The Film: Wrestlemania V (1989)

The Principals: Hercules, King Haku, Bobby Heenan, The Twin Towers (Akeem and The Big Boss Man) with Slick, The Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty), Brutus Beefcake, Ted DiBiase (with Virgil), The Bushwhackers (Luke Williams and Butch Miller), The Fabulous Rougeaus (Jacques and Raymond) (with Jimmy Hart), Mr. Perfect, The Blue Blazer (Owen Hart), Demolition (Ax and Smash) (c), The Powers of Pain (The Warlord and The Barbarian) and Mr. Fuji, Dino Bravo (with Frenchy Martin), Ronnie Garvin, The Brain Busters (Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard), Strike Force (Rick Martel and Tito Santana), Jake Roberts, André the Giant, special guest referee Big John Studd, The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart), The Honky Tonk Man and Greg Valentine, Rick Rude, The Ultimate Warrior, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Bad News Brown, Red Rooster (Terry Taylor), The Brooklyn Brawler, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Miss Elizabeth.

The Premise: The WWF staged their biggest event of the year at Trump Plaza for the second year in a row, and the year-long saga of the Mega Powers came to a head as Hulk Hogan challenged Randy Savage for the WWF Championship, with Miss Elizabeth neutral.  Other feuds included Ultimate Warrior vs. Rick Rude for the Intercontinental Championship and Demolition defending the WWF Tag Team Championships against the Powers of Pain with their manager (and Demolition’s former manager), Mr. Fuji, in a handicap match, the first time ever in history.

Is It Good: I wrote a while back, and again when Randy Savage died, that Wrestlemania IV was my favorite of the lot.  Wrestlemania V closed the circle on a yearlong entire involving Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Elizabeth nicely, as where Savage’s title reign began a little over a year before, it would end right where it started.   But whereas Wrestlemania V had some good matchups, it mostly didn’t have very good matches and is really one of the more forgettable Wrestlemanias.  Here’s how it breaks down:

Hercules defeated King Haku (with Bobby Heenan) –  Singles match, 6:57

Haku had recently been crowned “King” the year before after Harley Race left the WWF.  It wasn’t a very memorable reign because Haku was hardly ever given any kind of serious push other than this singular royal status and mostly silent heel / heavy.  Which is surprising because outside of the ring, Haku (aka Tonga Fifita) was legitimately known as a badass with a notorious reputation for fighting when pushed, including allegedly gouging out another wrestler’s eye.  Hercules had gone from heel to face not long before and this wasn’t much of an opening match.  Hercules with a bridging suplex for the win.

The Twin Towers (Akeem and The Big Boss Man) (with Slick) defeated The Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty) – Tag team match, 8:02

This was slightly better than a glorified squash match.  The Rockers definitely got their licks in, but eventually, Shawn Michaels got annihilated by Bossman and then Akeem hit him with Air Africa (a big splash) for the win.  When I think back about the Twin Towers, I remember how much I always liked Akeem, aka One Man Gang aka George Grey in reality.  The whole concept of a 450-lb biker getting back to his African roots as Akeem was a hoot.  And Akeem/Gang was always a good heel.  I don’t ever recall him being a face and that worked best I thought.  As for Bossman, he would stay heel for a while longer before turning face.  In 1989 I remember a steel cage match he had with Hogan after Hogan regained the WWF title, on a Saturday Night’s Main Event I believe.  Hogan did a superplex on him – on a 350+ lb guy – from the top of the cage.  I watched that match and my mouth was open at that move.  I couldn’t believe it.  Still can’t to this day.

Brutus Beefcake and Ted DiBiase (with Virgil) fought to a double countout – Singles match, 10:02

Having countouts at Wrestlemania was something that the WWF still hadn’t figured out was utter bullshit.  Wrestlemania was and is a place and time when feuds are settled, one way or another.  At the time, DiBiase was still a great heel, but his white hot heel status had cooled somewhat as his feud with Savage for the WWF title ended the year before.  So the WWE gave him the Million Dollar Belt to have something for him to flaunt.  On the flipside, Beefcake was a major face.  he would feud with Savage later in the year and then he and Hogan would headline Summerslam against Savage and Zeus (Tiny Lister).  Beefcake was generally schooling DiBiase for much of this match.  But again, the ending was horseshit.

The Bushwhackers (Luke Williams and Butch Miller) defeated The Fabulous Rougeaus (Jacques and Raymond) (with Jimmy Hart) – Tag team match, 5:12

Tedious match.  The Bushwhackers were…hell I don’t know what they were.  Crowd pleasers only.  I never liked them nor their shtick.  The Rougeaus were some good heels with their “we like America” little flags and cheap smiles.  Bushwhackers hit their double rib breaker on Raymond for the win.  I’ve forgotten this match already since I wrote the last sentence.

Mr. Perfect defeated The Blue Blazer (Owen Hart) – Singles match, 5:49

The criminality in this match is that is was under six minutes.  Hennig and Hart were both in their primes and each capable of tremendous athleticism and great matches.  And this goes only six minutes?  Criminal, I tell you.  Perfect hits the Perfectplex at the 5:49 mark.  This may be top five in greatest Wrestlemania matches should have been but weren’t.

Demolition (Ax and Smash) (c) defeated The Powers of Pain (The Warlord and The Barbarian) and Mr. Fuji – Handicap tag team match for the WWF Tag Team Championship, 7:54

Road Warrior fans probably never liked Demolition, but I did.  Thought they were a tremendous heel team.  Thought they should have stayed that way for their entire run.  The Powers of Pain, despite their matching haircuts and makeup, never really gelled as a tag team.  But I was definitely for the concept of Demolition and PoP in a match for the titles.  And with the Fuji handicap element, I was looking forward to this.  But the match wasn’t particularly great.  Basically half a ton of beef hammering at each other.  Demolition’s best matches were usually against teams like the Bulldogs and Hart Foundation, ones that mixed technical wrestling and power.  And this was back when the WWF tag team scene was badass and meant something.  Long…long…long ago.  Demolition hits the Decapitation on Fuji for the win to retain the titles, in a reign that lasted for 478 days.  These days, we’re lucky if tag title reigns last 47.8 days…

Dino Bravo (with Frenchy Martin) defeated Ronnie Garvin – Singles match, 3:50

This was a nothing match.  Nothing at all.  Ronnie Garvin never made much of an impact in the WWE after his world title run in NWA and matches with Ric Flair.  I remember that he “lost” a retirement match to Greg Valentine once and had to take a job as a referee for a while.  Other than that, nothing.  Dina Bravo was a pretty good heel for a short time.  Strangely, the WWF had several French Canadian heels going at the time, along with the Rougeaus and later Rick Martel.  Sidewalk slam by Bravo for the victory.

The Brain Busters (Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard) (with Bobby Heenan) defeated Strike Force (Rick Martel and Tito Santana) – Tag team match, 9:16

This was one of the better stories going in WWF at the time.  A year before, Rick Martel and Tito Santana were the tag champs and lost at Wrestlemania IV to Demolition.  Shortly thereafter, they challenged Demolition and Martel had a kayfabe neck injury while he took some time off from wrestling to look after his ailing wife.  When he returned, Strike Force reunited at Wrestlemania V.  But a missed forearm smash by Santana that struck Martel led to Martel abandoning Santana and turning heel.  Blanchard and Anderson then doubled Santana until they spike piledrove him for the win.  After this, Martel and Santana feuded for a while.  Martel later took up the Model persona, which was an embarrassment.  Martel was a great wrestler and had the physique that McMahon is notorious for preferring in his wrestlers.  His heel status was good for a while, but once the whole Model thing hit, I lost interest.

Piper’s Pit with Morton Downey, Jr. and Brother Love

While I liked Brother Love, this wasn’t a great Piper’s Pit.  Piper still was hot from his success with They Live the year before.  And back at the time, Morton Downey was a chain-smoking Jerry Springer before Jerry Springer was Jerry Springer.  The brother Love segment of the Pit was awkward, and the Downey stuff wasn’t much better, till Piper hosed Downey down with a fire extinguisher.

Jake Roberts defeated André the Giant (with Bobby Heenan) by disqualification – Singles match with special guest referee Big John Studd – 9:36

This feud was a tedium, and an embarrassment.  I don’t know if Andre needed the money, but really, he was only four years away from passing and couldn’t move very well anymore.  Hell, just a year later at Wrestlemania VI, he was a tag team champion with Haku, and he never got in the ring to wrestle, probably because he couldn’t.  And Jake deserved better than this feud.

The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart) defeated The Honky Tonk Man and Greg Valentine (with Jimmy Hart) – Tag team match, 7:37
Honky Tonk Man was on the downside of his appeal, and Greg Valentine was drifting.  So WWF packaged them together from Jimmy Hart’s stable as Rhythm and Blues.  It was an idiotic gas seeing Valentine, with dyed black hair and a shades and a guitar.  The team never amounted to anything, though.  This match with the Hart Foundation, who had turned face and left Jimmy Hart the year before, wasn’t great but also not bad.  Hart Foundation swiped Jimmy’s megaphone and waylaid Honky with it for the win, just like they used to do.

Rick Rude (with Bobby Heenan) defeated The Ultimate Warrior (c) – Singles match for the WWF Intercontinental Championship, 9:43

Ask anyone and it’ll be said that probably Ultimate Warrior’s best feud during his WWF run was with Rick Rude.  Rude was a great heel, and he seemed to give Warrior some of his better matches.  This was a pretty good match that ended when Heenan screwed Warrior by holding onto his legs so Rude could pin him.  Warrior and Rude would feud through much of the summer before Warrior regained the IC title at Summerslam.  They would feud again the following year when Warrior was WWF champion, culminating in a steel cage match at Summerslam ’90.

Jim Duggan and Bad News Brown fought to a double disqualification – Singles match, 3:48

Another nothing match ending in disqualification.  Next.

The Red Rooster defeated Bobby Heenan (with The Brooklyn Brawler) – Singles match, :31

Top five in worst Wrestlemania matches in history.  Not sure it even qualifies as a match.  Don’t know how Terry Taylor, who was a capable wrestler, ever lived down this whole Red Rooster shtick.  And sadly, it was his biggest push in the WWF.  but hey, the Brooklyn Brawler made Wrestlemania!

Hulk Hogan defeated Randy Savage (c) – Singles match for the WWF Championship, 17:55

OK, this was a solid match.  It wasn’t a great match, but a solid one.  Definitely good back and forth between Hogan and Savage.  As natural as these two were as allies, they were even better enemies.  Even though I knew Savage wasn’t going to win, I still pulled for him.  He ended up dominating the last half of the match, including giving Hogan a “throat injury” ala he did Steamboat a couple years prior.  He hits the big elbow on Hogan, Hogan kicks out, hulks up, punches, legdrop, title.  This was the start of a fairly woeful two years for Savage, storywise at least, which I didn’t like.  First the whole Macho King thing, which is best left forgotten, then a worthless feud with Dusty Rhodes that ended up in an equally worthless match between Savage and Sherri against Rhodes and Sapphire at Wrestlemania VI.  I absolutely hated that feud because two years before, Savage wins the title, then the next year he loses it, but at least he was headlining the main event, then he ends up in a complete waste of a feud and match at Wrestlemania VI.  Wrestlemania VII, however, great career-ending match with the Ultimate Warrior.  I hated that he loss that too, but the match was good.  Reunion with Elizabeth was equally good.  Heartstrings time.

Random Anecdotes: Again, staggering loss of talent in the wrestling world since Wrestlemania V: Hercules,  Big Boss Man, Mr. Perfect, Owen Hart, Dino Bravo, André the Giant, Big John Studd, Rick Rude, Bad News Brown, Randy Savage, Miss Elizabeth.  Some were natural causes.  Several weren’t though.

Cinematic Soulmates: Wrestlemanias IV, VI