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Muscle-bound monsters, mysterious foreigners and brutal brawlers: Wrestling’s overlooked stables
When debates about wrestling’s greatest factions break out, talk always turns toward The Four Horsemen or The New World Order. That’s with good reason, as those two crews ran roughshod over professional wrestling, laying waste to anyone who had the nerve to stand in their way.
Even though those factions ruled the roost, there have been plenty of other crews who knew how to be a thorn in the side of wrestling’s biggest heroes. These overlooked groups may have lacked the style of Ric Flair and company or the counterculture cool of “Hollywood” Hogan and his cronies, but they each made a mark that’s worth remembering.
The Russian Team
Members: Ivan Koloff, Nikita Koloff & Krusher Khrushchev
Much like the Soviet Union’s dominance in Olympic sports, this trio of communists ran roughshod over the National Wrestling Alliance in the 1980s. Former WWE Champion Ivan Koloff brought his massive nephew Nikita over from Moscow, and sold Barry Darsow on the Soviet way of life, transforming him into Krusher Khrushchev.
Donning T-shirts that claimed “Ain’t Nothing Can Stop Us,” the Soviet trio dominated Jim Crockett Promotions. On the back of Nikita’s vicious Russian Sickle, the trio captured the NWA World Tag Team Titles, defending them under the “Freebird Rule.” Add on Nikita’s reign as United States Champion and a turn as World Six-Man Tag Team Champions and you have one impressive squad.
Unfortunately, there was no miracle on canvas that sent The Russians packing back to Moscow. Instead, it was Dusty Rhodes, who convinced Nikita to join him in his legendary rivalry with The Four Horsemen. Uncle Ivan and Khrushchev were left holding the red flag as the Soviet Union soon faded away.
Members: Jim Cornette, Owen Hart, Vader, British Bulldog, Yokozuna
Jim Cornette may be best known for his time as the brains behind The Midnight Express, but "Beautiful" Bobby Eaton, "Sweet" Stan Lane and "Loverboy" Dennis Condrey weren’t the most talented group to fall under Cornette’s guidance.
That distinction belonged to Camp Cornette — the loudmouth manager’s faction during his time in WWE in the mid-1990s. Putting together Owen Hart and Yokozuna was a mastermind move by The Louisville Slugger. The formidable pair captured the World Tag Team Titles in their first match as a team. Cornette got in British Bulldog’s ear as well, causing him to turn his back on Diesel.
The final piece of the puzzle for Cornette came at the 1996 Royal Rumble, when the monstrous Vader made his debut. With four men capable of picking the opposition apart in very different ways, there was no stopping Cornette from wreaking havoc in WWE.
The Legion of Doom
Members: The Road Warriors, Jake “The Snake Roberts, The Spoiler, King Kong Bundy & Paul Ellering
When people hear the name Legion of Doom, their thoughts automatically dart toward The Road Warriors, Hawk and Animal. You can’t blame them, as the face paint and spiked shoulder pads made the imposing duo hard to forget.
But before Hawk and Animal went on a legendary tear through tag team divisions around the world, The Legion of Doom had more than two members. After taking the post-apocalyptic monsters under his wing, Paul Ellering teamed The Road Warriors up with his other charges. The Spoiler, a masked veteran, the titanic King Kong Bundy and a young Jake “The Snake” Roberts were perfect comrades for the powerful duo.
Ellering’s Legion of Doom dominated Georgia Championship Wrestling in 1983. The Road Warriors quickly captured the NWA National Tag Team Titles, while Roberts won the NWA Television Title. This legion was short-lived, though, as Roberts and The Spoiler left Georgia, while The Road Warriors began carving a path that led them to the WWE Hall of Fame.
Harlem Heat 2000
Members: Stevie Ray, Big T, J. Biggs & Kash
A dispute between brothers led to the evolution of Harlem Heat. Fed up with Booker T’s association with a leggy valet named Midnight, Stevie Ray began exploring his rights to the Harlem Heat brand. Hiring noted professional wrestling attorney J Biggs (formerly known as Clarence Mason in WWE), Stevie wrangled everything Harlem Heat-related away from his brother.
Bringing in the former Ahmed Johnson (now known as Big T) as his tag team partner, Stevie set out to make life hell for Booker T. Biggs used his legal ingenuity to strip Booker of nearly everything, from his entrance music to the letter T in his name. Booker tried to win his name back, but could not overcome the massive Big T.
Stevie Ray and Big T looked dominant in tag team competition, and with the monstrous Kash at their side, no one was going to challenge them. However, Big T left the company shortly after his arrival, leaving fans to wonder if Harlem Heat 2000 could have matched the original’s success.
Paul Jones' Army
Members: Paul Jones, The Powers of Pain, The Assassins, Superstar Billy Graham, Abdullah the Butcher, Teijho Khan, Baron Von Raschke, “Raging Bull” Manny Fernandez, Shaska Whatley, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Ivan Koloff &The Russian Assassin
Every hero needs a foil. Batman has The Joker, Captain America has The Red Skull and “The Boogie Woogie Man” Jimmy Valiant had Paul Jones. A wrestler-turned-manager, Jones made it his goal to rid Jim Crockett Promotions of the happy-go-lucky Valiant.
To aid him in his quest, Jones assembled a seemingly never-ending army of muscle-bound monsters, mysterious foreigners and brutal brawlers. Paul Jones’ Army began with The Assassins and grew to include The Powers of Pain, Baron Von Raschke, Teijho Khan, Abdullah the Butcher and “Ravishing” Rick Rude.
While Jones and his Army were successful in shaving Valiant bald and turning his friends, Pez Whatley and Manny Fernandez, to the dark side, they couldn’t stop “The Boogie Woogie Man’s” partying. After four years of non-stop war, Jones disbanded his army. However, fans from Georgia to the Carolinas can’t help but smile when they reminisce about this legendary rivalry.
The Dead Pool
Members: Vampiro, Raven & Insane Clown Posse
This short-lived WCW faction may have been one of the coolest looking groups in wrestling history. Raven’s punk rock aesthetic, Vampiro’s haunting presence and the Insane Clown Posse’s painted mania made for an eerie entrance into WCW.
Known as The Dead Pool, Vampiro, Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J did the heavy lifting for this group, while Raven sat back and watched the carnage unfold. The Insane Clown Posse shocked wrestling fans with their surprising proficiency in the ring. While many expected Shaggy, the smaller of the two clowns, to be the highflier, they were stunned when the larger Violent J moonsaulted from the top rope.
The clowns and Vampiro were successful in six-man tag team action. However, Raven ditched them a month after their debut and headed back to ECW. That didn’t ICP and Vampiro’s party from rolling on. They replaced Raven with another painted warrior, The Great Muta, and renamed themselves The Dark Carnival.
The Varsity Club
Members: Kevin Sullivan, Mike Rotunda, Rick Steiner & “Dr. Death” Steve Williams
For The Varsity Club, wrestling was second nature. Rick Steiner and Mike Rotunda were standout amateur wrestlers at Michigan and Syracuse, respectively. That made their transition to the professional ranks a piece of cake. When Kevin Sullivan brought them together, the mastermind knew how to make sure all the NWA’s attention was on them.
Playing up their collegiate backgrounds, he dubbed the pair The Varsity Club. Wearing their letterman jackets to ringside, Steiner and Rotunda embarrassed foes, twisting them into pretzels. Adding Oklahoma star “Dr. Death” Steve Williams to their ranks only made things worse for opponents.
Rotunda easily captured the NWA Television Title. However, the group’s bullying of Steiner became too much for The Dog-Faced Gremlin to handle. Steiner branched out on his own and defeated the Syracuse grad for his title. That didn’t stop The Varsity Club, though, as Rotunda and Williams went on to capture the NWA Tag Team Championships.
Gary Hart International
Members: Gary Hart, Terry Funk, The Great Muta, Dick Slater, The Dragon Master & “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer
Although he made his bones in Texas’ World Class Championship Wrestling, Gary Hart was a reviled manager as far east as Jim Crockett’s stronghold in the Mid-Atlantic region. He managed studs like The Great Kabuki and Al Perez throughout the 1980s in the NWA, but it was in 1989 that he put together one of the most formidable factions in wrestling.
Spearheaded by his acquisition of The Great Muta in early 1989, Hart expanded his business to include Dick Slater, The Dragon Master, “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer and Terry Funk. With a stable of barroom brawlers and martial arts experts, there were few in WCW who could stop Gary Hart International.
Gary Hart’s crew was so vicious that it forced Sting and Ric Flair to put their differences aside. The Nature Boy and The Stinger clashed with various iterations of Gary Hart International until Flair called in reinforcements, in the form of Arn and Ole Anderson. The reformed Four Horsemen were enough to send Hart packing from WCW.
Members: Gen. Skandor Akbar, The Missing Link, Kamala, Cactus Jack, Ted DiBiase, Hercules Hernandez, One Man Gang, Iceman King Parsons and many others
While his Arabic contemporaries like The Iron Sheik were known for their prowess in the ring, Gen. Skandor Akbar was celebrated for his business sense and his cunning. The devious manager led a faction of evildoers from Texas’ World Class promotion to Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling in Louisiana and Oklahoma.
Naming his stable Devastation Inc., Akbar let the world know what he intended to leave behind when he was done. In Texas, Akbar led frightening monsters like Kamala and The Missing Link into battle against the Von Erichs and The Freebirds. In the less cartoonish world of Mid-South Wrestling, Akbar was the corner man for nefarious grapplers like Ted DiBiase and One Man Gang.
Devastation Inc. was also the starting point for several WWE Hall of Famers, including Mick Foley and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. If that doesn’t solidify Akbar’s crew as one of the most dangerous in wrestling history, nothing can.
The Army of Darkness
Members: Kevin Sullivan, Purple Haze, Superstar Billy Graham, Maya Singh, Luna Vachon, King Curtis Iaukea, The Lock, Abudadein & Incubus
They may not have been the most technically proficient group of grapplers. They may not have been the most decorated, in terms of championships. However, Kevin Sullivan and his army of satanic disciples was truly one of the most frightening groups to ever occupy the squared circle.
Seemingly possessed by the devil himself, Sullivan terrified audiences in the Florida territory as he spoke of mystic wonders he had seen and journeys through Calcutta and Borneo in search of true evil. Crowds were horrified as Sullivan expanded his Army of Darkness, using his eerie influence to take everyday wrestlers and recreate them in his evil image.
Mark Lewin emerged from the ocean as Purple Haze, Bob Roop transformed into Maya Singh and even Superstar Billy Graham fell under Sullivan’s satanic spell. Carrying snakes and painting unusual symbols onto their faces, the Army of Darkness ensured that no Floridian would sleep tight.