After the amazing first year WCW had, it raised expectations for 1990.
At the helm was Jim Herd, a man who did not know a lot about pro wrestling (he created the masked tag team of the Ding Dongs in 1989, thinking fans would like two idiots wearing and ringing bells throughout the match), but was trying to build WCW for the future. He brought in a lot of young talent and was signing them to guaranteed contracts, believing it would pay off in the long run. In the beginning of 1990, the booking team was reorganized with Jim Ross, Kevin Sullivan, Ric Flair, Terry Funk, and Jim Cornette as its members. Flair, Cornette, and Sullivan were in charge of the matches while Ross and Funk oversaw the television production. Jim Herd was pretty much leaving them alone at the time to focus on acquisitions.
As 1989 ended, Sting was a member of the Horsemen along with Flair and the Andersons. Brian Pillman and Tom Zenk were put together as a tag team and were quickly becoming a solid team, joining already established teams such as the Midnight Express, the Steiner Brothers, Doom, the Road Warriors, the Freebirds, and the Skyscrapers. The year began with Arn Anderson winning the NWA TV title from The Great Muta.
On February 6th came the Clash of the Champions X, which had the hot angle of the Four Horsemen turning on Sting. At the end of the evening, a cage match between the Horsemen (Flair, Arn, and Ole) against the J-Tex Corporation (Muta, Buzz Sawyer, and the Dragonmaster) ended badly as Sting tried to climb over the cage to get to the Horsemen and ruptured his left patella tendon. The earlier angle was to set up a series between Sting and Flair, which would result in Sting's first world title reign. However, the injury kept Sting out of the ring for six months, damaging the angle and momentum that was built around Sting over the last year. When he returned later that year, he never wrestled quite the same as before the injury, toning down his high-flying style to decrease the injury risk. Also on this show was the Steiners defeating Doom for their masks, revealing them to be who everyone suspected all along, Butch Reed and Ron Simmons. Norman and Kevin Sullivan battled in a "falls count anywhere match" and the famous match that Mick Foley mentions in his book between Cactus Jack and Mil Mascaras where Jim Cornette announced that "Cactus Jack is dead!" after a spectacular bump. Not long after this show, the J-Tex Corporation was disbanded, with the Great Muta leaving the promotion. The Great Muta didn't work another extended North American tour for nine years.
Less than a week after the Clash, Pillman and Zenk won an 8-team tournament for the US tag team titles. Both men were being considered for the fourth Horseman spot, though Pillman had the advantage because of his friendship with Flair. A great angle was done in late February where the Midnight Express injured Brian Pillman's throat with Jim Cornette’s tennis racquet and stole the US title belts.
In February, Ole Anderson's role in the Horsemen was decreasing as the booking committee removed him as an in-ring performer. Ole's age had caught up to him and he didn't look good in the ring anymore. However, Ric Flair was under fire at this time, the workers thought he was booking the matches in his favor to make himself look good. Flair resigned in early March and Jim Herd with Jim Barnett (former Georgia Championship Wrestling promoter) were overseeing the booking team. Jim Crockett is also added as the team is now Crockett, Herd, Ross, Barnett, Cornette, Sullivan, Wahoo McDaniel, Jody Hamilton, and Funk. Sullivan and Cornette's influence was dropping as they were allies of Flair's.
The new booking team killed the Pillman injury angle and had Pillman and Zenk steal the titles back, which killed any heat built up between the teams. The feud faltered and the Midnight Express were having problems even keeping their jobs. Also, as Sting was injured, they needed someone to fight the Horsemen in his place. They chose Lex Luger, who was turned heel about seven months earlier and turned him back to a babyface.
Right around this time, it was announced that Ole Anderson was the new head booker. Ole was the booker for Georgia Championship Wrestling when the promotion's television time was sold to the WWF back in 1984. Ole ran the company like the old regional promotion style of pushing people who were loyal to him. Ole also didn't like Herd's contract system, thinking it undermined his power. He thought Herd was giving the new guys too much money, especially since he could get Tommy Rich and the Iron Sheik for the same amount of money that Brian Pillman was making. He started targeting the younger talent that Herd signed and jobbing them out. If they quit (like Cactus Jack did in June), then he would replace them with workers that were loyal to him. Ole brought in such people as Paul Orndorff, the Iron Sheik, Buddy Landel, Bob Orton, the Junkyard Dog, Thunderbolt Patterson, Ricky Morton, Robert Gibson, Ivan Koloff, Tim Horner, Stan Hansen and Brad Armstrong. Even Mr. Wrestling II made an appearance. The promotion started looking like it was stuck in a time warp, with the pushed guys being stars of the Georgia Championship Wrestling show from six years earlier.
Barry Windham and Sid Vicious joined the Horsemen as Luger battled Flair for the world title. It was obvious that they were just biding their time for Sting's return as they came up with some contrived ways to keep the title on Flair. The match at Capital Combat between Flair and Luger was put in a steel cage to, as it was billed, finally have a one-on-one match without the Horsemen being able to interfere. They had the Horsemen get to the cage's control and raise it so the Horsemen could get in anyway.
Capital Combat was also notable as the Midnight Express beat Zenk and Pillman for the US tag titles and Doom defeated the Steiners for the world title; however, Capital Combat is best known for one of the worst angles ever to take place in wrestling history. The movie "Robocop II" was about to be released by Turner's movie division and they wanted some publicity from their popular wrestling program. Instead of just running promos, they turned Robocop into a character on the show as Sting's enforcer against the Horsemen. Sting was put in a cage by the Horsemen, Robocop bends the bars to free him, and the Horsemen has to sell being afraid of him. Just terrible.
Soon after, Zenk and Pillman were separated as tag partners, with their spot being taken by the Rock and Roll Express. After the Capital Combat show, the Dudes with Attitudes (The Steiner Brothers, Junk Yard Dog, and Paul Orndorff, originally called "The Super-Heroes") were formed as a face group to oppose the Horsemen. This group only lasted two months as they were there to fight the Horsemen until Sting's return at the Great American Bash in July. The group's last appearance was at the Bash in Sting's corner.
Ole's most flagrant attempt at jobbing out the younger talent yet happens at the Bash as Tom Zenk is squashed by newcomer Big Van Vader in just over two minutes, with Ole calling for the finish before Zenk’s comeback. The morale backstage among the younger workers is dropping as Ole continues to job them out to his loyal workers. Ole is even bringing some very green wrestlers to replace departing wrestlers, such people as Alan Iron Eagle, JW Smith, and Brian Lee. (One report had Iron Eagle being taught his finishing move in the hallway two minutes before his match was about to begin.) Even worse, the house show attendance and ratings are starting to drop as the promotion is being booked badly. How badly? Three words: The Black Scorpion.
After winning the title from Flair at the Great American Bash, a mystery man, who claimed to be from Sting's past, appeared to menace Sting. Who was the man in question? Not even Ole Anderson knew and he was the guy who created the angle! Ole had the guy doing magic tricks, and multiple people (mostly jobbers) under the mask, and the feud had no heat. The worst part? Ole had someone working for him at the time who fit the Black Scorpion's back story, the Angel of Death - who was associated with Powerteam USA with Sting when they first got into the business.
The problems started getting too big for Jim Herd to ignore. Paul Orndorff quit, refusing to job to Stan Hansen. House show attendance had fallen to record low levels (ironically, Ole had two house teams - the guys he was pushing and the guys he wasn't, the unpushed guys were drawing more fans to their shows). Herd and Ole started arguing about Ole's direction. Mean Mark Callous left, despite getting a push, and would make a splash in the WWF as The Undertaker. In October, Jim Cornette and Stan Lane quit. The Nasty Boys left for the WWF not long after participating in a big angle at Halloween Havok.
Also at that Halloween Havok came yet another bad angle that was killing Sting's heat as world champion. It was Sting against Sid Vicious and they tried to make it look like Sting was pinned and lost the title to Vicious. Only the "Sting" that was pinned was a few inches taller and not as muscular as the one who started the match. Barry Windham impersonated Sting after the brawl goes to the back. Sting comes out to expose the impostor and keeps the title but very few people were fooled by Windham.
By November, Ole was trying to keep his job. Ole's last major show was Clash of the Champions XIII in late November. A look at that card shows a change in Ole's booking ways as the talent that Ole was pushing during his tenure losing on the Clash, if they appeared at all. It was too little, too late. Ole was released in early December (WCW lost approximately 5-7 million dollars that year and Ole was only booker just over six months). Jim Ross, Tony Schiavone, Kevin Sullivan, and Ric Flair took over the booking, until Herd could appoint a new head booker. The new booking team immediately starting dropping or de-emphasizing a lot of the workers Ole brought in, such as JYD, the Iron Sheik, the Night Stalker (Bryan Clark), Rocky King, among others.
December ended with Starrcade '90 "Collision Course" featuring the Pat O'Connor Tag Team Tournament. Teams included in the tourney were Konnan & Rey Misterio (Mexico), Chris Adams & Norman Smiley (UK), Muta & Mr. Saito (Japan), Jack Victory & Rip Morgan (New Zealand), the Steiners (USA), plus teams representing South Africa (Col. Deklerk & Sgt. Krueger), USSR (Victor Zangiev & Salmon Hashimikov), and Canada (Danny Johnson & Troy Montour). The Steiners ended up winning the tourney. Also, Luger defeated Stan Hansen to regain the US title, Doom retained the NWA tag teams over Arn and Barry Windham. Windham replaced Flair in that match as Flair went under the Black Scorpion mask to bring an end to that angle. Sting retained the title with Dick the Bruiser as special referee.
On WCW Sat. night, Tom Zenk defeated Arn Anderson for the TV title. The match got the Sat. night show its highest rating since Feb. and a great live reaction at the show. Maybe the new booking committee could get things on track. However, the new team wasn't going to get a chance.
Next: The Return of the Dream.
To Be Continued . . .