Ask any wrestling fan what the greatest year in the history of the business is and you’ll hear a few answers. The years 1997-98 saw the explosion of wrestling into mainstream culture, 1984 saw the WWF expansion along with several strong territories. I’ll guarantee that under Family Feud rules (ask 100 people) that the number one answer would be 1989. The NWA (WCW) had classic Ric Flair feuds with Ricky Steamboat and Terry Funk, along with the emergence of Sting and the Great Muta. Territories like Memphis and World Class were running interesting angles. Japan saw the legendary Jumbo Tsuruta-Genichiro Tenryu matches. And of course, the WWF machine hummed along starting with a Saturday Night’s Main Event on the first Saturday of the year.
But first, a personal story about this show. I never saw this until the WWE Network came along even though I was watching religiously 28 years ago. As a lad of 9, I wasn’t staying up until 11:30 PM ET to see the show live so we would run the VHS on a timer. However, my father messed up and it never taped and I was furious that I missed the hair vs hair blowoff between Brutus Beefcake and Outlaw Ron Bass. Such are the priorities of youth. (Four years later, my father accidentally taped over Larry Bird Night with something, probably a game show. But he made good and purchased the commercial VHS, which I still have.)
On this show in addition to the hair match: Hulk Hogan takes on Akeem! Well, we know Hogan has something against those of African descent. The Ultimate Warrior defends the IC title against the Honky Tonk Man, a dude he famous squashed in 30 seconds four months before. And the Red Rooster takes on Tito Santana. I’ve never been to Tijuana but I don’t think roosters fare well there. Taped in Tampa, FL our hosts as usual are Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura.
Gene Okerlund is with Ron Bass who is with spurs and whip. They bring up what the Outlaw did to Beefcake, which was almost 5 months ago. Feuds really did last longer back then. Before Okerlund talks to Beefcake, we see the incident where Bass cut Brutus up with spurs. The cuts weren’t that bad, but they brought out the giant red X to censor so it definitely FELT worse.
Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake vs. “Outlaw” Ron Bass – Hair vs. Hair Match
Funny that this match took place in Florida, the site of most of Bass’ accomplishments in his career. He was a multiple time Florida heavyweight champion in the mid-80s and also made Tampa his residence. Bass sneaks up on Beefcake as he enters the ring and chokes him with the whip before Brutus steals it. It makes me wonder if anyone ever lost a haircut match via DQ or countout. Kind of takes the heat out of it, huh?
Beefcake hits the high knee which was his finisher as a heel and then later during the unfortunate Booty Man era, except later it was called that as a pun. Heiney!
Bass only turns things around when he carries Beefcake out of a corner mount position with an inverted atomic drop. The Outlaw was really quite an outlier in the WWF because he was a heel for two years and never had a manager. The only other heel I can think of like that is Bad News Brown and those guys are nothing alike.
For a match with hair on the line, there is a noticeable lack of heat. The crowd is really sitting on their hands even when Beefcake is hit with a piledriver, when Bass stopped the referee count. That’s usually a sign that the heel is approaching the banana peel. In this case, when Bass actually tries for a pin, he assumed he got three and just goes for the scissors which really makes him look like a dumbass. Beefcake ducks a clothesline and applies the sleeper and the crowd really comes to life. And not the fake stuff.
If you are keeping score, Brutus is now 3-0 on SNME singles matches and has cut hair in all three of them. Danny Davis and Greg Valentine were the prior victims, though he only got about one lock of the Hammer’s hair. Bass’ hair needed to go because the bald spot was getting larger. The Barber gets an electric razor out and Ventura wants to know how he got electricity down to ringside. Gee Jess, Gorilla is always telling me the electricity is in the air and you can cut it with a knife. Ask him. Though Jesse wins me back by saying this scene reminds him of the opening scene from the movie Full Metal Jacket as all the recruits get their heads shaved.
Okerlund is with Slick, Big Bossman, and Akeem. Slick says Bossman will be around because Hogan is a habitual rulebreaker. Must have been watching some of Hogan’s 1980-81 work, I guess.
Hogan and Elizabeth are now with Okerlund. No Savage, hmmmmmmm. Hogan says that with Liz around, lady luck is on his side. Oh wait, here’s Savage crashing the set! He says he’ll keep an eye on things. “Let’d do it, lovely Elizabeth” is Hogan’s final word here, which I’m sure won’t be taken out of context by someone as paranoid as Macho Man.
Hulk Hogan (w/Elizabeth) vs. Akeem (w/Slick and Big Bossman)
Savage stays backstage in a weirdly lit room with Okerlund, watching on a monitor as troublemaker Gene points out Hogan’s chivalry. Hogan picks up Slick and tosses him into Akeem and tries to get a pin on both of them, which amuses Vince. More Super Hulk: he puts the bandana in Akeem’s mouth, then runs outside to nail Bossman, then throws Slick into Bossman. Hogan punches Akeem who sells with the hand gyrations more associated with Dusty Rhodes. Transition spot as Hogan fails on a body slam attempt.
But that doesn’t last long and Hogan takes command again briefly and nails Bossman again, who is literally bumping more in this match than Hogan is. But again he gets on the apron, and as Hogan charges Akeem pulls referee Dave Hebner in the way. Interesting that Hebner decides to land right in the center, interesting choice for a ref bump. Bossman has taken enough shit and comes in and just wails on Hogan and now everyone expects Savage to even the score.
Cut to Savage in the back with Okerlund, who says Hulk could use a hand here. But Macho believes in Hogan and figures he can fight his way out alone. Elizabeth runs to the back as Hogan is getting splashed continuously by both guys. When she arrives, Randy explains his non-interventionist policy and that he believes in Hulk as Okerlund says “LOOK AT THAT” which we don’t get to see. Elizabeth gives up on it and just comes back to ringside in time for the Hulk up. But when Hogan goes for the leg drop (running to the wrong rope because of where Bossman is, which always pisses me off), Bossman hits him with the nightstick for the DQ.
Elizabeth looks to the back, but knows that Randy is not going to intervene with UN authorization. So she gets in the ring herself, which maybe is a bad idea given what happened last time. Bossman grabs Liz by the arm and slaps on the cuffs. “They got Elizabeth cuffed, they’re gonna bring her to justice too!” Jesse says. Now Savage arrives with a chair and announces the Macho Doctrine: that he will intervene when Elizabeth is in trouble, but not for others. Jesse vocalizes this as Savage looks pissed off, with the arms flailing and talking down to Liz. Ventura is just a master at painting the picture here, saying he smells a rat but doesn’t go too over the top with it. His role in making that angle one of the greatest in history cannot be understated. Announcers matter.
Honky Tonk Man and Jimmy Hart are with Okerlund. Honky says his strategy never changes because he is the greatest IC champion of all time. Hart when calls Honky the people’s champion. Hey, in 1997 Honky briefly made a play for Rocky Maivia to become his protégé, but instead he did become the People’s Champion. Personally, I enjoy delusional Honky where he thanks the audience and truly thinks he’s popular.
Warrior is with Okerlund. Don’t ask me to tell you what he said.
Ultimate Warrior (C) vs. The Honky Tonk Man (w/Jimmy Hart) for the WWF Intercontinental Title
The point is made that Honky has time to prepare, unlike at Summerslam 1988. The flaw in that logic is that Honky has been losing to him at house shows for months so any fan who has been to a live show knows better. A bigger issue is how the hell these two can have a watchable match; the reason for the Summerslam squash was because nobody would get exposed in 30 seconds.
Cool spot with Warrior pressing Honky over his head in the aisle and brings him back to the ring. After beating on him for a bit, he misses a charge and Honky sneaks in a megaphone shot with Hart distracts the ref. But it’s not too long before Warrior does his version of the hulk up to finish off the Elvis doppelganger. It’s a mere flying tackle, just one, so this isn’t WrestleMania 7 or anything. And now he can move onto Rick Rude.
Okerlund is with Slick and the Twin Towers. They are pleased with how bad they beat up Hogan and Slick wonders just how close the Megapowers are. I should also note that Bossman and Akeem get an A+ for their gesticulating as Slick speaks.
Jesse Ventura is with Bobby Heenan and the Red Rooster. Jesse and Brain make the point that Rooster has limited ability and Heenan has made something out of nothing. They deride Terry Taylor’s abilities and Rooster gets a bit upset towards the end.
Tito Santana vs. The Red Rooster (w/Bobby Heenan)
Unusual gimmick here that is quite fun as Heenan has a microphone to capture his instructions to his charge. The Brain is a bit of a taskmaster but what he’s saying is generally what someone would yell if this was a shoot. Heenan then confers with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner in the front row and asks what you do when someone isn’t doing the job. “You fire them!” Heenan then says he’s got a ring “full of Winfields”, a reference to the Yankees star who was at war with Steinbrenner at the time.
Heenan is all over the referee, who just happens to be Bill Alfonso of later ECW fame. Vince says he would get sick of someone yelling all the time as the match is going on. Yes, Vince McMahon….the guy who is forever in the ear of RAW and Smackdown Live commentators….doesn’t want people yelling when they are trying to do their jobs. Ventura takes the side of Heenan, stating that some athletes need that.
Meanwhile, Rooster slaps Heenan in a conference on the outside before they go to the commercial break. Rooster is controlling but Heenan is not happy. Poor Tito has his Strike Force gear on, keeping that candle lit for Rick Martel who was about to return to action.
This isn’t a bad back and forth match, but it’s really to advance the story of Rooster and Heenan. The two had only been together for only 3-4 months and already it’s winding down. The Brain even chucks Rooster back into the ring at one point, then he gets rolled up and pinned. Heenan confronts Rooster in the ring and slaps him, so Rooster snaps and beats up his manager as the crowd is rather tepid but they do eventually chant “Rooster!” And that sorry chapter comes to a close.
Who wants some AWA flashbacks? The former AWA World champion Curt Hennig is with Gene Okerlund and he is of course now Mr. Perfect. No colorful singlet yet. He says he makes no mistakes, which is funny because they had to shoot the match twice. (Seriously) He says the PerfectPlex is the perfect hold, though it is somewhat similar to Harley Race’s cradle suplex.
Mr. Perfect vs. Koko B. Ware
It took a while for Perfect to get any sort of traction. He had a fun house show feud with Bret Hart in summer 1989, but I don’t think he really caught on until the late 1989 challenge to Hulk Hogan and his famous destruction of the world title. But that will be covered another day. This could have been a good match if they got some time, but I bet one of the reasons they re-shot the match was to make it shorter and have Perfect go over in a stronger fashion.
Perfect busts out the standing dropkick, a move he does about as good as anyone. Even though this is only three minutes, Koko gets a bit of offense in before succumbing to the PerfectPlex.
Okerlund is with the Megapowers and asks about tension in the team. Hogan says you mess with one of them, you mess with the other. But who does he mean, exactly! Who’s side is he on?? Macho Man explains that Hulk’s pain is his pain. That surely sounds like a Bill Clinton-ism. Jesse calls it worse than Iran-Contra and Watergate. So conspiracy is afoot, and of course the Body is on the case.
Next time: The Main Event #2 – Gee, I wonder if anything big happens?