Ringside Shadows #129: The Four Horsemen Complete History (part VI: 1990)
Following up on perhaps the greatest year in the history of any promotion, the NWA had quite a name to live up to in 1990. From Flair / Steamboat to Funk / Flair to the reuniting of the Horsemen and the inclusion of Sting as that decisive fourth member, things just couldn't get much better than this... but the NWA would be damned if they weren't gonna have a go at it. Part VI of the net's only complete history of the Four Horsemen picks up where part V left off.
1989 had been a landmark year for the NWA in terms of match quality, storylines and roster development. Several familiar main event faces had abandoned the promotion for the skyrocketing WWF, including mainstays Dusty Rhodes and Barry Windham. Weeks into the year, the Horsemen officially split for the very first time. The cards were down for the Southern-based promotion, and it was do or die time. With adversity, though, came risks... and with risks came either strong success or bitter defeat. Midway through the year, the NWA had captured the attention of all within earshot. New stars had risen to pick up the slack left by the old, in the forms of Terry Funk, Ricky Steamboat and Sting. Ric Flair was injected with new life, and his reassembled Horsemen boasted their strongest roster in years. The Starrcade main event showcased not one, but two current members in Sting and Ric Flair. As the year drew to a close, the forefront heel faction of the world was functioning as perennial babyfaces... and the audience couldn't get enough of them. Things weren't quite business as usual for the four, but that would soon change.
Two days into the new year, Arn Anderson gave the Horsemen a new taste of gold with a solid victory over then-TV Champion The Great Muta. After his horrendous handling in the Starrcade iron man tournament, Muta had read the writing on the wall. This loss signaled the end of his first and only extended visit to North America. It's a shame nothing more was done with him, as I stand firm that Muta could've taken the NWA to even further heights after the exits of Rick Steamboat (again to the WWF) and Terry Funk (back to "retirement").
the horsemen, in all their glory, in early 1990.
Not long after Arn's major victory came a casual promo spot for the Horsemen on "Funk's Grill", an interview program hosted by former rival Terry Funk. While Flair worked his magic on the mic and the rest of his comrades looked on, Woman (Nancy Sullivan) made an unscheduled appearance on the show. Woman (then the real life spouse of Kevin Sullivan) told the viewing audience in no uncertain terms that she wanted to "own the Horsemen." Flair didn't quite know what to say, and managed to dodge the issue long enough to appreciate her, ah, finer values. Slick Ric was looking to hand out free passes to Space Mountain, and Mrs. Sullivan was at the head of the line.
Elsewhere in the NWA, manager Teddy Long had announced the departure of the gargantuan Sid Vicious from his forefront tag team, the Skyscrapers. Little was known about Sid's exit from the dominating coalition alongside "Dangerous" Danny Spivey, though rumors of an injury were reported, but it would only be a matter of time before his true intentions of this split were revealed. As an interesting sidenote, Long introduced Vicious' replacement during that very same interview... a tall, pale redhead by the name of "Mean" Mark Callous. You may recognize some of his more recent work in the WWF and WWE, where he's since been known as The Undertaker.
Back on the Horsemen's side of things, the J-Tex stable had continued along, ready to cope with the imminent loss of their keynote player in the Great Muta. For a while, the surprisingly versatile young group had actually posed something of a threat for the reformed Horsemen. But while the Andersons' dependable offense and Flair's tactical wizardry certainly aided their cause, Sting's youthful energy put the group over the top. To drive the point home, the Horsemen had signed a 6-man tag team cage match with J-Tex for the upcoming tenth Clash of the Champions. Ole had willingly stepped aside so that Sting could receive his moment to shine in the stable, and all was well in the world... with one small exception.
Following his victory in the Iron Man Tournament, Sting had been rightfully granted a shot at Ric Flair's world title. The executive committee had set a date in late February for the event which would house this title match, Wrestle War 1990, but Flair wasn't worried. As far as the Horsemen were concerned, their protection was worth more to Sting than this World Title shot, and when the subject was brought up in an interview, Flair simply asked Sting to forget about it and set his aims at the US Title. When Sting refused, Flair was more than a bit surprised, but he accepted it and moved on to concentrate on their tag match at the Clash.
The night of the six-man tag, the Horsemen walked into the ring to open the show. Flair told us there was big news on the horizon and handed the stick to Ole, who sternly told Sting his presence in the Horsemen was no longer necessary. Before the stunned now-former Horseman had much chance to protest, the senior member told him all bets were off. He gave the young athlete two hours to back out of the upcoming title shot, and turned his back. The youngster grabbed Ole's shoulder, looking for an explanation, and Flair took the golden opportunity; he pegged him from behind. After a brief beatdown, the champ told Sting to get out of his life. The Horsemen made their way backstage as the challenger lay prone in the ring.
ole anderson tells sting it's time to move on
The main event crept around, with Ole working in Sting's place, and the former Horseman was nowhere to be found. Finally, midway through the gigantic six-man, Sting suddenly beat a path down the entryway. Midway to the ring, friends from backstage held him back from something he might regret later... but he'd hear none of it. Running solely on emotion, he broke free and attempted to scale the cage. When he was pulled down from the steel wall, he managed to escape again and attempted a second scaling. However, something had gone awry with this continued assault, and Sting was obviously limping as he was pulled down this second time. After taking the victory, Flair met him in the entryway and the two had a brief brawl. As the show went to black, it took with it the promise of an immediate World Title match between the two. Sting had ruptured a tendon in his left leg and would be out of action until mid-summer.
Almost immediately, the Horsemen hopped on the NWA television programming and buried the defenseless youngster, with hopes of keeping some momentum for the feud alive. Flair busied himself with the usual title defenses, and met Lex Luger at WrestleWar in Sting's place. The two ran their usual routine and as Luger appeared to be on the verge of the World title yet again, Flair was saved by a familiar face. Barry Windham made the run-in this go around, making an unscheduled return to the stable that led him to stardom. Not long after, the four converged in the same ring for the very first time and announced yet another surprise.
Ole Anderson had willingly stepped down from the active roster, and would be handling the group's managerial interests. After the chaos that they'd survived with Dillon and Matsuda, Ole seemed the only logical replacement. With the first Horseman's big news serving as a lead-in, the four then introduced their newest member... big Sid Vicious, who'd left the Skyscrapers not long before. They wasted no time, promptly assaulting Sting's knee backstage, an action which would serve as the kayfabe explanation for his absence from action in the weeks to come.
Brian Pillman was next in line for a title shot, after he questioned Flair's actions in removing Sting from the group. The blowoff was a televised affair, and the two really tore it up. Just another ironic sidetrack to the history of the Horsemen, as Flair and Pillman would continue their feud some five years later, eventually resulting in one of the most anticipated and rewarding swerves in the group's history.
Flair would continue to defend his belt on a more than regular basis (nearly every week) against the likes of Ricky Morton, Tom Zenk and Robert Gibson, while the Steiner brothers provided healthy opposition for the Horsemen in the tag ranks. Ole Anderson introduced and endorsed a masked team named the Minnesota Wrecking Crew II, but they were largely unsuccessful.
Finally, Sting made his long-awaited return to the NWA in time for the Great American Bash. After considering the situation surrounding his lost opportunity at WrestleWar, the executive committee awarded Sting his imminent title shot immediately upon his return. The deal was done, the time was set, and don't think Flair didn't do everything in his power to get out of it. Still, despite Ric's finest efforts, the two met at the 1990 Great American Bash for all the marbles. Flair promised it would be the last time we'd see Sting step between the ropes.
sting and flair finally met
at the 1990 great american bash
As the two sized each other up, the match's special stipulations came into play; Ole Anderson had been handcuffed to the almost 8 foot El Gigante at ringside, and a collection of Sting's closest backstage friends would be at ringside to ward off any possible Horseman interference. There would be no easy escape this time around.
Sting took an early advantage, but Flair turned it right back around after the necessary begging off and eye-prodding was out of the way. Flair instinctively took his assault right to Sting's injured leg, which was still visibly on the challenger's mind. The champ looked for a figure four moments later, but Sting fought it off as announcers let us know just how crippling a maneuver that would be. Just as the tides began to turn in his favor again, Sting attempted an ill-timed dropkick and Flair stepped out of the way. Solid chops reverberated throughout the arena as Slick Ric took an advantage that didn't last. When Sting finally reclaimed the offense, Ole decided he'd had enough and tried to escape the Mexican giant. As the newly appointed manager realized how futile his attempts were, the rest of the Horsemen were learning the same lesson at the hands of Sting's friends. Back in the ring, Sting had missed a splash and run his knee into the corner. Sensing victory, Flair moved in for the kill and was surprised by a rollup counter. The ref slapped mat three times. Sting's moment had arrived.
In the months after his victory, Sting was constantly hounded by a masked challenger calling himself the Black Scorpion. It was a pretty ridiculous angle, full of smoke, glitter and lighting effects. A Sting title defense would be interrupted by a ridiculously cartoonish voice that boomed "STING!!" over the PA. A man dressed in black would wander out and mysteriously disappear before Sting could reach him. Lame, right? Wait... it gets even better.
Halloween Havok had rolled around again, and Sting found himself locked into a defense against Sid Vicious of the Horsemen. The mysteriously masked Black Scorpion had announced his presence to Sting in a skit earlier in the card, abducting someone from the crowd, and giving Sting the scare of a lifetime by dragging her into... a box. He then mysteriously draped both the box and himself with a cloth. Sting was watching this from across the entryway (likely doing all he could to maintain a straight face) and fought through security, only to discover both were missing when the cloth was torn away. They then appeared in a puff of smoke in the spot Sting had just left, vanishing once again before the champ could reach them. Good, quality programming.
Later on, Flair and Arn took on the tag team champions, Doom (Butch Reed and Ron "Faarooq" Simmons), for their titles in a solid affair. Hopelessly overpowered, the Horsemen relied on treachery for gains in this one, and the two attitudes meshed well. The first half of the match saw Flair isolated to the champions' corner, where he was utterly destroyed. He broke away to make the tag, but flopped before he got there. The tag still managed to register, and Arn near-instantly landed his spinebuster but couldn't get a three count for it. Together, the two worked over Simmons' leg and Flair tried a figure four that was reversed. Chaos followed, as both teams took it to the floor. Amidst the craziness, none took heed of the referee's count and while the brawl continued on the cement, they were both eventually counted out. Still no dice for the Horsemen.
Sting and Sid met in the main event, signifying Sting's first major title defense, while the Horsemen looked on from various positions throughout the area. Sting came out a house of fire, and before long had chased Sid to the outside. The two took it to the stands and beyond, all the way back to the locker room. As the Horsemen made a distraction, Sting chased Sid back into the ring and scooped him up for a slam. However, the champion balanced his weight incorrectly, and fell to his back with Sid on top. The ref's count reached three before Sting's shoulder could raise, giving us a new champion!
sid shows us his moveset hasn't
changed in over ten years
While Sid celebrated with the Horsemen, a second Sting came down the entryway, this time with a shredded piece of cloth on his arm. Upon closer examination, the ref put two and two together; this was the real Sting (the cloth meant he'd been tied up during the end of the match), and the man who'd taken the pinfall was in reality a painted-up Barry Windham. The match was restarted and Sting hit a quick stinger splash, followed by a rollup for the win.
The men in charge decided that the best matchup for the fans' money at their pinnacle PPV event, Starrcade, would be a Sting / Black Scorpion match for all the gold. Sting agreed to it under one stipulation; if he won, the Scorpion would be forced to unmask. It was set in stone, and the event loomed overhead like a storm cloud.
Flair and Arn were owed a rematch for the tag team titles against Doom after their indecisive match at Havok, but Doom had jumped Flair earlier in the day. Windham took his spot in the street fight, and the four produced another wholely enjoyable tag extravaganza. The brawl quickly grew brutal, and by the time the finish approached, all four men were bleeding. Arn climbed to the top while Windham held Simmons down, but the former All American escaped and clotheslined Arn in mid-air. Simmons went for the cover, while Windham rolled Reed up on the other side of the ring. The ref counted a three count for both sets of shoulders, and the bout was ruled a draw.
It was now time for the main event, which was set within the confines of a steel cage. A complete waste of several thousand dollars marked the entrance of the Scorpion... and then the scorpion... and then the scorpion... and so on. Four dopplegangers had stepped out before the real Black Scorpion made his way to the cage. It was already bound to be a long night.
For his part, the man behind the mask did everything humanly possible to cover for his otherwise distinct ring style, and his preoccupation became obvious when the match itself failed to live up to what it could have been. The two traded advantages relatively often, with Sting taking advantage in the climax and hitting his stinger splashes before eventually locking in the scorpion deathlock. The Black one made it to the ropes, breaking the hold, and Sting slammed his opponent's head into the cage. While the challenger was stunned, Sting took the chance to tear off his mask.. but there was another hidden beneath it. The champ finally put an end to the match with a bodypress, just in time for the four other scorpions to storm the ring and attack. One by one they went down, losing their masks along the way, until the Horsemen rushed the ring and laid Sting out. Still, the champ made a recovery, and finally unmasked the master Scorpion as Ric Flair, just as time ran out on the PPV.
the black scorpion holds sting in... a figure four...?
..and that's all I have to say about the Black Scorpion.
Tomorrow I'll return with a write up of what would become two of the most tumultuous and bizarre years in the long life of the Horsemen, the early '90s. Ole Anderson, the man behind the wretched Black Scorpion feud, lost his slot as head booker not long into the new year, and all hell broke loose in the weeks after. It's quite an inriguing tale, and it ends with Flair in the world of Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart... the WWF. Part VI tomorrow, be there or don't.
until next time, i remain