That Was Then 6.03.06: The New World Order In 1997
Posted by Sam Caplan on 06.03.2006
The New World Order continues to rule WCW in their second year, but the return of Sting loomed on the horizon, and threatened to destroy the group.
The New World Order had a banner year in 1996. In six months flat, they had gone from unnanounced party crashers to the unbeatable monster that dominated the promotion. Hulk Hogan was the WCW World Champion, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were the World Tag Team Champions, and other members were top contenders to the US and Cruiserweight Titles. They had become so big in such a short period of time that they even ran their own PPV in January of 1997, entitled Souled Out. It was simply an NWO lovefest featuring NWO announcers, with all the matches being called by NWO Referee Nick Patrick, and the WCW wrestlers were given nearly no chance to win their matches. Eddy Guerrero did retain his US Title in a ladder match and Rick & Scott Steiner beat the Outsiders to win the World Tag Team Title when WCW referee Randy Anderson ran in and counted the fall while Patrick was knocked out, but WCW/NWO President Eric Bischoff threatened Anderson's job if he didn't reverse the decision and return the title to the Outsiders. Anderson had no choice, and the title went back to Hall & Nash. To top things off, the Giant (who had been booted from the NWO for failing to help Hogan beat Roddy Piper at Starrcade 1996) challenged Hogan for the WCW World Title, but in a joke of a match he was beaten down by the NWO and no decision was ever rendered. The show as a whole was nothing more than an overblown ego trip for the NWO. However, WCW wasn't about to let itself be embarrassed like that, and the man who was leading the charge back at Hogan's gang was often labeled an underachiever, but would soon shed that label forever.
Part I: Luger's Road To The Title
By beating the Giant, Luger had become the first man to score a pinfall win over an NWO member. Because of that, coupled with Sting's absence and injuries to the Horsemen, Lex Luger became the default leader of WCW in early 1997. Unfortunately, he suffered a broken arm early in the year and this was used as an excuse to leave him off of the Souled Out PPV. However, he soon returned to active competition in WCW, and actually agreed to be the Giant's partner and challenge the Outsiders for the World Tag Team Title at Superbrawl VII. WCW President (and NWO member) Eric Bischoff decreed that due to the fact that his arm was not fully healed, Luger would not be allowed to compete, and the Giant would have to face the Outsiders two-on-one. The Giant competed anyway, but Luger did eventually come out to aid his partner, and he and the Giant defeated Hall and Nash to take the World Tag Team Title back to WCW.
Or so he thought. Bischoff had forbade him to compete in the match in the first place, and used this as justification for stripping Luger and the Giant of the title and returning it to the Outsiders on the grounds that Luger was not a legal participant in the match. Although disappointed, Luger was not about to give up. He challenged the NWO to a match at Uncensored, where he would lead a team consisting of the Giant and the Steiners against a four man NWO team. If the NWO won, they could challenge for any WCW title anytime they wanted and if WCW won, the NWO would be gone from WCW for three years. Although Roddy Piper joined the match with a team of his own, the match still came down to WCW vs NWO. Just like at World War III, Luger was left in a four-on-one situation against the NWO team. Again, he eliminated three of the NWO members, but Hulk Hogan was too much for Luger to overcome and the champion put Luger away with his patented legdrop. As the rest of the NWO came to the ring to celebrate another win, Sting bungeed down into the ring as well. He had spent weeks teasing joining the NWO, but Sting made his allegiance clear here, using his baseball bat to take out the entire NWO, except for Hogan, who turned tail and ran.
Now with the knowledge that Sting was 100% on WCW's side after all, Luger made it his mission to defeat Hulk Hogan and take his WCW World Title. Over the course of the next several months, Luger racked up an impressive string of victories over Hogan. At Bash At The Beach, Luger teamed again with the Giant, and this time they defeated the team of Hogan and new NWO recruit Dennis Rodman when Luger made Hogan submit to the Torture Rack. Luger also picked up another couple of submission victories over Hogan, but they were all non-title. Luger finally got a title shot on Monday Nitro in August, and after some WCW cohorts ran Hogan's flunkies away from ringside, Luger racked Hogan yet again and this time Hogan submitted away the WCW World Title. Lex Luger was the new WCW World Champion, and WCW celebrated backstage and wiped the spraypainted WCW Title Belt clean.
However, Luger had one more match with Hogan five days later at Road Wild. This time Luger decided that he didn't want any help from his buddies, he wanted to defeat Hogan by himself to bury his one-sided feud with Hogan once and for all. This turned out to be a poor decision, and as you might expect, the NWO interfered yet again and helped Hogan pin Luger to regain the title, once more spraypainting the NWO logo on the belt to commemorate the victory. Despite his best efforts, Luger had been unable to keep the WCW World Title out of the hands of Hulk Hogan. All eyes now turned to Sting, the last hope of WCW.
Part II: The Madness Feels The Bang
In late 1996, Diamond Dallas Page had been offered membership in the NWO but Page, insulted that he hadn't been asked much earlier, turned them down. The NWO seemed to accept this unusually well, accepting the decision and wishing Page well. They soon made the attack we all knew was coming, however, by interfering and costing Page a match in the finals of the US Title tournament against Eddy Guerrero at Starrcade. Now Page was undeniably against the NWO, but would not back down from the juggernaut group. He didn't get off to the most courageous start, suffering countout losses by running from the ring when the NWO tried to interfere in his matches, but this philosophy changed at Uncensored. Page was out for an interview when Randy Savage (now an NWO member after returning to WCW and helping Hulk Hogan retain the WCW Title against Roddy Piper at Superbrawl VII) came out with a copy of the issue of Playboy that Page's wife Kimberly had appeared in and he and Elizabeth taunted him with it. Things got physical and Page was laid out, and as Kimberly came out from the back to cover Page and prevent him from being hurt anymore, Savage spraypainted the NWO logo on her back.
Now things had gone beyond business and had gotten personal, and the running was over. After weeks of sneak attacks on one another, the seemingly overmatched Page, who had never been more than a midcarder, stepped into the ring with the multi-time World Champion Randy Savage in the main event of Spring Stampede. Despite the odds, Page hit the Diamond Cutter and pinned Randy Savage in the middle of the ring, which not only earned some revenge for Page for the embarrassment he and his wife had suffered, but also springboarded him directly into the main event scene. The fall was even counted by Nick Patrick who, after months of disagreements and outright arguments with other NWO members, had left the rebel group and rejoined WCW.
Although Page had beaten Savage, the feud was not over. The two men continued the sneak attacks and verbal lashings, and eventually a rematch was signed for the Great American Bash. Page seemingly had the match in control once again, but Scott Hall interfered and cost Page the match. Page knew that he could handle Savage by himself, but as with most cases involving the NWO, the numbers were now against him. Perhaps realizing that he couldn't win this feud by himself, he challenged Savage and Hall to a tag team match at Bash At The Beach, and said he would bring a mystery partner to team with him. When it came match time, his partner turned out to be Curt Hennig, who had debuted in WCW the month before, but had yet to actually compete in the ring. Page again was in control of Savage, but miscommunication led to Page accidentally hitting Hennig, and Hennig got angry at the slipup, knocked Page out with a suckerpunch, and walked out. Page, now left by himself, didn't have a chance, Hall and Savage picked up the win.
Briefly putting Savage on the back burner, Page attempted revenge against Hennig at Road Wild, but lost there as well due to interference from Ric Flair (more on that later). Figuring that he would be better off to forget about Hennig for the time being, he instead concentrated on his feud with Savage. At the Clash Of The Champions in August, he got a more trustworthy partner in proven WCW soldier Lex Luger and again faced Hall and Savage, only to see miscommunication again cost him the win. Page had been blinded by a thumb to the eye and accidentally hit the Diamond Cutter on Luger, and Hall covered Luger for the win.
Unlike Hennig, Luger wouldn't turn on Page because of this incident, but instead insisted that they give it one more go, and the two teams met again at Fall Brawl. This time, the odds were in his favor and, with a little help from Larry Zbyszko, Page and Luger defeated Hall and Savage. Now having finally scored another victory over Savage, Page wanted one last singles match against the Macho Man, and they met for the final time at Halloween Havoc in a Las Vegas Deathmatch, where the first person to not get to their feet before the ten count lost. Page put up another good fight, but again went down in defeat due to interference from a Sting impostor. Savage had won the feud, but even though he had lost, Page had made a huge name for himself in 1997 and was now seen as a leader for WCW in their war with the NWO.
Part III: Flair, Hennig, And The Horsemen
Ric Flair had been injured in late 1996, and was forced to vacate his US Title and spent several months on the shelf as a result. He finally returned ot the ring at Slamboree and immediately thrust himself into the WCW vs NWO war, teaming with his longtime rival Roddy Piper and football player Kevin Greene to defeat the NWO trio of Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Syxx. As a result of this win, Flair and Piper got a shot at Hall & Nash's World Tag Team Title the following month at the Great American Bash. Unfortunately, Flair would not win the gold in this match, as he was distracted by Syxx's interference. As he chased Syxx to the back, he left Piper alone in the ring with the Outsiders, who overwhelmed and pinned him. Flair then met Piper in a match at Bash At The Beach, which Piper won.
However, this association (and feud) with Piper was distracting Flair from the NWO, who had put him out of action in the first place. Although Chris Benoit and Steve McMichael were still on his side, Arn Anderson had gone down to injury and it was unclear when he would be able to return to action. Jeff Jarrett had been tried out as a fourth Horseman, but didn't get along with the other members and was shown the door in usual Horseman fashion (that is to say, they beat the shit out of him and left him in a heap). Flair thought that if he was to fill out the group, only one man could do the job: Curt Hennig.
Although Hennig had turned on his partner Dallas Page in his first match in WCW and left him to the wolves, Flair felt he could trust Hennig (who had been his manager for a year in the WWF) and began openly courting him to the Horsemen. Flair interfered in Hennig's match at Road Wild and helped him beat Page in an attempt to draw Hennig into the group famous for such actions, and even formed an undefeated tag team with him for several months. However, no amount of persuasion could get Hennig to commit to the group.
Finally in September, Hennig again turned down Ric Flair, but this time Flair had an ace up his sleeve: Arn Anderson. Unfortunately, Anderson's doctors had told him that his neck and back injuries wouldn't allow him to return to the ring at all, and that he would be forced into retirement. Anderson gave a heartfelt speech where he described how his left arm was so weak that he couldn't even hold a cup of water anymore, and didn't want to endanger his partners by showing up at less than 100%. He closed by offering Hennig not just any spot in the Horsemen, but his own spot as the Enforcer. Hennig couldn't turn this down, he accepted and became the newest Horseman.
The NWO thought this was such an excellent, heartfelt segment that they decided to mock it with their own version. Kevin Nash, Konnan, Syxx and Buff Bagwell came out dressed as the Horsemen the next week on Nitro and proceeded to completely mock the entire Horsemen segment from the week before, even having Nash (who was dressed up as Anderson) talk about dropping not a cup of water, but a beer when a fat chick at the bar came up and smacked him on the back. This legitimately offended Flair and Anderson, and the Horsemen challenged the four NWO members involved to the Horsemen's own specialty match, Wargames, at Fall Brawl.
Unfortunately for the Horsemen, Hennig was attacked by the NWO and injured before the match started, and the Horsemen seemed at a four-on-three disadvantage. However, when it came time and only Hennig remained to enter the ring, he came in like a house of fire...and laid out his partners. The NWO and Hennig handcuffed Benoit and McMichael to the cage and engaged in a five-on-one beatdown of Flair, then positioned his head in the cage door. They threatened Benoit and McMichael that if they didn't surrender the match, they'd slam Flair's head in the cage door. McMichael submitted on behalf of his team and gave the NWO the win, but the NWO slammed Flair's head in the door anyway.
Flair was on the shelf, Hennig had joined the NWO, and to make matters worse for the Horsemen, Hennig went on to beat McMichael (who put his belt on the line in a grudge match) the following night to win the US Title. Hennig had beaten the Horsemen at their own game, and the Horsemen never had a clue it was coming. Flair finally resurfaced a couple of weeks later, and his first move was to disband the Horsemen. This problem with Hennig was his, Arn Anderson could no longer help him and he didn't want Benoit and McMichael to get involved in the situation any more than they already have.
As far as Flair was concerned, he wanted Hennig to himself, and he got Hennig in the ring at Halloween Havoc. Flair brutalized Hennig in the match, but made the mistake of getting too carried away and got himself disqualified by attacking the referees when they tried to get between Flair and Hennig. WCW officials knew that things between Flair and Hennig would be difficult to control in a regular match, so they signed the two men to another match, only this time it would be with a No DQ stipulation at World War III. Flair again destroyed Hennig, but as Flair put Hennig in the figure four and seemed on the verge of regaining the US Title he never lost, Hennig had the presence of mind to grab the US Title belt and whack Flair in the head with it several times, which was legal in this match. He covered Flair and got the three count.
Flair and Hennig were scheduled to meet one more time at Starrcade, but Flair's shoulder injury from the year before acted up again and he wasn't able to make the blowoff match. In Flair's place would be another man Hennig had crossed, Diamond Dallas Page. And so the end of the road drew near...
Part IV: Starrcade
All roads led to Starrcade. The NWO got the early advantage in the WCW vs NWO matches. Randy Savage, Scott Norton, and Vincent beat Ray Traylor and the Steiner Bros in a six man, and Buff Bagwell pinned Lex Luger. The tide soon turned to WCW's side, as the Giant laid out Scott Hall (who had come out to announce that Kevin Nash was skipping the show and his scheduled match against the Giant), Dallas Page finally scored another big win, over rival Curt Hennig to win the US Title, and Larry Zbyszko, on behalf of WCW, beat Eric Bischoff of the NWO for control of Monday Nitro.
The match everybody had come to see, however, was the main event. After clearing out the NWO at Uncensored, Sting had spent many months hiding in the rafters, often menacing the NWO with silent stares and never said a word once. The NWO, for its part, had been antagonizing Sting by dressing its members up as him to confuse opponents and create mistrust on the WCW side. All this was just buildup, the fans knew that they wanted to see Sting back in the ring, and they wanted him in the ring with Hogan. JJ Dillon, the Commissioner of WCW, started offering Sting contracts to meet several different WCW and NWO wrestlers, seemingly completely oblivious to the obvious answer, the one man Sting would be willing to step back in the ring against. Finally, after weeks of the fans in the arena screaming at Dillon (which made the whole thing a little silly), the commissioner figured it out, and a match for the WCW Title was signed for Starrcade between Sting and Hulk Hogan.
The arena was not cheering wildly like you would imagine for a moment like this, but rather rumbled unusually quietly as the champion, Hulk Hogan, made his way to the ring, acting as if he didn't have a care in the world. As his music trailed off, the fans started chanting for Sting, and his new music and lighting hit, and for the first time in sixteen months, Sting emerged from the ring entrance to compete in a sanctioned match. Hogan taunted him with the WCW World Title belt that he had desecrated but Sting, undaunted, entered the ring, dropped his bat, took off his coat, walked up to Hogan, and smacked him right in the face.
You'd think that the booking of this match would be easy: Sting comes in, wipes the mat with Hogan, and beats him clean in the middle of the ring in about seven minutes. You'd also have been wrong. Instead of the squash that everybody wanted to see, Hogan dominated Sting. Sting got all of maybe four or five moves in through the entire match, and was pinned clean after a Hogan legdrop in the center of the ring. The announcers tried playing it off as a fast count by referee and former NWO member Nick Patrick, but it was clearly as fair and even a count as there could be. Bret Hart, who had refereed earlier in the evening, came down to the ring and restarted the match, which Sting won by submission, but the damage was done.
They had another match the next night on Nitro which Sting won again, but they could not erase the events of the night before. Sting, the man WCW fans had been salivating to see get in the ring with Hogan for almost a year and a half, went in there and got his ass kicked. You could almost hear the whole angle implode the second the three count was made.
Part V: A Few Other Things
Here's a couple of other developments in the 1997 segment of the WCW-NWO War:
-The Steiner Brothers
Rick & Scott Steiner's stated goal from the moment they returned to WCW in 1996 was to regain the WCW World Tag Team Title, and never was their pursuit as intense as it was in 1997. The Outsiders were so worried about losing the title to the Steiners that they got a truck and ran the Steiners off the road while traveling between shows, videotaped the whole thing, and ran the tape on Nitro as if it were a big joke. They were not dissuaded when Rick lost a one-on-one match against Nash at Spring Stampede and instead regrouped, beating NWO members Masahiro Chono and the Great Muta at Bash At The Beach to earn a title shot, and although the Outsiders got themselves disqualified when the Steiners finally got their title shot at Road Wild, the Steiners won the title two months later when they defeated Hall and Syxx (who was subbing for an injured Nash) on an episode of Monday Nitro in October.
Syxx had made his debut in the NWO the night after Fall Brawl 1996, and after Eddy Guerrero won the US Title at Starrcade, Syxx stole the belt and began pretending to be US Champion. Guerrero defeated Syxx in a ladder match to retain the US Title at Souled Out, but Syxx won the Cruiserweight Title from Dean Malenko a month later at Superbrawl, ironically with inadvertant help from Guerrero. He successfully defended the title for several months before losing it in a non-televised match to Chris Jericho in early summer. After losing to Ric Flair (who he goaded into the ring by calling him washed up and claimed his time was over), he participated in several tag matches against WCW soldiers, including substituting for Kevin Nash in he and Scott Hall's loss of the World Tag Team Title to the Steiners in October. Still at Hall's side, Syxx was laid out by Larry Zbyszko at Halloween Havoc, and soon suffered a neck injury that put him out of action, and he was never seen again in WCW.
Zbyszko, who had been an announcer, got into a mini-war with the NWO in late 1997. His interference cost Scott Hall and Randy Savage a tag match against Dallas Page and Lex Luger at Fall Brawl, and his refereeing cost Hall another match with Luger at Halloween Havoc. After getting beat down following the Halloween Havoc match, Bischoff wound up in a match with Eric Bischoff at Starrcade for control of Monday Nitro. Bischoff knocked Zbyszko out with a foreign object, but special referee Bret Hart found out about this chicanery, knocked out Bischoff and Hall, and raised Zbyszko's hand in victory.
Following his non-title win over Hulk Hogan at Starrcade 1996, Roddy Piper saw this as his chance to finally achieve the honor that had always eluded him, becoming a World Champion. The two men met a second time at Superbrawl VII and Piper was about to put Hogan away with a sleeper for the second time, but interference from Randy Savage (who had returned to WCW months after his loss to Hogan in 1996) turned on Piper and WCW and helped Hogan beat his longtime rival. He teamed with another old rival, Ric Flair, as well as football player Kevin Greene to defeat the NWO team of Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Syxx at Slamboree, but he and Flair lost their shot at the World Tag Team Title the following month at the Great American Bash when Flair left Piper by himself to chase Syxx to the back. Piper beat Flair at Bash At The Beach, then wanted one more shot at Hogan. That shot came in the main event of Halloween Havoc in a cage, and Piper scored another (non-title) victory over Hogan by putting him out with a sleeperhold, but was beaten down yet again by Hogan and Savage after the match, and was not seen in WCW for months afterward.
It's really amazing that WCW was able to build such a hot angle that it literally carried the entire promotion for the better part of two years, and even more amazing that they were able to ruin the whole thing in one match. For over a year, Sting had been built up as WCW's savior, the one man that all WCW fans knew would one day return to the ring, defeat Hogan, take his title, and destroy the NWO forever. With the convoluted, overbooked finish of the Starrcade main event, everything was ruined in exactly three seconds.
Still though, some good had come out of the whole thing. Lex Luger's career was revitalized, Diamond Dallas Page rose to heights nobody thought he ever could, and Ric Flair returned from injury to show that he can still hang with the young guys. The Steiner Brothers were once again World Tag Team Champions, and in fact all the titles were back in the hands of WCW. Still though, 1997 closed with the feeling that things hadn't ended the way they should have.
As we entered 1998, the big question was would WCW be able to rebound? Sting's credibility was irreversibly damaged after Starrcade, and despite a second victory over Hogan (on free TV no less) the following night, he still was made out to be a choker. Would he be able to regain his credibility and undo the damage that the Starrcade main event had done to his career? Also, the outcome of Starrcade the year before had resulted in infighting amongst NWO members and the Giant being booted out of the group. The NWO had lost a lot more this year than they had in 1996, would more infighting result?
Instead of fighting amongst themselves, would the NWO perhaps regroup and come back at WCW to regain their pride? Hogan's two losses to Sting were both controversial, and he would almost certainly want another shot at the title in the coming year. Would he be able to regain that title? Or would Sting possibly lose the title to Scott Hall, who had earned a title shot by winning World War III? Instead of trying to win the World Title, would Hall instead reform his team with Nash and attempt to regain the World Tag Team Title from the Steiners?
Over on the WCW side, what was next for its top stars? Luger went from World Champion to losing to Buff Bagwell on the undercard of Starrcade. What was in his future? Dallas Page had lost his feud to Randy Savage, but was now the US Champion. Would he concentrate on defending his title, or would he continue to fight in the war against the NWO? Would the Giant finally get his hands on Kevin Nash after Nash no-showed their match at Starrcade?
Check back next week, as we look back at the turmoil that engulfed the NWO and led to their (temporary?) split in 1998.