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This Day in Wrestling History (Sept. 14): The Fall and Rebirth of the Four Horsemen

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this day in wrestling history

36 years ago today in Landover, Maryland, Andre the Giant defeated Hulk Hogan after a failed bodyslam attempt. The failed bodyslam attempt would come up again six and a half years later at Wrestlemania III, this time with Hogan kicking out barely.

19 years ago today, WCW presented Fall Brawl: War Games (WWE Network link) from the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 11,939 were in attendance, with just 195,000 homes watching on PPV. It was the least purchased PPV of a very successful year for WCW. Compared to 1996, it was down from 230,000 buys.

  • Eddie Guerrero defeated Chris Jericho to win the WCW Cruiserweight Championship .
  • The Steiner Brothers (Rick Steiner & Scott Steiner) defeated Harlem Heat.
  • Alex Wright defeated Ultimo Dragon to retain the WCW Television Championship.
  • Jeff Jarrett defeated Dean Malenko.
  • Wrath & Mortis defeats The Faces of Fear (Meng & The Barbarian).
  • The Giant defeated Scott Norton.
  • Lex Luger & Diamond Dallas Page defeated Scott Hall & Macho Man Randy Savage in a no disqualification match.
  • The nWo (Buff Bagwell, Kevin Nash, Syxx, and Konnan) defeated The Four Horsemen (Chris Benoit, Steve McMichael, Ric Flair, and Curt Hennig) in a WarGames Match. Near the end of the match, Hennig turned on the Horsemen and sided with the nWo. Post-match, Ric Flair's head was crushed as a cage was slammed against his head.

18 years ago today on Nitro from Greenville, South Carolina (WWE Network link), the Four Horsemen reform exactly one year to the day they were dismantled at the hands of the nWo in their signature match, WarGames.

The prior twelve and a half months had been a trying time for the Horsemen. In August 1997, Arn Anderson had to retire due to a neck injury. Anderson’s replacement in the group, Curt Hennig, turned on them in the WarGames match at Fall Brawl a year prior. Flair would be taken off TV a bit before briefly feuding with Bret Hart in early 1998. This left Chris Benoit and Steve McMichael to concentrate on their own careers.

Flair would disappear from WCW altogether in April 1998 after he was sued by the promotion for breach of contract after no-showing a Thunder taping. Flair contended that he was attending his son Reid’s wrestling tournament that week, and that he’d only had a day’s notice for him to be at the taping. Flair at the time was actually working without a contract (it had expired earlier in the year, but Flair signed a letter of intent while negotiations were progressing), but it didn’t matter. When he didn’t turn up for the taping, he was quickly suspended and sued. In a September 2015 interview on Flair’s WOOOOO! Nation podcast, Bischoff looked back on it as not one of his better decisions as WCW’s boss:

"I felt, from my point of view, the wheels had been starting to fall off. The talent was getting more and more difficult to manage. And, by the way, remember, this is when talent had somewhere else to go.

"Back then, gamesmanship was at an all time high, probably in both companies, and because of that, I was making bad decisions".

Flair would countersue WCW in May 1998, but the two sides would eventually settle.

While Flair was still out, Dean Malenko tried to reform the Horsemen, asking both Arn Anderson and JJ Dillion, but to no avail.

Fast forward to September 14. The Horsemen were re-introduced by Anderson and Dillon, followed by Chris Benoit, Steve McMichael, and Dean Malenko. After a bit of stalling, Anderson brings out Ric Flair in his first appearance on Nitro in six months. Then an emotional Nature Boy went in on Bischoff (transcript via cagematch.net)

"Thank you, thank you very much. I'm almost embarrassed by the response, but when I see this, I know that the twenty five years that I've spent trying to make you happy every night of your life was worth every damn minute of it. Now, somebody told me that the Horsemen were having a party tonight in Greenville! Could that be true that the most elite group that Eric Bischoff said was dead is alive and well?

“Bischoff, this might be my only shot, and I gotta tell ya, I'm gonna make it my best. Is this what you call a great moment in TV? It's wrong, because this is REAL! This is not bought and paid for! It's a REAL LIFE SITUATION! Just like the night in Columbia, South Carolina, when you looked at me - tears in my eyes - and said 'God, that's good TV' - it was real! Arn Anderson passed the torch - it was real, dammit! You think Sting was crying in the dressing room like I was on TV if it wasn't real? This guy, my best friend, is one of the greatest performers who ever lived, and YOU - you squashed him, in one night. Then you get on the phone and tell me, 'Disband the Horsemen. They're dead. Disband the Four Horsemen.' You know what? I looked at myself in the mirror the next day and I saw a pathetic figure that gave up and quit! And for that, I owe you, the wrestling fans, I owe these guys an apology. Because it won't happen again! Bischoff, no matter what you think... (Eric Bischoff rushes down the aisle, but is stopped by an angry Flair)

You're an overbearing asshole! That's right! You're an obnoxious, you're an obnoxious, overbearing ass! Abuse of power! You! Abuse of power! Cut me off! Come on! It's called abuse of power! You suck! You... I hate your guts. (Bischoff yells at Flair, telling him he’s history before he makes his way backstage) I hate your guts. You are a liar, you're a cheat, you're a scam, you are a no good son of a bitch. Fire me! I'm already fired! Fire me! I'm already fired!"

Flair and Bischoff would feud for the remainder of the year, with the two splitting a pair of bouts in late December (Bischoff won at Starrcade, Flair won the rematch—and Bischoff’s job—for three months).

There’s more: on the undercard, Billy Kidman defeated Juventud Guerrera to win the WCW Cruiserweight Championship.

Also on the undercard, Davey Boy Smith defeated The Barbarian. The previous night, he suffered a back injury when he took a bump on a trap door used for Warrior. It would be the last time Smith appeared on Nitro. Smith would continue to wrestle for about another month, mainly on WCW Saturday Night, before being sidelined with a spinal infection. Smith was fired from WCW while in recovery.

17 years ago today at a Smackdown taping in Las Vegas, Nevada (WWE Network link), WWF Chairman Vince McMahon defeated Triple H in a no disqualification match to win the WWF Championship. Shane McMahon was the special referee.

At 54 years old at the time of his win, McMahon is the oldest WWF Champion in company history. Vince would vacate the title the following Monday on RAW is WAR, and Triple H would regain the title soon after.

8 years ago today in Japan, Bryan Danielson defeated Yoshinobu Kanemaru to win the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship. The title change took place during ROH's last trip to Japan until War of the Worlds in 2014.

8 years ago today, TNA presented No Surrender from the General Motors Centre in Oshwa, Ontario, Canada. This was TNA's first PPV outside of the United States.

  • Prince Justice Brotherhood (Super Eric, Shark Boy, and Curry Man) defeated The Rock ‘n Rave Infection (Lance Rock, Jimmy Rave, and Christy Hemme).
  • Awesome Kong defeated ODB in a falls count anywhere match.
  • Abyss and Matt Morgan defeated Team 3D (Brother Ray and Brother Devon).
  • Sheik Abdul Bashir defeated Petey Williams and Consequences Creed in a three-way match to win the TNA X Division Championship.
  • Taylor Wilde defeated Angelina Love to retain the TNA Knockouts Championship.
  • Sonjay Dutt defeated Jay Lethal in a "Ladder of Love" match.
  • Beer Money, Inc. (Robert Roode and James Storm) defeated The Latin American Xchange (Homicide and Hernandez) to retain the TNA World Tag Team Championship.
  • A.J. Styles fought Frank Trigg to a no contest in a MMA match.
  • Samoa Joe defeated Kurt Angle and Christian Cage in a three-way match to retain the TNA World Heavyweight Championship.

1 year ago today on RAW from Memphis, Tennessee (WWE Network link), Nikki Bella clinches the record for longest WWE Divas Championship reign in company history with a disqualification loss against Charlotte.

The result allows her to extend her reign as Divas Champion beyond the 295-day record held by AJ Lee. The record would top out at 301 days when Charlotte defeated Nikki in a no disqualification match at Night of Champions that weekend. Charlotte herself would kinda sorta break Nikki’s record last month when she reigned as WWE’s ladies’ champion (Divas, then Womens following Wrestlemania 32) for 309 days before being defeated by Sasha Banks last month.

On the same show, Sting wrestled his first—and last RAW match. In the opening bout, Sting defeated Big Show by disqualification. In the show’s main event, Sting and John Cena defeated Big Show and Seth Rollins via submission.

At Night of Champions six days later, Sting would suffer a career-ending neck injury while challenging for the WWE Championship against Rollins.

Today would have been the 87th birthday of Joseph Maurice Regis Vachon, best known to wrestling fans as Mad Dog Vachon.

Born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Joseph was the second oldest of thirteen children. He often went to wrestling shows in the Montreal Forum. Vachon turned that interest into getting into the sport himself. He began amateur wrestling at age 12 at the local YMCA, then under Chief Jim Crowley. Vachon also took small jobs to work on his muscle mass.

By age 14, Vachon had become one of the top amateur wrestlers in the county. He turned that success into a spot on the Canadian Olympic team, competing in the 1948 Games in London. He pinned the Indian champion in under a minute, and went on to finish seventh at 174 pounds (79 kg). It was during the games he encountered Greco-Roman competitor Verne Gagne. After winning the gold in the British Empire Games in 1950, he worked as a bouncer at a Montreal nightclub before trying his hand in pro wrestling in 1951.

Initially competing as a junior heavyweight, Vachon in his rookie year became the North American Junior Heavyweight Champion. He had also become quite popular, something that promoter Eddie Quinn didn't quite like for fear of his top draw Yvon Robert being overshadowed.

Eventually, Vachon had radically changed his look to differentiate himself from other grapplers. He'd bulk up to 225 pounds, shaved his head bald, and grow a long goatee. He'd also change his in-ring style, breaking any and every rule possible to get an advantage over his opponent. And to make his point clear, he would often buy TV time to put himself over and put down his opponent. Soon, people caught on to Vachon's new act. Well, not quite everyone: he'd become so notorious, he was banned from wrestling in three states. Success found Maurice, as he and his brother Paul "The Butcher" Vachon would win the NWA Canadian Tag Team Championship in February 1959. His success as a heel wasn't limited to the ring: he met his future wife Kathie Joe at a wrestling event after spitting a shoe string at her. Wrestling, everyone.

Eventually, "Mad Dog" Vachon (the nickname came from Portland promoter Don Owen when he commented on Vachon's wrestling style) landed in the American Wrestling Association, which was run by Verne Gagne. Vachon, seen as the complete opposite of the clean-cut All-American Gagne, made the perfect foil for the owner/champion. In May 1964, Vachon shocked audiences when he defeated Gagne for the AWA World Heavyweight Championship. Gagne would win it back just two weeks later, but Vachon would win it again in October. He would win the championship five times in all, including a one-year reign from November 1965 to November 1966. Gagne ended Vachon's final run in 1967.

After his championship days, he briefly returned to his hometown of Montreal and with the help Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau, he was granted a license to promote in the Montreal Forum. Eventually, he returned to the AWA and concentrated on tag team wrestling, teaming with his brother Paul "The Butcher" and had a heated rivalry with The Crusher and Dick the Bruiser. In August 1969, the brothers Vachon won the AWA tag team titles; the next year, the two teams battled in a steel cage match at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

In July 1973 in front of a record crowd at Jarry Park in Montreal, Vachon defeated Killer Kowalski in a match where Mad Dog threatened to commit suicide if he lost. Vachon's win made front page news in Montreal: "Vachon Triumphs In Front Of 30,000 People And Gives Up On Suicide!" Wrestling, everyone.

After nearly two decades as a heel, Vachon formed a friendship with his one-time biggest rival, Verne Gagne. The odd couple alliance worked: in June 1979, the duo defeated Pat Patterson and Ray Stevens for the AWA World Tag Team Championship. They held them for over a year before losing them to Jesse Ventura & Adrian Adonis. The AWA eventually decided to go with a youth movement in the 1980s, so Vachon left for the WWF in 1984. His age (55 at the time) and lack of size made him an odd man out in the changing WWF, too, though Vachon wrestled house shows in the Midwest and Quebec.

In September 1986, just a year after appearing as a cornerman for Rick Martel in an AWA world title match, Mad Dog called it a career with one final show in his hometown of Montreal, leaving as one of its most beloved fan favorites after spending his prime years as one of its most hated villains. His psychotic, bloodthirsty style, uncontrollable demeanor, and his unique-for-the-time promos (Vachon speaking directly to the camera) made him an influence on the industry.

Maurice and Paul weren't the only successful members of the family; sister Vivian was an AWA Womens Champion for two years, stepsister Luna was one of the most well-known women's wrestlers of the 1980s and 1990s, and Ian Carnegie, a former amateur wrestler, is an arm wrestler.

After retiring, Maurice and Kathy Joe settled in Carter Lake, Iowa. In 1987, Vachon was struck by a hit-and-run driver. The driver, who was developmentally challenged and had no insurance, was never charged with the accident. The injuries from the accident forced Vachon's leg to be amputated. The family eventually moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where he'd lived out his life as an actor in beer commercials and was a restaurant critic for a Quebec City television station.

Maurice had appeared in a couple of WWF PPVs in Omaha, at In Your House 7 in 1996 and Over the Edge in 1998; both times, Vachon's prosthetic leg was involved. In March 2010, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

On November 21, 2013, Vachon died in his sleep. He was 84. At the time of his death, he was survived by six children, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. In addition to being a WWE Hall of Famer, Maurice is a part of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1996, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2004 with his brother Paul, and the Quebec Sports Hall of Fame class of 2009.