The 1989 MTV Video Music Awards were full of surprises. Neil Young's "This Note's For You" won Video of the Year over Madonna's "Like a Prayer" and Elvis Costello's "Veronica" won Best Male Video over Bobby Brown's "Every Little Step" and Steve Winwood "Roll With It." (This was back in the day when MTV gave these sort of awards to veteran artists.) But the coolest surprise came at the end of the night when Axl Rose joined Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for "Free Fallin'."
Guns N' Roses didn't perform that year, but they were all in attendance and won the Best Heavy Metal Video for "Sweet Child O' Mine." (R.E.M. won something called the "Best Post-Modern Video" for "Orange Crush.") After "Free Fallin,'" Petty and Axl closed out the night with an amazing rendition of "Heartbreak Hotel."
Things seemed calm onstage, but Vince Neil was waiting just offstage preparing to kick Izzy Stradlin's ass as soon as the show ended. According to Neil's book The Dirt, the GNR guitarist pulled his wife's shirt down at a Los Angeles club and karate-kicked her in the stomach – and he was out for revenge. "I said to him, 'You fucking hit my wife!'" Neil recalled. "He spat back, 'So fucking what?'"
"All my blood rushed into my first," said Neil. "And I decked him. I decked him good, and right in the face. He fell to the ground like a tipped cow. I said, 'The next time you fucking touch her, I'll fucking kill you!'"
Axl Rose saw the whole thing and threatened to beat up Neil, but ultimately walked away. The two later engaged in a nasty fight in the press that nearly culminated in a fight in the parking lot of Tower Records. But according to Neil, Axl never showed up. "In the press he was acting like king of the world," said the Motley Crue singer. "But in real life he was too chicken-shit to back up his word."