It was early in the year, and already the Four Horsemen were dominating in full. They'd made lifelong enemies out of major powers in Dusty Rhodes and Magnum TA, they held the singles World title and the National tag team belts, and they hadn't allowed anything to hold them back. Without a doubt, things were looking easier and easier for the Horsemen.. but their enemies weren't ready to be counted out just yet.
Dusty and then-US champion Magnum TA had realized their common issue, and decided the best way to fight fire was with fire. Assaulting the Horsemen as one man against an army was useless, so perhaps the strength truly lay in numbers. As Ole, Arn and Tully were participating in a 6-man tag team war, Dusty and Magnum climbed into the ring and made public their coalition alongside the unexpected help of Ron Bass. After chasing away his teammates, the three centered their assault on Ole Anderson, the man all held responsible for the attacks on Sam Houston. Giving Ole a taste of his own medicine, the three tried their best to break his leg. Though the elder Horseman escaped without injury, the message was clear: these three weren't about to take things lying down.
Meanwhile, Tully Blanchard had fought several unsuccessful bouts with Magnum TA over Magnum's United States Heavyweight title. One evening, TA had all but wrapped things up with his patented belly to belly suplex.. but Blanchard's leg had caught the ref on his way down and, holding true to wrestling tradition, the official went down as though he'd been shot. While Magnum tended to the man in stripes, Tully's former valet, Baby Doll (I can't make this stuff up, folks..), came from the crowd dressed as a security guard. She handed the recovering Blanchard a foreign object, which met Magnum's head moments later and gave Tully the US gold he'd been chasing. The Horsemen now each held a major NWA belt, and their presence could no longer be be ignored.
tully makes use of an international object
Almost one month later, Blanchard was accompanied to a title defense by Baby Doll. As the match progressed, Magnum TA stepped from the crowd dressed as.. you guessed it.. a security guard, and handcuffed Baby Doll to the bottom rope. TA entered the ring, and Blanchard charged him.. right into a belly to belly suplex. As TA looked upon his work, he made a formal challenge to Blanchard and walked out of the ring to thunderous applause. The return match went nearly a full hour, before it ended a draw as neither man could respond to the referee's ten count. Unsatisfied, TA was given a rematch.. the infamous "I Quit" cage match, in which there must be a winner. After a bloody, grueling war, Blanchard surrendered as TA ground the point of a broken wooden chair into a cut over his eye. The feud continued for some time, leading into the NWA's humongous summer event, the Great American Bash.
Meanwhile, Arn Anderson had acquired the TV Title while his partner and brother Ole was recovering from a leg injury. As a result, the two could not defend their National Tag Team Titles within 30 days and were stripped of the belts. The NWA was heading into their major event, the Great American Bash, and unlike today's single PPV event, the Bash of 1986 was a series of cards that spread across the States. With different matches, participants and outcomes at every stop, the Bash wasn't an event so much as it was a tour. The run demanded a spectacular 13 world title defenses from Ric Flair in the span of one month. His first challenge? None other than Hawk, one half of the former National Tag Team Champions. The big man's power kept Flair's technical prowess surprisingly in check, but after a hard fought contest, Flair squeaked out a DQ finish that allowed him to keep the precious gold around his waist.
Throughout the series of events, Flair fought more and more difficult opponents. Young athletes, eager to prove themselves, jumped at the opportunity. Ricky Morton proved a lightweight could handle the stress of a world title match, Nikita Koloff brought brute strength to the plate, Rugged Ronnie Garvin gave Flair a feud to look forward to in the years to come, Magnum TA brought the sting of an old foe and Wahoo McDaniel took it to a cage before his card was played out. Amazingly, the Nature Boy survived through 12 of the 13 defenses and never failed to pronounce his proficiency to all who would listen. Such competition defined Flair as a fighting champion, and it was hard to argue with the convincing point he was proving. The tour's final challenge, however, came in the form of Dusty Rhodes, fully equipped with a steel cage and thousands of screaming spectators. As Flair wore down Rhodes's still-injured leg, he seemed to have everything under control. Bleeding as though it were going out of style, Ric set the Dream up for his signature figure four leglock, but Rhodes reversed it into a cradle. It was enough to register the 3 count, and a ballistic Flair could only look on as his arch-enemy walked out of the event with the World Title on his arm.
That's not to say the Great American Bash ended as a complete embarrassment for the NWA's premiere stable.. throughout the 13 dates, the Andersons had been viciously seeking the World Tag Team Titles, currently in the hands of Jim Cornette's Midnight Express. A series of #1 contenders matches ended with no winner before the Rock'n Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson) took the spot from the Andersons and captured the belts from Cornette's boys. This left the Wrecking Crew as contenders to the titles, belts which eluded them through several difficult title shots. After injuring Gibson, the Andersons demanded that the titles be vacated and awarded to them.. but management disagreed. They allowed Morton to choose his own partner for title defenses until Gibson could return, which sat well with Morton. The likes of Dusty Rhodes, Tim Horner, Ronnie Garvin, and Brad Armstrong jumped at the chance to piss on the Horsemen, and after several difficult battles and near-victories, Ole and Arn were left without the titles they'd so desperately sought. Though the belts had eluded them, the Wrecking Crew was without a doubt back in the ranks of the NWA's top tag teams.
The cards may have been down, but the four men didn't take much time to sit and mope, as Ric Flair made certain this event wouldn't cripple the already formidable alliance. Only weeks after losing his title, Flair engaged in a series of rematches with champion Dusty Rhodes, most of which ended with a Horsemen run-in and assault on Rhodes's leg. In the final match of the series, Flair locked in a figure four leglock and Rhodes passed out. Not two weeks removed from a two year reign, Ric Flair was back in the limelight as World Champion, while Dusty Rhodes moved on to feud with the rest of the stable, nearly instantly winning the TV title from Arn Anderson.
In the months leading up to Starrcade, Dusty Rhodes was readying himself for one more big push at Ric Flair and the World Heavyweight title, though it wouldn't prove to be easy. He'd been conned into participating in a tag team match to determine his standing as of Starrcade, and it reeked of Horsemen ingenuity. Rhodes was scheduled to team up with Magnum TA against the team of Ole Anderson and JJ Dillon (who was presumably substituting for the injured Tully Blanchard) in a steel cage match. As always, the Horsemen had seen to it that a special stipulation was assigned; in this case if Rhodes and Magnum lost, Dusty would be banned from Starrcade '86. Magnum had just dropped the US title to Nikita Koloff in the blowoff of their classic best of seven series, and was certainly figured into future plans for the World Title before a car accident tragically ended his wrestling career. In a day that's mourned the premature losses of Shawn Michaels, Owen Hart and Mick Foley, it's easy to overlook Magnum TA and the future he could've held in the NWA.
As the NWA as a whole struggled through the shock of this accident, Nikita Koloff stood up and took TA's slot alongside Rhodes, with Magnum's blessing. The two had formed a bond of sorts through their seven-month feud, and it translated over to real life. Fans didn't strongly back Koloff at first, but eventually came around to the big man, and it seemed all was ready to go for that big match.. but the Horsemen had another trick or two up their sleeves.
In the weeks before the match, it was announced that Rhodes had suffered multiple injuries outside the ring and details were sketchy at the moment. As announcers offered conspiracy theories, Tully Blanchard wandered to the announce position, video cassette in hand. On it, Blanchard proudly showcased a homemade movie that featured himself, alongside the Andersons and JJ Dillon chasing down Dusty's car, stopping him in a parking lot and viciously beating him with baseball bats and bare fists, utilizing their surroundings to further the damage. Nevertheless, Rhodes was determined and he showed up for the match ready to fight, complete with a bandaged body.. and, in an anticlimactically short match, Rhodes and Koloff completely dismantled the Horseman and manager. Flair made his way to ringside, but it was too little too late.. Rhodes was still in contention for Starrcade.
Outraged, the Horsemen assaulted promoter Jim Crockett with demands.. they sought a first blood match at Starrcade between Blanchard and Rhodes, with the TV title at stake. The Andersons demanded a tag team title match against the Rock'n Roll Express in a steel cage, with hopes that the gimmicked match could overcome the troubles they'd had dealing with the younger, faster workers in the past. If their demands weren't met, Flair and the Horsemen vowed they would pull out of the competition, leaving Crockett without a champion to defend the title at his cornerstone event. It was blackmail, plain and simple, and it worked to perfection. Crockett bent before the demands and the Horsemen had their way.
With the majority of his top contenders preoccupied, injured or outclassed, there was only man Crockett could look toward as a World Title contender. Nikita Koloff had no problem with the challenge.
The event itself was a split card, meaning it was held in two different arenas (i.e. WrestleMania II, but with 2 arenas instead of 3). While Dillon, the Andersons and Blanchard were together in Greensboro, Flair was left to fend for himself in Atlanta.
Tully and Dusty's war was the first of the three, and Blanchard came out with JJ Dillon's shady techniques in his corner. As the two gladiators readied for battle, Dillon handed his man a fitted boxing helmet, which concealed most of the challenger's face. When referee Earl Hebner (the same) took that off almost immediately, Blanchard backpedaled and called for a time out while Dillon plastered his face with Vaseline. The announce team let us in on the secret; this was an old trick used by boxers, which would force Rhodes's blows to slide right off his face. Once again the ref put a stop to this, and toweled the goop off the enraged mug of the challenger. After the defeat of their second plan, Dillon made the mistake of a lifetime and made a move for Rhodes himself. A bionic elbow, several strong fists and a boot later, Rhodes was ready to go and Dillon was left in a puddle of his own blood on the floor. That's right, JJ Dillon bladed. The match was on, and neither man was willing to put their head at any immediate risk. The two circled for a bit before finally getting comfortable with the stipulations and letting it all hang out. Ref Hebner (the same) caught a wild fist in the face, and probably would've made it if he hadn't stumbled into the way of the following Rhodes suplex.
Dillon took the opportunity and rushed the ring with his hard-soled shoe, but that little onslaught ended about as quickly as it began. Rhodes sent Dillon back outside and considered using the shoe on Tully before lobbing it into the crowd and jumping on Blanchard with a series of vicious fists. With the ref out, Dillon on the floor, Blanchard bleeding like a stuck pig and a shoe into the audience, the Dream did what any face would do in the same situation.. he went to revive the official. While this excruciating process was going down, Dillon gathered himself and proved why he was such an asset for the Horsemen. He quickly grabbed a towel and the Vaseline and went to work, drying the blood from his man's face and temporarily sealing the wound with the Vaseline. As the ref came to, JJ handed Blanchard a roll of coins and took off. When Rhodes spun around, he was met with the fistful of change and went down, bleeding from the side of his head. Both men fell, and good ol' Earl (the same) called for the bell.. the winner, and new TV champ: Tully Blanchard!
dusty, with 'tully' written on the side of his head, drops that big elbow
As Dillon and Blanchard fled the arena, the Andersons walked out for their steel cage match against the Rock'n Roll Express. The match was big, and all four men knew it. The cage was the Wrecking Crew's home, but the Rock'n Rollers had taken all the previous encounters, and thus held the momentum. As expected, it started off in the Anderson's favor. In fact, things nearly became a squash as Arn and Ole cut the ring in half and dominated Gibson in their own unique fashion, with a focus on the right leg. Every time Robert would climb near his partner, Arn or Ole would be there to hook the leg and drag him back to their corner. The eventual hot tag to Morton turned the tide for a moment, but Ricky soon met the cage close up, and before long Arn and Ole were having their way with both men once more. Arn hit his mean trademark spinebuster in the middle of the ring and Gibson made the last second save. The Andersons hit their double team finisher, a top rope arm-breaker into an arm bar submission that still looks brutal today, but Morton held on. As things began to fall apart, all four were in the middle of the ring at once. While the ref escorted Arn back to his corner, Ole went for a big bodyslam on Morton, which Gibson countered by dropkicking both men to the mat. Morton landed on top, and the ref counted the fall as Arn looked on in disbelief. The Wrecking Crew had lost one more opportunity.
Finally, it was time for the main event. Ric Flair made his way to the ring without an escort, as his comrades were miles away. Things started off in Flair's favor, but it quickly became obvious that his assorted offense wasn't having much effect on the big Russian. Where Flair's chops and kneedrops would just bounce off Koloff's bulky mass, Nikita's offense was wearing the Nature Boy down. When the night's second big Hebner bump came to pass, Koloff was enraged. He turned his attention from Flair to aid the ref, and Ric took the opportunity to jump the man from behind. The comeback was short-lived, and Flair soon went down to the Russian Sickle, Koloff's clothesline finisher. As an additional ref came from the back and counted a nearfall, Koloff sent Flair to the corner and continued his punishment uninhibited. As this second ref urged Ivan to break, the Russian turned and shoved the new ref down! When the original ref made his way back to the ring, he got more of the same. Finally, more workers ran from the back and held Nikita back. Flair took the opportunity to deliver some additional offense, which just served to further piss the Russian off. As all hell broke loose, the bell rang.. the winner was announced as Ric Flair, as Koloff had thrown the first blow at an official.
With 1986 drawing to a close, the Horsemen held the World title and the TV Title.. things hadn't gone down as poorly as they could have or should have at Starrcade, but the stable was far from happy. With the tag team titles eluding the Andersons, the new presence of Nikita Koloff, the Rock'n Roll Express and Dusty Rhodes biting at their heels and the threat of future assault looming over their heads, the Horsemen needed solidarity now more than ever.