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The championship title links will bring you to the appropriate pages in The Great Hisa's Puroresu Dojo, while links for various supercards come from Professional Wrestling Supercards and Tournaments. I highly recommend an extensive exploration of both of those sites. Just in case you forget to do so, there are some reminders at the bottom of the page.

And now, on with the show ...

In the wake of Starrcade '88, The "Four" Horsemen consisted of World Champion Ric Flair, United States Champion Barry Windham, and their executive director, James J Dillon. Things were beginning to get casual for the premier group of wrestling talent. Their titles had survived the individual threats of Lex Luger and Bam Bam Bigelow, and the two tired Horsemen had only small regrets over their losses in tag team action against these same two men. Soon enough, Bigelow was out of the NWA altogether, and Barry Windham's next scheduled challenger, Dusty Rhodes, was in the process of being fired from the promotion. All that remained was the little problem of one Eddie Gilbert.

Throughout his career, "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert had always either been the biggest fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond. Although the NWA was suffering in its national-scale promotional war with the WWF, it was still an ocean to the overlooked Gilbert. He had arrived in the NWA at the request of Jimmy Garvin to help battle Kevin Sullivan's Varcity Club, but, with Garvin out of action with a knee injury, Gilbert was only aided by the occasional help of Rick Steiner, one of his own old proteges. In any event, Eddie Gilbert was considered to be a "mid-carder" and out of the Horsemen's league. Thanks to his apparent low status, he wasn't taken seriously when he challenged Barry Windham to a series of matches. Still, Windham was up to the task, and maybe even a little bored.

Windham was not bored for long. Gilbert's subtle ring skills came to the surface as he began to embarass the US Champion. Like Windham, Eddie was from a wrestling family in which his father Tommy Gilbert had taught him the ropes at an early age. Seeing things getting out of hand, Dillon managed to interject himslef and help Windham gain a tainted victory. It did not end there. As if he had expected more sportsmanship (from the Horsemen?!), Eddie Gilbert confronted Flair, Dillon, and Windham in an interview. When they delivered a 3-on-1 beating, Gilbert was still unyielding, and he demanded a title match with Windham. With the controversy over the first match and the recent violence, he was granted the shot. This time, the "mid-card" Gilbert had his way with Windham until Ric Flair made a blatant interruption to bring about a disqualification. Then Gilbert played his trump card. He dared Flair and Windham to partake in a tag team match against himself and a mystery partner. Who could Gilbert have as a partner? Rick Steiner? The Junkyard Dog? An injured Jimmy Garvin? That last possibility was tantalizing to Flair, who would have loved to torture Garvin's damaged knee as a little receipt for the whole "Date With Precious" episode from 1987. Manager James J Dillon wasted no time in signing for the match ... one of the last decisions he would ever make in that capacity for Flair and Windham.

It was January 21, 1989. With TV cameras rolling, Ric Flair and Barry Windham, the two highest-rated stars in the NWA, waited for Eddie Gilbert and his partner ... RICKY "THE DRAGON" STEAMBOAT! Whereas Windham had never battled Steamboat in a singles match before, The Dragon had given Flair nightmares since the 1970's. It was Steamboat who pinned Flair for his first championship in 1978. It was Steamboat who pushed Flair to the limit at New York's Night Of Champions in 1984. And it was Steamboat who pinned Ric Flair in this tag team match! Steamboat was last seen in the ring several months ago, waving goodbye to his WWF fans on his way to (another) retirement. (He had actually retired once before in 1983.) Here he was, in "Flair Country", and he had not lost a step. Why wasn't Flair informed that Steamboat, one of his most dangerous foes, had arrived in the NWA? Enraged over this shocking loss, Flair had a falling out with Dillon.

Good Ol' JJ tried to make it up to the other Horsemen by putting his own body on the line in order to retaliate against Eddie Gilbert. A very vague announcement was made concerning a "Double Bullrope" match. It would be Barry Windham and James J Dillon taking on the team of Eddie Gilbert and "one of The Texas Broncos." The Texas Broncos was the team of Kendall Windham and Dustin Rhodes, and commentators had always made a note of the oddity of their team. It was the brother of a Horseman teaming up with the son of Dusty Rhodes, the antithesis of a Horseman if ever there was one. When the match finally occurred it was the duo of Gilbert and Kendall Windham going at it against Barry and JJ. As Gilbert grabbed ahold of Dillon's throat, the Windhams were doing ... well, not really ANYTHING to speak of. Just as Eddie Gilbert began to take notice of his predicament, he was attacked by both Windham Brothers. All three men used the bullrope and cowbell to bludgeon Eddie Gilbert. Blood was thicker than water, and Gilbert's own spilt blood was evidence of this fact. However, Kendall Windham was never officially recognized as a member of the Four Horsemen. Dillon's methods of gaining an ally were creative, but it did not satisfy Flair, or even Barry Windham. About a week later, announced that they had fired James J Dillon. He was never contacted for his side of the story, and Dillon was soon working backstage in the WWF, amid rumors that he was responsible for other NWA stars having "gone North" as well.

Ric Flair and Barry Windham unvealed their new manager, Hiro Matsuda, the leader of an allegedly-powerful Japanese organization called The Yamazaki Corporation. Although Matsuda was reknowned for his talents when it came to training and cultivating young stars, could he handle the complex strategies employed by the Horsemen? Matsuda seldom spoke, and seemed somewhat out of place alongside the brash champions he "managed." There was some speculation that Flair and Windham made their own decisions -- after all, even Dillon had fumbled the situation with Steamboat. In order to silence the critics, this new arrangement of Horsemen to make a comeback by answering Rick Steamboat's challenge. A World Title match was scheduled for a PPV event in February. Just ten days before the event, Flair and Steamboat went head to head -- in a debate at the Fifth Clash Of Champions. Even besides the physicality, The Nature Boy and The Dragon showed that they were on opposite sides of the philosophical fence. As for Barry Windham's US Title, he would be challenged at the PPV, but not by Dusty Rhodes. Instead, it would be the man Windham had betrayed a year ago, Lex Luger. If Windham decided to pull out of this match, it would have been harmful to the reeling Horsemen, who were desperate to preserve their reputation. To top it all off, Matsuda decided to hire Butch Reed. Surely Reed would earn a spot on the Horsemen roster should he defeat Sting in a singles encounter. But what if he lost? With everything to lose and little to gain, Reed, Windham, and Flair made their way to Chicago for Chi-Town Rumble '89.

Since it was 1989, it goes without saying that Butch Reed was unsuccessful against The Stinger. The once-dynamic Reed was in a slump ever since leaving a forgetable year in the WWF; he would not obtain any notable victories until donning a mask as a member of Doom eight months later. On the other hand, Sting was a hot comodity and on the verge of capturing his first singles title. Even Reed's ten years of experience was no match for Sting's momentum at this time. Hiro Matsuda could only watch as Sting pinned Butch Reed with a simple sunset flip from the apron. Strike one.

Next up to bat for Matsuda's team was Barry Windham. In addition to the dramatic history between these two men, his match against Luger was physically grueling for both parties. Windham generally controlled the pace of the match, but he injured his hand while battling on the floor. With Luger propped against the ringpost, Windham had missed his mark and hit nothing but steel! Sporting a bloody right wrist, the champion had trouble using his favorite moves, such as the clawhold and the superplex. After Luger withstood all of these attacks, he absorbed the blow of a back suplex. With both men's shoulders on the mat, the referee began to count -- and Lex's shoulder was up before the three count! In spite of his superior physique and power, Luger had regained the United States Title by using strategic wrestling! This must have been an embarrassment to Windham, who did not leave the ring without giving his former partner a farewell present: a piledriver on the Title belt. Still, it was a belt that the Horsemen had lost. Strike number two.

Finally, the lights dimmed, and the trumpets blared. (Yes, actual trumpets!) The five-time Heavyweight Champion Of The World marched to the ring five days before his fortieth birthday. Steamboat had only wrestled a handful of times since his return, but it was as if their classic matches from years before just picked up where they left off. The UIC Pavilion echoed from the sound as both men traded backhand chops. With one deft swipe of his hand, The Dragon chopped Flair head over heels and out to the floor. As the match grew more violent, Flair's rulebreaking tactics helped him ground his opponent. He proceeded with his trademark kneedrop to Steamboat's face, followed by his favorite hold of all, the figure-four leglock. Months of training outside of the ring had given Steamboat the conditioning needed to cope with these maneuvers. He mounted a comeback which included his own variety of a karate chop from the top rope. With Flair dazed, The Dragon flew with his cross-bodyblock, a move that was so effective, it managed to put the referee down to the mat as well! With no one officiating the match, Flair dumped the challenger over the top rope (which, if seen, would have earned him a DQ), but Steamboat held on and climbed the turnbuckle again. Once more, he soared through the air, but Flair moved at the last instant. He crashed to mat with a thud, and Ric Flair saw it fit to re-apply the figure-four. In a most stunning fashion, Steamboat pulled Flair into a small package just as Teddy Long entered the ring to take control of the officiating! After a three-count, Ricky Steamboat had finally achieved the greatest moment of what had already been a stellar career. Flair knelt in the ring, feeling humiliated and confused. Hiro Matsuda tried to harass both officials into reversing the decision, but it was hopeless. Steamboat had beaten Flair. The hopelessness was clearly written on Matsuda's face, as he had indeed struck out.

Just as Dillon tried to appease the Horsemen by recruiting Kendall Windham, Hiro Matsuda decided to obtain yet another associate. On one night in March, Lex Luger teamed up with the popular Michael PS Hayes to take on Barry and Kendall Windham. The Atlanta crowd was thrilled to see Luger manhandle both Texans as if it were a handicap match. Perhaps Luger could wrestle two men, but could he wrestle three men? Hayes shocked everyone by dropping behind Luger, allowing the Windhams to score a double clothesline! All three of them then went to work, putting the boots to the Total Package. When presented with a microhpone, Hayes declared, "Me, Ric Flair, and the Windham Brothers! We rule wrestling!" Unfortunately for Hayes, Barry Windham was leaving for a brief vacation before joining the WWF, and Flair was only interested in regaining his World Title. Having Michael Hayes on his side would only be a minor asset, and the last thing Flair wanted was to have to cope with The Total Package all over again. He teamed up with Hayes to defeat Luger and Steamboat in a tag team match on World Wide Wrestling, but that was the end of their relationship. Hiro Matsuda quietly made his way out of the picture, but not before introducing fellow manager Gary Hart to a young Japanese prodigy called The Great Muta.

So, Barry Windham left for the WWF, Matsuda disappeared altogether, and Flair allowed no one to interrupt him in his quest for Rick Steamboat and his "twenty pounds of gold." Hence, The Four Horsemen ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. One man who would not whimper, even when left all alone, was Ric Flair.


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