What if…Tully Blanchard didn’t fail the drug test and returned to WCW in 1989?
Our story begins at the 1989 edition of Starrcade. The event is dominated by a round-robin tournament dubbed “Night Of The Iron Men”, awarding points for the method of victory for the four men involved: The Great Muta, Lex Luger, Sting and NWA World Champion Ric Flair. The last match of night, Sting vs. Flair, is a critical one; Sting languishes in third place with 20 points, behind Flair’s 25 and Luger’s 35. A pinfall victory for Sting will vault him into top contention for a title shot … a title held by Flair, with whom he has recently found an accord with. But before the match can even begin, both Sting and Flair unveil surprises for each other …
Dec. 13, 1989: Starrcade
NWA World Champion Ric Flair steps out onto the stage, decked out in his lavish robes, fountains of fireworks going off around him. He turns around and gestures to the entrance, looking expectantly; as soon as the two similar-looking men set foot on the stage, the building erupts. Flanked by original Four Horsemen members Ole and Arn Anderson, Flair walks the aisle, a smile as big as all outdoors on his face. The flashing of the familiar four-finger hand sign elicits a mixed reaction from both the crowd and the announcers; on the one hand, seeing three of the four together again is a welcome sight. On the other hand, Flair coming to the ring with back-up all but screams a ploy by the champ to stack the deck in his favor, a betrayal of the trust that had been built as Flair had battled Gary Hart’s J-Tex Corporation.
When Sting steps out onto the stage and looks at the ring, he doesn’t look surprised in the slightest, or even so much as bothered. Instead, the beloved hero of World Championship Wrestling nods to the assembled Horsemen in the ring with a smile just as big as Flair’s, then turns to the entrance and directs everyone’s attention there.
Through the curtain steps a surprise even bigger then the return of The Minnesota Wrecking Crew, equally surprising for both who he is and the fact that he is coming down the aisle with Sting. In the middle of the aisle, Sting grabs the hand of Tully Blanchard and gives it a firm shake, then walks to the ring with Tully right behind. The collective jaws of Flair and the Andersons need forklifts to come off the floor as their brother, their compatriot, comes to the ring alongside the man seen by many as the person to knock Flair from his throne once and for all. Ever the gentleman, Sting offers handshakes to Flair and the Andersons; the gesture is returned, albeit half-heartedly, as the whole time, eyes are on Tully, standing behind Sting as solemn as a statue. The Horsemen stumble over their own feet, trying to get a handshake from Tully; the most anyone can get is a barely perceptible nod, directed at his long-time tag partner Arn.
Obviously rattled, Flair wrestles with half an eye turned to his old friend, standing in his opponent’s corner, arms crossed. Tully gives no outward indication of anything during the 20 minutes Sting and Flair do their dance; not once does he get involved, and not once does he even so much as clap for Sting when the momentum is in the Stinger’s favor. Everyone in fact–from the announcers to Flair and his contingent, to the referee and the officials around the ring, to the crowd–keep a nervous eye on Tully Blanchard, waiting for him to make a move. Much to the consternation of everyone, for the 20 minute duration of the match, Tully’s only movement is to breathe and blink. When Sting pins Flair, the crowd explodes, and Tully finally breaks his stoic silence by clapping. But as he reaches up to grab a rope to pull himself up, the Andersons come into the ring. Tully drops away as the Andersons and Flair approach Sting. Flair shakes Sting’s hand, and Ole raises Sting’s hand in the air, making the Horsemen hand sign with the other. Arn holds the ropes open and invites Tully to come in …
… but Tully backs down the aisle, shaking his head. Flair, Ole and even Sting join alongside Arn in trying to get Tully to back into the ring, but Tully responds by walking away. When Tully disappears backstage, the Horsemen and their new recruit bask in the applause of the audience, putting their erstwhile brother out of their minds. For now, with Sting, the company’s most popular star, aligned with the company’s most storied stable, reunited with the Minnesota Wrecking Crew, the only thought in the minds of those watching isn’t if the partnership will live up to the Horsemen of old, but if there is anyone who can stop the foursome from ruling the company forever.
Dec. 1989-January 1990
With a new ally in Sting, and Starrcade behind them, Flair directs the Horsemen towards resuming the mission that has dominated Flair’s life for months: the annihilation of Gary Hart’s J-Tex Corporation stable. Some kind of climactic showdown at the upcoming Clash Of The Champions in February seems assured, and so, the two stables up the ante in their warfare. Interference in matches and backstage assaults become commonplace, and even with superior numbers, the Horsemen are often left reeling from the heinous attacks of Hart’s troops.
Facing an enemy that has no fear and no moral boundary, it quickly becomes apparent that the Horsemen will need to press their numbers advantage. Ric Flair makes a go of recruiting Tully Blanchard back into the fold to bolster their numbers, issuing invitation after invitation at event after event. Not only are Flair’s entreaties met with no response, but when Blanchard is seen, he avoids the question entirely and redirects the course of the discussion.
“I’m not here to discuss Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen, Tony,” he says to Tony Schiavone. “Do I look like Ric Flair? No. I’m Tully Blanchard. I’m not here to talk about someone else’s problems. I’m back in World Championship Wrestling for one reason and one reason alone: to win championships. To remind the world who Tully Blanchard is; the guy who made Dusty Rhodes bleed like a stuck pig. The guy Magnum TA couldn’t beat without jamming a shard of wood in my eye. That man is back, and he’s hungry for gold.”
Further attempts at getting answers from Blanchard are met with the same stonewalling, and the same insistence to talk about his career, not the careers of others. On the final show before the Christmas holiday, Ric Flair interrupts a Tully Blanchard interview to personally ask, one more time, for Blanchard to take up the mantle once more; Blanchard gives his reply by walking away in the middle of Flair’s request.
The second of the Horsemen’s reinforcement picks is also a former member of the elite stable: Lex Luger. Sting makes it his personal mission to recruit his friend, but time and again, he is met with the same resistent silence employed by Tully Blanchard towards Ric Flair. Sting pleads at every event, on every broadcast, for Luger to ally with them, if for no other reason then to help his friend, and Luger gives him nothing to hang his hat on. It isn’t until Sting suffers a gruesome beating at the hands of Buzz Sawyer and The Dragonmaster that Luger finally takes action, saving his partner and agreeing, for one night, to stand with the Horsemen.
That one night is January 2, 1990; two Horsemen/J-Tex clashes are scheduled for the evening, with Sting and Luger taking on Sawyer and Dragonmaster, and Arn Anderson challenging The Great Muta for the World Television Championship. Arn dismantles Muta and, despite attempted interference from Muta’s stablemates, is successful in taking back the TV Title.
Like Arn did to Muta, Sting and Luger overwhelm their opponents, weathering every dirty trick and cheap shot they can unload. But the match turns against the friends when Flair comes out and asks Sting to follow him, while Luger is in the ring, dealing with a two-on-one beating. Flair pleads, saying Ole’s been attacked; reluctantly, Sting follows Flair to the back, leaving Luger alone against the J-Tex duo. It’s only a matter of time before Luger is beaten, pinned and left for dead. In the Horsemen’s locker room, cameras catch up to Sting and Flair, who are with paramedics as they put Ole on a stretcher and take him away.
The next week, Jim Ross has Sting in the studio for an interview. “Stinger, there’s two things I wanna ask you about today,” says Schiavone, “the first being your victory at Starrcade, winning the Iron Man tournament. That puts you in line for a World Title match at Wrestle War on February 25th … against your new friend, your partner in the Four Horsemen, Ric Flair. Have you discussed it with Ric, or with the rest of the Horsemen? What is the situation like in the Horsemen, with one of their own being due a shot against Ric Flair?”
“You know, Jim, we haven’t talked about it, really. We’ve had other things on our plate, specifically the J-Tex Corporation and Gary Hart. But the fact of the matter is, the Horsemen, from day one, have always been about the success of the group instead of the individual. There’s no reason why, in the spirit of competition, Ric and I can’t act like gentlemen and wrestle one another for the biggest prize in the game.”
“So you’re saying you’re gonna sign the contract to meet Ric Flair at WrestleWar?”
“JR, what I’m saying is that first, we gotta get past what we’re dealing with now, and that’s Gary Hart, and we’re gonna do that at Clash Of The Champions on February 6th. Me, Ric and Arn, against Gary Hart’s guys, inside a steel cage. Two teams walk in, one team walks out, and this war will be done.”
“Well, that brings me to my other question, Stinger. Last week, on this very show, you were involved in a tag team match with Lex Luger against Buzz Sawyer and The Dragonmaster. You ended up leaving the match, and your partner–your best friend, in fact–took a beating at the expense of that. What happened? Why did you abandon the match?”
“I’ll tell you why!” exclaims Lex Luger as he barges onto the set. He pushes Schiavone out of the way, getting in Sting’s face; Schiavone has to settle for holding the microphone at arm’s length. “Ric Flair is lying, no-good, backstabbing snake! This is why I didn’t want any part of your little problem with Gary Hart, Sting, because of Ric Flair. You can’t trust Ric Flair. You should know that. Ric may say the Horsemen are all for one and one for all, but the truth of the matter is that the Horsemen are there to protect Flair. I learned that lesson when I was a member of the Horsemen, Stinger; Ric only keeps guys around because he is scared to death of guys like you and me. He doesn’t see guys like Arn or Ole as a threat, and the second someone in his inside circle scares him, he boots ‘em. You watch, he’s gonna do it to you; sign that contract for Wrestle War, and I promise you, Sting, they will beat you down and kick you out faster then you can blink.”
“Lex, let me expl–”
“No, Sting. I don’t want an explanation. Ric’s gotten to you. I can see it in your eyes. He’s made his big-money promises, he’s spun his web, and he’s suckered you in. And because he doesn’t like me, because he knows I could beat him, he got you to leave my side and leave me to those wolves. I expected more from you, Sting. I expected you to be able to see through Ric Flair’s garbage. You’re only his buddy because it helps him. Mark my words, Sting; he will turn on you.” With that, Luger walks away. Sting follows, calling after Luger, who ignores his old friend, leaving Schiavone speechless.
Like Luger, Tully Blanchard spends the month an island unto himself. Ignoring every request for an interview about Ric Flair, refusing to even acknowledge Flair’s calls for a renewed partnership, Tully sets about re-establishing his presence in World Championship Wrestling in the ring, and acquits himself admirably. Quickly, announcers talk about Blanchard as a top name, and a certain threat to any champion, let alone World Champion Ric Flair. Tully ignores it all and goes on about his workman’s path, until he is interviewed by Ross a couple weeks before Clash Of The Champions after a successful match.
“Tully Blanchard, I have a question for you,” says Ross, “and I want you to hear me out, because it involves one Ric Flair.” Blanchard rolls his eyes and starts to walk away, but Ross puts a hand on his shoulder. “Now, wait just a minute, Tully Blanchard. People are talking about you and Ric Flair, namely the idea of youfacing him in the near future, with the roll you’ve been on. I wanna know your thoughts on that. Could you face your old friend?”
Blanchard, in the process of walking away, stops and turns around. There is a gleam in his eye and a smirk on his face; something about it makes Ross take a small step back and his face cloud over with worry. Blanchard comes back to the microphone. “You know, Jim Ross, that’s the kind of question I’ve beenwaiting to be asked. All I hear, week in, week out, is about Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen. Ric Flair has accomplished a lot in this company, and I mean no disrespect, but I’m trying to make my own way for once, and all anyone ever wants to ask of me is about someone else. So, thank you, Jim Ross. Thank you. Now, to answer your question, could I wrestle Ric Flair? The answer to your question is yes. That is why I came back to World Championship Wrestling; to see if I could be more then I was before. To push myself to the very limit. The chance to beat Ric Flair is something not a single man in this company doesn’t cherish, and very few have ever–or will ever–accomplish.” Ross starts to pull the microphone away, but Blanchard grabs Ross’ hand and pulls it back. “And that is why I’m challenging Ric Flair to a match, right here, on World Championship Wrestling, next week. I don’t expect a title shot, Ric. I have to earn one … and there’s no better way to do it then by proving myself against you. No Horsemen, no gimmicks. Just you and me.”
Later on, Flair sends word to Jim Ross, who announces the challenge being accepted, setting up a historic, first-time-ever match between Flair and Blanchard. When the date rolls around, Flair comes to the ring alone, but before the ref can ring the bell, Flair asks for a microphone. “Tully, I only wanna say to you one thing,” he says. “I want you, after this all over, I hope you’ll have gotten whatever it is out of your system and you’ll come back, where you belong, with your friends in the Four Horsemen.” Blanchard gives no indication one way or the other if Flair’s words resonate.
When the bell rings, any pretense of friendship gives way to competition. Neither go for the short-cuts of the Horsemen’s past, but neither are punched pulled. For Blanchard, it is a coming-out party of sorts, as the scientific skill he has always possessed comes to the forefront like never before, as he fights to establish himself as more then what he was as a member of a collective. Flair, meanwhile, fights not to hurt or to humiliate, but to repel a potential new threat to his reign, regardless of the person behind the threat. The two technicians put on a clinic, trading reversals and counters, as well as clever psychology that could only come from years of knowing someone the way Flair and Blanchard do. Blanchard scores several near-falls, and so does Flair, including two attempts at the figure-four, one of which happens in the middle of the ring and is only broken up when Blanchard rolls over and reverses the pressure. The end comes when Flair goes up for a move off the top rope and gets caught, but instead of tossing him, Blanchard puts on a front face lock and transitions it into the slingshot suplex for the pin. Exhausted–and obviously stunned–Flair rolls out of the ring; as he walks down the aisle, looking back at his old friend, arms raised in victory, Terry Funk approaches, microphone in hand.
“Ric! Ric!” Funk says, putting a hand on Flair’s shoulder. “We just heard! You have an challenger for your World Heavyweight Title at Wrestle War, Ric: Sting!”
The only reply Flair can muster is an astonished stare.
February 6, 1990: Clash Of The Champions – Texas Shootout
Two huge feature matches co-headline the tenth edition of Clash Of The Champions, one of them a late addition to the show: a United States Title defense by Lex Luger against Tully Blanchard. The other match, the headliner for the night, pits Gary Hart’s J-Tex stable of Dragonmaster, Great Muta and Buzz Sawyer against Ric Flair, Sting and Arn Anderson inside a steel cage.
But as the show begins, Terry Funk is in the ring and introduces the Four Horsemen. Dressed in their street clothes, the foursome comes to the ring, looking all business.
“I’m told you guys got something you need to talk about,” says Funk, holding the microphone up to Ole.
Ole holds up four fingers in Terry’s face, his gaze fixed and hard. “What do you see, Terry? I’ll tell you what you see. You see brotherhood. You see four pistons, driving one single engine. You see a unit, Terry Funk; four entities, standing side by side. That is how the Four Horsemen works.” Funk nods in agreement. “People who cross the Horsemen find out quick that when you mess with one, you mess with every one of them. You mess with Arn, you’re messing with me. You mess with me, you’re messing with Ric.”
Ole turns and looks at Sting. “And when someone crosses us from the inside, like a cancer, well, we cut that cancer out!” Ole gets in Sting’s face all of a sudden, taking the young superstar by surprise. “I’m not the kind to talk all day, Sting, so I’m gonna make this short and sweet; the Horsemen stand side by side. One for all and all for one. We do not start hunting each other. That’s what the other guys do; we are above that. We operate as a unit, for the good of everyone. We do not go into business for ourselves.”
“I don’t think I like where you’re going with this, Ole,” says Sting without a shred of fear in his voice.
“That’s exactly what I said when I found out you’d signed the contract to meet Ric Flair at Wrestle War, Sting. That’s why we’re giving you this one chance, tonight, here and now; withdraw from the match, and we’ll forget this ever happened.”
Sting chuckles reflexively. “You can’t be serious.” Sting looks at Flair, whose eyes are as cold as the arctic shelf. “Ric, come on. I put my trust in you. Don’t mess with me like this. Tell Ole–”
Ole stabs a finger in Sting’s face. “You know what can happen when you cross the Horsemen, Sting. You don’t want us coming after you because you betrayed us. Call off the match, or you can consider that contract you signed your death sentence!”
The look in Sting’s eyes says everything. He doesn’t need to say anything, and he never gets the chance anyway, as Flair clobbers him in the head. The crowd comes unglued as Flair and Ole put the boots to Sting, while Arn watches the aisle for reinforcements. Flair gets in Sting’s face, yelling at him to “get out of the business”. Terry Funk, long havinf left the ring, jumps back in and makes a move towards helping Sting, but Ole cuts him off and shoves him to the ground. When Sting no longer shows any signs of life, Flair leads the Horsemen back to the locker room as the announcers speculate on the status of the main event.
The shadow of the Horsemen’s expulsion of Sting casts a pall over the whole evening. Tully Blanchard’s challenge for the US Title is marred by both the commentators’ postulating over who will replace Sting, and a crowd ambivalent after seeing their #1 hero crushed by men he’d trusted. The shadow also obviously affects Sting’s best friend, Lex Luger, as he wrestles with an obvious distraction on his mind. Blanchard is able to ride that mental advantage to success, catching Luger off-guard after ducking a clothesline and nailing the slingshot suplex. The crowd, still tenuous about Blanchard, gives him a polite round of applause, but they obviously share the same concern that Luger wears on his sleeve: the well-being of Sting. After Blanchard leaves the ring with the US Title, Luger finds Terry Funk and launches into a short but sweet tirade:
“Before you ask, Terry Funk, I don’t give a damn about losing my title. Not right now. I told Sting he was looking for trouble by getting in bed with Ric Flair, and the world just saw how right I was for doubting him. Championships don’t matter to me right now, Terry. I only have two things on my mind: seeing that my best friend is okay …” Luger turns to the camera, his eyes as cold as the grave. “And seeing to it that Ric Flair isn’t.”
Gary Hart leads his team out for the main event. For all the speculation of who, if anyone, will replace Sting on the Horsemen team, Hary shows absolutely no worries, and neither do his troops. The smile on Hart’s face is as big as all outdoors; when Flair and Anderson, accompanied by Ole in street clothes, come out without a third, it actually breaks … until Flair and Arn turn to the entry and gesture for their third to come out.
Carrying the United States Championship, Tully Blanchard steps out onto the stage, joining his brothers in the Horsemen. The crowd, having wanted a full Horsemen reunion for two months now, sours instantly at seeing Blanchard go back on his vow to prove himself on his own.
Together, the reunited Horsemen enter the cage and the brawl begins right away; Muta goes after Arn, Flair pairs off with the Dragonmaster, and Tully takes on Buzz Sawyer. Knowing the hatred between the teams, the referee doesn’t even try to exert control; he just steps back and, when a pinfall is attempted, he makes a move to count it. And as both teams use the cage and utilize the rules-free environment, the pinfall attempts come one after another.
By the time ten minutes have elapsed, a dominance starts to assert itself, as the Horsemen, a functioning unit for much longer then J-Tex, dissects Hart’s men. Sawyer is put out of the game when he is accidentally sprayed with Muta’s mist and has his head smashed in with a steel chair by Blanchard. Arn nullifies the threat of the Dragonmaster with a spinebuster on the floor, leaving Muta and Flair. Surrounded by enemies, Muta does not shy away, but he does not charge them either, allowing the Horsemen to stalk him.
Before they can pounce, the crowd comes alive; heads turn to the entranceway to see Lex Luger racing down to ringside. With the cage door locked, the Horsemen can only watch as Luger makes a beeline for Ole with bloodlust in his eyes. Ole tries to prepare, but Luger takes him down with a tackle, staddles him and starts raining down the fists. Flair and Blanchard drop to the floor, leaving Arn to deal with Muta; Flair yells at Luger through the fencing, promising to take a piece of his hide …
… and without warning, his threats are silenced as Blanchard rams Flair face-first into the cage wall once, twice, three times. Blanchard throws Flair in the ring as Arn nails a picture-perfect spinebuster on Muta. Upon seeing Flair, Arn breaks up his own pin attempt to check on Flair; he helps his old friend to his feet, checking his wounds …
… then whips him into the ropes and nearly drives Flair through the mat with a spinebuster. Blanchard joins Arn in the ring; for a moment, the two stand nose to nose, eyeing each other. And then the tension melts away as knowing smirks grow on their faces; they embrace, then turn and lay the boots to Flair until he doesn’t move. With Flair unconscious, Arn and Tully scale the cage wall; once outside, they are met by Gary Hart, and any confusion left in the crowd vanishes when Tully shakes Hart’s hand. Arn stabs the dagger in deeper when he joins Luger in putting the boots to Ole. Inside the cage, the members of J-Tex pick at Flair’s bones for no good reason other then to pile on; Flair cannot even fight back, and Muta’s pinfall over Flair is the definition of academic.
And even though it doesn’t need to be proven, Arn puts into a gesture what everyone already knows, by holding up the familiar four-fingered salute and drawing a throat-slash across it. Paramedics rush into the cage as the ref opens the door; when Flair and Ole are wheeled by on a gurney, Tully and Arn spit on their former friends. As the Clash fades to black, the final image of the night burned into the memories of fans is of Tully, Arn, Luger and Gary Hart walking out of the arena, laughing.
The first edition of World Championship Wrestling following the events of Clash Of The Champions is a grim one for fans: the conditions of both Sting and Ric Flair are in question, jeopardizing the main event of WrestleWar. WCW executives have no news to offer, and put a dislcaimer on promos for the event that say “condition pending”.
But one camp where it isn’t silent is that of Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Lex Luger and Gary Hart. At the first available moment, the foursome appear on WCW television, with Terry Funk being the lucky interviewer to bring up the elephant in the room: why? Blanchard is the first of the group to speak.
“Terry Funk, you of all people should understand why,” says Blanchard with a heavy dose of condescension. “Years ago, four men, the most dominant men in all of wrestling, united under a single banner, against common foes. We won championship after championship. We broke Dusty Rhodes’ arm and his leg. We sent Nikita Koloff into retirement. There was no one, no one, who could stand against The Four Horsemen. We operated as a unit, for the good of the unit; one for all, and all for one.” The smirk that was on Blanchard’s face vanishes. “That ‘one’ was Ric Flair. The Four Horsemen were nothing more then real fangs glued on a paper tiger, and Ric Flair knows it! Those days are over, Ric. No longer will we be your stooges. We have seen, we have tasted, we have experienced life outside your shadow, Ric. The time for us to take the one thing you kept from us–the spotlight, the main event, our destinies–is now!”
Arn Anderson steps forward, his grim demeanor made even more ominous by his matter-of-fact tone. “They say you catch a fish for a man, and he eats for the day. But if you show him how to fish, well, the man eats for his whole lifetime. The fact of the matter is, for years, Tully Blanchard and I got our dinners handed to us by Ric Flair, and we were too stupid to notice the fact that we got guppies while Ric Flair dined on sea bass. We learned this lesson by walking away from Ric Flair and The Four Horsemen for a year and a half and fighting for our survival on our own; we saw that, without Ric Flair and JJ Dillon and Ole Anderson ready to bail us out, we were not only capable of making an impact and finding success, but that our opportunities were only limited by our desires … and when we realized that, our eyes opened. Our eyes opened to the fact that, for a brotherhood of four supposed equals, only one was allowed to achieve everything he dreamed, while the other three were relegated to the supporting muscle. And when we came back to World Championship Wrestling, the first thing Ric Flair did was petition for the Horsemen to get back together so he could protect himself and his title from Gary Hart. I didn’t expect better of Ole, since leeching off Flair was the best he could ever hope to accomplish, but Tully and myself are worth much more then that … and Ric Flair knows it, and he’sscared of it. That’s why he wanted the Horsemen back together, and that’s why he wanted Sting as a Horsemen: to neutralize a threat. Well, you don’t have that luxury anymore, Ric; you cast Sting aside, and we’ve cast you aside. The days of Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard being the supporting players in the dreams of Ric Flair are over; starting today, we are the lead in your every nightmare, a nightmare you’ll soon discover there is no waking up from, because the nightmare is your life.”
Funk is aghast; without a shred of fear, he glares at Anderson. “But why did you attack Ole? That’s your cousin! You don’t turn on family!”
Blanchard puts a hand on Funk’s shoulder. “Double-A doesn’t owe you an explanation, old man.”
“No, it’s okay, Tully. I want to make sure everything is crystal clear.” Arn returns Funk’s steely glare. “Family, Terry Funk, is not just in blood. It’s in the bonds, and it’s in the heart. Ole is a fat, broken-down shell of a man. He has nothing left in him, except a need to stay in the spotlight, and he’s attached himself to Ric Flair like a leech to get a taste of it. He means less than nothing to me.”
“Well, what about Sting? What does he mean to you? Where does he fit in all this? Just collateral damage?”
Arn and Tully both take a step back and defer to Sting’s close friend, Lex Luger. Like Arn and Tully, Luger is dressed nicely; Polo shirt, slacks, Rolex watch, sunglasses. The very model of a Horseman … were they still an existing entity. Luger takes off his sunglasses and hangs them in the crook of his collar. “Terry Funk, I want you to think back,” says Luger. “Who raised Sting’s hand at Starrcade and offered him the membership in the Horsemen? Who said Sting that Ric Flair would stab him in the back at the first opportunity? Who put the boots to Sting when he got kicked out of the Horsemen?” Luger nods, a satisfied smirk on his lips. “That’s right; not once have you seen myself or Tully Blanchard or Arn Anderson take any sort of action against Sting. The fact is, Stinger, we’ve shown you over the past two months who has honor in this company and who is a low-down snake in the grass. We are men of honor, Sting, men you can trust. Ric Flair is a cancer in World Championship Wrestling, and we intend, with the guidance of Gary Hart, to cut him out for good. We know you have no love lost for Flair … we can only hope you’ll take up our cause and help us rid this sport of Ric Flair once and for all!”
The next week, WCW officials announce that both Sting and Ric Flair are expected to participate in their World Heavyweight Title match at Wrestle War. But attempts to reach the WCW Champion prove fruitless, as he doesn’t answer phone calls, and doesn’t appear at any television tapings, leading to speculation that he will no-show Wrestle War. Gary Hart’s new army–having dissolved his J-Tex stable, sending Muta and Dragonmaster back to Japan–wastes no time in helping fuel that rumor at every opportunity, saying Flair’s silence is proof he’s a coward without his reinforcements. WCW officials go so far as to send Terry Funk to Ric Flair’s house in Charlotte, but Funk is met with stone silence and a closed gate.
Sting, however, does not follow Flair’s retreat into a hermetical existence; the very next week, he returns to World Championship Wrestling like a tiger uncaged, tackling opponents of all shapes and sizes and mowing them down like they were fresh out of training. The only person who shows any resistence to Sting’s onslaught is Dr. Death Steve Williams, who forces Sting to empty his arsenal in a 15 minute slugfest. Every opponent gets a handshake, and every kid in the audience gets a hand-slap from the Stinger. The only show of stoicism is towards the subject of Ric Flair and Gary Hart’s contingent; multiple interview attempts are met with walk-offs. Lex Luger sits at ringside for Sting’s match against Dr. Death, and offers a hand for the shaking as Sting walks out; Sting walks away without so much as a nod in Luger’s direction. Luger follows Sting behind the curtain, but no indication is given of Sting accepting Luger’s gesture.
But the former Horsemen don’t rest on their laurels as they court Sting’s attention; the month between Clash Of The Champions and Wrestle War, the trio carry over one ideal from their old Horsemen days: taking what they want by pure force and overwhelming numbers. For Arn, this comes about in the form of vengeance against the last man standing of the old J-Tex empire, Buzz Sawyer; the group wages attack after attack against Sawyer, who finds the fans siding with him as he is put through the ringer against the threesome. Stemming from the attacks, WCW officials book a Television Title defense for Arn against Sawyer at Wrestle War.
Tully Blanchard’s desires, meanwhile, are simple: more gold. Unfortunately, with the World Champ tied up and the TV Title being held by Arn, that leaves the World Tag Champions, Rick & Scott Steiner. Blanchard and Luger launch a campaign of harassment, interfering in matches and vicious backstage ambushes. But unlike with Arn and Sawyer, WCW executives don’t cave into the pressure: “We will not bow to the whims of these men at their will,” says a statement from WCW’s management, read by Jim Ross one week before Wrestle War. “Tully Blanchard and Lex Luger have no legitimate claim for a World Tag Team, especially when they have no record–be it successful or otherwise–of tagging with one another.”
The response from Hart’s men is immediate and gruesome: a parking lot assault, not unlike the one perpetrated on Dusty Rhodes a few years before, that sees Scott and Rick pummeled with axe handles and thrown into the sides of cars. When the trio leave the Steiners bleeding and unconscious in the parking lot, they add one more insult to the injuries: Blanchard and Luger steal the belts, daring the Steiners to come get them. A week before Wrestle War, the WCW executive committee relents and books the Steiners to square off against Luger and Blanchard … but as a non-title match.
With 24 hours to go before Wrestle War, Sting finally breaks his silence in an interview with Terry Funk on WCW’s flagship show. “I only have one thing to say about tomorrow night, Terry Funk,” says Sting. “Tomorrow night isn’t about Ric Flair and the guys he used to call friends. It isn’t about who kept who under a thumb, or shadows, or any of that. And even though I wanna kick Ric Flair’s butt from here to the moon, tomorrow isn’t about what happened at Clash Of The Champions, either. Ric knows he’s due a receipt from me for that, and believe me, on another day and time, he’ll get what’s coming to him. But tomorrow isn’t about that; it’s about the belt that Ric Flair carries around. Tomorrow is about me challenging him for the right to be called World Heavyweight Champion and nothing else. I hope that, wherever you’ve been hiding, whatever you’ve been doing, Ric Flair, you haven’t taken tomorrow for granted. I’ve beaten you before, Ric, and I’m gonna do it again tomorrow.”
February 25, 1990: Wrestle War
The audience lets loose the full force of their hatred on Gary Hart as the unctuous manager of Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard and Lex Luger makes his way to the announcer’s table, taking a seat next to Jim Ross. Hart is peppered with questions by JR, most of which he deflects with insults to the play-by-play man. The only thing that stops Hart’s barrage of insults is the most plainly obvious question:
“Well, at least answer me this, Gary Hart: why are you out here right now? None of your boys are wrestling now!”
“Jim Ross, I would not be a successful manager if I only concerned myself with the activities of my clients,” he says as condescendingly as possible. “As the guiding hand of their career, it is in their best interest if I keep an eye to the horizon, to pick out oncoming threats … and potential allies.”
“Are you saying–”
“What I’m saying, Jim Ross, is what I just said. Let me do my job, and go on with the business of doing yours.”
When Hart won’t even respond to questions, JR just gets back to calling the action, which kicks off with Dr. Death Steve Williams taking on Tom Zenk. Anyone expecting a quality wrestling match, however, gets a shock when Williams bulldozes the Z-Man onto the trash heap with a 28-second victory. As soon as Zenk rolls out of the ring, Williams grabs the microphone from the announcer and demands better competition. Zenk’s tag partner, Brian Pillman, comes out to avenge his friend’s humiliating loss, but Pillman–outweighed by Williams by quite a bit–is overpowered and dispatched in just under a minute. Again, Williams grabs the microphone and demands a better opponent. A young, burly brawler named Cactus Jack flies out of the back and finally gives Dr. Death a bit of a challenge. But Williams still ends up overwhelming the youngster, getting a pin off an Oklahoma Stampede in three minutes. One more time, Williams grabs the microphone.
“This is pathetic!” he exclaims. “Two years ago, I was in the main event of this very same company, beating the living hell out of the Four Horsemen in a WarGames match! Now, I’m kicking around rookies in the first match of the night? I took Sting, the number one contender, past fifteen minutes only a couple weeks ago, and now, I’m beating up kids and wannabes to kill time! Well, if this is what I can expect as a reward for my efforts, World Championship Wrestling can stick it!” Williams throws down the microphone and storms out of the ring.
Gary Hart excuses himself shortly before the first of his clients are set to take the ring. When he re-emerges from the back, it is alongside Arn Anderson, approaching the ring for a Television Title defense. The look in the eyes of Double-A, as well as his overall demeanor, is a different one then that of the Horsemen-era Enforcer; where once he was a no-nonsense wrestler who kicked ass because it was his job, now, Arn is simmering with rage and resentment. As soon as Buzz Sawyer steps into the ring, Arn lets his anger consume him as he tears through Buzz in a fast-paced dissection of the challenger. Every move, every punch, every kick is delivered with a little extra something that he never had before. Buzz puts up a noble fight, and even gets a couple attempts at a pin, but never manages to keep Arn down for more then a second. When Arn turns a back body drop attempt by Buzz into a DDT, the audience sees the writing is on the wall for Buzz. But Arn picks up his opponent, lifeless though he may be, and throws him into the ropes for a very unnecessary spinebuster. The pinfall is beyond academic, but Arn puts the boots to Sawyer afterwards just because.
Taking the position of the semi-main is the non-title tag encounter between the Steiners, Tully Blanchard and Lex Luger. From the opening bell, the foursome throw the rulebook out the window, with the Hart soldiers trying to continue their parking lot beatdown and the Steiners looking to stamp a receipt into their backsides. Despite all four men being credible wrestlers, grappling and suplexes go right out the window as they try to beat each other stupid. In the final minute of the match, the Steiners take firm control, but their need for vengeance cancels out common sense; Rick slides out, grabs their (stolen) title belts and hands one to his brother. Together, they make imprints of the belts in the foreheads of their opponents, drawing the disqualification in favor of Blanchard and Luger. But the Steiners ignore the bell; Tully gets tossed over the top rope and Luger gets hoisted onto Scott’s shoulders so the brothers can hit their super-bulldog. Fortunately, Arn makes the save, hitting the ring with a tire iron. But the Steiners leave with their belts and a small measure of revenge.
Ric Flair is introduced first for the main event, but the man who comes out only looks like the Nature Boy; the swagger, the pomp and circumstance, the swagger, it’s all missing. The Ric Flair in the ring has no trace of the pompous, self-assured playboy that has ruled World Championship Wrestling for nearly a decade. And when his challenger steps through the curtain to the roar of the crowd, the weight on Flair’s shoulders seems to double. Right before the bell rings, the ref tries to get the opponents to shake hands; Flair extends his without hesitation, mouthing two distinct words: I’m sorry. Sting steps away, glaring a hole through Flair; the champ retracts his hand, looking dejected, but readies himself for the fight of his life.
From the first tie-up, Flair is on the defensive, looking for ways to stop Sting’s onslaught. His long career proves a handy resource, as he finds all sorts of counters and reversals to the young challenger’s offense … but not once does he live up to his “Dirtiest Player In The Game” moniker and take the low road, even when the opportunity presents itself. But with the change in respect for the rules comes a seeming lack of competitive fire, as he spends more time fending off Sting then fighting him. Finally, after a grueling 25 minutes of wrestling that harkens back to their legendary 45-minute draw, Sting is able to exploit a Flair mistake and puts on the Scorpion Deathlock in the dead center of the ring. With no hope of reaching the ropes and no chance of reversing the move, Flair has no choice but to submit. The audience explodes as the ref signals the timekeeper to ring the bell and hand over the belt to present to Sting. Flair rolls out, letting Sting have the moment of glory he so rightly deserves, as the referee snaps the belt around the new champ’s waist.
But the jubilation is snuffed out as quick as a bullet to the head by the incursion of Gary Hart’s troops … only, instead of a trio, it is a quartet that jumps Ric Flair in the aisleway, with Dr. Death Steve Williams now helping stomp Flair into the ground. As Arn, Tully and Williams put the boots to Flair, Luger heads for the ring; Sting immediately assumes a defensive posture, but Luger holds up his hands. He signals for a microphone and keeps one hand up as he speaks. “Sting, I’m not here to fight.” Luger steps through the ropes, making sure to keep his hands visible even as he approaches his old friend.
“Sting … first off, on behalf of Arn, and Tully, and Steve, and Gary Hart, let me thank you for putting an end to the reign of terror of Ric Flair.” Luger extends a hand, but Sting lets it hang in the air. “Come on, Sting, don’t be like this. We’re on your side. That man stabbed you in the back the same way he stabbed me in the back two years ago. He’s backstabbed every friend he’s ever had, or kept them under his thumb. You know I’m right. You know I’m not lying; these people know I’m not lying. Now do the right thing, Sting. We’re your friends. Together, we can rid this business of him once and for all and take what’s kept from us for our whole careers!”
Sting looks past Luger at the gruesome tableau behind him; Flair is being carried–dragged–to the ring; he is dumped on the mat like a deer carcass, as the rest of Luger’s friends stand alongside him. Undaunted, Sting looks to the belt wrapped around his waist, then back up at Luger. “You’re too late, Lex,” he says without a shred of fear. “I already climbed the mountain. I’m the man now. I beat Ric Flair clean as a sheet, and I didn’t need help to do it.” Sting spares Flair a glance; the now former champion is virtually unconscious, and his face a bloody mess. “He’s suffered enough. I’ve taken his title, and you’ve taken your pound of flesh. Call it off.”
Arn steps forward and takes the microphone from Lex. “Sting, you need to think about this. This isn’t a game. We intend on putting this man out of business, and we will not take prisoners should anyone stand in our way.”
“I’m not standing in your way, Arn. I’m just not interested in helping. What you’re doing, that’s not what the Stinger is all about.”
Sting starts to walk away, Arn’s words stop him cold. “Sting, if you’re not helping, you’re in the way.”
Sting turns and glares at The Enforcer. Arn doesn’t even blink. “We’d rather have you on our side, Sting. Frankly, it’s where you belong, and we both know it. But if you’re not gonna do the right thing, then we’re gonna do what we need to without you.”
“Then you do what you need to, Arn, and I’ll do what I have to.” With that, Sting turns and starts to leave the ring …
… and gets clobbered from behind by Luger. The foursome quickly surround Sting like a pack of wolves and pick him apart. Sting tries to fight back, but between his exhaustion from the match and the numbers against him, he doesn’t get in more then one or two wild blows. By the time they walk away, Flair and Sting are lying side by side, bleeding and unconscious.
In the aftermath of Wrestle War, Gary Hart’s group–who bridle at any comparisons to the Horsemen–reinforces their line in the sand; opponents aren’t just defeated, but crushed, humiliated, broken in body and spirit. WCW, they declare, is their domain, and they will enforce their rule by any means necessary. While Flair is the primary target of their hostility, anyone they perceive as a “face of the promotion” is, in their eyes, a victim in the waiting; World Champion Sting and Tag Champions The Steiners lead the hitlist, and the acquisition of their belts is a goal stated at every opportunity. Both Sting and The Steiners invite their newfound enemies to take their best shots. Suddenly, every waking moment for Sting and the Steiners in WCW is spent watching their backs, as Hart’s army stalks their new enemies.
However, the human flashpoint for the formation of Hart’s new alliance, Ric Flair, is nowhere to be seen in World Championship Wrestling. Announcers speculate on the whereabouts, assuming he is nursing injuries suffered at the hands of the Hart alliance. Hart and his troops, of course, assume Flair is petrified of getting his retirement ticket punched, thus “proving” he was the weak leg in the Horsemen all along.
Three weeks after Wrestle War, Ric Flair comes out of hiding, via a videotaped message filmed at his home in Charlotte. Sitting on his couch, alone, the Flair before the camera looks years older then the stylin’ and profilin’ son of a gun that has ruled the company for the better part of a decade. His eyes are hollow and sad, his voice tired and breaking. “I’ve been a wrestler for almost 18 years,” he begins solemnly. “I’ve broken bones, I’ve bled buckets and I’ve gotten my butt kicked just as many times as I’ve been the butt-kicker. There was always two things I thought I could count in: that whether the people liked me or you hated me, people would come to the show to see me. And that the friends–thebrothers–I’d found in this business would always be there.” Flair’s head drops; he sniffles and wipes away a tear. “Like I said, I’ve been wrestling 18 years … but for the past 5 years, I’ve carried this concept, this idea, of the Four Horsemen, on my shoulders. And I’m not saying I carried Arn and Tully and Ole; we all carried the burden. I let that image define me, and it pushed away what made me Ric Flair. I spent so long fighting for this”–Flair holds up four fingers, then slowly folds down three of them, leaving one pointing at himself–”that I forgot to fight for this. I don’t know how to do that anymore. And unless I can find the Ric Flair that beat Dusty Rhodes nine years ago … unless I can find the Ric Flair that came back from a broken neck and beat the living hell out of Harley Race inside a steel cage … whoever I am, I got no business being in the ring.”
The ramifications of Flair’s announcement are immediate; the assumed Sting/Flair rematch is shelved, and WCW officials (by way of Jim Ross) have to admit they have no clear #1 contender. When questioned, Sting shows a sense of loss only insofar as not getting another shot at the Nature Boy. Other wrestlers in WCW are less diplomatic about the loss of Flair, pointing out that perhaps Arn, Tully, Luger and Williams have been right all along and Flair is nothing more then a paper tiger. Even Jim Ross questions whether Flair was ever truly a strong competitor, or if he “etched his place in the history books with someone else’s chisel”.
But the one entity with which Flair’s unexpected departure doesn’t sit well is the one entity that had been aggressively pursuing that very thing: Gary Hart’s contingent. Arn, Tully, Lex, Dr. Death and Hart all express outright fury at their quarry having stepped out of the spotlight, and they take their anger our on their opponents; anyone unfortunate enough to be facing one or more of the foresome gets a beating whether they win or lose. And a couple matches that they don’t even participate in are ruined as the group lashes out in frustration. Sting and the Steiners, already busy fending off challengers to their titles, have to constantly check over their shoulders for the anti-Horsemen. Sting tries to appeal to the former friendship shared between him and Luger to get Hart’s men to cool their jets, but the Steiners prefer the physical route, as they both dish out and take beatings to various combinations of the gang.
In the second week of April, Hart draws a line in the sand, in more ways then one, during an interview segment with Jim Ross. “JR, the fact of the matter is, the Steiners and Sting are running scared, just like Flair,” growls Hart. “I have two men with championships, and two men without ‘em. Luger wants a shot at Sting, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask, and Williams wants a piece of the Steiners. Neither of ‘em seem to have anything to do for Capital Combat on May the 19th, so why doesn’t WCW management make the matches? It’s all political, JR, that’s why.”
“Maybe it’s because your boys haven’t earned title shots yet, Gary Hart!” says JR in a sudden display of bravado. “You get title matches in this company by beating people, not beating people up! That’s how it’s always been in professional wrestling! Great champions, like Harley Race and Dory Funk and Lou Thesz and Ric Fl–”
As quick as a hiccup, JR’s feet are off the ground, lifted up by the lapels by Luger. Tully and Arn are right next to Luger, in JR’s face. “Say it, Jim,” says Arn, as calm as a cool breeze. “Finish what you were gonna say. Say Ric Flair was a great champion. Say he was a man of honor. Say it.”
“Maybe what we need to do to get Ric to pay attention again,” says Tully conspiratorially, “is to start hittin’ him where it hurts. You’re good buddies with Ric, aren’t you, Jim?”
Luger dumps JR on his ass; Ross quickly scoots back into the corner, stammering over his tongue as the foursome advance like buzzards on fresh carrion. “S-s-s-stay away. You’ll be making a big mistake if–”
Arn, hunched down to be face to face with JR, stops his sentence cold with a slap across the face. “Jim … you want Ric back just as much as we do. Think of this as a small sacrifice. You take a few lumps, Ric comes back and swears vengeance, and we beat him into a real retirement.”
The scene is disrupted by the sudden appearance–still in his backstage interviewer’s suit–of Terry Funk. Funk’s cold glare burns into everyone in the ring, and despite being outnumbered five to one, he shows no fear. Tully is the first to approach Terry, extending a hand that Terry ignores. “Terry … please. Don’t embarrass yourself. We’re on the same side, you and us. We could use a man like you to help us, in fact. You got to Flair like no one has since the Horsemen came about.”
Arn steps forward, looking as grim as Terry. “Terry, this isn’t your concern. Turn around and go back to the locker room. You know us. We don’t wear white hats anymore then you do, and we’ve got the numbers. I’m not threatening you, Terry; I’m just laying out what you may not be seeing here. This is about Ric Flair, and him getting what he deserves.”
“Well, the only person besides your buddies I see in this ring is a fat ol’ Okie, and last I checked, he isn’t Ric Flair.” Terry steps up to Arn, getting close enough for nosetips to touch. “Ric Flair may be a gutless dog and I may hate the man with every fiber of my being, but the man has my respect. He faced me like a man, he beat me like a man, and he shook my hand like a man, even after everything I did to him. You were his friends, his brothers, and you can’t even look him in the eye.” Funk chuckles humorlessly. “You’re more pathetic than he is.”
Tully’s eyes go big, while Arn’s narrow to slits. Luger reaches in to grab Funk’s lapels, but Funk bats his hands away. “Don’t make mistakes you’re in no shape to correct, old man,” says Blanchard. “You don’t wanna go down for the wrong reasons, do you?”
“If standing for respect is the wrong reason, boy, then I’m going down in flames,” says Funk, who punctuates his statement by winking at JR, then slaps Blanchard hard across the cheek. Ross takes the hint and rolls out of the ring just as Steve Williams clobbers Funk in the back. Like a pack of wolves circling a dead deer, Arn, Tully, Williams and Luger lay into Funk. The former NWA World Champion is dissected, with each man taking turns hitting big moves on the semi-retired Funk before leaving him a broken shell in the ring.
The very next week, during an opening bout on World Championship Wrestling, Terry Funk limps into the ring; gone is the suit he has been wearing, replaced with the Funker’s wrestling tights and a ripped, sleeveless gray t-shirt. One of the two wrestlers takes exception to Funk’s interruption and attacks; Funk lays him out with a right hand and stomps him until he rolls out of the ring. The other wrestler opts for discretion, leaving Funk alone in the ring with a mic.
“Last week, I got the living crap kicked outta me, and now, I wanna rumble!” Funk yells. “I wanna beat the tar outta the yellow, egg-sucking dog that’s responsible for this … and that’s you, Ric Flair!” The crowd, behind Funk up until then, is rendered silent. “I shook your hand last year because you were a man. You faced me like a man, and you beat me like man, and this is what you do when someone stabs you in the back? You got someone bringin’ the fight to your door, and you go runnin’ home to put your head in your wife’s lap like a kicked dog? If I was your son, I’d spit in your face, you coward! You disgust me! You ain’t no man, and you certainly didn’t deserve my handshake! I’m callin’ you out, Ric Flair; I’m callin’ you out, in front of the world, to get your scrawny, yellow hide back here to WCW, or so help me God, if I gotta go to that nancy-boy town of yours and drag you by your bleach-blonde hair back to this ring, I will! You owe me the respect I showed you, by standing up for yourself, and standing by my side to whip Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard like the low-down, scum-suckin’ snakes they are! You don’t have to like me, Ric Flair, cause as sure as the day is long, I hate your stinkin’ guts, but you owe me this much!”
Funk interjects in the main event later, a six-man tag pitting Sting and the Steiners against Arn Anderson, Lex Luger and Steve Williams. What starts off as a violent but controlled contest turns into a full-scale riot, with Luger putting Sting in the Torture Rack after knocking him unconscious with the world title belt; Funk going after Arn with a chair; and Tully Blanchard trying to help Williams against the Steiners. The ref has no choice but to throw out the match, but the constant ringing of the bell does nothing to stop the carnage. When the scene finally clears out, Sting is on the mat, broken from the Torture Rack; the Steiners are laid out on the arena floor; and Funk is hurt, but pulling himself on the guard rail, daring the departing Hart army to come back and fight some more.
The following week, WCW management makes the announcement: Lex Luger will face Sting for the NWA World Heavyweight Title, at the request of Sting himself. Likewise, the Steiners, wanting another piece of Hart’s men, grant the group a tag title shot to “any two members”; Williams steps up and claims one of the two spots, but says his partner won’t be revealed until the event.
That very same show, Sting faces off against Williams again in a non-title match. Like their previous encounter, Williams and Sting take each other to the very limits of endurance. When the 20-minute time limit elapses, Williams’ friends flood the ring and start laying into the champ. Sting gets reinforcements from the Steiners and Terry Funk, resulting in another melee.
But the tide suddenly turns when Ric Flair runs down to the ring, armed with a baseball bat, and cleans house. One by one, the anti-Horsemen contingent either beats a hasty retreat or tastes wood and is summarily dumped. The return of the Nature Boy nearly blows the roof off the arena. Flair grabs a microphone and approaches Terry Funk.
“Terry Funk … you are, without a doubt, the ugliest, nastiest, meanest son of a gun I’ve had the displeasure of meeting! I don’t like you, I never have, and I never will …” Flair drops the bat and extends a hand, his histrionics suddenly disappearing in favor of a solemn tone. “But if truer words were spoken, I don’t know ‘em. Everything you said was true, Terry, everything. I couldn’t look my kids in the eyes. I couldn’t look my wife in the eyes. You know what she said to me after we saw you last week? She said ‘Pack your bags. I don’t wanna see you again. You get out, you go find The Nature Boy, and you send him home, after he beats the tar outta Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard’.” Flair sighs, noticing his hand still hanging in the air, unshaken. “Terry, this ain’t about us. This is about them. I need your help. I need your help to make ‘em pay.”
Funk regards Flair for a moment, then takes the microphone. “Flair, you’re a miserable dog, and you don’t deserve an ounce of my help or my pity.” Before the audience can turn on Funk, he adds; “But you’re man enough to come to a guy who hates your stinkin’ guts because you need the help. And as long as you remember that, that you came to me and asked for help, that you and me are in this together as equals, I’ll help put Arn and Tully and Luger and Williams in a retirement home.” Funk grabs Flair’s hand and shakes it, to the delight of the crowd. Flair turns to Sting and extends a hand; before Flair can even say anything, Sting leaves the ring without a second glance. The crowd murmurs, unsure of what to make of the company’s #1 hero walking away from an olive branch; Flair looks on, visibly upset, while Funk looks angry.
With Flair back, the Hart camp waste no time in demanding a piece of their former friend, and Flair and Funk are all too happy to accept, setting up a historic tag match for Capital Combat: Flair & Funk, teaming for the first time, against Anderson & Blanchard, the first time any combination of the participants have stood across the ring from each other. Coupled with title shots for both Dr. Death and Lex Luger, the group spends the remaining weeks before Capital Combat tormenting their opponents; matches are thrown out by a flood of interference, and wild pull-apart brawls become as commonplace as air. Any defense of the TV or US Title by the respective champions become debacles, with Hart’s army attacking challengers like a pack of crazed pirahnas; anyone that tries to challenge ends up being carted away instead of walking.
Except when it comes to Sting and Luger. While Luger does attack Sting when he gets the chance, he also tries to guilt Sting into dropping the match, saying everything can still be avoided and their friendship healed if he would just see the light and join their crusade. Sting never replies verbally, and every time he and Luger cross paths, Sting is quick to fight back and holds his own …
… but the fans of WCW, the announcers, and even fellow wrestlers, are still concerned about Sting for one reason: his constant rebuffing of Flair. Time and again, Flair and Funk come to the aid of Sting when the numbers game isn’t his favor, and every time, Sting brushes off the former champs. Flair offers contrite apologies every time a microphone is in front of his face, and Funk urges Sting to do the right thing, even if it means standing beside the wrong man, but the WCW Champion is not swayed.
A week before Capital Combat, another familiar face returns to World Championship Wrestling, observing a match between Dr. Death and Rick Steiner: Barry Windham. Immediately, the announcers speuclate on Windham and if he’s involved in the feud consuming WCW; Windham does nothing to clear up the issue, either, as he also observes matches featuring The Midnight Express, Mark Callous, Bam Bam Bigelow and Doom with the same level of interest as he does the Williams/Steiner match. Windham shrugs off an attempt by an interviewer to questions answered, save to say; “I’m doing what any good wrestler does; scouting the competition.”
The next week, 24 hours before Capital Combat, the Hart army teams up against Flair, Funk and the Steiners in an 8-man tag. The match degenerates quickly, and the ref has no choice but to throw it out as the ring is overloaded with wrestlers trading punches. Hart’s troops resort to grabbing chairs, turning the tide in their favor; before long, their rivals are left lying, the ring looking like a battlefield from a war, with bodies everywhere. As his teammates keep up the beating, Tully Blanchard grabs a microphone. “You see this? Does everybody see this? I don’t care who you are; Rock N Roll Express, Doom, Kevin Sullivan, Brian Pillman, whoever you are, take a good look. Sting, take a good, close look. When you mess with one member of the Slaughterhouse 5, you mess withevery member!”
Arn takes the microphone as Tully goes back to join Williams and Luger stomping at their victims. “Sting, you need to think about your future, and the future of your championship. You see the man behind me? Lex Luger, The Total Package. He has you in weight, in strength, and in skill. Take a good look, Sting. This is a group of men dedicated to excellence, to exerting superiority, and eliminating the weak from the herd. Ric Flair is weak, and you proved that in February. Now is the time, Sting; now is the time to step forward and take your rightful place in the Slaughterhouse 5.” Arn pauses, then adds, “And Barry … see you tomorrow.”
Our story continues as World Championship Wrestling presents Capital Combat. Gary HartÕs Slaughterhouse 5 stable is tearing a path through WCW, and, if they pull off a sweep, can control every major title in the company. Ric Flair, Terry Funk, the Steiners and World Champion Sting stand as the only bulwarks against Hart running unchecked, but trust is still an issue between them. In the midst of it all is an x-factor: Barry Windham, having just returned to WCW …
May 19, 1990: Capital Combat
With the Slaughterhouse 5 in position to take every title in WCW, and deliver a crushing blow to five of the company’s top performers, tensions run high in WCW on the evening of Capital Combat. Adding to the tension is the sudden naming of Hart’s faction; the Four Horsemen label always applied to the four active members, not James J. Dillon. With the faction now being called The Slaughterhouse 5, WCW’s announcers are forced to assume there is a fifth member … and both the recent behavior of Sting and the sudden return of Barry Windham seem to indicate possible members, neither of which are palatable.
The first of the S5′s docket is the Tag Title match. The Steiners enter the ring, looking focused, even if they have a question mark hanging above them in the form of Dr. Death’s mystery partner. Steve Williams steps through the curtains alone and stops there, drawing out the moment of reveal. Dr. Death reaches back and pulls the curtains wide, allowing his partner to step into the arena and be seen; Dr. Death relishes in the expression of shock on the faces of the Steiners as he walks the aisle with his partner, the 6’9″ monstrosity known as Sid Vicious. Together, the two overwhelm the Steiner boys by throwing the rulebook out the window and battering the champs. The ref throws out the match when Williams and Sid show no sign of even trying to abide by the rules, opting to just beat the life out of the Steiners to prove a point. The Steiners don’t go down without a hell of a fight, but in the end, Sid and Dr. Death leave the ring under their own power while the brothers need help.
Like the Steiners/S5 “match”, the match pitting Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson against Terry Funk and Ric Flair starts off as a chaotic near-riot that the referee can’t control. Somehow, the foursome end up reverting to the standard rules, although their hatred isn’t tempered one bit, and they do everything possible to bend, stretch or skirt the rules without outright disqualifying themselves. Somehow, the foursome end up falling into the normal order of a tag match, although just barely, as whoever is left standing on the apron for either time is more then ready to jump in and continue the fight. Gary Hart ends up being the difference-maker by blasting Flair in the face with pepper spray while the ref is distracted with Funk and Arn going at it tooth and nail, allowing Blanchard to get the pin. But before they can celebrate, Barry Windham explodes out of the back and knocks Blanchard’s head off with a lariat. Hart helps pull Blanchard out of the ring before Windham can do anymore damage, and gets Arn to beat a retreat from Funk before the crazy Texan can inflict injury more serious then the open wound on Arn’s head.
Before the referee can ring the bell to begin Sting’s first title defense, Lex Luger offers his former friend one more chance to pledge allegiance to the Slaughterhouse 5 and the campaign to retire Ric Flair. Sting responds with a right to Luger’s jaw, and the match is on. Surprisingly, Luger not only doesn’t resort to shortcuts, but wrestles a reserved, almost lazy match, as if no effort need be exerted. By contrast, Sting opens the throttle all the way from the opening bell. Up to the last few minutes, Luger persists in wrestling Sting with a nonchalance bordering on arrogance, as if the champ were a rookie fresh out of training. But as Sting starts to really pour on the heavy offense, Luger finds himself stuck; he needs a big offensive burst, and Sting has taken the gas out of his tank with an onslaught. Luger manages to catch what looks like a quick break when he dodges a Stinger Splash, and he goes for the Torture Rack, but Sting floats out, drops behind Luger and hits the Scorpion Deathdrop for the pin.
By the time the ref’s hand is coming down for the third hit on the mat, the rest of the S5 are on their way out like a swarm of bees. They get only a couple licks on Sting before Windham, Flair and Funk race to the ring, one-upping the S5 by brandishing chairs, ballbats and tire irons. The threesome send the S5 running thanks to their equalizers, much to the delight of the crowd. Windham signals for a microphone and gets it as Sting pulls himself off the mat.
“I came back to this company for one reason and one reason only: because this here, World Championship Wrestling, is the best wrestling organization on the face of the Earth, and nowhere am I gonna find better competition, more respect and better opportunities then right here!” The crowd applauds, but Windham gestures for them to calm down. “Please, I got something important to say, and that’s to you, Ric Flair. You–you–pushed for me becoming a Horsemen a couple years ago. You saw something in me and said I was Horsemen material. That was an honor I can never repay, but tonight, Ric Flair, I’m gonna start trying. Because the fact is, by inviting me into the Horsemen, you didn’t make me your lackey; you made me want to excel, to step it up a notch, to do everything I didbetter. Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson, if you got a problem with your time in the Four Horsemen, the first place you need to check is the mirror; maybe the sad isn’t that Ric Flair held you back, but maybe, just maybe, the success you found was as good as it was ever gonna get for you! Maybe you weren’t standing in the shadows so much as riding Ric Flair’s coattails! That’s why tonight … after once standing across the ring from that man and going to a one hour draw … and after holding up four fingers with pride … I’m proud to stand beside Ric Flair and Terry Funk and do the right thing in flushing the Slaughterhouse 5 out of World Championship Wrestling!”
Windham shakes hands with Funk and Flair, and goes to shake hands with Sting, but the champ regards him with skepticism. Windham looks Sting in the eyes, but the champ remains resolute. Before Windham can retract the hand, Terry Funk takes the microphone. “Stinger, I know better then anyone what you’re thinkin’ right now, and that’s not to trust that egg-suckin’ dog Flair any further then you can throw him. But the man has represented this company for a good part of ten years. He’s never even so much as looked at the doors and thought about slinkin’ out of town, like Tully and Arn did. And even though I just about tried to kill the man, he shook my hand anyway. Maybe you don’t owe Ric Flair a thing. Maybe you don’t care about saving his hide. But if you think they’ll stop at Ric Flair, I think you just need to think back a couple minutes and you’ll know the truth.”
Ric Flair steps forward and takes the microphone from Funk. He speaks calmly, holding out one hand in front of him the entire time. “You don’t have to like me, Sting. You don’t have to trust me. You don’t even have to respect me. You’re the champ now, Stinger; you’re the man. You can walk away and defend your belt and be a man unto himself. But if you can look yourself in the mirror–or look your little Stingers in their eyes–after walking away from a man you’ve beaten, a man you’ve proven you’re better then … if you can walk away from me and Terry and Barry and think you did the right thing for this company, then we won’t bother you ever again.”
For what feels like an eternity, Sting looks at Flair, and behind him at Windham and Funk. Finally, he takes the microphone from Flair, his eyes never leaving his old rival. “Let’s get one thing straight, Ric: the fact is, Tully and Arn are right. The Horsemen were all about you and protecting you. You kicked me out because you felt threatened by me. I think you kept them around because you knew that they knew they had a gravy train ready and waitin’ for ‘em if they didn’t rock the boat. But if there wasn’t Rolex watches and jet planes and thousand-dollar shoes in it for them, they woulda come after you like a tiger chasing a gazelle. You know it, and I know it.”
Reluctantly, Flair nods.
“And the truth is, you wanted me in the Horsemen to keep an eye on me, right?” Flair nods. “Just as I thought. So, why should I expect this time to be any different, Ric? Why should I, or Barry, or Terry, trust you at all? How can any of us be sure you won’t use us to protect yourself, and once you’re safe, you’ll throw us aside?”
When Flair can’t answer, Sting nods. “Just like I thought.” Sting tosses the microphone aside and starts to leave the ring, but the voice of Terry Funk stops him.
“There’s something you forgot, Sting. There’s a big difference between then and now.” Sting turns and comes back, asking Funk what the difference is. “Back then, Flair had something to protect, and he had something to offer for it. You know what’s in it for you now? Nothing. None of us want the fancy suits and the limos. But none of us want Gart Hart turning this company into his own little playground neither. You saw what kind of trouble Hart caused when he had me and Muta and Buzz and Dragonmaster. Look at what he has now, and what’ll happen if they get what they want.”
For a long moment, Sting considers Funk’s words. Sting crosses the ring, taking the microphone and looking Flair in the eyes from inches away. “Ric, I only want to know one thing. One thing. If the time comes when you get itchy and you wanna come back at me for this belt, are you gonna do me the decency of telling me, or are you gonna Pearl Harbor me again?”
“You’re gonna believe what you want to, Sting,” says Flair. “But I’m tellin’ you right now that if you’re man enough to stand beside me after everything that’s happened between us, I’ll return the favor.”
Sting nods. “You’re right about that, Ric,” he says … and extends a hand. “But I’m gonna give you this one last chance anyway.”
Less than a month stands between Capital Combat and the next Clash Of The Champions, to be headlined by Ric Flair and Sting teaming to face Sid Vicious and Dr. Death Steve Williams. Even before the headlining match is announced, the Slaughterhouse 5 up the ante on their hostilities against their foes, ambushing and attacking them at every opportunity.
But the foursome–whom Flair insists is not a new incarnation of the Horsemen–put up a stronger fight then any, least of all the S5, expect. And worse yet for the S5, Sting’s decision to ally himself with Flair, Funk and Windham creates a ripple effect throughout World Championship Wrestling; wrestlers in all positions on the card rally around each other to protect themselves from the threat of the company’s most dangerous group of talent. Title defenses by Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard are held under near-lumberjack rules, with virtual armies of wrestlers posting around the ringside area as well as in the aisle; the distraction is enough that, during one title defense, Arn is so distracted by the forces amassed around him, he goes to a time limit draw against Brian Pillman. When Arn slaps Pillman to the ground for daring to ask for a rematch, he seals his destiny; the championship committee books a no-time-limit rematch for Clash Of The Champions.
Stymied by the sudden uniting of World Championship Wrestling against them, Gary Hart announces the S5′s intention to take new members under their wing for tutelage. With the unity shown by WCW, nobody believes anyone to break ranks and become a subordinate to the Slaughterhouse 5; the hatred for them cuts across traditional lines.
One week after Hart’s open invitation, WCW is rocked by the sudden return of a former World Champion. As Sting is cutting an interview, the crowd suddenly gets very loud; Jim Ross and Sting turn to look down the aisle, expecting someone representing the Slaughterhouse 5. Instead, they get former champion Ricky Steamboat. JR immediately moves from Sting to Steamboat to ask the obvious.
“Well, Jim, I’ve been sitting at home for several months, and something occurred to me,” explains Steamboat. “My phone never rang.”
“I don’t follow, Ricky Steamboat,” says JR.
“Jim, when I won the NWA World Title, what happened? Immediately, the next day practically, the man I won it from, Ric Flair, had a rematch scheduled. That’s the former champion’s right. So what happened when I lost the title back to Ric Flair? Terry Funk got a shot. And I sat, waiting for the phone to ring. And it never rang, Jim. Even after Flair finished up his problem with Terry Funk, my phone didn’t ring. I’ve watched TV, and I’ve seen what’s been going on, and I realized that my phone isn’t ringing because this isn’t a get-what-you-deserve company. If I want my title rematch, I need to take it.” Steamboat turns to Sting and says matter-of-factly; “Sting, it’s nothing personal, but I’m coming for the title, and I’m doing it on July 7, at the Great American Bash.” Steamboat and Sting lock eyes for a long moment before Steamboat leaves the ring.
The sudden return of Steamboat and his invocation of his title rematch stirs up the already chaotic pot in WCW, none the least of which with the S5. Gary Hart immediately makes overtures to Steamboat, and proposes a “tryout” match at the Clash against Lex Luger; Luger bridles at being used as a tool for someone to exhibit their wares on, and promises to defeat Steamboat to show he deserves another shot at Sting. Likewise, Arn and Tully voice their concerns to Hart about bringing in Steamboat, but Hart assures them all is well.
In the final week, everyone steps up their rhetoric; Funk promises to be at ringside for Anderson’s TV Title defense and that he’ll “tear (Arn’s) head off and spit down his throat” if he crosses the line with Pillman. Luger vows to spoil Steamboat’s return and claim the #1 contendership in one fell swoop. And Ric Flair, more animated then he’s been seen in months, says Clash Of The Champions will be the start of a mission to exterminate the S5, one member at a time, and if any of the rest of the group want to get in his face, he’ll knock them into the dirt.
But the one person who keeps to himself is Ricky Steamboat … and with his words and actions on the night of his return, his silence unnerves many.
June 13, 1990: Clash Of The Champions–Coastal Crush
Arn Anderson comes to the ring, flanked by Tully Blanchard (sporting a nice suit and the United States Title over his shoulder) and Gary Hart, a snarl on his face as he awaits his challenger. Arn’s face sinks when he sees Brian Pillman step through the curtain, as he is not only escorted by his partner Tom Zenk, but also by Terry Funk, Barry Windham and the Steiners. With the threat of the S5 neutralized, Pillman relaxes and wrestles a fast-paced, high-flying match that leaves Arn’s head spinning. Hart tries to protect his client, but every time he makes a move towards the ring, he catches a glimpse of one of Pillman’s reinforcements making a move towards him, and he shrinks back. For a while, Arn puts up a good fight, grounding the young aerial specialist with his power and mat work, but the kid refuses to stay down. When Arn makes the slashing motion across his throat, Hart grins like a crocodile and the crowd deflates; Arn whips Pillman into the ropes and picks him up for the spinebuster … but Pillman hooks Arn’s head, turning it into a self-administered leaping DDT. Pillman hooks the leg and, after an exhausting 17 minutes, Pillman pulls off the unthinkable and wins the Television Title.
But no sooner has the bell rung then Tully and Hart slide in and put the boots to Pillman. Just as quick, Pillman’s back up sends Tully and Hart scrambling, while Arn gets attacked by Terry Funk. The brawl between the two spills out of the ring, and doesn’t stop until WCW officials and other wrestlers pry them apart. As everyone thinks the situation is back under control, Funk leaps out of the hands of his captors and lunges at Anderson. By the time they get Funk off Anderson, Double-A’s forehead is split open and Funk–his knuckles covered in Arn’s blood–resembles a rabid dog. Officials contain the situation and get everyone separated, even as Anderson and Funk vow to tear each other apart.
As Ricky Steamboat enters the ring for his match with Lex Luger, Gary Hart jumps in, strides over and takes Steamboat’s hand with a firm shake. Steamboat regards Hart with confusion that Hart doesn’t even notice. “I see big things ahead for you,” says Hart, and adds a “Go get ‘em, tiger!” in Steamboat’s direction before leaving. Perturbed at the slight by his own manager, Luger attacks Steamboat with an uncharacteristic ferocity. Steamboat uses Luger’s emotional state against him, luring him into mistake after mistake, until he is able to put Luger down for a three-count. As Luger pounds the mat in frustration, Gary Hart climbs back in the ring, rushes up to Steamboat and grabs his hand again. “Ricky Steamboat,” he says, “that was one fine showing you put on. I’d be proud to call you a member of the Slaughterhouse.”
Steamboat reclaims his hand, much to Hart’s surprise. “Gary Hart, I’m not interested in joining your group. I am in World Championship Wrestling to wrestle, and to once again become World’s Champion.”
“And I can get you to there, Ricky Steamboat!”
Steamboat’s reply need not even be said, with the glare he shoots at Hart. Still, he answers; “I’ll get there on my own.”
Before either can say anything more, Luger cracks Steamboat in the side of the head. Hart watches, giving Luger a glare of irritation as the former US Champ puts the boots to Steamboat. Hart finally pushes Luger off, but Luger pushes Hart away and goes back to stomping on Steamboat, until Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Sting and Barry Windham chase them away. Sting helps Steamboat to his feet, and is immediately confronted by Ric Flair, who offers a hand for shaking. “I won’t force it on ya, Rick Steamboat,” says Flair. “And I don’t expect you to like me. But I just want you to know that between us … far as I’m concerned, that’s done, and if they give you problems, you got our support.”
Steamboat eyes Flair for a minute, then looks to the other men in the ring and sees the same trust in all their eyes. More then anyone, Steamboat looks at Sting. The champ shrugs and says; “If he’s gonna be a snake and bite us, Rick, it won’t just be you. If that helps.”
Steamboat nods and shakes Flair’s hand, sending the crowd into overdrive with excitement. Together, the five leave the ring amidst a thunderous applause.
Before their match with Sid Vicious and Steve Williams, Ric Flair and Sting are interviewed by Paul E Dangerously backstage. Dangerously attempts to ask a question, but Flair snatches the microphone from his hands. “Tully Blanchard! Arn You messed with the wrong guy! You crossed the line! You wanna stomp on a kid like Brian Pillman? You and your buddies wanna beat up on people? Come beat me! Come after me! Come get some of me! Of Stinger! Of Barry Windham, and Ricky Steamboat, or Terry Funk! You’re chumps, you suck–” Flair interrupts himself, tears off his robe, throws it on the ground and stomps on it. “That’s what I think of you! You’re nothing! I wouldn’t waste spit on you! Everything you do, every dirty trick–” Flair chuckles and holds up four fingers. “Every dirty trick you do, I invented. You say you couldn’t ahead because you were a Horsemen? I say you don’t know how to be anything but a Horsemen! Look at you now! Look at you now! You’re weak, you suck, you’re pathetic, and on our worst day, me, Steamboat, Barry, Funker and Stinger, on our worst day, we’re better then you’llever be. We’re coming for you, and we’re gonna take you apart, one man at a time, starting tonight!”
Flair gives the microphone back to Dangerously, who asks Sting if he has anything to say. “Ya know, Paul, I think he just about said everything I could possibly say to them, except one thing.” Sting holds up the title belt so the camera can get a good look at it. “This here says I’m the World’s Heavyweight Champion. You know how I got this? I worked. I wrestled. Night after night. I wrestled, and I won. I didn’t complain like a kid who doesn’t get his way. I didn’t pull some trick or bully someone into it. I wrestled for it. Like Terry Funk. Like Ric Flair. Like Ricky Steamboat, and every man who’s ever worn this belt. If you want this bad enough, Tully Blanchard … Lex Luger … Steve Williams … Arn Anderson … Sid Vicious … if you think you can handle it, you gotta earn it. Or, like someone I know once said … to be the man, you gotta–WOOO!!!–beat the man!”
The duo hit the aisle like soldiers, marching towards their enemies in the ring with purpose. Sting has his jacket off in the aisle, and together, he and Flair run into the ring. Despite being out-sized and out-muscled, Sting and Flair have their opponents reeling. Flair makes liberal use of his arsenal of dirty tricks against Sid, while Sting keeps Dr. Death off balance with his explosive speed. But the rest of the S5 come out and create enough of a distraction for their stablemates to exert their will, and Flair gets powerbombed by Sid for a shocking upset loss. WCW’s locker room empties to drive away the S5, but the stand-off does little nothing to assuage the fact that WCW’s standard bearer for the past decade just got pinned.
The few weeks between the Clash and The Great American Bash have a flurry of activity, as the allied forces of WCW stand against the Slaughterhouse 5′s offensive juggernaut. No one in World Championship Wrestling is safe, as the S5 lash out at their opponents; Tully Blanchard insists he is being held back by the “old boys’ network” headed by Ric Flair, and takes it out on every wrestler he comes across. He is further enraged when WCW officials concur that Ricky Steamboat was denied a proper rematch, and is named the challenger to Sting at The Great American Bash. In a twist of logic only possible by the very delusional, Blanchard brings this back to Ric Flair during an interview following a successful US Title defense;
“A crime was perpetrated recently in World Championship Wrestling: a theft. It was done not only right under the noses of WCW management, but done so with their approval and their help! For years, Ric Flair used his connections and his status to influence match-makers and officials in this company to keep people he was afraid of out of the limelight, and he’s done it again! Because the fact is, I’ve held this US Title for almost the entire year. I beat Ric Flair six months ago, when he still held the World Championship, in a non-title match. Where’s a title shot for Tully Blanchard? I’ll ya where: buried under a mountain of corruption, and the maker of that mountain is Ric Flair! Ricky Steamboat walks into this company after almost a year off, and somehow, he gets a title shot, but I getnothing! Flair, the time has come, for both of us; I need to stop pussy-footing around and do what I said was here to do, and you need to come out from behind WCW upper management’s skirt. Ric Flair! Great American Bash! You and me, one on one, US Title. I already proved I can beat you, and now, with my gold on the line, I’m gonna do it again, and I’m gonna expose you in front of the world as a fraud, a fake who can’t stand up on his own!”
Flair is quick to accept the challenge, which, when added to grudge matches between the Steiners and Sid Vicious & Dr. Death, and Arn Anderson vs. Terry Funk, puts the Slaughterhouse 5 in three title matches. Funk and Anderson cross paths several times en route to the Bash, most notably in a tag match, with Funk partnering with Barry Windham, and Arn tagging with Lex Luger, in a wild brawl that sees Arn and Funk tear apart the ringside area to get more weapons to use on each other. Funk manages to get the upper hand with a thumb to the eye, and tries to strangle Arn with a television cable. While refs try to save Arn’s life, Luger is able to cheat his way to a pin on Windham. In a post-match interview, Gary Hart asserts that Windham has been left to twist in the wind long enough, and now it’s time to pay for spurning the Slaughterhouse 5 in May, and that the executor of justice will be Lex Luger, at The Great American Bash. Windham happily accepts, vowing to remind Luger why the Horsemen ditched him in favor of Windham by way of beating it into him.
But even though the main event doesn’t include any members of the S5, they still assert their presence in it. Tully Blanchard states his opinion to anyone who will hear it, that neither the champ (“How can you get behind a guy as champion who was dumb enough to get stabbed in the back by Ric Flair and trusts him anyway?”) nor the challenger (“How long can you coast on pinning a guy once?”) are worthy of their positions. Sid Vicious & Dr. Death, in addition to tormenting the Steiners, haunt Steamboat’s and Sting’s every move to remind them they’re being watched. On the last episode of World Championship Wrestling before the Bash, Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard team up against Sting and Steamboat; the opponents-to-be show nice teamwork, but the shared history of Double A and Tully is a formidable mountain to climb for experienced teams. Sting and Steamboat manage a comeback, but the S5 use their cunning–and reinforcements–to halt them in their tracks. With the numbers game and willingness to cheat, Blanchard and Double A get the win, with Arn pinning Sting. Flair, Windham and Funk, along with a number of other WCW stars, rush the ringside area to keep the S5 from trying their normal tactics; they leave without incident, even as Tully runs his mouth about “beating” the World Champ.
July 7, 1990: The Great American Bash
The first of the Slaughterhouse 5′s big matches for the night is the one with the most to gain–the World Tag Team Title match against the Steiners. With a couple months worth of ambushes and attacks under their belts, the Steiners release all their pent-up frustrations on Vicious & Williams; likewise, the S5 pour on the pain, fueled by a general desire to crush a team that just won’t die. In the end, the teamwork of the Steiners isn’t enough to overcome the sheer force of their opponents; a powerbomb splatters Rick Steiner, while Dr. Death keeps Scott on the outside, away from rescuing his brother. Three seconds later, Williams & Vicious are the tag champs. Sid joins Dr. Death in brawling with Scott, but Rick recovers enough to join in, and the four brawl out of sight.
Before he goes to the ring, Barry Windham is stopped by Jim Ross for a pre-match interview. “Me and Lex, we go back, JR,” says Barry. “We were partners once upon a time. But the sad fact about Lex Luger is that he doesn’t measure up. The Total Package, they call him. But the fact is, there’s nothing in the box but empty promises and unfulfilled expectations. He was supposed to be the next big thing, but every time he’s stepped up to the plate when it counts, he strikes out. That’s not Ric Flair’s fault, Lex; that’s your fault. You’re your own worst enemy. From the day you set foot in a ring, you were told you’d be a superstar, you were destined to be champ … and you bought the hype, and you got lazy. Couldn’t be Ric Flair, couldn’t beat Sting, couldn’t win at Starrcade. Now look at you: errand boy for Gary Hart. Arn and Tully are mad I wouldn’t be in their stupid club, so they send you to come take me out. Well, this is your shot, Lex. All you have to do is take this seriously. Because I promise you, I’m taking thisvery seriously.”
Once in the ring, it becomes apparent that, while Luger is giving more effort then he has been, Windham’s words are on point: Luger doesn’t press his advantages hard enough, misses obvious opportunities to close out the match, and spends too much time showing off his physique to an unreceptive crowd. The end comes when Luger lazily tries for the Torture Rack; Windham slips out and catches Luger off-guard with a lariat that almost tears his head off his well-sculpted shoulders. Three seconds later, and Windham is being announced the winner. Disgusted, Gary Hart leaves ringside, giving Windham a dirty look as he walks away. When Luger comes to and sees his manager is gone, he argues with the ref about what happened; the ref reiterates that he lost fair and square, to which Luger replies by punching the official.
The fighting between Terry Funk and Arn Anderson starts before the bell is rung, as Arn tries to get the drop on Funk during his walk to the ring. Almost seven minutes of brawling has passed before they finally get into the ring and the ref can signal the official start of the match, but if Funk and Anderson even realize it, they don’t show it. Within a couple heartbeats, the fight spills out to the floor again, wanders, comes back to the ring, and leaves yet again. The ref allows Funk and Anderson to bend the rules just about to the breaking point, but there is no rule they aren’t interested in breaking outright. When Funk blasts Anderson in the head with a steel chair, the ref has calls for the DQ, but Funk’s beating of Anderson doesn’t stop. With the crowd clamoring for Funk to obliterate Anderson, Funk points to the timekeeper’s table at ringside and makes a gesture like a piledriver; the audience explodes, this time cheering on Funk’s brutal idea. Funk drags Anderson to the table, puts him in position and, like he did a year before to Ric Flair, drops Anderson on his head, breaking the table beneath them. Funk leaves to a standing ovation, leaving Anderson to quiver and jerk in the ruins of the table.
With the S5 not having the best of nights, Tully Blanchard comes to the ring with purpose. What follows when he and Flair finally lock up is a continuation of their January match, a display of technical perfection. Counters and reversals come one after another, and with one match already between them, counters of counters are used. As the match goes on, it becomes apparent that Flair is exposing two weaknesses in Blanchard: lack of adaptability, and a temper. He uses both against Blanchard, changing up his repertoire in ways that Blanchard has trouble adapting to, leading to Blanchard getting frustrated with his own gameplan. And when Flair keeps escaping pinning predicaments or spots where Blanchard might have a shot to finish off Flair, he only gets more frustrated and leaves himself open for mistakes. With every mistake, Flair zeroes in on Blanchard’s legs, until Blanchard can barely support his own weight anymore. Flair pounces and locks on the figure four. But while Blanchard is far away from the ropes, Flair is near them; while the ref checks on Blanchard to see if he’s going to quit, Gary Hart climbs up on the apron and dumps some kind of powder in Flair’s eyes. Stunned and blinded, Flair releases the hold. Though in pain, Blanchard crawls over and covers Flair as he writhes in pain, and earns himself a tainted victory. Hart acts as if his client has won Olympic gold; Sid Vicious and Dr. Death come out to help Blanchard to the back, carrying him on their shoulders. Hart looks into the cameras and sends a warning to Sting that Blanchard’s coming for the World Championship.
Before Sting or Ricky Steamboat can come out, the ringside area fills up with a parade of wrestlers, all loyal to WCW, acting as unofficial, passive lumberjacks. They show no favoritism to either the champ or the challenger, clapping both men on the back and wishing them well as they take to the ring for their first-ever match-up. What follows doesn’t disappoint, as they work through a match unrivaled in excellence, showing superior mat work and explosive aerial maneuvers. After twenty exhausting minutes, Sting wins by dodging a top rope cross body and putting on the Scorpion Deathlock. The split crowd applauds, half happy for Sting, and half happy that the match ended squarely. Sting and Steamboat shake hands amicably as the ring fills with friends and well-wishers, and Steamboat even raises Sting’s hand in victory.
Sting then requests a microphone, and though he’s tired from his grueling match, he manages to get out his words in between breaths. “First, let me say to you, Ricky Steamboat, that was probably the hardest match I’ve ever fought, and I wanna say, anytime you wanna go again, you just say so.” Sting and Steamboat shake hands again, then Sting gets back to business. “Okay, one more thing: Tully Blanchard. For weeks, months, you’ve been running your mouth to anyone who will listen, and forcing a lot of people who don’t want to listen to you do so anyways; you’re being overlooked, you’re being buried by politics, you’re an uncrowned champion. And then you and your buddies run roughshod over everyone, as if this proves you deserve a shot. Here’s the problem, Tully; title shots aren’t Halloween candy. There ain’t no fairy godmother that’s gonna come along and make your wish come true, because, until you’ve shown you got what it takes to compete with a champ, you aren’t gonna get the matchmakers’ attention. But, frankly, hearing you week after week is getting on my nerves–”
Ric Flair steps in, putting a hand on Sting. “Then Stinger, good buddy, I got some good news for you! I spoke with upper management, and it’s already been settled–at the Clash Of The Champions on September the fifth, you don’t have to worry about hearing Tully Blanchard run his mouth, cause your opponent, in a rematch of Wrestle War, is yours truly, the Nature Boy Ric Flair!”
The surprise announcement of Ric Flair invoking his rematch clause sets off the tempers of the Slaughterhouse 5. Tully Blanchard and Gary Hart cry foul, saying the actions of WCW’s upper management, Ric Flair and Sting are an illegal conspiracy designed to keep the World Championship inside a closed circle of “corporately approved” wrestlers. Hart says he will file a lawsuit against WCW (although he doesn’t elaborate on what grounds) to stop the Sting/Flair rematch from taking place. Further evidence of the “anti-Slaughterhouse 5 conspiracy”, says Hart, is the fact that weeks later, Arn Anderson has still not received a rematch against Brian Pillman for the Television Title, and the “grueling, torturous schedule” of defenses for Blanchard and the team of Sid Vicious & Steve Williams.
When those cries go on deaf ears, Hart issues a warning to WCW and the wrestlers: “We will not be responsible for what happens next,” he says in an interview. “If WCW refuses to acknowledge our complaints, and insists to perpetrate this obvious double-standard, we will level the playing field ourselves.”
For Sid Vicious & Dr. Death, that means upping the ante against opponents. Sid and Dr. Death, whether in singles matches or together, show no regard for their opponents (not like they’d shown much before); Sid’s matches come to an end when he powerbombs opponents repeatedly, until they are limp and unresponsive. The refs in Sid’s matches, afraid for their very lives, have no choice but to award knockout victories to the towering madman. Likewise, Dr. Death lives up to his moniker, going out of his way to punish rather then defeat. After handing an especially brutal beatdown to Ricky Morton, the Rock N Roll Express challenge the tag champs; the next week, in a non-title match, they win by disqualification when they frustrate the champs so much with their seamless teamwork and dynamic double-teaming that Sid has to clobber Robert Gibson in the head with the title belt. Before Morton can be pulverized, the Steiners, Barry Windham and Ricky Steamboat come out and send the tag champs scurrying. Hart trumpets this as evidence of the conspiracy, of course, saying WCW will do anything to harass Sid Vicious & Steve Williams, including putting them up against six opponents at once, two of whom aren’t even a tag team.
Arn Anderson, Hart proclaims, is also a victim, not only of a conspiracy to keep him from a Television Title rematch, but of “an obvious, malicious bias against him”; in Hart’s opinion, the continued employment of Terry Funk, a “dangerous loose cannon” is a tacit endorsement of Funk’s “campaign of terror against my client”. Jim Ross tries to point out the obvious–that Arn attacks Funk as much as the other way around–but Hart won’t let the facts get in the way of his delusional spoutings; according to Hart, Funk is “nothing more then an ill-tempered, unrefined thug”, and that there is nothing to gain from further altercations with him. Hart says his client will focus on regaining the Television Title, and does so with surgical precision, dissecting opponents one by one in an effort to prove him worthy of facing Pillman. And to ensure there are no distractions from “unwanted parties”, Hart files a restraining order against Terry Funk, forcing him to stay 100 feet away from his client at all times. Pillman offers Arn a shot, but Hart insists he and his client will not take hand-outs, and that Arn will prove his superiority and deserving by beating opponents one at a time until WCW grants him the match.
Hart’s loudest squawking, though, is for Tully Blanchard, and that quickly gets on the nerves of Blanchard’s two targets: Ric Flair and Sting. Flair, ever the antagonist, taunts Blanchard by constantly reminding him of his title shot at the upcoming Clash Of The Champions, and how Blanchard has never had a shot. Sting–the more dignified of the two–extends an open invitation anytime, anywhere for a non-title match to see if he really has what it takes to hang with champions. Blanchard never takes him up on the offer, citing any number of ridiculous excuses.
But he lets his frustrations show in his matches, taking liberties on opponents that get him disqualified and, after a couple weeks of continued transgressions, fined monetarily. Flair continues his taunting of Blanchard, proudly admitting–in addition to his numerous world titles–to having made a career out of breaking the rules and never once having done so enough to incur fines. Blanchard gets so angry that, during a US Title defense against Tommy Rich, he tries to cripple Rich by attacking Rich’s leg with particular vengeance. With Rich laying on the mat, unable to support his own weight, Blanchard demands a microphone.
“You think you’re something special, Ric Flair? You think you’re the best there is? Pay real close attention, old man. Anything you can do, I can do better!”
With that, Blanchard locks in a figure four–pausing to mockingly do Flair’s “woo!” in mid-twist–wrenching on it so hard, Rich quits almost instantly. But Blanchard keeps it on, tightening it as hard as he can, as Rich’s anguished screams fill the arena. The timekeeper rings the bell over and over, but Blanchard ignores the ref’s warnings. He doesn’t let go of the hold until the ring announcer comes over the PA and announces that the referee has reversed his decision and awarded the victory to Rich by disqualification. Immediately, Blanchard lets go, jumps to his feet and gets in the referee’s face; the ref defends his decision, and Blanchard retorts by laying out the ref with a right hand, then piles on with a slingshot suplex.
The very next week, with Sting, Ric Flair, Barry Windham and Ricky Steamboat behind him, Jim Ross, acting on behalf of WCW management, summons Gary Hart and Tully Blanchard to the ring. The entire Slaughterhouse 5 comes out, and immediately, Hart reverts to indignant, self-righteous victim mode.
“Typical that they send you, Jim Ross,” whines Hart. “You’re nothing but a lapdog for Flair and his cronies anyway. You even got ‘em behind you right now, which just goes to show how deep this conspiracy runs! Go ahead, get on with your little dog and pony show! Go on!”
Ross glares at Hart, then clears his throat and reads from an index card. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he says in a clear, authoritative voice, “Gary Hart, Tully Blanchard … WCW upper management has decided that, based on Tully Blanchard’s refusal to bow to the rules and regulations of World Championship Wrestling, and his abuse of a WCW official in a United States Title defense, WCW has no choice but to strip Tully Blanchard of the United States Title effective immediately!”
JR’s demand for Blanchard to surrender the title belt go unheard, as the S5 explode in a cacophony of protests and yelling. Hart gets his men to be quiet, then gets in JR’s face. “This is, without a doubt, the most egregious miscarriage of justice I have ever seen! If this isn’t evidence of a conspiracy against the Slaughterhouse 5, I don’t know what i–”
Hart gets cut off by Blanchard, who lightly pushes Hart aside. He drops the belt unceremoniously at JR’s feet, then moves past him and gets in Sting’s face. “You and I know the truth, Sting,” he says in a low growl. “We know how you got Ric Flair to use his rematch clause so you could avoid facing me, because you’re afraid. We both know how you got upper management to strip me of the US Title on a bogus charge so I get bumped down the list of contenders. We know what’s going on, Sting. And if you think you’re bulletproof now, if you think you’ve managed to push me out of arm’s reach, well then, Stinger, you’re in for avery rude awakening. Ya see, that US Title, yeah, I love the gold, but what I want, what I deserve, is to be World’s Champion. Before, I didn’t care who I beat for it. Now, I’ll take great pleasure in being the man who pins your shoulders to the mat and killing the dreams of every little Stinger out there. I will consider it the greatest accomplishment in my life to beat you, Sting.”
Blanchard moves away from Sting, stopping in front of Flair for a second; he chuckles, shakes his head and says; “You’re not worth my time anymore, old man.” Flair responds by slapping Blanchard so hard, he staggers and falls through the ring ropes to the arena floor.
Hart is borderline apoplectic. “Do you have any idea what you just did, old timer! That’s the crown jewel of the Slaughterhouse 5 you just laid your hands on! You’re going to pay for that mistake with your life, Ric Flair. With your life!”
Later on that night, Hart tries to get his revenge, sending Lex Luger after Flair during a match pitting the Nature Boy against Stan Hansen; Luger’s timing is off, though, and he ends up eating a wicked lariat from Hansen, allowing Flair to surprise the burly brawler with a roll-up.
To fill the vacant US Title, a 16-man tournament is scheduled, with participants selected based on win-loss record and previous titles held, with the semi-finals and finals to commence at the Clash Of The Champions. In a move that instantly draws the ire of Hart, Tully Blanchard is purposefully excluded from the tournament, a punitive move Hart calls “criminal” and “without merit”. Nevertheless, Arn Anderson and Lex Luger are chosen from the Slaughterhouse 5, while Ricky Steamboat, Barry Windham and Terry Funk are all given berths as well. Hart promises that the Slaughterhouse 5 will bring home the gold, and if not, will make the “fake champion” pay dearly.
They get the jump on that in the first round, sticking their nose in matches whenever they can. Terry Funk’s opening round match against Butch Reed is marred by interference by Hart (since Arn doing it himself would break the TRO), but Funk is able to overcome and get to the second round. Jimmy Garvin drops his opening match to Scott Steiner, but by disqualification, as Steiner is assaulted by Sid Vicious and Steve Williams. So is Rick Steiner, but his opponent, Barry Windham, insists on restarting the match after the DQ decision is announced; Windham ends up winning anyway, but they join forces afterwards to beat back the tag champs. Arn Anderson gets past Ricky Steamboat thanks to help from Tully Blanchard and Lex Luger, but Arn’s interference backfires in Brian Pillman’s match against Mike Rotunda, and Pillman walks away the victory.
By contrast, the second round has little interference, save for one match: Arn Anderson’s brawl with Stan Hansen. Unfortunately, the interference backfires, and Anderson gets pinned off one of Hansen’s sick lariats. Anderson shakes Hansen’s hand afterwards and tells him to kill Pillman if he should get to the semis. Instead, and despite being outwrestled and not having any reinforcements, Luger pulls out a tainted victory over the TV Champ with a handful of tights. Funk dispatches of Hayes without incident, leaving only Barry Windham’s match against Scott Steiner as the last quarter-final. In that, Sid and Dr. Death attack after Windham pins Steiner, beating Windham down and using a television cable to hang Scott Steiner over the ropes until he passes out. Scott’s brother and Ricky Steamboat try to lend a hand, but get it between the eyes for their troubles. But further reinforcements come in the form of the Rock N Roll Express; with the numbers against them, Sid and Williams bid a hasty retreat.
The hanging incident eliminates Scott and Rick Steiner from challenging for the tag titles at the Clash, due to the injuries on Scott’s throat. As a result, the Rock N Roll Express slide into the lucky slot … but WCW officials pull a surprise on the tag champs and assign Rick Steiner and Ricky Steamboat as ringside enforcers. Gary Hart threatens another lawsuit and calls it a “raping of my clients’ civil rights”. Likewise, the semi-final match pitting the “criminal” Terry Funk against Barry Windham gets protests from Gary Hart, declaring that WCW is fixing the tournament to ensure a member of the S5 has no chance of winning.
Finally, after weeks, Hart’s diarrhea of the mouth gets to be too much, and during one of his long-winded rants, Sting and Ric Flair interrupt. Hart doesn’t skip a beat, showing no fear as two of his most powerful enemies converge on him, alone.
“Ahh, it’s the puppet of WCW himself, and the man who pulls his strings,” says Hart. “To what do I owe the dishonor of being interrupted by the two of you?”
Flair steps up, looking almost excited. “Gary Hart! Woo! For a year now, you’ve run your mouth! You get goon after goon after goon, and what does it getcha? How many times have you come after The Nature Boy, huh? I’m still here, tubby! I’m still here, and nobody you can hoodwink to do your dirty work is gonna get rid of me! Diamonds are forever, and so’s Ric Flair!” Flair punctuates that with a “woo!” in Hart’s face.
Hart wipes some spittle off his face and turns to Sting. “Do you have anything slightly more intelligent to add, Sting?”
“Oh, yeah, I do,” says Sting. “When you’re not sending your foot soldiers after people, you’re running your mouth about conspiracies and plots and bias. Gary Hart, it’s real simple: none of your guys have what it takes to get the job done. You know why guys like Arn and Tully never got a shot at the big time? Because they never had what it took to get there in the first place! Me and Ric Flair may not have a lot in common, but the fact is, Gary Hart, that he busted his butt and he earned every title shot he got by being one of the best champions this company’s ever had. Maybe the best. But men like Tully and Arn … well, some guys just aren’t cut from the same cloth. Now if you wanna see your clients get the best treatment, get them to put forth their best effort. But the fact is, Ric Flair is owed a rematch, Ric Flair deserves a rematch, and he’s been nothing but above board about getting one.”
Flair and Sting are about to leave when Hart stops them both with two words:
Even with Flair advancing on him, warning him to shut up, Hart continues on. “Has he, Sting? How above board was it for him to surprise you with the news a couple minutes after barely beating Rick Steamboat? Since when have Ric Flair and ‘above board’ even been acquainted, let alone be synonymous with each other? Or was it someone else who beat the tar out of you back in February because you dared ask for a title shot? Ric Flair is everything but an honorable man, Sting. The fact that he swooped in and stole the title shot from the rightful contender, Tully Blanchard, is only one of his crimes, but it’s indicative of a pattern of behavior; the man lives only for his own gratification. If he beats you at the Clash Of The Champions, mark my words, Sting, he will do you no favors anymore. He won’t have your back, he won’t come to your aid; he will leave you to twist in the wind. And then there’s the likelihood that he’s already made a deal with some devil to win at the Clash.”
Flair grabs Hart by the lapels and yanks him close. “Punk, I will punch every one of your teeth down your throat if you don’t shut up–”
“See, Sting? Look how defensive he is! He doesn’t want you to hear the truth, Sting, but I do! Ask him how far he’s willing to go to get the World Title! Better yet, don’t ask–you’ve seen him and what he’s done to people who stood in his way! What makes you think you’re any different then them?”
The words hit Sting like a slap in the face. Flair lets go of Hart and turns to Sting. “Stinger, you know this snake’d say anything to get under your skin. Don’t let him get in your head.”
“He’s right, Ric,” Sting says matter-of-factly. “You would do anything to get this back. If one thing is for sure about Ric Flair, it’s that his life revolves around the World Championship, and that he’d move Heaven and Earth to get it when he doesn’t have it, and keep it when he does.”
Flair never gets the chance to answer, as Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson run down to the ring and go after Sting and Flair. Like every encounter between the two camps, more S5 members come out, and more WCW partisans come out to rally against the S5. But when the smoke is cleared, Sting and Flair don’t stand side by side; the champ walks away, looking at Flair with a suspicious glare.
September 5, 1990–Clash Of The Champions–Fall Brawl
The first two semi-final matches open up the September edition of the Clash, leading off with Lex Luger versus Stan Hansen. Luger opens the match with his of-late normal, egotistical laziness, and gets a quick wake-up call when Hansen just about kills him. Quickly, Luger reassesses his gameplan and plays a more pragmatic game, trying to lure the lumbering beast into mistakes Luger can exploit … but every few seconds, Luger also throws a glance to the stage, expecting something–namely, reinforcements–that just doesn’t arrive. Left to his own devices, Luger has to rely on cunning and deception to trap Hansen, getting a fluke pin on a roll-up with a handful of tights and his feet on the ropes. Hansen, who had been owning Luger from bell to bell, doesn’t take kindly to being screwed by an inferior opponent, and proceeds to pound the living daylights out of Luger until officials intervene. By then, Luger can’t walk on his own and has to be helped to the back.
The second semi-final pits two friends against each other, Terry Funk and Barry Windham. With Sid Vicious and Steve Williams in the building and none too fond of Windham, Ricky Steamboat stands at ringside, in a neutral corner, as a sort-of enforcer. Sid and Williams do make an appearance, but they watch from the aisle, alongside Arn Anderson, as Funk and Windham engage in an old fashioned, Texas-style bar fight. In the end, Funk is able to secure the win with a piledriver; the tag champs start to make a move, but Steamboat quickly jumps in the ring and directs the attention of Funk and Windham to the stage. Reluctantly, they retreat, leaving Funk and Windham to shake hands.
The next time the tag champs appear, it is to defend their titles against the Rock N Roll Express. The veteran Express team unloads every trick in their extensive arsenal against the champs, but the size and strength differential is too much for Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson to overcome. A Sid powerbomb turns Gibson into goo, and Morton gets annihilated by Dr. Death’s Oklahoma Stampede, leading to the victory. But as they pick up their defeated opponents to inflict more punishment, the Steiners stop them, sending them packing with steel chairs. Sid and Dr. Death leave so quick, they forget their belts; Rick and Scott grab the belts, hold them up and challenge the champs to come get the titles at Halloween Havoc in a double dog collar match. Sid and Williams demand their belts back, but leave ringside without answering the challenge.
While Terry Funk enters the ring for the US Title finals tired but physically okay, Lex Luger’s injuries cannot be hidden; he steps gingerly, and when they lock up, the soreness of his chest from the multiple Stan Hansen lariats hampers his ability to do anything with his arms. Luger tries to fight through it, showing much more offensive intentions then he did at any other point in the tournament, but the injury makes it too difficult; Funk is able to capitalize time and again, leaving Luger to look for help that doesn’t show up. Somehow, Luger finds the will to string together enough offense to try the Torture Rack, but his body is too worn down, and Funk is able to drop out and nail Luger with a piledriver. Three seconds later, Terry Funk makes history, winning the vacant United States Championship for the second time in his long career, 14 years and 10 months since his first reign. Funk dedicates the win to his wife and kids, and says that he’ll defend the title anytime, against anyone, under any conditions, even against “a gutless, yellow sack of crap like Arn Anderson”. He then adds, smiling; “But since I can’t get near him cause of his stupid little piece of paper, I guess that ain’t gonna happen.”
The main event, which had been a scheduled as a pristine meeting of peers over the richest prize in the company, bows with the air of suspicion; Ric Flair offers a handshake, but Sting responds with only an icy stare. When it becomes apparent Sting is wrestling a hard-hitting, more-then-friendly-competition match, Flair has to up his game to keep up. At times, Sting’s behavior looks to be not only offensive, but designed to antagonize Flair into tipping his hand; frustratingly for Sting, Flair never dips into his well of dirty tricks.
And then Gary Hart strolls down to ringside, making sure Sting sees him. The sight of the rotund manager incenses Sting, and he shows a side never before seen of the Stinger: actual, unheroic rage. Sting ends up backing Flair into a corner, wailing on him with wild punches as Flair ducks and covers. The ref tries to break it up, and in his anger, Sting’s wild swinging clocks the ref on the jaw, knocking him out. As soon as the ref hits the mat, Hart gives the signal and Tully Blanchard runs in. The crowd boos as Blanchard goes after Sting, while Flair is slumped in the corner. When Sting starts to fight back, Hart panics and calls for reinforcements; his face drops when Lex Luger comes out. Luger climbs in and goes for a clothesline, but he connects with Blanchard, sending him up and over the top rope. Flair tosses Luger out, turns around and falls into a small package by Sting, only for the ref, groggy but awakening, to signal for the bell. The official word is a disqualification against Sting for striking the ref. Flair rolls out of the ring and chases Luger, while Sting drops out and goes after Blanchard as the show ends.
Immediately following their disastrous showing at Clash Of The Champions: Fall Brawl, the Slaughterhouse 5 push their campaign for domination of WCW through both words and actions.
First on the agenda for Gary Hart and his men is internal business, chief among them Lex Luger and his failures not only in the United States Championship tournament, but also his hitting Tully Blanchard with a clothesline. Hart calls a “group meeting” on the first episode of World Championship Wrestling after the Clash to air the dirty laundry.
“When this group was assembled, specific goals were laid out, and every man in it had a role,” says Gary Hart. “Sid and Steve were picked to be our two-man wrecking crew. Arn Anderson, you’re dependable in your role as the enforcer. Tully, our MVP, the crown jewel of the Slaughterhouse 5. But you, Lex … lately, I’m having trouble seeing exactly where you fit in. We can’t count on you to win the big matches … you screw up simple things like clotheslines … you couldn’t even beat Terry Funk! The guy’s gotta be sixty-five!”
“Ya know, Gary Hart, I’ve been thinking about that too,” says Luger. “And you know what I came up with? Sting. You thought having me would bring him into your group. You didn’t care about my career; you just wanted Sting on your side! All I was was a means to an end! And since I couldn’t deliver that, you couldn’t care less about Lex Luger. Where was the reinforcements when Stan Hansen was beating the snot outta me? Where was your leadership when Terry Funk beat me? Or when I faced Barry Windham? Or at any point in time since Sting beat me, huh?”
“Lex, the fact is, we appreciate your efforts, we really do. But the fact is, there are some members of the Slaughterhouse 5 who produce results, and there are some who don’t. In the past several months, you haven’t been one of the guys producing results. Not the results we expect, anyways. So I’ve had to shift my primary focus to other, more sound investments, until you … well, until you’re able to show me a reason why I should invest the same amount of time in you that I do Tully.”
Luger, with no real justifiable argument to that retort, quietly backs down, letting Hart get back to the rest of the Slaughterhouse 5′s business. Hart’s second issue is his tag champs, Sid Vicious and Steve Williams, who he insists are being “persecuted” by “madmen” (Rick & Scott Steiner) and “unqualified chumps” (Ricky Steamboat and Barry Windham) who have no business chasing them in the first place. To that end, Hart, on behalf of his clients, puts out a challenge to Windham and Steamboat for a week hence in a non-title match, to prove not only why Vicious and Williams are the most dominant team in the industry, but why Windham and Steamboat don’t even belong in the same arena with them. The subject of the Steiners’ challenge to a dog collar match at Halloween Havoc is all but ignored, save when Hart says his clients are “not animals”, even if they fight like them.
The final issue is the “crown jewel”, Tully Blanchard; he and Hart go on their usual tirade about a glass ceiling, politics, Ric Flair and upper management. Blanchard and Hart vow to rally like never before and “storm the ivory towers of WCW” if it takes that to get Blanchard a shot at Sting and the World Championship. Blanchard promises specifically to bring the fight to Sting if he won’t step up and accept the challenge (or if he “hides behind the skirt of upper management”), saying Clash Of The Champions was just a taste of what’s in store.
The only thing that goes unmentioned and unaddressed is Arn Anderson and his unsettled issue with the new United States Champion Terry Funk. In a singles match later on that show, Anderson, after soundly beating his opponent, looks into the camera and says the beating is what he’d love to do to Funk if it weren’t for the TRO.
The following week, Lex Luger gets a crack at TV Champ Brian Pillman. For the first time in seemingly months, Luger wrestles with purpose, punishing the young high-flier with precision strength-based attacks. But in his anger-driven determination to prove his worth, he makes a mistake and Pillman is able to catch him with a tornado DDT for the victory. After the loss, Luger goes off on a tirade, blaming his loss on years of being made to feel inadequate by the fans, at the behest of Ric Flair, sapping his confidence in himself. Everything, he says for what seems like the millionth time since December, is Flair’s fault, and he’s tired of living in the shadows. Luger then throws down a challenge to Flair: a thirty-minute Iron Man match for Halloween Havoc, a chance to finally step out of the shadows and ascend to his rightful place on top of WCW.
That same night, the non-title tag match between the champs and Ricky Steamboat & Barry Windham goes down. The lack of tag experience does hamper Steamboat and Windham, and the champs are able to exploit it on several occasions. But the superior athleticism of Windham and Steamboat comes shining through, and Dr. Death ends up submitting to a double chicken wing from Steamboat while Windham takes care of Sid on the outside. As Vicious & Williams beat a retreat, Steamboat & Windham lay out their own challenge for Halloween Havoc. This doesn’t sit well with the Steiners, who come out the next week and say that, with all due respect, Steamboat and Windham need to get in line.
Standing in sharp contrast to the other champions is Terry Funk, who, rather then waits for challengers to be named or, like the tag champs, ducks credible contenders, seeks out challengers. Three weeks in a row, Funk comes out and offers a shot to whomever has the stones to come to the ring and beat up an old man. And three weeks in a row, Funk dispatches with his challenger. After that third victory, Funk takes to the microphone.
“Ya know, I love the fact that I’m restorin’ some pride back to this title,” he says, “but there’s a guy that, for the past three weeks, I keep expectin’ to come through them curtains, and so far, he ain’t done it, and I figure that’s cause he’s a yellow, gutless jackass, and that’s Arn Anderson. The spineless dog’s been hidin’ behind that cueball Gary Hart’s skirt and his silly little piece of paper, and not once have I come near him. Well, Arn, see, now maybe you’ll get the guts, now that I got something you want. See, I’m willin’ to put it all on the line; you and me, one more time, one last time. You beat me, you’re the United States Champ, and I’ll do you just like I did Flair and shake the hand of the better man. Just tear up that stupid piece of paper, Arn, and meet me at Halloween Havoc. If you’re better then Flair like you say you are, then you can do what he did and step in the ring with me.”
The following week, a number of situations come to a head, starting with Funk’s challenge to Arn Anderson. Gary Hart meets Funk in the ring to tell him that Arn will only agree to it on two conditions: that it will, indeed, be the last time the two meet, regardless of the outcome, and that it be a street fight. No sooner does Funk agree to the conditions then Arn and Tully come from behind and pound Funk into the ground. Sting and Flair run off the S5, and Sting grabs a microphone afterwards.
“For months, fans of WCW, and even the boys back in the back, have called on me, looked to me and said ‘Stinger, take ‘em out’. ‘Cut off the dragon’s head,’ they said. I kept telling myself this wasn’t my fight, this wasn’t my problem, I’m the champ. I stood by Ric Flair not to be the general, but to be support.” Sting looks at Flair, who is helping Funk get to his feet. “I guess I can’t afford to do that anymore. Not when I see men like Terry Funk getting attacked after he stands up like a man, like a champion, and gets his head beat in for it. Not when I see guys getting taken out of here on stretchers just cause they drew the short straw and wound up facing one of the Slaughterhouse 5.” Sting raises his head and looks at the camera, his eyes cold and lethal. “Everyone keeps looking at me to stand up for WCW; well, I am WCW!” Sting raises the title belt in the air. “This belt makes me the face of World Championship Wrestling, and as of now, Gary Hart, you and your cronies have worn out your welcome! You think you’re ready for the big time, Tully Blanchard? You want your shot? You got it! Halloween Havoc! You get your chance, Tully; put your money where your mouth is!”
Later that evening, the tag champs tangle in a non-title match against two young wrestlers. Vicious and Williams run roughshod over them, and set about their normal post-match abuse of the fallen. The Steiners come to the rescue of the poor youngsters, running off the champs. In the aisle, they bump into Ricky Steamboat and Barry Windham, with whom they trade fisticuffs until the champs beat another retreat, all the way out of the arena. As Steamboat and Windham stand in the aisle, looking on as Sid and Dr. Death run like scalded dogs, the Steiners walk up behind them. Steamboat and Windham turn around and come face to face with the Steiners. For what seems like forever, they do nothing but stare at each other. Scott Steiner starts talking trash; Windham does the same. Suddenly, the tensions erupt, and they start punching away at each other until they’re pulled apart by referees and officials.
Gary Hart immediately pounces on the situation and posits that there’s no way for both teams to get a shot, so they cancel each other out. But instead of getting them both pushed to the bench, Hart’s comments prompt management to book a match between the Steiners and Windham & Steamboat for Halloween Havoc, with the winner to meet the champs at the next Clash Of The Champions on November 20th. Hart protests the decision, calling it a travesty and evidence of the ongoing conspiracy.
The final pieces of the Halloween Havoc puzzle fall into place when Flair and Blanchard accept the challenges put forth by Luger and Sting. Blanchard accepts the title shot eagerly, promising to claim his destiny once and for all by ending Sting’s “reign of tyranny”; to emphasize the point, he wrestles a match against a prelim worker dressed up and painted to look just like the champ. Blanchard makes short work of him and even goes so far as to beat the poor kid with Sting’s Scorpion Deathlock.
Flair, meanwhile, doesn’t bother with theatrics; he comes out and tells Luger exactly what he thinks of him, saying “the only reason you ain’t achieved greatness like the Nature Boy isn’t my fault, jack; it’s cause to achieve greatness, you gotta be great in the first place, and buddy, you’re a joke! A fraud! A two-bit muscle-head who’s got more excuses then he does talent!”
The last week before Halloween Havoc, Luger has a chance to get some momentum, facing Sting in a non-title match, but his over-confidence once again exposes him one too many times. Sting gets the submission victory over Luger due to Luger’s mistakes. Luger leaves the ring and is immediately accosted by Gary Hart, who tells Luger the whole world, especially Ric Flair, is laughing at him. Tully Blanchard comes out and tells Luger that if he wants to keep his butt out of the fire, he better put away Ric Flair, just like he’s going to do to Sting. With that, Sting comes up behind him and lays in on him. Hart orders Luger to save Blanchard, but Luger waves it off and walks away as Sting makes Blanchard scream with pain in the Scorpion Deathlock.
October 27, 1990: Halloween Havoc
A last-minute World Tag Title defense is added, much to the consternation of Gary Hart, pitting Sid Vicious and Dr. Death against Doom. While the pair are a formidable tag team, Vicious and Williams don’t have much trouble getting past them for a successful defense. They remind the crowd of their victory when they come out to sit in on commentary during the Steiners/Windham & Steamboat match. Both teams get in the faces of the champs as they approach the ring to begin the match; the nearby security leaps into position, ready to pull apart any brawls that might erupt, but the situation diffuses itself.
Once the action begins, though they keep everything above board, they spare nothing against each other. Vicious and Williams unwittingly show a little apprehension at how competitive the two teams are, but try to cover it up with bravado. The evidence in the ring, though, is more then enough to convince any skeptic that the reign of Williams and Vicious is likely in jeopardy, no matter who wins. When the match’s time limit of 20 minutes has elapsed without a winner, the crowd boos until the ring announcer says there will be a five-minute sudden-death extension so there can be a winner. As soon as the bell rings, they fight like they’re fresh from the showers, as Vicious and Williams watch with obvious growing concern. When the two teams run through the extra period without a decision, Vicious and Williams leave the announce table, enter the ring and attack, using their belts as bludgeons. With the assistance of the hardware and being fresher, Vicious and Williams manage to put the Steiners, Windham and Steamboat on their backs. When the champs leave, their two rival teams are out cold; the ref has no choice but to declare the match a draw, thereby anointing no one the #1 contenders.
With the hostilities between Terry Funk and Arn Anderson over the prior months, it surprises no one that their street fight starts (in every way but officially) in the back halls. The brutality is unlike anything ever seen before in WCW, as they use everything they can find in their environment, including the environment, to draw blood and break bones. Almost 10 minutes of uncompromising violence have passed by the time they finally get in the ring and the ref rings the bell, although it is just a formality at that point. Anderson dents a chair with how many times he clubs Funk, but the champ won’t stay down. Somehow, Arn kicks out after being piledriven on the timekeeper’s table, although just barely. The finish comes when Anderson finds a glass jar and shatters it on Funk’s head, then hits a spinebuster into the broken shards. The ref makes the count, and Arn Anderson captures his first United States Championship. The crowd doesn’t like the end, but applauds when Funk, bleeding and exhausted, pulls himself up to his feet and limps up to Anderson to live up to his word. Anderson considers it for a minute, then relents and gives Funk a very brief handshake before leaving.
On the way to the back, Missy Hyatt catches Arn, congratulating him on his victory, and then drops a bombshell. “Arn Anderson, I have it on very good authority that after the match you just had, you may be the next man to get a shot at the World Champion!”
Anderson’s eyes go wide for a moment as he considers the situation. “I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, Missy,” he says and unexpectedly walks off.
After Ric Flair and Lex Luger are announced, but before the ref can signal the timekeeper to ring the bell, Ric Flair grabs the microphone. “Lex Luger! I am tired of hearing you complain about me holding you back! Tonight, it’s your big chance, Lex! Your big shot! And I’m gonna make it easy on you!”
With that, Flair throws the microphone and lays down, then yells at Luger, ordering him in take the free pinfall. Luger looks from Flair to the ref, who shrugs, then back to Flair, questioning what Flair’s plan is. Instead of taking the pin, Luger stomps on Flair, and the ref signals for the match to start. Luger’s advantage only lasts a little while, as Flair soon counters all of Luger’s offense and dictates the pace. Luger gets a shot at a decision at the ten minute mark with a Torture Rack attempt, but Flair falls behind, schoolboys Luger, and somehow keeps Luger’s shoulders on the mat for three, putting the score at 1-0. Enraged, Luger throws all finesse out the window and uses his strength advantage to just pound Flair into the mat. A couple minutes later, he gets Flair in the Torture Rack, and Flair submits, tying the score at 1.
But instead of wrestling smart, Luger chases the go-ahead point, and makes enough mistakes to allow Flair to come back. As soon as he sees an opening, Flair goes after Luger’s knee, thus beginning a methodical, surgical dissection. Luger wisely rolls out of the ring and does as much stalling and evading as he can, but Flair keeps coming like a shark smelling blood in the water. When Luger rolls back in, Flair is right there and slaps on the figure-four. Luger fights the pain as long as he can, then manages to pull reach the ropes. Flair breaks, then comes after Luger, hits a shinbreaker, and reapplies the hold in the middle of the ring. With time ticking away, Luger tries to hold on, but the pain becomes too much to bear, and he has to submit. No sooner has the timekeeper struck the bell to signal Flair’s 2-1 lead then he hits it again for the end of the match. Flair leaves ringside, hooting and hollering and calling for champagne, leaving Luger in the ring by himself, lamely standing on one foot, head down on a turnbuckle. He never hears or sees Gary Hart enter the ring, and doesn’t turn when he starts talking.
“You’re pathetic, Luger,” spits Hart. “He gives you a free decision and you stomp on him? What the hell kind of performance was that? If you think you’re the low man on the Slaugherhouse 5 totem pole, you don’t have to look any further then the egg you just laid, boy.”
Luger stands upright, turns around, hobbles over to Hart and grabs him by the lapels. Before Luger can so much as breathe on Hart, he’s torn off the rotund manager by Stan Hansen and clotheslined to Hell and back. With Hart calling for blood, Hansen destroys Luger, finishing off with a blast to the head with the ring bell. Luger has to be carried out on a gurney by medics, his head pouring blood from the impact with the bell.
Backstage, before the main event, Gary Hart and Tully Blanchard (accompanied by Stan Hansen) are met up with Paul E. Dangerously for a pre-match interview. Dangerously asks the obvious question about Luger and Hansen. Hart heartily laughs. “Little man, did you see what happened? Then you know all there is to tell,” says Hart. “The Slaughterhouse 5 took out the trash tonight, that’s what happened. Lex Luger was an anchor, and now, with Stan Hansen on board, we can focus on the goals at hand, and that’s making Tully Blanchard the new NWA World’s Champion.”
“There’s rumors going around about maybe, with Arn Anderson’s big win tonight, they may look to Double-A as the next #1 contender. Any thoughts on what might happen if that turns out to be the case, and Tully Blanchard wins the World Title tonight?”
Blanchard takes Dangerously’s hand and pulls the microphone over to him. “Look, tubby, the fact is, Arn’s a champion already. What does he need to go chasing another belt for, when he has one already? Besides, he’s always been an honorable champion, and he’s not gonna let himself get distracted going for something he can’t get–cause, let’s face it, once I win it … come on. I’m bulletproof! He’s smart enough not to waste his time like that.”
“Are you saying he can’t beat you?”
“Well, ye–no! I’m not saying–no, that’s not–you’re putting words in my mouth! That’s–”
Hart puts a hand over Blanchard’s mouth and leans in to talk into the mic. “This interview is over.” Hart, Hansen and Blanchard walk away as Blanchard mutters in frustration over Dangerously’s questions.
In the ring, Sting shoots his challenger a grim, fierce glare, very un-like the Sting fans know and love. As soon as the bell rings, Sting is all over Blanchard, looking to put him away early and definitively. Blanchard acquits himself ably, but the storm is not easily weathered, and he has to dive out of the ring a couple times to get away from Sting’s relentless onslaught. And distractions by Hart do nothing to stop Sting’s laser-like focus of shutting up Blanchard, as Sting brushes them off and goes right back after his opponent.
But eventually, Blanchard is able to stop Sting when he ducks out of the way on a Stinger splash. Blanchard slows down the pace, methodically picking apart Sting without having to resort to dirty tricks. On a couple of occasions, Sting gets desperation roll-ups, but Blanchard is able to get back on his game plan. But Sting refuses to stay down, and even kicks out of Blanchard’s trademark slingshot suplex. Frustrated, he rolls out of the ring and talks strategy with Hart, then rolls back in, only to be surprised by a roll-up. Blanchard kicks out, but the time spent on the outside was too much, and Sting starts to show signs of life. Sting and Blanchard trade throws and slams, neither getting an advantage, until Blanchard tries for another slingshot suplex; Sting reverses, turns around and hits the suplex on Blanchard, then locks on the Scorpion Deathlock. Blanchard claws and tries to pull Sting towards the ropes.
As Blanchard weathers the pain, Gary Hart jumps up behind the ref’s back and uncovers one of the turnbuckles. Blanchard makes it to the ropes and Sting has to break the hold. As soon as Blanchard is on his feet, Sting is on him, swinging wildly; Blanchard rope-a-dopes to the exposed corner, then takes a couple hits and plays possum. Stinger backs up, runs in for a Stinger splash, and Blanchard moves out of the way; Sting bounces off the exposed steel, out cold before he hits the mat. Blanchard jack-knife pins him and puts his feet on the ropes for insurance. The ref doesn’t see it as he makes the count, and three seconds later, Tully Blanchard is announced as the new NWA World Heavyweight Champion. The crowd rains down their hatred as Hart and the rest of the S5 fill the ring to celebrate; Hansen and Dr. Death lift Blanchard up on their shoulders and parade him around the ring.
And Arn Anderson watches from the corner, arms crossed.
With four members of the Slaughterhouse 5 holding gold, suddenly, the most feared stable in the company becomes the bulls-eye everyone wants a shot at. And, naturally, the whining and crying of conspiracy by Gary Hart and his soldiers becomes a broken record with the volume knob stuck at max.
The controversial non-ending to the #1 contendership match for the Tag Titles is resolved on the first episode of WCW programming after Halloween Havoc. Much to the dismay of the champs, destroying their two rival teams and getting the match thrown out backfires, as management awards title shots to both teams; for the Steiners, the wait is only as long as the next Clash Of The Champions, on November 20th. For Ricky Steamboat and Barry Windham, they wait until Starrcade, but get the guarantee that no matter who are the champions come December, their title shot is guaranteed. Vicious and Williams react by proceeding to interfere in matches that neither they nor their rivals are involved in, obliterating everyone standing and running at the first sight of any of their future challengers.
But for all the chaos created by the tag champs and their challengers, it doesn’t hold a candle to the firestorm that erupts in the wake of Tully Blanchard’s capturing of the World Heavyweight Title. Everybody has something to say, and a way to plead a case for themselves to get the coveted spot of challenger to Blanchard; from former champions saying they deserve a shot because of their former status, to young and hungry lions looking to get a notch on their belt, the line of people looking to knock Blanchard off the mountain is virtually endless. Blanchard himself isn’t helpful at all, with him running down every challenger as undeserving (Flair is “yesterday’s garbage”, Funk is “one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel”), overrated (Sting, who he says was “a kid dressing up in daddy’s clothes, and I stripped him to his skivvies in front of the world”) or so far out of contention as to not be taken seriously (like Luger, who “makes World Championship Wresling look like a bush league by keeping him on the roster”). When he’s asked about Arn Anderson being considered as a challenger, Blanchard brushes it off, saying that “Arn knows all he has to do is ride alongside me, and he’ll get everything he could ever want outta life. There’s nothing to gain by taking the jewel out of the crown, and Arn knows that.”
But despite the lofty opinions of the champion, a challenger is needed, and instead of picking out someone based on achievement, position or reputation, World Championship Wrestling books a 20-man over-the-top battle royal for the next Clash, with the winner getting a shot at Blanchard at Starrcade. At first, Blanchard doesn’t betray a drop of sweat over the list of participants: people like the members of Doom, Tom Zenk, Cactus Jack … guys with big dreams and small resumes. Luger puts in his bid, and Stan Hansen is a step behind, saying he’s in for nothing more then to crush Luger.
When the heavy hitters start putting their name in the kitty, Hart and Blanchard start to show a little worry; Steamboat, Windham and Funk are all legit threats, but they find ways to dismiss the dangers should one of them win. The mention of Ric Flair makes Blanchard laugh, as he points out how many times he’s beaten Flair in the past year … but the laughter is nervous and twittery. Hearing Sting has entered gives them nervous shudders.
But when Arn Anderson himself tells Blanchard that he’s entered the battle royal, all hell breaks loose. Blanchard and Hart immediately, but politely, ask Anderson to renounce his berth for someone else, insisting that they “have a good thing going here” and Anderson entering it for any reason other then the protection of the S5′s interests will “rock the boat”.
“We already rocked the boat, Tully,” says Arn. “We rocked it until it sank in Feburary, when you convinced me to stab a good friend in the back because we’d be better off without him. We rocked the boat when we left this company in the first place, an idea you convinced me of. You said it yourself when we put this together, that this was about us proving to ourselves, and to the world, we had what it took to stand on our own two feet, as our own men, not justHorsemen. But what I’m beginning to see is that maybe this wasn’t about us drawing a line in the sand for ourselves, but you working everyone, even good friends, to get what you wanted. If we’re in this together, like you said we were eight months ago, you’ll look me in the eyes and tell me the truth; not your truth, but the truth, that we, as friends, can compete for the same prize and not let it get between us.” Blanchard stalls and ends up giving Anderson a weak handshake, but glares at him behind his back, a glare that Anderson unknowingly returns in kind when Blanchard isn’t looking.
In the remaining weeks before the Clash, wrestlers in the battle royal look for any way they can to score a psychological or physical advantage over the other 19 guys. Stan Hansen haunts Lex Luger’s every move, taking every chance he can find to soften up Luger and kill his chances. Sid Vicious and Steve Williams tussle with Ricky Steamboat and Barry Windham, both being among the final entrants in the battle royal. Ric Flair and Terry Funk don’t wait for the S5 to come to them; Williams, Vicious, Hansen and Anderson are all in the crosshairs of Funk–armed with his trusty branding iron–and Flair–brandishing a crowbar. With every member knocked out by the steel reckoning of Funk and Flair, the duo serve warning to Tully Blanchard: he’s next.
One week before the Clash, Sting and Anderson are put against each other in a non-title match. Arn comes to the ring without any accompanyment, even Gary Hart. Over the course of 20 amazing minutes, he and Sting trade offense in a tight, competitive match, with Anderson keeping on the right side of the rules the entire time. Over the 20 minutes, Sting and Double-A trade offense equally, all the way to the time limit. Sting comes to the center of the ring and offers a hand; reluctantly, Anderson shakes it, but only a little before leaving the ring in a huff. Right behind the curtain, Anderson finds Gary Hart and gets right in his face.
“Where were you?” Anderson asks flatly, his tone screaming that BS excuses will not be tolerated.
“Arn, we gotta watch over Tully! Flair and Funk are in the arena … they got their weapons … think of what would happen if those lunatics got to Tully! This company can’t keep going without the world champion! The Slaughterhouse 5 can’t keep going without him! I gotta protect the crown jewel!”
“So you’re saying me, the United States Champion, isn’t worth jack, and can’t carry this group on his shoulders. That’s what you’re saying.”
But Arn has already turned on his heels and walked away.
Nov. 20, 1990: Clash Of The Champions–Thanksgiving Thunder
Before the World Tag Team Title match can begin, the ring announcer drops a surprise on the teams: the announcement of Barry Windham and Ricky Steamboat as special ringside enforcers. Sid Vicious and Steve Williams blow a gasket as the duo walks up the aisle and stops where the aisle meets the ringside area, dressed in street clothes and holding baseball bats. With the enforcers there, the champs are met with a brick wall when they try to take a cheap count-out loss to keep their titles. At one point, Sid Vicious tries to intimidate the enforcers, but when Windham and Steamboat drop their bats and still stand toe-to-toe with the towering madman, Vicious backs off.
Inside the ring, the champs find the Steiners to be no less of a problem than Windham and Steamboat. Even their brute strength advantage is nullified by the fury with which the Steiners wrestle, as if a divine force is behind them, pushing them to a destiny. Every advantage they can get ahold of–usually by less than honest means–slips through their fingers as the Steiners exert their will, dictating the pace of the match almost unimpeded. Gary Hart, in his clients’ corner, is impotent to help his charges with Windham and Steamboat mere feet away, watching; all he can do is watch as the Steiners counter, confound and overwhelm the reigning champions. When Rick Steiner has Dr. Death in a pinning predictament, Hart leaps up on the apron and throws one of his shoes at the ref. The ref goes over to argue with Hart, but before he can signal for a disqualification, Steamboat urges him not to; instead, Windham grabs Hart by the lapel and drags him away. Behind the ref’s back, Sid introduces a chair and clobbers Rick, but Steamboat stops the count; Dr. Death argues with Steamboat. Rick groggily pulls Williams over in a roll-up, and just like that, it’s over. The ref signals for the bell and announces new World Tag Team Champions. Sid and Williams immediately go after Steamboat; Windham returns from the back and comes to the rescue of his partner, as do the Steiners. Vicious and Williams bid a hasty retreat, leaving Windham, Steamboat and the Steiners in the ring, now slated as opponents for Starrcade. They exchange handshakes, but Windham and Steamboat leave the ring casting a skeptical eye towards the brothers.
Before the battle royal, Tully Blanchard and Gary Hart approach Arn Anderson and try to convince him to bow out. Arn glowers at his friend and his manager; his cold, hard gaze is enough of a response for Blanchard and Hart.
“I know you’ll do the right thing,” says Blanchard nervously as he backs away.
Not even half the participants for the battle royal are in the ring before people start brawling; Sid Vicious and Dr. Death kick off the hostilities by going after Barry Windham and Ricky Steamboat. By the time the ring has all 20 men and the bell rings, a full-scale war has already erupted, with alliances forming and breaking down seemingly in the blink of an eye. Steamboat gets tossed by Sid and Dr. Death, but Dr. Death gets clotheslined over the top by Barry Windham. Arn Anderson eliminates four people by himself, including Tom Zenk, both members of Doom and Terry Funk, who is distracted by Dr. Death on the outside. But Arn also gets in on the job of dumping Sid Vicious, which he does alongside Barry Windham, Lex Luger and Brian Pillman. Luger gets five eliminations, and looks to be getting his sixth when Stan Hansen comes up from behind and dumps him. Hansen surprises everyone by jumping over the top rope and eliminates himself so he can beat on Luger more.
The action comes to a brief halt when it gets to the final four: Sting, Ric Flair, Arn Anderson and the Cinderella of the battle royal, Brian Pillman. Pillman, Sting and Flair, trying to catch their breath, all cast their eyes to Anderson; the Enforcer readies himself for the three to advance on him, and they do just that. Anderson throws punches for as long as he can to keep them at bay, but the numbers game gets out of control quickly, and he plays it smart by taking a dive to the mat. In doing so, Pillman accidentally clocks Flair, and the two pair off, while Sting advances on Anderson. Pillman leaves Flair dizzy with his high-flying offense, but takes one too many risks and gets crotches on the top rope by Flair while trying another aerial move; with Pillman stunned and in perfect position, Flair is able to dump him off to the floor.
Sting, meanwhile, works on Anderson, but can’t get him over. Anderson holds onto the ropes and fights against being dumped with every ounce of strength he has; finally, Sting has to give up, drag him back in and try to weaken him for an easier tossing. A whip into the ropes is reversed by Anderson, but Sting kicks Double-A in the face to stop a spinebuster and DDT’s him. But when Sting puts Arn back in the corner, he tries for a Stinger splash, only for Anderson to move out of the way. Sting eats the turnbuckle, and Anderson has no trouble tossing Sting over the top. Anderson collapses in the corner, looks up and sees Flair, across the ring, slumped in the opposite turnbuckle.
Slowly, exhausted and sore, they come to the center of the ring, eyes locked on each other as the crowd goes crazy with the prospect of the two former friends squaring off for the first time ever. They stand in the middle of the ring, glaring at each other … and then suddenly, they explode, trading punches, the whole purpose of the battle royal forgotten in the heat of the moment. The hostilities transition into an actual wrestling match, albeit with neither man looking for pinfalls or submissions–just the humiliation of his opponent. For over five minutes, neither one makes a single attempt at tossing the other, as they are consumed with punishing each other. Even when Flair goes to the top rope, Anderson doesn’t even think to toss him; he just slams Flair to the mat and they keep wrestling.
After several minutes of a thrilling wrestling confrontation, Flair starts to lead Anderson to the ropes to throw him over. Flair fights and pushes, while Anderson holds on as best he can. With one hand, Anderson reaches up and puts a thumb in Flair’s eye; immediately, Flair lets go. Anderson grabs Flair by the hair and the trunks and launches him over the top … but he turns his back before Flair makes contact, and doesn’t see Flair land on the apron. When Anderson turns around, Flair taunts him; Anderson runs, and Flair drops down, pulling the top rope, sending Anderson sailing to the floor. The bell rings and, barely audible over the screaming crowd, is the announcement of Ric Flair being the winner of the battle royal, and guaranteed the title shot at the World Champion at Starrcade.
He only gets to celebrate it for a couple heartbeats before Tully Blanchard runs into the ring and clocks Flair in the head with the belt. Blanchard stomps away at Flair, screaming the entire time about how he’s already beaten Flair before and how he’s proven who the better man is. Gary Hart, Stan Hansen, Sid Vicious and Dr. Death come down and join in on the beating … while Arn Anderson watches from the outside.
With just under a month left between Thanksgiving Thunder and the year’s biggest event, Starrcade, the sides in the war between World Championship Wrestling and the Slaughterhouse 5 draw their final battle lines.
For Sid Vicious and Dr. Death Steve Williams, the problem is one of being on the outside looking in. With the Tag Team Titles around the waists of the Steiners, and Barry Windham & Ricky Steamboat locked in for a title shot at Starrcade, Vicious and Williams are left without an invitation to the party. Williams is fortunate enough to have one fall into his lap in the form of Terry Funk, looking for retribution for being eliminated in the battle royal thanks to Williams’ timely (and illegal) distraction. The two promptly engage in brawls wherever and whenever they cross paths.
With his partner busy, and a thirst for gold still on his tongue, Vicious targets the only gold readily available: the Television Title. During a defense by reigning champion Brian Pillman, Sid steps in and annihilates both challenger and champion, then gets on the microphone and–in case it wasn’t clear by powerbombing Pillman into oblivion–states he wants the Television Title, and he wants it at Starrcade. Pillman, one of the company’s most prolific, fightingest champions in recent times, eagerly accepts the challenge a week later, emphatically stating he’s not afraid of the size difference at all.
Lex Luger, cast out of the Slaughterhouse 5, targets the two men who executed his expulsion: Stan Hansen and Gary Hart. On the first episode of World Championship Wrestling after the Clash, Luger appears in studio to talk about turning the tables on Hart and Hansen.
“I feel sorry for Hansen, really,” he says. “He’s just meat to Hart, just a big dumb workhorse. Hart doesn’t care about him, and when Hansen drops the ball, Hart will throw him away, just like he did me when I couldn’t deliver what he wanted. You see, I finally woke up and saw the truth, that it wasn’t Ric Flair holding me back. It was me. I defined myself by comparing myself to him, being in his shadow, for so long, I forgot what it meant to be The Total Package Lex Luger. Hart was never interested in helping me achieve all I could be; he just wanted as many soldiers as he could get. Gart Hart, Stan Hansen … Starrcade is coming up, and it’s time for Lex Luger to make his mark once and for all in World Championship Wrestling. It’s time for Lex Luger to step out of my own shadow and step into the spotlight. And I wanna do that at your expense. I want you, Stan Hansen, at Starrcade … and if I win, I want Gary Hart, for five minutes, alone in the ring, to teach him the lesson he needs to learn.”
Hart, unable to contain his own ego, leaps at the challenge, and even says; “In a way, I almost hope my boy, Stan Hansen, loses. Cause nothing, nothing, would give me as much pleasure as to slap the yellow off your teeth, Luger. But I think I’ll just tell my new assassin to send you to the hospital instead.”
On the same program, during Luger’s match, Hansen and Hart storm the ring. Luger, being blindsided, can’t mount a defense against the S5′s “assassin”. But he gets some unexpected reinforcements in the form of Ole Anderson, who leaps the guardrail, a tire iron in hand, and swings until Hart and Hansen retreat. Ole helps Luger to his feet and the two shake hands; Ole promises to stand in Luger’s corner and be his equalizer at Starrcade, so he can have a front row seat for when Luger breaks Gary Hart in half.
The final member of the Slaughterhouse 5 to get their ticket stamped for Starrcade is Arn Anderson, who gets the honors of taking on former World Champion Sting. Even with the recent tension between Arn and the S5, the group seems elated with the idea of the Enforcer taking out Sting.
The excitement turns to trepidation when they find out that the match is for the #1 contendership to the World Champion.
Immediately, Tully Blanchard and Gary Hart try to find polite ways to ask Arn to throw the match, or bow out completely. Arn brushes them off, but on the final episode of World Championship Wrestling before Starrcade, after Arn successfully defends his US Title, Blanchard and Hart confront him in the ring.
“Arn, we need to talk,” says Hart. “This nonsense tomorrow … you and Sting … you can stop it still. There’s time. In-fighting isn’t what the Slaughterhouse 5 is all about, Arn! We look out for each other! We protect each other! This is just more politics by Flair to sabotage us!!”
“Arn, think back to when we came back to this company,” says Tully. “How we vowed to extinguish all the talk about us being Flair’s lackeys, and stepping into the spotlight he kept us out of for years. We did it, Arn! We did it! I’m World Champion! You’re United States Champion! We’ve reached heights he never would’ve allowed us to shoot for when we were Horsemen! What do we gain, what do we prove, if we start going after each other, Arn? All it does is serve the will of that pathetic old shell, Ric Flair. He wants us to tear ourselves apart. If you go through with it tomorrow, if you beat Sting, you’re not doing yourself any favors; you’re falling into the same old trap he uses, Arn. He keeps us running in place while he sprints for the finish line, while he steals the glory. That’s what he does! You’re falling for it all over again!”
“Or maybe he’s waking up to your lies,” says Sting, walking down the aisle. Beside him is Ric Flair, looking dapper in his three-piece suit. “Maybe Arn’s finally seeing that the only one playing old Horsemen games is you, Tully! It’s funny how you made sure to target me and let Arn fend off guys like Terry Funk, so you wouldn’t have to be bothered. It’s funny how you became the ‘crown jewel’ of a group that was supposed to be a group of equals. Ain’t it funny, Ric?”
“Woo! Stinger … right there, in that ring … you know what I see? I see a man who’s scared to death! I see a guy who knows he don’t have what it takes to be champ, and I see a guy who’s got what it takes but keeps gettin’ pushed back. Arn, we may never be friends again, and if that’s true, that’ll break my heart, but hear me right now, listen to what I’m saying: I knew five years ago you were World Champ material. I knew you could be champ from the first minute we rode together as the Four Horsemen … and I knew that, if that chump next to you ever got there, he’d be a fluke, a fraud, a guy who’d lose it in his first defense. He’s all mouth, and you’re the real deal, Double-A! I knew it then, and I’m here to tell ya right now, I was scared to death of you! I was scared to death, and if you think I held you back … you’re right! I did everything I could to keep you away from coming after me, cause I knew you were the biggest threat walkin’ the Earth. I didn’t have to keep that fraud there with you down; he did it himself! And if you lay down tomorrow, history won’t remember the Arn Anderson the Enforcer … it won’t remember the guy who made the TV Championship, or the guy who terrorized the tag team divison … Arn Anderson will go down in history as the man who flushed his career down the toilet for a paper champion!”
Blanchard, his bravado riled up by the words of Sting and Flair, steps through the ropes and hops down to the arena floor, coming at Flair and Sting, who watch with big smiles. Blanchard walks up to his enemies and starts talking trash, daring them to take a swing. Sting smiles big and points behind Blanchard; the champ turns around and notices that Arn Anderson is still in the ring, instead of having his back. Humbled, Blanchard backs away, shoulders slumped, towards the ring. Before he can say anything to Anderson about what happened, Double-A leaves the ring. Sting and Flair stand aside and let him pass, but he stops in front of Sting. For what seems like an eternity, they stare at each other … until Anderson offers a hand. Sting takes it and they clinch hands, eyes never moving from one another’s. With hands squeezed tight enough to break a rock, they glare at each other; then, Anderson draws a thumb across his throat. Sting smiles and lets loose with his trademark scream, to which the audience does it in return. They release their grip on each other’s hand, and Anderson walks away.
“You’re not gonna derail my career, old man!” screams Blanchard. “You’re not gonna ruin me and poison my friends! I’m gonna bury you at Starrcade! I’m gonna bury you, Flair! You’re gonna wish you were dead, Ric Flair! You’re getting in the ring with a caged animal, and at Starrcade, they’re letting me loose on you!”
“Tully Blanchard! Woo! Did you say you’re a caged animal? Did I hear you say that? Cause that sounds great to me! Steel cage, you and me!”
December 16, 1990: Starrcade
One of the five matches on the slate for the Slaughterhouse 5 stable kicks off the annual centerpiece show on the WCW schedule, being Dr. Death Steve Williams’ tussle with Terry Funk. The two put on a crazy, stiff-as-nails brawl, but unfortunately for Funk, the younger, stronger Williams is too much to handle. An Oklahoma Stampede puts the wily veteran down for the count. As Williams celebrates, Funk asks for a microphone. Out of breath, one hand rubbing his aching back, he speaks softly, respectfully. “You know something, Steve … it sticks in my craw as a Texan that I just got beat by a piece of crap Sooner, but the fact is, you’re a better man then me. I’ve done accomplished a lot in my life, and it’s been a long career to boot. And while I’d like to stay stick around and slap the stupid outta Gary Hart’s head, I know when I been beat, and over the past few months, I been beat enough. So as of tonight, I’m lettin’ y’all know I’m hangin’ up the boots. I’m retiring.” Funk crosses the ring and offers a hand to Dr. Death. “Here’s hopin’ you pull your head out and ditch that tub of crap you got as a manger, Steve,” says Funk. Williams takes the hand, then pulls Funk in, picks him up and nails another Oklahoma Stampede as the crowd rages all but comes out of their seats. Williams grabs the microphone and yells “Now you’re retired!” to Funk’s unconscious body.
Similarly, Sid Vicious’ battle with Brian Pillman doesn’t give the crowd a go-home-happy moment, as all the speed and breathtaking moves in the world doesn’t help Pillman survive a powerbomb. And for no good reason, Vicious hits a second one on Pillman, who is all but comatose after the first one. The second leaves the TV Champion a broken heap of bone and flesh, and the pinfall, making Vicious the new Television Champion, is academic.
But while the World Tag Team Title match is polarizing in the fact of having four beloved wrestlers, that it has no S5 representatives is a welcome breath of fresh air. There audience finds nothing to complain about as the two teams unload their arsenal and then some in an effort to be called the best tag team in the land. For twenty solid minutes, the advantage ping-pongs at a rapid pace; not once is there a dirty tactic or a deceit. Just two, hard-working teams putting it all out there. And though the crowd is split down the middle, they all rise to their feet and give the crowd a standing ovation when Scott Steiner pins Barry Windham for the win. The Steiners offer a rematch any time Windham and Ricky Steamboat want one and seal it with handshakes all around.
Stan Hansen comes to the ring like an ancy bull, ready to leap from his pen and gore the nearest cowboy. In his corner, Gary Hart salivates as Lex Luger comes to the ring, with Ole Anderson in tow. His malicious smile is quickly erased as Luger shows the fire missing from his offense missing for almost a year. Hansen comes roaring back, using his brute toughness to try and overpower Luger, but the Total Package answers with his own displays of raw power. The crowd gets behind Luger like never before as he rallies from Hansen’s vicious attacks and Hart’s constant interference. After Luger has two chances to end the match blown by Hart interference, Ole Anderson comes after him, making sure his tire iron is visible. The chase distracts Hansen, and Luger is able to mount a comeback offense, leading to a Torture Rack in the middle of the ring. Hansen refuses to quit, but with nowhere to go and no counter, he has no choice but to endure the pain. Before the ref can stop the match and award it to him, Luger drops Hansen, targets the back with several precision attacks, then puts Hansen back in the Rack. The tough-as-nails Hansen cannot resist this time, and submits.
Immediately, officials swarm the ringside area and corner Hart, who tries to escape by going over the guardrail; they grab him and pull him back, forcing him into the ring to fulfill his stipulated five-minutes-alone with Luger. But instead, Luger asks for a microphone. “For the past year,” he says as he’s catching his breath, “this man has made me feel worthless. There’s nothing in this world I’d like to do more right now then to whip him like a dog. But there’s another guy who he humiliated, a guy who stayed home and watched this gutless snake run unchecked through World Championship Wrestling.” Luger turns and looks out to Ole. “You’ve earned this, Ole. Come get some payback.” Ole Anderson climbs into the ring eagerly, even as Hart’s face goes sheet white. Before he sets to getting revenge, Luger adds; “I just want to let you know, in front of the world, Ole … what I did … what we did, ten months ago … that was wrong. I’m sorry.”
“Lex,” says Ole, “the only person who I wanna hear beggin’ for forgiveness right now is that pathetic, yellow dog over there.” Ole tosses aside the tire iron, rubbing his hands together as he advances on the orchestrator of his year-long exile. Hart drops to his knees, begging for mercy, but Ole lets out the Horsemen in him, punching and stomping on Hart until he squirms out under the bottom rope and runs. Luger blocks his retreat and throws him back in, just in time for Ole to pull off his belt and start lashing him across the back, making the vile manager scream and cry like a child. By the time the five minutes are up, Hart’s back looks like a road map and tears are cascading down his face. He falls out of the ring in a heap and scrambles clumsily to the back, a beaten, bloody mess. The crowd happily applauds for Lex and Ole as they make a triumphant walk to the back.
With the #1 contendership at stake, Sting and Arn Anderson show no sign of weakness as they meet, standing nose to nose in the middle of the ring. They stay that way for a good thirty seconds after the bell rings, not saying a word. Finally, they both go for a collar-and-elbow tie-up that lasts a good twenty seconds of them jockeying for the advantage. When they start trading offense, every maneuver is sound and crisp, every move calculated and precise. No wasted movement and no unnecessary chances taken. And, in a surprise to the crowd, when Anderson has the opportunity to take short-cuts, he backs off instead. The newfound, fair-play side of Anderson takes the crowd by surprise and gets a polite, if cautious applause, waiting for the Double-A of the last year to come roaring back. But it never does, and as the minutes tick by, it becomes apparent that, like Sting, Anderson wants to earn his win the right way.
Out of nowhere, off a reversed Irish whip, Anderson plants Sting with a spinebuster, but Sting kicks out at two and a half. Slowly, he starts to fight back and take control; everyone holds their breath to see if Anderson will resort to cheating, or worse, if some of his cohorts will come out. Neither happens. When Anderson is put in the corner and Sting goes for the Stinger splash, it seems like the entire arena turns away, for fear of Sting coming up short again; he doesn’t. Sting drags Anderson to the middle of the ring and grabs Anderson’s legs for the Scorpion Deathlock, but Anderson surprises him by reaching him and pulling Sting down into a small package. The ref makes the count and just like that, Anderson gets the pin. Sting is visibly irritated and starts to walk away. But he stops in the middle of the aisle, head cast down, hands on hips as Anderson is in the ring with his arm raised. Sting turns and looks at the scene for a moment, then comes back to the ring. Anderson tenses up, waiting for Sting to strike; instead, Sting offers a handshake. Anderson takes it, and Sting raises Anderson’s hand. Sting gestures between the two of them, as if to say “one more time, some time down the line”; Anderson gives Sting a nod and a smile, and Sting walks away, letting Anderson have his moment.
Ric Flair comes out first, looking at the imposing steel cage with a grin, for once not playing up to the reaction of the fans. Conversely, Tully Blanchard comes out looking nervous and hesitant to step foot near the structure, let alone inside it. After much prodding and repeated commands from the referee and numerous officials, Blanchard surrenders the title belt–reluctantly, as if he’s putting his only child in a lion’s den–and steps into the ring. Flair allows Blanchard to get through the ropes without incident … but as soon as the door closes, Flair charges and takes Blanchard down to the mat, throwing a hurricane of wild punches at Blanchard’s head; some land, some don’t, but Flair doesn’t notice one or the other.
For the first half of the match, it never gets more scientific then that, as Flair and Blanchard go back and forth with outright brawling and use of the cage to turn each other into bloody messes. When Blanchard get the advantage, he takes his sweet time dishing out punishment, savoring every strike and suplex he delivers. When Flair kicks out of pinfall attempts, Blanchard just takes it as a sign to inflict more punishment at his “oppressor”, only Flair keeps kicking out. A slingshot suplex–Blanchard’s trust finisher–is brushed off on a two count. A superplex is endured and kicked out of at two. Even coated in his own blood from forehead to neck, Flair refuses to stay down, and after several minutes, it frustrates Blanchard. After a second slingshot suplex attempt does nothing to keep Flair’s shoulders on the mat, Blanchard rather overtly makes a “come on out” gesture.
From the back, Sid Vicious comes out, grabs the world title from the timekeeper and tosses it over the cage wall. Blanchard catches it, squares up his shot and stalks Flair, waiting for him to stand so he can get tattooed between the eyes. But Flair surprises Blanchard and, as the champ charges, brings Blanchard down, face first into the belt, with a drop toe hold. Flair makes a pinfall, but Blanchard kicks out at the last millisecond.
Vicious grabs the ref by the door, takes the key out of his pocket and throws him aside as easy as tennis ball, then goes to work on the lock. But before he can get the door open, Arn Anderson comes from behind and slams Vicious face-first into the cage. Blanchard stares in dumbfounded amazement at Anderson and asks him what he’s doing. Anderson responds with a glare as cold as deep space and a hand gesture of five fingers … and then Anderson folds in the thumb. Blanchard’s eyes go wide.
The look disappears when Flair throws him face-first into the cage once, twice, three, four, five times in a row. By the time Blanchard collapses onto the mat, he is as limp as a wet dishrag. Flair goes to work on Blanchard’s leg, kicking and stomping on it for a solid sixty seconds, then puts on the figure-four. Blanchard tries to hold on as long as he can, but with no rope breaks and the ref unable to order Flair to break the hold, Blanchard is stuck; Flair even resists Blanchard’s tries to roll over. Reluctantly, almost in tears, Blanchard screams out his submission. The audience explodes as the timekeeper rings the bell; Anderson just about tears the door off to get in the ring and walks up to Flair. The new champ looks up at his old friend and, with a smile radiating happiness down to his soul, takes his friend’s hand and gets pulled to his feet.
Within seconds, the ring floods with well-wishers; Ricky Steamboat, Terry Funk, Brian Pillman, the Steiners, Barry Windham, all raise Flair’s arm and shake hands with Anderson. There is a tearful moment when Ole Anderson comes in and, after regarding each other for a handful of moments, embraces his cousin. The final well-wisher is Sting, who shakes hands with both Flair and Anderson and stands between them, raising their arms together as confetti drops and the audience gives a standing ovation to the new champion
(Many thanks to WrestleCrap Forum member Tull, for his invaluable contributions in getting this edition of RTB off the ground.)