Coming out of the war that was Starrcade 1986, the Horsemen could stand proud after winning two of three title matches. Tully Blanchard defeated the American Dream, Dusty Rhodes, for the TV title, Ric Flair fended off the assaults of Nikita Koloff, somehow maintaining his grasp on the World Title, and the Andersons had a near-miss defeat at the hands of the Rock'n Roll Express. The group was tight-knit in their power beyond this blockbuster event and if any disagreements went down, the differences were settled backstage. The Horsemen had solidified their place atop the NWA ranks as a team, and now it was time to test their longevity. As the seams began to show in the initial grouping, sides were taken. It all erupted in the spring of 1987, two years after Ole walked out on his tag team partner to start it all.
The early part of '87 was just business as usual for the stable. Nikita Koloff was given multiple rematches for Flair's gold, but never walked away a champion. The Horsemen had come together as a cohesive unit and had everything pretty well down to a science. Flair had little to worry about, as his troops were always there to bail him out in case of an emergency. Arn Anderson fought a losing series against Koloff in hopes of picking up the Russian's US strap, and Tully Blanchard had an enraged Dusty Rhodes to deal with.
Throughout the months, Rhodes would grab multiple count-outs and DQ victories, but when the dust settled, Blanchard was still wearing his belt. As the Dream became angrier and more frustrated over time, Blanchard even grabbed a couple count-out victories of his own, which served to further enrage the big cajun. The feud would be coming to a head, but not for several months' time. In the mean time, Flair had a new World Title competitor in the form of Barry Windham.
A refugee from the historic small time Florida circuit, Windham had been making a nuisance of himself for weeks, raining on the Horsemen's parade and always popping his head into the mix when it was least expected. After spending months alongside veteran Ronnie Garvin, Windham felt the time was right to make his move for Flair's gold. With his own protegé in the form of a rookie Lex Luger by his side as well as far-reaching backstage connections, the stage was certainly set and Flair, ever the showman, wasn't about to back down with his reputation on the line.
On the eve of January 24th, it all hit the fan on a live TBS broadcast. Windham stretched Flair to his limits, matching him move for move, reversal for reversal and step by step. Flair took the technical victory, but Windham walked away an overnight sensation. Not nearly as surprising as his stamina and lasting power (the match went well over an hour) was the way he got there. Instead of relying on his brute force to overcome Flair's previously unmatched technical skills, Windham fought fire with fire and proved his own worth as a technician. In this day and age, to match Ric Flair in a scientific showdown was to ascend to the echelon of pro wrestling, and Barry Windham was headed there in a hurry.
Embarrassed, bruised and nearly beaten, Flair had met an opponent who could keep up with him in the ring.. and quite possibly beat him at his own game. Without his ring prowess to fall back on, Flair instead used his powers of persuasion to turn the tables on his new foe. In the weeks following the 24th, JJ Dillon began a professional relationship with Lex Luger, Windham's friend and loyal student. Before long, Dillon had Luger under his complete mental control, leading the young Package away from the World Title and Ric Flair, and instead aiming him at Horsemen enemy and US champion Nikita Koloff. It was only a matter of time before his turn against Windham was official. Bearing this in mind, Barry made one last effort toward awakening his friend to what he was getting himself into. The confrontation went down on live television, and before Windham was through speaking, the Horsemen had jumped him.. with Luger by their side. With open arms, the 4 accepted Luger as an "associate member" of their team.
With the big Jim Crockett, Sr. Memorial Cup Tag Team Tournament just around the bend, and a prize of $1,000,000 going out to the team that walked away victorious, many believed a duo of Horseman tag teams would pretty well seal it up, as Flair was defending his belt at the top of the card. However, almost immediately following Luger's arrival, Tully and JJ began to pick at the often-missing Ole Anderson. These two blamed Ole for their only Starrcade loss, as he was the Anderson that took the pinfall. It was argued that Ole was no longer pulling his weight. What began as common criticism eventually turned into a feeding frenzy and with Ole missing from the ring for weeks, it all went unanswered. On the eve of his return, Ole explained all. His son had been competing in amateur wrestling tournaments, and the elder Anderson was determined to be there for him. When Blanchard called the boy a snot nosed little brat under his breath, it all boiled over. In a day when backstage coverage was all but absent, Tully, Ole and JJ had a brawl that tore apart the TV studio. When the dust had settled, Tully and JJ turned their backs on the man who started it all. One week later, Arn made it official by jumping his former partner from behind. Ole was out, and Lex was in.
ole and arn, the second minnesota wrecking crew, before
ole was unceremoniously dumped from the horsemen
This left 3 Horsemen to compete in the tag tournament, and Arn without his partner of the last 2 years. While Tully and Luger would complete the only all-Horsemen team in the tourney, Arn would tag with Kevin Sullivan.. a bit of irony, considering 3 future Horsemen would later depart the federation due directly to Sullivan's reign(s) as booker. When the top-seeded Rock'n Roll Express were kept from the tourney thanks to an eye injury, it seemed like a cakewalk to victory for the Horsemen. However, the team of Anderson and Sullivan were eliminated in the first round by Bob and Brad Armstrong, which was an upset to say the least. In their stead, Luger and Blanchard received a bye into the second round before climbing to the finals, eliminating the Armstrongs along the way. Waiting in the finals were two familiar faces; the Super Powers, or Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff.
As the teams began to measure each other up prior to the bell, the audience exploded at the sight of another familiar face: Magnum TA was hobbling down the entryway in his first public appearance since the car accident that ended his career. Though Magnum's presence was motivation for the Super Powers, the newest Horsemen were already working as a cohesive unit. They isolated Koloff and proceeded to run him through the mat, as Rhodes looked on helplessly. The match progressed, and the Horsemen nailed Koloff with a spike piledriver while the ref was distracted. As chaos broke out, Tully went for one more piledriver on the big Russian, which Rhodes finally ended with a flying cross body block. The big man landed on top of Blanchard and scored the three count for the victory. Later, Flair had his hands full once again with Barry Windham in the World Title match. Again Flair squeaked by with his belt, but the post-match activities told quite a story. While Windham walked out of the ring, discouraged but proud, Flair lay breathless on the mat. Windham had stretched him to the limit once more and the champ knew at this rate his days were numbered.
After his victory in the tourney, Dusty had his sites set on a certain champion as well. Tully Blanchard had been ignoring his requests for another shot at the same TV title Dusty shouldn't have lost in the first place, and Rhodes was ready to boil. The Dream offered a cash equivalent of Tully's choosing in exchange for the shot, and Blanchard agreed.. to the tune of $50,000. While Rhodes apparently didn't have that kind of money, Magnum TA did.. and he was willing to risk it. Surprised that Dusty had scraped enough together, Tully became a bit concerned and demanded a signing bonus of another $50,000. Surprisingly, that deal went through as well, and the match was signed. In the meantime, Dusty busied himself alongside Koloff in tag team matches. During one particularly heated battle against the Dream Team of Flair and Luger, war broke out. Tully and Arn made it 4 on 2, concentrating on Rhodes's knee. Once again, the Dream would have a handicap to fight off in an important match.
The beginning of June rolled around and with it came the big title shot. Rhodes was still suffering from his knee injury, as was blatantly obvious throughout. Dusty would deliver a move, take a moment to sit, and then get back into the action. Suddenly, Rhodes nailed Blanchard's finisher; the slingshot suplex, from out of nowhere. He made the cover, and the pinfall.. or so it seemed. In the seconds after the fall, Dillon draped the limp leg of Blanchard over a ring rope and claimed it had been there throughout the count! While the ref debated restarting the match, Dillon grabbed the $100,000 and ran to the back with Rhodes in hot pursuit. Back in the ring however, the ref had decided to resume the match and started a ten count. Before Dusty had realized what was happening, he'd been counted out and the money was all Blanchard's!
Elsewhere in the NWA, Jim Cornette and company were up to their old tricks once again. When Rugged Ronnie Garvin dared to stand up to their might, Cornette pulled out an one of the few remaining old school gimmicks that hasn't lost its shock value in today's world of table spots and staple guns. He blew a fireball into Garvin's face. Before an all out attack could ensue, Garvin's brother Jimmy ran in to make the save. As a former ally of the Horsemen, for Jimmy to assist his brother (with whom he'd had many an argument over the years) was out of line. Flair hadn't much time to discuss the subject though, as his hands were about to fill.
In the weeks leading up to the Great American Bash, random attacks escalated into an all-out war between the two major factions of the NWA. Similar to the nWoWCW feud's heyday, any particular card would end with one stable or another at their enemy's throat. The insanity prompted the decision for the 1987 GAB card, which featured a unique match that's since gathered a reputation for intensity; the infamous WarGames. Though the event's come and gone more often than not since the '87 Bash, the rules have remained virtually the same. A roofed steel cage covers two rings, side by side. The match begins with one competitor from each team in the ring, a clock counting down the two minutes until the next man will be allowed in. A coin toss then decides the order of combatants, with each team alternating turns. Once all ten men are in the ring, the match officially begins. All ten tear at each other until one gives in to the pain, submitting and losing the match for his team. The teams for the inaugural WarGames consisted of the Horsemen (Flair, Luger, Arn and Tully) and manager JJ Dillon vs. Rhodes, Koloff, the Road Warriors and their manager Paul Ellering.
It's what Arn Anderson described as the best match of his career. The first two combatants to step into the WarGames cage were Anderson and Dusty Rhodes. Write it down, it's an important match. The Horsemen had luck on their side, as Flair was the third man in the ring. Amidst the kind of insanity usually reserved for a battle royal, some order remained. Tully Blanchard made a beeline for the worn-down Dusty Rhodes, continuing their never ending feud. Flair went after Animal and Hawk, as he'd be defending his title against both later in the tour. Luger's assault against Nikita Koloff was a given, as the two were still involved in a heated feud of their own. The deciding factor lay in the managers, and which team member could get to which manager first. As the dust began to settle, The Road Warriors collected the last laugh. They scooped up Dillon and delivered their Doomsday Device double team finisher before forcing a submission out of him with a solid arm bar. One more for the good guys..
Further along in the tour, Luger was finally granted his wish; a US Title shot against injured champion Nikita Koloff. After suffering through the majority of the WarGames match, with an exclamation point coming in the form of a spiked piledriver, Koloff's neck had seen better days and he wore a brace to the ring. To assure there would be no outside interference on either man's behalf, the match took place in a 10 foot solid steel cage. Right out of the gates, Luger assaulted the injured body part, tearing the brace off mere minutes into the bout. As Dillon shouted encouragement from beyond the steel walls, the Russian superstar began his comeback. But before he could deliver his finishing maneuver, the Russian Sickle, the ref took his complimentary bump break to the corner. With Luger down for the count and no referee to make it official, Dillon worked more of his magic. While Koloff's resuscitation techniques fell short on the other end of the ring, JJ lobbed a chair over the top of the cage. As Luger wobbled to a verticle base and Koloff's efforts began to bear fruit as well, the Package struck. The recovering ref saw Lex apply his torture rack to an unconscious Koloff and called for the bell. Luger was the new US Champion, as a result of a "submission".
With WarGames behind him, World Champion Flair finally had a chance to say his piece regarding Jimmy Garvin's recent face turn. To sum it up, Ric didn't appreciate it. In the fashion unique to the Nature Boy, Flair professed his love for Garvin's valet and wife, Precious. As the weeks went on, Flair continued to make Space Mountain readily available to Precious and at one point presented her with a $15,000 mink coat. Precious accepted the coat, but brought it with her back to Garvin's side. Flair was outraged, and immediately wanted the gift back.. but Precious wasn't about to look this horse in the mouth (the pun... bad as it is... was not intended). Amidst multiple attacks by the Horsemen, Flair challenged Garvin to a steel cage match; the winner would walk away with the belt, the mink coat and an evening on the town with Precious.
flair destroys garvin, as precious looks on
As the match began, Garvin seized an early advantage. With the momentum on his side, Garvin looked to make quick work of the champion with his brainbuster and threw him into the ropes. In the process of a leapfrog though, Garvin landed on his knee badly and went down in a heap. Flair immediately spotted the opening and began to disassemble the challenger's entire leg, eventually locking in the figure four. As the audience went berserk and called for Flair's blood, the dirtiest player in the game used the ropes to his advantage. The additional leverage was enough to gain a pinfall on the challenger, but before Flair had a chance to welcome Precious to the ride, Jimmy's brother Ronnie was in the ring. The battle was over, but the war had just begun.
The evening after, a cameraman was mysteriously allowed into Flair's hotel room in time for the big date with Precious. As the Nature Boy styled and profiled, the anticipated knock came to the door and Flair answered with his pearly whites a'shinin'. Before we got a glimpse of his date for the evening, Precious had turned to head right back out the door. Flair put a stop to that with his naturally soothing nature, and just when it seemed he might get some play.. Precious turned and decked him with one punch. As JJ Dillon ran (and was subsequently shoved into a pool), "Precious" revealed herself as Ronnie Garvin dressed as a woman. Who says wrestling's come a long way from its roots?
As you can imagine, Flair was pissed. Blue balls are hell, and he wasn't about to let Garvin get the last laugh. Back in the TV title scene, Dusty Rhodes had looked past the belt. His heart was set on regaining the $100,000 he'd lost in their previous encounter, and the bookerman came up with an interesting gimmick to settle it once and for all. Tell me if it sounds familiar. A bag containing the money was to be hung high above the ring, with only one way to retrieve it: a ladder. On top of that, around the ropes was wound twine upon twine of barbed wire. Amidst outside interference from Barry Windham and JJ Dillon, the two had a violent encounter that saw Blanchard climb to the top of the ladder. As the Horseman reached for the cash, Rhodes delivered a dropkick that swept the ladder out from under Tully. The tubby gladiator then climbed to the top and walked away with the money.. but not the title.
In the middle of August, Blanchard was still shrugging off his defeat at the hands of Rhodes by defending his TV title on a fairly regular basis. One such occasion came against Nikita Koloff, who was still in pursuit of Lex Luger. While JJ Dillon made his regular ringside additions to the match, Koloff decided he'd seen enough and took care of the problem, decking Dillon. Turning to deliver a belly to back suplex, Nikita took out the ref in the process. While all in the ring were dazed and confused, JJ gathered himself enough to hand in a foreign object from the floor, which Tully gladly accepted. The armed Horseman took down the challenger with his new weapon, but before the ref could count the cover, Barry Windham was around to stop the count. Dillon mistakenly climbed back into the ring in an attempt to stop Windham from stopping the referee from stopping his count after not stopping Blanchard from stopping his loaded fist on its way toward Koloff's head. Right. Anyway, there was a big schmozz in the ring and when the dust settled, Koloff had taken the belt by using the object JJ had introduced earlier.
In the World Title picture, Flair had been chasing Garvin for weeks now. Any match involving the Ronnie or Jimmy was fair game for a Horseman run-in, which occasionally ended with the brothers in a dominant position. With things at a toss up, Flair did what he had to and challenged Ronnie to a steel cage match for the World Title. The match was a brutal slugfest, certainly not Flair's expertise. Garvin was knocking the champion from one end of the ring to the other, and eventually rolled the champ up in a sunset flip from the top, taking the win and the title in the process.
a particularly offensive photo shows grinnin' ronnie garvin winning the world title
Just as things appeared to be spiraling downhill for the premiere stable, the four bounced back. Four days after Flair's big loss, Tully and Arn were scheduled for a Tag Title shot against heated rivals the Rock'n Roll Express. Later, on television, the not-so-quiet Jim Cornette contested this new team's rights for a Title shot while his Midnight Express stood by patiently. As the interview drug on, Cornette said some things he shouldn't have and Rock'n Roll member Ricky Morton decked him for it as the champs made their way to the ring. Along the way, the Midnight Express took the Rock'n Rollers to the floor. With Tully and Arn waiting in the ring, the champions looked for a few more minutes to prepare following such a heinous attack. Dillon worked his magic, though, and goaded Robert Gibson into the ring without his injured partner. Though a healthy Express could give Arn and Tully a run any time, an injured single member here against the two would make a good comparison to that goat in the first Jurassic Park. Moments later, the Horsemen were champions once more.
In the days after, rumors swirled that Morton's injuries were career threatening and the Rock'n Roll Express dropped from active contention for the moment. Glowing from their recent victories, the Horsemen challenged any team from the back to a title match, a call to arms which was almost immediately accepted. The masked Texas Outlaws meandered towards the ring amidst catcalls and sympathy cheers.. and promptly kicked the hell out of the champs. As Arn and Tully ran with their belts, the new team removed their masks to reveal Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson.. rumors of their demise had been greatly exaggerated.
By this point, Starrcade 1987 had closed in on the NWA and though the Horsemen no longer held the World Title, Flair aimed to change that by night's end in another Flair/Garvin cage match. Opening the night for the Horsemen was a Tag Team title match pitting Arn and Tully's gold against the ongoing opposition of the Road Warriors. With the Road Warriors on a tear of late, a Chicago home crowd in their favor and their first NWA World tag team titles within reach, things seemed to be stacking up against the younger Horseman duo. Early on, the technicians went to work on Hawk's leg, cutting the ring in half and isolating the bald doomer. In time though, the hot tag was made and Animal tore through the champs like 'rrhea through a weakened colon. Tully sent the ref through the ropes to take the evening's first bump just as the Warriors hit their Doomsday Device on Arn. As another ref ran in to register the pinfall, the crowd went nuts before noticing a discussion taking place with the original referee. As the ring announcer let us all in to the tragedy, it was announced that the original ref had seen Anderson thrown over the top rope before the finishing blow was delivered. That meant a DQ victory for the champions, and a really pissed off Chicago crowd.
Later in the card, Dusty Rhodes met Lex Luger for his US title in a steel cage. Where Luger's usual assault of bodyslams, suplexes and.. um.. bodyslams would usually suffice, Rhodes's weight soon became an issue. Luger had trouble getting him off the ground, so he stuck with fists and forearms. As the now-bleeding Rhodes fought back and locked on a sleeper, Luger took out the ref and Rhodes before collapsing in the center of the ring. Dillon once again tossed a chair over the cage's walls, and Luger made a move for it. As a last resort, Rhodes jumped to his feet and tried a DDT.. which drove Luger right into the chair. The ref recovered and before Dillon could utter a word's complaint, Duthtay was our new US champion.
As Ric Flair floated to the ring amidst glitter and lighting effects, he was met with something new.. cheers. The crowd was split between the two contenders during Garvin's reign as champ, and Flair's supporters were easily the more vocal. As the two started the match, Garvin went right back to the strategy he'd employed successfully weeks ago. He brawled, and when Flair tried to make it technical he'd put a stop to it. Flair strapped on the figure four at one point, but Garvin fought it off, eventually forcing a break by reversing it to his own favor and forcing Flair to the ropes. Ric attempted to escape over the top of the cage, but Garvin drug him back in and drove his head into the lip of the steel just for good measure. Garvin hit a cross body block from the top, and the two continued to pound the living hell out of each other. Garvin hit his full-body stomp, and Flair bled. The two went back up top, and Garvin went for the same sunset flip that had won him the belt in Detroit. Flair had learned from his mistakes though and fell to his knees, grabbing the ropes to aid his pinning attempt. The ref caught this (!), and kicked Flair's hands from the ropes, almost ending the match with the following Garvin roll-through and pinning reversal. Garvin gave Flair a close-up view of his fist and got a 2 count. The two ran through a stellar series of reversals, nearfalls and all around manliness, which saw Ron take the advantage. Running with the momentum, Garvin looked for a Lou Thesz press that Flair nabbed in mid-air. Ric used his opponent's forward motion against him, dropping his head into the side of the cage and fell through with a pinning attempt. It was enough for three, and as the crowd exploded, Ric Flair walked away with his fifth World Championship.
As the year drew to a close, young Lex Luger fought to overcome the bitterness of his Starrcade defeat. Part of his personal therapy involved joining Arn, Tully and JJ Dillon in a 25 man over-the-top battle royal. Where Arn and Tully stuck to guarding their manager, Luger went after everybody else.. and proceeded to eliminate almost all. The final four men left in the ring were all Horsemen, and Dillon had a favor in mind. He asked the other Horsemen to willingly step out, leaving him winner of the match. Arn and Tully, grateful for his advice through the years, nodded and silently made their leave but Luger stood his ground before turning and clotheslining him over the top! As the three attempted to assault their former ally, Luger fought off their combined attack time and again. The young star was set to make 1988 a year to remember, and it all would begin with his split from the Horsemen.
So with Luger out, Flair and Tully champions again, Ole out and the threats continuing to line up, the next year was shaping up to be quite interesting. 1987 had turned out to be a very strong year, both for the NWA and for the Horsemen.. but in '88, they'd see some new opposition; some guy with bleached blonde hair and face paint.