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The Four Horsemen

WWE Hall of Fame Series
by yo go re

For possibly the first time ever, we're not talking about the sculptors!

There's strength in numbers - that's why supervillains form Sinister Sixes and Secret Societies and probably some third example that doesn't start with two S's. [Brotherhoods, Injustice Gangs, Monster Societies of Evil, take your pick --ed.] It's also why wrestlers will form a group to watch each other's backs. Though there had been other "power stables" before them, the dynamic was really codified by the Four Horsemen.

The centerpiece of the group, the gang's leader, was "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, the stylin' and profilin', limousine-ridin', jet-flyin', wheelin'-n-dealin' kiss-stealin' son-of-a-gun! WOO! Flair was sort of the polar opposite of Hulk Hogan in '80s wrestling: Hogan was presented as a down-to-earth grappler, but lived in a world of theatrics; Flair played the part of a stylish and flamboyant hedonist (though without the homophobia bait of earlier examples like Gorgeous George), but was a highly skilled ring worker. He was also a stolen black market baby.

Born in Memphis on February 25, 1949, baby "Fred" was allegedly given up for adoption by his parents, Olive and Luther. But the problem is, he was "given up" to the Tennessee Children's Home Society, a group that notoriously used shady practices and the help of a corrupt judge to take more than 5,000 newborns away from parents and sell them to new families all over the country. Fred was adopted by Dick and Kay Fliehr of Detroit, who named their new 3-week-old son Richard Morgan Fliehr - Rick for short.

Ric (he eventually dropped the K) kind of looks like Dustin Hoffman, a feature this figure keeps intact. He's also sporting shoulder-length hair, though how someone who bills themselves as "The Nature Boy" can get away with hair bleached that white is beyond me). He's got a big smile on his face, which suits him better than the reserved look of the Defining Moments Flair.

The original "Nature Boy" was Buddy Rogers, who got the name when his promoter heard a song on the radio. Flair copied Rogers' look, his attitude, and even his finishing move - known back in those days as the Figure Four Grapevine (technically he "earned" all those by beating Rogers in a 1978 match). You can almost get this toy to perform the Figure Four Leglock - it depends on the toy he's performing it on having adequate joints. Despite that being his trademark finishing move, it never won him any of his 16 World Championships.

To keep the centerpiece in the spotlight, a stable needs an enforcer. He's the strategist, deciding who to attack and when, and always has the leader's back. The Four Horsemen's enforcer was Arn Anderson, who so perfectly embodied the role that "The Enforcer" became his standard nickname. He was born Martin Lunde in Georgia, but was billed from Minnesota because he bore enough of a resemblance to the existing Anderson "family" (none of whom were related, and only one of whom was actually named Anderson).

Mattel has made an Arn Anderson figure before, but it was only available through Matty Collector, which means it might as well have never been available at all. Arn's wearing white and red trunks with his initials on the hip in red, and has red and white boots. The body is perhaps a bit thin - it's the same used for Jake the Snake Roberts and it was skinny there, too. But again, props for painting the entire 1970s shag carpeting of hair he's got on his chest.

Arn has always had a pretty avuncular look - he was born in 1958, so during the Four Horsemen's heyday, he was in his late 20s and early 30s, but he still looked like a gym teacher on the verge of retirement. So while the toy may not have his pot belly, it does have his bald spot - it's sculpted as a flat area on the back of his head, then painted skin color.

Double-A wasn't the flashiest wrestler, but he was a good technician - in fact, he might be the best wrestler to never earn a singles title. That also means his finisher wasn't extraordinary, either. When he wasn't using Jake Roberts' DDT, he used a Spinning Spinebuster: he'd pick up a running opponent, turn around, and drop them on their back. Yes, the figure has enough articulation to do that. Almost any figure has enough articulation to do that. Funko ReAction figures have enough articulation to do that.

The guy the enforcer uses to carry out all his ideas is the muscle. The Four Horsemen are really best described as "Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, and whatever two people they're hanging out with at the moment," so a lot of wrestlers have filled the muscle role over the years; but for this set, it's Barry Windham. A solid mid-carder, Windham joined the Horsemen after turning against former member Lex Luger in a tag match.

Windham was the son of wrestler Blackjack Mulligan, and started his career at age 19. He was billed as standing 6'6", so this figure breaks the 7" mark. In keeping with his Texas roots, he's wearing boots with a pointier toe, so they resemble cowboy boots, and has a black vest that was previously seen on Diamond Dallas Page (and probably a few Steve Austins, as well). The toy's legs seem too long for the body, like they were trying to give the illusion of height without actually making him too tall. He's also the only one of the figures without his initials on his trunks anywhere.

Barry's looking pretty angry. This isn't one of those impassive, expressionless faces that a lot of figures have, he's got his teeth bared and his brow crinkled down above his nose. He's pretty much always wrestled with bleached blonde hair, just of varying lengths. By the time he was a Horseman, it was long enough for a ponytail, and he paired it with a brown beard. This is more how he looked in his WWF days, or later when Sid Vicious was a member.

Like many "big" wrestlers, Barry Windham's moveset was limited to a lot of punching and simple grapples designed to show off his power, nothing too fancy. I mean, come on: one of his finishing moves was a simple clothesline - hardly something that requires a lot of finesse. Another was the Superlex (a normal suplex off the ropes) and a third was his father's clawhold - ie, the deadly art of pinching. You won't be able to make him perform that last one, because it would require a new hand, and that's beyond the scope of Mattel's caring about this line.

The final role in any good stable is the heir apparent, the guy the centerpiece is grooming to be the next big thing, or to be the new centerpiece once he retires (though considering Ric Flair's professional career lasted 40 years nearly to the day [Dec. 10, 1972 to Dec. 18, 2012], "retirement" was more of a vague concept than an actual plan). Since the centerpiece generally goes after the promotion's major belt, the heir apparent focusses on the secondary title - Intercontinental Championship, US Championship, Television Championship, Cruiserweight, whatever it's called. This also allows the writers to milk the jealousy between the two as a reason to break the group up.

The Four Horsemen's heir apparent was Tully Blanchard, a second-generation wrestler who'd been involved in a few epic rivalries before the Horsemen formed in the mid-80s. Eventually he and Arn Anderson began focussing on the tag team division, working together more often than alone. In fact, they both left for the WWF at the same time, and continued teaming (as the Brain Busters) over there. This figure uses almost the identical body as Arn, with the only difference being shorter shins so he's not quite as tall. His trunks are solid red, with his initials on the left hip, and while the boots are amlmost the same as Arn's, these have two black stars on the outsides.

Blanchard has a completely non-descript face. We'd say he's the plainest man alive, but that's still too much of a distinction. Maybe fifth plainest. He makes Phil Coulson look like he's got an eyepatch and a scar by comparison. If you asked a beachside caricature artist to draw you a handsome tough guy, Tully Blanchard would walk past while it was being drawn without anyone noticing. If Arn Anderson looked like a high school shop teacher, Tully Blanchard was a substitute you had for two days. No, a substitute another class had and you just saw briefly in the hallway.

The previous Tully action figure was another Matty Collector exclusive, and sold by himself on the secondary market for more than this entire set cost new. His articulation is the same as all the other figures, with joints at the head, shoulders, biceps, elbows, wrists, torso, waist, hips, thighs, knees, boot tops and ankles. His solo finishing move was a slingshot suplex (pick your opponent up, drop him on the ropes, then use that bounce-back to fling him behind you), but when he teamed with Anderson, they used a two-man spike piledriver.

This is a nice set - and it was really great if you got it when Target's Cartwheel app had a 50% off sale - but it's not complete. There are two things they should have added to really make this the best it could be: first of all, Mattel should have molded a new hand holding up four fingers, in the Horsemen's traditional team salute (and bonus, it would have doubled as a knife-chop hand for Flair); and secondly, where are their belts? This incarnation of the Four Horsemen actually achieved the power stable's often-unstated goal of controlling all a promotion's titles at once: Flair was the World Heavyweight Champion, Windham was the United States Heavyweight Champion, and Anderson and Blanchard were the World Tag Team Champions; so why don't they get any gold?

Well, there's an actual reason, and not just laziness or oversight: the only time the Horsemen held all four belts at once was between May 13 and September 10, 1988 - when Windham won his and when Arn and Tully lost theirs; in 1988, the promotion was still Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, part of the National Wrestling Alliance; it didn't become WCW until November of that year, and it was still several years later that the WCW split with the NWA; when WWF purchased WCW in 2001, they got all the old company's property, including the WCW titles - but not the NWA titles, which continue to be defended separately today. To give these figures the belts they deserve, Mattel would have had to license them from a second company, which probably wouldn't go over too well with anyone involved.

-- 02/24/16

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