In 2009 Daniel Tosh famously said on Tosh.O that if “being a great technician were all it took, then Arn Anderson would be the most famous wrestler in the world.”
Dean Malenko might have something to say about that, but point taken: pro wrestling is about showmanship and charisma and gimmick as much, if not more so, than work rate.
Don’t kid yourself though, Arn was more than a technician. He was damned decent on the stick, and he was a founding father of the most (in)famous wrestling stable in wrestling history, the Four Horsemen. It was Arn himself that coined that name, when after he, Tully Blanchard, Ole Anderson and Ric Flair had beat down several faces in the promotion. Arn proclaimed that so much havoc had not been rained down by so few men since the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
It was umpteen time world champion best friend Ric Flair that probably, in some way, held a bigger push for Arn back. The Horsemen always had one guy chasing the world title – Flair – one guy going after that US Heavyweight Championship, notably Lex Luger and Barry Windham, a TV Title contender, and a pair that stayed in the Tag Team Championship hunt. Arn was always fitted into the latter two.
He is perhaps most notable as a tag team performer, at least in the eighties, especially since the WWF fan base was then exposed to Arn as part of the Brain Busters with Tully Blanchard. He was no slouch as a singles competitor though, and between his late 80s and early to mid-90s runs, Arn Anderson holds the record for days holding the TV Title.
Owing to the latter, he was a staple of WCW Saturday Night, the flagship show of WCW pre-Nitro. Of course after Nitro, Arn was as big a presence as ever until his retirement due to injury in 1997.
With his departure from the WWE as a road agent and “surprise” drop-in at AEW to spinebust Shawn Spears (managed by Tully Blanchard) and assist Cody Rhodes (a booking I totally called in last week’s article), Arn’s back in the Google Searches this week.
What better time to share my burning passion for the Enforcer here at TWM? As a WCW staple from the early nineties, Arn Anderson was a staple of my youth. He represented the no-nonsense approach we could imagine our dads taking if they were part of the promotion. It’s the attitude and way of carrying himself (and black trunks) that Stone Cold would take full advantage of when the market was finally ready for an Arn Anderson type to lead a promotion.
I’m not here though to espouse the overall greatness of Arn, or lobby for the World Title he never got to carry. This week, we’re taking a look at Arn Anderson’s Five Most Underrated Matches.
There’s no War Games, there’s no legendary Horsemen feuds, there’s no AEW on this list. Underrated means out of the spotlight. These are matches you might have missed the first time around, or just don’t remember because they were too low on the card. And no worries, there is no Uncensored ’96 or Doomsday Cage Match mentioned here either.
5. Arn Fills in for Honky at Starrcade ’94
Okay, Johnny B. Badd has probably never been on an underrated list in his life. He’s properly rated. He stinks and we all know it.
The night of Starrcade ’94 had promised the epic battle of the music wannabes for the TV Title: Johnny B. Badd, Little Richard Rip-off and reigning TV Champ versus the Honky Tonk Man and his tired Elvis schtick. As Honky made a career out of refusing to job, even parlaying such antics into an inadvertently long run as the WWF Intercontinental Champ which had begun as somewhat of a comedy win, he did not want to job to Little Richard. Seriously, Honky Tonk tried to pull rank at WCW in 1994. Booking appeased Honky as he had been disqualified and had fought to a television time limit draw with Badd in the weeks leading up to Starrcade. When it came time to do the job for real and end the rivalry at Starrcade with Johnny B. Badd retaining, Honky straight up refused. Bischoff fired him and scrambled for a replacement.
In stepped the greatest TV champ of all, Arn Anderson.
First of all, when is a replacement ever better than the original? How lucky were we in December ’94 that such was the case? Second, if like me, you were watching WCW multiple times a weekend then you were sick of Johnny B. Badd. He was pushed and pushed and pushed. For whatever reason after he’d hung around as a pretty boy heel with the same gimmick for about a year, somebody in WCW booking decided Badd was going to be one of the next big faces and they started pushing. We suffered through botched Frankensteiners, overly theatrical left hooks, the lunkiest cross bodies you’ve ever seen, and terrible, terrible promos. He was quickly becoming an eye-roll on the card.
But then in comes Arn at Starrcade. No, Arn didn’t win the match. What he did was much, much more impressive. He got a good match out of Johnny B. Badd on a pay-per-view.
Of course it was a good match. It’s Arn. He sold the big shoulder blocks, he danced out of sunset flips, he took flat back bumps with an intensity like no other.
The most underrated thing in this match though happened before the bell. As Badd was gimmicked with a boxing background and began shadow boxing to warm up, Arn made sure he called the ref over. Arn talked to the ref, closed his fist and punched an open hand and pointed to Badd. The fans booed mercilessly as the ref went to pre-warn Badd about closed fists in a wrestling match.
THIS is how you get heat. Arn didn’t have to bend a chair on anyone’s head. He didn’t have to come out of the crowd and attack with a bat. No one had to bleed. Without a single move taking place in the match, Arn had the fans pulling hard for Badd, playing his fill-in role to perfection. Perfect heel.
4. Aloha Arn is Born: Wrestlemania V (April 2, 1989)
Though he was a Jim Crockett and WCW staple, Arn did spend some time in the eighties in the WWF with Tully Blanchard as the Brain Busters.
The show itself was about the year-long storyline of the Mega Powers. Here, in the main event, the Mega Powers exploded when face Hulk Hogan took the title belt of once again heel Randy Savage. Probably hardly anyone was paying attention to Strike Force versus the Brain Busters, but watch the ‘Mania V again and you’ll see a fantastic tag team matchup. It might get buried in all the bad tag team action on the night (see the Rockers versus the Twin Towers, the Bushwackers versus the Rougeaus, and Demolition versus the Powers of Pain), but it’s a very solid in-ring match, mostly remembered for its ending and the breakup of Strike Force.
Tito Santana and pre-Model Rick Martel teamed as Strike Force and brought some exciting energy. They busted out stereo figure-fours. They drop kicked. They played to the crowd. Pure babyfaces. However, during the course of the match, Santana accidentally hit Martel on the ring apron. Martel short armed for the rest of the match, not wanting in, and eventually walked out on Tito to leave him to the wolves.
The wolves were Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard. Arn and Tully busted out a beautiful spike pile-driver with Blanchard coming off the top and Arn performing the pile driver to put Tito out of his misery.
But none of that was the biggest moment of the bout. As I mentioned above, no one dances in defense of a sunset flip like Arn, and here it was born (https://i.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/newsfeed/001/158/084/26f.gif):
Tito goes for the sunset flip and, in the most epic sell job of all time, Arn Alohas like a Hawaiian hula dancer. The sell is in his movements and in his face and, for my money, was the absolute best sell of the decade.
3. The Enforcers lose to Dustin and Ricky: Clash of the Champions XVII (1991)
You probably don’t remember Clash 17, in fact, you probably forgot it on purpose. The main event was WCW World Champion Lex Luger beating a contending Rick Steiner in eleven minutes. On the rest of the card, Big Josh (future Doink Matt Bourne) beat the Thomas Rich in six minutes, Bobby Eaton beat Firebreaker Chip in five minutes, Tom Zenk beat Diamond Studd Scott Hall in a minute and half, Stunnin’ Steve Austin beat P.N. News in four and a half minutes, Cactus Jack beat Van Hammer in four minutes, Brian Pillman beat Johnny B. Badd in four minutes, and Rick Rude beat Sting in five minutes. Talk about express delivery: your match in about ten minutes or less.
Sandwiched amidst this card terrible is a tag team classic. The champions: the Enforcers, Arn Anderson and Larry Zbyszko. The challengers: Dustin Rhodes and Barry Windham. However, in the lead up to the match, in an NWO style attack, Anderson and Zbyszko attacked Rhodes and Windham in the parking lot, slamming Windham’s hand in the car door and kayfabe breaking it.
Who would Dustin recruit as his partner? In another replacement-better-than-the-original move, in stepped Ricky the Dragon Steamboat. On a card where wrestlers were protected with five minute matches, these four got 15 minutes. And it was well done, garnering 4 1/4 stars from Meltzer (Arn was involved in two five star matches, by the way, both late 80s War Games main events).
First, Steamboat was a huge shock. Having dipped back into the WWF, he was returning here. He came out in his only cool looking Dragon costume ever, a giant movie-style Dragon prop head covering his face. While this mystery Dragon comes out, Arn starts giving the announcers, a young Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone, a piece of his mind about these antics. Again, pure heel. Dustin walked over and ripped off the mask to reveal Steamboat to a huge pop. While Arn and Larry heel out over this, Ricky awkwardly jumps into Windham’s arms and wraps his legs around Windham’s waist like he’s Windham’s four year old son while the faces all celebrate the surprise.
The match was hard hitting with several all-in brawls. Arn and Larry ruthlessly pinned Ricky in their heel corner but the babyface fought his way out. Dustin, still young and pretty much using his dad’s move-set, gets in some big bionic elbows. Eventually, the heels gained the advantage and worked over Ricky for a while. Arn bear-hugged the Dragon a while, then, when Ricky tried to bodyscissor Arn, Arn turned it into a Boston crab. Great stuff watching these two work.
Dustin finally gets the hot tag, runs wild on the heels, knocks Zbyszko out of the ring, and tags Ricky in again. Ricky immediately goes up top and a stunned and wobbling Arn (the best sell in the game) gets to his feet. He sell stumbles and turns around in time to get the huge flying body cross from Steamboat off the top rope. Arn goes down for the count. The crowd gives a HUGE pop for the new face champions and the return of Ricky the Dragon.
2. Arn and Regal Pound Each other at Superbrawl IV (February 20, 1994)
I know I went on and on about Meltzer stars in the last matchup, but this one’s noteworthy too. Meltzer has this one at a half star. A HALF FREAKING STAR?!? First of all, Arn gets a half star for just lacing up the boots. The way he carries his character, hits crisp ass moves, and bumps like a boss brings two or three stars automatically. Add another favorite mid-90s wrestler of mine, the Wigham Pit wrestling Steven Regal (he wasn’t William until the WWF), and this is two men about to do some work.
The scene: Regal is TV champ, Arn is actually a face during this time. But Arn isn’t a pandering face. He’s a Stone Cold Steve Austin face (and I swear Austin patterned his voice after Arn, have a listen), where he talks about just getting the job done, and doing whatever it takes. Regal, of course, is the pompous foreigner who hates America and grinds dirty tattooed forearms into his opponent’s face when the ref’s not looking.
The match was hard hitting, with Anderson staying maniacally focused on a body part, in this case the left arm and shoulder. Regal stretched and pretzeled Arn. Sir William, Regal’s valet, lent a hand a few times for “added leverage.”
At one point in the action, Arn stops wrestling and just goes for pain. He picks up the downed Regal’s left leg, as if going for a figure four. However, instead of wrapping the shin in around his own leg, Arn takes the foot and ankle and bends the entire leg outward. Bobby Heenan starts flipping out on the call because Arn is bending the leg the “wrong way!” It’s a great move to stop the match for a breather while keeping the intensity up. Again, with hardly any effort and a little innovation, he makes me mark out.
Grapple. Reversal. Grapple. If you don’t like mat wrestling, you won’t dig this match. But if you dig storytelling and psychology to support a move-set, this has it. It’s grueling, in a good way.
Regal goes for a Boston crab but Arn spins his body and uses his legs to scissor toss Regal who takes the flipping bump. Anderson throws Regal in the sleeper momentarily when Regal gets up. Then, from the sleeper position Arn shoves Regal into the turnbuckle chest first. As Regal bounces out backwards Arn grabs Regal’s trunk (giving us a cheeky shot) and pulls Regal into a school boy roll. So intense. Like a bully slapping a kid in the head on the playground. Regal kicks out and the announcer tells us we’re down to sixty seconds!
Arn goes to work. He whips Regal in and grabs him off the ropes and delivers a patented spine buster to a HUGE pop. The fans got all the way behind face Arn in this one. They want him to beat the time limit and take the title from Regal so bad.
Arn goes outside the ring as Sir William interferes on the pin from the spine buster. As he comes back in the ring he shoulders Regal in the gut, then Arn goes over the top for the sunset flip. Regal does his own Aloha Arn dance to stay upright and Sir William reaches his umbrella out for Regal to grab onto. Regal grabs hold and then drops down, Arn’s shoulders pinned beneath Regal’s knees. Regal gets the three count as the audience countdown from ten is happening. A photo finish with the time limit. Face Arn loses to the cheating heel, a retaining Steven Regal.
A more intense seven and half minutes you will not see. HALF STAR MY ASS!
1. Arn beats Flair at Fall Brawl ‘95
How is Arn Anderson versus Ric Flair not a main event? Well, because Hulk Hogan needs the spotlight to fight off the latest comic book goons trying to take him down of course.
It was certainly the show stealer at Fall Brawl ’95. For an added layer of coolness, the WCW wrestlers came out of the locker room and sat around the ring to watch these two battle. This was that big. Nothing like this happened during Hogan’s main event.
The promos leading into this match were pitch perfect. The storyline was simple but worthy of the fans watching. Cousins, best friends, Horsemen for life battling each other. The feud began with the simple premise that Arn was mad at Ric for losing the world title, mad that Ric had “lost his edge.” Arn challenged Flair to the fight to bring his fire and spark back.
While Flair never pulled the full family kayfabe in his promos leading up to the match, he did pull out the real life stuff. He mentioned how they bonded because Arn was from a broken home and Flair was adopted. They became like the brother neither had in real life. And while Flair cut these promos he was serious. He didn’t style and profile. He didn’t go over the top. This added a flare, pardon the pun, of gravitas to the bout. Flair wasn’t here to get over. He was in a real fight with his real best friend. Both used a tone of “too bad it has come to this but it has” as they built up the match. Pillman joined Anderson to create a “new horsemen faction forming” feel. And Arn was going to be the leader this time.
The match itself went as it should. After years of eating up the spotlight, of being so great that Arn’s own greatness was never noticed, Flair did the job. Not only did he do the job, he made Arn look good, as if he needed the help. When they locked up and grappled Arn got the upper hand. When they tested strength, Arn got the upper hand. Arn blocked the figure four. Arn was the better man in the ring all around.
The end was cheap but not unexpected with Pillman hitting an awkward kick to the back of Flair’s head as Flair was at the ropes, bending Flair forward for a patented Arn DDT and the 1-2-3. Arn was the heel in the match after all.
This was well-executed in the ring and in the booking. Like the Luger-Sting sort-of-rivalry that persisted from ’95 through the NWO formation, here two friends had to collide in the ring, adding an extra layer of intrigue to everything.
In the end, it was all a swerve for Flair to turn on Sting and join up with Arn and the Horsemen again. The way it always should have been.
You can find me on Twitter @gritvanwinkle.