Saturday, December 21, 2013

The WCW/NWA in 1989 Was Pretty Darn Awesome!

I'm not sure how being from Tennessee I grew up without ever seeing the NWA as a child. We had one of those old big satellite deals and I watched lots of WWF, AWA, and other random feds from the time I was old enough to remember on in the 80s. Then in 1989 we somehow switched to regular cable and I stumbled across TBS on a Saturday night. What I saw was the newly created WCW brand that was formed on the NWA after Ted Turner purchased the company in November of 1988. I joined in just in time to see the rise of Sting and perhaps the greatest trilogy of matches ever between Ric Flair and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. While the WWF was a bit over gimmicked before in 1989, under Turner WCW was starting to get a bit gimmicked. Still, under the booking of Ric Flair and the hard hitting in-ring work, 1989 was an awesome year for World Championship Wrestling. You could say that it started in 1988, but in '89 is seemed to hit it's peek. Let us now take a look at some of the key people for that great year..

Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat
"The Dragon" had taken some time off after his son was born and in time he left the WWF for WCW. Upon his arrival he was placed against NWA World Champion Ric Flair. This would set off three wrestling matches that most people will tell you were among the greatest matches ever in wrestling. Steamboat would win the NWA Title from at the Chi-Town Rumble in February of 1989. After losing the title back to Flair at WrestleWar '89 in May, Ricky would take on the likes of Terry Funk before being attacked by the United States Champion Lex Luger turning Luger heel and starting a feud over the U.S. title.

"Nature Boy" Ric Flair
As we went into 1989 Flair was still "The Man" in the NWA/WCW. However, for the first time in a long time he found himself somewhat solo as former Horsemen jolted to the WWF. After the epic trilogy of matches that saw him lose and then win back the NWA Title from Ricky Steamboat, Flair would turn face after being attacked at WrestleWar by Terry Funk setting up matches against both Funk and The Great Muta as Sting would become a major ally to Flair. By the end of 1989, The Horsemen were being reformed with a returning Arn Anderson and they asked Sting to join. That would soon, however, lead to Flair going back to his evil ways soon after.

By 1989 Sting was already on the rise in the NWA/WCW. It seemed like the whole year of 1989 was set up to eventually lead to Sting winning the big one later on. Sting had a full plate in '89. He went to war with former best friend Lex Luger after Luger turned heel, he defended his TV Title against The Great Muta setting off that rivalry, and he came to the aid of Ric Flair setting off more matches with the likes of Muta and Terry Funk and eventually earning Sting a spot in the face version of The Four Horsemen. By the end of the year Sting would walk away as the Iron Man winner, winning a round-robin tournament at Starrcade '89. His win over Flair would put the spotlight on Sting and make him a target heading into 1990 for The Horsemen.

Barry Windham
Barry played a nice role in the NWA/WCW early in 1989 as he continued his battles with Lex Luger and eventually lost the United States title to Luger in February. Windham was managed by Hiro Matsuda and was still an ally to Ric Flair. In March Windham's contract would expire and he decided to take a trip back to the WWF, a federation he wasn't a stranger to either.

Terry Funk
The Funker was a former NWA Champion and a commentator heading into 1989. It was at WrestleWar '89 in Nashville when Flair beat Steamboat to regain the NWA World Title that Funk would make his move brutally attacking Flair and nearly ending his career. Funk would join up in evil manager Gary Hart and The Great Muta and go to war with Flair, Sting, Steamboat, and a few others. The war with Flair would end at The Clash of the Champions when Flair beat Funk in an "I Quit" match. After the match, Funk would shake hands with Flair but be attacked by Hart and Muta. Soon after Funk went back to the commentator table and then soon left WCW all together.

The Great Muta
The Great Muta gimmick was born in 1989 as Muta would be handed over to Gary Hart from Hiro Matsuda. Muta would first feud with "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert before he started to war with Sting and then soon Ric Flair. Muta would have a great year in 1989 winning the T.V. Title from Sting and having great matches all around before returning to Japan and becoming one of the greatest wrestlers ever.

"The Total Package" Lex Luger
"The Total Package" entered 1989 battling former partner Barry Windham and winning the United States title from his at the Chi-Town Rumble. Soon after, Luger was turned on in a tag match by Michael P.S. Hayes and even lost the U.S. title to Hayes later before gaining it back. but Lex was starting to act a bit odd along the way.  At a Clash of the Champions after Ricky Steamboat beat Terry Funk by DQ, Luger would run out and apparently save Ricky only to cut a promo about his place in the NWA and then attack Steamboat with a chair! The two would battle at The Great American Bash with Luger winning by DQ. Lex, while still heel, would be cheered regardless by many as he had great matches with the likes of "Flyin" Brian Pillman near the end of the year. He'd also attack both Ric Flair and Sting heading into the Iron Man Tournament at Starrcade in December of 1989.

"Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert w/Missy Hyatt
Gilbert was married to his manager Missy Hyatt and also managed The Steiner Brothers. Before that, however, Gilbert teamed with Rick Steiner to win the United States Tag Team Titles. Those titles were vacated for reason I'm not sure of an not seen again until 1990. Eddie then went solo and got into a feud with The Great Muta. Eddie to spite being the face in the feud tried to burn Muta, but missed and his wrestler Trent Knight instead. Muta would ultimately win the feud. A returning "Wild Fire" Tommy Rich would form a team with Eddie, but ultimately Gilbert would leave WCW. Missy would stay after their divorce. 

Arn Anderson
Arn spend most of 1989 in the WWF teaming with former Horsemen partner Tully Blanchard. After winning and losing the WWF World Tag Team Titles, Arn would head back to the NWA/WCW at the end of '89. He would reform the Horsemen along with Ole Anderson, Ric Flair, and Sting, but their good guy ways wouldn't last.

The Road Warriors (Hawk & Animal)  w/ Paul Ellering
The Road Warriors were part of an awesome tag division in 1989. Meant to be heels, the fans kept cheering the NWA Wold Tag Team Champions until they once again turned face. The Road Warriors would drop the straps to Mike Rotunda and "Dr. Death" Steve Williams of The Varsity Club in April. Due to the controversy in the match due to crooked ref Theodore Long,  the title would be held up and placed in a tournament. Soon, the LOD found themselves the target of The Samoan Swat team led by Paul E. Dangerously. They still would go on to take part in and win the Iron Man tag team tournament at Starrcade '89.

The Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton & Stane Lane) w/ Jim Cornett
Cornett and company had quickly did away with the Original Midnight Express and Paul E. Dangerously in early 1989. They would leave for a time and come back to take part in the tournament for the NWA World tag team titles. This would lead to a feud with both the newly reformed Freebirds of Michael P.S. Hayes, Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy, and Jimmy Garvin (getting help from a now face "Dr. Death" Steve Williams)  as well as the Samoan Swat Team managed by Paul E. Dangerously. This would come to a head at The Great American Bash when they'd team with The Road Warriors and Steve Williams to take on all three Freebirds and the S.S.T. Soon after they'd turn heel when Cornett started also managing The Dynamic Dudes, splitting with Cornett. That, however, would soon change heading into 1990 when they once again realigned themselves with Jim.

Samoan Swat Team (Samu & Fatu) w/Paul E Dangerously
After Paul E's Original Midnight Express couldn't get the job done, he went out and found another team. That team was Samu and Fatu; The Samoan Swat Team. The S.S.T. would have battles with The Road Warriors, The Midnight Express, and The Steiner Brothers. They'd go into War Games and lose along side the Freebirds at The Great American Bash and they'd also compete and lose in the Starrcade '89 Iron Man Tag Team Tournament.

Dynamic Dudes (Shane Douglas & Johnny Ace)
The Dynamic Dudes might not be remembered in a good light for their 1989 run. Here, we had two white as bread guys with skateboards who hardly used the boards. They still managed to catch the attention of Jim Cornett as he started to try to help them much to the dismay of Cornett's other team The Midnight Express. As the Midnights went heel they went toe to toe with the Dudes, but it was here when Cornett turned on the Dudes smoothing things over with The Midnight Express at a Clash of the Champions. The Dudes would get some revenge as they put on masks and wrestled under the name of "Gotham". After defeating the Midnight Express the feud was soon dropped and Douglas and Ace went their own ways.

The Freebirds (Michael P.S. Hayes, Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy, Jimmy Garvin)
When '89 Started Hayes was a face teaming with the likes of Lex Luger. That wouldn't last as Hayes would later turn on Luger in a team team match and beat Luger for U.S. Title with help of Hiro Matsuda and the returning Terry Gordy! Gordy and Hayes would reform the Freebirds and use underhanded methods to win the NWA World tag team titles in a tournament to fill the vacant titles. After that they'd add longtime Freebirds ally Jimmy Garvin to the mix as the new 3rd Freebird and the "Freebird Rule" that any two of the three could defend the titles. This would lead to feuds with The Midnight Express and The Road Warriors until they lost the titles to red hot Steiner Brothers in November!

The Varsity Club (Kevin Sullivan, Mike Rotunda, "Dr. Death" Steve Williams)
After Rick Steiner turned face in 1988 and left The Varsity Club they added "Dr. Death" Steve Williams to the mix to feud with Stiener and Eddie Gilbert. After Rotunda and Williams won the NWA tag titles from The Road Warriors and were then stripped of the belts, Williams would leave the group and turn face. Kevin Sullivan would still team with Rotunda to target The Stiener Brothers and Rick's new girlfriend Nancy. They'd also add in Dan Spivey to the mix. After being beat by The Steiners, Spivey would go on to form The Skyscrapers with Sid Vicious and Rotunda and Sullivan would split and feud with one another.

The Sky Scrapers (Sid Vicious & Dan Spivey) w/Theodor Long
When Dan Spivey left The Varsity Club he formed a team with Sid Vicious known as The Skyscrapers. They'd then take dirty ref turned manager, Theodor Long, as the manager of the group. The team would have some cool battles with the great teams in the roster, but ultimately the team was short termed as Sid would split off for bigger things by the end of the year and Spivey would find himself teaming with "Mean" Mark..Who would be the man who'd go on years later to be The Undertaker.

The Steiner Brothers (Rick Steiner & Scott Stiener)
When Rick Steiner's partner Eddie Gilbert left the NWA for a short time it opened the door for Rick's brother, Scott, to step in and form a team that would later go on to become one of the greatest tag team in wrestling history. Originally managed by Missy Hyatt, Rick and Scott soon found themselves in battles with the likes of the S.S.T. and other. When Rick introduced his new girlfriend Nancy to the mix she was targeted by The Varsity Club resulting in the Steiners defending her honor. Rick's girlfriend Nancy would turn out to be fraud taking on the new name "Woman" and introducing a new team called DOOM to face The Steiners defeating the brothers at the 1989 Halloween Havoc. To spite the loss, The Steiner Brothers would win the NWA World tag team titles from The Freebirds the next month in November.

Doom (Butch Reed & Ron Simmons) w/ Woman
DOOM originally came to be when Woman turned on her boyfriend Rick Stiener and promised Doom was coming for the brothers. At Halloween Havoc they made their debuts under masks as Doom #1 and Doom #2, but it was obvious it was Butch Reed and Ron Simmons. After beating the Steiners the team would finish strong beating other teams such as Eddie Gilbert and Tommy Rich. They, however, wouldn't fair as well in the Iron Man Tag Tournament at Starrcade. The feud with The Steiner Brothers would go on into 1990 where Doom would soon unmask and align with Theodore Long.

"Flyin'" Brain Pillman & "The Z-Man" Tom Zenk
As 1989 came to a close both "Flyin" Brain and The Z-Man added some youth into the mix as both solo wrestlers and as a tag team. Z-Man would debut at the 1989 Halloween Havoc as Pillman would have a classic match with Lex Luger for the United States Title. Soon after they both would form a tag team heading into 1990.

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