After a fun journey back to 1997 to watch some ECW, I decided I’d take a break from the land of extreme for a while and take a look at some NWA/WCW shows from the late 80’s. I separate the two because this was during the transition period where Ted Turner had bought the remnants of Jim Crockett Promotions but the company had yet to be officially named WCW. And so I indulged in NWA Wrestle War 89.
The main reason I wanted to watch this show is because I haven’t watched the Steamboat Vs Ric Flair match from it for a long time and I felt like watching it again with fresh eyes. My personal favourite match of their 89 series has always been the second one at Clash of the Champions “Rajun Cajun” from Louisiana. That match featured both men wrestling for nearly an hour in a two out of three falls match for the NWA World Title. However, a controversial finish in the last fall led to a rematch at this show, with the added stipulation of judges scoring the bout at ringside. If the match goes the distance tonight then the judges will decide the fate of the World Title. Let’s read on to find out what happens shall we?
The event is emanating from Nashville, Tennessee on the 7th of May 1989
Calling the action are Jim Ross and Bob Caudle
The Oakridge Boys start us out with the US national anthem
The Great Muta w/ Gary Hart Vs Doug Gilbert
Muta was still quite new to the NWA at this point, and was starting to get pretty over due to his interesting look and unique wrestling style. Doug Gilbert was the far less successful member of the Gilbert brothers and is filling in for Junkyard Dog here. Muta tees off on Gilbert with some kicks and sends him outside, where he sends him into the ring post.
Gilbert gets a cross body and clothesline back inside, which causes Muta to bail to get some counsel from Hart. Muta heels it up by going to the eyes and then dropping the power elbow. I’ve always loved the way Muta did that. Muta goes for the moonsault but Gilbert dodges it, only for Muta to land on his feet anyway.
Muta hits a plancha out of the ring onto Gilbert, which causes Eddie Gilbert to come down to the ring to give his brother moral support. Muta gets the back breaker inside and follows up with the moonsault for the victory. Eddie Gilbert steps into the ring following the three count to make sure Muta doesn’t deliver any further damage.
WINNER: THE GREAT MUTA
RATING: No Rating
I don’t feel comfortable rating a squash match like this, but it was a very enjoyable one that made Muta look like a killer, so it served its purpose.
Lance Russel is backstage with Ric Flair. Flair cuts a babyface like promo saying he’ll kiss Steamboat’s boots if he can beat him tonight. He closes by saying “Steamboat, you’re mine!”
Butch Reed Vs Ranger Ross
Ross comes out with the American flag. Butch Reed had recently jumped to the NWA following a run in the WWF where he reportedly cost himself the Intercontinental Title by no showing a TV taping, thus meaning Honky Tonk Man got to win it instead. Ross gets the better of things early with standard fare like hip tosses and headlocks.
Reed comes back with a clothesline, to boos from the crowd, and then works over Ross as Teddy Long comes down to the ring. Rather than following his usual MO of booking a tag match, it seems like Long has just come down to observe the contest. Ross peppers Reed with some punches but Reed is soon back on top with a body slam and a trifecta of elbow drops for a two count.
I mean, there hasn’t been anything actively bad in this match, but it’s also been completely generic and by the numbers. Reed slaps on a chin lock and illegally uses the ropes for leverage, which the referee misses. The chin lock goes on for a while as the fans look on in veritable silence. Ross finally gets out and unleashes a judo throw and some dropkicks to send Reed to the outside.
Ross actually jumps over the top rope to the outside, but then he just lands on his feet next to Reed and punches him. What was the point of that? If you’re going to jump over the top to the outside then at least do a plancha or something. Reed kicks Ross as he comes back inside and then delivers a big vertical suplex. Reed heads to the top rope and comes down with a big shoulder block and that’s enough for the win.
WINNER: BUTCH REED
It wasn’t like there was any truly awful stuff but the match was duller than dry toast and didn’t especially do much for either man.
Lance Russel is backstage with Lex Luger. Luger says Michael Hayes has been running his mouth and that Hayes doesn’t have what it takes to take the US Title from him tonight.
Bull rope Match
“Captain Redneck” Dick Murdoch Vs “The Bodyguard Ace Cowboy” Bob Orton Jnr w/ Gary Hart
Orton was another wrestler who had only quite recently been in the WWF before jumping back to the NWA. He’d been far more over in the WWF than Reed though thanks to his association with Roddy Piper. Orton tries to get away a couple of times early on but Murdoch keeps dragging him back with the rope and pummelling him with the cow bell.
Rather than have the winning condition of dragging your opponent to all four corners, pin falls are allowed in this match and Murdoch almost nets himself a victory when he takes his cowboy boot off and clobbers Orton with it for two. Orton gets a brief period of offence but Murdoch soon regains control and hog ties Orton to pick up the three count.
WINNER: DICK MURDOCH
The work wasn’t bad but the crowd didn’t really care and it hurt the match. Orton and Hart, being sore losers, decide to attack Murdoch two on one following the match and choke him out with the bull rope.
Lance Russel is backstage with Michael Hayes. Hayes says he’s going to beat Lex Luger all by himself tonight without any help.
The Samoan Swat Team (Samu and Fatu) w/ Paul E. Dangerously Vs The Dynamic Dudes (Shane Douglas and Johnny Ace)
This is the NWA debut of The Dudes. The Dudes were an eternal example of how a camel is a horse designed by committee, as their name literally came from a survey that said the two most popular words amongst young people at the time were “Dynamic” and “Dude”. Paul E was currently embroiled in a feud with Jim Cornette and The Midnight Express, and makes sure to taunt the crowd about The Samoan’s injuring them.
In truth Cornette and the Midnights had wanted to quit the NWA due to a falling out with head booker George Scott, but Scott was eventually removed before it came to that and they decided to stay on but take some time off working in other territories before coming back. The Dudes appear to be using entrance music that would eventually be recycled and given to The Enforcers a couple of years later. Seeing them come out to it just feels weird.
The Dudes would eventually go on to be utterly hated by NWA audiences the country over, but they don’t get actively booed here at all. The Dudes use speed and double teaming to stay on top of the stronger Samoans to start but a blind tag allows Samu to catch Johnny with a super kick for the cut off. I know Johnny Ace has a bad rep as a worker, but I always thought he was passable in All Japan, but that could have been due to the calibre of workers he was in there with. He looks very green here though and stumbles quite a lot when hitting the ropes.
The fans gets behind Johnny as The Samoans work him over but The Samoans work him over for a bit too long and the crowd lose interest. This has not been a good crowd at all and they’ve spent most of the early sections of the card sitting on their hands. It’s not like the matches have been awful either, they’ve been perfectly serviceable but the lack of heat has made them seem worse than they are.
Johnny continues to get worked over as the camera crew seem more preoccupied with finding attractive women in the crowd. There’s quite a few to be fair. Caudle credits Johnny’s “fine clean living” as the reason why he’s able to survive the onslaught from The Samoans. Johnny teases making the tag few times, but always gets stopped by The Samoans and dragged back for more punishment.
After a slow and ugly looking monkey flip, Johnny is finally able to make the tag to Douglas, who comes in with some nice looking dropkicks on The Samoans. He’s soon cut off however and he gets flattened with a top rope splash from Fatu, but Ace is able to break the count up at two. Fatu goes for a slam of some kind on Shane, but Johnny comes off the top with a missile dropkick and Shane falls on top of Fatu for the three count in an upset.
WINNERS: THE DYNAMIC DUDES
The heat went on for too long and Ace’s offence wasn’t great. However, they worked the formula and the match was watchable, but that heat segment was almost torturous at some points.
Lance Russel is backstage with Lou Thesz, Pat O’Connor and Terry Funk who will be special ringside judges for the Steamboat/Flair match later. It’s a pretty generic segment, but it’s at least treating wrestling like a sport, so huzzah.
NWA United States Championship
Champion: Lex Luger Vs Michael “P.S” Hayes w/ Hiro Matsuda
Despite saying he can win this match on his own, Hayes has still brought a manager down to the ring with him which the announcers don’t seem to have any issue with for some reason. Surely he’s not doing it on his own if Matsuda is with him? And why on Earth is Hiro Matsuda, stern Japanese businessman, managing faux rock musician Michael Hayes? They are completely ill suited to one another.
The set up for this match was that Hayes turned on Luger in a tag match and then hit him with brass knuckles, so Luger is not best pleased and is looking to clean Hayes’ clock in the name of vengeance! We get some chain wrestling to start, which surprises me considering both men are hardly known for their crisp technical skills, but it looks alright for the most part. Luger finally starts bringing some punches and delivers a big back body drop to Hayes to a pop from the crowd.
This is the first match that the crowd seem to genuinely be up for. Hayes slugs away on Luger and goes for the DDT, but Luger is able to shove him off and Hayes bails outside to regroup. Luger works over Hayes’ arm with arm wringers and arm bars and Hayes doesn’t seem to have an answer for it. Hayes gets a clothesline in the corner and is very happy with himself, but Luger no sells it and pummels Hayes with a ten punch.
However, Luger proves to be over keen and misses a cross body, which causes him to spill over the top rope to the outside. Hayes sends Luger face first into the ring post and then suplexes him back in to the ring for two. Hayes now works over Luger with a chin lock as the crowd get behind the champion. Luger tries to fight back but gets caught with a right hand and then dropped with a bulldog headlock for two.
Hayes sends Luger outside and Matsuda sends Luger into the guardrail, as Hayes’ claims that he’s going to win the match on his own begin to look rather shallow. Luger keeps trying to make sporadic comebacks and eventually manages to get back into it when he counters another bulldog attempt by shoving Hates off. Luger gets three military press slams and motions for the Torture Wrack but Hayes is able to slip out and hit him with a DDT for a double down.
Both men make it to their feet and end up clonking heads when Luger sends Hayes into the ropes, which also takes the ref out momentarily. Hayes is barely being held up by the ropes, at which point his stablemate Terry Gordy comes down and pushes him onto Luger. The ref wakes up and starts counting the pin, at which point Luger gets his foot on the bottom rope. However, Gordy knocks the foot off the rope and the referee counts three to give Hayes the title.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: MICHAEL HAYES
I rather enjoyed that actually. Neither man was an elite worker, but they knew how to work the crowd and the finish was a great bit of heel shithousery by The Freebirds. Good stuff.
Lance Russel is backstage with Sting. Sting shouts and rambles about his match with The Iron Sheik. He didn’t really say much of consequence but it had good energy at least.
NWA World Television Championship
Champion: Sting Vs The Iron Sheik w/ Rip Morgan
Sheik was a George Scott hire, as he had brought in a lot of aging wrestlers to fill out the roster. After a few TV squashes it was obvious that the Sheik signing was a disaster, but he had a guaranteed contract, so once the new booking team came in they decided to make him do a bunch of jobs in the hope he’d quit. However, Sheik was perfectly happy to do the jobs so long as he was getting paid, so not long after this NWA/WCW sent him home to run out his contract, and then forgot about him, thus causing his contract to automatically roll over for another year because…
Sheik immediately hits Sting with the Iranian flag and then delivers some terrible looking punches, which Sting promptly no sells. Sheik actually hits a nice looking gut wrench suplex for two, but Sting is soon back up and delivers a Stinger Splash before going to The Scorpion Deathlock for the clean submission win.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: STING
Sheik could barely do anything and this was a waste of Sting. Sting would start a program with Great Muta not soon after this and that ended up being a memorable and hot feud. Sheik would soon be sitting on couch making thousands of dollars. Ah, WCW, never change!
Lance Russel is backstage with Ricky Steamboat. Steamboat says this will be the most important match of his life. He also gives Flair credit for being the best champion of all time.
NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Champion: Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat w/ Bonnie Steamboat and Ricky Steamboat Jnr Vs “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair w/ 40 women
Steamboat initially arrived in the NWA from a stint the WWF as a mystery partner for Eddie Gilbert against Ric Flair and Barry Windham. Following that, Steamboat then defeated Flair on the Chi-Town Rumble show early on in 1989 to claim the World Title. However, despite Steamboat being a great babyface wrestler, the fans were starting to get behind Flair. Flair, as shown by this entrance, may not have been a better babyface than Steamboat, but he was certainly cooler than he was and the fans were starting to pick up on it. Fans were also starting to find Steamboat’s “Family Man” gimmick to be a little tiresome.
So as mentioned earlier, the three judges at ringside will decide a winner if this match goes the time limit, with those judges being Lou Thesz, Pat O’Connor and Terry Funk. We get the usual great chain wrestling between the two to start, which leads to them trading slaps when the grappling heads to the corner. Flair chops and punches away on Steamboat, who replies with chops of his own and a back body drop.
Steamboat works over Flair’s arm, which Flair sells impeccably as you’d imagine. Flair tries to chop his way out of trouble but Steamboat is quickly back on the arm with a hammerlock. Flair fights back with some forearms, I’m surprised he didn’t do those more often to be honest as they look good, but Steamboat chops back and we see our first Flair Flop™ of the evening. Steamboat stays on the arm with punishing moves, trying to weaken Flair for his double arm chicken wing submission hold that he used to make Flair submit back at Rajun Cajun.
Flair keeps trying to bring it back to a slugfest, but it doesn’t work out for him and Steamboat dropkicks Flair over the top rope but the referee stops him following up with a dive. Once Flair gets back in, Steamboat sticks with his game plan of going for the arm. Flair sporadically gets a couple of shots in but Steamboat always gets back on top and goes for the arm again. It’s such a simple story but it makes complete sense and Flair getting his moments to attack stops the match from feeling too samey.
As the match goes on, Caudle and Ross get their first notes from the judges and it appears that Steamboat is currently winning on points, which isn’t surprising. Flair finally seems to get on top of things by throwing Steamboat outside. Flair follows Steamboat outside and then sends him into the front row with a chop. This makes Steamboat angry and he comes back with chops of his own and then pummels Flair from pillar to post back inside the ring.
Steamboat goes for a cross body but Flair dodges and Steamboat ends up flying over the top rope to the outside. Flair brings Steamboat back in and drops a knee. I love how Flair would get the crap kicked out of him for twenty minutes before finally cutting his opponent off for the heat. These days most matches are entering the finishing sequence at the twenty minute mark, not the heat segment. And Flair was able to get walloped like that without it either being boring or making you feel sorry for him. He really was one of a kind.
Flair gets a double under hook suplex on Steamboat for two and then stays on top of things with a Stun Gun. Flair suplexes Steamboat out on the floor as we get an update from the judges that has Flair ahead via split decision. I’m not sure how you could get that seeing as Flair was getting destroyed for such a long amount of time, but hey-ho. Steamboat gets an O’Connor Roll back inside for a two count and starts throwing chops. Flair ducks a Steamboat chop and then goes for a cross body on Steamboat. Steamboat catches him and both men tumble over the top rope to the floor.
Flair goes up top but gets thrown off by Steamboat because…
Thanks, Cenk. Again
Steamboat now fires up and gets a school boy for two and then sets Flair up on the top rope before bringing him down with a superplex. Steamboat now goes for the double arm chicken wing submission hold but Flair is able to get to the ropes to break. Steamboat heads up to the top rope and comes down with a big chop onto Flair. When he goes up again however, Flair stumbles into the ropes and that causes Steamboat to fall from the top to the outside.
Steamboat seems to have hurt his leg when he fell off the top, which can mean only one thing, IT’S TIME, WOOOOOOOO, TO GOT TO SCHOOL!!! Flair kicks Steamboat in the leg as he gets back in and then delivers a vertical suplex before targeting the leg with the Figure Four Leglock. Steamboat sells it big time but doesn’t submit and finally manages to drag himself to the ropes. Unperturbed, Flair continues going after the leg but Steamboat comes back with an enziguiri. Steamboat tries to body slam Flair but his leg goes out and Flair is able to counter the slam with a cradle to pick up the flash pin fall.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: RIC FLAIR
An absolutely fantastic match, which was cutting edge at the time and still holds up as a great match today. The psychology was there, the story telling was there and the execution was absolutely there! I like as well how they didn’t do a big near fall extravaganza at the end with lots of kick outs. Steamboat went for a slam, which perhaps could have led to more things, but his knee gave out a Flair capitalised to end it right there without going to all the falls. I love it because that’s the sort of thing that can happen in sports. Not every world title boxing bout ends with both men slugging it out at the end like a Rocky movie. Sometimes a guy just catches his opponent and gets himself a flash KO.
Steamboat congratulates Flair and leaves the ring as Jim Ross steps in to interview the new champion. Believe it or not, this was only Flair’s sixth world title win. Flair gives a respectful post-match interview, but Terry Funk interrupts to complement Flair on the victory and challenge Flair to a title match. Flair says that Funk has been making movies and thus isn’t in contention for the title. This causes an enraged Funk to destroy Flair and deliver a big piledriver onto a ringside table. Thus Funk is now a huge heel with the crowd and has a readymade program with Flair. One feud ends and another begins. That’s pro wrestling!
Meanwhile Joe Pedecino is with Nikita Koloff, who will be a referee in a match later on. He says he won’t be intimidated by anyone and that he will be impartial.
NWA World Tag Team Championships
Nikita Koloff as referee
Champions: The Varsity Club (Mike Rotunda and Steve Williams) w/ Kevin Sullivan and a gaggle of cheerleaders
The Road Warriors (Hawk and Animal) w/ Paul Ellering
After a misguided heel turn in 1988, The Road Warriors are back to being babyfaces here. It’s a pier six to start, which sees The Road Warriors clear the ring. Williams and Animal finally start out for real, with Koloff stopping Williams from cheating, which causes Sullivan to angrily protest. Not taking any nonsense, Koloff sends Sullivan to the back and then reads Williams the riot act.
Hawk and Williams trade power moves and Hawk sends Dr Death outside and follows with a clothesline off the apron. However, when he goes for another clothesline Williams moves and his arm hits the ring post. With Hawk now hurt, the champions work over his arm. Hawk soon tags out however and Animal runs wild with a dropkick(!) and a shoulder block.
Rotunda misses a clothesline and goes flying over the top rope, which leaves Williams alone in the ring to take the Doomsday Device. However, Dan Spivey and Kevin Sullivan run down to pull Nikita out before he can make the cover for the DQ.
WINNERS BY DISQUALIFICATION: THE ROAD WARRIORS (BUT VARSITY CLUB KEEP THE TITLES)
This was pretty rushed but there was some nice power stuff on display whilst it lasted. Amazingly the WWE Network leaves in The Road Warriors rip off “Iron Man” theme intact.
NWA United States Tag Team Titles
Champions: Eddie Gilbert and Rick Steiner w/ Missy Hyatt Vs Kevin Sullivan and Dan Spivey
Missy seems horribly miscast as a smiling babyface valet considering she plays such a convincing bitch. Feel free to correct me, but I think both Gilbert and Sullivan were on the booking committee at this time, which might explain why this is going on last. We get a brawl to start, which sees Spivey and Steiner going at it outside whilst Sullivan and Gilbert fight inside.
Spivey rams Steiner’s shoulder into the post, which seems to take him out of the match and leave Gilbert at a one on two disadvantage. Gilbert tries to stick and move against the much larger Spivey but it doesn’t go his way. Meanwhile, Sullivan throws Steiner back into the post shoulder first to stop him from getting on the apron and helping out.
Gilbert continues to get worked over by the heels as Steiner eventually manages to pull himself up onto the apron. Spivey drops Gilbert with a side slam and then follows up with a big boot. It’s a shame that Spivey physically broke down before he was able to have a proper shot in America because I’ve always thought he was a decent big man and it seemed like he finally had the right gimmick with Waylon Mercy.
Gilbert makes a tag but the ref doesn’t see it. As the ref is trying to regain control, Steiner clotheslines Sullivan which allows Gilbert to get the flash pin fall to retain.
WINNERS AND STILL CHAMPIONS: EDDIE GILBERT AND RICK STEINER
Again, a rushed match which limited what they could do. It was fine for what it was but it was a curious way to end the show when they had such a good Flair/Steamboat match and Terry Funk post-match angle they could have closed on. Rick would eventually bring back up in to deal with The Varsity Club, which would come in the form of his brother Scott.
As the show closes, Jim Ross announces that the Varsity Club have been stripped of the tag titles due to them attacking the referee.
This was pretty much a one match show and, once that match had ended with an amazing angle, the show then spluttered on for another half an hour and ended up ending on a flat note. I’d honestly recommend just getting “The Ultimate Ric Flair Collection”, which has both this match as well as Rajun Cajun all on the same disc. I personally still prefer that match because I enjoy the two out of three stipulation, but the match on this show was still incredible.
Next week I’ll be following up on Wrestle War with Great American Bash, which is still considered by some to be the greatest wrestling pay per view ever. Well, I have to treat myself sometimes don’t I?
Thanks for reading
Looking for other great content here on the site? Then why not take a goosey gander at Ian’s review of the wacky Blazblue: Cross Tag
I would be remiss not to send some appreciation Scott Keith’s way. His writing style has had a big influence on mine and he’s always been good for a plug on his blog which I’m eternally grateful for. He’s currently been working his way through the new Randy Savage DVD release from WWE and has seen more Bezerker matches than any human should have to suffer through!
And thanks as always to Adam Matters for the feature art. I personally thought this weeks was excellent!