The wrestling world lost one of its true legends last week when Roderick Toombs – a.k.a. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper – passed away at the age of 61.
There are obviously no shortage of historic Piper matches and moments to choose from – the Dog Collar Match with Greg Valentine at the inaugural Starrcade, his involvement in the main event of the first WrestleMania and Piper’s Intercontinental Title victory over The Mountie at the 1992 Royal Rumble all come to mind – but I have opted to review a bout considered more of a hidden gem for this week’s Calendar Correlation, as we travel back to the December 28, 1989 Madison Square Garden live event headlined by a steel cage showdown between Piper and his nemesis at the time, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, in the blow-off match to one of the year’s top feuds. This card was televised on the MSG Network and later shown on the WWE Classics on Demand service (where I recorded my VHS copy of the event).
Announcers Gorilla Monsoon and Hillbilly Jim welcome us to the Garden and run down the Piper-Rude main event in addition to Demolition challenging the Colossal Connection tonight for the WWF Tag Team Titles.
Match #1: Bob Bradley vs. Tito Santana
Bradley, a former WCWA Texas Heavyweight Champion, was a preliminary mainstay on WWF television during the late-80s and early-90s. Santana twice sends Bradley to the outside during the early minutes of the bout (where everybody’s favorite superfan, Vladimir, is seen in the front row) and nicely reverses a back suplex attempt with a flying headscissors later in the match. Tito eventually puts Bradley away after nearly 15 minutes with the flying forearm.
Match 2: Little Cocoa and Chris Dube vs. Cowboy Cottrell and Little Tokyo
This bout was an anomaly for the time, as midget matches were not at all commonplace within the WWF product. Cocoa and Dube win with a pile-up pinfall in what was essentially a novelty match for the live crowd.
Lord Alfred Hayes is shown in the crowd and states that according to Rick Martel, Brutus Beefcake requested the upcoming match due to his jealously of “The Model’s” looks and Beefcake will not ruin Martel’s upcoming fashion shows in New York and Paris by cutting his hair.
Match #3: Brutus Beefcake vs. Rick Martel
This was largely a house show program. Newer fans may not be aware that with pay-per-view events being so sporadic at this time, wrestlers would often cut promos on television for feuds that would tour the live event circuit while never being featured in the ring on the WWF’s syndicated shows or as part of a PPV. Martel reverses a Beefcake sunset flip attempt from the apron and scores the three-count by using the ropes. Post-match, “The Barber” puts Martel out with a sleeperhold, but Bobby Heenan appears and awakens “The Model” before Brutus can cut his hair. The Heenan interference was strange, as “The Brain” was not connected to either Beefcake or Martel on-screen at this time.
Match #4: Tugboat Thomas vs. Dale Wolfe
This was the MSG debut of Tugboat, who was announced as “Tugboat Thomas” and had arrived earlier in the year from Florida Championship Wrestling. Thomas makes short work of Wolfe – another frequent WWF 1980s enhancement talent – using a big splash to acquire the victory.
Match #5: Ted DiBiase vs. Jake Roberts (No-disqualification Match)
In addition to the no-DQ stipulation, Monsoon and Hillbilly Jim note that DiBiase’s bodyguard Virgil is barred from ringside due to his interference in last month’s match between Roberts and “The Million Dollar Man” here at MSG. DiBiase works on the neck of “The Snake,” which he had injured in storyline during a spring episode of Superstars. Roberts hits one of his patented high kneelifts from the second rope and follows up with a short clothesline leading into a DDT for the win. Afterward, Virgil arrives and prevents Jake from stealing the Million Dollar Belt (a precursor to the angle which would play out days later at the next set of television tapings where Roberts successfully lifted the title). Decent match, but the no-disqualification provision strangely did not factor into the bout.
Sean Mooney notes the recent title change on Superstars where the Colossal Connection defeated Demolition for the WWF Tag Team Championship before interviewing Ax and Smash, who vow to regain the gold tonight.
Mooney speaks with Rick Rude and Bobby Heenan. Rude states that he is looking forward to stepping into the steel cage with Roddy Piper and Heenan adds that this is the last time the “Rowdy Scot’s” fans will see him in the WWF.
Roddy Piper is interviewed by Sean Mooney. “Hot Rod” half-jokingly admits to being afraid of the upcoming Steel Cage Match with Rick Rude, but adds that fear has never stopped him.
Match #6: Koko B. Ware vs. “Iron” Mike Sharpe
This was a surprisingly entertaining match, with the smaller Ware attempting to out-maneuver his stronger opponent. Koko overcomes the power of Sharpe, surviving a piledriver, and eventually pins “Canada’s Greatest Athlete” following an impressive “Ghostbuster” suplex after twelve minutes of action. Obviously, a longer and more competitive bout than a Sharpe TV squash would be allotted.
Lord Alfred Hayes is once again shown in the audience. Alfred states that Bobby Heenan appears overcome with delight in regard to tonight’s WWF Tag Team Title defense after his discussion with “The Brain” earlier.
Match #7: WWF Tag Team Champions The Colossal Connection vs. Demolition
Andre the Giant and Haku had won the titles from Demolition during a television taping two weeks prior to this show. Andre was very immobile here and likely did far more in this match than he should have, especially with Haku by his side to do the lion’s share of the work for the Colossal Connection team. Andre enters the ring behind the referee’s back as Ax brawls with Haku and headbutts the legal Smash before throwing him over the top rope, leading to a count-out. Demolition attack the champions after the bell and deliver a Demolition Decapitation (which Monsoon refers to as their “patented put ’em away maneuver“) to Haku. This feud would continue until WrestleMania VI, where Ax and Smash would reclaim the titles for the third and final time.
As the WWF ring crew assembles the steel cage for the main event, Sean Mooney announces that the Federation will return to MSG on January 15 with the Rockers taking on the Powers of Pain. Pre-taped promos air from both teams.
Mooney then reveals that Mr. Perfect will challenge Hulk Hogan for the WWF World Title at the January 15 card and pre-taped interviews are shown from both champion and challenger hyping the bout.
Gorilla Monsoon and Hillbilly Jim preview the Roddy Piper-Rick Rude match from the announce position.
Match #8: Rick Rude vs. Roddy Piper (Steel Cage Match)
I originally saw this bout as a kid on Coliseum Video’s Wrestling Superheroes VHS release and enjoy it every bit as much today as I did then – possibly more. The Piper-Rude program had toured the house show circuit since Roddy’s interference caused Rude to lose the Intercontinental Championship to the Ultimate Warrior at SummerSlam. A referee is positioned inside the ring to call for a pinfall or submission, which Monsoon notes is unusual for a WWF Steel Cage Match at the time. A fantastic battle, which featured a blade job by Rude and an awesome spot where the “Ravishing” one lands a fistdrop on Piper from the top of the cage. The contest is re-started after both wrestlers climb over the structure and jump to the floor simultaneously, where Rude hits Roddy with a chair. Rude later climbs to the top of the cage again, but is crotched on the steel by “Hot Rod.” With Rude hung upside down, Piper attempts to exit the ring, but Heenan slams the cage door on Roddy’s head. “The Brain” passes brass knuckles to his charge, but Piper is able to retrieve the object and punch Rude in the head. With the former I-C Champion laid out, Piper departs via the cage door and emerges victorious.
This was a decent event with the majority of the undercard matches delivering in the ring, but the main event easily topped everything else on the show. Hillbilly Jim was awful on commentary and added very little to the broadcast, with his “Woooo-ooos” becoming very grating on the nerves by the third match.