With this year’s event just around the corner, Matthew Roberts fires up the TWM Time Machine once again and goes back thirty years to Survivor Series 1989.
Although it’s a bit of a trope to complain about the changes in format for Survivor Series in the modern era, the 1989 edition was slightly different to the two events that had preceded it. Those had teams of five battling to survive, which was nice as it rhymed. The 1989 version had teams of four, so lets hope it’s not a bore. Sorry. Still, at least the entire show was made up of traditional Survivor matches.
A campy, but very entertaining opening video package where various Superstars™ tell us what they are thankful for (it’s Thanksgiving after all) starts things off. This couldn’t work as well today because 75% of today’s roster have essentially the same characterisations as each other. From there it’s straight into action as Dusty Rhodes’ Dream Team takes on the Big Boss Man’s Enforcers. This has a mix of charismatic talent (Rhodes and the Boss Man), solid mid-carders (Rick Martel and Tito Santana) memorable gimmicks from sub-par workers (Honky Tonk Man) and workers who really were better than the gimmick given (The Red Rooster). It also had Bad News Brown (and everyone knows how his being on a team will work out) and Brutus Beefcake (who may have gotten over at times, largely thanks to his position as Hulk’s buddy affording him opportunities not given to others, but was generally never any good). Like most of the matches this evening, this is fast paced and never really given any time to lull and get boring. Former Strike Force team mates Martel and Santana battle in the early going and there’s lots of fast tags, to everyone expect Brown, to keep things going.
Martel cheats his former partner and gets an elimination and this is the only elimination before Bad News gets tagged in, batters the Rooster for a bit and then clashes with his team-mate Boss Man causing him to walk out in disgust. I NEVER SAW THAT COMING. This is three quarters of the way into a 22 minute match by the way. From there the eliminations come thick and fast until Dusty last eliminates Boss Man to make him and Beefcake the survivors. Post match, Boss Man and Slick attack the winners until Brutus gets his hedge clippers and runs them off. Even as a kid I never “got” the hedge clippers thing.
The following match doesn’t promise as much on paper as the previous one. Yes it has super-workers Randy Savage (currently the Macho KING) and Bret Hart (moonlighting away from his usual tag team partner the Anvil on this night) on opposite sides, but it also has Jim Duggan, Ronnie Garvin, Hercules, Earthquake, Dino Bravo and Greg Valentine involved. As whilst all those had their plus points, you tend not to associate them with quality action in the 1989 WWF environment. But by, once again, keeping it fast paced and making use of a lot of tags in and out it actually surpasses the opener for quality, even if that is largely down to Randy and Bret.
Earthquake, as the monster heels tend to do, dominates early and gets rid of sacrificial lamb Hercules but can’t do the same to Jim Duggan. Hacksaw gets some revenge by eliminating Valentine but sadly, for the faces anyway, that’s as good as it gets for them. There are a couple of hot exchanges between Randy and Bret but in-between these a side slam from Dino Bravo gets rid of Ronnie Garvin before The Macho King finally puts away the plucky Hitman. It’s easy to say in hindsight of course, but it was clear in moments like this, even this early into his career, that Bret had that “it factor”. Even facing three-on-one odds Duggan has to be protected so he loses by count-out (when Scary Sherri Martel pulls the ropes down) and Savage, Quake and Bravo survive. As all law abiding babyfaces must do, Duggan attacks Bravo after the decision with his 2×4. Jesse Ventura has a go at Gorilla Monsoon for condoning this and he has a point given how “out of order” it was for Boss Man and Slick to attack post-match after the opener. Another fun match.
Strange to see Hulk Hogan in the mid-card in 1989 (more on the reasons for that later) but it’s then time for The Hulkamaniacs (Hogan, Demolition and Jake Roberts) to take on the Million Dollar Team (Ted DiBiase, The Powers of Pain and Zeus). It’s good to get the dead weight/non-wrestler Zeus out of the way early as he gets disqualified for putting his hands on the referee; of course this isn’t done to necessarily disguise the weaknesses of the non-wrestler. It’s done because “No Holds Barred: The Match/The Movie” is coming to PPV in December of this years and Zeus has to be protected for the match that will pit him and Randy Savage against Hogan and Brutus Beefcake after the showing of the movie.
We get a lot of “power wrestling” in the next section as we presumably begin the build to a Powers of Pain shot at the tag team title holders Demolition as Warlord pins Ax and Barbarian pins Smash. All good Survivor Series matches should at least in-part be used to build to other things (generally speaking) and they are protected here by being disqualified for double teaming Hogan. Which is weak, admittedly, but a common feature at the time. This of course leaves the faces with a 2-on-1 advantage over Ted DiBiase, but he is at least allowed to pin Jake Roberts (albeit after a Virgil distraction AND with his feet on the ropes) before inevitably succumbing to the big boot and leg drop combination. Despite the fact that Hogan wins courtesy of THREE of his four opponents being DQ’d this is still another fun match that even being nearly half an hour long rarely drags or lulls too much.
The next match pits Roddie’s Rowdies against The Rude Brood. It features talented captains (Roddy Piper and Rick Rude obviously) alongside the likes of Mr Perfect, Jimmy Snuka and the Fabulous Rougeaus. It also features the Bushwhackers. Of course even they provide some fun in the early-going, even if the “biting” routine was old hat for them even then. Again the psychology seems a little off as both Rougeaus are eliminated first (Jacques by Snuka and Raymond by Piper) meaning the babyfaces have the big numerical advantage. Then again, two of the babyfaces are the Bushwhackers. And indeed they are the next two to go as Perfect pins Butch and Rude pins Luke in fairly rapid order. The crowd goes wild when Piper and Rude battle but they both get counted out (more protection) which leaves Perfect and Snuka, and the former wraps things up by pinning Snuka with the Perfect Plex. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before but this was another fun match that had a fast pace and rarely slowed down enough to ever be in danger of being dull.
And so it’s time for the main event. And as we noted, a main event without Hulk Hogan. This was because we’re five months away from WrestleMania VI and the planned Hogan/Warrior main event and having Warrior go on last here was a sort of experiment in that, as well as being a nice way to highlight the “importance” of Warrior. His Ultimate Warriors team of The Rockers and Jim Neidhart are taking on the Heenan Family. The latter should have consisted of Andre The Giant, Haku and The Brainbusters but Tully Blanchard is, it is announced, being replaced by Bobby Heenan. The commentators have been hyping up “tension” in the Heenan Family all night long; they never say on air that Tully has failed a drugs test and been fired.
Andre is gone in less than a minute after a Warrior clothesline knocks him to the outside. It’s merciful in lots of ways really. Maybe the faces getting surprising numerical advantages early in the show is a set up to make Warrior look even more super-human in this match as Jim Neidhart and Marty Jannetty are dispatched, the latter pinned by Heenan (albeit after Haku had done most of the damage). Shawn Michaels evens things up by getting rid of Haku before Arn once again gives his team the advantage by getting rid of HBK. How much of an advantage this really is when one of your duo is Bobby Heenan is open to question. Naturally Warrior runs through both of them, lastly eliminating The Brain, to become the sole survivor.
This show is perhaps not the most well remembered of the early Survivor Series. Maybe it’s because it lacks the novelty of the two previous editions and perhaps lacks the absolutely killer matches (the tag team elimination match from 87 for instance) or the big historic moment that was The Undertaker’s debut in 1990 (or indeed his title win in 1991). But on its own merits this a damn fine entertaining show and if it never quite hits top gear it never threatens to get anywhere near stalling either. All in all a great show that simply flies by and is well worth a watch thirty years on.
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