When the World Wrestling Entertainment brings their traveling band of oversized brutes and beautiful Divas to the Colonial Life Arena for a Smackdown television taping tonight, one member of the staff will have mixed emotions.
Arn Anderson is expected to make an appearance during the show along with WWE COO “Triple H” and a special appearance by superstar John Cena, a staple of the brand’s popular Monday Night Raw SuperShow on the USA cable network.
While anything can be expected with the unusual appearances by two of the top names the WWE can offer, Anderson will have as much — if not more — history than anyone in the building tonight.
When Anderson began with Jim Crockett Promotions in 1985, he made weekly or bi-weekly trips to the Township Auditorium on Tuesday nights to entertain. He was an instrumental player in the old territory days as he and partner Ric Flair formed the Four Horseman, the first well-known and arguably the best of notable wrestling stables.
But on August 25, 1997 at a WCW Nitro taping in Columbia, Anderson’s life changed. He was forced to announce his retirement due to a spinal cord injury that nearly caused paralysis in his left side.
It’s a night that Anderson remembers vividly.
“The fans gave me a warm send off,” he said last week. “They didn’t know it was coming, and I didn’t even know it coming. That was something I decided on that day. It was time. If the opportunity comes up where I can poke my head out of the curtain, I just want to thank the fans. I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything like the electricity that was in the air that night. Hopefully I can do something nice for them (tonight) to return the favor.”
Anderson, know as “The Enforcer” and “Double A” throughout his career, has made the transition from wrestler to road agent, grooming the next generation of young wrestlers.
“To be honest, I had hoped to have a 20-year wrestling career and call it a day a wealthy man,” Anderson said. “I was going to walk away in one piece, but that wasn’t the case.
“I was so fortunate that I paid attention to the inner workings of the industry. That afforded me a backup and allows me to work with all the young talent.”
Even though the landscape of professional wrestling has changed, Anderson adapted.
He recalls wrestling 336 days in 1986, which sometimes included wrestling twice on Saturday and Sunday in two different towns. Despite the rigorous schedule, Anderson was never seriously injured until his career was cut short.
Today, WWE Superstars usually wrestle four times per week. Monday and Tuesday are reserved for TV tapings, and they run a house show circuit most weekends. Once a month, the WWE offers a pay-per-view event.
But there is much more international flair these days. The WWE usually books one international tour per month. So on the days off, the Superstars are required to do promotional gigs in cities across the world, not just one section of the United States.
“Guys work as hard as they ever did, but now it’s going off and doing promotional work,” Anderson said. “When you sit down and look at that on a calendar, it’s pretty intense. What they call off days now are travel days and trying to get home as much as you can. The schedule they have now is actually harder than we had.”
Anderson was excited about returning for tonight’s action. He doesn’t believe he has made an appearance before a live crowd in the Capital City since his retirement speech, and with Triple H and John Cena on the bill, he feels anything can happen.
“You have to expect some major announcements with those two on the show,” he said. “I’m glad Columbia is the site for whatever they have planned. We will give the fans the best possible show possible.”