This week Throwback Thursday goes old school as we revisit Saturday Night’s Main Event XXIII (taped 28 years ago today!), as seen on the WWE Network.
A lot was going on the world of professional wrestling and the World Wrestling Federation by September of 1989. The wrestling boom, which made household names of many of the sports top talent, was nearly completely bust; the now TBS-owned NWA-WCW was having an incredible year that included two all-time great Ric Flair trilogies with Ricky Steamboat and later Terry Funk; Dusty Rhodes, the chief creative force behind the rise of Jim Crockett Promotions, as well as former Four Horsemen manager J.J. Dillon, had joined the WWF in the spring; and WWF Tag Team Champions Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard were on their way out, having given notice the previous day (September 20, 1989) in Louisville, Kentucky, to name a few of the goings-on!
The big TV angles at the time of this taping involved the escalating war between former Strike Force members Rick Martel and Tito Santana; Roddy Piper’s full-time return and his war with the Heenan Family (and Rick Rude in particular); and the bizarre, campy Zeus/Hogan program tied to the No Holds Barred “film”.
It should be noted that The Brain Busters, WWF World Tag Team Champions at the time of this taping, would lose the titles to Demolition (Ax and Smash) at the October 2, 1989 tapings in Wheeling, Virginia which aired on the October 4th edition of Superstars of Wrestling 10 days prior to SNME XXIII airing on October 14, 1989.
In respect to context, it’s hit and miss. While all previous editions of SNME and all prior WWF PPVs are currently available on the Network, Prime Time Wrestling only runs until July ’89 and none of the weekly shows (Superstars of Wrestling nor Wrestling Challenge) are uploaded as of this writing.
WWF Saturday Night’s Main Event XXIII (WATCH)
Date: October 14, 1989 (TAPED: September 21, 1989) – Location: Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinnati, Ohio
Attendance: 14,000 – Rating: 9.5 (>15 million viewers)
Commentators: Vince McMahon & Jesse Ventura – Interviews: Jesse Ventura & “Mean” Gene Okerlund
CHAMPIONS AT THE TIME OF TAPING
WWF World Heavyweight Champion: Hulk Hogan
WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion: Ultimate Warrior
WWF World Tag Team Champions: The Brain Busters (Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard)
The show opens with the usual rapid-fire promos, this time from Roddy Piper, “Macho King” Randy Savage & Queen Sherri, The Bushwhackers, Ted DiBiase (with Zeus), and WWF Champion Hulk Hogan. After the usual opening Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura welcome us to the premiere of season six of SNME and run down the card before Ventura walks off saying that “royalty’s waiting for me!”
Next we see footage from the September 30, 1989 edition of Superstars of Wrestling of “Macho King” and Queen Sherri’s coronation which leads to Jesse Ventura’s backstage interview with Savage and Sherri. Ventura asks “Macho King” why he would risk his “royal neck” against Jimmy Snuka and Savage responds (as Jesse mimes the words) that he’s on a quest to prove he’s the greatest king in WWF history and that if he “has to soil his hands with the commoners blood” to prove it, so be it. Jesse then asks Savage if he can kiss Sherri’s hand, which Savage allows.
As Savage enters in the ring we go backstage where “Mean” Gene interviews Jimmy Snuka who says, “There is no king or queen over the ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka. I am my own man, a free man!”
— “King of the Ring Match” (WATCH – 3:16)
“Macho King” Randy Savage w/Queen Sherri vs. Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka
The ‘phenom’ before The Undertaker, Jimmy Snuka jumps over the top rope and immediately takes it to the “Macho King”. Snuka controls the match, inside and out, until Queen Sherri interferes which allows Savage to take advantage. From here on out the match resembles a squash, a high-profile squash but a squash nonetheless. Snuka makes a brief comeback and takes it to Savage who eventually ends up in the Tree of Woe. As Snuka distracts the referee Sherri unhooks Savage from the Tree of Woe and hands “Macho King” her loaded handbag. Snuka goes after Sherri, grabbing her by the hair, when Savage wallops Snuka in the kidneys with the handbag, drops the bag at ringside, and school boys Snuka for the 1-2-3 at 5:37.
WINNER is “Macho King” Randy Savage w/Queen Sherri (Pin, 5:37)
After the match Savage slams Snuka and goes for the big flying elbow drop when Snuka rolls out of the way. Snuka goes to the top rope for the Superfly Splash when Queen Sherri puts her body over Savage’s. Eventually Snuka jumps over Sherri and sends Savage flying with a headbutt before turning his attention to Sherri, who powders to the floor before tending to Savage as the two make their getaway from ringside.
After a break we see clips from SNME XXI and XXII of Zeus’ WWF debut and his continued issues with Hulk Hogan, as well as their first in-ring encounter at SummerSlam ’89.
Next Jesse Ventura is backstage with the Million Dollar Champion Ted DiBiase and the “human wrecking machine” Zeus. DiBiase says he knows how to “use his money” and buys “only the best; the purest gold, the clearest diamonds, and Zeus!” DiBiase says that with Zeus in his corner he’ll finally win the WWF World title from Hogan. “Money will talk and Hogan will walk,” DiBiase says, “if he’s able.” For his part, Zeus—one eye looking at the camera, the other looking at the fire extinguisher on the wall—grunts and roars.
As DiBiase and Zeus make their way to the ring we go backstage where “Mean” Gene is with WWF Champion Hulk Hogan who compares meeting Zeus for the first time to sliding under an 18-wheeler on a Harley and coming out unscathed. Hogan then says he’s going to use the “Hulkamania system of checks and balances” to take out DiBiase and DiBiase’s biggest investment, Zeus. Hogan says he’s invested in the “Hulksters” and can’t be beaten.
— WWF World Heavyweight Championship – “Million Dollar Match” (WATCH – 16:36)
Million Dollar Champion “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase w/Zeus vs. Hulk Hogan(c)
The story in this one is Zeus’ repeated interference in the match and Hogan’s loss of composure which allows for Zeus to attack Hulk and for DiBiase to take control of the match. Jake Roberts comes to ringside to even the sides and DiBiase is none too happy. That is until Virgil runs down and swipes Damien which cause Jake to leave ringside. There’s a lot of fluff and gaga in the match but there’s not much real action. It ends up being the basic Hogan match where Hulk takes the bulk of the punishment until the big comeback. Hogan “Hulks up”, waves the finger and hits the big boot when Zeus climbs in the ring and grabs Hogan from behind. DiBiase tries the clothesline but hits Zeus instead. When DiBiase turns around Hogan cinches in an inside cradle for the pin at 8:06 to retain the WWF Championship.
WINNER and STILL WWF World Heavyweight Champion, Hulk Hogan (Pin, 8:06)
After the match Hogan and Zeus face-off and are about to come to blows when DiBiase attacks Hogan from behind and tells Zeus to break Hulk’s neck, which Zeus attempts to do. DiBiase tosses the referee from the ring before applying the Million Dollar Dream on Hogan until Jake Roberts makes the save and runs DiBiase and Zeus off.
Next we see footage from SummerSlam ’89 of Piper mooning Rick Rude and then of the September 9, 1989 edition of Superstars of Wrestling where Rick Rude threw mouthwash in Piper’s eyes on the set of the Brother Love Show and crushed “Hot Rod” with the Rude Awakening and Love’s lectern.
Backstage Jesse interviews Haku and Bobby Heenan. Heenan tells Jesse the Heenan Family is “here to have fun”. Somewhere else Roddy Piper tells Okerlund that he’s going to “make Hurricane Hugo look like a summer breeze, baby!”
— “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 33:36)
Haku w/Bobby Heenan vs. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper
Though Piper, who still isn’t in the greatest of shape, had been working house shows in California and Canada since May and been appearing semi-regularly on WWF TV since WrestleMania V Piper had only worked two, very short televised matches on the September 23, 1989 edition of Superstars of Wrestling and the October 1, 1989 edition of Wrestling Challenge (both taped prior to this event) before this match aired.
The match itself, Piper’s first SNME match since SNME IX airing January 3, 1987, is more of a fight than a wrestling match, which is just what the fans wanted to see. Soon enough Piper turns his attention to Heenan who takes a great bump over the top rope before Haku makes the save in the outside. It’s not much of a wrestling match, sure, but this match is a helluvalotta fun. Haku has Piper in trouble when he goes to the top rope for the flying headbutt. But Piper rolls out of the way, jumps on Haku, and eventually lands a nice looking belly-to-belly suplex for the win at 3:03. After the match Piper looks at the camera and says, “That’s number one of the Heenan Family!”
WINNER is “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (Pin, 3:03)
Backstage “Mean” Gene is with Zeus and Ted DiBiase who says he’s tired of Jake Roberts and challenges “The Snake” to a fight before walking off. Zeus yells about how Hogan won’t have anything to be thankful for on Thanksgiving and the Survivor Series.
After a break Gene interviews “The Model” Rick Martel and manager Slick about their forthcoming match. Martel says that his feud with Tito Santana will never be over, that he carried Strike Force. Slick says they’ve got the man power to get the job done.
As Martel and his Survivor Series team mates (Jimmy Hart, Akeem, Boss Man, & Honky Tonk Man) make their way to the ring we go to the back where Okerlund interviews Tito Santana, who says he’s not surprised by Martel and that he’s got a surprise for Martel (“Arriba!”).
— “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 42:56)
Tito Santana w/Red Rooster, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, & “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes vs. Rick “The Model” Martel w/Slick, Big Boss Man, Akeem, Jimmy Hart & Honky Tonk Man
It may seem odd to younger fans for a Survivor Series match to be set so early in the fall but that was the way of things, for better or worse, back in 1989. Martel sneak attacks Tito to start this one and the match becomes a fight in and out of the ring. This one isn’t all that long but it features a fair bit of psychology and action that make it a fun match to watch. The story of the match is the teammates on the outside clamoring for a fight on the inside. Late in the match Santana crotches Martel in the top turnbuckle and looks to have “The Model” in trouble with the figure-four leglock when Slick again tries to interfere. This draws Boss Man in the ring, who attacks Santana, followed by Dusty and the rest of the guys. The referee calls for the bell at 8:43 and rules it a double DQ. After the match the two teams battle it out as the bell rings until the babyfaces clear the ring and celebrate.
NO WINNER declared (Double disqualification, 8:41)
Backstage Piper is interviewed about going after the members of the Heenan Family. Piper says that Heenan wanted to have fun with him. “Bobby Heenan’s idea of having fun,” Piper says, “him and Rick Rude they dial them 976-numbers and talk to each other until 3:30 in the morning!” Piper says “You know, ya gotta have pieces of the Bobby Heenan Family—for life in general—you know why? ‘Cause the buzzard’s gotta eat too.”
The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers head to the ring as we go to the back where “Mean” Gene stands with The Bushwhackers (making their SNME debut), who say they’re going to chew up their opponents and spit them out. They lick Gene who says, “Not on the lips, fellas, I might get emotionally involved.”
— “Tag Team Grudge Match” (WATCH – 58:25)
The Bushwhackers (Bushwhacker Luke & Bushwhacker Butch) vs. The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers (Jacques & Raymond) w/Jimmy Hart
This one is wild from the opening bell with the Bushwhackers taking it to the Rougeaus and attempting to lick Jimmy Hart! The Rougeaus save Hart but Luke and Butch end up pulling off his pants, revealing underwear in the inverted blue-on-white Quebec fleurs-de-lis design, which the crowd pops big for. After Hart runs to the back the Rougeaus waylay the Bushwhackers until a miscommunication gives the Bushwhackers the opening. Eventually the Bushwhackers hit the Battering Ram followed by a double gutbuster on Jacques for the 1-2-3 at 3:19.
WINNERS are The Bushwhackers (Bushwhacker Luke & Bushwhacker Butch) (Pin, 3:19)
After a break it’s WWF Champion Hulk Hogan in the back who is holding his neck in pain. Hogan says that DiBiase and Zeus must be stopped. Hogan says that his “Hulkamaniacs”, consisting of himself, Jake Roberts (and Damien), and Demolition will defeat DiBiase’s team and wipe them out on Thanksgiving night at Survivor Series.
After yet another break Vince and Jesse give their final thoughts on the card and Hogan’s injury at the hands of Zeus. Jesse it at his obnoxious best (or worst) in this segment. One final break later Vince promotes the next SNME airing Thanksgiving weekend (two days after Survivor Series ’89) before showing highlights of Zeus injuring Hogan to close out the show.
There is a lot going on in this edition of SNME and the show has the rapid-fire feel of future “Attitude Era” shows. The matches leave a bit to be desired from a purists POV but it’s a helluvalotta fun!
The Martel/Santana match is definitely the match of the night and worth checking out.
Everyone here at WDN would like to take this opportunity to send our condolences to the family of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, who passed away Sunday at the age of 73. There may be no better way to celebrate the legacy and career of “The Brain” than by seeing Bobby at his best in this edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event.
If you’re already subscribed to the WWE Network (well, duh) you can check out this classic edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event or see it for the very first time right now at the click of a button!
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Thanks for reading – until next week, see ya at ringside!
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The one thing I didn’t notice as a kid but do now as an adult is how this was the only nationally televised one on one match between Hogan & Dibiase that I can remember despite them being enemies for years. Always somehow ended up in tags or matches taped from house shows or home video & I think 3 years in a row for Survivor Series but the only one on one match on a big show was here.
Great stuff. A minor correction though, the Demolition-Brain Busters October 2, 1989 title change aired on the November 4, 1989 episode of Superstars.
I remember reading about the title change in one of the old Apter mags before the match even aired. There was also a story going around that the WWF was mad that a magazine would spoil the results before it aired. Some would say that’s hysterical in hindsight given the internet today spoils everything.
However, if you really think about it, taping a title change on October 2nd and not airing it until November 4th, over a month later, was a really bizarre move for the WWF. Granted they taped title changes in advance all the time back then, but usually the matches aired within a couple of weeks, not over a month later. But I digress.
Another strong article. Take care.
You are right about the date, LP1. The source has the right date of Nov. 4, I wrote it wrong in my notes. My bad. Thanks for the heads up.
There were a lot of strange things with tapings that seem odd today from the title switches to announcing PPV matches over a month out. I think younger fans today would be bored to death with how slow things moved back then. For me, though, it was perfect and it was believable. Oh well… He knows changes aren’t permanent, but change is, as the song goes.
Thanks for reading LP1 and taking the time to leave your thoughts. I’m glad to read you enjoyed the article. Have a good one! And I hope you enjoy this Sunday’s No Mercy show! Take care!
I think announcing matches (that much) in advance actually often helped in building anticipation (especially since in contrast to everything from the “attitude era” forward we hardly got any matches between stars on regular tv).