NWA Halloween Havoc 1989 Review (Flair & Sting Join The Thunderdome)

Hello everyone and welcome to my review of the very first edition of NWA/WCW Halloween Havoc, featuring a rare “thunderdome cage” tag match in the main-event, Lex Luger vs. Brian Pillman fighting over the US title and much more. You can check out the point system here.

Before starting, here is the list of champions in the NWA at the time:

  • NWA World Heavyweight Champion: Ric Flair
  • United States Champion: Lex Luger
  • World TV Champion: The Great Muta
  • NWA World Tag Team Champions: The Fabulous Freebirds (Michael Hayes & Jimmy Garvin)

Enjoy the review!

The hosts are Jim Ross & Bob Caudle

Live from Philadelphia, PA

Mike Rotunda vs. ‘The Z-Man’ Tom Zenk

Quite the weird opener. Rotunda pretty much runs away and bails to start. Back in and a hiptoss sends Rotunda to the floor yet again. Rotunda briefly turns things around with a thumb to the eye but Zenk catches him with a sunset flip for two and Rotunda bails yet again. Zenk catches Rotunda in a hammerlock that Rotunda reverses and turns into a rope-assisted headscissors, but the ref catches him and forces the break. And Rotunda bails… again. Zenk catches him in a headlock back in that Rotunda explodes out of, dumping Zenk. Rotunda proceeds to necksnap Zenk on the ropes before bringing him back in with a suplex for two. Rotunda goes for an abdominal stretch with another illegal rope-assistance, and the referee catches him yet again. Zenk escapes a chinlock and tries to make his comeback but he ends up running into a nasty lariat. Zenk makes his big comeback and eventually blocks a crossbody and rolls through for the win at 13:23.

  • Analysis: Technically fine albeit too long. They tried everything they could and then some to get Zenk over as a babyface in Philly, including Rotunda stalling a lot. It did (kind of) work near the end, but it made the match feel ridiculously long. Still a completely fine and watchable bout. **

Meanwhile, Bruno Sammartino is ready to referee tonight’s main-event.

Dr. Death Steve Williams & The Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton & Stan Lane)(w/ Jim Cornette) vs. The Samoan SWAT Team (Fatu, Samu & The Samoan Savage)(w/ Oliver Humperdink)

The Samoans are no longer managed by Paul E. Dangerously (Heyman), as they have Oliver Humperdink – who recently managed Bam Bam Bigelow in both the WWF and NWA. ‘The Samoan Savage’ is Tama, former member of the WWF’s Islanders tag-team alongside Haku and managed by Bobby Heenan. Both teams stare at each other as Stan Lane strikes Savage with a clothesline to start. The Express double-team the Samoans and bring them all inside, allowing Williams to come in with massive shoulderblocks as the crowd goes BANANA! RIP Pat Patterson. Williams’ next house-cleaning-move of choice is a clothesline. Every heel eats multiple of those as the crowd goes insane. The Samoans all run away from Dr. Death and Cornette does the chicken dance on the outside to mock the heels. This is so awesome!

Lane gets tagged in on the babyface side and he controls Samu, making him stall a little bit more and talk some strategy with the other heels. Fatu gets in but gets caught in an armbar, only to catch a Lane crossbody and turn that into a powerslam to take over. Lane manages to tag Eaton, though, who goes back after the arm. Eaton goes for a bulldog but Savage simply runs him into the turnuckle as Eaton takes a fantastic bump. Savage then dumps Eaton and drops him on his… ahem.. crotch(!) on the railing. Eaton understandably takes an extra second or two before getting back in, but Fatu comes in and surprises him with a hiptoss right on the concrete. Eaton fights his way back and actually manages to sunset flip for two, but Fatu gets in with a nasty headbutt for two. Eaton shows some life and decides to fight back by ramming Fatu’s head on the mat, with the only problem being… he’s Samoan! So Fatu completely no-sells it and just kills poor Eaton with a violent superkick. The Samoans now take turns beating up Eaton as Savage hits a sideslam for two. Double headbutt by the illegal heels while Savage goes up, but he only finds Eaton’s knees and the crowd smells hot tag. Eaton milks it even more by literally crawling… and struggling… and crawling even more… before finally making the hot tag to Dr. Death and in the process TAKING THE GODDAMNED ROOF OFF THE ARENA! Williams obviously destroys everything that moves with power moves, even press slamming one of the Samoans into the other two. It quickly starts BREAKING LOOSE IN TULSA and even Cornette hits Humperdink with the tennis racket! In the middle of all the confusion Lane gets a tag and hits Savage with an enziguiri, but he gets kicked right into Cornette and Savage gets the pin and the win for the Samoans at 18:23.

  • Analysis: This match was simply fantastic. The crowd was simply in love with Dr. Death, who has without any question one of the most explosives hot tags you’ll ever see. Meanwhile, the Samoans did a tremendous job of playing the badass heel roles, and the same goes for the Express playing faces-in-peril and literally crawling all over that ring to make Dr. Death’s hot tags even better. Great match with a fantastic finish that leaves a lot of question marks up in the air, thus making people want to keep following the story. Tremendous match. ****

Meanwhile, Terry Funk wants to turn Flair and Sting into fried chicken in the main-event. Well, Terry Funk is Terry Funk, you know!

Tommy Rich vs. The Cuban Assassin

This is basically your cooldown match after Dr. Death took everyone’s energy away for a while. Former World champion Tommy Rich is getting another run here after coming up short in a fantastic match with Lex Luger at the last Clash of the Champions over the US title. Cuban goes after Rich to start but that ultimately takes him nowhere, as Rich easily fights back with slams and an elbow dumps him. Rich gets a ‘Tommy Rich sucks’ chant just to make sure he remembers in which town he’s working! Rich goes after the arm before getting a really bad sunset flip for two. And back to the armbar he goes. Cuban slams him to escape but then Rich puts it back in on him. I’m already getting quite tired of this never-ending match. Now Assassin gets in an armbar of his own just to make really clear that we’re not doing anything other than holds here. Cuban tries a piledriver but misses, so instead he chooses to go for… a chinlock. Oh joy! Cuban goes up only to miss whatever the hell he was going for and Rich FINALLY ends this with the Thesz Press after 8:20 that felt more like 8 hours and 20 minutes.

  • Analysis: Not horrible, just really fucking boring. Avoid this if you can. *

NWA World Tag Team Champions: The Fabulous Freebirds (Michael Hayes & Jimmy Garvin)(c) vs. The Dynamic Dudes (Shane Douglas & Johnny Ace)(w/ Jim Cornette)

The heel champions Freebirds get a tremendous reaction while the poor Dynamic Dudes get booed out of the building, with not even Cornette saving them. Hayes and Douglas get into a pinfall sequence to start, with the crowd booing when Douglas is covering and getting up when he’s the one getting pinned! Douglas puts Hayes in a headlock and hits a neckbreaker before tagging in Johnny. Garvin comes in as well only to eat a Johnny dropkick. Johnny works the arm and, once Garvin tags Hayes back in, starts working his arm as well. The Dudes run wild on both Freebirds with stereo dropkicks as the crowd boos the poor guys even more. So much for “people power”, huh Johnny!? Ace hits a bulldog on Hayes for two as the reaction gets more and more nasty. They do a few more spots trying to get the Dudes over as babyfaces, but it completely dies. Ace puts a headlock on Garvin and the crowd then goes crazy for a Hayes cheapshot on the apron followed by a Garvin kneelift. Hayes is just having the time of his life on the apron playing to the smartass crowd! Hayes and Ace get into a slugfest in the corner but Garvin comes in to backdrop Johnny before launching Hayes right into him for a corner clothesline. Hayes goes for the DDT but Johnny survives and makes the “hot” tag to Douglas. He runs wild for a little bit while the crowd shits all over everything he does, before Hayes trips him on a suplex attempt and Garvin falls on top for the pin to retain the titles at 11:28.

  • Analysis: I won’t be too hard on them here. They obviously had planned the match one way before the entire crowd forced them to work a completely different one on the fly. It was still a good enough match. If nothing else, you will at least be entertained at the crowd’s pure hatred of the Dudes and them cheering for literally everything the Freebirds did. I’ve seen a few people being negative towards this match, but I personally enjoyed and had a good time watching it. There’s no question it would’ve been much better had the reactions been “normal”, however. ***1/4

The Steiners (Rick & Scott) vs. Doom (#1 & #2)(w/ Woman)

Despite being simply called #1 and #2 by the announcers, the members of ‘Doom’ here are Ron Simmons and Butch Reed. The Steiners start running wild with multiple suplexes and not even resist cheering them like crazy. Doom bail for a while but then come back in only to eat stereo clotheslines that send them flying back to the outside. Back in, Simmons briefly takes control only for the Steiners to clean house yet again. Reed tags in but doesn’t do much better and Rick hits the chinlock. Simmons gets in and goes for a suplex only for Rick to block that and powerslam him. Scott comes in with a clothesline off the corner but Reed stops him with a clothesline of his own. Scott comes back with a german on Simmons followed by an elbowdrop for two. Heel double-teaming in the corner follows. Scott briefly catches Reed with a sunset flip for two, but Reed immediately gets up and hits a neckbreaker for two. Powerslam by Simmons gets two and so does a double-team slam by the Doom. Hot tag Rick but the ref is distracted with the Doom members and misses it, allowing Doom to hit a piledriver behind his back for two. We hit the chinlock before Scott breaks and finally makes the hot tag. Rick backdrops Reed followed by a powerslam while Scott takes care of Simmons with the Frankesteiner. The ref gets distracted with Scott and Ron, though, allowing Woman to put some foreign object inside Ron’s mask behind the referee’s back. A headbutt on Rick gives Doom the surprising win at 15:32.

  • Analysis: Solid yet unspectacular tag match. The Steiners are over and pretty much everything they do gets a reaction, so that helps. The shocking result is what makes this match somewhat memorable, though. **

NWA United States Championship: Lex Luger(c) vs. Flyin’ Brian Pillman

Pillman does not pass the “babyface in Philadelphia” test! The crowd is clearly on Lex Luger’s side. Lockup gets things going. Luger uses his power to win that but Pillman backdrops him and dropkicks him all the way to the floor. Luger bails a little bit but Pillman meets him on the outside with a baseball slide. Pillman goes for Air Pillman back inside but Luger moves out of the way and runs away yet again. Pillman follows him and eventually Luger catches him with a knee while Pillman’s going after him on the way back inside the ring. Luger pounds away before Pillman connects with a quick bodypress for a nearfall. Pillman goes after Luger’s arm but Luger’s strength advantage allows him to escape, but then Pillman uses his speed to catch Luger with a hiptoss followed by a dropkick as Pillman goes back to the arm immediately. And by now, all of a sudden, most of the hardcore Philly crowd is on Pillman’s side thanks to his awesome babyface work. For those younger readers out there, this should tell you how great Brian Pillman really was. Luger manages some distance but eats turnbuckle on a charge. Pillman goes up for a flying splash but finds no water in the pool and Luger proceeds to faceplant him. Luger stunguns Pillman, clotheslines him and then gives Pillman a delayed suplex for two. Luger arrogantly dumps Pillman, who then surprises Luger and almost steals it with a quick sunset flip that gets two. Luger gets thrown off his game and reacts with a clothesline, allowing Pillman to simply move out of the way as Luger goes flying to the floor. Back in with Pillman going after the champ before Lex quickly cuts him off with an atomic drop. Luger takes him up for a superplex that Pillman blocks and turns into a sunset flip off the top for a very good nearfall. Chopfest is won by Brian who then hits Air Pillman, but Luger is close to the ropes and that saves him. Pillman gives him a neckbreaker and proceeds to put the “miss” in missile dropkick, as then Luger stunguns him to steal the win and retain the US title at 16:49.

  • Analysis: Lex Luger is simply on fire as the heel US champ. Ever since turning in the summer, there was the classic with Ricky Steamboat at Bash, then the terrific match at Clash with Tommy Rich, and now this one with Pillman. I loved the story with Luger being able to take control everytime the pace was slow, and Pillman when it was quicker. It’s simple psychology that everyone can understand, as Luger is the stronger guy and Pillman is the quicker of the two. I also loved Luger taking the easy out in order to save his title, in the process putting Pillman over as a threat to his belt. Very good stuff. ***3/4

The Road Warriors (Hawk & Animal)(w/ Paul Ellering) vs. The Skyscrapers (Sid Justice & Dan Spivey)(w/ Teddy Long)

Animal/Spivey staredown to start. Animal takes down Spivey with a couple of clotheslines as Hawk comes in to work Spivey’s arm. They trade shoulderblocks with neither one selling before Hawk finally manages to take Spivey off his feet with a massive flying shoulderblock. Sid comes in and immediately starts by botching a clothesline. Well, I’ll be positive and say his performance could only go up from here! He proceeds to no-sell a lot before a flying shoulderblock by Animal takes him down too. Hawk goes to work on Sid’s arm but falls victim to his incredible helicopter slam. That move already looks great but it looks even better on a big tough guy like Road Warrior Hawk. Spivey comes in with a sideslam for two. Sid drops Hawk on the railing and then Spivey gets a suplex for two more. Double clothesline by the Skyscrapers in the corner. Hawk fights back with a suplex and then Spivey misses a charge before getting Animal in for the hot tag. He takes Spivey out of the picture with a shoulderblock and powerslams Sid, but Teddy runs in for the DQ at 11:39.

  • Analysis: This wasn’t bad, but it was ridiculously long and the Skyscrapers weren’t ready at all to go ten minutes with LOD. It exposed the youngsters a little bit, especially Sid who botched a bad clothesline and was visually nervous, but it was mostly okay otherwise. **

Main-event: THUNDERDOME CAGE FULL OF ELECTRICITY MATCH – Ric Flair & Sting(w/ Ole Anderson) vs. Terry Funk & The Great Muta(w/ Gary Hart)

This is no DQ and the winning team will be determined after the rival manager throws in the towel. Bruno Sammartino is the special referee here. There is electricity on top of the cage to prevent the guys from getting there. The cage even gets on fire before the bell rings, which Muta himself puts out with the green mist! Yes, indeed! Funk slams Flair to start who then responds with a number of chops. Funk is already eating cage after Sting whips him on the outside. Flair throws more chops and the classic Flair kneedrop back inside. Sting adds a dropkick as Funk continues to get his ass kicked by both babyfaces. Muta comes in but he doesn’t do much better, as Flair atomic drops and chops him while Sting throws him into the cage. Everyone goes at it on the outside before Muta takes over back inside with an elbow followed by a legdrop on Sting. The heels double-team Sting for a while before Flair comes in to save with chops and a suplex. Sting goes for the Scorpion Deathlock on Muta but now it’s Funk who comes in to save his partner. Back to the floor as Sting and Muta actually start climbing the cage and fight up there, with Muta touching the top and getting shocked. Now that’s working the gimmick of the match! Meanwhile Flair and Funk fight each other on the cage as well over on the side, with Funk hanging upside down and Flair beating him up. Sting and Muta go back inside, with Sting hitting quite the impressive delayed press slam on Muta. Sting had him up there for at least ten seconds. Flair and Sting trade places so Flair can go chop Muta for a while, and Sting goes after Funk who’s on top of the cage because he’s Terry Funk and he’s nuts. Sting literally grabs one of the ropes up there and uses it to kick Muta like Tarzan. This whole thing is so stupid yet it works for some insane reason. Don’t ask me, but I sure as hell am enjoying it. Meanwhile back in the ring Muta catches Flair with an enziguiri to take control, and up there Sting gets caught with the Tarzan rope and they fight on top. Flair gets hit with a piledriver inside the ring but Tarzan Sting comes flying off the rope with a crazy dive for the save. Now Flair and Funk stay in the ring with Flair taking Funk to school (working his legs to set up the figure four), while Sting and Muta go at it on the outside. Flair puts Funk in the figure four while Sting is in control of Muta on the floor, but still Gary won’t throw in the towel. Muta decides to go after Sammartino but that obviously doesn’t go well, and then Ole punches Gary and his towel goes flying into the ring to give the babyfaces the victory at 23:46.

  • Analysis: I will admit, they proved me wrong here. Years of watching Vince Russo made me raise an eyebrow after looking at the name of the match, the whole rules and even the little things such as the electricity on top. I didn’t know what to expect going into this one. It had potential to be one of the most visually ugly disasters of all time, but on the other hand the four wrestlers involved were all way too talented that they could pull a miracle and somehow deliver something special here. Thankfully, they did. The whole match was stupid like I was expecting, but in a good way. I loved the small touches such as Muta touching the top of the cage and getting shocked, and them using the goofy ropes that were on the cage to actually hurt their opponents and/or save their partner instead of just using it because wrestling is silly and we’re all performing for fun. I wouldn’t call this a classic or anything, but it was very good and I had a great time watching it. ***1/2


Final thoughts: Come on, it’s 1989 NWA, of course it was a great show. Apart from Tommy Rich vs. Cuban Assassin, nothing even came close to being boring and the shows flies by despite lasting 2h50 on the WWE Network. Don’t worry though, because I promise you an episode of RAW feels a week longer than this show despite being only ten minutes longer! The six men tag was fantastic and my favorite match of the whole card, with Dr. Death being the highlight of that match and maybe even the whole show. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say his hot tags made the comeback have multiple collective orgasms. The US title match was also tremendous and got both guys more over than they were in the beginning, as Luger continues to shine as a heel and Pillman is the exciting babyface newcomer at this point and clearly has a great future in wrestling ahead of him. And then came the main-event, which is one of those matches that I liked but I can’t really explain why. It’s stupid and I can understand those who might possibly even hate it, but I wasn’t offended by it as they actually used the whole environment to hurt each other instead of doing stupid shit for the hell of it. Overall, a very good show. And the fact that it’s so far the worst (for lack of a better word) PPV of the NWA in 1989 should tell you how great their product was at the time. Yep, they deliver once again – a big thumbs up for this PPV! 7/10

Finally, here are the points for the wrestlers who were part of Halloween Havoc 1989:

  • Lex Luger: 5.75 points (3.75 for star rating + 1 for pinfall win + 1 for successfully defending a title)
  • Jimmy Garvin: 5.75 points (3.25 for star rating + 1 for pinfall win + 1 for successfully defending a title + 0.5 for winning the fall)
  • Ric Flair: 5.5 points (3.5 for star rating + 1 for winning + 1 for main-eventing)
  • Sting: 5.5 points (3.5 for star rating + 1 for winning + 1 for main-eventing)
  • The Samoan Savage: 5.5 points (4 for star rating + 1 for pinfall win + 0.5 for winning the fall)
  • Michael Hayes: 5.25 points (3.5 for star rating + 1 for pinfall win + 1 for successfully defending a title)
  • Samu & Fatu: 5 points (4 for star rating + 1 for pinfall win)
  • Terry Funk: 3.5 points (3.5 for star rating + 1 for main-eventing – 1 for losing)
  • The Great Muta: 3.5 points (3.5 for star rating + 1 for main-eventing – 1 for losing)
  • Bobby Eaton: 3 points (4 for star rating – 1 for pinfall loss)
  • Dr. Death Steve Williams: 3 points (4 for star rating – 1 for pinfall loss)
  • The Z-Man: 3 points (2 for star rating + 1 for pinfall win)
  • “Doom” Ron Simmons: 3.5 points (2 for star rating + 1 for pinfall win + 0.5 for winning the fall)
  • “Doom” Butch Reed: 3 points (2 for star rating + 1 for pinfall win)
  • Flyin’ Brian Pillman: 2.75 points (3.75 for star rating – 1 for pinfall loss)
  • Road Warriors Hawk & Animal: 2.5 points (2 for star rating + 0.5 for DQ win)
  • Stan Lane: 2.5 points (4 for star rating – 1 for pinfall loss – 0.5 for losing the fall)
  • Johnny Ace: 2.25 points (3.25 for star rating – 1 for pinfall loss)
  • Tommy Rich: 2 points (1 for star rating + 1 for pinfall win)
  • Shane Douglas: 1.75 points (3.25 for star rating – 1 for pinfall loss – 0.5 for losing the fall)
  • ‘The Skyscrapers’ Sid Justice & Danny Spivey: 1.5 points (2 for star rating – 0.5 for DQ loss)
  • Mike Rotunda: 1 point (2 for star rating – 1 for pinfall loss)
  • Cuban Assassin: 0 points (1 for star rating – 1 for pinfall loss)

Thanks a lot for reading. Stay safe everyone, hopefully 2021 is better for all of us. And have a Merry Christmas!