Sunday, March 25, 2012

MOONEYHAM COLUMN: Arn Anderson: A Symbol of Excellence

MOONEYHAM COLUMN: Arn Anderson: A Symbol of Excellence
By Mike Mooneyham

Sunday, March 25, 2012

“For all of you people out there that have ever bought a ticket to see Arn Anderson wrestle, whether you loved me or you hated me, you knew that when that bell rang, you got all I had that night.”

No truer words were ever spoken.

That was Double A’s farewell to the wrestling business in an emotional speech delivered to a live Monday Nitro audience on Aug. 25, 1997. Extensive neck and back injuries had exacted a heavy physical toll and, not willing to tempt fate and risk possible paralysis, Anderson made the difficult decision to hang up his tights at the age of 38.

Although it may have signaled an end to his career as in-ring performer, it turned out that it wasn’t the end of the road for Anderson in the mat profession.

For the past 10 years, Anderson has served as a road agent and senior producer for World Wrestling Entertainment.

While Anderson’s career may have been cut short, his legendary status as “The Enforcer” and founding member of the Four Horsemen is cemented in wrestling history. His accomplishments will be recognized Saturday night at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony in Miami where he will be inducted into the wrestling shrine along with fellow Horsemen Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard and Barry Windham, and manager J.J. Dillon.

Many have questioned why it took so long for Anderson to be inducted. But Anderson isn’t one of them.

“I’m never going to be one of those guys who asked what took so long. I’m just floored by the fact that it’s happening. It’s a very elite group.”

The Rome, Ga., native and longtime Charlotte resident, whose real name is Marty Lunde, made his pro debut in 1982. He got his first big career break when Ole Anderson (Al “Rock” Rogowski) took him under his wing, gave him the Anderson name and teamed with him as a reformation of the infamous Minnesota Wrecking Crew.

His no-nonsense approach, hard-nosed wrestling style and superb mic ability was a perfect match. He was, as many have described him, “Steve Austin before there was Steve Austin.”

Within a year, Arn and Ole would form an alliance with fellow heels Flair and Blanchard, laying the groundwork for the creation of The Four Horsemen, considered by many to be the greatest faction in pro wrestling history.

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.

“I feel like I had — and am still having — a successful career. But the highlight of that career would have to be the three years I spent with that group of guys,” says Anderson. “It was a special time. I called it the golden years of the business. Both the WWF and NWA were thriving. Just to be pretty prominently figured into that group of guys is something you can tell your great grandkids about.”

While Anderson believes that the incarnation of Horsemen chosen for induction is probably the strongest, he understands the nostalgic affection for the original crew that included Ole Anderson.

“There’s nothing like the first group. Obviously that’s special.”

But, he adds, he’s also aware of the “ill will” between Ole and WWE owner Vince McMahon.

“I wasn’t given the details, but I knew of it from way back. I think it’s still true today. Rather than have all that tension on what’s supposed to be a great day, it’s just easier with Barry. From a performance standpoint, I don’t know if anyone’s ever been better than Barry Windham.”

Anderson is quick to credit Ole for much of his success in the business.

“I owe Ole so much — just for allowing me to be an Anderson. Secondly he taught me so much when I was really young ... knowledge that I’ve passed on to other kids about tag-team wrestling. I owe Ole and I respect Ole.”

As for Ole’s outspoken and controversial demeanor, Arn reasons, “That’s just Ole.”

“Ole never bothered me with that gruff exterior because I could see past it. And that’s who he really is, and that’s the guy that I know. Ole’s just a cantankerous, mean, tough SOB. And that’s all you can say about Ole.”

Anderson, who was regarded as a solid worker and one of the best talkers that ever laced up a pair of wrestling boots, says he still sometimes thinks about “what could have been.”

“There’s two times when it bothers me,” he says. “It bothers me when I see a match go south and I’m sitting there on headsets, and I know at that moment in time if I was in there, I could fix it. Or when it’s done really well. That’s the two times that I really miss it.

“And I think I might have come along too soon. What kind of value do you reckon Arn Anderson would have to this industry if I walked in the door right now with the knowledge I had at 30 years old and healthy? I know that sounds like a really conceited comment, but look at the experience level of the guys, through not any fault of their own. They’re coming in sometimes only a year right out of FCW (Florida Championship Wrestling) right into the lion’s den, and it’s tough.

Unlike when Anderson was coming up through the ranks, today’s young performers are relatively green and untested.

“By the time I got in the spot I had in ‘85, I had three really intensive years of 300-plus matches a year,” says Anderson. “How good would guys like John Cena, Randy Orton or Batista have been if they would have had 900 matches in their first three years? Can you fathom that? So we had a distinct advantage at the time. I would love to still be wrestling if my body would accommodate it in these times.”

Nearing 54 years of age, he says, makes one see the business through a different light.

“I don’t know if it’s just a mental thing, but when I turned 50, with all the extensive travel involved with this job now and all the long TV days, it’s hard. I won’t lie to anybody. It’s very, very difficult. It’s not like it was when I was 25.

“I still try to get to the gym every day just for self-preservation and get my little one-hour workout in, but I know that I need more sleep now. I get off of an overseas flight and I look like a question mark all humped over from the old injuries. It’s nothing new. It’s tough being 50-plus.”

But what about his old Horseman running mate, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, who at 63 is still “styling and profiling.”

“Well, yeah, he’s one of those rare guys that can still keep plugging away,” says Anderson. “But there’s all kinds of things to consider with that. We’ve always said he’s not from here.”

To say Flair is unique would be a gross understatement.

“Let’s just say that he’s different in a lot of ways from everybody else. I guess that’s a blessing or a curse ... depending on how you look at it.”

Anderson fondly looks back at where he came from and where is today. He says he was saddened to hear of the passing of “Nightmare” Ted Allen, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 54, nearly 30 years after helping Anderson break into the business.

“I hated to see that. I hadn’t stayed friendly with Ted over the years. I would pass and re-pass with him every five years or so. But I tell you that Ted was very good. He took the time and got in the ring with me before I got booked for my first Atlanta TV to go down and do jobs. But in those workout sessions that I had with Ted, he taught me enough to have a base. A lot of people don’t know how good Ted was. But Ted was an excellent performer. The guy could go.”

There have been many highlights in the illustrious career of Arn Anderson. But without his family, he says, none of it would have been possible.

“My family has been the biggest influence on my life and my career. There have been times when all the guys around me and all the talent have said, ‘Hey man, tell these guys to kiss your (behind). You’re Arn Anderson. You don’t have to do that.’ My family has always had similar feelings, but not to the point of pushing me to do something stupid. They have supported me. They have propped me up. My wife has put me back together when I’ve come home broken, and my kids have given me unlimited joy.”

In other words, Anderson intimates, it’s better not to burn any bridges.

“I always felt like I was a great businessman because of my family so I could hang around and take care of them ... and not do something foolish and fly off the handle. With that work ethic came a lot of knowledge because I was fortunate to be in a good position with a lot of good companies.”

Anderson has been married to his wife, Erin, for 28 years.

“I’m one of the only guys in the business who has been married 28 years,” he says. “It’s gotta be a record with the same woman. I’m very thankful.”

-- WWE isn’t the only game in town next weekend.

NWA world champion “Scrap Iron” Adam Pearce will defend his title in the main event of an NWA Ring Warriors show March 29 in Fort Lauderdale. The card kicks off South Florida’s Wrestlemania weekend that includes offerings from Ring of Honor, Dragon Gate and WrestleReunion.

Pearce will take on a mystery challenger from the Ring of Honor promotion who will be handpicked by legendary manager and current ROH producer Jim Cornette.

Pearce, a four-time NWA world champion and 16-year veteran, has worked tirelessly to help restore the prestige the NWA belt once enjoyed.

“I’m absolutely trying to mirror what guys like Jack Brisco, Harley Race and Ric Flair did early on by literally going everywhere I can with that belt,” says Pearce, who recently returned from a tour of Australia. “Say what you want about the NWA in its current incarnation, but that the image of that belt, the 10 pounds of gold, is the godfather of all modern wrestling championships. It’s a shame to me, as a wrestling fan first and foremost, that today’s young generation really has no idea of what it even is.”

Pearce wants to change that perception. He has gone on the road to defend the title in towns that haven’t seen NWA championship matches in decades

Pearce first won the title in September 2007, more than a decade after his debut match, and has defended the strap throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, England and Germany.

“If I can be the guy, even on a small level trying to spearhead a renaissance, I’m proud and honored to do that,” says Pearce. “With Vince McMahon putting out the Ric Flair and the Horsemen DVDs, there’s some education there. If I can expound on that by appearing in markets that the championship hasn’t been in in several years, I’m humbled to do that. It’s extremely gratifying.”

“The NWA brand has taken a big step in trying to do what Ring of Honor has done the past several years by piggybacking Wrestlemania and making that weekend the biggest wrestling weekend in the country,” adds Pearce. “It’s not only a big step for (promoter) Howard Brody and Ring Warriors, but for everybody on that card. Headlining an event on that weekend makes it even more special.”

The Fort Lauderdale show will include a mix of the old and the new.

Current NWA tag-team champs The Dark City Fight Club (Jon Davis and Kory Chavis) and Vordell Walker will collide with DX’s Billy Gunn and The Head Bangers (Mosh and Thrasher). NWA champ Chance Prophet defends his title against the “Tokyo Monster” Kahagas in a return match with lumberjack rules.

The NWA Ring Warriors Grand Championship Tournament semifinals will pit “The Marquee” Bruce Santee against “The VIP” Cassidy Riley. Steve “The Moose” Madison will meet the seven-foot-tall, 315-pound Giant Titan.

Also appearing on the show will be veteran greats Ivan Koloff and Kevin Sullivan.

-- Joe Blanchard, the father of Four Horseman Tully Blanchard, passed away Thursday at the age of 83.

Blanchard was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma a little more than a year ago and passed away in hospice.

The Oklahoma native played football at Kansas State where he won the Big 7 wrestling championship in 1950. After playing three seasons for the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos, where he played alongside future mat stars Gene Kiniski and Wilbur Snyder, he began his professional wrestling career in 1953 and moved to San Antonio in 1964 to get into the promotional end of the business.

Blanchard founded Southwest Championship Wrestling and promoted in San Antonio for many years.

-- The Cole Brothers Circus, which rolls into the Exchange Park Fairgrounds in Ladson this coming weekend, has a bit of a pro wrestling flavor to it.

Longtime wrestling referee Ron West is the senior marketing director and an 11-year veteran with the circus. Also serving as marketing directors are former mat star Superstar Bill Dundee and Georgia Wrestling History talk show host Michael Norris.

Tom Renesto Jr., son of the late Tom Renesto, one half of the legendary Masked Assassins, is serving as marketing director for the local event.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook.

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