That Was Then 5.27.06: The New World Order In 1996
Posted by Sam Caplan on 05.27.2006
Ten years to the day after Scott Hall's first appearance on Monday Nitro, we go back and look at the beginning of the supergroup and angle that would carry WCW through the late 90s, and very possibly bury it once and for all.
The famous New World Order is probably one of, if not my absolute favorite, wrestling angles of all time. It was the angle that made wrestling cool again before even before Steve Austin and Degeneration X. And so today, ten years to the day after Scott Hall first appeared on Monday Nitro to kick off the whole thing, I begin to tell the story of this fabled supergroup that would change the face of the wrestling world…
One of the main problems facing the wrestling business in the mid 1990s was that while the rest of the world had grown up and gotten more serious since the significantly more upbeat 80s had ended, the wrestling landscape had not seen that same progression. This had never been more evident than in 1996, when the Hogan Era had left WCW filled with bland, smiling, high-fiving babyfaces and cartoonish heels like the Dungeon Of Doom. The WWF was not free of guilt either, as it was filled with garbagemen, plumbers, tax accountants, clowns, midgets, and other similarly outlandish characterss. Little did viewers at home know, but things were about to change, as WCW finally decided to get with the times, forever changing not only the way business was handled, but also totally redefining what makes a babyface and a heel, and nothing would ever be the same as a result.
Part I: The Outsiders
Diesel and Razor Ramon had been top names for the WWF for most of the 1990s, but in early 1996 they decided to move on from the WWF and sign with WCW for more money. Some questioned this move, as the two had never been much more then glorified lower-midcarders before Vince hired them both from WCW and made them national stars. But the money Eric Bischoff was throwing them was too much to ignore, and after saying goodbye to WWF fans at Madison Square Garden in May of 1996, Diesel and Razor left the WWF behind and headed to their new home at WCW.
WCW, in the meantime, was stuck in much the same mode that it had been in since Hulk Hogan had made his debut there two years earlier. The entire place was made as much of a facsimile of the WWF of the 1980s as they could manage without buying the name outright. Talented young wrestlers had been replaced by older guys who had been stars in the WWF ten years earlier during Hogan's heyday, the storylines were terrible, and Hogan himself had been made the focus of the show, much to the detriment of the overall product. Things changed a bit while Hogan was on sabbatical after Uncensored 1996, since the focus of all the shows wasn't on him for a change. Randy Savage, Lex Luger, Ric Flair and the Giant were all fighting over the WCW World Title, the cruiserweight division became the talk of the wrestling world, and Steve McMichael had joined the Four Horsemen to the dismay of nearly every old-school fan on the planet. Aside from these few developments, however, things had remained pretty much status quo.
Indeed, nothing seemed out of the ordinary on Memorial Day 1996 as a generic jobber match was in progress on WCW Monday Nitro when all of a sudden, Razor Ramon (who had never been acknowledged on TV as either leaving the WWF or joining WCW) hopped the railing and climbed into the ring. The perplexed wrestlers simply stopped wrestling and left the ring, leaving Razor alone in the ring with the microphone. Razor started by mockingly asking where Billionaire Ted, Scheme Gene, the Huckster and the Nacho Man (parodies created months earlier by the WWF) were, then went on to say that there had always been an unspoken rivalry between the two federations, but he was there to put it to an end. He simply said that if WCW wanted a war, they've got it. It wasn't long before the challenge was answered by the man who was more synonymous with WCW than anybody, Sting. He wasn't about to let Razor get away with running WCW down and confronted him, but it wouldn't get physical just yet. Razor told him that he had a surprise for WCW the following week on Nitro.
The fans were buzzing. Was what we had just seen real? Did Razor Ramon just pop up on Nitro and challenge WCW to a war? Could the WWF really be working with WCW for the crossover that the fans had always wanted, yet knew better than to expect? The fans were hungry for more, and the cliffhanger ending to that episode of Nitro built more anticipation than there perhaps had ever been for any wrestling program ever.
The next week finally came, and as Razor stood face to face with Eric Bischoff at the announce table at the end of the show, Razor's surprise appeared, and it was none other than Big Daddy Cool himself, Diesel. The two men repeated their challenge, saying that they and a third partner wanted WCW's three finest wrestlers in the ring for a six man tag team match. They did not receive an immediate response, but were told that if they showed up at the Great American Bash, then they would get an answer.
Weeks later at the Great American Bash, Eric Bischoff called Razor and Diesel out to the entranceway and (in response to legal pressure from the WWF), asked them point blank if they work for the WWF. The answer was no, but they said that they had been listening to Bischoff running both themselves and their former home down on Nitro for months, insulting them and giving away the finishes of their taped matches. They were here for a war, and they were told that a war was what they were going to get, as Bischoff, on behalf of WCW, accepted the challenge of the Outsiders (as the group had been labeled by the announcers), and WCW's team would be facing Razor, Diesel, and their third man in a six man tag at Bash At The Beach 1996. When asked who their opponents would be, Bischoff told the Outsiders that he wasn't able to tell them that just yet. The Outsiders didn't appreciate this, and Hall gave him a punch to the gut and then Nash powerbombed him through the stage.
The Outsiders had gotten what they wanted when Bischoff accepted their challenge, but they also had sent a message, which was that nobody was safe. Indeed, in the weeks leading up to the Bash At The Beach, the Outsiders attacked nearly everything that moved, and every week on Nitro somebody would be sent to the hospital after an attack from the Outsiders. The third man was apparently also involved in these attacks, although nobody caught a glimpse of him during any of these attacks. Although many people were looking forward to the six man main event itself, the talk of the town going into Bash At The Beach was who exactly that third man would turn out to be. A lot of people thought it would be Bret Hart who, after dropping the WWF Title to Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 12, had taken a sabbatical and was no longer under contract to the WWF. This prediction was interesting and made sense, but was completely wrong.
Finally, after weeks of anticipation, Bash At The Beach arrived. Although it was a great show from an in-ring standpoint, the fact is that almost nobody remembers any of it because the focus of the show was entirely on the main event. The Outsiders, who the announcers now referred to by their real names of Scott Hall (Razor Ramon) and Kevin Nash (Diesel), made their way to the ring…alone. There was no third man, and Hall and Nash appeared ready to fight a handicap match. WCW's team, which consisted of Randy Savage, Sting and Lex Luger, made their way to the ring to defend the honor of WCW but, despite their numbers advantage, the Outsiders dominated. After a hard fall to the floor early on, Lex Luger was knocked out and had to be taken out of the match, and now we were left with a standard tag match with the Outsiders against Sting and Savage. Luger being taken out appeared to be designed to make fans think he would return later on and turn on his partners, but this was also a red herring. Finally the Outsiders were in firm control of the match, and as Sting lay on the outside and the Outsiders pummeled Savage in the ring, Hulk Hogan appeared from the entranceway and made his way to the ring. The Outsiders cleared out as he entered the ring and it seemed like another "Hogan to the rescue" moment, but suddenly, and to the shock of EVERYONE, Hogan legdropped the fallen Randy Savage, and the answer to the mystery had now been revealed: Hulk Hogan had turned on WCW and the Hulkamaniacs and was the third member of the Outsiders!
To any newer fans who were not watching at the time, I cannot express how huge this was. Hulk Hogan, from the moment he entered the WWF in late 1983, had been a staunch fan favorite, not showing the slightest inkling of any heelish behavior. He had always stood up for the good guys and been a defender of justice and the American way, and now here he was celebrating in the middle of the ring with the bad guys. This was a shock unlike anything in wrestling EVER up to that point. The fans in attendance started showering the ring with trash as Mean Gene Okerlund entered the ring to try and get a word with Hogan. Gene asked him what the hell was going on, and why Hogan would join up with these guys? Here, in its entirety, is Hogan's conversation with Mean Gene:
Gene: Hulk Hogan, what in the world are you thinking? Hulk: Mean Gene Okerlund, the first thing you need to do is to tell these people to shut up if you want to hear what I got to say. Gene: I have been with you for so many years...for you to join up with these two men absolutely makes me sick! And I think that these people here and a lot of other people around the world have had just about enough of this man here and this man here and you want to put yourself with this group? You've gotta be kidding me! Hulk: 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! These two men here came from a great big organization up north, and everybody was wondering who the third man was, well who knows more about that organization than me, brother? Gene: I've been there, I've done that...and you have made the wrong decision, in my opinion. Hulk: Well lemme tell you something, I made that organization a monster, I made the people rich up there, and when it all came to pass, the name Hulk Hogan, the man Hulk Hogan, got bigger than the whole organization, brother. And then Billionaire Ted, he wanted to talk turkey with Hulk Hogan, amigo. Well, you know, Ted promised me movies, brother, Billionaire Ted promised me millions of dollars, Billionaire Ted promised me world caliber matches! Well, as far as Billionaire Ted goes, Eric Bischoff and the whole WCW goes, I'm bored, brother. That's why these two guys here, the so called Outsiders, these are the men that I want as my friends, they're the new blood of professional wrestling, and not only are we gonna take over the wrestling business with Hulk Hogan and new blood, the monsters with me, we will destroy everything in our path, Mean Gene. Gene: Look at all the crap in this ring! That's what's in the future for you if you want to hang around with this man Hall and this man Nash. Hulk: As far as I'm concerned, all this crap in the ring represents these fans out here. For two years, brother, for two years I held my head high, I did everything for the charities, I did everything for the kids, and the reception I got when I came out here, you fans can stick it, brother, because if it wasn't for Hulk Hogan you people wouldn't be here, if it wasn't for Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff would still be selling meat from a truck in Minneapolis. If it wasn't for Hulk Hogan, all these Johnny come latelys you see wrestling wouldn't be here. I was selling the world, brother, while they were bumming gas to put in their car to get to high school. So the way it is, with Hulk Hogan and the New World Organization of wrestling, brother, and the new blood by my side, whatcha gonna do when the New World Organization runs wild on you? Whatcha gonna do?
The wrestling world was literally in shock at this. The Outsiders had delivered on the promised surprise by revealing Hogan to be their third member. It was truly ironic that after all the years of wrestler after wrestler trying in vain to destroy Hulkamania, the man who ended up killing Hulkamania was Hulk Hogan himself. The last thing fans heard as Bash At The Beach went off the air was Tony Schiavone simply saying, "Hulk Hogan, you can go to hell."
Part II: WCW Under Fire
In the weeks following Bash At The Beach, the New World Order (as the group was now called) ran roughshod over WCW, continuing to attack WCW wrestlers on a weekly basis. The attacks kept getting more and more brutal, and eventually included Arn Anderson being laid out with a baseball bat and Kevin Nash tossing Rey Mysterio, Jr headfirst into the side of a production truck like a javelin.
WCW's first chance at retribution against the NWO came at Hog Wild 1996. One of the top matches on that show pitted Sting and Lex Luger against Hall and Nash. The controversy over the influence of the NWO continued in this match, as it seemed that Luger and Sting were about to put Hall and Nash away, but referee Nick Patrick "accidentally" clipped Luger's knee as he had Scott Hall in the torture rack, giving Hall the opportunity to cover Luger and get the three count. The accusations started flying as soon as the match was over. Did Nick Patrick intentionally cost Sting and Luger the match? What motivation could he possible have for doing so? Is it possible that the NWO could have even gotten in the ear of a WCW referee?
In the main event, "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan (as he now preferred to be called) faced the Giant for the WCW World Title. Although the Giant was able to fend off both Hall and Nash when they tried to interfere in the match, a shot from the WCW World Title belt by Hogan was enough to put the Giant down, and Hogan, on his 43rd birthday, finally got the elusive pinfall victory over the Giant, and won the WCW World Title in the process. The Booty Man (who was still a Hogan ally) came out with a birthday cake for Hogan, but the NWO, who he thought he was in with, beat him down and desecrated the WCW World Title by spraypainting the NWO letters on the front of the belt.
By holding the WCW World Title, the NWO now had all the power and the ability to call the shots. Additionally, rumors started flying around about new members coming in to join the group. Although the Booty Man was obviously not being considered, who else could surface to join Hall, Nash and Hogan? The major storyline going through most of August and September of 1996 was who exactly the next member of the NWO would turn out to be. The question would soon be answered in shocking fashion when the Giant, the very man that Hogan had taken the WCW World Title from, turned on his Dungeon Of Doom teammates and joined the rebel group on an episode of Nitro. Also soon joining the team was another former WWF name, Ted Dibiase. Although Dibiase wouldn't ever actually get in the ring and wrestle for the NWO, his knowledge and notorious financial resources would be of immeasurable value to the group.
Soon it was time for Fall Brawl, and the main event shaped up as a Wargames match, where WCW's team of Sting, Lex Luger, Ric Flair and Arn Anderson would get in the double ring cage against a four man NWO team of Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and an as-yet unnamed fourth member. The Giant was already signed to a match against Randy Savage in the undercard and wouldn't be the fourth member of the Wargames team, so we knew that another member of the supergroup would soon be revealed. WCW and the fans got the answer soon, as Lex Luger, who had chased the NWO to the parking lot on an episode of Nitro leading up to Fall Brawl, was confronted by Ted Dibiase, who told him that he couldn't trust anybody, even his own best friend. The words were barely out of Debase's mouth when Sting popped out of Dibiase's limo and beat Luger down, leaving him laying in the parking lot in the rain.
This came as a huge blow to WCW, who now was not only one man short going into the Wargames but had also lost one of its key players to the rival faction. Fall Brawl came and Luger, Flair and Anderson were being interviewed before the Wargames match when Sting came onto the interview set, claiming that it wasn't he who had attacked Luger the week before. Luger wouldn't accept Sting's explanation, and told Sting that he didn't trust him and to stay out of Wargames.
The Wargames match got under way, and the three known men on each team had already made their entrance. When the fourth NWO member was scheduled to enter, it was in fact Sting who entered the ring and attacked his former WCW teammates. Or at least that's what we were supposed to believe, because when it came time for WCW's fourth man to enter, the real Sting entered the Wargames. He confronted and demolished his impostor, then laid out the entire rest of the NWO team singlehandedly…before walking out on his WCW teammates for real by simply climbing out of the cage and walking off. Now left with a conclusive four-on-three disadvantage, Team WCW was unable to overcome the odds and Luger had no choice but to submit to the fake Sting's Scorpion Deathlock.
Due to their unwillingness to trust the one man who could have led them to victory, WCW had suffered yet another embarrassing loss to the New World Order.
Part III: The Membership Drive
The night after Fall Brawl on Nitro, WCW's worst fears were realized. Sting came out to the ring and confirmed that he had left his WCW teammates high and dry because they didn't trust him when he said that he didn't attack Luger in the parking lot. Because he wasn't trusted by WCW, and also wasn't about to go join the NWO, Sting decided that he would just disappear and decide for himself what he wanted to do before returning.
The NWO saw this as yet another victory, as they had succeeded in chasing WCW's #1 man out of the promotion, at least for the time being. In the meantime, the remaining franchise players, blaming one another for the Wargames loss, were too consumed with fighting each other to effectively combat the NWO. It seemed like a perfect time to start a membership drive, and the first person to join the NWO (the same night Sting walked out on WCW) was Syxx, who had last been seen in the WWF as Razor Ramon's little buddy, the 123 Kid. More members were promised as time went on.
The build to Halloween Havoc started, and the main event shaped up to be Hulk Hogan defending the WCW World Title against the very man he had attacked to start the whole war, Randy Savage. Also, The Giant, following his victory over Savage at Fall Brawl, had injured US Champion Ric Flair and put him out of action. He had taken to strolling around showing off Flair's US Title belt (which he had stolen), but was challenged by new WCW competitor and old-school sympathizer Jeff Jarrett. Jarrett wound up getting disqualified when Flair blatantly low-blowed the Giant in front of the referee, but both men would live to fight another day. Syxx made his WCW PPV debut, scoring a victory over Chris Jericho when Nick Patrick again made a suspect fast count. Next up, the NWO added more gold to their collection when Hall and Nash beat Harlem Heat to win the WCW World Tag Team Title.
All eyes, however, were again on the main event as WCW put their faith behind the man who perhaps knew Hogan better than anyone, the Macho Man. Unfortunately for WCW, the unstable Randy Savage came up short against Hogan yet again. Savage was defeated by the champion and would not be seen for months after the loss. After Hogan defeated Savage, he got on the microphone and declared himself the biggest icon in wrestling, but this claim would not go unanswered. Indeed, who should come out of the back to face Hogan as he made this claim, but his old WWF rival Roddy Piper. Piper declared that he was the true icon of professional wrestling, because Hogan would never would have become what he had become if it wasn't for Piper. Piper then challenged Hogan to get in the ring with him and settle the score that had never been settled all those years ago.
For weeks after Halloween Havoc, Eric Bischoff came out on Nitro and said that negotiations were ongoing, but that WCW matchmakers kept running into roadblocks which prevented the match from being signed. This continued week after week until one night, when Bischoff again delivered the same message that he had been delivering each week, Piper came out and confronted the WCW Executive Vice President, calling him a liar and saying that negotiations hadn't been ongoing because Bischoff didn't want them. Piper accused Bischoff of secretly working for the NWO, a claim that seemed ludicrous after the Great American Bash, but was confirmed when the NWO came out to the ring and attacked Piper. The NWO left Piper laying, and the segment finished with Hogan hugging Bischoff to solidify the alliance.
As if the NWO wasn't formidable enough already, they now had the top WCW executive in their pocket. Sting was gone, Luger and the Horsemen were fighting each other, and nobody else seemed to be in a position to challenge the upstart group. The continued survival of WCW now rested on the shoulders of Roddy Piper. The contract for a match between Hogan and Piper was finally signed at World War III, but the ink wasn't even dry on the contract when the NWO attacked Piper and left him laying yet again, this time targeting his injured hip in an attempt to disable Piper before he even had a chance to get in the ring with Hogan.
After laying out Piper, the NWO had just one other piece of business to attend to that night, and that was the 60 man, three ring battle royal in the main event. Despite being sorely outnumbered, the match came down to Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Syxx, and the Giant (all the NWO members who had been entered into the match) against Lex Luger for WCW. Luger fought bravely and managed to eliminate both Syxx and Hall, then got Nash up in the torture rack, but the Giant pitched both men over the top to win the match and earn a shot at the WCW World Title, and shot that he presumably wouldn't take as an NWO member.
Following World War III, the membership drive continued. Toward the end of November, Eric Bischoff announced that all WCW wrestlers had 30 days to convert their contracts to NWO contracts, otherwise they would be considered the enemy. Marcus Bagwell immediately accepted, turning on his partner Scotty Riggs in the process. Over the course of the next month, the group's numbers were bolstered by the joining of Big Bubba Rogers,, Scott Norton, VK Wallstreet, and even Japanese star and former NWA World Champion Masahiro Chono. In addition to the new "B Team" of the NWO, Ted Dibiase's former bodyguard in the WWF, Virgil, joined the group and rechristened himself Vincent. The final defection came when Nick Patrick finally came out and openly admitted his NWO membership, tossing away any semblance of loyalty to WCW.
Everything came to a head at Starrcade 1996. Although nobody had even scored a pinfall win over any member of the NWO since the group was formed, Starrcade was seen as the do or die show for WCW. Things didn't start out great for the WCW side, as Hall and Nash successfully defended the WCW World Tag Team Title against the Faces Of Fear, but the tide soon turned when Lex Luger faced the Giant. Luger had lost to the Giant earlier in the year when challenging for the WCW World Title prior to the NWO invasion, but got a shot at redemption in this match. The ref got bumped, and both men ended up knocked out on the mat when Sting finally made his return. Sporting a new look with dark hair, black and white facepaint, and black tights and trenchcoat, Sting got in the ring and simply placed a baseball bat in the middle of the ring and then left. Luger recovered first, got the bat, and used it to knock the Giant out and get the win.
A WCW wrestler had finally scored a win over an NWO wrestler, but WCW wasn't out of the woods just yet, as the main event match between Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper remained. None of the hatred between the two men from a decade earlier in the WWF was lost here, and Hogan had the advantage, but as the Giant interfered and tried to chokeslam Piper, Piper was able to escape the attack and scored the win after putting Hogan out with a sleeperhold. Although Piper had gotten the win, the mood was soured when the match turned out not to be for the WCW World Title.
Hogan had escaped with the title again, but before he could worry about his next challenger, he had some family business to take care of. The next night, Hogan confronted the Giant about failing to help him beat Piper at Starrcade. Giant responded by saying that Hogan shouldn't have needed him to beat Piper, and furthermore, the Giant had never received his title shot for winning World War III. Hogan was irate at this rebellious attitude, and booted the Giant out of the group on the spot, then sent the NWO after him. Having seemed to defeat all challengers in 1996, Hogan now had a new challenger to contend with going into the new year.
In just six short months, the New World Order had made an impact that no other group in the history of the business, including the Four Horsemen, had ever made. Although Piper had beaten Hogan to close out the year, the NWO had completely dominated every other WCW wrestler thrown in their path, claiming both the WCW World and World Tag Team Titles along the way. They also had an almost certain future Cruiserweight Champion in Syxx, and enough hired muscle to keep the belts around all their waists for a long time.
However, the WCW resistance would continue. Lex Luger seemed, at this point, to be the de facto leader of WCW, and scored a huge win over the Giant at Starrcade in addition to his impressive performance at World War III. Would he be able to get a shot at Hogan for the title in 1997?
What about the Giant? The NWO had clearly assumed that he wouldn't claim his WCW World Title shot after winning World War III, but he did end up cashing it in after all. As powerful an ally as he was, he was certain to be an equally formidable enemy. However, although he was no longer a member of the NWO, the wrestlers of WCW weren't about to accept him back with open arms. The Giant would have to prove himself to WCW, but was that even a priority for him?
Ric Flair had suffered a serious shoulder injury following an attack from the NWO in October, forcing him to give up the US Title. He was quickly recovering, and was scheduled to return sometime in the spring of 1997. What impact would Flair and the Horsemen have when the Nature Boy finally returned to active competition?
And what of Sting? He had walked out on WCW after his attempts to reason with his teammates were dismissed out of hand. However, he hadn't joined the NWO either. After months of absence, he returned and got himself involved in the Starrcade match between Luger and the Giant, but didn't seem to favor either. Where exactly did Sting stand? Would he finally return to the ring in the coming year?
Although the momentum was behind the NWO for the vast majority of 1996, Starrcade showed that WCW was not down and out just yet. Would either side emerge victorious in the new year? Would Hogan's stranglehold on the WCW World Title continue? Find out next week, as the NWO insurgence continues in 1997.