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10 Things We Learned From WWE SummerSlam 1989

"Free James Brown, brother..."

Now this was more like it. While the 1988 SummerSlam was only as strong as one historic title change and a handful of solid tag team matches, its 1989 successor proved to be much more enjoyable overall. A rabid crowd in northern New Jersey bore witness to a fast-paced night of WWE action, probably the company's best pay-per-view of the year by a considerable distance.

There were a few similarities between the shows: both Mega Powers were involved in a heated tag team main event (this time on opposing teams), while a superbly-scientific tag team match opened the show. Additionally, The Ultimate Warrior won the IC title from a loathsome heel, although in this case, the match was about 32 times longer. The crowds between 1988 and 1989 were comparable in terms of endless energy. Where 1989 gets the advantage is in overall match quality, as well as commentary (welcome back to the booth, Jesse - you were missed).

You wouldn't be going out on a limb to say that SummerSlam 1989 was among WWE's 10 best pay-per-views in their first decade or so of producing such special events. There's also plenty to learn from the second SummerSlam instalment, so here's a little primer on WWE's best show of that year.

10. Tony Schiavone Really Was An Underrated Voice


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It was highly unusual for Gorilla Monsoon to not be present for one of the company's bigger events of the year, especially one in his native New Jersey. Instead, longtime NWA/WCW voice Schiavone (in the midst of a one-year run working for McMahon) handled the call alongside Jesse Ventura. Then just 31 years old, Schiavone already had six years of prolific wrestling broadcasting under his belt and meshed well alongside 'The Body', with whom he'd call the 1990 Royal Rumble, as well as several WCW pay-per-views between 1992 and 1994.

While Monsoon's place as the voice of an era is unassailable, there's just something about Schiavone's well-reined excitability for big moments, be it Jimmy Hart accidentally clobbering The Honky Tonk Man with a guitar, or Roddy Piper mooning Rick Rude. While many fans of the time wouldn't trade Monsoon's gentle giant affability (or Vince's manic overcaffeination) for anything, the idea of putting Schiavone's calls over some other early-nineties WWE gems is an interesting one.

9. Things Got Heated Between Vince And The Harts


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In the opening bout, the Hart Foundation did the honours for Tag Team Champions Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, The Brain Busters, in the sort of fast-paced tag match you'd expect from two gifted veteran duos. For reasons not entirely clear, the match was a non-title bout, and the Harts were still unable to win.

This proved to be a point of contention as earlier on SummerSlam Monday, the Harts and Vince McMahon had what Bret Hart called "a long, tense discussion" over the booking, with McMahon refusing to budge on his decision. After putting the Busters over, both Bret and Jim Neidhart frustratedly left before the show was even over. Bret at the time admitted to having some financial hardships (paying for his own flights home, he said, was a huge drain). He even sought out WCW as a possibility, with Brian Pillman giving him Ric Flair's phone number. When his proposed WCW salary proved to be negligible to his WWE pay, he opted to remain with McMahon.

8. Mean Gene Has Got Quite The Potty Mouth


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If there were a Botchamania Hall of Fame, clearly Mean Gene Okerlund's SummerSlam 1989 gaffe would be a first-ballot entry. As Okerlund interviews Rick Rude and Bobby Heenan, the mounted SummerSlam logo behind the trio falls to the floor, and Okerlund yelps: "F**k it!". In an extended version of the clip, Okerlund further huffs: "Damn it, who put that up? Is *that* $200 an hour?"

What many people who've laughed their way through the clip don't always realize is that the gaffe did not take place live. Many interview bits of the sort would be filmed earlier in the day and inserted into the live broadcast where necessary. When the time came to air the Rude promo, WWE meant to play the version that went off smoothly, but somebody in production accidentally aired the blooper version. Reportedly, Vince (over headset) hastily told the commentators to improvise, and Ventura, with a laugh, responded by telling the home audience what a troublemaker Mean Gene was.

7. The Red Rooster Was Noticeably Injured


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Anthropomorphic chicken gimmick aside, Terry Taylor had an opportunity to demonstrate his innate wrestling talents in a match with a fellow technician, Mr Perfect. Clearly, Rooster would be laying down for Curt Hennig, who was cutting a swath up the ranks and into the upper midcard, but it would've been a chance to show that Taylor was more than just some guy who strutted around like a future four-piece value meal.

Unfortunately, the match would have to be cut short. The Rooster came up limping at one point on an awkward landing, and he and Perfect would have to take things home much earlier than intended. Barely three minutes had elapsed when Perfect flung Rooster over into the Perfect Plex so that Rooster could be tended to. There was a bit of irony in play here, given that Taylor one year earlier was under heavy consideration for the Mr Perfect gimmick before it was bestowed upon Hennig. Consider the contrast in how the Mr Perfect and Red Rooster gimmicks are looked at by fans and critics, and weep softly for poor Mr Taylor.

6. Two Feuds + One Match = Showstealer


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WWE pay-per-views were still booked to include a few non-feud bouts, little filler bits that included notable stars that weren't in major programs. SummerSlam 1989 had a few, like Ted DiBiase vs. Jimmy Snuka, Dusty Rhodes vs. The Honky Tonk Man, and the aforementioned Rooster/Perfect bout. In contrast to those three matches, two notable (yet mostly unrelated) feuds from the summer of 1989 would be mashed into one six-man tag: Tito Santana joined up with The Rockers to face his former friend-turned-sworn enemy Rick Martel, and the Rockers' nemeses, The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers.

In what was probably the best match of the 1989 SummerSlam, the six men cut a rather torrential pace with elaborate sequences and flashy high-spots, before building to a heartbreaking win for the villains. Shawn Michaels would later note that working with the Rougeaus helped he and Marty Jannetty improve as workers, as Jacques and Raymond would take it easier when working smaller towns, relying on simple tricks to work the crowd instead of bumping like mad. This would be a little life lesson for a 24-year-old prodigy like Michaels, as the Rougeaus only made him more well-rounded.

5. The Ultimate Warrior Could Go In A Lengthy Match


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The big knock on the Warrior was that he just wasn't any good in the ring. Yes, his work looked painful and clunky (and to some of those he worked with, it *was* the former). In the eyes of his critics, he was nothing more than a good body and not much else. But crowds loved him, and Vince had big plans for moving Warrior up the card. By regaining the IC title from Rick Rude at SummerSlam 1989, Warrior was being positioned for loftier plans in the coming months.

The match with Rude went 16 minutes, easily one the longest matches he'd performed to that point. With a lesser performer, the match may have veered closer to disastrous, but a consummate worker like Rude helped bring the match closer to greatness. These days, it'd be considered something like a ***1/2 match, due to the high-impact moves (Rude hits a Ganso Bomb at one point), as well as a good pace, and a ton of crowd heat. It showed that Warrior, with the right opponent, wouldn't stink the joint out in an important main event spot.

4. This Wouldn't Even Be Andre's Biggest Encounter Of The Month


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Deep in the twilight of his wrestling career, Andre the Giant took part in a six-man tag, teaming with fellow colossuses The Big Boss Man and Akeem against three smaller heavyweights in Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Demolition. The match was fine, relatively brisk considering you had some real lumbering beef taking part. Andre's role seemed oddly peripheral for a star of his magnitude. In the same time frame, however, Andre was making headlines for a much different reason.

One week before SummerSlam, at an untelevised event in Cedar Rapids, IA, Andre had a physical altercation with a news photographer named Ben Hildebrand, stemming from Andre's belief that Hildebrand was filming the match while unauthorized to do so. Andre had to post $1200 bond for the reported assault, but would not serve any actual jail time.

3. Some People Just Shouldn't Ring Announce


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In another brief match on the card, Greg Valentine would defeat Hercules in about three minutes while using the ropes for leverage. The match was more notable for the presence of Valentine's enemy, 'Rugged' Ronnie Garvin, as the guest ring announcer. Months earlier, Valentine had defeated Garvin in a match where the loser could no longer wrestle in WWE. Upon his loss, Garvin became a referee, who would vindictively cost Valentine matches a time or two. He lost *that* job, so he continued his anti-Hammer campaign by serving as ring announcer for this match, insulting Valentine's weight and general appearance during his introduction. Let's just say that it wasn't exactly the smoothest comedy routine.

Valentine would later say that much of their angle, particularly the idea to even *have* an angle, came from Garvin himself, who'd found it hard to fit in with late-80s WWE. Both Garvin and Valentine worked leatherneck-stiff and would have some impressive matches against each other - particularly at MSG and at the 1990 Royal Rumble where the feud was blown off (Valentine asked for Garvin to be reinstated so that he could have the chance to brutalize him).

2. Hogan And Beefcake Had An Interesting Way Of Reining In Zeus


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The summer of 1989 was all about the life-altering cinematic masterpiece known as No Holds Barred, and three months after its release, the world would be treated to the sight of film antagonist Zeus teaming with Randy Savage to battle WWE Champion Hulk Hogan and partner Brutus Beefcake. With a little extra smoke and mirrors and some assorted gaga, plus Savage shouldering much of the physical load, the match turned out fine. The important thing was that the minimally-trained Zeus didn't get exposed too badly.

According to Beefcake, he and Hogan had to work to keep Zeus on an even keel during the match. At times, Zeus would get a little too aggressive, and in response, either Hogan or Beefcake would mutter to him: "Free James Brown," a reference to the then-incarceration of 'The Godfather of Soul' on a handful of serious charges. The phrase apparently amused Zeus, and had a calming effect on him that caused him to work a little more smoothly.

1. Business Was Booming


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On the heels of WWE garnering their then-all-time highest buyrate with WrestleMania V (767,000 buys, a company record that stood for 10 years), WWE turned around and posted their then-second-highest buyrate ever with the 1989 SummerSlam. No wonder Vince considered doing Hogan vs. Zeus at WrestleMania VI - Zeus was apparently a walking cash cow.

The 1989 SummerSlam did 625,000 buys, which stood 140,000 buys higher than WWE's third-most-bought show ever, WrestleMania IV (485,000). That year's Survivor Series did 385,000 buys, which seems like a mighty drop, but was actually the best of the three Survivor Series' to that point. The tire would begin a slow leak in 1990, before outright haemorrhaging air in 1991, but for the time being, pay-per-view was a huge winner for WWE, and the 1989 SummerSlam was a big example of their ongoing success.

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10 Things We Learned From WWE SummerSlam 1988

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Justin Henry

Written by Justin Henry

In addition to writing lists and commentaries for Cultaholic, Justin is also a features writer and interviewer for Fighting Spirit Magazine, and is co-author of the WWE-related book Titan Screwed: Lost Smiles, Stunners, and Screwjobs.