Ringside Shadows #124: The Four Horsemen Complete History (part I: 1985)
As I'm sure many of you are noting right now; I've posted this series before. It's hardly been my style to repeat myself in the past, and I wasn't planning on starting now, however my schedule has become more full than I'd previously imagined. Seeing as how I won't have much time for posting new columns over the next couple weeks and it's been a year almost to the day since I first posted this overbearing history lesson, I thought that it would be both a nice throwback for those who caught it the first time around and a great read for those who didn't. In addition, I've gone through and added little things I've picked up in the year since this was first presented. So, consider this a "Special Edition Release" or whatnot. A "Director's Cut." I've cleaned it up immensely. With that said, I'll be returning with fresh material shortly, of that you can be assured, however my little hiatus is turning out to be a bit longer than I'd previously anticipated. So read on, faithful viewers, and take a quick peek into the history of my personal favorite pro wrestling storyline; that of the Four Horsemen.
It all started as a family business. Arn and Ole Anderson, the future spine of the Four Horsemen, had a personal vision... and it all involved the tag team title belts. To understand the bold nature of this mission, you must first understand that the tag team division in this era was extremely competitive, with such legendary names as the Midnight Express, the Rock and Roll Express and the Road Warriors, as well as singles workers pairing themselves as a team in hopes of capturing the gold. While Vince would boast such historically notable alliances as the original Hart Foundation, the Rockers, the British Bulldogs and eventually the Andersons themselves, there was little doubt where the best action in the nation was kept. As such, these belts were no laughing matter.
As the story began, Ole held one of these belts alongside his partner at the time, Thunderbolt Patterson. Abruptly, in the blunt nature that would over time become the Horsemen's legact, Ole walked out one week to an interview segment and effectively told T-Bolt that the team's best days were behind them. To his partner's face, Ole Anderson announced he was dissolving their coalition in favor of a run with his brother, Arn... and he was taking the titles with him. Before Patterson had a chance to react, Ole had left the set. No questions asked, no room to retort.
One week later, Arn was participating in a singles match while Ole supported him at the announcer's table. As the match became increasingly competitive, it was slowly becoming evident that the younger Anderson's opponent had the upper hand. That all changed in an instant, though, as Ole jumped into the ring and the match was immediately thrown out. As the bell incessantly rang, the Andersons effectively stomped the fight out of the Enforcer's opponent with no sign of slowing down... which brought out former tag team champion T-Bolt Patterson. As Ole and his former partner exchanged words, Arn came from out of nowhere, blindsiding Patterson and sending him to the mat in a heap. Initially hesitant, Ole had no choice but to help in the beating once Patterson started to fight back. Working as a team, the two announced themselves the new tag team champions, the Minnesota Wrecking Crew.
the original minnesota wrecking crew hard at work
While the uproar was already beginning in the tag team scene, it wasn't until the alliance invaded the World Title scene that it begain to gain a head of steam and national attention. At the time, our World Champ was none other than the Nature Boy, Ric Flair... but things weren't always going according to the champ's well-orchestrated plans. As always, Flair was the dirtiest player in the game and often escaped with his pride intact and belt around his waist by only the skin of his teeth. Embarrassment is an emotion with which Flair's never been comfortable, and as his opponents came closer and closer to an upset victory throughout his ongoing two-year title reign, he began to realize a little help was necessary. Honestly, the Andersons couldn't have arrived at a better time... Flair's next scheduled opponent was the fastest rising star in the NWA, compared by many to the god-like Hulk Hogan at the time, Magnum TA.
As Flair defended his title against an unproven challenger, Sam Houston, Magnum made his way to the announcer's table (then located beside the backstage curtain, as opposed to ringside), where the announcers welcomed him and took their attention away from the predictable Nature Boy cakewalk, currently transpiring in the ring. Upon seeing this, Flair stopped the match and made his way to the table to remind the announcers, fans and especially TA why they were here. As the match continued, Flair was given a surprisingly difficult fight, but eventually claimed the victory with his figure four leglock. However, Ric wasn't satisfied with a clean victory... post-match, he only relinquished the hold long enough to remove Houston's boot before strapping it back on and making a terrible effort to end the young man's career. TA made the obligatory save, and an instant rivalry was born. Meanwhile, Sam Houston, technically far from a legend, actually went on to play a large role in the history of the Horsemen. But we'll see more about that a bit later.
In typical Flair fashion, his mouth and wallet would attempt an escape long before a physical confrontation was in order. Thus, one week later Flair arrived for another title defense, showing off a brand new suit. Claiming it cost an exorbinant amount of money, he left it at the announcer's position as a sort of peace offering for TA. It wasn't long before the young challenger arrived to claim his prize, and he brought it with him to the ring where Flair was waiting. As TA went on about how wonderful the suit was, Flair gushed with pride. Moments later, however, Magnum began tearing the suit apart, and when he made the mistake of turning his back, Flair called him on it. TA was expecting it though, and swiftly caught Flair in a belly to belly suplex... one of his trademark maneuvers. As Flair lay in the ring, TA calmly grabbed the World Title from ringside and left it with the announcers. Before departing, Magnum stated "The next time I touch this belt, it'll be mine."
magnum ta does wrong by ric flair, shredding his finely stitched suit
Weeks passed, and TA demanded his title shot... while Flair avoided the issue, claiming Magnum wasn't worth his time. "The Man" even went so far as to say he could beat the young upstart in 10 minutes. Calling his bluff, TA stepped from backstage and slapped down the gauntlet, putting $10,000 on the line against Flair's claims of a ten minute victory. It was too late to back down, so into the ring we went as Ric Flair attempted to take home the short victory, effectively stamping out the small fire TA had lit underneath of him. As the match was nearly set to go, Ole and Arn stepped from behind the curtains and took up choice seats at the announcer's table. As an interesting sidenote, the Andersons claimed Flair was a long lost cousin during this same broadcast.
The match itself was a seesaw battle, with neither man taking a distinct advantage. As the fight drew near the ten-minute mark, Magnum put Flair in his own figure four leglock, holding the submission maneuver until time had expired. Amidst the announcers' shrieks, the Andersons had seen enough and stormed the ring. While Magnum fought the good fight, the odds turned out to be unbeatable, and the three men punished him mercilessly. As the three attempted to break the rising superstar's arm, help finally arrived in the form of Sam Houston, Buzz Sawyer and various other backstage athletes. The damage had been done, however, and this new coalition was one that Magnum could never overcome. Title match after title match between Flair and Magnum would come down to the wire before Anderson interference would end the bout in a DQ.
Some time later, TA had moved from the World Title scene, instead setting his sites on the tag team straps. Alongside his partner at the time, the immortal Dusty Rhodes, Magnum's first title shot was to come on a televised NWA program. Just before match time, Magnum took time backstage to pre-tape a challenge toward one Tully Blanchard. Suddenly, without warning, the Minnesota Wrecking Crew hit the scene and dismantled the surprised young star. Concentrating on the ribs and torso, the two made short work of the challenger before taking out the cameraman and marching down the entryway for their title defense.
While the champions stood in the ring, Dusty made a brief appearance, asking for a few more minutes' time, given the circumstances. Before an official decision could be made, the Wrecking Crew had jumped Rhodes from behind and drug him into the ring. As the gangland beating continued, Terry Taylor attempted a save, but it was to no avail. As the Andersons beat on the two men, Magnum TA stumbled from backstage; battered, beaten and broken. As one can expect, even his best efforts weren't enough and he almost immediately fell before the champions. The beating continued until more backstage help finally drove the future Horsemen off. While Rhodes left the scene under his own power, Magnum was taken out of the ring on a stretcher. Later in the night, TA showed his guts by completing the challenge that had begun backstage hours earlier... this time from the hospital.
As Magnum and Rhodes focused on the tag team titles, Flair wasn't exactly having an easy go of it as World Champion. Fending off more and more challengers, ranking from rookie lightweight to veteran heavy and everything in between, Flair had managed to hold onto his belt... but things weren't getting any easier. Following a particularly difficult cage match with Nikita Koloff (in which Flair had taken the clean win), an enraged Koloff and his Uncle Ivan overwhelmed Ric. While the two tore Flair apart, Dusty Rhodes ran to the scene and made the save for his longtime enemy. After the Russians had been chased from the ring, Rhodes checked on Flair, who looked up at Rhodes and began to berate him! As the American Dream tried to reason with the Nature Boy, the Andersons stormed into the cage and blindsided poor Dusty. Flair saw this going down and rose to his feet, shying away from the beating only long enough to seal the cage door. As the assault continued, focusing on Rhodes's knee, help swarmed from the back and finally broke into the cage. The attack had been halted, but the damage was done. Dusty's leg was in poor shape.
About a week later, Flair was back in the ring with Sam Houston. After nearly dropping his earlier defense against the rookie, Ric wanted to prove it was a fluke with a decisive victory here. Following a solid defense, Flair had done his job but wanted to ensure no threat remained for the future; he called Arn Anderson to the ring and the two attempted to deliver the same beating as was given to Dusty Rhodes not long beforehand. Without the aid of a steel cage, though, this assault fell short and the American Dream himself hit the scene. Complete with a steel-toed cowboy boot, created so Dusty could continue working despite his injury, Rhodes made the best of a bad situation and used his new bit of ring garb to chase Flair and the Andersons from the battlegrounds.
In just a few more weeks' time, poor Sam Houston had returned to action against Tully Blanchard in what was supposed to be a "safe" matchup. It wasn't long, though, before the Andersons appeared yet again. At first patiently observing from ringside, the duo made their move minutes into the match... and Tully didn't seem to have anything against it. While Blanchard held the maligned Houston, Ole and Arn tore into his left arm, putting him right back out of action for an additional set of months. After being chased from the ring, Tully celebrated with the Minnesota Wrecking Crew and Flair, as the four ran the NWA roster ragged. J.J. Dillon, who had previously joined Blanchard as a manager, now accompanied the quartet. It all became official on a spring night in 1986, nearly one full year after the ball began rolling.. and Arn set it in stone with a name that would last through the ages.
Asked to fill remaining TV time, the four came out to close the program with an interview. After Flair had said his piece, Arn took the mic and told us all that we were witnessing history. Only once had so much damage been caused by so few, Arn screamed, "and to find that source you need to go all the way back to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." The name stuck, and pro wrestling's first major stable was born.
With the battle lines drawn, the four had their work cut out for them in the months to come. The Andersons had a strong hold on their US Tag Team Titles, but the threat in that category would be a constant one. Flair's World Title, easily more highly contested and defended than Hogan's WWF belt, was always a target with everyone from seasoned veterans to hopeful rookies demanding a shot. Under the guide of J.J. Dillon, the Horsemen had a definite direction and a plan. And don't count out Dusty Rhodes or Magnum TA just yet... check it all out in part II, which I'll post tomorrow.
until next time, i remain