Thanks to WWE Network, I have another Retro Recap. This one is for WCW (then still called the NWA) Wrestle War 1989. This was the second pay per view show after Ted Turner bought the company from Jim Crockett, and the difference was pretty clear. When Turner took over and put Jim Herd in charge a major change in how it was presented, away from the old school feel of Crockett’s promotion and more towards a slick, WWE-looking product. It didn’t go over very well with fans like me; one of the biggest things I liked about the NWA product was the contrast from the WWE in tone and appearance. But out with the old and in with the new was the message of the day so we just had to deal with it.
That wasn’t the only big change; there was a huge amount of roster turnover as 1988 closed down and 1989 began. Starting in September an exodus of Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson, The Sheepherders (soon to be known as the Bushwackers in the WWF), Dusty Rhodes, Ronnie Garvin, Bam Bam Bigelow, Nikita Koloff, and Barry Windham had taken place. And an influx of talent came in to try and fill those spots – Michael Hayes, Butch Reed, the Iron Sheik, the Samoan Swat Team, Dan Spivey, Eddie Gilbert, a Japanese up and comer named the Great Muta, and Ricky ‘the Dragon’ Steamboat. While those guys were all capable, some even great, performers, the sense of loss was real strong.
One thing they did right was get Steamboat in the ring with Ric Flair. The two had some great matches five years earlier for the NWA World Title, so it made sense to put them back together to reprise it. Their first match was at a new Pay Per View, the Chi-Town Rumble, that saw Steamboat win the title from Flair in a very good match. After a series of rematches that saw Flair take a bunch of losses, and a match was booked for this show billed as Flair’s last chance to get the title back. Now anyone who’s been a fan for more than five minutes knows that a ‘Last Chance’ is almost always going to go in favor of whoever is getting the last chance, so it all comes down to the execution. So how was the show? Let’s find out:
The were four matches on this show that could have been completely chopped from the show and no one would have cared. Muta opened up against Doug Gilbert, a jobber who’s biggest distinguishing quality was being Eddie Gilbert’s brother. Muta was an exciting newcomer, but he’d already been on TV several times so we didn’t need this here. The only purpose was to set up a program between Muta and Eddie. Next was Butch Reed vs Ranger Ross, another match that could have been shown on free TV. Reed won. Third was Dick Murdoch vs Bob Orton, Jr. Orton had come back to the NWA earlier that year and the two men had a short program against each other that culminated in a bullrope match here. Murdoch won, and both men would be gone from the company soon. Lastly a new team to the company, the Dynamic Dudes (Shane Douglas and Johnny Ace) upset the Samoan Swat Team in a match that was supposed to get the Dudes over with a win over a much tougher team. Within two months they’d be jobbing to Sid Vicious and Dan Spivey, so yeah that really worked well.
The important stuff
With all of that out of the way we go to the meat of the show, five straight title matches. First up was Hayes challenging Lex Luger for the U.S. Title. Hayes had turned on Luger so this was a grudge match of sorts. The match was pretty good, basically playing out like a poor man’s version of Luger’s matches with Flair from a few months earlier. Hayes sold all of Luger’s stuff and played cowardly heel. Hayes won the title with interference from his Freebird teammate Terry Gordy. Next up was Sting defending the Television Title against the Iron Shiek. This was a two minute squash victory for Sting that wasn’t needed for this show at all. After that comes….the main event. If you’re thinking that makes no sense, you’re right. But that’s where they put it, third to last on the show. I’ll get back to it in a minute. The Road Warriors challenged Steve ‘Dr. Death’ Williams and Mike Rotundo for World Tag Team Championship and won a short but ok match (but not the belts) by disqualification. And then the show ended with a U.S. Tag Team Title match that saw the champs Eddie Gilbert and Rick Steiner successfully defend against Kevin Sullivan and Spivey in a match that looked like it got called to end quickly for time.
Back to the main event. This was the last match between two greats that year and it was excellent. Flair and Steamboat always worked well together and this may have been their best outing. They went over 30 minutes and it went by like it was only half that long. This is wrestling at it’s best without any super highspots or tables or anything else to serve as cheap crowd poppers. This match was as good as it got for two guys who were master technicians and was better than anything you were getting from the WWE. It made the show worth putting on. And the aftermath, where Terry Funk attacked new champion Flair, led to a really hot angle between those two starting a few months later.
Not very good. There were four matches that could have been shown on free TV, and a two minute title match that was only there so Sting could have something to do on the show. The two tag team title matches were pretty forgettable. That leaves a pretty good U.S. Title match between Luger and Hayes and an all-time great World Title match between Flair and Steamboat. And the sequencing for the second half of the show was downright bizarre. Normally you would go US Tag Team/TV/US/World Tag Team/World Title. Instead they went US/TV/World/World Tag Team/US Tag Team. Somebody had to be drinking when they drew that up.
The Flair-Steamboat match you should watch if you haven’t seen it. Skip through the rest.