Welcome to What We’re Watching, a new feature where we discuss… what we’re watching. It’s just that simple.
You can expect to see a wide range of shows discussed in the weeks to come, as we plan to cover some international wrestling, and perhaps even the occasional non-wrestling television show.
In our first edition, I thought that given the date on the calendar, it would be worth checking out the first ever Halloween Havoc pay-per-view event, which took place on October 28, 1989 in Philadelphia. Yes, the first Halloween Havoc was 25 years ago.
Lots of things drew me to this particular card, not the least of which was Bruno Sammartino refereeing the main event Thunderdome Match. I have the utmost respect for Bruno, a man that works out harder today at 80 years old than I do at 30, but I had a difficult time picturing The Living Legend being involved in something called Thunderdome.
Let’s get started!
The show began with a youngster by the name of Jim Ross welcoming us in, along with his partner Bob Caudle. They threw it backstage to Gordon Solie, who looked dapper in a tuxedo, standing in front of a spooky skull-themed backdrop. Solie told us that he would be serving as the backstage interviewer for the show, then threw it back to Ross and Caudle, who put over the Thunderdome. They then cut to another backstage interviewer, Chris Cruise, who talked about the show, and tossed it back to Ross as the in-ring action began.
Tom Zenk vs. Mike Rotunda
Zenk was referred to as “Z-Man” and presented as a fiery young babyface on the rise, while Rotunda played the role of the grizzled veteran with a strong amateur background. They exchanged arm drags and hip tosses early, before Rotunda got the advantage with a thumb to the eye. When Zenk would hold his own in exchanging holds, Rotunda resorted to punches and elbow strikes. Rotunda got a near-fall with a vertical suplex, of all things, then went to an abdominal stretch and a chinlock. The finish saw Rotunda hit a crossbody off the second rope, only to have Zenk roll through and get the pin. A decent opener.
Backstage, Cruise interviewed Bruno Sammartino, who put over the brutality of the Thunderdome. The Samoan Swat Team (Samu, Fatu & The Samoan Savage) w/sir Oliver Humperdink vs. The MidnightExpress (Bobby Eaton & Stan Lane) & Dr. Death Steve Williams w/Jim Cornette
Lane, Eaton and Dr. Death ran wild early, exhibiting tremendous fire and celebrating with some of the best high-fives you’ve ever seen. The babyfaces stayed in control until The Samoan Savage crotched Eaton on the second turnbuckle. Eaton took a bump in the aisle on a concrete floor, which looked like it was no fun. The Samoans worked over Eaton, who was a great babyface-in-peril. Eaton made the hot tag to Dr. Death, who quickly tagged in Lane. It broke down into a six-way and The Samoan Savage stole the pin on Lane after Humperdink took the ref. A fun six-man.
“Wildfire” Tommy Rich vs. The Cuban Assassin
Wildfire had an amazing haircut. Jim Ross gave us a history lesson on U.S./Cuba relations. Lots of armdrags and armbars on the mat, as I’m not sure how strong either man’s cardio was at this point in their careers. There was not much heat for this, and the match might have been designed to bring the crowd down after the wild six-man that preceded it. The Assassin used a chinlock, knee lift and a suplex. Rich crotched him on the top rope, and won with an Air Canada (or Thesz Press, if you prefer). This was mercifully short.
NWA Tag Team Champions The Freebirds (Michael Hayes & Jimmy Garvin) vs. The Dynamic Dudes (Shane Douglas & Johnny Ace) w/Jim Cornette
Hayes and Garvin, wearing tremendous jackets and sunglasses, cut a good promo with Solie before the match. Was Michael Hayes the first “cool heel”? He played a lot to the crowd early. The crowd hated the Dudes, who took most of the offense here. The fans went into business for themselves and started chanting for the Freebirds. Caudle alerted us that “Big Johnny” was still growing. He was 27 years old at this time. The finish saw Garvin pin Douglas after Hayes shoved Garvin into Douglas near the ropes on a suplex attempt.
Doom (Ron Simmons & Butch Reed) w/Woman vs. The Steiner Brothers
Before the match, Cruise asked Scott Steiner about strategy. “We have no strategy,” Steiner said, laying the foundation for many of the wonderful promos he would cut later in his career. J.R. told us that Scott was going to be a teacher before Rick dragged him into the wrestling business. Now there’s a fascinating idea. This match was four giant dudes clobbering each other and tossing one another all around the ring. Doom got the heat on Scott and manhandled him. Scott made the tag to Rick, who was distracted by Woman on the apron. Woman slipped an international object into Reed’s mask, and Reed headbutted Rick and got the pin.
NWA United States Champion Lex Luger vs. Brian Pillman
Solie interviewed Luger before the match, and Luger declared that he was “The Champion of the 90s”, here in 1989. They worked a good athletic match, as Pillman was just a freak of nature, and Luger was quicker and leaner than I remember him being later in his career. Pillman got a lot of offense in, but Luger took over after Pillman missed a top rope splash. Pillman took a flip bump off a clothesline and Luger started jawing with fans at ringside. Luger worked over the back to set up the Torture Rack. Pillman fired up and hit a springboard clothesline for a near-fall. Pillman missed a missile dropkick. Luger clotheslined Pillman on the ropes and scored the pin. A very good match.
The Road Warriors (Hawk & Animal) w/Paul Ellering vs. The Skyscrapers (Sid Vicious & Dan Spivey) w/Teddy Long
Hawk and Spivey started things off and no-sold each other’s offense. Animal and Sid got in and did more of the same. The teams went back and forth until Sid took over and they got the heat on Hawk. Sid and Spivey controlled the offense for five solid minutes, while Teddy Long and his hat patrolled the outside. Animal got the hot tag and hit a huge dropkick and a shoulder tackle. The managers got in the ring, referee Nick Patrick lost control of the bout and declared the Road Warriors the victors by DQ.
NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair & Sting w/Ole Anderson vs. NWA Television Champion The Great Muta & Terry Funk w/Gary Hart
Ole, Flair and Sting did an interview with Cruise, putting over the cage. Apparently the rules of Thunderdome dictated that Thunderdome could only be stopped at the referee’s discretion, or if a manager threw in the towel on behalf of his team. Ole vowed to never throw in the towel. Did I mention that the cage was electrified, and that we were practically promised an electrocution, live on pay-per-view? Funk and Hart did an interview with Solie, where Funk misquoted Winston Churchill and vowed to fry Ric Flair.
A small fire started on the electrified cage before the bout, which Muta kindly put out with his green mist.
Sting and Flair took the first several minutes of the match, until Muta and Funk took over, using the cage as a weapon. Sting fired back with chops and bulldogs. He went for The Scorpion on Muta, but Funk broke it up and the heels were back on the offensive. Sting and Muta worked in the ring, while Flair and Funk took to climbing the cage surrounding the ring. Muta and Flair had a chop battle on the outside, then Flair applied the Figure Four. On the outside, Sting swung precariously from a rope tied to the cage. Muta employed a reverse front facelock with a bridge, while Funk used the rope to tie Sting to the cage, using “cowboy knots”, according to Caudle. Ole untied Sting, who launched himself into the ring from the cage.
Muta and Sting busied themselves on the cage while Flair and Funk had a wrestling match in the ring. Flair pit Funk in the Figure Four and Sting came off the top rope with two splashes. Muta went after Bruno, who hit him with a right hand. Hart got into the ring and Ole went after him. Ole hit Hart with a right, and Hart’s towel went flying into the air towards Bruno, giving Flair and Sting the win. This was all over the place from a psychology standpoint, but it was fun to see all of this legendary talent in the ring together at the same time.