"Adversity introduces a man to himself." - Arn Anderson
I always loved that quote. Especially when Arn Anderson said it ... because you just knew he meant it.
When Marty Lunde made the transformation to "Double A" Arn Anderson in 1984, the Mid-Atlantic area was on its way to becoming the beneficiary of arguably the greatest stable in wrestling history.
Anderson's uncanny resemblance and similar style to tough guy Ole Anderson (Al "Rock" Rogowski) prompted the name change and reformation of the legendary Minnesota Wrecking Crew. With only two years in the business, Anderson got the opportunity to hone his ring skills and mic ability in one of the top territories in the country.
Surrounded by veteran talent and placed in main-event spots, the Rome, Ga., native rapidly ascended the ranks in the Charlotte-based circuit. Less than two years into his run, he would join Ole, Tully Blanchard and Ric Flair to form what would become pro wrestling's greatest heel unit. The mercurial James J. Dillon (Jim Morrison) completed the package as their mastermind manager.
The infamous stable evolved from a simple interview. Dillon was managing National champion Blanchard, and they were joined by NWA world champ Flair and NWA National tag-team champs Arn and Ole.
It was Arn, the youngest member, who coined the Horsemen moniker during an impromptu television interview in January 1986.
"Take a good look at your screen right now, because never have so few wreaked so much havoc on everyone else. You'd have to go back in history to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," Anderson declared.
Dillon then held up the four fingers on his right hand, mimicking Anderson's hand gesture, which would become one of the most recognizable symbols in all of wrestling.
It was a moment that changed grappling history.
Each man's constant drive to be the best, the same drive that brought them together, unified them into the greatest heel faction of all time.
That drive to be the best extended beyond the confines of the wrestling ring. They lived the gimmick 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"Being a Horseman isn't something you put on in the morning and take off at night," said Anderson, one of the greatest talkers of his generation. "It's a state of mind. It's excelling to the best of your ability. It's four individuals thinking singularly, acting collectively."
With Flair as the leader of the stable, the cocky, ruthless group blazed a trail that fans still talk about today. But without Arn Anderson, the recipe just wouldn't have been complete.
Known as "The Enforcer," Anderson became the cornerstone of the faction, which would later include Barry Windham, who took Lex Luger's spot in the group in 1988.
Extensive neck and back injuries, though, forced Anderson to retire from the ring at the age of 38 in 1997. For the past 13 years, he has served as a road agent and senior producer for World Wrestling Entertainment.
While Anderson's in-ring career may have been cut short, his legendary status as "The Enforcer" and a founding member of the Four Horsemen is cemented in wrestling history.
Anderson, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012 as part of the Horsemen faction, will take another bow when he is inducted into the Hall of Heroes during the 2014 Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest on July 31-Aug. 3 in Charlotte.
It will be a special homecoming for Anderson. While he has called the Queen City his home for the past 29 years, it's not often that he gets the chance to reconnect with the fans that he says contributed to his success.
"This one is special," says Anderson. "It's almost like being in Charlotte because it's just up the road. Charlotte is my home, so it will be a homecoming of sorts."
He says the event is a way of thanking his fans for all their support over the years.
"For me to still be recognized after all these years of not being on TV, by anybody anywhere, is still a thrill and I really appreciate it. You know the guys who did it for the money ... they're not around. You knows the ones who did it for the glamor ... they're not around.
"But when we went through that curtain, we tried to outdo each other. Tully and I would try to outdo Barry and Ric, and Ole and I went out and tried to outdo Tully. We were feeding our own egos to see if we could do it, but it basically was for the fans. They were the benefactors. They got the best show possible. It was for them, and we always knew that. Without them, nothing happens."
Anderson says there will always be a special place in his heart for the old Mid-Atlantic area, Crockett Promotions and the NWA.
"I got my start in life here. I started a wonderful family that I'm still with. Not many people in this business can say that 30 years later."
'Best in the world'
While his current travel schedule with WWE takes him around the globe, it's vastly different than he days he traveled the roads, mostly by car, working 300-plus matches a year at the peak of his career.
"I travel so much with my current job with WWE," says Anderson. "But every time I come back to one of the Carolina towns, or I'm just passing through going south on vacation, I have a flashback to those days.
"Charleston was an every-other Saturday night town; Greenville was an every-other Monday night town. You get a flashback to the days of pounding those roads."
Still the greatest years, he says, were those years he spent with his fellow Horsemen. He gives special props to Blanchard and Dillon, with whom he will share induction honors in Charlotte.
"I learned from them. Both of them, in their own way, were a lot better than I was. I was very fortunate and very lucky to have been in their presence. There was a time that - I don't think, I know - we were the best in the world. And I have no problem saying that."
More than a few wrestling historians would agree.
"It was each man carrying his own weight," says Anderson. "J.J. was a smart man, a great talker, a great organizer. Tully was a great performer - as good as anybody out there - and a great partner. So it was a very special time, and it will be great to relive that at this event. It will be a celebration of just that."
Anderson also realizes this will be the final event of a 10-year Fanfest run that has seen hundreds of former stars reunited with their former colleagues and fans. "I hate to say it, but this very well could be the last time anybody sees us all together again," he laments.
He won't forget about Ole Anderson, who also is scheduled to be in attendance, either.
Ole, 71, who gave Arn his first big break in the business, has been battling multiple sclerosis in recent years and is now confined to a wheelchair.
"I haven't talked to Ole in a while. His name comes up every time a fan sees me. First thing they say is, 'What's Ole doing' or 'What's Tully doing?' Most of them think I'm Ole for God's sake! He should be thrilled about it. I'm miserable about it," Anderson jokes with the razor-sharp wit that made him one of the most entertaining guys in the dressing room over the years.
"He should be as flattered as any human being could possibly be. I'm absolutely flipped."
"The good part is," Anderson continues in a more serious vein, "I hope to get to see him and shake his hand and hug his neck. I hate to say it, but all of us, Barry included, being in the same room possibly at the same time, it probably will be the last time. Who knows? We're all getting older, and everybody's paths are going in different directions. It will be special."
What might have been
It was a difficult and heart-wrenching decision for Anderson to hang up his tights in 1997. Extensive neck and back injuries had exacted a heavy physical toll and, not willing to tempt fate and risk possible paralysis, Anderson called it quits.
He still wonders how far his career might have gone had he been physically able to compete a few more years.
"I would think for sure I would have had at least five more years. Without the last neck injury, even running on fumes for the first two, I could have gotten by. But who knows? Maybe 10 more years. Thirty-seven is not that old. The crazy thing is that I had those terrible neck injuries, and I wasn't one to come off the top (rope). I really feel for these guys today."
Anderson points out one WWE performer in particular - Dolph Ziggler.
"Dolph has got to be one of the toughest men to put on a pair of boots," says Anderson. "But he's going to be like Cactus Jack (Mick Foley) in another five years because that kid beats his body up more than anybody on the crew."
Anderson, though, hopes Ziggler gets a legitimate shot before then. He feels the 33-year-old performer, who was a collegiate champion at Kent State, is one of the best talents in the business.
"I do know this. In my dealings with him, when I'm his producer, he gives everything he's got. He does some really phenomenal, athletic stuff."
Anderson says he firmly believes Ziggler has the potential to be a top money-maker in WWE given the chance.
He likens Ziggler to another former WWE superstar who took some time before he was fully recognized.
"Shawn Michaels was around a long time before they cut him out and put him in the singles spotlight. Shawn and Marty (Jannetty) must have gotten fired five times from everywhere. What I'm hoping is, not necessarily through attrition, but through a lack of other guys being able to be produced, that Dolph will get a second look in a separate setting. And then maybe he'll get a chance.
"Now that you've separated (Dean) Ambrose and (Seth) Rollins, they're no bigger than Dolph. Dolph would tear the joint down with either one of those guys. You can put Bray Wyatt in that scenario. There's a lot of things that haven't happened yet, and that's what I'm hoping for the guy."
Like most performers who came up through the territories, Anderson often finds himself yearning for the old days of the business.
"For me, as a performer, it was the greatest job and the greatest way to make a living. With my job now, what I hate is that the guys don't have a place to learn without being on worldwide television and getting exposed. Business-wise, for the overall industry, downsizing has hurt. I'm thankful I'm one of the survivors and still have a job. But there's some days I just sure miss being a wrestler again and being responsible for my 30 or 45 minutes."
Anderson calls his Hall of Heroes recognition "a tremendous honor" and is looking forward to interacting with his fans "up close and personal."
"I get to see faces now with my glasses on," he laughs. "You get a better perspective of seeing how close your fan base is. This is our way of thanking them. They certainly deserve it."
Anderson says he realizes just what an impact he and the Horsemen had on fans every time he hears a story like the one WWE star Big Show (South Carolina native Paul Wight) tells.
Wight vividly recalls being a six-foot-tall, 230-pound, 12-year-old fan, riding his bike to the Township Auditorium in Columbia, not having enough money to get in but anxiously waiting for the Four Horsemen to pull up in their fancy automobile.
"And he (Wight) is sitting there and he's looking at me thinking I'm the baddest guy he's ever seen. Memories like that I didn't know existed," says Anderson.
The Hall of Famer says special relationships developed with fans over the years, and those bonds have remained intact.
"We didn't know their names, but we became the home team," says Anderson. "The Horsemen started out as the 'bad guys,' but in the end, who knows? It's funny how it evolved like that, with the familiarity with weekly towns and the territory feel. It just felt different because you were securely a part of that.
"People ask me all the time about going to all these wonderful cities (with WWE), but we really see the same things. We see the airport, the hotel, the gym and the arena. And we move on. That's it, and people don't believe that. You leave right after the show at night. You're there for a minute and you see a couple of landmarks, but that's it.
"It's harder now than it was then because of the travel, but it doesn't have a family feel. That's why people would go to a territory, find somewhere they liked, and they would move there. It became home. You don't have that happening anymore. Familiarity doesn't always breed contempt. Sometimes familiarity is just cool. I know my way around here. No surprises."
To that end, says Anderson, he knows he will feel right at home during Fanfest.
"I kind of like that myself ... especially as I get older."
In addition to signing autographs during the afternoon of Aug. 1, Arn Anderson also will be part of several special photo opportunities, joining Tully Blanchard and J.J. Dillon in a rare photo-op at the Hilton University Place hotel in Charlotte. The Hall of Heroes awards ceremony will take place later that evening.
Also being inducted into the Hall of Heroes are the Poffo family (Lanny Poffo and his brother, the late Randy Savage, and their father, the late Angelo Poffo), Ox Baker, Tommy Young, Jerry Brisco and the late Boris "The Great" Malenko.
WWE Hall of Famer and former NWA world champion Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat is scheduled to return to Fanfest for the first time since 2004. Steamboat will sign autographs and pose for photos with fans during the Friday morning session. He will be one of 29 featured guests and among more than 100 stars attending the four-day event.
For more information on Fanfest, visit www.NWALegends.com.
Old School Championship Wrestling returns with "Tag Team Wars 7" on Sunday at the Hanahan Rec Center.
Two of the featured teams will be The Sons of Midnight (former WWE star Gangrel and Dr. Creo) and former WCW Flock members Sick Boy and Lodi.
Others on the bill include The Washington Bullets, Vordell Walker, Brandon Paradise, Eric Bradford, Michael Frehley and B.J. Hancock.
Bell time is at 5 p.m. Doors open at 4:30.
Adult admission (cash at door) is $10; kids (12 and under) $5.
For more information, call 743-4800 or visit www.oscwonline.com.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.
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