In professional wrestling, factions are created to cause a ‘buzz’ among fans, and also to outnumber the opposition. In my opinion, the best stables are comprised of “heels” (bad guys,) because their tactics are usually underhanded, they do whatever is necessary to dominate the “face” (fan favorite), and as a result, they get a negative reaction from the crowd (which is what they set out to do), and fans become interested to see who comes out to help their “hero” the following week. I think the greatest faction to ever grace the world of professional wrestling was the Four Horsemen. These were wrestlers who came together as a team. They enjoyed flaunting their success in and out of the ring.
The original Horsemen group formed in early 1986, and was comprised of: Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and their manager, James J. Dillon. That year, they competed with the best of the early NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) – Dusty Rhodes, The Rock n Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson), “The Russian Nightmare” Nikita Koloff, and the Road Warriors, just to name a few. At different junctures in the ongoing feud, they ‘broke’ Dusty Rhodes’ arm, attempted to ‘break’ his leg, and also ‘broke’ Ricky Morton’s nose.Â But, there was a bit of a change the following year.
In 1987, Ole Anderson was kicked out of the group for putting family first, and was replaced by newcomer, Lex Luger. Their main rivals were: Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, The Road Warriors and the Warriors’ manager, Paul Ellering. This feud would be settled in a “War Games” match. “War Games” occurs when two rings are enclosed by a mammoth steel cage. The match begins with two men in the ring. After a pre-determined amount of time, a coin toss is held to decide which team receives an advantage. The teams take turns entering, until all eight or ten wrestlers are in the cage, then a winner is determined by submission. There were a series of these battles, and during the first one, Dillon (the Horsemen’s manager), suffered a dislocated shoulder.
Later in the year, Lex Luger was thrown out of the group after he accused the manager of costing him losing the United States Championship. So, in early 1988, Luger, and a relatively unknown Barry Windham teamed to battle the NWA World Tag Team Champions, and Horsemen representatives, Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, at the very first “Clash of the Champions” event. The challengers emerged victorious, to the crowd’s delight, but in a rematch which occurred in April of that year, the new champions lost because Windham turned on his partner, and joined the Horsemen.
This group procured all the major NWA titles at once – Ric Flair was the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Barry Windham (by defeating Lex Luger,) as the United States Champion, Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard as Tag Team Champions. Unfortunately, they were unable to stay united as Anderson, Blanchard, and eventually Windham, left the company for rival World Wrestling Entertainment, ending the early Horsemen era.
The faction reformed in December 1989, with Flair, Arn and Ole Anderson, and a young Sting. They played the role of “faces” (good guys). After their rivalry with Terry Funk, The Great Muta, Buzz Sawyer, and the Dragonmaster, the group returned to being “bad guys.” They removed Sting from the group because he decided to challenge Flair for the World title. In mid-1990, the group welcomed back Barry Windham after a short stint in the WWE, and a tall, intimidating athlete named Sid Vicious. They became involved in a bitter rivalry against Sting, Lex Luger, the Steiner Brothers, Paul Orndorff and the Junkyard Dog. Following this feud, the Horsemen disbanded, with Flair arriving in the WWE in 1991. A few short months after his arrival, he became WWE World Champion by winning the 1992 Royal Rumble Match, eliminating his former Horsemen mate, Sid Vicious (who went under the name Sid Justice) to win the match.
In 1996, when the New World Order “invaded” World Championship Wrestling, it was involved in a feud with the Four Horsemen, which, at that time, consisted of Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Chris Benoit, and former NFL player Steve McMichael. During this time, the Horsemen were the “faces” (good guys). However, in 1997, this group would suffer an internal blow. One of the founding members, Arn Anderson, who also went by the moniker of “The Enforcer,” was forced to retire, due to a neck and back injury.
With a spot in the group now vacant, the members decided to fill the void with the newly-arrived Curt Henning (formerly known as “Mr. Perfect” in the WWE). In September of 1997, the “new” Four Horsemen (Flair, Henning, Benoit, and McMichael) battled four members of the NWO in a “War Games” match. Unfortunately, the Horsemen lost after Henning slammed the cage door on Flair’s head, causing the NWO to score the pinfall. After this feud, the Horsemen went their separate ways.
The final two notable incarnations of this faction came in 1998 and 1999. Dean Malenko and Chris Benoit repeatedly went to Arn Anderson, and asked to reform the Horsemen. Anderson kept saying ‘no’. James J. Dillon, who was the group’s manager early in their career, had a job in WCW, and even made a pitch to Anderson, but the answer was still ‘no.’ Eventually, Anderson changed his mind. The Horsemen reformed with Flair, Benoit, Malenko and McMichael, with Arn Anderson as the manager. Once again, they were the “good guys” in another feud with the New World Order.
The Horsemen, a year later consisted of Benoit, Malenko, Anderson (still as the manager) and Ric Flair, who was also the onscreen President of World Championship Wrestling. Flair’s son, David, had entered the company, was given the United States Championship by his father, and Ric had the Horsemen do whatever was necessary to help David retain the championship. Sadly, I think Flair let the power of being “president” get to his head, as he became selfish, started paying more attention to other wrestlers, including his son, and ignoring Malenko and Benoit, which ended the reign of this legendary group in WCW and the early NWA.
The Four Horsemen had a long history. They were a group who always looked out for each other for almost their entire tenure. New members were added constantly since their birth in 1986, however, Ric Flair and Arn Anderson were the two constant individuals throughout. Whenever one or two members of the group held championship gold, the others would do whatever it took to ensure the belts “stayed in the family.”
Throughout its thirteen years, this faction became violent, especially when they had to throw someone out of the group, when they attacked the fan favorites, when they stuck up for each other, and in their rivalries (especially early on against Dusty Rhodes and friends, and years later against the New World Order). However, I believe the Horsemen influenced later factions to be formed because of their willingness to stick up for each other, to do what is necessary to emerge victorious, and those three reasons are why I think the Horsemen will always be the best factions in all of professional wrestling.