Wow...20 years today...
"WELL THE FIRST THING YOU GOTTA REALIZE, BROTHER, IS THIS RIGHT HERE IS THE FUTURE OF WRESTLING. YOU CAN CALL THIS THE NEW WORLD ORDER OF WRESTLING, BROTHER"
And with that, wrestling was changed...FOREVER.
This week is a very important weeks for wrestling fans. Especially for fans who were watching the very stale and overly cartoony era of pro wrestling of the mid 90s. See, at that time, wrestling was not the fun and risky industry it later became. In fact, aside from production costs skyrocketing, if you watched an episode of WWF or NWA ten years before, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. For both companies, the gimmicks and story lines were so hokey and stupid. The matches, for the most part were boring. You had maybe a handful of people in each company who could put on a really great match but the terrible gimmicks shined too bright.
Until Spring 1996, that is.
Until heading to WCW, Hall and Nash had been big stars for Vince McMahon. Nash as Diesel, would be the world champion for about a year, as well collecting every title in the company in a 3 year span. Hall, under the Razor Ramon gimmick, had been a multi time IC title and put on some of the greatest matches a fan could hope to watch. But it was time to tempt fate and see what they could do in WCW. While both men admitted it was a very difficult decision, it paid off big time monetarily and historically.
Hall showed up quite infamously on WCW Nitro in May 1996. Coming out of the crowd, stealing the house mic, Hall stopped a rather nondescript match between The Mauler and Steve Doll. He announced "You know who I am but you don't know why I'm here." Fans were dumbfounded; they had just watched Raw the week prior and saw one of their favorite Superstars with no exit announcement, (which WWF never did, but fans assumed they'd see Razor pop up later on Raw or Superstars).
Hall went on to harass WCW President Eric Bischoff later in the show. He announced he had a big surprise and that "they" were sick of hearing of him run his mouth for 6 months - alluding to Bischoff giving away the results of Raw, mocking the product and pretty much using WWF as his personal punching bag. Well, Hall delivered on his word a week later when Big Daddy Cool himself came out and confronted Bischoff. The look of shock on the head of the company said it all:
Fans were shocked and confused. Why are two of the biggest WWF stars showing up on WCW? Did Vince send them to destroy it? While it's hard to believe now, that certainly was the mindset of a LOT of fans. Many fans, myself included, believed that this was no storyline and both men were ready to destroy their number 1 competition. Kevin Nash finished up by saying "the measuring stick just changed around here, buddy. You're looking at it.".
This wasn't an empty threat. Hall and Nash would appear in the next few weeks either in the crowd or interrupting matches. Finally, they revealed that they aren't the only two that WCW had to worry about. But they weren't naming names. Which lead to Bischoff being on the receiving end of Kevin Nash's jackknife power-bomb on the Great American Bash. If the invasions weren't enough to tell you they were serious, this was. They simply did not care who you were. If they're taking out the WCW President, you know they mean serious business.
Finally after prodding and pleading on WCW's part, Hall and Nash proclaimed they'd reveal their third man at Bash at the Beach 1996. They also challenged WCW to send their best 3 men to battle. Sting, Lex Luger and Macho Man were sent to defend the name of WCW against the newly dubbed Outsiders.
The whole wrestling world was watching this event as if everyone's life depended on it. Fans were going insane trying to figure out who the third man was to be. I actually distinctly remember a site saying it was Mabel. Safe to say that website didn't last long after that.
The most popular prediction was Bret Hart, who appeared to be taking a small break from WWF after losing to Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 12. It seemed to a lot of fans that he would be the most logical choice. Spoiler alert, it wasn't him.
After a pretty lackluster show, the moment everyone waited for had arrived. Well...kinda...
Hall and Nash came out alone, sending announcers, fans and the wrestlers themselves into an immediate panic. Who was the third man? Where was he? Was he in the crowd? Or was he standing across the Outsiders in the ring on Team WCW? Well, whatever the case, so many questions were being asked during the match and it took one person to answer it. After knocking Lex Luger out cold and sending him to the back, it was now two on two. But after being on top for a little while, it became clear that Hall and Nash were too much to handle for Sting and Randy. These two men were downright decimating the heroic forces of WCW. The company was doomed. Until one man came out and saved the day...
The face of WCW was here to clear the ring and show those two bullies from up North who the true Big Boys were. Hulk Hogan, the king of wrestling and the great American hero. Mr. Babyface. The man who disposed of evil and championed the power of good would not let a bunch of ratty invaders take over his company and send them back to Uncle Vinny. No sir. In the words of Jim Ross "business is about to pick up!" The Hulkster entered the ring and intimidated those bastards from the WWF. And after tearing his shirt, pushing the ref out of the way and...wait...what is he doing?
Yup. With one leg drop, Hogan became the third man. For the first time in over 15 years, Hogan flushed the yellow and the red down the toilet. And how appropriate was it that he turned on his heroic, good guy image by dropping the leg drop on his on again/off again best friend Randy Savage? As if seeing Hogan turn bad wasn't bad enough, he had to drop it on the man who so many people said was actually his superior.
This was not what fans expected. Despite the revisionist history some will present to you otherwise, this was the biggest moment in wrestling at that point. This was the wrestling equivalent to Doomsday. Plain and simple. Hogan can't turn bad. He just can't.
Although, if you think about it, it made perfect sense and fans should have seen it coming. In fact, one could argue the FANS actually caused it! Since Hogan's entry into WCW, the majority of hardcore, older fans had been booing Hogan's stale good guy image and same old nonsense. They'd seen it! It'd been DONE. We didn't care anymore. In fact, what was Hogan doing before this? Well, Hogan took a few weeks off to film a movie but in 1995 and early 1996, he was deep in battle with the very goofy and super silly Dungeon of Doom, which featured wrestling's answer to the Roger Corman monsters. Don't believe me?
Yup. That's what the big storyline in WCW at the time was. They had seen it already. The little Hulkamaniacs who grew up loving Hogan had nothing new to care about. So, every time Hogan hit the ring, they'd boo him. So, Hogan took the mic and told the fans to stick it in one of the most memorable promos in pro wrestling history:
Those fans who booed Hogan weren't as open to welcome the new attitude of their original hero. They were essentially told from Hogan that he never cared about them and it was all about the money and publicity. That stung. Especially for the young fans who modeled their lives to live by Hogan's mantra of "Say your prayers, eat your vitamins, train everyday". This was too much to handle. The ring immediately filled up with trash and even a drunk fan thought he could take his chance in taking down the newly formed trio by running in to the ring until he was stopped by Hall and Nash with a series of big boots to the skull.
Fans everywhere were beyond stunned as they went to sleep that night. No doubt, some fans even cried. The stakes were high. The ramifications of this event were even greater. This single event changed EVERYTHING in wrestling. The bad guys were now the heroes. The cool guys were the ones that broke the rules and made their own. They'd show up when they want and beat up whoever they want. This trio wasn't to be messed with. If you didn't side with them, you were their enemy. If you weren't wearing an nWo shirt, you were in their way and in deep trouble.
Now, that was just the original incarnation of the nWo. The group grew in members considerably in the next year. Great names such as Randy Savage (and Liz!), Rick Rude, Curt Hennig, Ted Dibiase, Sean Waltman, and even some WCW lamewads such as Marcus "Buff" Bagwell and Scott Norton, who became bigger stars as apart of the group. If you put an nWo shirt on, you were a made man. Not just in America, but the world. New Japan stars The Great Muta and Masahiro Chono also became part of nWo Japan.
Yup. One of the most controversial stars in any form of entertainment, NBA standout Dennis Rodman joined the nWo and even wrestled a few matches!
On top of just being so cool on TV and off, they also had a memorable theme song!
It goes without saying, the nWo had a huge impact on me personally. My entire room went from random WWF and WCW posters to self made nWo flyers and posters, (plus a Kimberly Page poster). My normal wardrobe was an nWo shirt and jeans. I was never a fashionable kid, but for the first time in my life, I felt a shirt could make me one of the cool kids. At that time I was going through a lot. I had left public school in fall of 1996 because of depression caused by bullying, so I needed something to keep my confidence boosted. That's where the nWo shirts (and nWo themselves) came in handy. I had the confidence to wear that shirt and I could make friends with fellow fans and strangers who knew what those three letters meant. In fact, I had to get another nWo shirt after wearing it out very quickly. For the first time in my life, I was actually part of the cool crew and wrestling was the "in" thing.
|Me circa 1997 after a WCW Nitro at the Baltimore Arena.|
My friends and I would constantly be on the phone during Nitro and Raw - which, in 1997, was a little harder to maintain if there were only two phones in the house and someone was using the internet or needed to use the phone. But it didn't matter. My friends and I would actually call the matches like the commentators and would also exchange wrestling rumors, gossip and predictions. Raw was getting better but if the nWo was on, that's where our priorities were. Also, handshakes? Forget those. It was just a bunch of wrestling nerds "Too Sweet-ing" each other. A hand gesture still used today by a lot of fans and wrestlers themselves. See: The Bullet Club.
So, happy 20th birthday to the team that changed wrestling forever for the better. Without them, we'd probably be seeing an evil longshoreman as world champion today.