Alex: Grappling with Greed – The Rise & Fall of the nWo
To the victors of war go the keys of history. To hear WWE talk about the Monday Night Wars today gives a somewhat warped view of why professional wrestling became a global phenomenon in the late 1990s. They’d like to have you believe it was their cleverly designed “Attitude Era” that was the primary cause of the boom.
And yet, that innovative period was actually in response to the great success their Southern-based rival, World Championship Wrestling, had enjoyed. With new WCW head Eric Bischoff in control, the company incorporated some interesting new tactics into its televised strategy, including live broadcasts every week.
The centerpiece of their skyrocketing ascension came in the form of the New World Order. The volatile group of black-and-white bad guys helped not only to bolster WCW to the top of the wrestling world, but also made Ted Turner’s once financially unstable organization a boatload of cash.
The story of how it went down behind the scenes is perhaps even more interesting than what fans saw on camera. Bischoff understood in order to compete with WWE, which had a strong national presence, he would need to get the right players to give the brand a feel of being “the big leagues.” He spent heavily – Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and other aging stars who once performed for Vince McMahon were signed.
But the real shift in power came in 1996. Bischoff pursued the team of Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, both well-known WWE superstars who appeared under the names Diesel and Razor Ramon. This is where the long-term mistakes for WCW started: both men were offered guaranteed contracts for astronomical sums of money, as well as creative control over their characters.
The notion that in the crazy world of professional wrestling an employer would give such financial and creative power to its employees seems ludicrous. And yet, it was this very contract that lured away so many of Vince McMahon’s roster in the years that followed.
Bischoff also had an ingenious way of introducing Hall and Nash on television. Instead of having them debut in a grand, announced fashion, he simply had both show up in the crowd and invade the ring. Fans at home were stunned, because to them, it looked like WWE performers were attempting to invade WCW.
This well-told storyline would roll into the company’s big summertime pay-per-view, “Bash at the Beach,” where the duo claimed they’d unveil a third man who was pulling the strings of their invasion. Who would the third man be? Fans speculated madly. In a recent interview, Scott Hall claimed even he was unsure who the individual would be, stating that at one point, head WCW good guy Sting was even considered for the part.
Ultimately, the role went to Hulk Hogan. His babyface, red-white-and-blue character was fading, with audiences being bored by seeing the same act they had watched for a decade by then. Bischoff convinced Hogan a heel turn would spark his career, and boy, was he ever right.
Hogan’s turn is now the stuff of legend. Coming out toward the match’s end, he teased helping friends Savage and Sting, before dropping a big leg on Savage. Sure enough, Hogan was roundly booed, and the amount of trash that flew in the ring is still hard to believe.
The strategy worked. In the coming months, nWo gained more of a following. Ratings for Nitro began to rise. Ticket sales went up. Merchandising profits were through the roof. Nitro would soon become the most watched show on basic cable, and demand was so high by 1998, they’d have to form a second weekly program, “Thunder.”
nWo mania was rampant in the U.S. It was this counter-programming to the WCW norm that was the initial bump for professional wrestling’s rise in the 1990s. Many boys (including yours truly) became fans during this period. I even recall my middle school selling T-shirts for our football team calling us the “Eagle World Order.” That’s how big this thing was.
And it would only get bigger with the second half of Bischoff’s strategy. He planned an epic, year-long rivalry to form between the group’s leader, Hogan, and a returning WCW superstar, Sting. The feud is one of the most memorable of the decade, as the company slowly built up to its biggest event ever, Starrcade, in 1997.
It was there that after a year of waiting, fans would get to see the match they’d been dying to witness. Sting vs. Hogan would lead to unprecedented revenues for the company, and, ironically, would also mark the beginning of the end for WCW’s fortunes.
For it was during this match, the boys in the back and the fans at home witnessed Hulk Hogan’s ego in all of its glory. Instead of taking the loss admirably, the star beat the hell out of Sting for 20 minutes. He finished things off with a boot to the face and a big leg drop. He pinned him and got the one-two-three.
Or so that’s what it seemed. The claim was made it was a fast count (it wasn’t). The match was restarted, Sting got the win and fans went home happy. The damage had been done though. Thanks to Hogan’s showboating, Sting, the company’s top face, had been made to look like a chump. Sting was never that hot again, and six months later would be performing in mid-card matches while Hogan was back on top.
And that’s undoubtedly what produced the downfall of the nWo and WCW as a whole: greed. The egos of those involved couldn’t make anything good. Take for example what happened in 1998. Goldberg was the company’s new top face. A major star, he had risen to fame through his towering presence and a lengthy undefeated streak.
The roster was stunned when Hogan was pinned cleanly by Goldberg on Nitro that summer to win the WCW Championship. Had Hogan suddenly become generous? No, not at all. In fact, the grand plan was for Hogan to ultimately get the title back and make Goldberg look like a fool in the process.
That’s exactly what happened. In one of the worst decisions a wrestling company has ever made, Kevin Nash would end Goldberg’s streak later that year. He’d then pass on the title to Hogan via the infamous “Finger poke of Doom” encounter, a match that saw Hogan simply touch Nash to win the title.
The nWo back together, they then beat up Goldberg, spray-painted his back and cooled his jets. No one was going to be bigger than the nWo. And that was the problem.
Over 1999, WCW would see one of the fastest declines an entertainment company has ever witnessed. Meanwhile, WWE would continue to gain in popularity through its Attitude Era and would come to dominate the Monday Night Wars.
After WCW was bought out by Vince McMahon and crew in 2001, the nWo was dormant for a period before making a return in WWE in 2002. The resurrection was short-lived, but served its purpose of providing fans with nostalgia that helped them open their wallets.
And that’s what nWo has ultimately become for wrestling fans: sugarcoated nostalgia. The backstage story is a lengthy, frustrating one that is still the subject of interviews and discussions till this very day. However, fans would rather dwell on the sensation they felt when watching this group of badass misfits run wild on an organization.
It was wild and – yes, for the 1996 – even a tad edgy. When you were watching the nWo, you felt cool. That effect was – more than Steve Austin, DX or any other wrestling entity – the primary cause for professional wrestling’s boom 15 years ago.
I still have just a lot of fun reminiscing on the period. So put on your sunglasses, get out a black bandana and start making the “4-Life” symbol with your hand. For better or for worse, nWo was just as much apart of our young male experiences as first dates and acne.
Warner: What Could Have Been – nWo
It’s been 17 years since the formation of the greatest stable in professional wrestling history. Let that sink in for a minute. 17 years! On July 7, 1996, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Hulk Hogan formed the New World Order (nWo) in Daytona Beach Florida at Bash at the Beach, and from that moment on professional wrestling changed forever.
If you’re reading this, you probably know that the nWo was an amazing set of bad guys, split in half to form an amazing set of good guys, wreaked havoc on the WCW, nearly put the WWE (then WWF) and Vince McMahon out of business, and was a huge factor in WCW winning the Monday Night Wars for the majority of the late 1990s. It made for entertaining TV when the bad guy, black-and-white nWo spray painted the good guys after a beat down, when they relished in having trash thrown at them, and when Hulk Hogan played the biggest, best villain pro wrestling has ever seen, Hollywood Hogan.
I won’t go on much more about the history of the nWo because if you’ve made it this far into this piece, you’ve already read Alex Beene’s awesome recap of how they rose to the top and then fell to the bottom.
But I do want to harp on one thing for a bit. In Alex’s piece, he mentions that Sting was considered by Eric Bischoff as one of the candidates to be the leader of the New World Order, but ultimately that role was given to Hogan. And according to Scott Hall, there was still indecision as Bash at the Beach was going on. If you read the interview linked above, and I would take it with a grain of salt because, well it’s Scott Hall, you will find that Hogan was on a plane trying to get to Daytona in time for the event and there was uncertainty as to whether or not he would make it. If he didn’t, Bischoff told Hall and Nash that Sting would be the “third man.” I mean WOW! Can you imagine if Hogan had been late to his flight, or it had been delayed, Sting, STING! could have been the guy to lead WCW into the most successful years in pro wrestling history. I got chills when I read that interview with Hall. I mean history could have been vastly affected that night if the winds blew just a slightly different way.
So here is just one “what if” scenario had Sting been the guy to take the reins of the nWo instead of the Hulkster:
1) Sting makes the backstage decisions instead of Hogan. Hogan was so ego driven that he flew the plane full of success and money and fame right into the damn ground. Would Sting have done the same? No. WCW survives and continues to thrive. It eventually pushes WWF out of business.
2) Sting rubs off on Nash and Hall in a more positive way as their go-to-guy. Hall doesn’t fall into a deep spiral of alcohol, drugs, and depression. Nash focuses on being good at wrestling and not being a backstage bully. The rest of the locker room buys in in a similar fashion because Sting cares more about the company than his own career. You don’t see a bunch of guys flameout and ruin their careers.
3) The Kliq becomes a band of friends that includes Sting, so WCW gets the talent of Shawn Michaels, Triple H, etc. and takes off more than WWF (WWE) ever could have. Instead of having WWE be the monopoly and put out iffy programming over the course of the next 15 years (like it has been) due to lack of competition, WCW continues to put out a great product full of action and compelling storylines. Sting understands how to produce the best stories and makes all the right decisions.
4) Hogan, McMahon, and Vince Russo, all broke and out of work, contact Dixie Carter and Jerry Jarrett and start TNA Wrestling. It fails worse than it actually has over the last 10 years. Hogan goes on a reality show. McMahon rides the coattails of his wife’s political career. Russo… who cares?
5) WCW eventually becomes the billion dollar corporation that WWE currently is and dominates the entertainment industry for years to come. All because of Sting.
6) Quick Thoughts: Ready to Rumble never happens. Goldberg continues being a monster. Stone Cold, Undertaker, The Rock, Mankind, etc. all have great WCW careers. ECW survives when purchased by WCW. Chyna doesn’t completely self destruct. WrestleMania continues under the WCW banner. Wrestling becomes much more socially acceptable.
Obviously this is only one hypothetical scenario. Things could have gone much differently, for better or worse. But, if given the choice, knowing what they know now, I would imagine Eric Bischoff and Ted Turner wouldn’t mind seeing how things would have shaken out with Sting as the top guy, as he should have been, instead of Hogan.
I’m sure, if you love wrestling like I do, you would have enjoyed seeing what could have been as well.
nWo 4 life.
(Disclaimer: I was always a WWF/WWE guy. I still am. This “what if” world could have changed that. But I’m fine with the way things turned out.)
Joseph Williams: What about the WolfPac?
Admission: I don’t think I ever was nor am I as big of a wrestling fan as Alex and Warner. But when we first began discussing the origins of the nWo on an e-mail thread, it took me back. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but the joy of my middle-school years keeping up with WCW all the time and WWF occasionally had never been more clear.
This topic is especially relevant to me because my first-ever experience (outside of my early movie reviews) working on a website was when two friends from church approached me about an idea of an nWo WolfPac website. I hardly knew what they were talking about, but some limited experience playing some SNES wrestling video games (WCW SuperBrawl Wrestling, WWF Royal Rumble, and WWF WrestleMania The Arcade Game) made me aware of who was who. This website proposal corresponded with an invitation to my little league team to come witness Memphis minor league, Saturday morning wrestling live at the local NBC affiliate’s station. Jerry Lawler and Dave Brown were there, as was Jerry Lawler’s on and off-screen lady friend Miss Kitty. Needless to say, I was intrigued and I was hooked. If I remember correctly, this all happened around late 1997 into early 1998.
I read internet message boards to keep up with WCW and WWF. I watched Monday Night Nitro and then WCW Thunder. After all, I could honestly convince my mom that WCW was the more “family-friendly” of the two at the time. My friends and cousin and I would get together once every few months to buy the PPV with our lawn-cutting money and order some pizzas to enjoy the show. We always loved the outdoor events, especially Bash at the Beach. We heard about the legends of 1996 that changed the game. I rented the VHS tape from Blockbuster. I witnessed it first hand.
I love Warner’s “What If” Scenario above and I can’t necessarily disagree with any of it. But, in retrospect, I don’t know if I’d give up any of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sure, it was annoying when things got out of control. Sure, Vince Russo’s Vince McMahon complex ruined WCW. Sure, Hogan’s ego got the best of him (which made his alter-ego, Hollywood Hogan, all the more wonderful and fun to hate). But there was a lot of magical wonder in those couple years of the late 1990s. Sure, there were less fortunate times as well (Disco Inferno’s Campaign to Join the WolfPac or WolfPac Sting which taught me at a young age to be careful what you wish for because it may have been better when Sting was in black and white, lone wolfing it against the nWo from the rafters.)
But those wonderful times with the nWo splitting apart into factions, The Outsiders hitting back at Hollywood Hogan, spraypainting fools all over the place. Ahhh… those were the times. And it all started at the game-changer at Bash at the Beach 96 that would forever leave a mark on the world of pro wrestling. The forces at work (selfish, creative, capitalist, the whole nine yards) that led to Mr. Pro Wrestling turning into a master villain… it could have turned out differently with Sting. But would it have turned out better? Looking back with fond memories and lots of laughter and wishes of finding that old Yahoo! GeoCities WolfPac tribute website I helped put together… I doubt it.