The coming announcement from Arn was foreboded in the following article from WCW Magazine in early August, 1997:
Farewell to Arn?
He might never again wear his wrestling attire for the public. He knows that fact full-well, and it eats at him daily, probably several times within a 24-hour span. Wrestling is, after all, Arn Anderson's life. He's not a shoe salesman, not a used-car salesman, not a coat-and-tie Wall Street executive. Arn Anderson is a wrestler, always has been ... but can we say, always will be? That answer lies somewhere between a hospital bed in Charlotte, N.C., and a nearby gym.
On April 8, "The Enforcer" went into the hospital for what he thought was going to be "routine" surgery to repair vertebrae damage, much like wrestlers Dean Malenko, Michael Wallstreet and Barry Horowitz have endured. But eight hours later, Anderson had an eight-inch scar, three less vertebrae and no T1. The surgery was "a lot more" than what Anderson expected, a lot more than the doctors expected. He remained in the hospital for eight days, and even got pneumonia while there.
"To be honest with you, I had a pretty tough time," Anderson said. "Even though I had had every comprehensive test possible (beforehand), including three MRIs. I don't think they realized all of the damage that was there until they got in.
"The difference you're gonna find in the surgery I had and other wrestlers who have had this surgery is, I had so many vertebrae that were damaged that they couldn't fuse them together."
The operation was performed by neurosurgeon Larry Rogers and the prognosis was very good as far as the surgery being a success. Rogers' personal prognosis: Anderson would be a fool if he ever wrestled again. Naturally, Anderson's family and close friends agree. But Anderson himself? He's not sure.
"What they are forgetting is, professional athletes are a different breed and the will to get well when you enjoy a quality of life like we all do, is strong. That can be abstract, but, that's what I'm depending on to get well and wrestle again," Anderson said.
Do you think you will be able to wrestle in, say, six months?
No, he said without hesitation.
"If I was young and stupid, I'd just throw out my chest and say, 'It's a challenge...I'll be there.' But that's not the case. I'm 38 and will be 39 in September. This surgery clearly is a stumbling block ... in fact, it may be the stop sign to my career. But, 20 years ago, no one lived through colon cancer either, and they do every day now. So, I'm just gonna think positively and continue working in the gym."
Also 20 years ago, Ric Flair was told he'd never again wrestle after a horrendous airplane crash. Anderson certainly hasn't forgotten that fact.
"I wanna go out on my terms. I want to wrestle one more time, and I don't want to wrestle some slug," Anderson said. "I want to wrestle (Scott) Hall, (Kevin) Nash, (Hulk) Hogan, (Roddy) Piper, Sting, (Lex) Luger, The Giant, or someone like that. I want to wrestle someone who will test my skills, and also test theirs. Then, win or lose, I can walk away from this sport holding my head up."
Anderson's last match was a tag battle (with Steve McMichael) against the Amazing French Canadians, this past January in Green Bay. "We won the match, but I lost the battle," Anderson said. "That's digging at me personally because I know I'm better than that."
What's available if he doesn't return to the ring? Broadcasting and perhaps a front-office position, he said. "A person who I hold in very high-esteem because he's always been honest with me, who is in a position to make it happen, told me, 'Don't worry about wrestling. If you can't wrestle, you have enough knowledge and enough things to offer that we'll put you in a spot somewhere.' So, I'm gonna hold him at his word. (Anderson would not name the speaker.)
"I want to stay a part of WCW, which is just an extension of the NWA and where my roots are. I have been here my whole career with the exception of the 14 months I spent in the WWF, so, I'll do anything to stay a part of WCW, even if it getting coffee," Anderson said. "I just gotta be around this sport because, my whole adult life has spent in it."
Any other Dream Return Match?
Yes, he said: Teaming with Ric Flair against the baddest The NWO had to offer in Charlotte, N.C. "That would be my post-script," he said.
Arn's first public appearances following his surgery came before his big appearance on Nitro. He was spotted entering the arena with Ric Flair for a house show at Huntsville, AL, on 8/16/97. Likewise, on 8/23/97 in Greenville, SC. Both times he was in the backstage area, but in no way was a part of the public show.
Most notably, Arn did a promo on the 8/16/97 edition of WCW Worldwide, very much playing the heel. He put down all the people of the local town, and said he had a new attitude since the surgery. He certainly looked to be a man preparing to return to the ring, as a full-fledged heel no less. But something would happen at the gym that would change all that...
Professional wrestling has provided us with many emotional moments that began, ended, or resurrected an era: Hulk Hogan defeating the Iron Sheik for his first world title, Ultimate Warrior defeating Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI, and Ric Flair defeating Vader at Starrcade '93, respectively being examples of each of these.
None of those come close to the emotion felt by wrestlers and fans alike on the night of August 25th, 1997. On that edition of WCW Monday Nitro, what happened in the ring was not a work, it was real. Arn Anderson announced his retirement from active wrestling. Although many of the "smart marks" knew Arn was going to make an appearance soon, and he was probably going to announce his retirement, no one was prepared for the emotion that was felt by everyone. Although the surprise appearance of Arn was somewhat ruined by Gene Okerlund bungling his announcing duties and announcing Arn before he was due to appear, the shock value was great. The spot started with Flair, Benoit, and Mongo in the ring demanding an answer from Curt Hennig as to whether or not he was joining the Horsemen. Curt said he was not yet ready to give his answer. Flair said he figured that was going to happen, so he was going to bring someone out to get an answer. Arn came out to a tremendous ovation, and delivered the following speech:
( If you'd like to hear Arn's soliloquy, rather than read it, it can be found by here (1.6M zipped / 2.4M unzipped).)
Well, Gene, all I can tell ya', to get a response like this makes what I got to say tonight mean that much more. Ya' see, I'm a realist. As everybody knows, I've got average size and speed and average ability. But I've parlayed that into what I would call a very successful career. And I did that on sheer will alone. But another reality is four months ago they took four vertebrae out of my neck. Consequently, I'm left with a hand, my left hand, too weak to hold a glass, too weak to button a button.
But I thought in my mind, I knew in my mind I could overcome that too through sheer will. And I was doing just like that. I think I've come back a long way. But the other day I had something happen in the gym that was like a cold slap in the face of reality. A guy about your size, Gene, came up and he slapped me on the back and he said, 'Double A, where ya' been? We hadn't seen you on TV.' And just that slap sent a jolt through me and I dropped the water I was drinkin' and just for a second my system shut down. And it became crystal clear as I watched the few little drops of water draining out of that bottle the symbolism that was involved. It was like someone had turned an hourglass over and the sand was runnin' out on the career of Arn Anderson.
Now the fact of the matter is not only do I put myself in a suicide situation by trying to wrestle again, I endanger these two men's careers and I respect them too much for that. And rather than being anything other than the Enforcer in my best friend's eyes, I'd rather walk away. And for all of you people out there that have ever bought a ticket to see Arn Anderson wrestle, whether ya' love me or you hated me, you know that when that bell rang you got all I had that night. Whether I won, whether I lost, I gave you everything I had. And you knew that. And when you did this to me (the four fingers extended) that was your acknowledgement.
Well, the fact is I got nothing left to give. And I want you to remember me as I was, not as I am. But being the man that I am, my last act formally as a Horseman, I got one last challenge. And that is to you, Curt Hennig. And don't misunderstand me. It's not for a fight. You got something special. I've seen you in this ring. Your skills, your maturity, your commitment to excellence make you something special. And what my challenge is to you, Curt, is stand beside my best friend, Ric Flair, and lead these two men back to the glory and the prominence that the Four Horsemen once had. And I'm going to tell you what your prize is. It's not a spot in the Horsemen. This is worth a lot more than that to me. I'm going to give you the only thing I got left. Not a spot. I'll give you my spot.
Curt's response was that it would be a privilege to take Arn's spot. Handshakes were given all around.
The emotion was real, many fans at home being driven to tears by the combination of Arn's words and the vision of Ric Flair in the background with sad eyes and his lower lip quivering. Immediately after the speech was over, Arn almost lost control of his emotions and later he, as well as Sting, were in tears backstage after the speech. Eric Bischoff told Arn afterwards that it was the best interview in wrestling history.
The reaction was obviously powerful with people watching on TV, as many people wrote in with their thoughts on Arn's retirement. Also, at my request, many others wrote in with their favorite Arn Anderson moments.
As you probably already know, Curt Hennig would turn on Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen at War Games '97. Ric Flair would shortly thereafter disband the Four Horsemen.
So, was Arn's career in wrestling over? Not by a longshot. In the ring, most probably yes. But his career in the wrestling business outside the ring was just beginning...