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Retro Review: Survivor Series 1989

Survivor Series III

Here on Sports Obsessive, we’re planning to go through every Survivor Series to date, in chronological order. Today, we’re headed back to 1989 for the third annual Survivor Series. Now, this aired less than a year before I was born so it was great to be able to go back and appreciate the show and to compare it against the era of wrestling that I grew up watching.

Survivor Series III took place LIVE inside of the sold-out Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont, Illinois.

In 2020, we now know that Survivor Series went on to become the second longest running WWE Pay-Per-View event in the company’s history, just behind WWE’s yearly extravaganza WrestleMania. Survivor Series 1989 had a number of minor changes in comparison to the first two shows of its kind. The most notable change was the fact that the main Survivor Series tag-team matches consisted of two teams of four rather than two teams of five. The change itself wasn’t that big of deal, but it was kind of easier to keep track of what was going on, to be honest.

The first match of the night took place between ‘The Dream Team’ and ‘The Enforcers’. Now, you don’t really have to be educated within the world of wrestling to know who the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’ were, the team names were quite self-explanatory, at least most of the time.

‘The Dream Team’ vs ‘The Enforcers’

The first match of the night was the traditional Survivor Series elimination match in which ‘The Dream Team’ and ‘The Enforcers’ were more than ready to kick things off.

Dusty Rhodes led his team as they battled for supremacy against ‘The Enforcers’, who were led by the legendary Big Boss Man. ‘The Dream Team’ was comprised of Dusty Rhodes, Brutus Beefcake, The Red Rooster and Tito Santana. In the other corner, ‘The Enforcers’ were the team of Big Boss Man, Bad News Brown, Rick Martel and The Honky Tonk Man.

The match started off with two former WWF Intercontinental Champion’s going toe to toe. Tito Santana faced off against The Honky Tonk Man, who believed he was truly the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time. HTM was a record-setter when it came to the I.C Championship, as he held the title for a whopping 454 days. Tito Santana soon found himself in the ring with former ‘Strike Force’ member, Rick Martel (who should also be in the WWE Hall of Fame).

Today, we know that Santana is in the WWE Hall of Fame as he was inducted in 2004, so it was great to take a look back at Santana’s earlier years. The time period between 1987 and 1989 were quite pivotal in Santana developing himself as a tag-team wrestler. Santana and Martel formed the tag-team ‘Strike Force’ in 1987 and even had a five month run as WWF Tag-Team Champions. Following that, Martel was written off TV, the reason being that he left to be home with his wife who was seriously unwell at the team. However, Martel returned at the WWF’s Royal Rumble in 1989 to reunite with Santana.

In April 1989, WrestleMania 5 came around and Santana and Martel had a match against Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson in which Martel turned on Santana after being inadvertently hit by a move by him. Martel later revealed that he felt that he was the one carrying the team, and that he was sick and tired of it. During this Survivor Series elimination match, Martel managed to get one over on Santana once again via a successful roll-up pin fall. Santana had been eliminated.

The Dream Team vs The Enforcers

Bad News Brown was the next to go (literally), as he walked off from the team after a heated confrontation with Boss Man. Brown was really starting to earn himself a reputation as he also walked out on his team in the previous year’s Survivor Series match. Regardless, Brown’s actions had negatively impacted ‘The Enforcers’ as, not only did he abandon his teammates, but he was counted out due to his hot-headedness. Browns’ actions lost ‘The Enforcers’ a vital member of their team, thus brining the head count to 3-3. The match continued on as 3 on 3 with a fair advantage for both teams.

The Honky Tonk Man had long sideburns and his hair slicked back but the WWF’s resident Elvis Presley impersonator had his ass handed to him on a sliver platter. Brutus Beefcake sent HTM running back to his pink Cadillac in defeat. Beefcake seemed to bottle up this momentum as he went on to also eliminate Rick Martel soon after this. Big Boss Man was suddenly left as the last remaining member of his team. Boss Man darted into the ring, swinging for the fences and managed to knock off Red Rooster via pin-fall, directly after hitting his signature move, the ‘Boss Man Slam’.  The Score was now 2-1 in favour of ‘The Dream Team’.

Beefcake soon made the tag to ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes. It was Captain vs. Captain as Rhodes and ‘Boss Man’ traded their hard-hitting blows back and forth. The odds were certainly not in favour of the ‘Boss Man’ and when you add in the fact that he was in there against a fresh Dusty Rhodes, it was only a matter of time until the bell would ring. Rhodes pulled out all the stops against ‘Boss Man’ and finally delivered a flying cross-body attack to ‘Boss Man, which was enough to guarantee victory.

‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes stood tall at the end of this one, rightfully so.

Survivors: ‘The Dream Team’

The Kings Court vs The 4x4s

While Dusty Rhodes was still celebrating his victory in the ring, Randy Savage was backstage, getting ready to rally his troops as he would lead ‘The Kings Court’ into battle against ‘The 4x4s’.

Mean Gene Okerlund met up with ‘The 4x4s’ backstage before the match. ‘The 4x4s’ were made up of Jim Duggan, Hercules, Dino Bravo and an especially young Bret Hart. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a backstage promo as much as the next guy but this promo made me laugh. All four teammates were stood side by side with a 4×4 each in hand. These guys were clearly the heels as they each has so much pent up frustration as they grasped the 4×4 in their hands. Each wrestler had a 15-20 second window where they would explain why they were angry and what they were going to do about it. The question was, were ‘The Kings Court’ shaking in their royal boots?

Randy ‘Macho King’ Savage led his team as they went into battle against ‘The 4x4s’, who were led by possibly one of the most popular wrestlers at the time, ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan. The second elimination match of the night was underway and what better way to kick it off than have Earthquake (who was known as Canadian Earthquake, at the time) start for his team.

But let’s take it back to Randy Savage for a moment. I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’ve noted him down as ‘Macho King’, and not ‘Macho Man’. The change of name occurred when Randy Savage defeated Jim Duggan at WWF’s King of the Ring tournament in September 1989 and adopted the moniker ‘Macho King’.

The Kings Court vs Team 4x4

Hercules of ‘Team 4×4’ started things off with Macho King. Soon enough, Earthquake eliminated Hercules and made it look easy—he sat on his opponent and got the pin fall! Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine of ‘The Kings Court’ was next to join the match, as he squared off against that captain of ‘The 4x4s’, ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan. Duggan’s popularity during this era was nothing to be overlooked, and it really shone through as audience erupted each time that he threw a punch. Duggan eventually went on to eliminate Valentine via pin -fall, thus levelling the head-count to 3-3, and the odds were no longer in favour of ‘The Kings Court’.

Dino Bravo and Ronnie Garvin were the next two wrestlers to find themselves as the legal-men in this traditional Survivor Series elimination match. Ronnie Garvin was absolutely relentless when he was in the ring and was so brutal with his tactics. Not only that, but Jimmy Hart was on the outside and he would not shut his mouth for one second—they call him ‘The Mouth of the South’ for a very valid reason. Dino Bravo and Garvin were known for their hard-hitting, bar-brawl style of fighting and that was clearly on show at these two fought it out tooth and nail. Unfortunately for Garvin, he wound up eating the mat after taking a powerful power-slam courtesy of Dino Bravo. The score was now 3-2 in favour of ‘The 4×4’s’.

Bret Hart promptly entered the ring and found himself toe-to-toe with the Macho King. Randy Savage was known as quite an agile performer and legend in his own right, however, Bret Hart’s talent shone through as he leapt around the ring in true ‘Hitman’ fashion. Hart tried to hit an elbow drop on Savage but missed, and things went downhill from there for Bret Hart. Bret ended up as the victim of many chokeholds, various submissions and piercing strikes the to head. It may have not been a good night for the man who would go on to become ‘the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be’. Hart was soon eliminated after Savage took advantage of the prone Canadian and hit his signature elbow drop.

This match was a great mixture of wrestling styles and wrestling characters. You had the likes of Greg Valentine, Bret Hart, Randy Savage and Earthquake in the same match at the same time. What more could you ask for? Maybe to mute Jimmy Hart’s megaphone for a few minutes. Regardless, The Kings Court were destined to reign supreme at the end of this one, Jim Duggan ended up as the last remaining member of the ‘4x4s’ and he put up a good fight. That was up until Sherri (who was on the outside) got involved and knocked Duggan out of the ring from the apron, causing the patriotic Duggan to be counted out! The Kings Court stole the victory.

Survivors: The Kings Court

After the match, Duggan ran back in with his trusted 4×4 in hand and did what I (and the entire crowd) wanted him to do. Duggan brutalised everyone in sight. There had to be many broken ribs!

The Genius

Lanny Poffo aka ‘The Genius’ took centre stage in what was essentially ‘filler’. The real life brother of  the ‘Macho King’ Randy Savage had prepared a thanksgiving poem for the sold out crowd and, unlike his sibling, ‘The Genius’ was a character with the personality of a wet piece of cardboard. ‘The Genius’ harped on for a few minutes basically insulting the intelligence of the fans and saying that they were to be grateful for him. Needless to say, the fans eventually booed ‘The Genius’ all the way back to the locker room.

The Million Dollar Team vs. The Hulkamaniacs

You want star power? You got it with this match. Hogan led his team of Jake Roberts and Demolition into the battlefield against The Million Dollar Team, which consisted of The Warlord and The Barbarian teaming with Zeus and Ted DiBiase.

First things first, before the match even started and whilst Hogan’s entrance music was still blaring, Hogan’s partner for the night, Jake Roberts, threw his snake into the ring. Now, if you’re reading this and you don’t know much about Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, it wasn’t just a cool name. Roberts really carried a snake around, a snake named Damien. Why? Because Roberts is one of the most intimidating men who has ever walked this earth. Anyway, The Million Dollar Team fled the ring once Damien, the snake, had been thrown in there. The mind games had already begun.

The match started off with Zeus demanding to kick things off with Hogan. The Hulkster complied and as expected in 89′, the crowd went nuts for it. This was pretty interesting for me. To see Hulk Hogan give his best to Zeus, only to have Zeus be built like a brick wall and bounce Hogan off him, was not something I’m used to seeing as I was born the year after this show aired. Hogan managed to get one body slam in on Zeus but that was pretty much all he got. This exchange ended pretty swiftly, however, as Zeus was eliminated after breaking submission rules and putting his hand on the ref. Still, Hogan was in a bad place.

Overall, the story of this match was pretty great. The leader of the Hulkamaniacs was the money draw of the company who ran into a brick wall (Zeus). Zeus then DQ’d himself from the match due to his disregard for the rules. But Zeus had sent a message to Hogan through his actions: Zeus could hang with The Hulkster, and possibly even take away the WWF Championship if the opportunity were to present itself.

As the match continued, Hogan was being thrown around like a rag doll at the hands of Ted DiBiase. Eventually, Jake Roberts tagged into the match and tried to get his team back into the game. After a while, Ax and Smash were in the ring, pounding down on DiBiase. At this time, Hogan seemed to regain some of the energy that Zeus had knocked out of him. Team Hulkamanaics started to pick up the pieces against The Million Dollar Team but lost another member (Ax) as Mr. Fuji, who was outside the ring in support of The Million Dollar Team, snagged Ax’s leg which led to a pin fall elimination. We were now under the impression that the dastardly Million Dollar Team were going to completely deflate The Hulkamanaics’ momentum. Jake Roberts was the man who kept Team Hulkamanaics alive as he tagged in and out of the match regularly, inflicting damage upon his opponents whilst keeping himself fresh and healthy.

Team Hogan vs The Million Dollar Team

Near the end, Roberts and Hogan were the last two men standing from Team Hulkamanaics. Roberts would not give up as The Warlord and The Barbarian relentlessly attacked him. Hogan was visible agitated. The Million Dollar Team almost stole the victory with their sly tactics and nasty nature—plus a pile-driver from DiBiase to Roberts helped them out. Eventually, after a slow motion crawl, Roberts managed to tag Hogan into the match and the crowd were given exactly what the wanted.

Hogan was fully revitalised and was feeding of the emotions of all of his fans. Hulk Hogan scrambled and elbow dropped through the last remaining members of The Million Dollar Team up until Hogan hit Barbarian and Warlord with a double clothesline, taking them both out. Barbarian and Warlord were pissed that Hogan got one over on them both, but they should’ve kept their cool. Instead, they double-teamed on Hogan up until they were BOTH disqualified, leaving Ted DiBiase to fend for himself against the crowd favourites, Hulk Hogan and Jake Roberts.

Just when you think that DiBiase didn’t stand a chance, he brought Hogan to the ground with his signature sleeper hold, The Million Dollar Dream. The desperate Hogan somehow made the tag to the fresh Roberts, who came to save the day. That was, until Virgil (Dibiase’s Lackey) intervened. Virgil was brought to the mat immediately, courtesy of the DDT, but the distraction was all that was needed for DiBiase. Roberts was cheated out of the match as DiBiase pinned him with his legs on the ropes for support.

Daylight robbery or not, we were down to the battered and bruised Hulk Hogan vs. the arrogant, brash Ted DiBiase. After a number of shoulder blocks, atomic bombs and with adrenaline flowing through his veins, it was time to hulk up and he sure did. Hogan’s eyes widened and he stood straight up, magically rejuvenated. Hogan hit his leg-drop on DiBiase and that was all she wrote. Hulk Hogan was the sole survivor.

Survivors: The Hulkamanaics

Team Rude Brood vs Roddy’s Rowdies

First off, if you have not seen this match/event, do yourself a favour and literally just go back and watch Rowdy Roddy Piper make his entrance. How can you not love Rowdy Roddy Piper? The crowd were on their feet, applauding the arrival of the captain of Roddy’s Rowdies. Piper stood in the ring alongside teammates The Bushwhackers and Jimmy Snuka, soaking up the applause. Team Rude Brood, meanwhile, consisted of Rick Rude, Mr. Perfect and The Rougeaus.

Despite the matches that we saw earlier in the night, this was my favourite match so far. One of the reasons being that I had always heard about Jimmy Snuka as I was growing up and quickly became a young fan of his, reading columns about him in old wrestling magazines that I traded for back in my school days. Snuka his hit ‘Superfly’ Splash early in this match and I was loving it.

Another thing that I enjoyed about this match was Roddy Piper and his passion. Now, I’ve not followed the entirety of Piper’s career, as most of it was before my time. In fact, Piper is another legend of which I educated myself upon through wrestling magazines from 1996 onwards. My first memory of seeing Piper on TV actually came in 2003, when I was 13. Piper returned during WrestleMania 19 in the middle of a street fight between Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon, and I was captivated. I enjoyed watching this Survivor Series match and seeing the way in which Piper did his business and how he went about it. Roddy Piper was truly brutal in his method of wrestling a match. (Also, if you are as eagle-eyed a viewer, or as obsessive as I am, you would have seen a very young Shane McMahon on the outside of the ring, playing the part of an additional referee).

Roddy's Rowdys vs The Rude Brood.

Now, back to my admiration of Piper. He kicked the crap out of Mr. Perfect and even almost eliminated Perfect with a roll up. As much as I hate to say it, Team Rude Brood picked things up after a number of eliminations and things were not looking great for Jimmy Snuka, as Rick Rude was taunting the two reaming members of Roddy’s Rowdies after The Bushwhackers had been eliminated. Perfect and Rude were also the last two remaining members of their team and were determined to dismantle and dismember ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka, as Piper impatiently watched the action from the apron.

Snuka tried to take out Perfect with a couple of running headbutts. Perfect managed to tag Rude in to the match and Snuka slipped the tag to Piper just in time. Piper slowly walked through the ropes with a look on his face that you could only describe as harrowing as he stared a hole through the opposing team captain, Rick Rude. Hot Rod unloaded on Rude with explosives lefts and rights up until the point that they both fell outside of the ring, through the ropes, and fought up the ramp and out of the arena. Needless to say, both Piper and Rude were eliminated via a double count out. The fate of both teams lay in the hands of either Jimmy Snuka or Mr. Perfect, depending on who you’re rooting for. The two scrambled for a few minutes, until Mr. Perfect abruptly landed the ‘Perfect-Plex’ onto Snuka, giving The Rude Brood the victory and standing as the sole survivor.

Survivors: The Rude Brood

The Ultimate Warriors vs. The Heenan Family

The main event of the night was moments away. ‘The Ultimate Warriors’ were the team of Jim Neidhart, Shawn Michaels and Marty Janetty and, of course, The Ultimate Warrior. The opposing Team were ‘The Heenan Family’, which was comprised of Andre The Giant, Arn Anderson, Haku and, surprisingly enough, Bobby Heenan (who was kitted out in wrestling gear that replicated Andre The Giant’s attire). The interesting thing about the start of this match was that when Warrior ran to the ring, in typical Warrior fashion, he did not slow down, but he ran through Andre The Giant and knocked the legend through the ropes to the outside. Andre was in shock and could not get up in time, which led to Howard Finkel announcing that Andre has been eliminated via count out! The team of The Ultimate Warriors kicked off this match with a huge advantage!

Both Neidhart and Warrior made frequent tagged early into this match, confidently taking it to Haku and Anderson respectively. Both members of The Rockers entered the ring to double-team against Haku. Anybody that knows me, knows that my favourite wrestler of all time has always been Shawn Michaels, so to see the future HBK in there with the likes of The Ultimate Warrior, Haku and even Andre the Giant was incredible to me. Speaking of The Rockers, Janetty was barely hanging in there after brawling with Haku. The ultimate opportunist, Bobby Heenan took advantage of the downed Rocker and picked up an easy pin fall—then ran away like the weasel that he was.

Shawn Michaels was the next to find himself at the mercy of Haku. Although, Michaels discovered an opportunity to escape from Haku’s clutches and did so successfully as he ran to the corner turnbuckle, scaled it and hit a picture-perfect moonsault. The Rockers high flying style continued for a while and Michaels even eliminated Haku.

Something rather funny happened next. Michaels was thrown out of the ring by Anderson, and little ole’ Bobby Heenan (in his best Andre cosplay) climbed to the top rope as if he was gonna dive to the outside! Heenan decided against amazing us all with his ‘athletic side’, as Gorilla Monsoon announced with such wit that ‘he couldn’t find a comfortable place to be up there’. I don’t know about you, but that little scene tickled me.

As this match rolled on, the more unpredictable it became. Michaels and Anderson were exchanging blows but you couldn’t tell which way it was going to go. That was, until Arn Anderson hit the signature ‘AA’ Spine-Buster! Towards the end of the match, Anderson was giving it to Warrior, who was the last man standing on his team. Bobby Heenan was looking blown up on the apron—despite hardly being in the match. Warrior looked to close the show as he hit Anderson with the Gorilla Press, followed by his signature slam. Anderson was out and Bobby Heenan was left alone with The Ultimate Warrior!

Warrior couldn’t wipe the smile off his face as Heenan was in the ring, frantically begging Anderson to come back. Nothing like a David vs. Goliath encounter on a Vince McMahon production, right? Regardless, this played out so well. Warrior pounded his chest like an animal and Heenan was cowering. Heenan took bumps like nobody’s business, proving he was more than even an exceptional manager and a comedy act. Needless to say, Warrior was a brute of man and towered above Heenan in body height and muscle mass. Warrior hit a diving tackle and closed the show with his ‘Big-Splash’. Warrior stood tall as the sole survivor in the Main Event and proudly won this match on behalf of the team of The Ultimate Warriors.

Survivors: The Ultimate Warriors

Final Thoughts

Wow, what a show. From the opening bell, we were met with the charisma of the legendary Dusty Rhodes. An opener in professional wrestling couldn’t get any better than that. As I’ve previously mentioned, I was born the year after this show took place so this particular show shouldn’t have gave me the nostalgic feels when watching it back over, but it did, thanks to all of the wrestling magazines that I have read over the years. To see Hulk Hogan and Jake Roberts teaming up was truly incredible and if you haven’t actually sat down to watch this show yet, I strongly urge that you do. This event truly holds up in 2020 as a wrestling show that you can put on and escape from reality with. The warm embrace of Gorilla Monsoons’ iconic tone of voice, contrasted with Jesse Ventura’s snarky, sometimes bitter commentary, really set the tone for the night and proved to really enhance the storytelling of the matches that were taking place. For me, the match of the night was Team Rude Brood vs Roddy’s Rowdies. I hold Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka to such high regards as professional athletes and as entertainers. We watch wrestling not to judge, not to belittle. We watch to be entertained. This show truly entertained and that is testament to the level of production, athleticism, story-telling and passion that WWE puts in to every show—even to this day.

Written by James Corcoran

James writes about Professional Wrestling. Be it a show from the mid to late 80s, current-day or anything in between. He is intrigued with all aspects of sports-entertainment.

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