(DISCLAIMER: The following is a work of fiction incorporating the kayfabe storylines of the Anderson “family” in pro wrestling’s history. It has been embellished for entertainment purposes.)
Professional wrestling is full of legendary families. There are more multi-generational families in the sport today than eve before, with many creating family trees that have created legacies that have had profound impacts on each generation for decades. From the McMahon family’s dominance in the promotion circuit stemming back to Jess McMahon in the early days of the sport to the current battle between his great-grandchildren Stephanie and Shane, to the massive roots of the Anoi’a (Samoan) Dynasty and the rugged proficiency of the Hart Family from Alberta, Canada, there’s no short supply of gold in many of the industry’s genealogical mines.
But one of the most overlooked families in pro wrestling is arguably the one that has the most gold. A family whose roots began in Minnesota but eventually took over the world. The genetically superior lineage of the Anderson Family.
It all began in 1961, when a strapping 22-year old bruiser named Gene Anderson walked into Verne Gagne‘s wrestling camp for the AWA. This 6’0”, 250lbs native of St. Paul, Minnesota was as tough as they came, and in 1965, he convinced his slightly older brother Lars to enter the world of professional wrestling, forming the rough and tumble duo known as The Minnesota Wrecking Crew. The two brothers took their show around the country, but it was in the South, particularly Mid-South and Florida, where they made their name in the industry, capturing multiple Tag Team titles on their path of destruction. The Andersons had officially arrived.
By 1969, a third brother – the younger but meaner Ole – had joined the fray, eventually succeeding Lars as the principle tag team partner of Gene in the Wrecking Crew. Ole had started wrestling on his own back in Minnesota in 1966, but three years later, decided to join his brothers in the warmer climate. Lars, finding some singles success, left his brothers in the South and returned to Minnesota and the AWA, where he would form a new tag team with Larry “The Axe” Hennig (father of WWE Hall of Famer “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig and grandfather of current WWE Superstar Curtis Axel).
With the pairing of Gene and Ole Anderson, the Minnesota Wrecking Crew became of the most dominant tag teams of the 1970’s, crushing opponent after opponent, throughout the North American marketplace. During their time in Mid-Atlantic, the duo introduced the world to their cousin from Minnesota named Ric Flair. While he was still a ways from becoming the “Nature Boy”, this Anderson clan member hardly resembled the thick brutes of Gene, Ole or Lars. Flair eventually left his cousins in order to become his own man. This dangerous band of brothers won a whopping eight NWA World Tag Team titles, beating back superstars like Dusty Rhodes & Dick Murdoch, Wahoo McDaniel, Dino Bravo and even their cousin Flair, alongside Greg “The Hammer” Valentine. In 1977, the elder Anderson, Lars, briefly feuded with his brothers, jealous of the success his siblings had accrued without him in the fold.
Meanwhile, the younger cousin from one of their sister’s side, Ric Flair, emerged as that generation’s greatest champion, arguably the greatest World champion that the industry has ever seen. A 16-time World champion, Flair became the gold standard for what being a champion meant. A perennial box office draw throughout the later 70’s, he would finally unseat his long time rival “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes for his first NWA World Heavyweight title in 1981, before embarking on the rest of his illustrious storybook career.
But also in 1981, Gene had decided to hang up his boots. A 20-year ring veteran, the wars he and his brothers had waged (and in most times instigated) had taken their toll on his body. But Ole was far from done his work in the trenches. He briefly aligned with Thunderbolt Patterson for a spell, even winning Tag Team gold in January of 1985. But his heart wasn’t into it. Blood was thicker than water and in April of that year, he turned on his partner. He returned to his family once again, this time plucking his 26-year old nephew, Arn, from Georgia to come and join him in the new Wrecking Crew. The uncle and nephew tandem became unstoppable, with Arn a stunning replica of his uncle’s brutal style of menace.
With a new Wrecking Crew in place, with Ole and Arn, and the Andersons reunited with their World Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair (they’d kissed and made up earlier in 1981), the three Andersons began to take an interest in a brash Texan named Tully Blanchard, who had recently captured the NWA Television title. They would routinely interfere on Blanchard’s behalf and it wasn’t long before all four men were holding the gold in the NWA.
And then in January of 1986, Arn Anderson made the announcement that would change wrestling history.
“Take a good look at your screen right now, because never have so few wreaked so much havoc on everyone else. You’d have to go back in history to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
With that statement, Arn held up four fingers, a symbol that was instantly repeated by J.J. Dillon, who had been handling the group’s business affairs. And thus, the most infamous faction in all of pro wrestling was created, dubbed <The Four Horsemen in thanks to Arn’s infamous promo. Ole would leave the group in 1987, forced out by the other members when they began to question Ole’s loyalty to the family union. He was replaced several times over the years, but most would agree that the Horsemen were at their most lethal when the original four were running wild in the NWA.
Part of the reason for Ole’s exile from the Horsemen was that he was missing NWA events to watch another Anderson protégée, Ole’s son Bryant. Though still a young collegiate, Bryant eventually landed in WCW, but struggled under the weight of his family name. In 1994, he would return to the indie circuit to team with Tully Blanchard before heading to Smoky Mountain Wrestling, where his father, Ole Anderson, came to manage his career. Following a feud with Tracey Smothers, he was forced into retirement in 1995.
Shortly after Bryant’s retirement, three more Anderson nephews showed up in the NWA, determined to carry on their family’s rich legacy. Pat Anderson and Rocky Anderson debuted first, but it was their third member, C.W. Anderson who made the most impact of the three. C.W. was like a shorter version of his uncle Arn, and he quickly won NWA Tag Team gold with his cousin Pat in 1996. In 1999, C.W. would leave the comfort of his cousins to join the rabid craziness of ECW, where his pit bull tenacity would make him a star as the cornerstone of The New Dangerous Alliance. Following the collapse of ECW, C.W. would go onto work in the indies for the remainder of his career, with a few brief appearances in the WWE for ECW reunion shows.
It wasn’t just the Anderson side that infiltrated the wrestling side either. Ric Flair introduced his own progeny, David Flair, to the wrestling world with his debut in WCW in 1999. Debuting alongside his father Ric in a match versus the nWo, David would turn on his father in early 2000 and align with the nWo Wolfpack. Things would not end well with Flair’s allegiance to the Wolfpack however. In 2001, he was powerbombed out of WCW by Wolfpack founder Kevin Nash, following runs with his aid, Ms. Hancock (a pre-WWE Stacey Keibler) and his group of misfits, Daffney and Crowbar. But not before he won the WCW United States title.
Just as David’s spark was beginning to fade, another Anderson family member ignited his own. Another from Arn Anderson’s Southern side of the family, Karl Anderson came out of North Carolina to join the NWA in 2005, carrying on the Anderson tradition of using a lethal spine-buster to dominant his opponents. Excellent runs in both PWG and Ring of Honor helped “Machine Gun” Karl Anderson make a name for himself, but it wasn’t until he travelled to Japan in 2008 that he would find his true calling. He formed the tag team Bad Intentions with Giant Bernard (aka NXT Trainer Matt Bloom, formerly known as Albert and Tensei), and the duo would run riot in NJPW before Bernard returned to the WWE in 2012. But during Bad Intentions’ run, Bernard had been the star. With Bernard back in North America, it was now “Machine Gun”’s time to shine. In May of 2013, Anderson aligned with Prince Devitt (now Finn Balor in NXT) and Tongan wrestlers Bad Luck Fale and Tama Tonga to form the entity known as the Bullet Club. It was there he would ally with Doc Gallows and form an even more successful tag team, capturing the IWGP Tag Team titles three more times, before the duo left NJPW for WWE earlier this year.
But the boys aren’t the only ones carrying on the Anderson clans. Another of Flair’s children, his daughter Charlotte (named after Ric’s adopted home city in North Carolina), joined NXT in 2012 and by 2014, won the NXT Women’s title, declaring her genetic superiority. And considering her blood line, it was hard to argue. She debuted on the WWE Main Roster in the fall of 2015, and not only became the Diva’s champion but became the first one to wear the new WWE Women’s belt at Wrestlemania 32. With her father mentoring her at the ring, the sky is still the limit for the latest Anderson addition to the wrestling fold.
The Funks, the Harts, the Guerreros, the Samoan Dynasty, and so many more families have left their stamp on the wrestling landscape for decades. But no family has had the bravado and arrogance throughout so many territories, promotions and generations as the gold standard of excellence of wrestling DNA: The Anderson clan from Minnesota.
Main Photo: Collage by Jamie Greer, featuring photos from WWE.com and NJPW.co.jp