Part 1: The Rise.
Industry-leading, influential, controversial, and entertaining – those are some of the words many would be able to use to describe the legendary group known as the New World Order.
In many respects, the nWo? It came at the right time for all parties involved. The industry had been in a dull standstill where everything the two main companies (WWF and WCW) were doing seemed outdated and conforming to sensibilities of the cartoonish era of yesteryear. Over-the-top characters who, in many cases, gave up their occupational hazards to wrestle for either company in the campiest of portrayals. Hero arches that people weren’t readily getting behind anymore because they just weren’t believable anymore. Whether it was because the fans were getting smarter or because the stories as presented weren’t hitting as well as they once did, the fans wanted more. And that’s when Scott Hall came ambling down a flight of stairs in an arena on Memorial Day 1996 to interrupt a meaningless TV match to turn the world upside down.
For several years prior to this – more accurately, up until mere weeks before this – Hall was the Tony Montana-esque bad guy Razor Ramon in the World Wrestling Federation. Slicked back hair, loud colored shirt, linen pants, gaudy jewelry, fake Cuban accent, and the swagger of a crime lord from South Beach who held the Intercontinental Championship on multiple occasions and was a bonafided superstar the world over. This time, though? Yeah…wasn’t that guy. Wasn’t him at all. Instead, it was an invader.
He didn’t say what his name was but he told everyone they knew who he was, a small nod to his former persona. The overall segment was a quick hit – just about 3 minutes and he uttered his point clearly. In this day and age, a segment like this would’ve been a long, drawn out affair that might’ve given away too much. The message was clear: “You want a war? You’re gonna get one”. He was coming in and ready to turn WCW on its head and create a new dawn in wrestling. To change the power dynamics.
For next couple weeks, he’d show up and make the same threat but added a twist – his friend was coming along. And by “friend”, he meant Kevin Nash, as in the former “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel.
The prevailing wisdom was that Hall and Nash were invaders sent over by Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation in an effort to do a guerrilla-style takeover of their leading competitor. So much so that this was not only reflected upon on television but also an actual lawsuit from the WWF on the basis of them believing that WCW was presenting Hall and Nash as their WWF personas of Razor Ramon and Diesel respectively. And with the tone of their appearances in the company, it fits in with the narrative that they’re coming in from WWF to invade WCW. Wasn’t true, though it did aide Nash and Hall in getting more money from Bischoff and WCW when it came to restructuring their contracts with WCW. Why? Because Bischoff and Co. all thought Nash and Hall would take the money and run back to New York and the WWF.
But as we saw until the end of WCW, they were there for the long haul but of course, that’s a different story for a different day.
It was clear heading into the annual July pay-per-view event – Bash at the Beach – that a battle with the invaders was imminent. Hall had challenged Bischoff to assemble a team of 3 of WCW’s best wrestlers to face him and his two partners, one of them being Nash and the other to be named later. With mounting attacks on various wrestlers and even Nash powerbombing Bischoff off the stage, it was obvious that tensions were at an all-time high. The WCW contingent chosen to face The Outsiders was revealed to be Lex Luger, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and the franchise of WCW – Sting. However, they refused to reveal just who was their 3rd man.
A 3rd Man of Hollywood Proportions
The day came for the match labeled as the “Hostile Takeover” and no one knew who the 3rd man was. Hall and Nash said he was in the building and would be revealed later. No one knew who it would be, really. Could it have been someone from inside the WCW locker room who defected to the other side? Could it be someone like a Bret Hart who hadn’t been seen on WWF television for close to 3 and a half months? Was it someone from a completely different promotion, looking to make a splash in a huge way? That was the beauty of The Outsiders keeping all of us in the dark about who their partner is; it had everyone talking. It kept everyone on their toes.
Early on in the match, Luger was taken out on a stretcher, leaving it as a standard tag team match for the majority of the bout. The beauty of this match was the booking; we got a nice showcase of Hall and Nash as competitors, Sting and Savage as the heroes fighting valiantly, all while we all at home pondered with the commentary team on who was the third man. And it came right out of left field.
In the red and yellow garb we had known him to wear for the past 12 years (at the point), Hulk Hogan marched down the ramp with purpose. We hadn’t seen him largely since he and Savage ruled over The Alliance to End Hulkamania at Uncensored that March. No one knew his purpose for coming out, no one assumed anything. Well…Bobby “The Brain” Heenan – known anti-Hulkamania – said “yeah, but whose side is he on?!”, serving to some as a bit of a spoiler while for others, dismissing it as Heenan serving up hateration and holleration in the dancery. At least that’s how 9-year-old me took it who remembered for years that Heenan thought the worst of Hogan 24/7 and saw nothing good in that man.
Rightfully, the rest of the commentary team thought “Brain” was speaking out of his ass again. Until this happened and it would forever changed the course of professional wrestling as we know it.
Hulk Hogan turned his back on not only his former Mega Powers running mate, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, but also WCW and all the little Hulkamaniacs by dropping the infamous leg drop on Savage. It was wrestling’s “Shot Heard ‘Round The World” as it had quickly became one of the most pivotal moments in the over one-hundred year history of the sport.
Arguably, the biggest star of the industry – fan favorite for over a decade – and certifiable mainstream megastar turned his back on everyone. Flanked by Nash and Hall, he told the fans, WCW’s establishment and its stars to “stick it” and christened the new trio as the New World Order and declared that they will take over WCW, and the entire world of professional wrestling for that matter.
A month later, Hogan’s prophecy began to take hold as he, with the assistance of Hall and Nash, became the WCW World Heavyweight Champion once again. Though, without the usual celebratory fanfare he once knew. Decked out in black, he and the rest of his nWo cohorts celebrated by spray painting the Heavyweight Championship – the title Flair, Rhodes, Sting, Vader, Steamboat held – with the crude black letters “NWO”.
Global Expansion & A Seizure of Power
By September of 1996, the nWo had the biggest bargaining chip in the world – the WCW Championship – and it was held by the biggest name in the business. Now going by “Hollywood”, Hogan became the most powerful man in WCW. And because of this, he wanted to flex his power. The nWo would continually attack various members of WCW, including the Four Horseman, “Macho Man”, Lex Luger, Sting, and a whole host of others. But the biggest – and I do mean “the biggest” – shot to WCW was when The Giant betrayed the Dungeon of Doom and WCW to join up with the nWo.
The man who was seen as Andre The Giant’s son (kayfabe) was the first of what would be many defections made by WCW superstars over to the black and white of the nWo, revealing that Hogan had promised him a bigger spotlight in not only the company (once it was redone in the nWo’s vision) but also roles in movies and TV shows. Buttering up The Giant and making him come along was tactical; you always go after the biggest piece when you’re looking to take out the opposition. What was even more sinister was the trick they pulled involving WCW’s heart and soul – Sting.
For years, Sting had been the bastion of loyalty to WCW. The one true hero the company had. Many people came, many people went, but the one constant was the vibrant, flat-top blonde clad in scorpions. You name the title, he held it: multiple-time WCW World Champion, United States Champion, World Tag Team Champion, won countless year-end awards and was seen as a sacred cow that you just did not mess with. Funny thing about that is…well, the nWo didn’t care about all that. They ran with shirts that basically said “Tradition Bites” and did everything they could to buck against the established order. And who was a big part of the established order? Right, The Stinger. So what did they do? Simple: Merely planted a fake Sting to throw loyalty in doubt heading into Fall Brawl and the War Games match between the nWo and the WCW contingent of Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Lex Luger and Sting.
The fake Sting attacked Lex Luger during a parking lot brawl where Luger was attempting to fend off the rest of the nWo, leading everyone to immediately start questioning the real Sting. Commentators questioned what was going on, his teammates didn’t believe him but worst of all, his best friend lost faith and trust in him. And when Fall Brawl came ’round, the same level of distrust was evident as Sting attempted to clear the air but it was to no avail. It wasn’t until the actual War Games match where Sting beat down Hogan, Hall, Nash, and Fake Sting by himself within minutes of his entry in the match before leaving that the rest of his Team WCW cohorts realized they were all wrong and that Sting was WCW through and through. But by then, it was too late.
The nWo had won and amassed a sizable advantage that no one wanted to see. They had already taken the Giant from WCW and almost immediately, they gained a new member. In the crowd, the once known “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase was spotted in the crowd and slowly held up 5 fingers, signifying that he was, in fact, the nWo’s fifth and newest member, revealing himself as their financial backer.
With the addition of “Trillionaire Ted”, as Hogan would call him, the nWo was gaining the type of steam that a budding faction would need in their takeover. At Halloween Havoc, Hall and Nash won their first WCW World Tag Team Championship, besting one of WCW’s greatest and most decorated tag teams, Harlem Heat. In addition to this, weeks earlier, they found their sixth member.
The former 1-2-3 Kid, Sean Waltman, showed up in the crowd one episode of Nitro, off a previous stint in the WWF. When pressed on why he was there, it was quickly revealed that he was, in fact, the sixth member of the nWo, going by the moniker of Syxx. In the coming weeks, more and more members came along to fortify the ranks of this rebellious outfit that infiltrated the ranks of World Championship Wrestling. Even going as far as trying to lure more wrestlers from WCW to join the group that was taking over the company and the wrestling world. TAFKA Virgil, Vincent, made his debut in October, Miss Elizabeth turned her back on the Four Horsemen, and senior referee Nick Patrick became the official nWo referee. However, the biggest boom came one night in November of 1996 that would forever change how we, as wrestling fans, view the authority figures in professional wrestling.
For years, we’ve had the Jack Tunney’s of the world presiding over the ranks and making matches. We only saw these authority figures when they needed to make the big announcements, announce marquee matches, and when someone had to be the final voice over a tough decision. Largely, we could go months – even 6 months if things are going smooth enough/there’s no one causing a sufficient ruckus that couldn’t be settled among fellow wrestlers. So what changed this for the next 2 decades? Eric Bischoff.
Behind the scenes, Eric Bischoff had rose through the ranks to become an executive producer and ultimately have Ted Turner give him power to preside over the everyday operations of WCW. Thus the famous line of “Ted Turner gave us an open/blank checkbook” was effectively born. However, in front of the camera? Eric Bischoff was the play-by-play man on WCW Monday Nitro. Very similar to Vince McMahon being the lead analyst in WWF while also being the Chairman of the Board, Bischoff was the guy who everyone answered to but the viewers had no idea of this being a thing.
During a disagreement between the aforementioned Bischoff and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, the nWo bumrushed the ring and attacked him, seemingly seeing this as an opportunity to take down Hogan’s biggest rival. Or so we thought. Bischoff and Hogan revealed that he (Bischoff) was a member of the nWo all along, which was strange since we saw back in June of that year at the Great American Bash PPV, Nash powerbombed him off the stage through a table.
Strange, but we’ll go with it.
The next week, Bischoff moved from the commentary booth and became WCW’s main authority figure, becoming the evil tyrant authority figure. It’s an archetype we’ve come to know and love (or hate, depending on your stance on authority figures) as it’s been used by many companies throughout the world for the better part of the last 20 years. When you talk about influential ideas, look no further than the evil authority figure that Eric Bischoff and WCW pioneered. Whether it was WCW’s direct competitor – WWE – turning Vince McMahon into an evil authority figure, or a company that came into play years after WCW’s demise, they all have used or continue to use the evil authority figure trope to create stories and get characters over. This and the long-form in-ring promo are seemingly the lasting, indelible mark on the wrestling business.
An edict Bischoff made the night he came to power was everyone from WCW had 30 days to jump ship to the nWo. And this would be a move that I, personally, feel would come to bite the company in the ass. In the coming weeks of this edict, several wrestlers from WCW jumped to the nWo, most noteably: Marcus “Buff” Bagwell, Scott Norton, “Big” Bubba Rogers, and Mr. WallStreet (IRS to us WWF loyalists) all came over. Masahiro Chono – or as Bischoff called him “Masa-my hero Chono” – defected and became the leader of the Japanese nWo syndicate in the company’s sister promotion, New Japan Pro Wrestling. Seems familiar; keep an eye out for that one in a few years.
The nWo’s expansion made the group the biggest and hottest entity in professional wrestling and by February 1997, not only had they ran their first pay-per-view event known as nWo Souled Out, they also introduced two more new members: “Macho Man” Randy Savage and from the Chicago Bulls, Dennis Rodman. And thus, made it known that the WCW was a must-watch for not just wrestling fans, but for mainstream viewers alike. Using virtually the same principles that the WWF had used during the Rock N’ Wrestling days, WCW paired wrestling with the mainstream to gain a foothold in the ratings race against WWF.
However, the problem came where…well, let’s face it; everything had to run through the nWo. Not even the Four Horseman – the group that, before the nWo, was synonymous with WCW – had that type of treatment. And you may think to yourself that this isn’t a problem. The nWo was a cash cow, golden egg-laying goose that the company had to continue to squeeze in order to pack houses, sell merchandise, and get eyes on Monday Nitro every week. Yet, at some point, you’ll have to say how much is too much? The New World Order had become big – virtually half the WCW roster was nWo members and the common consensus was “if you wanted to get a guy over, just give him an nWo shirt”.
And that, my friends…not as good an idea as you’d think.
To be continued...