Your Hawaiian vacation of pop culture
Copyright 2014-2016 by Dr. Mike Rickard
Originally presented at Canadian Bulldog's World Friday June 10 and June 17, 2016.
It's hard to believe that it's been twenty years since the New World Order (nWo) angle shook the wrestling world. There have been some fantastic angles and events in professional wrestling but there is only one other one that's come close to doing what the nWo did in wrestling in the last twenty years (Check out my book Wrestling's Greatest Moments to see where the New World Order ranks). The angle nearly put the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) out of business and promoters are still trying to capture the nWo's initial magic. So far, no one has been able to.
The New World Order's initial success resulted from World Championship Wrestling (WCW) following the rules of storytelling. The New World Order's eventual failure resulted from WCW disregarding the same rules of storytelling. I'd like to examine this incredible angle from a storytelling perspective, analyzing what worked and what didn't work; in order to understand why these rules can (and should) be used today. First, I'd like to share what the nWo phenomenon felt like for fans at the time. It is definitely one of those moments that you cannot completely appreciate unless you were there (kind of like the 1960's).
The story of the nWo has been told so many times that it doesn't bear repeating other than a brief summary (I recommend you check out The Death of WCW, Sex, Lies, and Headlocks, and Titan Shattered for a more detailed account of the nWo). If you're not familiar with the story, it's pretty simple. WCW's Eric Bischoff saw an angle in New Japan Pro Wrestling where it was invaded by rival promotion Union of Wrestling Forces International (UWF International). Bischoff realized the angle's potential set up a storyline where WCW would be invaded by wrestlers implied to be WWF stars. Bischoff signed two of WWF's biggest stars at the time, Scott Hall (aka Razor Ramon in the WWF) and Kevin Nash (aka Diesel in the WWF). Hall and Nash challenged WCW's three biggest stars to face them where they'd be joined by a mystery partner ("The Third Man"). The mystery partner turned out to be longtime WCW babyface Hulk Hogan. Hogan turned heel and became the nWo's third man. The angle turned into a license to print money for WCW as the nWo was at the forefront of WCW programming for the next several years. Over time, WCW brought the nWo back, but like most sequels, it came back weaker and weaker. Even Vince McMahon tried to bring the nWo back for a run in the WWE but this attempt fizzled, largely due to the fans refusal to boo Hulk Hogan and Scott Hall's personal demons leading to his departure. Despite these many failed comebacks, the nWo remains a treasured memory for many wrestling fans.
The angle is twenty years old but I still have vivid memories of it. The year was 1996. WCW seemed to have an edge over the WWF but the WWF seemed to be trying after a terrible year in 1995 (James Dixon's Titan Sinking is a well-written account of this year). The WWF suffered a terrible blow when Bischoff signed Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, two of the WWF's biggest stars. The WWF had lost top stars before but managed to survive. Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage had left the company in 1994, forcing the WWF to create new stars out of younger talent. Hogan and Savage had a positive impact on WCW but nothing like the impact Hall and Nash would have, thanks to Bischoff's brilliant utilization of them. Ironically, WCW bungled Hall and Nash during their initial run in the company several years prior only for the WWF to sign them and create stars out of them as Razor Ramon and Diesel.
I remember reading online about Hall and Nash's departure and wondering how they would be brought in. The build-up was incredible. Hall appeared on the May 27th 1986 edition of Nitro, seemingly in character as Razor Ramon (thanks to the Internet, I knew he was on the WCW payroll. Oh, I was so smart). He promised some trouble for WCW. Not long after, Kevin Nash showed up. This was a truly electrifying moment. These guys were in WCW to do some damage. They weren't going to compete against WCW, they were there to wage war and destroy it.
WCW wisely took advantage of WWF advertisements from earlier that year that mocked WCW for signing wrestlers Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage (who had jumped ship from the WWF to WCW), depicting them as over the hill. In the ads, Hogan was called the Huckster and Savage, the Nacho Man. The ads also targeted WCW's owner Ted Turner as "Billionaire Ted" (not to mention announcer "Mean" Gene Okerlund as "Scheme Gene"). In Hall's early promos, he frequently referenced the Huckster, Nacho Man, and Billionaire Ted, using the WWF's ads against them, hinting that he and Nash still worked for the WWF.
The initial build-up was amazing. Hall and Nash would show up at random moments, causing chaos on Nitro. WCW did such a great job building up the angle that you didn't want to change the channel to RAW because you might miss something. Back in the Paleolithic days when VCR's were your only option, I taped Nitro even though I watched it. RAW was so hit and miss that I didn't mind missing it. I could always catch a recap on the Internet the next morning.
WCW whet the fans' appetite with occasional appearances by Hall and Nash. After several weeks, WCW announced that Hall and Nash would meet with Eric Bischoff at The Great American Bash pay-per-view (PPV). There, Hall and Nash confronted WCW's Eric Bischoff about which three WCW wrestlers would battle them and their mystery man. Things escalated when Bischoff refused to reveal WCW's team. Kevin Nash promptly powerbombed Bischoff off the stage, a message that no one from WCW was safe. This was a time when spots like these were uncommon (outside of Extreme Championship Wrestling) and announcers weren't used as punching bags by wrestlers.
WCW employed perfect timing in their storytelling. There was continuous conflict between WCW and the Outsiders (as Hall and Nash became known) with things gradually escalating to the first showdown between WCW and the Outsiders. Since wrestling was focused on PPV, the logical thing was to have the Outsiders battle WCW at their next PPV event, Bash at the Beach. At the time, I was ordering a lot of WCW PPV's but there was no hesitation about ordering this.
As most people know, WCW's team of Randy Savage, Lex Lugar, and Sting battled the Outsiders in a six-man tag team bout. Only Hall and Nash showed up for the match. Where was the mystery man? It wasn't until the match's climax when the Outsiders seemed to have the upper hand (Lex Luger had been stretchered out after a freak kayfabe bump) due to heelish tactics. Things looked grim for Sting and Savage but WCW's main event hero Hulk Hogan showed up, presumably to save the day. Unfortunately for WCW, he was the Outsiders' third man and he proceeded to help them destroy Sting and Savage.
To say the fans (including myself) were shocked is an understatement. No one had seen this coming. Hulk Hogan had been a babyface since the early 1980's. He'd carried the banner for WCW for several years now too. What was going on? This was a truly shocking event but in order for the turn to reach its maximum effect, it would have to make sense.
The promo Hogan cut was legendary. Announcer "Mean" Gene Okerlund did an excellent job of questioning Hogan's motives, questions that many fans now had. Hogan gave a very logical and credible reason for his turning on the fans. Hogan made it clear that the wrestling world owed him (not the other way around) and he was looking out for number one now. It was a speech wrestlers learn during Heel Turn Promo 101 classes but Hogan executed it with the mastery of a PhD.
The New World Order of wrestling had been born. Longtime wrestling fans had no idea what to expect but WCW had their full attention. WCW had done its job. Fans were now glued to the set to see how things played out. The New World Order would become a lesson both in how wrestling storylines should and shouldn't be told.
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WRESTLING'S NEW WORLD ORDER: 4 LIFE
Hulk Hogan's revelation as the third man of the Outsiders shocked the wrestling world.
Scott Hall's appearance on Monday Night Nitro set the stage for the slow but steady build-up to the debut of the New World Order.
Kevin Nash's surprise appearance heated things up even more.
Eric Bischoff, architect to the hottest angle in professional wrestling at that time.
The New World Order remains as one of wrestling's greatest angles.