Arn Anderson turns 60 today. Many know that Anderson was in the legendary Four Horsemen, one half of The Brainbusters in WWF, is a WWE Hall of Famer, and works as an agent for Vince McMahon today.
But on his birthday, let’s take a moment to talk about what made Anderson great.
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Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina in the 1980s, my primary wrestling was NWA/Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP).
And it was real.
I don’t mean “real” in the sense that professional wrestling was not choreographed then, or that even in the kayfabe era most of the audience couldn’t figure out that rasslin’ wasn’t exactly a pure athletic competition.
No, I mean you believed in those characters (hell, most wrestlers would have slapped you for even saying “characters” back then, and Jim Cornette still might). The performers had a degree of realism that is so often missing today.
Ric Flair ruled the roost as the Southeast’s reviled rich a**hole villain and/or most beloved wrestler (even as the heel, Flair eventually couldn’t avoid getting more cheers than boos, particularly in the 90s). I remember Flair talking about being out in bars in my area in TV promos – drinking all the liquor, being with all the women – and my parents, who also frequented those bars, would inform the next morning anytime they saw Flair out.
When you’re a kid, it doesn’t get much more real than that. Exactly what Flair said he was going to do on TV, he did – with my family as first hand witnesses.
Dusty Rhodes really was perceived as the American Dream. Most really thought Nikita Koloff was a Russian baddie (Koloff notoriously spoke in his Russian accent at all times). Most believed the Road Warriors would take your head off, the Rock n’ Roll Express really were the teeny boppers‘ champion, and “Rugged” Ronnie and “Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin were brothers.
And EVERYONE straight-up believed Arn Anderson would whoop your ass.
As “The Enforcer” of the Four Horsemen, Anderson might have been the most believable wrestler of the entire 1980s. Known for being one of the best talkers in the business, after Flair finished talking about partying, or Tully Blanchard spoke about their titles, Anderson would explain to opponents in detail how they were going to be dismembered and why. Anderson talked about how he and the Horsemen were tough guys who would always get the job done, and not just some vaudeville show (which was usually a dig on the WWF in those days).
And you believed every word.
“We are the best at what we do. You didn’t hear any music. You didn’t see any face paint. You don’t see any glitter. What you see is plain boots, and plain tights. What you also saw was plain wrestling, which is what’s on the marquee. These days our business gets glamorized by different aspects and different people. Some of them like to call it showbiz. A lot of people like to think they’re stars.
Well, Tully and myself, Ric Flair, James J. Dillon, Know that stars are in the sky, and stars are in Hollywood. What we are is professional athletes, and every time we come to a building, you gotta know… that whether we’re sick, whether we’re hurtin’, whether we got problems at home, or whether we got problems making our plane… we give you 110% because that’s what you pay for…
We are the best. We are the Horsemen.”
WWE legend Big Show, also a South Carolina native, explained last year on Steve Austin’s podcast why Arn Anderson was his favorite as a kid. Standing outside the Columbia Township Auditorium (the venue JCP ran regularly in the 80s in SC’s capitol) when he was just 12-years-old, Show told Austin:
“I saw Arn Anderson get out of a big car with a Polo shirt and big rope chain and rose-colored glasses, and big thick neck On’em and just this scowl on his face. and I remember going back to school and telling my friends ‘He was the meanest son of a gun I’D ever seen in my life…'”
“And he doesn’t realize, but at the time I’m a 12-year-old kid at 6″2′, 215 pounds…” Show continued. “And I think Arn Anderson is 6″9′, 400 pounds. I can’t express to you as a kid I had that memory…”
“His presence was so incredible, like nothing I’d ever met… you got it right away that he was ‘The Enforcer,” Show added.
“When he said he was gonna put the boots to you, you believeD it.”
Big Show’s memories of Anderson reflect my own, and while he and the Horsemen were beloved – or hated – by wrestling fans across America and around the world, he will always hold a special place in the rasslin’ hearts of kids who grew up in the Southeast United States in the 1980s (just ask Titusville, Florida native Daniel Tosh of Tosh.o).
So happy 60th Enforcer! Thanks for the many wonderful and terrifying memories.
The Horsemen are forever – and so is Arn Anderson.
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