When Scott Hall and Kevin Nash left the WWF in early 1996, nobody knew the kind of impact the two men would have on the industry, and particularly on the Monday Night War.
In re-joining WCW and eventually teaming with with Hulk Hogan to form the NWO, the whole business brought a rapid audience resurgence, with millions of new viewers to both products.
But a few months on from that shocking development, the WWF’s personal response to Hall and Nash was fairly bloody weak – and sadly this evening I’ve seen it in all its trainwreck glory.
Having clearly learned nothing from the Undertaker vs Undertaker debacle at Summerslam 1994, this all began when good ol’ JR, Jim Ross, began teasing a major announcement on the WWF’s Monday Night Raw in an attempt at his own (short-lived) heel character development. One day in September 1996 he would brag that he had secured the services of Razor Ramon and Diesel, and would be bringing them back to the WWF. Fans were led to believe that this meant the return of Hall and Nash – but the reality was much worse.
The Return of Diesel and Razor
Back when more people wrestled under aliases than they did their real, or ‘shoot’ names, it may have been more feasible to replace them handily. So when JR presented his new recruits, two men emerged as the Razor Ramon and Diesel characters – greasy hair, toothpicks, black gloves, the lot. Fans were understandably disappointed that the names alone didn’t guarantee the talent that went with it.
And while it’s fair to say that Glen Jacobs, who had previously dragged Bret Hart down in his Isaac Yankem, DDS guise, was an improving talent, the same cannot be said for Rick Bognar, whose Razor Ramon impersonation and mannerisms were so far off the mark as to be offensive. This despite his own claims that WWF owner Vince McMahon ‘heard [he] did a great Razor Ramon’.
Tonight I watched the two of them pair up in a tag match against the then-tag champions, the British Bulldog and Owen Hart, from WWF In Your House: It’s Time.
How I wish I hadn’t.
To Be The Man…
It’s said that the clothes maketh the man. If that were true then the t-shirt I’m wearing right now would see me dubbed Best In The World. But there’s a lot more to it than that.
The two men may look the part, but their mannerisms are terrible – and again, I feel bad for Rick Bognar, but Vince was a liar when he said Bognar did a good impersonation.
(To be fair, the story also goes that when Scott Hall showed off his bad Tony Montana ‘Scarface’ impression for the first time, McMahon had no idea Hall had lifted it from elsewhere.)
Terrible. But at least he was giving it a go; Jacobs barely raised a gloved fist in the entire match.
And while the Fake Diesel had a passable Nash-esque moveset at this time, judging by the match I watched, Fake Razor Ramon spent a good deal of the match either a) doing moves which Hall had never done before as that character (including what was, to be fair, an okay exploder suplex), or b) getting the basics completely wrong. (He couldn’t even ‘paintbrush’ the back of Owen’s head properly.)
The crowd reaction was fairly negative from the outset; it took Owen and the Bulldog, two cheap and cheating, down and dirty heels, to play the endangered babyfaces for there to have been any reaction at all. Hart was always so brilliant at taking the bumps, while Bulldog as the powerful hot tag worked really well – he’d been a face for about 80% of his WWF run to this point anyway, so the tactics were still fresh in his mind. This psychology confused me even more than the crap impersonators, but it was necessary just to keep the match ticking over. Interference from Stone Cold Steve Austin and a couple of luchadores certainly helped distract from the below-average work of ‘Diesel’ and ‘Razor’ as well.
In 2015, I’m not impressed, but even the 1996 crowd felt somewhat cheated by this terrible cheap trick to get some press going back the WWF’s way. Basically, the feeling was that because they had created these gimmicks, it didn’t matter who filled them. And while you can maybe get away with more than one guy playing the role of Doink The Clown, or even Sin Cara (the former got worse with each incarnation, while the latter actually improved), their popularity was nowhere near on the level of Hall’s and Nash’s star power.
Kevin Nash may have had a bad run of it as WWF Champion in 1995, but that was a matter of the opponents he was pitted against and the way his matches were booked. When he was Shawn Michaels’ badass bodyguard, his performances demonstrated a very high quality and popularity, none more evidently than his run in the 1994 Royal Rumble, when he basically turned face with each louder reaction, such was his powerful performance.
As for Scott Hall, his entrances would more often than not get among the loudest reception of each show, and his in-ring talent was helped no end by the character he’d carefully crafted into a confident yet slightly dogged brawler. (Speaking of brawling, Hall’s punches were some of the best things to come out of early-to-mid 90s WWF – Bognar’s not so much.) A World Title run would’ve been brilliant for Hall, but for this and many other reasons (cough money cough) he took the decision to join WCW once his contract had expired.
When the two men helped turn the tide WCW’s way, the WWF’s arrogance in assuming their expendability would cost them dearly for at least another eighteen months – and their replacements would not fare well at all in these roles.
It turned out alright for Jacobs in the end; he would don a different outfit and re-debut further down the line, but for Bognar, who retired due to a neck injury in 1999, it was his highest point as a wrestler. Poor sod.