Happy Ragin’ Saturday Everyone!
This show was a bit of a bomb back in the day when it came to attendance figures, but the Main Event is one of my favourite matches of all-time so I decided to boot it up on the WWE Network to see how the rest of the show holds up.
The event is emanating from New Orleans, Louisiana on the 2nd of April 1989 (Up against WWF WrestleMania V)
Calling the action are Jim Ross and Michael Hayes, with Terry Funk popping in for the Main Event
Ricky Steamboat defeated Ric Flair in Chicago back in February for the World Title, so tonight it’s the rematch with a two out of three falls stipulation.
Last night, legends showed up to meet with Ricky Steamboat, including The Funks and Gene Kiniski. Jim Herd delivers a stilted interview in an effort to pay tribute to the legends.
We get a video package of NWA action.
The national anthem plays. Just start the show already!
The Samoan Swat Team (Samu and Fatu) w/ Paul E. Dangerously Vs The Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane) w/ Jim Cornette
The Midnights of course had been a big act in the Mid-South territory, albeit with Dennis Condrey in place of Lane, so coming back to the Superdome to play second fiddle to The Samoans (who were a decent team but not remotely close to The Midnights when it came to ability and money drawn) must have been a bitter pill to swallow. Cagematch.net says that there are only just over 5,000 people in there, which is pretty miserable for a building as big as the Superdome. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the economy in this part of the world really got hit due to an oil bust in the second half of the 80’s and that probably played a part in the poor ticket sales.
I remember seeing a shoot interview with Cornette where he said he didn’t like these matches with The Samoans because they were reticent to sell for The Midnights sometimes, and there are instances of that here, which is kind of strange to be honest as it’s not like they’re massively bigger than The Midnights size wise so they shouldn’t really have any issues taking bumps for them. The Midnights use speed early on to get a shine on The Samoans, and the crowd is into it. Paul E and Cornette do some bits at ringside too in order to keep their feud going as well.
The Midnights really were great, as they’ve seamlessly moved into working as babyfaces here after a long period as Heels, but they’ve not really changed their wrestling style either. They still switch off without tagging at points for instance, but now they’re doing it to Heels instead of babyfaces so it gets them cheered, which is usually the best way to handle a babyface turn most of the time. Eaton eventually winds up getting cut off courtesy of a blind tag from The Samoans, leading to some heat. Eaton sells that excellently of course, but the match does start to feel like it drags after a bit.
Lane gets the hot tag, but The Samoans start no selling again, except for a moment where they bonk into one another and start scrapping before cutting Lane off for more heat. This match really didn’t need a second heat segment to be honest, it’s already starting to feel like it’s gone on for too long and now we get even more heat. Lane also does a good job selling, but The Samoans aren’t especially exciting to watch in a long match, even though they are good at what they do and are a solid team for the most part.
Eaton gets our second hot tag, but The Samoans still don’t seem too willing to sell unless it’s for each other, with most of The Midnight’s chances to win coming from Heel miscommunication. One instance of that leads to The Midnights getting the Rocket Launcher, but the referee is distracted by getting Lane out of the ring and that allows Fatu to clobber Eaton with Paul E’s oversized 80’s mobile phone for the three count.
WINNERS: THE SAMOAN SWAT TEAM
Nothing especially wrong with it outside of The Samoans being uncooperative at points. It was just overly long with a flat finish
We get a replay of the finish, which of course allows Hayes to make the expected phone gag on commentary.
The Great Muta w/ Gary Hart Vs Steven Casey
Casey is the brother of sometimes WWF enhancement guy Scott Casey. He’s got a good physique and looks a bit like Christophe Lambert crossed with Triple H, but he’s mostly just here to make Muta look good as Muta was the guy they were pushing at the time. And rightly so I should add, as Muta was a star right out of the box and would go on to have an incredible career in the grapple game. Casey does a good job selling for Muta’s trademark offence here, and he even gets a bit of offence in himself, so this isn’t a squash.
Muta still takes the lion’s share of the offence of course, with Ross pushing Muta’s similarities with Sting in order to lay the foundation for their excellent summer feud. This one also probably goes on for a bit too long, as Muta getting a nice snappy quick win would have been better than them working a semi-competitive 8 minute match instead. I get them perhaps not wanting to bury Casey with a squash match when he had the look he had, but in that case they should have probably put him in there with another opponent and allowed Muta to squash a geek.
Casey does eventually get to make a comeback, although he doesn’t really show much in the way of fire and it feels a bit flat as a result. His offence isn’t that great either, although Muta isn’t especially snappy with his bumping either which doesn’t help. Muta sends Casey to the floor and follows with a dive before putting him back inside for the Moonsault, which not surprisingly gets the three count.
WINNER: GREAT MUTA
This was another match that went for too long and Casey’s comeback was a bit of a damp squib after he’d been worked over for so long. Muta’s stuff looked good though and he was the one getting the push, so it was “job done” in the end
Muta mugs for the camera following that, coming across as a big star in the process.
“Hacksaw” Butch Reed w/ Hiro Matsuda Vs The Junkyard Dog
This was an interesting match as JYD was a big star in Mid-South before jumping to the WWF and Butch Reed was one of the guys Mid-South tried to replace him with as top babyface, until Reed ironically bolted for the WWF as well. Both men have since showed up in the NWA though, and seeing as New Orleans was their old stomping ground they’ve been matched up against one another, with JYD getting a live band playing him down to the ring, which is a nice touch but I think he would have probably got a bigger pop coming out to his normal theme.
I’m not exactly sure why Matsuda was managing Reed at the time, as they don’t strike me as a natural pairing. JYD is to me what Sid is to a lot of other people on this Blog, in that he’s not very good in the ring but I just find his act entertaining, especially when the crowd is into him. JYD gets the big shine on Reed with head-butts to start, which the crowd enjoys, and Reed does a good job selling it all. JYD’s offence is Giant Baba levels of low impact, but it gets a reaction and JYD takes some decent bumps when Reed cuts him off so I’ll let it slide.
There’s a long chin lock at one stage which slows the match way down, but the crowd still gets behind JYD and his eventual comeback gets a decent reaction. The finish is pretty botched sadly, as it’s clear that JYD is supposed to run Reed into Matsuda and then get a school boy roll-up for three, but he doesn’t get it hooked up properly and ends up kind of tumbling on top of Reed with a lateral press, which makes Reed look like a bit of a chump as a result.
WINNER: THE JUNKYARD DOG
This wasn’t very good, although I thought Reed was decent overall
There’s supposed to be Bob Orton Jr Vs Dick Murdoch, Varsity Club Vs Road Warriors and Iron Sheik Vs Ranger Ross to come following this match, but the version on WWE Network has omitted them and we jump right to the next match. I’ve no idea why. Maybe the footage is in poor condition or something? They do normally put up the “uploaded as most as possible” disclaimer at the start in those cases though so I’m lost as to why those matches were cut.
NWA United States Tag Team Titles
Champs: Eddie Gilbert and Rick Steiner w/ Missy Hyatt Vs Kevin Sullivan and Dan Spivey
Gilbert and Steiner had both wrestled in Mid-South/UWF, so they’re back in the old stomping grounds here. The challenger’s jumpstart things and work over Gilbert, with Spivey flinging poor Gilbert around with reckless abandon at points. Gilbert does a great job selling for the challengers, with Steiner doing a good job getting frustrated on the apron in the hope of getting a tag. It’s not an especially good match due to the crowd not really caring, but the work is decent at least outside of Spivey, who just seems unwieldy in there.
Gilbert eventually manages to dodge a Sullivan charge in the corner and makes the tag to Steiner, who does some awesome power moves on the massive Spivey at one stage, which wakes the crowd up. Steiner and Spivey both tumble out to the floor, distracting the referee in the process, which leads to Sullivan stealing Missy Hyatt’s loaded purse in an effort to hit Gilbert with it. Gilbert fends that off though and gets a quick inside cradle, which is enough for the three count and a pop from the crowd.
WINNERS AND STILL CHAMPIONS: GILBERT & STEINER
Too short to be any more than that, but it was mostly fun for what it was
The Heels beat up Gilbert following the match, leading to Steiner chasing them off with a chair. I believe they’d rematch at Wrestle War.
NWA Worlds Heavyweight Title
Champ: Ricky Steamboat Vs “Rick” Flair
Yes, they spelt Ric Flair’s name wrong, Because WCW. I don’t think they were even officially called WCW yet, but that’s such a WCW moment that I’m going to attribute it to them nonetheless. This was the second match in the big three match series these two had in 1989, with each one being fantastic in its own way. This is the one where they put in the most time, going for nearly an hour and just tearing the house down in the process with a fantastic mixture of smoothly executed technical wrestling, blistering hard chops and consistent storytelling that makes sense throughout the bout.
They do one of my favourite things in the early going, as Steamboat the babyface keeps going back to a side headlock over and over again, with Flair getting more and more frustrated that he keeps ending up in it. Steamboat even gets a couple of close two counts at certain points from the headlock, as he’s done such a good job applying the hold that Flair is starting to get worn out by having to keep breaking out of it. It’s a perfect example of how you can make a simple hold actually part of the match’s overall story rather than just an excuse to sit on the mat and kill time.
Interestingly there are some duelling chants in the crowd, although the Steamboat supporters are a little bit louder. It does highlight one of the issues with this feud though in that Flair was infinitely cooler than his babyface opponent due to Steamboat focusing more on being a smiling family man rather than a butt kicking martial arts master, which led to some fans cooling on the feud even though the matches were great. Flair spends the majority of the first fall on the defensive, with him selling it all excellently of course, but when all is said and done it ends up being Flair who takes the fall when he counters a simple inside cradle to take the lead.
Ric Flair 1 – 0 Ricky Steamboat
I loved that as Steamboat took pretty much all of that fall baring a few chop battles, but Flair was able to hold on and caught Steamboat with a flash pin fall. This established that falls can come at any time, giving every pin attempt that extra little bit of jeopardy, and it also made Flair look like a resilient and deserving challenger whilst not making Steamboat look weak. Steamboat just got caught, and at this level it can happen to anybody, as was in fact proven when Steamboat took the belt from Flair to begin with. I just love little storytelling points like that.
Flair can now run out the clock if he wants to, as he’s 1-0 up and if we get to the time limit with things as they are then Flair will win the belt. This immediately changes the dynamic of the match, as Steamboat now needs to be the aggressor so that he can get himself back into the match, whilst Flair’s strategy is now to slow things down a bit and make Steamboat come to him. It’s no different to a football/soccer match where one team takes the lead and then sits back defensively in the hope of catching the opposing team with a second goal on the counter.
Steamboat destroys Flair’s leg with a number of elbow drops before locking Flair in his own Figure Four Leglock, which Flair sells big of course. Flair manages to survive that, so Steamboat goes to a Boston Crab instead, which works over Flair’s previously injured back that he hurt in a plane crash. Flair’s selling continues to be impeccable, with the referee even being worried for him and stopping Steamboat from following up right away once Flair is able to break the Boston Crab.
In a nice touch, it’s now Flair who tries to go to a side headlock, as he’s in the lead and knows how effective it is at wearing an opponent down. Steamboat manages to get out of that, so Flair tries a different tactic of brutalising Steamboat outside the ring and then stopping the Champ from getting back into the ring, leading to him having some words with the referee as a result. Flair suplexes Steamboat back into the ring eventually though and continues to work him over, with Steamboat now getting a chance to show off his selling prowess. Flair even uses the ropes illegally at one point just so we don’t forget that he’s supposed to be the Heel.
Both men are now absolutely drenched in sweat, which highlights just how hard they have been working. They’ve been working at a pretty consistent pace as well, which is a tribute to how in shape they are. Flair makes the mistake of heading up top at one stage, which allows Steamboat to suplex him down and then go after the back with a number of strikes, with Flair selling each one more a more, almost as if his very life force is ebbing away. Steamboat follows that up with a Double Chickenwing submission hold and Flair uncles to tie things up for the Champ.
Ric Flair 1 – 1 Ricky Steamboat
Flair decides it’s time to go after Steamboat’s legs in classic Flair Style once the third fall starts, which sets up the Figure Four nicely and gives Steamboat another excuse to show off how good he is at selling. They get a lot of mileage out of the leg work, as it signals yet another momentum turn in the bout as Steamboat now looks to be trapped on the defensive whilst Flair appears to be in the ascendency and the more likely of the two to go on and pick up the victory. Both men end up coming off the top with cross body blocks, with both times it leading to a two count. We get some more near falls following that, with Flair doing the most melodramatic sunset flip sell ever at one stage.
Steamboat ends up missing a big splash off the top rope, which leads to Flair going back after the leg. Steamboat fights back with chops though, showing tremendous fire, and then gets a big clothesline for two, as they’re selling that both men are so beaten down by this stage that even simple rudimentary moves could potentially end this one now. Flair once again heads up top seeing as it worked for him earlier, but this time he reverts to form and gets flung off by Steamboat. Steamboat tries going back to the Chickenwing, but his leg gives out this time and both men fall down to the mat with their shoulders down. Steamboat manages to roll one of his shoulders to pick up the win, but the replay reveals that Flair had a foot outside the ring so the pin shouldn’t have counted, thus setting us up for another match.
Ric Flair 1 – 2 Ricky Steamboat
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: RICKY STEAMBOAT
This match is thoroughly deserving of all the hype it gets. It contains everything you would want from a big wrestling match, marrying great in-ring action with engrossing storytelling and consistent selling from both men. The pace at which the match was worked was incredible as well, with both men showing off insane conditioning to wrestle for nearly an hour at the clip they were working at. It’s a genuine classic and I can’t think of a single way you could improve it. Even the less than decisive finish set up yet another great match at Wrestle War, so you can forgive even that. This remains my favourite of the 89 Flair/Steamboat matches, but you can’t really lose with any of them in all honesty. Each one is awesome in its own way and I’d certainly suggest checking all three of them out (Chi-Town Rumble, Ragin’ Cajun, Wrestle War)
Jim Ross interviews Ricky Steamboat backstage. Steamboat wants to move on to defend the belt against other people, but does concede that Flair had his foot under the rope when he watches the footage back and that Flair has a legitimate gripe.
The WWE Network cut of this show is a one match show, but it’s one heck of a match, so I think that’s enough for a thumbs up.