Monday, October 28, 2019

The History of NWA/WCW Halloween Havoc (1989)

Welcome to another look at PPV History, here at!  This being the Halloween season I'll be looking back at the very first PPV I ever ordered, the NWA's inaugural Halloween Havoc!

Halloween Havoc '89 is a bit of an overlooked gem.  1989 was considered by most to be the NWA's best-ever year from a creative and match quality standpoint, featuring two landmark Ric Flair feuds and the rise of future headliners like Sting, Lex Luger and The Steiners.  It was the company's first full calendar year under the ownership of Ted Turner, and it felt like the changes at the top temporarily brought about a renewed sense of focus.

Most fans correctly cite The Great American Bash and Chi-Town Rumble as the company's top two PPVs of that year, but for me Halloween Havoc isn't far behind.  Sporting a stacked card (particularly in the tag team division) and a unique first-time gimmick match, Havoc was a thoroughly enjoyable show from start to finish, and it became one of the company's flagship PPVs until its 2001 demise.

But let's take a closer look, shall we?

Philadelphia Civic Center - 10.28.89

The centerpiece of this show was the first-ever Thunderdome match pitting Ric Flair and Sting against Terry Funk and The Great Muta.  After having feuded for much of 1988, Flair and Sting became allies at The Great American Bash, discovering they had common enemies.  The ensuing feud became so heated and intense it was decided the only way to settle it would be inside a giant steel cage with an electrified top and campy horror decor adorning the upper sections.  Each team would have a "second" stationed at ringside holding a white towel, and the match could only end when said team representative threw in said towel.  To ensure law and order, the NWA brought in the vaunted Bruno Sammartino as the guest referee.  This match sure had a lot of window dressing, but it all helped give the bout a big-fight atmosphere and made it feel like something special.

It may seem quaint now but in 1989 this dive was the goddamnedest thing

The match itself was a wildly fun brawl that ranged all over ringside as the four combatants gradually figured out the lay of the land.  The fisticuffs frequently took place on the side of the cage as Terry Funk repeatedly attempted escape.  Sting made good use of the structure at one point, diving off the cage rungs onto an unsuspecting Funk in the center of the ring.  Another memorable moment occurred early in the match, when a cage prop caught fire and Muta managed to put it out with his green mist.  I'm pretty sure that's never happened before or since.  After an unruly 23-minute battle, Flair caught Funk in the Figure Four and Sting nailed Funk's legs with multiple top-rope splashes.  Funk's manager Gary Hart attempted to interfere but ran into Flair & Sting's second, Ole Anderson, who knocked Hart loopy with a punch.  Hart's towel flew out of his hand and Sammartino declared Flair and Sting the victors.  While certainly not on par with Flair vs. Steamboat or the two Flair vs. Funk singles matches, the Thunderdome match was a very worthy main event and all four guys worked hard to make the awkward match structure a success.  My only gripes were the lack of blood and the fluky finish.  But then this match wasn't designed as the blowoff to this feud - that would happen at New York Knockout.
Just as strong as the main event was Havoc's undercard.  The show opened with an inconsequential but very entertaining singles match, spotlighting the company's latest acquisition Tom Zenk.  Zenk faced Mike Rotunda, on his last legs under the Varsity Club gimmick, and the two gelled quite nicely.  Rotunda's methodical mat work made for a nice contrast with Zenk's aerials, and Zenk eventually won clean by rolling through a bodypress, in a solid opener.

Next up was a tremendously entertaining six-man tag, with the Midnight Express and Steve Williams facing the three-man Samoan Swat Team (Samu, Fatu, and The Samoan Savage, formerly known as Tama in the WWF).  As always Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane looked great, and the addition of Williams gave them the muscle they needed against the huge Samoans.  The match eventually erupted into chaos, and the Samoan Savage knocked Stan Lane into Jim Cornette before rolling him up for the pin.

Fatu was already looking rather Rikishi-esque shall we say....

The one real blemish on this card was the pointless Tommy Rich vs. Cuban Assassin glorified squash, which ran over eight minutes and failed to get Rich over whatsoever.  Skip this.

Things picked up again with the bizarre World Tag Title match, as the heel Freebirds defended against violently hated babyfaces The Dynamic Dudes.  This was the earliest case I can remember of a live crowd going against script; Philly shat all over Johnny and Shane here, cheering instead everything the Freebirds did.  The match itself was fine, but the crowd dynamic made it truly noteworthy, and Hayes & Garvin got a huge pop after reversing the Dudes' finisher for the win.

Next was Rick and Scott Steiner against the debuting masked team Doom.  Doom's manager Woman (Nancy Benoit) started out as Rick's would-be nerdy girlfriend Robin Greene, but turned on the Steiners and sicced her new team on them.  Incidentally Doom's disguise wasn't hard to see through.  Even at 14 I figured out five minutes into the match it was Butch Reed and Ron Simmons, and Jim Ross accidentally called one of them "Reed" at one point before trying to cover it up with some weird line about Woman being motivated by "greed."  Anyway this match wasn't great but it was very successful in getting Doom over as a monster heel team right out of the gate.

The second-best match of the night was Lex Luger's US title defense against Brian Pillman.  Luger was in the middle of what I consider his career peak, as the vicious bully you could sense was biding his time with the secondary belt till he got a World Title shot.  I always felt the NWA dropped the ball by not having the heel Luger dethrone the babyface Flair in 1990.  Luger was great in 1989, and he put on two damn fine matches with Pillman.  Here he managed to outmaneuver Flyin' Brian after giving up much of the offense, finally catching Pillman off the ropes and nailing a hotshot for the pin.  Damn good stuff here.

Pillman's about to lose his head

The semi-main event match went to a huge tag team showdown, as resident asskickers The Road Warriors faced the company's new monster heel team The Skyscrapers.  I loved this pairing, and while the wrestling certainly wasn't five-star quality, the badassery on display was fantastic.  The two teams exchanged 12 minutes of brutal power moves before Teddy Long's giant key came into play, leading to Sid Vicious and Dan Spivey being disqualified.  This feud continued into 1990 but was knocked down a few pegs by Sid's untimely injury.  He'd be replaced by future Undertaker, "Mean" Mark Callous, but the chemistry wasn't the same.  This match marks the only really good showing between these two teams.  Lots of fun.

Oh, it's on....

As I said before, this was the first PPV I ever ordered and I was thoroughly satisfied with my purchase.  While it lacked a great ****1/2 match it was still a pretty stacked PPV with good variety, and by all rights should've set up a truly great Starrcade.  Sadly the company went with the rather pointless Iron Man tournaments, which yielded some good matches but in the end meant very little.

Best Match: Flair & Sting vs. Funk & Muta
Worst Match: Tommy Rich vs. Cuban Assassin
What I'd Change: Cut the Rich match.  Otherwise not much to gripe about.
Most Disappointing Match: I guess The Steiners vs. Doom, but it's not bad either
Most Pleasant Surprise: The Freebirds vs. The Dudes was better than it had any right to be.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10

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