The greatest unit in the modern era of professional wrestling is being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
And one of its members, arguably the greatest performer of our time, is returning for an encore.
While last week’s announcement of Ric Flair and The Four Horsemen’s impending induction into the WWE Hall of Fame didn’t exactly come out of the blue, it did come as a big surprise to the 16-time world heavyweight champion.
After all, it was less than four years ago when Flair was enshrined in an emotional and memorable ceremony in Orlando, one night before his final WWE match with Shawn Michaels. On March 31, the Nature Boy will walk the aisle once more, but this time in Miami, becoming the first wrestler in WWE history to be honored twice.
Thirteen-time world champion Triple H (Paul Levesque) broke the news to his longtime friend prior to the announcement on Monday Night Raw. Flair was at TNA tapings in Orlando when he received the call.
“It’s amazing. It’s very cool. The whole TNA crew was watching the vignette. I started crying when they aired it,” said Flair.
The longtime Charlotte resident, who “retired” from WWE in 2008, has worked for TNA since January 2010. His selection marks the first time a performer under contract with a rival promotion has been inducted into the WWE Hall.
All four members of The Horsemen — Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard and Barry Windham, along with manager J.J. Dillon — are expected to attend the ceremony.
Windham’s appearance will be a special one, as he survived a close call several months ago after suffering a heart attack and a seizure. But the eldest son of WWE Hall of Famer Blackjack Mulligan (Bob Windham) is making slow but marked progress, and is expected to be released from a Florida rehabilitation center within the next couple of weeks.
Flair, who turns 63 in February, joked that his Hall of Fame speech will be limited this time around.
“They told me I could only talk seven minutes,” said Flair, whose impassioned acceptance speech in 2008 lasted well over an hour, with Triple H making several trips to the podium to rush Flair due to network time constraints.
Flair, who attended last year’s WWE ceremony in Atlanta to see Michaels’ induction, says he is eagerly looking forward to the event and reuniting with his former stablemates.
“We’re going to blow the roof off,” he said.
Edge (Adam Copeland), who was forced to retire last year due to a neck injury, also was announced last week as a Hall of Fame selection, becoming the youngest inductee in history at age 39. The selection of Mexican superstar Mil Mascaras was announced last year. It has been reported that the late Yokozuna (Rodney Anoa’i), who passed away in 2000 at the age of 34, will be the next inductee.
The WWE Hall has been criticized in the past for a number of questionable selections as well as notable omissions. There’s little question, however, that stars such as Bruno Sammartino, representing the company’s early days and title lineage, and the late “Macho Man” Randy Savage, representing WWE’s more current past, are bona fide first-ballot candidates. But neither is in the hall, nor do chances appear favorable for their future inclusion.
Sammartino, a former two-time WWWF champion who held the title more than 11 years, thus far has refused to accept an induction.
“I guess one should never say never, but I would have to see an awful lot of change before I would even think about it. A lot more than what I’m seeing now,” the 76-year-old Sammartino said last year.
Savage, who left WWE on bad terms in 1994, passed away in 2011 at the age of 58.
Some also are questioning the exclusion of Ole Anderson (Al “Rock” Rogowski), a member of the original Horsemen, from the soon-to-be-honored group.
Anderson, however, has stated in the past that he had no interest in taking part in anything related to WWE and company owner Vince McMahon.
He said Friday that his stance hasn’t changed.
“Vince McMahon hates my guts, and I don’t like him. So that’s all there is to it,” said Anderson, who was part of one of wrestling’s most famous tag teams, The Minnesota Wrecking Crew, with the late Gene Anderson.
“To be a part of that, anyone with a brain knows who the first Four Horsemen were. It was me and Arn and Ric and Tully Blanchard, and J.J. Dillon was the manager. So if they don’t know that, they don’t know anything about wrestling anyway. So what’s the difference?”
“Vince McMahon is never going to call me,” added Anderson. “I hate his guts just like he hates mine. It’s no big deal.”
Even if he wanted to, he wouldn’t be able to attend due to health problems, said Anderson, 69, who has battled multiple sclerosis in recent years.
“I can’t go anywhere anyway. I’m so screwed up from the multiple sclerosis. I’m in a wheelchair right now, and that thing kills me after a little while and then I have to lay down. That’s my routine. How would I get there? By car? I couldn’t do that. By airplane? I just couldn’t get there.”
Furthermore, said Anderson, he has difficulty assigning any type of value to the induction.
“They’ve inducted me in some halls already. Years ago I was down there with Verne Gagne and Lou Thesz. Who the hell is better than Verne Gagne and Lou Thesz? I wrestled both of them, and I know exactly what they could do. Verne asked me what I thought back then about our induction, and I said, ‘Who’s going to care? Twenty years from now nobody will even know who you are. And there’s probably not too many people who know who you are right now.’ Lou Thesz and Verne Gagne were certainly two guys who should have been in any kind of hall of fame. But what did it mean? Nothing.”
And, he adds, it wouldn’t mean anything now.
“I told Vince McMahon to go (expletive deleted), and I wouldn’t change my mind now.”
Mulligan, one of Anderson’s old ring foes, called it a “travesty” that Ole wasn’t included.
“Ole was the mastermind of the whole deal. It’s always been Ole’s deal. It makes Vince’s Hall of Fame cheapened,” Mulligan told the Fight Sports Examiner. “Ole is so hard-headed, he’s not gonna listen. Ole and I have the unique ability to put our foot in our mouths. We just can’t shut up at times. We think we are too smart sometimes. But Ole had one of the greatest minds this business has ever seen. And he should be in the Hall of Fame with the Horsemen.”
Another former Horseman who didn’t make the cut, Lex Luger, told the Busted Open satellite radio show last week that he didn’t feel snubbed and that Windham, if not Ole, deserved to be among the group inducted.
“I think Barry Windham would be a splendid choice for getting inducted. What a great honor for him. I think it would be a great time in Barry’s life right now, from what I hear, for him to receive that. I’m going to be down in South Beach for Wrestlemania. I wouldn’t miss it. I will be in the audience cheering on the guys who gets selected as The Four Horsemen. I’m just thrilled that I was a part of it at all. I think Barry is a great pick.”
Luger certainly can relate to Windham’s health problems. In 2007 he suffered a spinal stroke that led to temporary paralysis.
His change in attitude reflects a sharp departure from the days Luger was known as “The Total Package,” an egotistical, narcissistic heel that mirrored his real-life persona. The current version of Lex Luger (Larry Pfohl), however, is a born-again Christian who eagerly shares what he calls “the confessions of a drug abuser” and rails against the dangers of drug abuse.
Another WWE Hall of Famer, Jerry “The King” Lawler, told the Miami Herald last week that there might be some who are a little jealous of Flair’s second induction.
“Ric Flair having two rings is going to make a lot of people a little bit jealous,” said the WWE commentator. “Though there is no way you can say the Four Horsemen are not worthy of being inducted in the Hall of Fame because, as a group, industry-wide, they were as formidable a group of talent that there ever has been.”
Wrestlemania 28 will be held April 1 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. Miami has already established on-sale records for number of tickets sold and gross amount.
But for many, the highlight of the weekend will take place the night before Mania and the highly anticipated Rock-John Cena showdown.
The Horsemen, the greatest legacy in pro wrestling, will share the spotlight one more time. And with them, front and center, will be Ric Flair, styling and profiling in front of thousands of fans, some of whom fell in love with him more nearly four decades ago, others learning in later years “what all the excitement was about.”
And you can bet that the “dirtiest player in the game” will be flashing the Horsemen’s signature four-finger symbol of excellence, with two of those fingers proof positive of that fact.