Please, before you boo me off of Fanfyte, let me explain.
Wrestling stables are pretty interesting. They’re meant to be, obviously, a gathering of formerly disparate talents in the name of a common cause. A stable can come in three configurations before becoming a faction: there’s the three person stable, the four person stable, and the five person stable.
At the risk of leaving myself open to being dead wrong, the five person stable is the least of these. The one in my brain is the second configuration of D-Generation X. Yes, Mr. Ass, Chyna, and X-Pac ruled, but it was 1998, the era of catchphrase promos, and theirs are the worst. They also had to compete with the three person configuration of DX. Oh, and they did a promo in blackface.
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The three person version of DX though — it was, uh, pretty homophobic, but there haven’t been many acts in wrestling as distinct as Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and Chyna. Except maybe the Wyatt Family. Or the nWo. Or the Triple Threat. Or the Shield. Or Team Xtreme. Or the New Day.
Damn, three person groups rip. You wouldn’t walk up to the Shield and ask “Which one of you is the Chyna?” even though it was Dean Ambrose.
The four person group, though. There have been many, but there is only one kind of four person group.
The Four Horsemen
Wrestling fans tend to think of the Four Horsemen as iterations. There’s the Flair/Ole/Arn/Tully/J.J. Horsemen, the Flair/Arn/Ole/Sting Horsemen, the Flair/Benoit/Malenko/Mongo/Arn Horsemen, and so on, endless fodder for listicles that want to score easy points on Paul Roma.
But the Four Horsemen were more than a stable with a rotating cast of characters around Ric Flair and Arn Anderson — they were a group with established roles: General, Enforcer, Wrestler, Upstart, and Manager.
So here’s where my YUTA/Luger comparison comes into play: like the Blackpool Combat Club is a covert version of the Four Horsemen.
They don’t dress alike, which was a big part of the Horsemen’s presentation, but they are united in purpose — there’s an easy parallel between BCC’s vision of violent pro wrestling and the Horsemen’s focus on excellence — and their members slot into similar roles.
In the Four Horsemen, the undisputed leader of the group was Ric Flair. He held the big belt, he took point in promos, and he wrestled in the main event. The Blackpool Combat Club is different in that regard — Bryan Danielson and Jon Moxley are on the same level, and Claudio Castagnoli will probably not be treated as a subordinate. It’s a flat leadership structure.
But Ric Flair was The Wrestler of the Horsemen, and Bryan Danielson is The Wrestler of the BCC. Before William Regal forced him and Moxley together, it was Danielson laying out the thesis of what the BCC would be, what he wanted it to accomplish. In short, move towards a more violent, pure form of wrestling and elevate younger talent who believed in that purpose. Flair’s goals were to win titles, make money, and live life in a way that could potentially bankrupt him. Mission accomplished.
The General of a four person stable is the nucleus to which the rest of the group is attracted. Randy Orton, Ric Flair, and Batista found themselves attracted to the idea of opening Raw with 20-minute promos, so they gravitated towards Triple H. Bryan Danielson sings the siren song of bleeding a bunch and hitting people hard, and that sounds pretty good to Jon Moxley.
Arn Anderson, y’all. Arn fucking Anderson. Incredible promos that often delved into a shady, violent past. Undeniable presence. First guy in to protect his friends. Possibly overlooked depending on who he’s running with. Great tag guy. Better singles guy. DDT finish. Chest hair. Jon Moxley, y’all. Jon fucking Moxley.
Tully Blanchard. Barry Windham. Dean Malenko. The Horsemen were at their best when they had a smooth, adaptable wrestler as their third man, someone as capable of holding it down as a singles wrestler as they were tagging up with the group’s Enforcer, who was Arn until he had to retire, at which point the role was de facto Chris Benoit’s, since he was the mean one.
The Wrestler is crucial because it allows the group to experiment with its fourth member — even Arn Anderson was new to the territory at one point. The Blackpool Combat Club is rolling with Claudio Castagnoli, whose abilities as a technical wrestler, striker, and strongman fill every conceivable hole a four person group might have before getting weird.
In 1987, Lex Luger told the world that he wanted to join the Four Horsemen, and he was made an associate member. It took a year and shifting attitudes against Ole Anderson to graduate to Full Horsemen status, just in time to tour the WarGames match around the country.
Wheeler YUTA got his ass beat, once by Bryan Danielson and thrice by Jon Moxley. Two of these matches were witnessed by William Regal, Danielson and Moxley’s mentor, and the way he refused to die against Moxley despite taking the former AEW Champion’s best shots and bleeding in a way one could charitably describe as “disgusting,” he joined the BCC.
He’s a full member, but his role is clear: he is sitting under the learning tree of Danielson, Mox, Castagnoli, and William Regal, which, damn. But that’s why Lex Luger wanted to join the Horsemen. And Barry Windham. And Sid Vicious. And Brian Pillman. And Steve “Mongo” McMichael. And, yeah, Paul Roma.
It’s a good role, one that is mostly foolproof. The other Horsemen are legacy members or slam dunk greats. The fourth guy gets to add power or an edge or youth or, in Mongo’s case, enthusiasm. YUTA is a wrestler his stablemates can mold, but his enthusiasm for their lessons is something that will benefit his mentors. He’s a sparkplug. He refuses to back down. He’s so willing to bleed for the Blackpool Combat Club that he traced the group’s initials on his chest in his own blood.
Lex Luger never wrote “Four Horsemen” on his chest in blood, but that’s hard to do when you’re making your pecs dance.
J.J. Dillon is nobody’s favorite member of the Horsemen, but he was pretty important. In the Olden Days of the great sport of professional wrestling, managers were portrayed as, well, managers — they’d arrange travel, handle money, sign contracts, and so on.
Many managers, Dillon included, were former wrestlers, which meant that their in-ring expertise informed the battleplans of their charges. It’s not Horsemen-related, but my favorite example of this in Dillon’s career is a vignette where he’s trying to get the new Nature Boy, Buddy Landel,” to watch some footage of Ric Flair, only for Landel to yawn through it until some ladies come into the room to hang out while Sade’s “Smooth Operator” plays. Wrestling should go back to stealing music.
Regal has been retired for a long time now, but his reputation as a vicious bastard — reinforced by his in-ring exploits against Danielson, Mox, and Castagnoli — is unquestioned. A man as obsessed with the mechanics of the European uppercut as he is with how wrestlers execute pinfalls, Regal is the perfect accoutrement to the BCC package. He’s rough, he’s roguish, and, given that he never captured a world title, he’s always going to have a chip on his shoulder.
He also has plenty of experience as a commissioner, should he need to swing into that role like Dillon did in 1997.
Blood & Guts
The Four Horsemen’s legacy has reverberated for decades, and will continue to matter for many more to come. I truly believe that it’s impossible to do a group like the Blackpool Combat Club without drawing from that legacy in some way, and the fact that you can readily draw up a similar org chart three days after the debut of its fourth member speaks to the influence of many iterations of the Horsemen.
Disagree with me if you like — maybe my assessment of the Four Horsemen is wrong. Maybe Roman Reigns was the Chyna of the Shield. But Castagnoli’s debut at Forbidden Door making the BCC a foursome and two of its members entering what is ostensibly a WarGames cage match feels a little serendipitous, is slightly bitter due to Danielson’s injury.
Mostly I just wanted to write the phrase “Wheeler YUTA is Lex Luger.” That’s what I did in my Notes app as soon as Claudio’s theme song hit, and that’s what I’m doing now.
Wheeler YUTA is Lex Luger.
Ahh. I am satisfied. I am happy. Most importantly, I am right.