The Four Horsemen stand as one of the most iconic factions in all of wrestling history. The original grouping of Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and J.J. Dillon will go down as perhaps the most dominant faction professional wrestling will ever see. When they formed in the NWA in 1985, the really did change the landscape of what a group could be. I remember as a kid watching those early NWA/WCW broadcasts and being enamored with this group. Being a big WWF/E fan at the time, the Horsemen were like nothing I was familiar with. I fell in love with the group and sought more content, difficult as it was to acquire back in the 80’s and living in the Northeast. Once cable TV took off though and TBS aired WCW weekly, the Horsemen became the de facto ideal of a stable and set the bar for all others to come.
Note: In discussing the horsemen we have to discuss Chris Benoit. He’s a horrible monster who did unspeakable things, but he was also a part of these groups. It doesn’t change him being a monster. There’s simply no way to cover this without covering him. Fuck him, though.
The Original Lineup (1985 – 1987)
The original group formed when Ric Flair united with his (storyline) cousins Arn and Ole Anderson and Tully Blanchard to take on the faces of the NWA at the time. The grouping was a bit of a carryover from Flair’s days in Mid-Atlantic where he was teamed up with Ole as part of the Minnesota Wrecking Crew. This original group is most famous for their feuds with Dusty Rhodes and the Road Warriors over the various NWA titles which the Horsemen usually held. In fact, the name Four Horsemen wasn’t even a planned thing. During an interview Arn Anderson was riffing and said, “The only time this much havoc had been wrecked by this few a number of people, you need to go all the way back to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” The name stuck and serves as proof that wrestlers should be allowed to talk and set their own promos.
Lex Luger (boo) and Barry Windham (yay!) (1987 – 1989)
In 1987, Lex Luger was new to the NWA and wanted to be a Horseman. He was added to the group as a tertiary member and later kicked out after manager Dillon cost him the US Title, and he cost Dillon a Bunkhouse Stampede match. By this point, Ole Anderson had transitioned away from the ring, so the group needed a 4th. Barry Windham, at one time Luger’s partner against the Horsemen, turned and joined the group leading to one of the most decorated runs any faction has ever seen. Flair was World Champ, Anderson and Blanchard were Tag Team Champs, and Windham was US Champ. And while some may argue this lineup was the best the Horsemen ever were, it was short-lived due to Anderson and Blanchard leaving WCW to go to WWE as the Brain Busters, and Windham getting injured and subsequently also leaving to join WWE as The Widowmaker. (This is also the Yamazaki Corporation period and the Michael Hayes period, but the less said about those the better.)
Sting (kinda) and Sid Vicious (1989 – 1991)
In the fall of 1989 the Horsemen reformed with Sting. Arn Anderson had returned, Ole had gotten back in the ring, and Tully failed a drug test, so Sting. It was one of the few times the Horsemen were faces and thankfully, didn’t last long. Sting never worked as a Horsemen, or any group really, and was kicked out and replaced by the returning Barry Windham. Ole again stepped away from the ring to become the groups manager and was replaced by the new golden boy, Sid Vicious. This version again was short-lived as by May of ’91, Vicious was off to WWE, Flair followed a few months later, and Anderson and Windham went on to other things. This incarnation was certainly formidable, just lacking the staying power in the history of the group.
Pillman and Benoit, then Benoit and Mongo (1995 – 1997)
We simply aren’t going to go into detail about the Three Horsemen because it was stupid. That being the case, it had been four years since there was a proper Horsemen stable in WCW and these last few incarnations had some of the best wrestlers ever as members, as well as Steve “Mongo” McMichael. This version of the Horsemen took place alongside the rise of the NWO in WCW so there was quite a bit of nonsense involved. The group that had both Pillman and Benoit feuded with Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage culminating in quite possibly the worst match in WCW history, the Tower of Doom steel cage. (This was the match that also saw the horsemen team with the Dungeon of Doom and the return of Zeus from Hogan’s fantastic shitfest of a movie, no holds barred except he wasn’t Zeus, he was Z-gangsta. Eww) Thankfully, Pillman had already left for ECW by this time so his career wasn’t stained by this horseshit. Once the Alliance to End Hulkamania (yes that was their name) failed, the Horsemen went on to feud with the Dungeon of Doom with Benoit feuding with DOD leader Kevin Sullivan. In their story, Woman, Sullivan’s wife and valet for the DOD, left him for Benoit. And then it happened in real life. The matches between Benoit and Sullivan were often “shoot” style, matches where they actually hit each other. It was uncomfortable for everyone. Mongo was added to the group after Flair and Anderson had a match against former football players Kevin Greene and Mongo. During the match, Mongo’s wife Debra ended up chased to the back only to return with a briefcase containing money and a horsemen shirt. Mongo accepted, hit Greene to give Flair the pinfall, and birthed a new Horsemen. The following PPV saw the birth of the NWO. The Horsemen remained loyal to WCW, becoming faces for the longest period of their careers. Jeff Jarrett came to WCW during this time and became an unofficial member of the group for a brief period of time before leaving, and taking Mongo’s wife Debra. The end of this incarnation came when Arn Anderson became legitimately too injured to continue in the ring and Curt Henning was added in his spot. That lasted a month however, as Henning double crossed the Horsemen during a War Games match against the NWO joining the group in the process. Flair broke up the Horsemen the following month and took a break from in ring action.
The Final Run (1998 – 1999)
After some time off, Ric Flair eventually returned to the ring, and after some storyline prodding of Arn Anderson, reformed the Horsemen with Mongo, Benoit, and Dean Malenko with Arn managing. They again feuded with the NWO because WCW was completely out of ideas at this point. It didn’t last long however, as Mongo left wrestling, Malenko and Benoit left for WWE and Flair was left holding the reins. Ric Flair’s son David was also an unofficial member during this time. This particular grouping probably had the most potential that was never realized.
I struggled with whether or not to include Evolution and Fortune in this post. While neither was officially a Horsemen group, they kinda were though, especially Evolution. Ultimately I wanted to keep it to just these official groupings. The Horsemen were many things over the years and while their effectiveness as a prominent stable decreased over time, their importance never has. The Four Horsemen are responsible for making factions a thing in professional wrestling. Without the Horsemen we would never have gotten DX, the NWO, Bullet Club, or any others that we will cover this year. They are the granddaddies of them all, as the saying goes, and one of my very favorite things about professional wrestling. Thanks again for reading, and if you have a second, like and share this post please and thank you. Make sure to follow me on twitter and instagram, @geekadedan, and let me know which incarnation of the Horsemen was your favorite. And don’t forget to check back next week as we take a look at another reason to love wrestling. Until then…