WCW was in deep water following the tremendous failure that was 1992. Buyrates were plummeting, house show attendance was at an all time low, storylines were silly and contrived, and morale was way below par. After nearly burning all their bridges with the resident franchise in the mess that saw Flair head to the WWF, the higher-ups in Turner came crawling back to the multiple-time world's champion in their hour of need. Flair had no issue with it, as he'd hoped to get out of his WWF contract anyway.. the Vince McMahon's plans had him phased out of the World Title. The two sides came to terms and as 1993 rolled around, Flair was back home.. but the last one out hadn't turned off the lights. The WCW/NWA that had given birth to the Horsemen was long gone, and in its place was a strange beast none could recognize. With former Horsemen scattered throughout, Flair began the rebuilding process himself.. but didn't start right away.
When Ric made his first reappearance on WCW television, it wasn't in an active role. A clause in his WWF contract kept the Nature Boy from active contention until June of that year. The contract said nothing of hosting a talk show however, and "A Flair for the Gold" was born not long after. In this role, Flair's name was kept fresh amongst the ranks, his mic skills were given opportunity to flourish, and new relationships began to form. Old friends Ole and Arn Anderson were among ther first to join him on the program, and the three set out on their search for a fourth Horseman almost instantly, though they'd never admit it on air.
Not long into the lifespan of A Flair for the Gold, Slick Ric invited The Hollywood Blondes, Steve Austin and Brian Pillman, to his program. At this point the blondes were the tag team champions, and over as monster heels with the otherwise dead crowds of the day. They'd grabbed their spot through hard work, interesting personalities and consistency, so fans respected them nearly as much as they hated them. The two came on the program with something of a chip on their shoulder, and berated Flair before a live TV audience. Flair attempted to verbally fight back, but the two were too quick witted even for him and by the program's end Slick Ric was left humiliated in his own spotlight. It wasn't exactly a familiar feeling for the former champion, and was not one he wished to get better acquainted with. The search for a new Horseman stepped up.
As the search went on, Flair and the Andersons began to narrow down their options. Barry Windham's new role as a lone wolf had netted him tremendous success since Flair's departure (Windham was now the NWA World Heavyweight Champion), and he wasn't likely to give up that kind of success for another run with the Horsemen, where he'd always been the second fiddle. Lex Luger had run to the WWF just after Flair, where he remained in a slowly dissolving role as the Narcissist. They'd pretty well eliminated Sting after a failed partnership in 1990, and Sid was happy enough with his new affiliation with Big Van Vader at the top of the WCW pecking order.
Before the big selection, A Flair for the Gold was given something of an interesting sidenote. The main event scene at this point was a rotating assault, centered on a collision between the masters of the power bomb (the team of Sid and Vader) and the resistance (Sting and Davey Boy Smith). The annual WarGames event had crept along, and while Sid and Vader had recruited a fresh team named Harlem Heat as their partners for the war, Sting and Davey Boy had yet to name their allies. A Clash of the Champions card gave WCW a big opportunity to anounce the surprise partner(s), and the good guys came out for a chat on the special edition of Flair. The two stood up for added effect as the crowd tensed, waiting for a big name announcement to surprise them. Sting took the mic and, after sufficient dramatic pause, announced "our partner... the SHOCKMASTER!" Everyone was silent for several seconds. The fans.. the wrestlers.. their opponents. Dead air. Suddenly, the wall to the set exploded as Fred Ottman, known in the WWF as Tugboat and Typhoon, burst through. In what's best described as a stormtrooper helmet wrapped in tinfoil, jeans, cowboy boots and an open-chested vest, he stood. It was a homemade halloween costume gone awry. On his way through the wall, his foot caught and he tripped.. sending his helmet bouncing along the floor of the set and revealing his identity to all in attendance. While Typhoon scurried after the useless prop, his "voice" boomed over the speakers in a disembodied acceptance of the heels' challenge. It was hilarious.. even Flair couldn't keep a straight face. Not exactly Horsemen fare, but.. still worthwhile of mentioning. As a particularly frightening sidenote, not even this could derail WCW's plans for him; the Shockmaster went 11-0 in 1993. He never lost a match.
the shockmaster's grand introduction
After his subpar run as talk show king, Flair finally made his triumphant return to the ring in the summertime, and wasted no time in calling the Andersons to the ring. The three promptly introduced the fruit of their efforts.. the star destined to boost the Horsemen back to their previous heights.. former WWF jobber Paul Roma. Rumor has it the original plan was to tempt Tully Blanchard out of retirement and an enjoyable career as a reverend, but Blanchard stood firm and wouldn't have any of it. So we got Paul Roma, in what's considered the weakest Horsemen lineup of all time.
The setback didn't slow Flair down for long though, and he soon set off on the task of recapturing the NWA and WCW World Titles, held by Barry Windham and Vader, respectively. He started after the NWA title first, and took it from the former Horseman in less than one month. A fighting champion, Flair defended the belt against all comers.. a strategy which didn't hold up with the times as well as it had in the past. As competition became stiffer and stiffer, Flair had more difficulty retaining the title and the added strain of a failing Horsemen didn't aid his cause. His luck finally ran out in September, as he dropped the NWA title to Rick Rude.
Not long after, WCW and the NWA had a final disagreement over portrayal of their titles. The NWA as a collective sued WCW in an attempt to get their belts back. Turner argued that the belts were legally his property now and, with a high powered lawyer team, convinced a jury of the same. The only real change brought about from the complete divorce of the two promotions was purely cosmetic. The NWA world title was renamed the WCW International Heavyweight Championship. The belt was meant to hold the same prestige and honor as the WCW World Title, but even the efforts of Rude and his constant challengers Sting and Ric Flair couldn't deliver on such plans. The belt found itself in free fall soon after. Still, Flair persisted, but after multiple rematches and inconclusive DQ finishes that left the belt on Rude, he finally gave up and set his gaze elsewhere.
While The Nature Boy glared at Vader's WCW World Title, Anderson and Roma tried to make the best of a truly horrible situation in the tag ranks. They stepped out to defend the Horsemen's pride against the verbal threat of the Hollywood Blondes, and the two teams embarked on a strong, underrated series of matches with Austin and Pillman's titles on the line. At one marathon Orlando TV taping, Arn and Paul were one step ahead of the champions and took the straps following a clean victory. Later in the program though, it was revealed that Pillman and Austin would hold onto the belts after all.. a result of a technicality. The truth behind the reversed decision went beyond storylines, and more into maintaining credibility and the element of surprise.
WCW had taken to taping their programs in the vein of their competition, the WWF, several episodes at a time. While Vince would tape 4 Raws at every show, WCW would record a full 3 months' worth of TV in one fell swoop. Audiences were screened to eliminate wrestling fans, as the internet was just gaining its bearings and spoilers were becoming more of a reality. Crowds were told who to cheer and who to boo. It was a really sorry, dead way to run the federation, and it took an immeasurable toll on the struggling promotion. Regardless, reports had still managed to climb onto the net spoiling the next few months' worth of programming (including the Horsemen's title victory), and the previously scheduled title change was altered as an early swerve, knocking the credibility of those early spoilers. Within weeks, Anderson and Roma defeated the Blondes for their titles legitimately.
At this point in the game WCW was really having a hard time of it. The actual wrestling and storylines were at an all time low, the company was losing money by the fistful, and the hyped reunion of the Horsemen hadn't even come close to reaching the lofty goals that were set for it. Vader's run as champion, strong as it could've been, was being considered a failure because of its grim surroundings and Sid had been booked to take the belt in their big blowoff at Starrcade. He would then rejoin the Horsemen booting Roma in the process, and the Four would hopefully regain some of their past glory with a newer, more powerful lineup. It sounded like a good plan, and it really could've worked.. but then something unexpected went down.
The whole thing was sent on its way to hell when new President Eric Bischoff decided to run a WCW tour of Europe. Working angles together as a team to prepare for their association after Starrcade, the long road hours wore hard on Sid and the Horsemen. Especially tense was the air between Vicious and then tag team champion Arn Anderson. When Arn answered his hotel door one evening in September, Sid was waiting with a pair of scissors and a chip on his shoulder. The meeting turned for the worse, and both were later taken to the hospital with multiple puncture wounds, inflicted by the dreaded scissors. As he was the instigator of the incident, Sid was immediately fired. He went to the WWF, where they eventually turned this whole situation into a gimmick; Sycho Sid. Arn went without punishment, aside from over a dozen stab wounds, but didn't feel nearly as secure in the WCW locker rooms and began spending time with other promotions. Paul Roma made the team's disintegration official when he turned on Arn in a Tag Team Title defense against a throw-together team of Steve Austin and Paul Orndorff. For the third time, WCW was without the Four Horsemen.
arn anderson and sid vicious prior to their infamous overseas encounter
Ric Flair, however, was just getting warmed up. With the sudden departure of Sid Vicious, Flair was given the opportunity he'd been looking for, an open shot at Vader's World Title. Flair made a challenge for Starrcade, but Vader would only accept under one condition: Flair had to put his career on the line. So it was set, Flair vs. Vader at Starrcade. Gold vs. career, life vs. life. The two put on a clinic, and in front of his hometown crowd, Flair captured the WCW World Title for only the second time since its inception. Post match, Flair gave a heartfelt speech in front of thousands of hungry NC fans and thanked them for a second chance to rise to the top. As 1993 drew to a close, Ric Flair had taken the World title along with the booker's chair, and without the Andersons by his side, set out to recover the lost dynasty left behind by the NWA.
Bischoff, however, was not content with the promise of glory long past. While Flair was given the illusion that he was in charge, Bischoff began making deals. Big money was on the table for anyone interested in turning WCW around, and the biggest fish in the sea took the bait.
While Flair worked as a face and gave us some tremendous action, Bischoff wined and dined Hulk Hogan for a huge run in WCW. Ricky Steamboat was brought in to reprise his grand feud of years past with the Nature Boy, and the two picked up right where they left off. Flair cut loose the proven failures on the card and tried his hand on something new.. something the fans liked. Half of the immensely popular Hollywood Blondes, Steve Austin, was given a US title reign. Flair himself seemed to be grooming Austin for the World Title picture. The Great Muta was brought back in for a brief stint, though he wasn't nearly the same man he was five years ago. Things were starting to get interesting again, and Flair was reaching heights of popularity unseen since the glory days. He finally won the elusive WCW International Title from Sting just after Spring Stampede, unifying it forever with the WCW World Heavyweight Title. And then Hogan arrived, and everything was dropped to please him.
Flair's face run, building towards a big money feud with Austin, was scrapped and Flair was suddenly and unsuccessfully turned heel to provide a foil for Hogan. The Hulkster's first match in WCW was met with mixed reactions, as he slapped Flair around and won the World Title with ease. Flair's credibility was stretched to its limits, and then stretched some more after countless weak main events with the Hulkster. Crowds were audibly behind Flair, but Hogan was pushed down their throats as the gracious babyface champ. Ric was teamed with longtime Hogan stooge Ed Leslie, best known as Brutus "the Barber" Beefcake, Zodiac and the Disciple, in a movement to rid the world of Hulkamania.
Finally, Hogan had enough of the multiple rematches and refused to offer World Title shots to Flair without reason.. so Flair put up all he had. Hogan/Flair at Halloween Havoc was a career vs. title match, and it was a complete slap in the face for any devout Nature Boy fan. Hogan completely dominated him from start to finish, refusing to sell Flair's attacks and chasing the "cowardly heel" around the ring. The pain didn't stop with a pinfall, either, as Hogan heroically pulled Sherri Martel, Flair's manager at the time, into the ring. He went on to clothesline her, slam her from the cage to the mat and kick her in the face while Flair hid in a corner. Not the way I'd choose to end a career spanning two decades.