommy Young. Can you imagine if this ended in a DQ?
On the outside, Steamboat is sent over the railing. Like in previous encounters, and perhaps too as a reference to his Randy Savage feud, Ricky is elbowed across the throat and head when leaning backwards. The men exchange shots: Flair runs away but is caught with a diving chop—the fans are thoroughly excited. Another Ray Stevens inside out/run to top rope spot halted on the apron by a Ricky chop. Ricky works the arm and ricochets to the outside after a failed crossbody. Nice call by Ross that if Flair wins he will have held the world title as many times as judge Lou Thesz: six times (really many more but a total recognised six). We get to 20 minutes as Flair fails to use future match-ender the back suplex for a three—but only just.Steamboat’s diving chop.
Flair continues to get various excruciatingly close pinfalls. Flair shows more desperation with tactics such as a stun gun and placing his heel on Ricky’s throat. There’s suplex on the outside after which both men crossbody each other to the exterior. Steamboat hits a Bret rope superplex and locks in the chicken wing just before Flair throws himself into the ropes for the forced escape. A diving chop and another is set up but no, as Flair jerks the rope to eject Ricky out of the ring. Flair continues jerking Steamboat’s leg, utilising his injury. There’s a figure-four but the Hawaiian gets to the ropes. The crowd erupt for the nth time after an enziguri. Steamboat tries a slam but a roll through and Flair hooks the leg…he gets it. New champion!
Literally, what more could I say? Technical, scientific, and sound, it is an all-round thriller. Just brilliant. Of course, the modern viewer in me wishes they had added a few more tope suicidas, shooting star presses, and poisonranas!
Star Rating: *****
Steamboat raises Flair’s hand after the fact. Ric calls Ricky “the greatest champion I’ve ever faced.”
Terry Funk hogs the microphone from interviewer Jim Ross before announcing he wants to challenge Flair. Flair rejects this as “The Funker” is too busy in Hollywood. The Texan is also not in the top 10 contenders list, a system I quite like as a concept, but the Funk match down the line was worth it with that rule broken. Funk says he was kidding before decking Ric. After hurling insults and slaps, Funk hits a memorable piledriver on the table—a first in mainstream wrestling—followed by a chair shot. Funk threatens to fight officials and pushes a cameraman.
This is a brilliant post-match segment, especially considering it, like Funk’s suffocation of Flair a few weeks later, was totally improvised. Even Ricky Steamboat didn’t know of it and was disheartened the programme with Flair was over so soon after the result. Great work, but would have been much more effective had it been the show-closing angle.
Joe Pedicino interviews Nikita Koloff, the guest referee for the next match. He says he will be impartial and not intimidated.
The Varsity Club (Mike Rotunda & Steve Williams) (w/Kevin Sullivan) (c) vs The Road Warriors (w/Paul Ellering)—NWA World Tag Team Championship
So, for some context. At Clash Of The Champions VI, The Varisty Club won the tag titles after some biased officiating by Theodore Long. The Road Warriors are vying again for them with Nikita Koloff guest refereeing. Great idea: we’ve seen one biased ref, how about a special guest referee who is also a wrestler, they never insert themselves into the match or cause problems(!)
Varsity Club are already in the ring with a generic sporting theme. They are accompanied by a load of off-sync, unrehearsed girls with pom poms. Firstly, how many of them are just reclothed Ric Flair ladies? Secondly, their performance really gives off a “go and work it out in the ring” presentation. Also, points to the Russian ref for wearing a matching striped shirt and trainers (sneakers, if you insist).The Varsity girls, performing seemingly in different timezones!
Manager Kevin Sullivan is immediately ejected by Koloff. Nikita shows himself as stern, breaking up corner attacks much to the chagrin of The Varsity Club members. Animal catches a diving move from Rotunda into a power slam, which always looks awesome. Hawk clotheslines Williams on the outside from the apron. The ring post is used against Hawk, causing an opening for the heels.
Animal is tagged in and clears house. He hits a giant shoulder tackle before being taken out of the ring. The Doomsday Device is hit on “Dr Death” Williams. Just as the count is about to start, Sullivan and Dan Spivey attack Nikita. A hectic brawl ensues and a long time after, the bell finally rings. JR feigns surprise at the outnumbering heels attacking guest referee Nikita. Come on Jim, The Road Warriors don’t lose clean!
The match was pretty enjoyable for as brief as it was. It was just six minutes so time worked against it, as did the prolonged DQ finish. It t did not help being in the death spot after the fans were already burned out. If only longer and better booked, it would have been a lot higher rated.
Star Rating: **
The First Family (Eddie Gilbert & Rick Steiner) (w/Missy Hyatt) (c) vs The Varisty Club (Dan Spivey & Kevin Sullivan)—NWA United States Tag Team Championship
Straight to the main event.
Eddie Gilbert comes out in a red shirt and blistering green tights…oh, go on then. He is either a wasabi Japan-exclusive KitKat or a pack of Lucky Strikes.
Hope you like The Varsity Club because here they are immediately. Commentary talks of the next actions towards Terry Funk but nothing about Varsity Club for attacking a referee, weird. The Varsity Club members have the same attire and same blonde locks, they look like some kind of glitch in the Matrix. Also, if we get The First Family, when are Doug Gilbert and Scott Steiner teaming?
After getting the jump, Sullivan starts in the ring with Gilbert as the other two brawl. Spivey puts out Steiner’s shoulder when throwing him into the ring post. Despite being the main event, most of the talk is about the Flair/Funk situation. Every time Steiner gets up, he is again attacked as Gilbert is forced to temporarily fight alone. Spivey hits a choking lift and clearly whispers to Gilbert towards the hard cam then hits a dropkick.
Spivey continues his dominance, including with a big side-slam. There’s a long dull patch as we wait for the tag to “The Dog-Faced Gremlin”. He is tagged in but the ref misses it. The sneaky heels try for a tag move as Rick is ejected but it backfires as a Steinerline is hit and Gilbert performs a jackknife cover and the win for the faces!Steiner clobbers Sullivan with a Steinerline, the winning move of the match.
The Varsity Club get the post-match assault with the ex-”Prince Of Darkness” trying to attack Missy Hyatt, but they get scared off by a car-wielding “Hot Stuff”.
It was okay. Spivey is not as bad as people say and The Varsity are clearly big considering their card placement, which is good for them. Why, oh why, however, is this your main event? I get you do not want heels ending the show but it would be better for Funk to be the talking point after the vicious attack, would it not? This match was a fine undercard match but not the show-closer.
Star Rating: *1/2
It is announced that Williams and Rotunda are stripped of the belts for Sullivan and Spivey’s attack. So, why were S&S themselves not punished and removed from this title match instead? I know, because it would be a damp squib ending and it was advertised, but some logic would be nice.
The show is closed with an awkwardly long silence after signing off.
WrestleWar ’89 is a one-match card. What a one match though!
Other than two other matches (SWAT Team/Dynamic Dudes and Hayes/Luger), none went over 10 minutes, with three under five minutes.
The show was an easy watch, even if it was an underwhelming event. It is probably better however than previous reviews (Fall Brawl 1993 and Starrcade 1994).
WrestleWar ’89 shows a weird crossover, where new stars are being made as old stars are dwindling. The rise of Sting, The Great Muta, Shane Douglas, and others saw a simultaneous decline of Bob Orton, The Iron Sheik, Dick Murdoch, and others. Popular stars still shine, such as Ric Flair, but it is clear we are heading towards WCW without a true evolution out of territory-era NWA. Still, the seed of WCW was being sewn as early as 1989, as demonstrated by this very event.