Text By Jed Shaffer
What if…Sting didn’t injure his knee at Clash Of The Champions X?
Our story begins in February, 1990, on the first episode of Saturday Night following Clash Of The Champions X: Texas Shootout. The Horsemen’s positive energy over victory over Gary Hart’s team is short-lived: Sting is the number-one contender and will face Ric Flair at WrestleWar in a few short weeks. But The Horsemen have no intentions of making things easy for the Stinger …
Ole and Arn Anderson and Ric Flair stand in the ring with Terry Funk, and despite their recent success, they look far from celebratory. Funk approaches Ole, the spokesman for the elite group, microphone in hand. “Ole Anderson, it doesn’t look like your Horsemen are in a very good mood tonight.”
“No, we’re not, Terry Funk, and I’ll tell you why.” The crowd is very vocal with their distaste for the men in the ring, but none of it touches Ole. “Ya see, we had a plan for Clash Of The Champions, it was very simple. Two goals we wanted to accomplish: we wanted to punish Buzz Sawyer, Great Muta and Dragon Master, and we wanted Sting out of our hair. The first half of our plan came off with flying colors, Terry Funk; my brother Arn put the hurt on Dragon Master and sent them packing, end of story. But Sting …” Ole starts shaking his head, obviously frustrated. Arn steps in for his brother and finishes the thought.
“It’s like this, Terry Funk; Sting, he’s a good kid. And when our friend, Ric Flair, needed protection, he set aside any preconceived notions or prejudices he had and backed Flair when he needed it. And we appreciate that, Sting, we really do. But when you tried to take advantage of your situation and challenge Ric Flair—the boss—to a World Title match … well, son, that doesn’t sit well with The Horsemen. We don’t use each other as stepping-stones or poker chips. We’re a unit, and we act as one; we watch each other’s backs, and protect each other’s investments. But we sure don’t covet what one another has. That’s something Horsemen don’t do, and you crossed that line, Sting. We tried to let you bow out with your dignity—and your health—intact, but you just couldn’t do it. Your greed, your jealousy of Ric Flair has blinded you.” Arn stops a moment to look at Ric Flair, who, as usual, is styling in a suave three-piece suit, sunglasses and a gold Rolex, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship over his shoulder. But his usual casual, I’m-the-best demeanor was nowhere to be found. His face was one of steel determination and icy rage. “But at WrestleWar on February 25th, Ric Flair will open your eyes.”
Funk brings the microphone over to Flair, who hands the championship belt over to Ole. Flair slowly peels off his sunglasses and tucks them away in his pocket, then says quite calmly; “Stinger, I’m gonna spell it out for you real simple.” He motions to Ole. “Former NWA Tag Champion.” He claps Arn on the shoulder. “Former Tag Champion, and current Television Champion.” He then points to himself. “Six times World’s Champion, Stinger. Six times. You know what that means, Sting?” Flair’s voice is rising, his cheeks going through cycles of red. “You know what that means? I beaten them all, Stinger! Race … Rhodes … Windham … Garvin … Von Erich … Steamboat … Funk! Whoo! You name it, I done it! Every one of Ôem has learned that when you’re dealing with Ric Flair, you’re dealing with the man! And to be the man … whoo! … you gotta beat the man!” Flair chuckles, and points to his World Championship belt in Ole’s hands. “Many a man has held this belt proudly, and many more have tried for it and failed. Sting, you’re just a little bit different … you know what the difference is between them and you? You’re no man, Sting. You’re a kid. A punk.” And again, Flair’s voice jackknifes back up into the high registers. “And you know what I do with snot-nosed punks like you, Stinger? You know what I do to disrespectful punks who don’t know their place?” Flair swipes one open hand across the air in front of him. “WAP! I slap some respect back into Ôem! I humiliate Ôem until they know exactly what their limits are. And at WrestleWar, Sting, that’s exactly what I’m gonna do to you.”
“Is that so?” comes a voice from the entrance ramp. Sting walks out, microphone in hand, setting off wild screams and cheers from the crowd. “You think you’re gonna just slap me around like some kid? Teach me some respect?” Sting shakes his head, and the crowd eats it up and screams for more. “I don’t think so, Flair! See, you say I’m just some kid and you’re gonna slap some sense into me … but the way I see it, you’re just this obnoxious, arrogant, deluded old man who has to hide behind his buddies to keep his belt. Well, you know what I do with old men like you, Ric Flair?” Sting strikes out at the air, just like Flair a few moments before, only Sting is grinning as he does it. “I retire them, Flair. Put Ôem out to past—”
Sting’s diatribe is cut short by a Pearl Harbor attack by United States Champion Lex Luger. A double axe-handle to Sting’s back sends him to the ground. Luger immediately picks up Sting and drags him to the ring, making sure to keep him incapacitated along with way with strong right hands. Once in the ring, Flair and Arn Anderson put the boots to Sting, taking special care to punish his legs. As this happens, Ole confirms everyone’s worst fears and shakes Luger’s hand, officially welcoming Luger back into the Horsemen. Luger wastes no time in impressing his once-again running buddies by helping with the beating of Sting. Authorities come in to break up the beating, but not before Flair has locked Sting in the figure-four for nearly five minutes. Finally, the Horsemen let paramedics and trainers take Sting away as they laugh in grim satisfaction; even if Sting can make it to WrestleWar (less then three weeks away), it’ll be on a busted wheel, a sure bullseye for Flair.
The rest of the month is spent in speculation about whether or not Sting will even compete. Flair and the Horsemen put themselves on television every opportunity they can, crowing about how a bunch of “old men” put a young man out to pasture, and how the Horsemen now virtually control the promotion’s championships (except the Tag Titles, which Arn & Ole will compete for against the Steiners at WrestleWar). Sting, however, is nowhere to be found on WCW television, and reports filed by doctors don’t look promising for Sting to be competing anytime in the next couple months, let alone in three weeks.
The event starts off with a major surprise, one that sends the crowd into overdrive already. Sting’s music cues up, and Sting comes out, hobbling carefully. Jim Ross rushes over to intercept and interview the crippled young superstar, who is wearing his trademark jacket and face paint.
“Sting,” JR says, “first off, let me say it’s great to see you up and about. But what are you doing here?”
Sting looks around, as if confused, pointing out into the audience in wife gestures. “This is Greensboro, North Carolina, right, Jim Ross? And this iswhere WrestleWar is happening, right?” Sting shrugs as if the answer is obvious. “Well, I’m here to beat Ric Flair!”
The crowd’s maniacal cheering keeps Jim Ross from making comment for a few moments. Finally, JR can get a word in, and asks the obvious question; “Have you been cleared to wrestle? You’re clearly still injured!”
“I don’t care what the doctors have to say, Jim Ross. But since you asked, yes, the board of directors is allowing me to compete, provided I sign a waiver.” Sting grins and claps JR on the shoulder. “And you know I signed it. Nothing is gonna get in the way of me beating Flair within an inch of his life.”
The familiar music of Ric Flair hits, and the World Champion struts out, women on his arm, looking as dapper and decadent as ever. When he gets up to where JR and Sting are standing, he takes off his sunglasses (handing them to one of the departing escorts) and immediately commandeers the microphone for a “Whooooooooo!” He smiles, regarding Sting, looking up and down, lingering on the injured leg; his grin turns into a sadistic smirk. JR takes the moment to ask what business Flair has out here.
“What business? What business do I have out here?” Flair asks. “I’ll tell ya what business. I’m sittin’ in the back, drinking champagne, a couple of fine lookin’ women at my sides, waitin’ to watch WrestleWar with the Horsemen. Waitin’ to watch Arn & Ole bring home the gold, and for Luger to beat The Great Muta, and what do I hear while I’m waiting? What do I see? The Stinger hobbles out and says he’s gonna beat me within an inch of my life!” Flair chuckles and looks down at the injured leg, a shark smelling blood. He is grinning, and he’s lowered his voice again to that calm, cool, lethal demeanor. “You think you can keep up with this old man on your bum wheel, sonny boy? Boy, you can’t hold a candle to me even on your best day, let alone all busted up like you are now. I know Ole gave you the one chance to back off, but I’m here to give it to you again, one last time: call it off, and you can limp out of here. Call it off, so I don’t have to completely break your leg.”
Sting steps (carefully) up to Flair, their noses all but touching; Sting is smiling, but his eyes are as cold as an icicle. “Put your trunks on, Flair. We have a match tonight, and I don’t intend to lose.”
The Andersons give the Horsemen an unpleasant start to their evening, as they fail in their bid to take the Tag Team Titles away from The Steiners. The victory comes on a rollup of Ole by Rick Steiner, who then proceed to make haste and get out of the ring before any more Horsemen can come to the Andersons’ aid. Arn and Ole watch on as the Steiners leave, still champions, and fuming at blowing their opportunity to control all four of the company’s top titles.
Lex Luger’s match with The Great Muta turns violent and chaotic, with interference from The Horsemen and Muta’s former partner Buzz Sawyer and the Steiners. The referee cannot control the mayhem outside, which gives Muta the opportunity to use his mist on Luger. However, Luger ducks, and Muta’s mist sprays Sawyer. Luger steps out during the confusion, grabs his US Title belt, and clocks Muta in the head, then tosses it aside and pins the Japanese superstar. For the Horsemen, it is the first good sign of the night.
Sting carefully hobbles to the ring for his showdown against Flair, mindful of how much a target his leg is, but unable to hide it. Flair wastes no time in going after the leg, which has slowed down the speedy young Sting considerably. Even the simplest of things, such as running the ropes, becomes an exercise in agony for him, and as the match progress, Irish whips do not send him running, but instead crashing into the canvas, holding his aching leg. Time and again, opportunities to turn the tide present themselves to Sting, but his leg manages to hamper building any sort of momentum; all Flair has to do is kick him in the shin, or send him running with a whip, and Sting’s offensive chance is nullified. It is apparent to all there that Sting is a sitting duck, and losing is only a matter of time. And after nearly 20 minutes of punishment, Sting is put in the figure-four leg lock that Flair has used to fell so many opponents in the past. Flair wrenches the hold as tight as he can for extra pressure, and thrice Sting nearly loses to a count of three when he lays back, the pain sapping every last bit of strength in him. He tries to mount a comeback by rolling the maneuver over, but the pain becomes too much for Sting, and slumps down, his body lifeless. The referee makes the obligatory check and confirms what everyone else already knows: Sting has passed out to avoid quitting. The referee calls the match, and Flair celebrates with The Horsemen as if he’s just felled Andre The Giant, while referees and trainers check on Sting. Paramedics answer the calls of the authorities, and Sting is taken out on a gurney, a limp, unconscious mass on a stretcher, responding to nothing. The Horsemen wave to the departing paramedics and Sting, drawing unbridled hatred from the audience.
Two unresolved, but related issues dominate WCW in the aftermath of WrestleWar. The first is Sting’s condition. Without any concrete information, all that Jim Ross can do is speculate that Sting’s leg will keep him out of wrestling and off of WCW television.
The first issue is given little clarification when Sting’s doctor issues a videotaped statement on the condition of his injury, which airs in the second week of March. The statement contains footage of Sting in physical therapy, working with his injured leg. “The injury to Sting’s leg, suffered at the hands of Ric Flair and aggravated at the WCW WrestleWar event, is a soft tissue injury. There is no detectible ligament or tendon damage, and no tearing of the muscles. However, this does not make the injury any less serious. Sting will require intensive physical therapy to rehabilitate his leg, and will have to sit out of active competition until further notice.”
The second issue, the number-one contender to Ric Flair, is addressed shortly after the notice of Sting’s condition. In another videotaped statement, WCW President Jim Herd comments on the situation, offering as little comfort or explanation as the message about Sting. “Due to the controversial ending to Nature Boy Ric Flair’s World Championship defense against Sting at WrestleWar, it is of the opinion of this office, and of the title committee, that Sting be granted a rematch at the date, time and place of his choosing. But we cannot ignore the fact that, should Sting not be fit to compete by May 19th, the date of Capital Carnage, a number-one contender will have to be named for that event. Therefore, on the April 7th edition of Saturday Night, a twenty-man battle royal will be held, with the participants to be selected by the title committee and announced on upcoming WCW programming.”
The Four Horsemen’s feelings of superiority and control erode as the date of the battle royal draws near, and the names are read. Both Steiner brothers, two guys as big as horses and tougher then pissed-off bulls on crack, are among the first names announced; the bad news only mounts as Barry Windham, The Skyscrapers, Doom and Bam Bam Bigelow—all men the size of mountains with bad attitudes and out for blood.
But the worst news is saved—almost, Ric Flair will complain to anyone listening, conspiratorially—for last, just days before the event. Rounding out the eighteen competitors are none other then the Television Champion Arn Anderson and the United States Champion Lex Luger, Ric Flair’s most trusted protectors. Any chance of influencing or manipulating the outcome is all but gone with the realization that, for probably the first time in their illustrious history, The Horsemen are outnumbered and backed into a corner… and with two of their own in the battle royal, most certainly the first two targeted for elimination. It doesn’t stop them from scheming … but they know their chances are slim at best of pulling it off.
Arn and Luger put the plan into action as soon as the bell rings, doing their best to befriend every liar, cheat and bully in the ring, promising to have their backs. The numerous alliances start to pay off with the early elimination of Norman The Lunatic (by Doom) and Tommy Rich, by The Skyscrapers. However, seeing the pattern already emerging, the good guys band together and start to pick off The Horsemen’s loose association of friends: Cactus Jack goes out courtesy of Scott Steiner, while Bam Bam Bigelow makes short work of Kevin Sullivan and Doom #1, leaving the field at 16. A Rock ÔN Roll Express double-dropkick sends Mike Rotundo over the top rope, but Mark Callous comes from behind on the celebrating duo and eliminates them both. Arn and Luger show their appreciation for the favor by double-teaming Callous and trying to throw him out, fully exposing their ruse. Callous’s teammate Sid Vicious makes the save, drawing The Steiners over for a brawl, letting Arn and Luger sneak away to focus work on the second portion of the plan; in the corner, Bam Bam Bigelow is inches away from eliminating Brian Pillman. A sneak attack later, and Bam Bam is hoisted out by Arn, Luger and Pillman. Arn and Luger shoot an “ok” gesture to Pillman, and rush their next targets, the Freebirds, who are helping fight the Steiners. Tom Zenk and Jim Garvin are eliminated by Doom #2 while all this goes on, and he is about to eliminate Pillman when, again, he is helped out by The Horsemen, and Doom #2 is pitched out. In the midst of the Steiners/Skyscrapers brawl, Scott lunges at Callous with a shoulder block, only for Callous to sidestep, and Scott’s momentum carries him over and out, making him the twelfth elimination. Everyone gangs up on the two biggest men in the ring, Callous and Vicious, but in the attack Michael Hayes inadvertently hits Animal, and the two begin to brawl close to the ropes; Arn and Luger seize the opportunity and hoist both unsuspecting men over the top. Callous and Vicious both go after Pillman, which proves a costly error; as Callous is trying to oust Pillman, Rick Steiner manages to toss him over instead (with Pillman hanging onto the top rope for dear life, and sliding back underneath when the coast is clear). Sid, however, gets revenge by hurling Steiner over the top rope in particularly violent fashion (almost a choke-toss), and the match is now down to four: Sid, Pillman, Arn and Luger.
Immediately, Sid goes for Pillman, but Arn and Luger, strangely enough, move to cover the small, young high-flier, and it is then that the real plan now shows itself: Pillman, a small man, fairly young and much less experienced then the veteran Flair, is their “pick” to win, and the rush to keep him isn’t so much concern for the youngster, but protecting an investment. And, indeed, their plan defies the odds and continues to work when Arn and Luger manage to get Sid over the top rope following an Arn spinebuster. With the last opponent eliminated, Arn walks up to Pillman, shakes his hand in congratulations, then hops over the top rope to the floor, eliminating himself. Luger shakes the confused youngster’s hand and begins to walk over to the topes when Pillman pulls him back. Pillman demands an explanation, and when Luger won’t give him one, Pillman responds the only way he has left to him: by attacking. A flurry of punches and dropkicks stun the massive Luger, but he recovers long enough to shove the kid away. Luger barks at him that he’s blowing the opportunity of a lifetime, but Pillman doesn’t want to hear it and charges. As Pillman leaps into the air for a cross-body, Luger’s instincts take over and he ducks. Pillman’s momentum is too great, and he is too close to the ropes to do anything other then sail over them and crash to the arena floor, leaving a stunned Luger as the sole man in the ring, and, barring a miraculous recovery from Sting, the number-one contender to his fellow Horsemen, Ric Flair.
The reaction from the Horsemen camp is immediate: Ric Flair demands that Jim Herd cancel the results and rescind Luger’s status as number-one contender. The reply from the title committee is no less swift and decisive: Lex Luger’s number-one contender for Capital Combat is strictly based on the condition of Sting, should he be unable to compete in a rematch. However, since Lex Luger competed and won the battle royal, he is assured a World Title shot at some point in the future.
By the end of April, The Horsemen’s struggle with the number-one contendership situation has reached a boiling point. On the one hand, there is the looming threat that Sting could resurface for Capital Combat, which nullifies (temporarily) the problem of Luger’s title shot. On the other hand is Luger’s title shot in and of itself; for Flair, looking past the “young punk” Sting, is more concerned with getting rid of this problematic issue threatening the stability of the Horsemen. And on the last Main Event of the month, Flair makes his move.
Flair convenes a meeting of the Horsemen, and wastes no time in getting down to business. “The Horsemen act as a unit,” says Flair. “We got each other’s backs, we protect each other’s investment. And that includes our belts. Your future with the Horsemen balances on your next few words, Lex.” Flair turns to Luger, getting almost nose-to-nose with him, eyes locked upon one another. “I’m gonna tell you the same thing we told Stinger: you came through for us in some times we needed the help, and we appreciate it. But our generosity only goes so far, Lex, and we won’t tolerate one of our own turning on us. So make your choice: it’s either this”—Flair holds up four fingers—”or the belt. Make your pick.”
Luger’s eyes never leave his superior’s, and when he speaks, he is surprisingly level-headed considering the threat against him. “I never asked to be in that battle royal, Ric,” says Luger. “And I know that you know I never meant to win. Once we knew double-A and me were in it, Pillman was the plan all along. You know I got nothing but respect for you, Ric; that’s why, despite our differences in the past, I accepted your invitation to come back to the Horsemen. And I wouldn’t dare bite the hand that feeds me, Ric … but you can’t expect me to throw away a World Title shot, either. Especially when I may not even get it immediately.”
Ole gets in Luger’s face, rage bubbling just below the surface of his voice. “What exactly are you saying, boy?”
Luger’s response is stunning, and for a moment, a ripple of hope runs through the crowd. Luger shoves Ole away; Ole is ready to brawl, but Luger stops him with four fingers of his own. “I’m Horsemen through and through, Ole,” says Luger, then turns to Flair. “But someday, someone is gonna beat you for the title, Flair. And when that day comes, I want my shot while I have the chance. Before you get your shot to beat the stuffing out of the poor sap who gets lucky and knocks you off the mountain.”
Ole and Arn talk to Flair in low voices, away from Luger’s ears. Flair listens and says nothing, nodding occasionally, never taking his eyes off Luger. Finally, the meeting concludes, and Flair steps up to Luger, laughing quietly. He gives Luger a good-natured clap on the shoulder and smiles with all the honesty of a used-car salesman. “Tell you what, Luger; all this fighting is silly. We don’t even know who’ll be the number-one contender by Capital Combat. How about, until that issue is resolved, we set this one aside, head into town, and party Horsemen style?” A hearty handshake later, and the troubles of The Four Horsemen are distant memories.
May begins with the number-one contendership still in flux, although the worrisome issue doesn’t seem to faze the Horsemen a bit; for them, life is still easy street, and opponents are kept at bay by their constant use of the numbers game (although Ole’s participation in-ring is quickly tapering off) that has worked so well. Even the news of Arn defending his Television Title at Capital Combat against Tom Zenk isn’t much of a burr in the saddle, and until Jim Herd’s announcement regarding Ric Flair’s opponent for May 19th, life seems pretty good.
Then, with barely two weeks left until Capital Combat, Jim Herd calls a press conference to make a statement regarding the number-one contendership. Ric Flair attends (dressed in his finest suit and adorned with opulent jewelry and women on his arms), but the cool demeanor is displaced by one of nervousness and trepidation, for if it comes down to the two most obvious men—one a fellow Horsemen, one a hungry young stud out for revenge—there is no lesser evil for Flair.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the press, Ric Flair, fans of World Championship Wrestling,” Herd says. “It is my privilege today to announce that a decision has been reached regarding an opponent for Ric Flair at Capital Combat on May 19thin Washington DC. Without further ado, please welcome the challenger for Nature Boy Ric Flair … Sting!”
Sting, in full face paint, fringe jacket and jeans, comes out to much applause (save Flair, caught in the throes of a subdued panic). Sting crosses the room to Flair and offers a hand; Flair slowly offers his, only for Sting to yank his own away at the last second, glaring at Flair the entire time. Sting then goes to the microphone to answer a few questions (his leg is feeling much better, he will be ready to compete on the level he should’ve been at WrestleWar, he is confident he will win), all the while keeping one eye on Flair, who stands off to one side, rattled. When it is his turn to field questions, he declines and leaves the room, conceding the psychological victory to his challenger. Herd continued to field questions and make statements; the Sting/Flair match, it is said, will be a steel cage match (ostensibly to keep out the interfering Horsemen), and Lex Luger, who will receive a title shot against the winner of Sting/Flair at Clash Of The Champions XI on June 13th, will defend his US Title against Brian Pillman.
The Horsemen’s mood on May 19th begins auspiciously enough, with an easy victory for Arn Anderson over Tom Zenk, retaining the Television Title. Equally good is Lex Luger’s successful defense against Brian Pillman, although Pillman proves to be more then a handful and nearly pins Luger on several occasions. Nevertheless, Luger comes out on top, giving him the opportunity in less then a month to become a dual champion (against an opponent yet to be named). The idea of Luger’s title shot does not get the same celebration as the two title victories in the Horsemen locker room.
It is the specter cast by Luger’s title shot that looms over Ric Flair as he climbs into the ring to defend his World Championship; he is truly caught between a rock and a hard place, and there is no escape, save for him to beat both Sting and Luger.
Flair begins by picking up where the last match off: attacking Sting’s leg. The crowd boos every chop block, stomp and leglock, but unlike last time, Sting not only absorbs the punishment, but also fights back. For every suplex Flair can muster, for every chop or kick, Sting comes back with double the effort, overwhelming the unsuspecting Flair. Only Flair’s typical dirty tactics get him any sort of advantage, and it takes a low blow to stem what seems to be an unbeatable tide of Sting offense and give Flair some breathing room. After gathering himself, Flair sets about working over Sting’s leg again with kicks and grapevines. And, when Sting even tries to mount an offense, Flair resorts to cheap tactics, or, worse, using the cage as a weapon. The mounting punishment shows in Sting, as soon enough, he is limping slightly, wincing with every step, and all but screaming when Flair goes after the injured limb. The energy of the crowd is drained out bit by bit as, after 20 long minutes in the cage, Flair has Sting hobbling badly, and the end is nigh. Flair kicks Sting’s legs out from underneath him, grabs the legs, then gives a “Whoo!” to the crowd and begins to tie up Sting in his figure-four. Before Flair can get the cross-step, Sting reaches up and pulls Flair over in a desperation small package; the referee counts, and for a moment, after the referee, the crowd is as stunned silent as Flair. Then, the crowd explodes as the realization sets in: Sting has just defeated Ric Flair and become World Champion. Flair denies it, shaking his head and arguing with the referee, but the referee gives him no sympathy. The ring attendant hands the title belt through the door, and Flair tries to steal it away, but Sting walks over (tenderly, but not nearly as painfully as he had been before; in that respect, a dirty trick that Flair would’ve loved if he hadn’t been the victim) and shoves Flair down to his ass. The referee clasps the title belt around Sting’s waist, but Sting’s moment is short-lived as Flair gets up, spins Sting around and throws a punch. Sting blocks it and returns with a volley of punches of his own, putting Flair on his back. Flair tries to keep Sting from doing anything more, but Sting has Flair’s legs and begins the set-up for the Scorpion Death Lock. Flair fights hard, but Sting gets the cross-step and locks the hold in deep; referees try to get him to break the hold, but Sting doesn’t until he hears two words escape Flair’s mouth: “I give!” Finally, Sting lets go and, after some celebratory poses (and basking in the insane reaction of the audience), begins to leave the ring, only to find that, while he has been distracted adding injury to insult, a visitor has come to ringside: Lex Luger. Luger stands outside the door, blocking Sting’s path to the locker room. The event fades to black on the vision of them, staring at one another like gunslingers preparing for their duel, which is very shortly to occur.
As May rolls into June, the hype for Sting/Luger at Clash Of The Champions XI: Coastal Crush has reached a fever pitch, but the mention of Luger’s membership in the Horsemen is all but ignored. In fact, the Horsemen themselves are all but ignored, as Arn focuses on defending his Television Title (with brother Ole provided the “back-up”), and Ric Flair not even seen, presumably licking his wounds. Indeed, all the focus is on the two young studs, and a showdown that looks to be every bit as epic and colossal as Sting/Flair had been, and with The Four Horsemen seemingly in retreat, without their interfering presence either.
All that changes on the last Saturday Night before the Clash when, after another successful US Title defense, Ole, Arn and Flair surprise Luger in the ring. The three arrive clapping and smiling, but no one (least of all Luger) believes a second of it, even when Ole gives Luger a rock-crushing handshake.
Ole is the first to speak, and though his voice is as jovial as all get-out, Luger (and everyone watching) can hear the undercurrent in his voice. The outcome of this meeting was decided without him; in spite of him, in fact. “Lex, congratulations on becoming number-one contender. Quite the accomplishment,” he says, offering another handshake. Luger takes it—grudgingly, waiting for the hammer to drop—and Ole’s grip is tighter than a noose. “You’ve done well for yourself, really come a long way from the pup you were when you first came here.” Ole drops the handshake and takes a step forward, into Luger’s face, and the crowd oohs at the rising tension. “But we have unfinished business, Lex, and tonight it gets finished. No more delays.”
Arn also casts his glare into Luger’s eyes, a cold, mercenary glare that no one could ever mistake for human. No, Arn is a machine, the muscle—The Enforcer, for sure—and his one purpose in life, his one mission, is to back Ric Flair’s play. And today Ric Flair’s play is the termination of Lex Luger. “See, Lex, it’s like this; we gave you the same offer we gave Sting a month ago, and you sat on the fence. Well, no more! Time for a decision, Lex; the World Title belongs to this man“—he points to Flair—”not you. If anyone deserves the shot at Sting at the Clash, it’s Ric Flair.”
Lex has barely enough time to think of a response before it’s Ric Flair’s turn to get in some words, and all the (false) good humor is gone, replaced with the red-faced human tornado that is Flair. “Ya see? Ya see, Lex Luger? This is how The Horsemen work, Lex! We play as a unit, and we work as a unit! We have each other’s backs, and we protect each other through thick and thin! But you’re too selfish to do that, aren’t you, Lex? That’s why we kicked out of the Horsemen the last time, Lex—you forgot you were a Horsemen and got greedy! You wanted what was mine!” Flair pokes Luger in the chest, never taking his eyes off Luger’s. “We made you an offer, Lex Luger, and you never made a decision. Well, now it’s time, Luger. I’m six times World’s Champion, and right now, Sting has my title. And you got the shot that should be mine. You can give me your shot, and we won’t put you in a hospital tonight. I don’t think I need to tell you what your other choice is.”
If Luger is even the slightest bit intimidated, he shows none of it. He stands as tall as ever, casting his gaze down upon Flair. “You’re right, Ric. You are six times Worlds Champion. But you forgot a word, Ric: former. Your time has passed, Ric; Sting is champion now. And I won that shot fair and square; there’s no trickery, no deception. I’m not stealing anything from you because you don’t have anything to steal. So, if it’s all the same to you, the title shot is mine at Clash, and I will make Sting’s reign a short one.”
Flair regards Luger a moment more, then looks at his fellow Horsemen and nods. He extends a hand to Luger, who considers it with suspicion (especially with the crowd screaming for him not to shake it). Luger eventually relents, grasping the hand and shaking it strong. Flair pulls Luger close, and the crowd braces for the inevitable beatdown and exile for Luger … but it doesn’t come. Flair simple shakes the hand, his laser-like focus never wavering, and mutters one final sentence before leaving; “Good luck.”
Clash Of The Champions XI
The Clash is as star-studded and action-packed as any pay-per-view, with The Skyscrapers wrestling The Steiners to a wild double-DQ (and a fight that goes back to the locker room), and a classic match in the ongoing rivalry between The Rock Ôn’ Roll Express and The Midnight Express. However, everything seems to be merely killing time for the inevitable, the main event … and, living up to the name of the event, the clash of the champions, Sting and Lex Luger.
Sting and Luger make their way to the ring for what is probably the most eagerly anticipated World Title match in recent memory; not for the competition (which is what sold Flair/Sting), but for the circumstances around it. For Sting, it is his first title defense, and the crowd is eager to see their champion fight back the challenge. For Luger, it is a chance to achieve immortality, an immortality that even the great Ric Flair has never realized: becoming a dual champion.
But haunting the match is the pall cast by The Horsemen; Flair’s jealousy and rage at Luger’s (perceived) stab in the back and cryptic last words to Luger add an element of uncertainty to the match. Added together with the simple lust for vengeance at Sting, and the match all but had a third, invisible participant that held more sway over the outcome then either man’s strength or skill.
The match opens up with both men testing one another; Sting tests Luger’s raw strength, while Luger explores Sting’s speed. Sting cannot bring down Luger with raw strength alone, but Luger finds himself at a loss to keep up with the faster, more agile Sting. Eventually, speed wins out, and Sting has Luger reeling, with drop kicks, cross body blocks, a pair of vicious Stinger Splashes. But a surprise breaks the flow of Sting’s offense: the arrival of Arn Anderson and Ric Flair. The Horsemen make their way to ringside and take a seat in some folding chairs, saying not a word and doing even less. Sting cannot help but take umbrage at their presence, and when he leans out to speak his mind, Luger goes on the attack. Press slams, hard suplexes, and crushing powerslams drive the life-giving wind from Sting’s body, wearing him down quickly. Luger doesn’t go after the leg—still a weak spot, and less than 30 days removed from the torture inflicted upon it by Ric Flair—but for a man of his size and strength, he doesn’t need to; his power alone is enough to put Sting in place for a pinfall as good as anything. But Luger’s need to defeat and embarrass Sting proves to be his undoing; a piledriver attempt is reversed into a back body drop, giving Sting a chance to roll out and get a short breather. As he stumbles around the ringside area, he passes by the seated Horsemen, and trips over the feet of Ric Flair. This immediately draws Sting’s attention, who starts yelling at Flair, telling him to mind his own business and return to the locker room. Flair casually stands, asserting that he has done nothing wrong, but Sting doesn’t back down. He pushes Flair, who takes the shove with remarkable aplomb, just chuckling and shaking his head. Sting continues to harangue Flair, who finally responds, not with violence, but by indicting towards the aisleway. It is there Sting sees his doom, and The Horsemen’s plan, unfold.
Entering the ring, behind the back of the watching Lex Luger, are Sid Vicious and “Mean” Mark Callous, The Skyscrapers, who make a beeline for Luger and pummel him without cease. Before Sting can even manage a thought, Flair and Arn pounce on Sting, beating him to the floor. The ringing of the bell signifying the match being thrown out is registered by no one in attendance, certainly no one in the ring; they are all much too busy either inflicting punishment, or being punished, with Luger on the receiving end of power bombs and heart punches, while Arn and Flair go back to dissecting the legs of Sting. Officials try to pull apart the melee, but are tossed aside like rag dolls, and any hope for the heroes to mount a comeback fades into the distant horizon.
Until two men in U of M letterman jackets come roaring out of the locker room. The Steiners single out The Skyscrapers, pounding on the big men and getting them off Luger. With the chance to regain his breath, Luger drags himself up and attacks Flair, freeing the figure-four he has had on Sting for what seems like an eternity. The Steiners toss out both Skyscrapers, then help Luger and Sting take care of Arn and Flair, clearing the ring. The Clash ends with Sting, Luger, Scott and Rick standing victorious in the ring, shouting to the men backing their way down the aisle, who are all flashing the four-fingered hand sign of The Horsemen and yelling back to the men in the ring. There will be another day for Sting and Luger to settle their issues and resolve the question of who is the superior wrestler. For now, the only issue on the table are the four men—The Four Horsemen—in the aisleway, and what can be done about them. And, for the four men in the ring, it is something they can all agree on.
On the next edition of Saturday Night, The Four Horsemen—now, officially including Sid Vicious and Mark Callous—gather to address the events surrounding the debacle at the Clash Of The Champions. Flair, as ever, is riled up and all but frothing at the mouth.
“There are four men walking around back there with prices on their heads! Luger, it’s real simple; you made a fool of me not once but twice! Twice you stabbed me and The Horsemen in the back! Nobody does that to the Nature Boy! Nobody makes a fool of Ric Flair! And Steiners …” Flair shakes his head as if in disbelief. “You don’t wanna be sticking your big, ugly mugs in our business! The Horsemen’s business with Luger and Sting isn’t any of your concern! But if you wanna get in our business, we’ll be happy to smack you back in place.” Flair pauses, chuckling and smiling without any sort of humor or happiness. “And Stinger! Oh, Stinger … Six times, Sting. Six times Worlds Heavyweight Champion. Six times I’ve worn that belt! Six times I’ve been the top dog, the big cheese, the man! Six times I wore that belt, and I styled and profiled and walked that aisle, like only the Nature Boy can! And to see that belt around the waist of a punk! … of some snot-nosed brat who got lucky! I have sweated, I’ve bled, been bruised, beaten, broken, and done everything it takes to earn the right to be a champion! But Stinger! … you’re a fluke! A miracle! A once-in-a-lifetime! You’re no champion, and you’re not the man! You’ve bitten off more then you can chew, little boy! You, and Lex, and Steiners … who do you think you’re dealing with? We’re The Four Horsemen! The most elite group in professional wrestling! Say a name, and we’ve left Ôem battered and beaten … and you’re no different, boy. You’ll just be another notch on our belt, just another nobody who thought he could stand in the way of The Four Horsemen. Great American Bash, Stinger! WarGames! The Four Horsemen are coming for you, Stinger!”
July: The Great American Bash
The first two men in the ring for WarGames are Rick Steiner and Mark Callous, and no sooner is the cage door shut then they start brawling. Rick eventually gets the upper hand and starts to wear down Callous with suplexes, throwing him about the ring like a football. But a blocked vertical suplex attempt by Rick leads to a reversal, and Callous gets an opportune breather. He makes haste for the second ring, and as he does, the door opens and in walks in the second man, and it is another Horseman: Arn Anderson. Anderson heads straight at Steiner and builds on Callous’ reversal with a vicious spinebuster that lays Rick out. Callous regains his wind and comes over to help the beating, each man taking turns pounding on Rick, robbing him of precious oxygen and filling his body with pain. As Arn plants Rick with a DDT and Callous removes the protective padding from a turnbuckle, the door opens again and in comes Rick’s brother Scott. Callous intercepts Scott, but Scott will not be stopped, and a kick to the gut precedes a vicious gutwrench suplex that takes the wind from Callous’s sails. With Callous down, Scott peels Arn off his brother, throwing him into the exposed turnbuckle, then following Arn and crushing him in the corner. Arn barely has time to make sense of what has happened before Scott throws him head first into the cage. Meanwhile, Rick has come to, and stops Callous from ambushing Scott by throwing Callous into the cage as well. Callous’ head is busted open, and before things can get any grimmer, another Horseman, Sid Vicious, steps in. He quickly pulls Rick off Callous, throws him into the ropes and makes Rick eat boot. Sid leaves Rick to Callous (who punishes Rick with leg drops and blatant choking) and attacks Scott, pounding his head into the exposed turnbuckle over and over again, opening a massive gash that soon has Scott’s singlet dyed crimson. Arn leaves to help Callous work on Rick, while Sid rakes Scott’s face across the cage, further opening the already gushing wound. It is as Sid is signaling for a power bomb on Scott that the door opens and Lex Luger hits the ring, and the three Horsemen in the ring as well; a chop block takes down Sid, who is left holding his leg and writhing. Luger then yanks Arn off Rick, drags him to the second ring and overpowers him with his strength. Clubbing forearms and vicious haymakers rock The Enforcer, and he is easy picking for Luger to pick up in a military press and launch, head first, into the cage. The impact lacerates Arn’s head, sending rivulets of blood down his face. Callous breaks from Rick Steiner long enough to go after the on-fire Luger, but Luger is too much, and clotheslines him down. By now, Scott has come around enough to get up, just as Sid is starting to stir; Scott beats him to his feet and stomps Sid’s leg. The big man rolls on the floor, but Scott gives the monster no purchase and continues abusing the knee. Rick comes to a bit and goes after Callous for some revenge, but his comeback is ill-times, as the door swings open and the last of the Horsemen come in. Rick sees Flair come in and goes after him, but the fresh Flair chops Rick down. And with Scott too busy to notice, that leaves one man, Flair’s target: Luger, who is currently pounding Arn’s head into a (covered) turnbuckle. Flair slugs Luger in the small of the back, dropping him to his knees; Flair comes around to face him and kicks him down, then begins his methodical dissection of Luger’s knee with stomps, locks and grapevines. Arn stirs enough to provide some cover against Rick Steiner, holding him still while Callous drops Rick like a lead balloon with a heart punch. Callous then goes over to help Sid by tossing Scott Steiner into the cage. Steiner falls through the ropes, and barely gets to his feet when Callous dives and hits a shoulderblock through the ropes, sandwiching Scott and forcing all the air from his body. Meanwhile, Arn and Flair continue punishing the knee of Luger by wrapping it twisting it around the ring ropes and stomping on it. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, the door opens one more time.
Sting bursts in and heads straight for Flair as WarGames officially transitions into The Match Beyond. Arn sees Sting coming and runs, but Sting anticipates and answers with a dropkick to put Arn on his back. Callous parts ways with Scott long enough to cross to the other ring, but does so too close to a corner, and Sting launches himself at Callous in a Stinger Splash, felling the big man. Sting goes after Flair, pulling him off Luger and throwing him into a corner, then following with a Stinger Splash. Flair stumbles forward, but before he can flop over, Sting throws him into the opposite corner and hits another Stinger Splash. This time, he lets Flair hit the ground, and lets out a mighty Stinger yell. The crowd responds in kind, but is cut off when Sid nails Sting from behind, stunning him long enough to slap on a full nelson. Callous, having gotten up, comes over and preps a heart punch, but Sting lets his arms go lax and drops down. The heart punch connects with Sid instead, and the monster known as Sid Vicious crumples in a heap, virtually unconscious. Scott finally comes around enough to get to his brother, who is also just beginning to stir after Callous’s heart punch. Callous tries to go after Sting, but is intercepted by Scott, who throws him into a corner and starts hammering him with lefts and rights. Arn, up and as alert as he can be with the blood pouring from his head, goes after Sting, but Sting stops him with a kick to the gut and a throw into the cage. Sting leaves Arn for Luger (who hammers on The Enforcer’s open wound) and pursues Flair, who is scurrying backwards and begging for mercy. He offers a hand, and Sting considers it as the crowd screams bloody murder against the idea of embracing the hand of The Dirtiest Player In The Game. Sting looks to the crowd, who are all urging him to attack, but he accepts the hand instead. Flair brings up his leg for a kick to the gut, and Sting releases the hand and catches the leg. Flair hops around, his leg trapped in Sting’s clutches, who is grinning like a demon; then, Sting pivots and whips Flair to the ground, never letting go of the leg. When Flair hits the ground, Sting is on him, crossing the legs and trying to get the step-over to finish the Scorpion Deathlock. Flair fights it, looking to his Horsemen for help, but only finds despair: Arn is battered by Luger (Flair looks just in time to see a spinebuster), Sid is only now beginning to stir after his heart punch, and Mark Callous is being double-teamed by the Steiners. The split second of distraction is enough, and Sting gets the step-over; Flair is on his stomach, his legs twisted over one another, his back arched in a very unnatural way. Sid manages to get to his feet—still very much dazed—but Scott Steiner cuts him off with another chop block, and the strength is fading fast. Through tear-stained eyes, Flair can see Arn has caught Luger off-guard and reversed a piledriver into a back body drop, but Arn collapses to the mat, exhausted; he tries to stand up, but between the beating he has received, and blood he has lost, Arn is in another world. As Arn makes one last (too short) lunge to break Sting’s hold, Flair screams his surrender, and the crowd comes out of their seats. Medics and trainers are already on their way to ringside to check on the battered and bloodied, for the winners of WarGames look just as bad as the losers. The Four Horsemen will never go away—Sting knows he cannot lapse into thinking like that. Surely, Flair will send Sid Vicious or Mark Callous to try and cripple him … and there is unfinished business with Lex Luger as well. But tonight, he has beaten The Four Horsemen at their own game … and proven that he is much more then a “boy” … and that Ric Flair is, at least right now, most definitely not “The Man”.