Havoc Headliners, Part 1

“Bonfires burning bright

Pumpkin faces in the night

I remember Halloween”

I love two things in this world – Halloween and wrestling.  OK, a few more things, but those are two big ones.  And I’m not the only wrestling fan who is also big on del Dia de Muertos.  Check all over the internet – there’s no more beloved defunct PPV than WCW’s old Halloween Havoc.

These days, WWE tries to dust a little bit of Hall-o-goodness into the October Hell In A Cell PPV. How a pink rope belongs in that equation is beyond me, but the PPV graphics are typically hellish at least. WCW, however, went FULL BOAR with Halloween Havoc.

A brainchild of the late, great “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, Havoc was created to fill the gap between the NWA’s two big events – July’s Great American Bash and December’s Starrcade.  Of course, they didn’t just let the event coast on the fact that it happened around the same time as Samhain.  Do you like PHANTOMS? Do you like ELECTRIC CHAIRS? Do you like CREATURES?  Do you like MONSTER TRUCKS? Do you like DUNGEONS OF DOOM?  Do you like GAY VAMPIRE ERIC BISCHOFF? Good, because they’ve got all that and more!

bischoff_vampire

Sometimes it was stupid, sometimes it was great, but no matter what you have to applaud WCW for dedicating themselves to the cause.

To celebrate the upcoming Halloween season and the legacy of Halloween Havoc, I’m going to go back and watch all of the Halloween Havoc main events.  It’ll be a treat for me since I’m fairly certain I only saw one or two Halloween Havocs live back in the day.

We’ll be starting today with Part 1, which includes Havoc 1989-1992.  I’m going back and watching these on the WWE Network, so sadly I’ll probably miss some cool entrance music.

Full disclosure, I’m also watching the show opens, just to soak in the vibe they were trying to give the PPVs.  For these first four Havocs, the format stayed pretty much the same.  There was an intro video (featuring cheap 80’s graphics) that had pictures of the wrestlers showing up in ghostly fashion as we zoomed through a cemetery and into a haunted house.  Some of the announcers would be in costumes and the ring entrance would be adorned with tombstones. It was all very Halloween-y and very endearing, which is why Halloween Havoc remains beloved to this day.

So dust off your old Sting pennants, light your jack-o-lanterns and let’s get to this!

NWA HALLOWEEN HAVOC 1989

THUNDERDOME MATCH

NWA World Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair

& Sting (w/Ole Anderson)

vs.

NWA World Television Champion The Great Muta

& Terry Funk (w/Gary Hart)

Special Guest Referee: Bruno Sammartino

havoc89

The first Halloween Havoc was promoted by Jim Crockett Promotions, which had been purchased by Ted Turner and renamed World Championship Wrestling just a few months earlier.  JCP/WCW was still in bed with the NWA at the time, so the first and second Halloween Havocs were technically NWA events.

By mid-1989, Ric Flair’s series of matches with Ricky Steamboat – the holy trilogy of wrestling according to most workrate fans – had ended and the Nature Boy was now a 6-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion.  After a storyline that provided nothing short of technical excellence, Flair went on to feud with the future hardcore legend Terry Funk.  While the Flair/Steamboat feud was fueled by finding out who could best who in the ring, the Flair/Funk feud was fueled by pure hatred.

The feud started after Flair’s final match with Steamboat.  Terry Funk was one of three ringside judges for that match, and publicly challenged Flair for the NWA Title post-match. Flair told Funk he’d have to prove himself.  Funk dropped Flair through a table on his head – passe today, but INSANE for late-80’s NWA – effectively turning Flair face and igniting a blood feud that would last the rest of the year.

At July’s Great American Bash, Flair and Funk faced off with Flair holding on to the title. Post-match, Flair was attacked by Funk and The Great Muta (both of whom were managed by Gary Hart).  The crowd went crazy when Flair’s old rival Sting – himself feuding with Muta over the TV title – came out for the save.  With the Sting/Flair alliance set, the two would battle the evil J-Tex Corporation (J for Muta’s homeleand of Japan, Tex for Funk’s Texas) for months.

The four were on course to collide at the main event of the very first Halloween Havoc PPV.  But not just any match could contain the violence – this thing could only be set in the Thunderdome, daddy!

What is a Thunderdome, you might ask?  Well, aside from being a shameless Mad Max ripoff, the Thunderdome was a sort of precursor to Hell In A Cell – a cage that surrounded the ring and the outside area, though the Thunderdome had walls that curved inward on top rather than a roof.  And since this was Halloween, the Thunderdome was also covered in cheap cobwebs, skeleton heads and other spooky paraphernalia.

havoc89cage

And since this is WCW we’re talking about, of course the cage caught on fire before the match due to the Thunderdome-lowering pyrotechnics.  A fire which The Great Muta put out with his green mist. You can’t make this stuff up.

havoc89fire

And did I mention the top of the Thunderdome was electrified? Well, at the beginning of the match, it definitely was, because Muta touched the top and pulled back his hand in pain.  Later in the match? The wrestlers must’ve forgot about being electrocuted because they were hanging off of that thing with ease.  Terry Funk – clearly a poor conductor of electricity.

Despite all of the silliness, this was a great match between four guys in the middle of an awesome feud.  And hey, this is Halloween Havoc, so we DO want some of that silliness.  If you’ve ever wanted to see Sting and Ric Flair swinging from a rope like Shia LaBeouf in that awful Indiana Jones movie, this match is certainly for you.

One more thing about the Thunderdome – you didn’t need to pin your opponent to win the match.  You had to beat them so badly that their manager (dubbed Terminators) threw in the towel for them.  If you just can’t see the grizzled Ole Anderson or Gary Hart throwing in the towel and losing their match because their buddies are in a little pain, you’re right.

The finish came with Flair brutalizing Funk in a figure four leglock.  Hart motioned that he was in no way throwing in the towel, then tried to insert himself into the match while Muta had special guest ref (and Living Legend) Bruno Sammartino distracted.  Ole shut that down real quick, taking the opportunity to rip away Hart’s towel and throw it in for him.  After bloodying Muta’s nose and sending him to the floor, Bruno only saw the towel lying in the ring – Ole still had his towel, so what’s a ref to do?  Sting and Flair go home winners, but the war was far from over.

Match Rating: 7.5

Spookiness Factor: 9.0 – High thanks to all the spooky decorations, the threat of electrocution, green mist and an actual fire.

NWA HALLOWEEN HAVOC 1990

NWA WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH

Sting (c) vs. Sid Vicious

halloween-havoc-1990

One great side effect of the Ric Flair/Terry Funk feud was the reformation of the greatest stable in wrestling history – the Four Horsemen.  Flair and Ole Anderson reunited with old buddy Arn Anderson, who had just returned from a stint in the WWF.  Rounding out the group was none other than Sting.  Pause for a minute and think about how weird it is that Sting was once a Horseman…

The reformed Horsemen eventually vanquished the J-Tex Corporation, but it didn’t take long before internal tension shook the foursome.

When Sting requested an NWA Title match against stablemate Flair, he was violently thrown out of the group, thus turning the Horsemen heels once again and putting Sting on the DL for a while.  In May of 1990, Ole announced he was moving from active duty to become the Horsemen’s manager and the group added Barry Windham and Sid Vicious to their number.  Windham was returning from a cup of coffee in the WWF.  The 6’9″ Sid had last been seen as part of the Skyscrapers tag team, but a punctured lung put him out of action for the first half of 1990.

When Sting returned, his feud with the Horsemen went back into full swing.  At The Great American Bash, Sting defeated Flair to win the NWA Title, his first world title run in the company.  Later, Sting would start being harassed by not just the Horsemen, but the mysterious Black Scorpion – a masked wrestler who claimed to be from Sting’s past. Sting tried many times to unmask the Scorpion, but was unsuccessful, thanks in large part to interference from Sid Vicious. This set up an NWA Title match between Sting and Sid at the second Halloween Havoc.

sting-vs-sid

Subtitled “Terror Rules The Ring”, Halloween Havoc 90’s main event didn’t rely on creepy gimmicks like the Terrordome from the year before.  But trust me, you got your share of Halloween.

The match was about as good as you would expect Sting vs. Sid to be in 1990, with Sting carrying a passable match in front of a white hot crowd.  The finish came when Sid’s Horsemen buddies Flair and Arn Anderson came out to distract the referee.  Sid and Sting brawled to the back, but then Sid reappeared with Sting trailing behind him.  Back in the ring, Sting attempted to hit a bodyslam on Sid, collapsing under the big guy’s sheer size.  The ref went for the count and, to the complete shock of everyone, Sid scored the pinfall.  Sting bolted in shame, pyro went off and we had an unlikely new NWA champion.  Or did we?

As Sid celebrated and orange and black balloons fell from the ceiling, Sting returned from the back with a string around his arm, looking so confused I thought he’d just been watching an Ultimate Warrior promo.  Sting entered the ring and dodged an attack from Sid, instead hitting the big guy with the title belt and a Stinger Splash.  Sting went for the roll-up and the ref – who obviously had more idea of what was going on than anyone in the arena – counted the 1-2-3.  Sting left the ring STILL NWA Champion.

Not only was the live crowd confused, so was the TV audience. I’m not sure if Jim Ross and Paul E. Dangerously thought the show was running long or were intentionally keeping us in the dark, but we never seemed to get a clear idea of what happened.

So what did happen? Turns out when Sting first re-emerged from the back, it wasn’t Sting at all, but Horseman Barry Windham disguised as the NWA Champ.  When the real Sting returned – who had obviously been detained by a simple piece of white string, the ref called shenanigans and restarted the match.  So yeah, that was WCW.

Also, the Black Scorpion turned out to just be Ric Flair in a space pod.

Match Rating: 4.0

Spookiness Factor: 7.0 – Orange ropes and a blood red ring mat, plus the ultimate Trick-or-Treater.  Minus points for Sting not actually wearing that black and orange facepaint from the posters to the ring.

WCW HALLOWEEN HAVOC 1991

WCW WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE BEST 2-OF-3 FALLS MATCH

“The Total Package” Lex Luger (c)

(w/Harley Race)

vs.

“The All American” Ron Simmons

(w/Dusty Rhodes)

havoc91

Halloween Havoc 1991 was the first to be promoted without the NWA banner, and the differences in Havoc ’91 and its predecessors are pretty indicative of the changes that had hit WCW as a whole by the second half of that year.

Ric Flair – the man who had carried the company through most of the 80’s – jumped ship to WWF in July due to unhappiness with management. Then-WCW VP Jim Herd felt that Flair had run his course and that the future belonged to guys like Lex Luger and Sting.  When Flair’s contract was up, Herd tried to low-ball him.  Already unhappy that Herd wanted him to drop the NWA/WCW Title to Luger, Flair bolted with the belt just two weeks prior to the 1990 Great American Bash.

Both WCW and the NWA stripped Flair of the title, but what to do next was a matter of dispute.  WCW went ahead with the Bash, having Luger face Horseman Barry Windham for the vacant WCW World Heavyweight Title.  Luger emerged the new WCW Champion.  NWA didn’t recognize the win, however, and the NWA Title would remain vacant for the rest of the summer.  Though the two would partner for a couple more years, it was the beginning of the end of the NWA/WCW relationship.

With his title win, Lex Luger got a new cocky attitude, complete with dastardly manager, ex-NWA Champ Harley Race and a bodyguard named Mr. Hughes.  The newly heel Luger would face his first challenge in the form of Ron Simmons.

Simmons had spent most of his WCW career as one-half of the dominant tag team Doom. Doom split up earlier in 1991 and Simmons, a former college football standout, turned face and dubbed himself “The All American”.

havoc91ron

Thanks to Simmons’ (and Luger’s) athletic background, WCW promoted the match as a legit athletic event.  A video package was filmed featuring Ron training on the Florida State campus (his alma mater), complete with remarks from his old coach Bobby Bowden. A mock presser was held with both athletes, with Luger notably remarking that Simmons should join his entourage and become his chauffeur.  All hell broke loose and the match was sold.

Despite Luger’s controversial path to the WCW Title and Simmons’ untested status as a main eventer, the crowd in Chattanooga was on fire for Havoc 1991.  While the Best 2-of-3 Falls match was decidedly un-Halloweeny, it definitely tied in well with that other vaunted fall activity – football.

To combat Race and Hughes, Ron Simmons had Dusty Rhodes acting as his special one-night-only manager for the match.  Simmons came out like a house of fire and ended up scoring the first fall off of a massive spinebuster.  Simmons was up 1-0, the arrogant Luger now battling from behind. The crowd went nuts.

Dusty played the corner-man part to a tee, giving Ron advice between falls and basically working as his hype man.  Luger was able to score the second fall thanks to Harley Race. Luger hurled himself at Simmons to take them both over the top rope and out of the ring, but Race held on to Simmons’ tights to keep him from going over.  Since tossing someone over the top rope was illegal in 1991 WCW, Luger got the unfair DQ and the match was now tied at 1-1.

havoc91ron

The battle eventually spilled to the outside, with Simmons setting up Luger for his signature 3-Point Stance move (FOOTBALL!).  Luger ducked and Simmons crashed into the ringpost.  Lex was able to get Ron back into the ring and hit his Attitude Adjustment finisher (which was a piledriver before John Cena adjusted it).  A 3-count later and Luger had retained. A terrific match for a couple of guys who were not used to carrying a PPV.

Match Rating: 8.5

Spookiness Factor: 10.0.  While the main event wasn’t spooky at all, the event as a whole was the CRAZIEST Halloween Havoc thus far.  You had the Chamber of Horrors match where your opponent had to be STRAPPED INTO A STEEL CHAIR AND ELECTROCUTED.  If that wasn’t enough, you had the debut of the WCW Halloween Phantom, who turned out to be “Ravishing” Rick Rude, kicking off the best run of his career as part of the Dangerous Alliance. Oh, and for some reason you can hear Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” playing in the arena as the show closes.

WCW HALLOWEEN HAVOC 1992

SPIN THE WHEEL, MAKE THE DEAL MATCH

Sting vs. Jake “The Snake” Roberts

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Halloween Havoc 1992 – an event that was as awesome as it was awful.  It’s so WCW that it hurts.

It turns out Lex Luger wasn’t the great future of WCW after all.  Becoming disillusioned with management, Luger ended up sitting out a lot of his contract as WCW Champion, returning one last time to drop the title to Sting at Superbrawl.  Sting would go on to feud with Big Van Vader, one of the most underrated big guys of all time.  Vader (managed by Harley Race) was portrayed as a legit monster who injured guys in the ring.  After warring for a few months, Vader was able to defeat Sting for the WCW Title at the 1992 Great American Bash.

A couple weeks later, at a TV taping in Baltimore, Jake “The Snake” Roberts made his WCW debut, attacking Sting.  As a result, Sting was unable to compete in a rematch for the WCW Title against Vader that night.  WCW President Bill Watts (who had taken over for Jim Herd just a few months before) ruled a lottery to be held for Sting’s championship match. Ron Simmons won and shocked the world by pinning Vader and becoming the first black WCW champion.  In reality, WCW needed to take the title off of Vader, who had injured his shoulder.

With Vader gone and Ron Simmons the new champ, Sting suddenly found himself far removed from the title picture.  He also found himself at the mercy of Jake The Snake, who was hell bent on ending Sting’s career.  Sting and Jake found themselves on the opposite sides of a 4-on-4 Elimination Match at the September Clash of the Champions.  Jake was able to pin and eliminate Sting, which only got into Sting’s head more.

Sting and Jake were on course to collide at Halloween Havoc, an event that seemed tailor made for the cerebral and spooky Jake The Snake.  But it wouldn’t be just any match.  The main event of the 4th Havoc would be “Spin The Wheel, Make The Deal”, where a wheel would be presented with a dozen different match types, each more torturous than the last.  Sting would have to spin that wheel, thus making the deal for the type of match he would face Jake in.

The promos leading up to the event were awesome, of course, since Jake Roberts was involved.  In fact, WCW may have produced their most memorable vignette ever for the match.  In it, you find Jake holding court in a post-apocalyptic biker bar, helping a trashy woman and the midget doorman determine which instrument of torture is best for an unspecified task.  Sting shows up and gets all in Jake’s grill.  Jake laughs him off and explains the whole premise behind the wheel – how Jake is the master of all the matches and Sting is deciding his own fate. I don’t know, it was cool.  Sting then spins the wheel as the bar patrons feverishly chant “spin the wheel, make the deal”.  Sting and Jake go face to face, lasers shoot out of their eyes and everything explodes.  Actually, just watch it.

A mid-show segment was used at the PPV for Sting to spin the wheel.  Jake was nowhere in sight, so Sting just pulled a lever and watched pensively as the wheel (which looked like a chainsaw blade) spun.  What would it land on?  Prince of Darkness Match? First Blood Match? Barbwire Match?

havocwheel

Nope. The answer was Coal Miner’s Glove Match. Coal Miner’s Glove Match? Both Jesse Ventura and Tony Schiavone announced the result with equal bafflement.  So what is a Coal Miner’s Glove match?  Well, basically, it’s a match where there’s a big glove with metal knuckles on a pole. If you climb the pole and get the glove, you can use it on your opponent.

Just in case you didn’t know, anytime a wrestling match is an ANYTHING ON A POLE match, it sucks.  This would be no exception, but boy did they add the extra mustard. And since I’m hailing from West Virginia, let me just say that I have never seen this “coal miner’s glove” that’s so dangerous.

The match – well, the match was nothing special until the end.  Jake toyed with Sting for a while, but Sting ended up no-selling a DDT and making a comeback.  Sting was able to start climbing the pole (which was ridiculously high, like 16 feet high), but while Sting went for the glove, Cactus Jack came out to give Jake his own weapon – his trusty cobra.  Jake went to attack Sting with the cobra (which, unlike Jake’s python Damien, never got a proper name), but Sting was able to get Jake with the glove instead.  In all the calamity, the snake turned on Jake and went for his face (we’ll say that generously, in reality, Jake turned the snake toward his face and desperately tried to make it look like it was biting him).  Sting won the match with the roll-up, and Jake made his way to the back, collapsing from the venom.  It would’ve been horrifying if it hadn’t looked so stupid.

havocsnake
“Come on. Give daddy a smoochy!”

Rumors about this match say the snake was defanged, which is probably a good thing. I’m not sure how Jake was able to get blood though, unless he bladed his cheek, which – ouch.  Another rumor is that, despite the fact that the Wheel was spun by just pulling a lever, no one gimmicked the result so the match type really was random.  Which is why the match ended up being the worst possible selection from the list of choices.

In the end, the match wouldn’t matter that much.  Jake The Snake left WCW just days after the event and by the end of the year, Sting was feuding with Vader again, who had won back the WCW Title.

That’s not to say Spin The Wheel, Make The Deal wouldn’t hold a place in history. It would end up being the most watched PPV in WCW history for years.  Think about that – a PPV where Ron Simmons faced The Barbarian for the WCW Title made more money than anything with Flair/Steamboat. It speaks volumes that this laughable, one-off Jake/Sting match is such a memorable piece of WCW history, thanks in large part to so much good hype leading up to the PPV. And that’s the power of Jake Roberts.

Match Rating: 2.5

Spookiness Factor: 9.5.  Biker Bars! Evil Midgets! A king cobra biting a guy in the face! Blood! Jake The Snake, Cactus Jack, and The Barbarian running wild!

That wraps up Part 1 of our look back at Halloween Havoc.  Next time, we’ll be checking out 1993-1996 as WCW enters the pre-nWo Hulk Hogan years!

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