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And now, on with the show ...
And now, on with the show ...
As described in the previous section, The Four Horsemen left Starrcade '86 partially satisfied. Tully Blanchard was the new NWA TV Champion and Ric Flair was still the World Champion. However, The Rock n' Roll Express had beaten Ole and Arn at their own game to retain the World tag Team Titles. Nonetheless, the group seemed content. If there was any finger-pointing, it had remained hidden. Nobody expected it, though, when it erupted in front of a national television audience. The eruption would occur, but not for three more months.
In that span of time, the Horsemen went about their usual way of destroying foes in convincing fashion. Nikita Koloff had obtained several rematches with Flair, but never again came as close to winning the title as he had been at Starrcade. Having survived the Thanksgiving nightmare, Ric Flair now possessed the confidence necessary to thwart Koloff from that time on. Dusty Rhodes demanded vengeance against Tully Blanchard for the theft of the TV title, but we all know how much easier it is to hold on to a title once it's won. Dusty could claim innumerable "moral victories" over Tully, but the Horsemen would retain the gold until Tully submitted or was pinned. The angrier Rhodes became, the easier it was becoming for Tully to snatch countout or DQ decisions over "The Dream." Without a decisive win over Blanchard, Rhodes' name on the list of top contenders started to plummet. To continue riding this wave of success, Arn Anderson decided to stake his claim to Koloff's United States Title. Although best known as a tag team wrestler, Arn was anxious to prove himself worthy of the status held by Flair and Blanchard. After all, couldn't a former TV Champion become United States Champion, as Blanchard had done in 1985? When bell time arrived though, Arn was outmatched by Nikita's overwhelming power. Arn Anderson would not win a singles championship again until 1990.
As for Ole .... What was Ole doing these days?
Barry Windham, one of the brightest superstars of the industry, stormed onto the NWA scene in late 1986. Immediately, his partnership with Ronnie Garvin had resulted in the United States Tag Team Championship. Still, Windham shined even more in his singles matches. He wanted the gold, and he knew where to find it. When Tully Blanchard decided to dole out a little bit of extra punishment to Tim Horner one weekend, Barry Windham rushed to the rescue. Flair and the other Horsemen were insulted that the upstart Windham even dared to step close to "their ring." Windham's daring did not stop there. When Flair, Blanchard, and Arn Anderson misbehaved after a six-man tag match a week later, Windham made another appearance. The Horsemen tried to corner him, but Barry, along with Dusty Rhodes, fought them all off! With an impressive win over Arn Anderson and a near-win over Tully Blanchard, Windham was climbing the charts towards his goal: a title shot against Ric Flair.
The champ was feeling lucky on January 24, in Fayetteville, NC. He took on Windham in one of the most action-packed matches of either man's career. Flair escaped with the title belt, but more importantly, Windham gained a huge reputation overnight. He had matched Flair, move for move, for over an hour. Rather than using brute force, Barry Windham had used his own scientific skills to subdue Ric Flair. This was something that Flair's other challengers (namely Rhodes, Koloff, and The Road Warriors) could never do. Better yet, the match was shown on WTBS for the delight of millions of wrestling fans. After spending over a year in the small Florida circuit, Barry Windham's status as a superstar was unquestionable. It was only a matter of time before Windham, the hunter, would capture Flair, the hunted.
No one ever expected a pair of broken friendships to totally change the entire situation. Windham's protege Lex Luger had arrived in the area. Although he had the same strong ambitions as Windham, this rookie's judgment was vulnerable to the sweet talk of James J Dillon. In spite of Windham's war with the Horsemen, Luger saw nothing wrong with following Dillon around like an earnest pupil. When Barry Windham discovered this new relationship, he was shocked and outraged. He confronted Luger on television and warned him that he was only a pawn in the Horsemen's mind games. Under their influence, he would never be allowed to threaten Flair's World Title, which was Luger's target in the first place. Unfortunately, Dillon's promises of glory and fame were more enticing than Windham's pleas of reason. Luger assaulted his "friend" and was welcomed as an Associate Member of the Four Horsemen.
Why were the Horsemen recruiting Luger's services to begin with? Was there to be Five Horsemen? The answer became clear shortly after Windham's break up with Luger. Ole Anderson, who had lost the fateful pinfall at Starrcade '86 was becoming less and less of a fixture in Horsemen affairs. Was it some sort of injury? Was he competing overseas? No, it was Ole's dedication to his children that kept him from his "other" family. With Ole's young replacement already secured, Tully Blanchard and James J Dillon were fearless in their verbal assault on Ole. Ole, they claimed, was not longer pulling his weight with the group, and his loss at Starrcade kept the crew from making a clean sweep of their title matches. Furthermore, the veteran was absent from a handful of matches in March. Ole explained that his son was competing in an amateur wrestling tournament, and he was obligated to be there for him. When Tully referred to the youngster as a "snot nosed little brat," the eruption finally occurred. Ole, Tully, and JJ had a brawl throughout the TV studio that ended with Blanchard and Dillon turning their backs on their former partner. To make matters worse, Ole's next TV appearance was interrupted when his "brother" Arn brutally assaulted him from behind. To answer the question, no, there was not going to be Five Horsemen. Ole was out. Luger was in.
Barry Windham's world had undergone some huge changes. He had left the security of his brother and father in Florida. He was suddenly in the spotlight of a national wrestling audience. His closest friend in the business had abandoned him to side with his enemies. Could Barry Windham deal with this? The world was waiting for the answer when Windham agreed to a World Title opportunity at the Second Annual Jim Crockett Sr Memorial Cup Tag Team Tournament. Perhaps all of the recent events had distracted Windham, who fell prey to a pinfall at the 26-minute mark. In spite of the loss, Windham left the ring standing tall, proud of a fine performance. Flair, on the other hand was totally spent. When Windham left the ring, Flair was prone on the mat, gasping for air. He no longer looked like a winner, much less a champion. He only looked like the man he was on that night: a lucky man.
As for the other Horsemen, Flair's victory had already been an assumption. They were more interested in the one million dollars to be awarded to the winning team. It was a two-night affair, with both events held at the Baltimore Arena in April of 1987. It was once believed that, with Luger on their side, two Horsemen teams could compete besides Ric Flair. Ole Anderson's expulsion, however, forced Arn Anderson to settle for the rugged Kevin Sullivan as a one-night partner. Ole, meanwhile, had some issues to settle with Jim Cornette's bodyguard, Big Bubba Rogers, who was perhaps a hired goon under Dillon's employment. Regardless of his allegiance, Rogers was defeated by "The Rock" on the first night via knockout in a special steel cage match. Tully Blanchard decided to combine his experience with Lex Luger's raw intensity to form a formidable duo. Furthermore, one of the top-seeded teams, The Rock n' Roll Express, was unable to compete due to an eye injury sustained by Ricky Morton. The time was ripe for Horsemen dominance.
In an upset victory, the father and son duo of Bob and Brad Armstrong defeated Arn & Sullivan in their first-round match. Blanchard and Luger were awarded a bye into the second round and defeated former Central States and Florida Tag Champs, The MOD Squad. Luger and Blanchard avenged Arn by eliminating the Armstrongs in the quarter-finals. The visiting team from Japan, comprised of Isao Takagi and former NWA World Champion Giant Baba, were next to lose to the Horsemen in the semi-finals. Could the Horsemen hold on for one more match? Their opponents were The Super Powers, namely Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff. Tully may have had second thought about stepping into the ring with Rhodes this late in the tournament, but Luger relished the opportunity to match muscles with Koloff. In order to sway him from Flair's gold belt, Dillon had been urging Luger to target Koloff's US Title. This final match had one more participant. The crowd gave a standing ovation to the courageous Magnum TA who gingerly walked to the ringside area. Tearfully, Koloff and Rhodes each embraced their fallen hero. With the inspiration of Magnum, Rhodes and Koloff battled with renewed vigor. However, the Horsemen's double-teaming caught up with Koloff. With Rhodes preoccupied with the referee, they nailed Koloff with a spiked piledriver. In the moments that followed, a melee broke out that threatened to end the tournament in a double disqualification. When Tully attempted another piledriver on Koloff, Rhodes landed on him with a cross-body block to gain the pinfall and the final victory. In spite of going all the way to the finals, Tully and Lex could not stop Nikita Koloff and Dusty Rhodes from winning the one million dollar purse.
Rhodes was by no means finished with TV Champion Tully Blanchard. Their war had been raging since early 1985. It had seen the change of titles and valets. It had seen the exchanging of titles and valets. It had seen sneak-attacks and parking lot assaults. In Rhodes' mind, it was far from over. Tully saw it differently. He considered his position as the reigning TV Champion to be proof that he no longer needed to deal with Rhodes, who had nothing to offer in return. Rhodes replied by offering a cash counterpart to Tully's gold belt. When Blanchard demanded the sum of $50,000 wagered by each wrestler, Magnum TA stepped up to the plate and offered his own cash to supplement whatever Rhodes could not afford. (Editor's note: Didn't Rhodes get half of a million dollars from the tournament?) This, now, was enough to lure Blanchard into the ring. Magnum's wrestling career was over, thus robbing Tully the chance to rectify his loss in the "I Quit" match. Humiliating him by taking Magnum's money away was the next best thing. Just to guarantee that Tully Blanchard Enterprises came away with a profit, Tully demanded that Jim Crockett Promotions give him a cash bonus for signing for the match. Naturally, the sum was (you guessed it) $50,000.
In the meantime, The Four Horsemen decided to enter into a main event match and turn it into an ambush. It was a tag team match pitting The Superpowers against Flair and Luger, who referred to themselves as "The Dream Team." This Horsemen tandem was a fine combination of Flair's skills with Luger's brute force. On the other hand, Rhodes and Koloff were up to the challenge. As the match heated up, Nikita unleashed his Russian Sickle on Luger. Then the inevitable happened. Tully and Arn slid into the ring and the beatings began. This time around, Tully Blanchard used a steel briefcase (presumably carrying the money for his upcoming match with Rhodes) to do more damage to Rhodes's bad knee. Once again, Tully proved that insult to injury was one of his specialties.
On June 6, Dusty and Tully faced off with the TV Title and Magnum's cash all on the line. Although TV Title matches were usually limited to fifteen minutes, this one was allowed a one-hour time limit. The recent attack on Dusty's knee forced him to literally sit down and rest between offensives. Finally, Dusty used the one maneuver Tully had not expected - Tully's own slingshot suplex! Rhodes went for the cover and gained the three count to win! Or did he? Immediately, Dillon swung Tully's ankle over the bottom rope and protested that it was there during the pinfall! The official was still considering this option when Tully's valet Dark Journey started a verbal assault on Magnum. Like a thief in the night, Dillon snatched the bag of money from Magnum and ran to the dressing room. Dusty pursued him, but he never realized that the referee had decided to continue the match! Dusty was counted out, and the money was "rightfully" property of Tully Blanchard! Later that same night, two more Horsemen, Ric Flair and Lex Luger stole a non-title victory over the tag team champions, The Rock n' Roll Express. When would the Horseman steamroller end?
This was only one night in an entire summer of the relentless struggle between the Horsemen and their enemies. There were too many ambushes, run-ins, and unscheduled confrontations to be listed here. On any given night, the violence would erupt between these two sides, and there was no end in sight. Furthermore, no one ring could hold the aggression of the Horsemen and any four of their enemies. Tag team matches between any four or six of these combatants would always result in the remaining warriors from either side intervening. Dusty Rhodes and his allies had had enough. THIS MEANT WAR! As in 1986, the 1987 Great American Bash was a special tour of huge events across the country (or at least the eastern portion of it.) As a special attraction, there would be the debut of a new style of match that was perfectly suited for the gang warfare involving the Four Horsemen. It was called WarGames and The Match Beyond. Two teams of five would compete in two adjacent rings surrounded by a roofed steel cage. No one could leave. No one could interfere. The real winners would be the survivors. To make it intriguing, it was decided that competitors from alternating teams would enter the cage, one at a time, at two-minute intervals. Hence two men would have to compete considerably longer than their teammates, and one team would periodically suffer a one-man disadvantage. Only after once all ten men had entered would the Match Beyond begin. The carnage would continue untamed until one man submitted. The opposing teams: The Four Horsemen and James J Dillon versus the Super Powers, The Road Warriors, and their manager Paul Ellering. In a prelude to the cage encounter, Rhodes, Koloff, and the Warriors had beaten The Four Horsemen in a conventional eight-man tag on July 2, but the best (and the most brutal) was yet to come.
History was made on The Fourth Of July when Arn Anderson and Dusty Rhodes were the first two competitors ever to enter The WarGames. The Horsemen won a coin toss in order to send in the third man, Ric Flair. One by one, the gladiators entered. Flesh was torn, and blood was spilt. Flair paired off with each of The Road Warriors as a warm-up to his title defenses against them on future dates in the Bash Tour. Blanchard and Rhodes did their best to try to cripple one another. Luger selfishly focused on Nikita Koloff's neck. He even arranged for another spiked piledriver on the US Champion. Only after all four of his teammates had entered did Dillon dare step into the cage. Two minutes later, when Ellering arrived on the scene, the Match Beyond began. The Road Warriors made use of one of their spiked armpads to burst Dillon's forehead open. Next, they proceeded to unleash their dreaded "Doomsday Device" clothesline finisher on the Horsemen manager. Dillon landed in a heap on his shoulder. When Hawk applied an armbar, Dillon screamed out his surrender. Armistice had been declared, but for one night only. The very next day, the war would continue.
A week later, Lex Luger finally had the match he desired. He was the number-one contender to the United States Heavyweight Championship. He was now scheduled to take on an injured Nikita Koloff in a steel cage match in Greensboro, NC. The Russian Nightmare was forced to wear a protective cushion on his neck, the result of the piledrivers he had received from the Horsemen in the past several weeks. The mere implication that he was suffering from these attacks was a thorn in Koloff's pride. In spite of Koloff's fury, Luger was his usual arrogant self on that evening. He wrestled a very methodical match, concentrating his attack on Koloff's neck. Although it was impressive for a young star to use such sound strategy, some of the credit must go to Dillon (sporting a dislocated shoulder as a result of the WarGames) who was coaching Lex from the outside. Inevitably, Nikita mounted a fiery comeback. As the two superheavyweights swung each other across the ring, referee Tommy Young went down hard. Nikita scored a direct hit with the Russian Sickle, but no one was there to make the count! Somehow, Dillon managed to push a metal chair over the cage wall into the ring. With Nikita looking for another official, Luger blasted him from behind with the chair. He then hoisted Koloff's limp body onto his shoulders for his patented "Torture Rack" backbreaker. The recovering ref checked Koloff's motionless hand and signaled the timekeeper to ring the bell. Lex Luger was awarded the United States Title via "a submission." Luger went on to become one of the most dominant champions ever during his first title reign. Using his intellect as well as his brawn, he retained the title via disqualification in rematches with an outraged Koloff. He went on to thwart numerous other challengers throughout the summer, including Dusty Rhodes, his former partner Barry Windham, and his future partner Sting.
Meanwhile, Ric Flair had some business to attend to -- family business. Earlier in the year, when Jim Cornette burned Ronnie Garvin with a fireball, who should come to Ron's aid but his estranged brother, the dastardly "Gorgeous" Jimmy Garvin. Their philosophies had differed for many years, but pity for his brother prompted Jimmy to reunite with Ron. How did this affect The Four Horsemen? Well, in the past, Jimmy Garvin had been one of their most efficient allies. He was a part-time tag partner of Tully Blanchard, and they all shared many of the same foes, such as Magnum TA, Wahoo McDaniel, and Dusty Rhodes. For him to change his ways so suddenly was both a detriment and an insult to the Horsemen. While fans were endeared by the Garvins' emotional reunion, Ric Flair took the opportunity to make comments about Jimmy Garvin's valet/wife, Precious. Bordering on vulgarity, Flair made it known that she was a prime candidate to "ride Space Mountain." Jimmy was outraged. Flair continued to woo (and we do mean WOOO!)Precious by giving her a $15,000 mink coat. How did Precious respond to the gift? She took the coat and walked back to Garvin's side! The inevitable clashes between The Four Horsemen and the Garvin Brothers saw a series of sneak attacks and match interferences. Neither side would rest until the issue was settled.
Ric Flair then made an offer that sent shockwaves through the wrestling world. In a steel cage encounter pitting him against Jimmy Garvin, he would stake his NWA World Title against the mink coat. In addition to those stipulations, Flair demanded another prize: one night with Precious! It was a perilous event for both parties since there had to be a winner. Either Garvin would become World Champion, or Flair would "have" Precious. With all due respect to Garvin's illustrious career, he was never quite in Flair's league as a wrestler. Still, his trademark charisma always made him a hard man to beat, and he was well aware of his must-win situation. If he had the chance to execute his finisher, the dreaded brainbuster, there was little doubt that a victory would soon follow.
The match was held on July 8, the same night on which Luger had captured the United States Title, so Flair's confidence level was already high. Garvin, likewise, began the match wrestling better than he had in years. Each man had his reputation and something (or someone) irreplaceable to defend. Garvin had selected the Greensboro Arena for this match because it was the site of Flair's previous title loss to Dusty Rhodes in 1986. Fate intervened when Garvin attempted a leapfrog midway through the match. He fell incorrectly and somehow twisted his knee. Seeing this, Flair was like a shark finding blood in the water. He relentlessly attacked the knee, with the figure-our in the back of his mind. However, he made the mistake of taunting Garvin and reminding him of the consequences of a loss. Precious was Garvin's inspiration to hold onto to consciousness when Flair applied the figure four. The fans were nearly rioting at this point, and Ronnie Garvin (at ringside) had to literally drag one fan from climbing into the cage. Amidst all of this commotion, Flair managed to hold on to the ropes in order to get an illicit pinfall to win the match. It was the moment that the entire Garvin family had dreaded for weeks. It was now official. Flair had won Precious for one night. While all parties were in the cage, Slick Ric tried to get things started with Precious a little early! Bad move, as Ronnie Garvin unloaded some of his granite chops to force Flair away from Precious. Still, Flair had the last laugh, didn't he?
By virtue of this victory he had the right to dishonor the Garvin family. In an interview, he even applied the ol' "Greco-Roman lip-lock" to a mannequin dressed up as in Precious! On the night of the big date, things did not go as he had planned. Flair arranged for James J Dillon to carry a video camera to the alleged "couple's" hotel room. The doorbell rang, and Flair welcomed a sassy blonde wearing a black dress into the room. The new arrival then punched Flair square in the nose, knocking him cold! Dillon slipped out of his hiding place behind some curtains only to be pushed into a swimming pool! This blonde was neither "precious" nor "gorgeous." This blonde was Ronnie Garvin! (It wasn't a new role to Garvin, who portrayed "Miss Atlanta Lively" at Starrcade '85, but that's another story!) Much to Flair's embarrassment, Dillon's film was shown on the following weekend's wrestling programs to the delight of Garvin fans nationwide.
Flair declared that the games were over. It was now about business, not pleasure. His reputation had been tarnished. His ego needed satisfaction, and the issue could only be settled after proving that he was a tougher man than Ronnie Garvin. He was a World Champion in an odd situation. He was actually in pursuit of his challenger! As he started his "hunt" for Ron Garvin, Flair met lightweight Rocky King in a TV match. When Flair intentionally tried to injure King, Garvin confronted Flair in the ring. The two went at it, chop for chop, for several minutes until the other Horsemen broke it up. Even then, Garvin used his fists to keep all four men occupied until Luger managed to tackle him to the mat. When Garvin's friends arrived, the Horsemen scattered. It was now unclear as to who was chasing whom.
In the summer of 1987, Dusty Rhodes tried to end his war with Tully Blanchard. By this time, Tully's TV Title was no longer Dusty's prime objective. Their feud had been kicked up one notch when Tully, Dillon, and Dark Journey managed to swindle Rhodes and Magnum out of their money back in June. This issue was to be settled in an "anything goes" return encounter on July 18, in Charlotte, NC. It was a special contest which saw a bag containing the money hung high over the ring. Two more ingredients were added: a ladder in order to reach the bag, and a dozen strings of razor-sharp barbed wire wrapped around the ropes. As usual, Tully Blanchard had the partnership of Dillon at ringside, but this time, Rhodes brought along Barry Windham. Whereas Magnum TA would have trouble defending himself, Windham was more than capable of handling Dillon or any other Horseman who decided to interfere. Tully's speed and agility was supposed to give him the advantage in this type of match, but Dusty managed to keep him from reaching the prized bag. Just when Rhodes was gaining an advantage, Dillon decided to take his chances with The Dream. Sure enough, Windham was upon him like lightning. Rhodes kicked the ladder out from under Blanchardís feet, and then climbed up to the top to claim the victory and the prize. In spite of all this, Tully still held on his Television Title. That same night saw the rest of the Horsemen meet with mediocre success. Lex Luger beat Nikita Koloff to maintain the US Title, but Road Warrior Animal pinned Arn Anderson's shoulders to the mat. The World Champion, as usual, used Road Warrior Hawk's temper to his advantage, as Flair beat Hawk by DQ in the big title match.
A WarGames rematch between the same ten men was scheduled for the Miami Bash event on July 31. Although Dillon was still suffering from his injuries, he managed to procure a "suitable" replacement. It was in the form of a 6'7", 350 lb masked monster called The War Machine. It was obvious that the deck was stacked against The Road Warriors and Super Powers, as this huge man was more than a match for their fifth man, Paul Ellering. Although Ellering was in great condition, was not on par with the other competitors. Once again, the Horsemen won the coin toss in order to gain the one-man advantage throughout the match. Somehow, Dusty Rhodes and his allies kept fighting back, even against the enormous War Machine. The ending was similar to the first encounter, as Dillon's replacement submitted to The Road Warriors. Then, to the amazement of the audience, the mask was removed to reveal Big Bubba Rogers -- the man once enlisted to eliminate Ole Anderson at the Crockett Cup!
The Horsemen could not believe that the indestructible Rogers would fall apart at the worst possible moment, but their problems did not end there. While Dusty Rhodes was the focal point of Tully Blanchard's strategies, Tully never dreamed that Nikita Koloff (who was seeking to regain the US Title) would ever challenge him for the TV Title. A lack of preparation, combined with a poor attempt to use a foreign object, led Nikita Koloff to win the NWA Television Championship on August 17, just a month after having lost the US strap. Meanwhile, Flair's quest to prove his toughness led him to sign for a steel cage match against Ron Garvin in Detroit on September 25. Again, it was a poor decision on the Horsemen's part. Flair had trapped himself inside a cage with one of the most dangerous men in the sport. Garvin was comfortable fighting in the cage, and the match was primarily a slugfest, as he had hoped. After getting beaten from pillar to post, Flair was pinned by Garvin with a sunset flip from the top turnbuckle. With only Luger's US Title remaining, The Horsemen's dynasty was crumbling before their very eyes!
Things turned around for the Horsemen just four days later. Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson were scheduled to team up for a shot at the tag team championship, held by The Rock n' Roll Express. Tully & Arn spent most of the year separated, so Jim Cornette was rightfully miffed by seeing this unproven duo receiving a title shot. After all, his Midnight Express were the United States Tag Team Champions and the rightful top contenders to the World Titles. As usual, Cornette's mouth rambled into Parts Unknown, and he eventually made some derogatory comments about Ricky Morton's mother. Morton immediately confronted Cornette and disciplined him with a slap to the face. This would not go unanswered. With Tully and Arn in the ring, the champions made their way towards the ring area. In the crowd of fans and security, Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane attacked Morton & Gibson. Eaton applied his "Divorce Court" shoulder breaker to Morton on the cement floor! The champions had to be helped to the back by medical technicians. Was there even going to be a tag team title match?
James J Dillon could care less either way. As stated in the match contract, if the Rock n' Rollers couldn't wrestle the match, then Blanchard and Anderson would win the championship via forfeit. Fans shook their heads in denial when Robert Gibson made his way to the ring carrying both belts. He was agreeing to defend the titles in a handicap match! As one can imagine, Tully and Arn salivated at the chance to both win the titles and deliver a two-on-one beating to one of the Horsemen's most persistent enemies. Remarkably, Gibson was doing quite well for himself in the beginning, as he was used to dealing with double-teams from all sorts of opponents. However, he had never before had to go this long without a tag. Tully and Arn pounded away at Gibson relentlessly -- perhaps too relentlessly, as Ricky Morton staggered to the ring apron with his arm in a sling! Unaware of his partner, Gibson stumbled into what he thought was a neutral corner. Morton tagged in and began punching away at both opponents with his one good arm. The numbers game caught up with Ricky soon enough, and the Horsemen utilized their traditional punishment holds on his injured shoulder. Ronnie Garvin, Barry Windham and others pleaded with the courageous Morton to leave the ring. In vintage Anderson fashion, Tully twisted up on the bad arm with a wrenching armbar. Would Morton give up? We will never know, as Gibson stepped back in the ring and called it quits. His face showed no bitterness or fight, just concern. His compassion for his long-time partner was more important than a dozen titles.
A win is a win, said the Horsemen, and they now had the NWA World Tag Team Championship. The matter didn't end there, though. Rumors were spreading about Morton suffering a "career-ending" injury. With the former champs out of the way and an informal alliance with The Midnight Express, the new tag champs felt untouchable. They even issued an open challenge to any "new team" that the NWA had to offer (excluding, naturally, the likes of Rhodes, Koloff, and The Road Warriors.) A "new team" accepted. They were the Texas Outlaws, a masked team without any reputation. The cocky champions strolled to the ring to meet these mystery men ... who proceeded to thrash the champions like wild animals! Dillon was totally stunned as he saw Blanchard and Anderson get bounced around like pinballs. After the masked duo produced a DOUBLE-DROPKICK, the champions retreated in short order. This was not a "new" tag team by any means. The masks came off, and The Rock n' Roll Express was back!
Now that his partner Nikita Koloff had taken the TV Title from Tully Blanchard, Dusty Rhodes decided to refocus on Koloff's nemesis Lex Luger. Dusty, with a physique about as different from Luger's as possible, claimed that no amount of muscle could make up for his nearly twenty years of ring experience. Luger was quick to remind Rhodes that he was brought into the sport by one of its most revered trainers, Hiro Matsuda. Not only had the training provided a granite body, but it also provided a mental toughness that could not be measured. Dusty Rhodes then went about putting a serious dent in Luger's pride during an altercation shown on television. Swinging behind Lugerís back, Rhodes applied a sleeper hold. Luger's energetic body grew limp in moments! Fighting fire with fire, Rhodes announced that the sleeper was a special weapon provided by his new trainer, the legendary Johnny Weaver. This was a swipe at Matsuda's honor, as well as Luger's. Hiro Matsuda then announced that he would hold an exhibition to demonstrate his own version of the sleeper. The volunteer was referee Tommy Young. Accepting the fact that Young was no competitor, Matsuda had promised to release the hold within a few seconds. When the demonstration took place, though, Hiro Matsuda kept the hold applied for a disturbing length of time. When Johnny Weaver protested, Hiro attacked him with the same hold! Blood began to drip from the retired wrestler's nose, and it soon became obvious that Johnny Weaver's very life was in danger! Dusty Rhodes came to his rescue on that night, and he then demanded a match against Matsuda himself. Although Rhodes went on to defeat Matsuda in a series of "lights out" no-DQ matches, Dillon had what he secretly wanted: more time to prepare Luger for the inevitable challenge of The American Dream.
Now, the stage was set for the "grand-daddy" of 1987, Starrcade '87. Chicago would host "Chi-Town Heat" in the UIC Pavilion. The fans witnessed Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson defend their NWA Tag Team Titles against against hometown heroes, The Road Warriors. After steamrolling over every other team in the NWA, Hawk and Animal needed this victory to legitimize their status as the best team in wrestling. Whereas the champions' teamwork was nearly as synchronized as that of The Warriors, they had no chance of matching them in the power department. Even after working on the limbs of Hawk, they could not stop Animal from making the all-important tag. From there, it was a running race, as Tully scrambled to avoid the Warriors. In doing so, he jostled the referee to the floor, who was quickly replaced by another official. One "Doomsday Device" later, and the Road Warriors won the tag team championship! Not so, said the original referee. From his point of view on the floor, he noticed the Warriors toss Anderson over the top rope, warranting a disqualification victory for the champions. Needless to say, the fans were very vocal in their disappointment!
Next up was the United States Title match, taking place in a steel cage. As collateral for a shot at Luger's title, Dusty Rhodes agreed that he would be suspended for ninety days if he did not win the belt. Just in case the Horsemen had planned any tricks, Johnny Weaver stood at ringside holding the key to the cage door. From the outset, it was all a matter of whether or not Rhodes' stamina could withstand Luger's punishment. Dusty's ... shall we say ... bulk was a weapon in his favor, as Luger had difficulty when it came to suplexing and slamming the veteran. An early attempt at the "Torture Rack" was unsuccessful, but Luger rebounded with a furious barrage of fists and forearms. This only served to bring about Dusty's second wind. When Rhodes tried to apply the "Weaverlock" sleeper, Dillon knew he had to act quickly. He whacked Johnny Weaver from behind with a chair. Still carrying Rhodes on his back, Luger managed to collide with the referee. As he had done in Luger's US Title victory months before, Dillon pushed the chair over the top of the cage. Luger groggily crawled towards the chair, but Rhodes seized the opportunity to execute a DDT at the last second. Luger's forehead landed on the chair, and he was quickly pinned, costing him the United States Title.
It was main event time for the UIC Pavilion. Ronnie Garvin marched into a steel cage as he had done so just one month before in the Joe Louis Arena. He had wrestled infrequently since winning the title, and he had agreed to this encounter immediately after that match. Ric Flair made his glittery entrance, and he was welcomed by a surprisingly positive reaction. Commentator Tony Schiavone had previously asked Flair what had worried him the most about stepping into a cage with Garvin. Was it the punishment? The pain? The knockout punch? Flairís answer was, "his confidence." Garvinís prior strategy had brought him the title, so he again used his standard array of slaps, punches, and headbutts. On the other hand, he was also able to respond effectively to Flair's attempts to turn it back into a wrestling match. With every opportunity, Flair tried to direct his attention to Garvin's legs, and he slapped on the figure four about ten minutes into the match. Garvin's pain threshold was pushed to the limit, but he recovered to resume his original gameplan: beat up Ric Flair! "Shades of Detroit," screamed Tony Schiavone, as Garvin executed his top-rope sunset flip. At that moment, Flair lunged to the ropes and dropped to his knees in order to illegally pin Garvin. Seeing this, the official kicked Flair's hands away from the ropes, allowing Garvin to complete the move! Flair kicked out at the last split second. After Garvin accidentally backed the referee into the turnbuckles, he shot out of the corner with the knockout punch. But as the referee scrambled to the mat, Garvin's attempt at a pinfall only garnered a two-count. He never came closer again. Flair caught Garvin's version of the Lou Thesz Press and rammed him head-first into the cage's middle post. One, two, three. The Nature Boy was now the five-time National Wrestling Alliance Heavyweight Champion.
It was a night to remember. The Horsemen were on top of the world. Flair had conquered his demons by surviving Garvin's toughest offence in the cage. Tully and Arn narrowly escaped with their belts (and their health!) It was redemption for Flair. It was survival for Blanchard and Anderson. However, it was something altogether different for Lex Luger. No, it wasn't failure. It was rebirth! In a way, you could say 1988 started before it began.
On December 12, twenty-five of the NWA's toughest "tough guys" battled in a Bunkhouse Battle Royal. Actually, it was more like twenty-four tough guys, plus James J Dillon. Three of the others were Lex Luger, Tully Blanchard, and Arn Anderson. Even though Blanchard and Anderson spent much of their match time protecting Dillon, Luger went on a rampage like a stampeding rhino. He had been waiting for an opportunity like this to make up for his poor showing at Starrcade. He tossed several superheavyweights over the top, including the 400-pound-plus Mighty Wilbur. When the dust cleared, the four remaining men were Blanchard, Anderson, Luger, and Dillon. The methodical manager pleaded with this men to allow him to be the winner. After all, Dillon had not competed regularly in years. While the other Horsemen had been garnering all sorts of glory, it was all due in part to Dillonís strategy and planning. Blanchard and Anderson were touched by his request, and they willingly stepped over the top rope to eliminate themselves. As for Luger, he was much less compliant. He came to win. When Dillon tried to match up with the former US Champion, he ended up on the floor with Tully and Arn. When all three tried to attack Lex, he fought them all off by himself. The crowd erupted as the winner was no longer a Horseman, but a hero to call their own. With this one falling-out, Luger set the stage for The Four Horsemen for the next year. 1988 would be Lex Luger's year, whether the Horsemen liked it or not!
PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SORROW!
LEX LUGER DECIDES TO MAKE THE HORSEMEN HIS ENEMIES IN 1988!
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