Friday, December 09, 2022

Flair and the Andersons: Blood is Thicker Than Water

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

It is one of the great chapters in Anderson family history and a high point in the up-and-down relationship between Ric Flair and his cousins the Anderson Brothers.

July 16, 1978. Ric Flair defends the United States Heavyweight championship against Ricky Steamboat. The special referee appointed by the NWA is Gene Anderson. 

It was on this night that Gene Anderson reunited the family after an 18-month bloody war with cousin Ric Flair and Flair's partner Greg Valentine over the NWA World Tag Team titles.

The family split up in late 1976 when Flair fell out with Gene and Ole over wanting a shot at the Anderson's NWA World Tag Team titles. The Andersons had taken the titles to Georgia in the fall of 1976 and Flair and Valentine intended on bringing them back to the Mid-Atlantic area. Add to add to that, Ric Flair badly wanted to step out of the shadow of his cousins. Over the next year and a half, they traded the titles back and forth. Both Andersons wound up in the hospital at various points in the feud, resulting in major bad blood between the two teams. With Gene out of action in late 1977, Ole Anderson even enlisted the aid of rival Wahoo McDaniel to battle Flair and Valentine in the late months of 1977.

In 1978 things began to cool down with Gene out of action and Ole focusing on the Georgia tag team titles with the other Anderson brother, Lars Anderson. When Gene finally returned to action in the Mid-Atlantic in the April of 1978, he worked a restricted schedule, teaming with Sgt. Jacques Goulet.

Meanwhile, Ric Flair was fending off the challenge of Ricky Steamboat in the middle of a white-hot feud over the United States championship. NWA referees Tommy Young, Sonny Fargo, and Stu Schwartz were unable to control the action in the ring between the two as most of their matches were ending in double disqualifications. Flair was champion, so he continued to maintain the title as the championship couldn't change hands on a DQ. The NWA needed a special referee who could physically handle the two in the ring, and give Steamboat a fair shot at the title. But they also needed someone who would remain impartial. They chose Gene Anderson.

On the surface, Gene Anderson seemed like the perfect choice. Currently working out of the "bad guy" locker room, he had no love for Ricky Steamboat, and given the bloody history with his cousin Ric Flair, he would welcome the opportunity to keep Flair in line in his title defense against Steamboat.

The match was set for the Greensboro Coliseum on July 16, 1978. Believing Gene Anderson's antipathy towards his young cousin was stronger than that for Steamboat, many fans were hopeful to see the U.S. title change hands that night.

But as the old proverb goes, blood proved thicker than water, and in the closing moments of the match, Gene Anderson interfered to aid Flair in retaining the title. The shocking turn of events went down like this:

The battle had been back and forth and Anderson had basically called the match right down the middle. On several occasions Flair tried to physically intimidate Anderson to no avail. Had it been one of the regular referees, another disqualification might have occurred. But as the match approached the twenty minute mark, it appeared that the NWA had made an excellent choice in their special referee.

But as the match wore on, there were subtle signs that Gene Anderson had his own designs on a final outcome. Flair now found himself in trouble, as Steamboat gained momentum. Steamboat had Flair pinned on several occasions, but Anderson's count seemed slow. With Flair reeling from a flurry of offense from Steamboat, the "Hawaiian Punch"climbed to the top of the turnbuckle and prepared to deliver his familiar flying body press which would likely give him the championship.

Special referee Gene Anderson shoves Ric Flair out of the way as
Ricky Steamboat dives from the top rope.

But just as Steamboat leapt from the ropes, Gene Anderson shoved Flair out of the way and Steamboat came crashing to the mat. Flair quickly covered him and Gene Anderson made a very fast three count.

Flair rose to his feet, momentarily trying to process what had just happened. He looked incredulously at his cousin who stood expressionless facing him. As Anderson raised Flair's hand it suddenly became clear to Flair what had just happened.

He leapt into Gene's arms and the two embraced in a long hug as the furious Greensboro crowd began to riot. Angry fans were swarming at ringside, pressing against the ring and the ropes. Flair kicked at the ropes to try to get fans to back off, which only seemed to exacerbate the situation. Soft drink cups and popcorn boxes began flying into the ring. Anderson handed Flair the U.S. title and Flair defiantly raised it high above his head as things continued to deteriorate at ringside. Timekeeper Wally Dusek was nearly knocked over by the mob as police moved in to try and calm things down, mostly to no avail.

U.S. Champion Ric Flair and cousin Gene Anderson embrace after Anderson aided
Flair in retaining the title as a special referee in the title match.

Flair and Anderson soon made their way down the ring steps and began walking the aisle toward the dressing rooms.  This was back in the day before there were barriers of any kind separating the crowd from the wrestlers going to and from the ring. Angry fans began taking swings at the two and Flair and Anderson had to literally fight their way to the back. 

For the last year and a half, fans had seen the feud between Flair and the Andersons become so heated and so bloody, that I don't think it ever crossed their minds that the two could reconcile on this night. Gene Anderson's actions certainly seemed to surprise Flair, and it appeared that this was not a conspiracy between the two. For Gene Anderson, it was a matter of family, and family trumped on this night. Ric Flair was firmly back in the Anderson fold. 

Things remained tight in the family for the next year or so as all three were going their separate ways. Ole was working full time in Georgia, Flair had turned "good guy" in the late spring of 1979, and Gene Anderson transitioned into his managerial career, buying the contracts of wrestlers under the guidance of Buddy Rogers, one of which was U.S. Champion Jimmy Snuka, who, as fate would have it, was in the middle of a feud with Ric Flair. Anderson's management of Snuka resulted in another split within "the family." The situation worsened when Ole returned to the area in 1981, and the bloody family feud escalated to new heights of violence. The family wouldn't fully reunite again until the formation of the Four Horsemen some four years later.


  • Blackjack Mulligan was also chasing Ric Flair's United States championship during this time, although with Blackjack it wasn't so much about the belt as it was a personal thing because of the way Flair had turned on him months earlier in what has become known as the famous "Hat and Robe" angle. Flair didn't want any part of Mulligan and placed a $10,000 bounty on his head, and on this night in Greensboro, the Masked Superstar was trying to collect that bounty in a match fought in Texas Death Match rules. Mulligan survived, but the beatings he was taking in these bounty matches were taking their toll.
  • Paul Jones battled Ken Patera in a match where both men's single titles were on the line (the NWA TV title and the Mid-Atlantic title respectively.) Both retained as the match ended in a double count out.
  • Fans loved the pairing of popular stars Johnny Weaver and Mr. Wrestling (Tim Woods) as they defeated the tough veteran tandem of Cyclone Negro and Sgt. Jacques Goulet.
  • A young Jerry Stubbs was on this card. He would later become the masked Mr. Olympia and headline in the Mid-South and Southeastern areas. Another "young lion" named Richard Blood (which oddly was the real name of Ricky Steamboat) worked early in this card, too. He would later become Tito Santana in the WWF.  

But this card will always be remembered for one defining moment in the long story of the Andersons and Ric Flair: Gene Anderson's shove that kept the United States title in "the family."

Originally published in August of 2018 on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway