Happy Birthday, nWo! Hulk Hogan’s 1996 WCW Heel Turn

There are few moments in wrestling history that changed the way we look at the industry, but what happened on one summer evening at WCW’s 1996 Bash At The Beach is still talked about to this day, a full 19 years later.

WCW nWo hulk hogan heel turn

Let’s start with our mate Terry, aka Hulk Hogan, whose signing for WCW in 1994 opened the door for them to try and compete on the same national level as the WWF. As Ted Turner continued to burn through chequebooks like they were cheap lighters, World Championship Wrestling launched Monday Nitro directly opposite the WWF in the schedules. The following two years would see WCW reshape itself from the old-school territory style of booking into a lean, mean ratings machine for TNT, with Hogan flying the main event flag over a very capable roster of wrestlers.

As fans grew weary of Hogan’s incessant flag waving (and no-selling, and winning all the time), ‘booker man’ Kevin Sullivan had a plan to reinvent the Real American – turn him evil.

Of course, even the weariest wrestling fan could never have seen this coming, and Hogan himself was especially concerned about pulling the turn. After taking some time off from WCW programming (and his relentless schedule of winning matches), Hogan reappeared at the 1996 Bash At The Beach pay-per-view.

Rewind a few months to the sudden appearance of the former Razor Ramon, Scott Hall, on WCW television. Initially portrayed as an ‘Outsider’ of WCW (until they were forced to admit on live TV that he was not a WWF employee to avoid legal action), Hall would show up on episodes of Nitro to basically get in WCW guys’ faces and declare ‘war’ on their company. Joined shortly after by former WWF champion Kevin Nash, the two men would square up to half the roster on an especially gripping episode – leading WCW to begin to eclipse Monday Night Raw in the ratings, as the suspense began to mount over The Outsiders’ mystery ‘third man’.

The Hostile Takeover Match

Challenged by Eric Bischoff to a three-on-three tag match for all the marbles, Hall and Nash agreed – keeping their mystery partner’s identity a secret up until bell time – and beyond. Facing a loyal trio of Sting, Randy Savage and Lex Luger, Hall and Nash assured interviewer ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund that they wouldn’t need him just yet.

So when Luger left the match with an injury partway through the match, the odds were evened, as Hall and Nash – now officially billed as The Outsiders tag team – cheated their way to a stalemate against a strong WCW contingent.

And then, this happened…

Hulk Hogan, the man who’d paraded around in the red and yellow, telling youngsters to eat their vitamins and say their prayers, shocked the world with a legdrop on Randy Savage, revealing himself as the third member of what would be the nWo – the New World Order, or as he kept calling it in the admittedly pretty decent follow-up promo, New World Organisation.

For WCW, it was the break they needed, as the company began to really pull away from the WWF, and for Hogan, a career rejuvenation; it’s reported in The Death of WCW (still highly recommended) that Hogan was nearing the end of his WCW contract and, as far as a big-money renegotiation was concerned, wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on. Without his joining the nWo, Hogan would categorically have not been the reason business was picking up for WCW – and it’s even been reported elsewhere that, with such a big decision to be made and his career at a huge crossroads, he had only decided to be the confirmed third man minutes before going out to assault Savage – it could’ve been Sting!

This week marks 19 years since Hogan’s turn at Bash At The Beach, and it’s still remembered as one of the most shocking moments in wrestling history. Few heel turns have been pulled off more convincingly, and the fact that it came from the single most popular babyface of all time was what made it all the more jarring.

The Death of WCW – 10th Anniversary Edition

A fascinating independent chronicle of the fall of WCW pro wrestling.

I don’t know if it was because I was purely a WWF kid, but the few times I tried to watch WCW programming in the UK, it just didn’t click.

Sometime in late 1997/early 1998 I will have happened across it on TNT; best known to people my age as the channel which began at 7pm when Cartoon Network went off the air.

The Death of WCW book

The colour scheme in the ring was entirely black and white, and various people I recognised – among them one Hulk Hogan – were strutting their stuff and not actually doing much wrestling. I don’t recall seeing a single wrestling match during this time; in fact, I wasn’t even sure it was actually a wrestling show but for all the various archetypes they had; entrance themes, big strong men and commentators not describing the action properly.

When Channel 5 showed it in about 2000, there was plenty of wrestling to go around – the only problem was that none of it made any sense. Having got back into the WWF when it came to Channel 4 at this time, the differences were clear: the WWF had great production values, young talent, well-defined characters and logical storylines; all sorely lacking from what I saw in the WCW product of the time.

I’ve managed to piece together what exactly happened to turn the WCW from a cultural giant in the mid-90s to the absolute shambles of a company it became at the turn of the millennium, but reading The Death of WCW by RD Reynolds and Bryan Alvarez has more than filled in the gaps.

Death of WCW book

The 10th anniversary edition has been revised and expanded to include more quotes from the people involved, as well as the story of what has happened in the years since WCW was swallowed up by Monday Night War enemies the WWF in 2001 – and the cautionary tale of some of the same mistakes which are being made by TNA to this day (whose future is still not 100% safe according to some sources).

The book as a whole outlines the success of the old Jim Crockett Promotions during the late 1970s and 1980s; the move into a rivalry with Vince McMahon as the two then-biggest companies redrew their boundaries are prepared for war, as well as how a young producer named Eric Bischoff made some key strategic and financial decisions to give WCW more than an edge during the mid-90s – one of which was the addition of former WWF stars Scott Hall and Kevin Nash.

Scott Hall Kevin Nash WCW NWO

Look at the adjective! “Play!”

What follows in the pages of this book is the story of how WCW went from being atop the wrestling mountain thanks to Hall/Nash being the origins of the phenomenally successful NWO, to shedding viewers and box office like they were going out of fashion through bad booking, dodgy contracts and no sense of continuity or playing to the crowd; using inside stories, gossip and cold hard numbers to tell a very entertaining story of the at times bewilderingly logic-free decisions which caused the downfall of WCW.

Reynolds and Alvarez combine great wrestling journalism with great storytelling and plenty of humour to produce this fine work. It’s essential reading for wrestling fans, no two ways about it.

New Generation Project Podcast

The New Generation Project Podcast softens the blow of you ever having seen a WWF New Generation PPV; with humorous insight, amiable hosts and plenty of decent wrestling trivia.

Ask any wrestling fan when the dark days of the WWF were, and they’ll very likely spin you a yarn of the very dark days; when gimmicks were awful and the lack of roster depth was immense.

When Hulk Hogan left the WWF in 1993 having pretty much refused to ‘pass the torch’ to someone else (a feat he would repeat many times over), the company was in the bad position of having no heir to the throne. And with the company reeling from the steroid trial, the bad publicity heaped upon the WWF in the mid-90s was enough to see it fall down a hole both creatively and financially.

And of course, that’s when I happened across and started watching wrestling. And at the age of 8 I didn’t see all that much wrong with dentists, farmers and binmen all doubling up with a career inside the ring, but fortunately the guys from the New Generation Project Podcast have come to see me right.

new generation project podcast

Hosted by Stewart Brookes, Paul Scrivens and Adam Wykes, The New Generation Project Podcast sets out in each episode to “honour the heroes of Hulkamania and analyse the architects of Attitude” by examining the WWF pay-per-views between King of the Ring 1993 (Hulk Hogan’s final appearance in the 90s) and Wrestlemania XIV (Stone Cold Steve Austin’s first World title win).

The usual format has Stewart running down each match and angle within the show in question, while Paul and Adam chip in with their own thoughts, which often take the form of their specialist subjects: being a maths whiz, Paul grapples with the mathematical problems posed by the in-ring action and commentary (a recent one involved working out the circumference of a sumo wrestling ring) while Adam rates and reviews the beautiful 90s haircuts on display – and some of the ladies too.

The guys have just passed through the period I remember most clearly – between Wrestlemania X in 94 and In Your House 5, which took place in December 95. Of course that means we’ve had their thoughts on King of the Ring 1995; the infamous disaster of a show which saw a brave Savio Vega wrestle four times in one night and get all the way to the final, only to fall to the new King Mabel who wrestled just twice thanks to various screwy booking.

As a ten-year old I rallied behind brave Savio Vega; the plucky underdog. Now, having listened to the New Gen Podcast’s very insightful and very funny take on it, I’m stunned to have any good memories of it at all. It sounds diabolically bad, and I feel sorry for them for going through that torture in the name of entertainment.

(On the other hand, there are shows featuring Bret Hart; still one of my favourite ever wrestlers, and I’m still dumbstruck that they gave him such silly feuds when he should’ve been challenging for, or holding, the World title for a good long time; such was his talent in comparison to others who got more of the rub around this time.)

And entertaining it really is. Stewart’s in-depth research nicely plugs the gap between PPVs, ensuring we’re all up to date with the various angles played out on Monday Night Raw and Superstars (ah, Superstars…) while all three provide some great insights on hair, maths and more throughout. Their easy-going conversational style is something special, and it’s very much in keeping with the content: when something particularly bad or silly occurs in the show, you may as well just go with it right?

I’m a big fan of the episodes where they change the channel to see what’s happening down south in WCW – where Hogan and failed Hogan 2.0 Lex Luger are bedding in nicely to make WWF’s financial woes even stronger by throwing the company’s money around.

(It’s also been the place where the guys provided my standout moment of the show so far: introducing Bunkhouse Buck for a match, before one of the guys misheard and thought we were being treated to a ‘Bunkhouse Bob Monkhouse’ match. I want that on a shirt.)

So if you were as unlucky as me to have tuned into wrestling in precisely the period that represented a massive slump in the fortunes of its biggest supplier, you’ll feel better after listening to the New Generation Podcast. And you’ll stay for Scrivens’ karaoke. Superb stuff all around.

You can find the NGP Facebook page here. Or find them on Twitter at the slightly simpler @newgenpodcast, and on iTunes.

Hulk Hogan and Creative Control

Examining the excessive use of Hulk Hogan’s creative control in WWF and WCW.

Hulk Hogan is a wrestling legend, no two ways about it. When he defeated The Iron Sheik for his first WWF Championship in 1984, plans were already in motion to make the charismatic Hogan the face of American wrestling – a plan which came to financial and cultural fruition with the first Wrestlemania in 1985.

For the rest of his career, the Hulkster used the fact that he’d single-handedly built Vince McMahon, Jr’s WWF empire to his own ends; helping friends get over at the expense of more talented competitors, even choosing between alternate title runs and extended breaks from wrestling to further his Hollywood career in a somewhat loose form of creative control.

But when Hogan signed for wrestling rivals WCW in 1994, he actually had a clause written into his (massive) contract that allowed him full creative control of his character. Hogan could choose when, where and how much he wrestled, whether he won or lost, and who to.

In having that control, Hogan was able to protect his image during his most relevant years, but as the market hotted up again during the mid-90s, fellow veterans were beginning to make way for the younger stars – except Hogan and a select few colleagues, all of which spelled trouble for WCW in the end.

Here are three times that Hulk Hogan’s uses of creative control rubbed fans and colleagues alike the wrong way.

1993 – Wrestlemania IX

Hulk Hogan creative control

Hogan had already wrestled earlier in the night, teaming with his ‘old pal’ Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake in a match against Money, Inc. (Ted DiBiase and ‘The’ IRS) and losing by disqualification after Hogan used Brutus’ protective facemask as a weapon. But following the main event which saw Yokozuna cheating Bret Hart to become the new WWF Champion, Hogan hit the ring to defend his friend’s honour. Manager Mr Fuji, who threw salt in Hart’s eyes to get the win for his giant protégé, randomly offered out Hogan for a match then and there.

There’s a reason Cagesideseats.com ranked this match the second-worst Wrestlemania main event of all time (the worst wasn’t for the title and had an NFL player in it), as Hogan had had a word in Vince’s ear that Bret wasn’t the guy to carry the company through its (too numerous to mention) problems in 1993. The answer? Put the strap back on the Hulkster, brother.

His very first title defence was the loss to Yokozuna at King of the Ring 1993; it was also Hogan’s final WWF appearance for almost a decade. Bret had to content himself with winning the tournament itself, but wouldn’t get near the belt again for months.

Bash at the Beach 2000

Hulk Hogan creative control

Hogan signed for WCW in 1994, and won their World title in his very first match against Ric Flair, as you do. Hogan held the belt for fifteen months before dropping it to a pre-Big Show Paul Wight as The Giant in October 1995 – by disqualification, obviously – before taking an extended break.

When he returned to shock the wrestling world by forming the NWO with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, he was once again indestructible – although this time the script called for it, rather than just how he was feeling that day. An account of the events at Starrcade 1997 – in which Hogan may or may not have influenced the result to make him look better – proves that Hogan was in business for himself, artificially extending a feud that had already been 18 months in the making and exposing the first chink in WCW’s hitherto impenetrable armour.

But in the year 2000, at what would be Hogan’s final WCW appearance, it was head writer Vince Russo who had had enough. After Hogan had decided (as you do) he fancied winning the World belt from Jeff Jarrett that night in order to get the most from his remaining contract, he and Russo planned to fake Jarrett’s laying down for Hogan. After Hogan convincingly told Russo to shove it and left, planning on a big return match down the line to clear up this apparent badly-booked mess, Russo – for realsies – came back to the ring and blasted Hogan for playing the dreaded creative control card when “he knew it was bullshit all along”.

 

2005/6 – Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton

In 2002 Hulk Hogan returned to WWE, winning another World title and doing the very occasional job to younger guys before deciding he wasn’t satisfied with the role he’d been placed in and making on-and-off appearances. He falls out with Vince McMahon over pay, telling McMahon he felt his driver was making the same money that he was on.

Two of Hogan’s biggest-profile matches in the mid-00s come against Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton; the latter, an upcoming star who’d become The Legend Killer; the former, a legend in his own right who just wanted to find out who was stronger.

By this time, Hogan was getting on in years – at 53 he was more than twice Orton’s age when they faced off at Summerslam 2006. But nonetheless, Hogan wanted to win the match cleanly, which he did against a former World Champion in Orton.

But it’s the match with Michaels that’s more interesting. Having never faced off before, it was being sold as something of a dream match. Michaels even agreed to turn heel just to make it happen. The idea was that both men would win a match each, with Hulk winning the first. Hogan agreed, and their match at Summerslam 2005 was…interesting.

Michaels bumped around cartoonishly for the aging Hogan, knowing it would make him look somewhat foolish in the way he was hitting big moves. There are points in the match too where Michaels just looks outright annoyed at having to carry Hulk Hogan throughout, losing his cool and stiffing Hogan with a slap in between Irish whips. Michaels agreed to lose clean in the centre of the ring, which Hogan duly obliged – and later called off any talk of a rematch, causing Michaels some understandable aggravation.

Even in the midst of the new era of wrestling, Hulk Hogan couldn’t be relied upon to make his youngers look the slightest bit competitive by losing, or even drawing in the big-profile matches. What’s even worse is what happened when he made his way over to TNA, but that’s a story for another time.

Wrestlemania 30: The Streak is Over

Wrestlemania 30 will always be remembered for the end of the Undertaker’s dominant streak.

An F5. A three-count. A twenty-one-year undefeated streak – gone.

The audience was stunned into silence. If I were to be picky about it, they were pretty bloody silent anyway – no way to end the career of an absolute icon of wrestling. Few have dominated the WWE like The Undertaker; a man who I struggle to count on two hands the amount of memorable, clean and meaningful defeats he has suffered.

But for me, three single moments will define Wrestlemania XXX and make it one of the most memorable of all time.

WWE-WrestleMania-30

Daniel Bryan

Of course, his finally overcoming The Authority to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion is the culmination of an eight-month quest to regain his place at the top of the mountain. He overcame three men over the course of two brilliant (though admittedly a bit overbooked) matches to raise the belts in victory. You couldn’t see him for all the tickertape they were throwing down at one point, but Bryan saw nothing except that ultimate victory.

Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and The Rock

This was an absolutely incredible way to kick off ‘Mania; when guest host Hulk Hogan fluffed two lines within thirty seconds in getting the name of the venue wrong and almost referring to the company as the WWF, I admit I smirked a bit at what else could have been in store for us tonight. But the moment we heard the glass shatter and saw The Rattlesnake make his way down the aisle, business certainly picked up. Austin got in a nice rib on Hogan for getting the venue’s name wrong, before confessing his own pride at being in the ring for such a momentous occasion. And just as we were getting ready for our first match, The Rock asked us that old familiar question and sent the fans into an absolute fit of joy – myself included. Seeing the three of them in the ring at the same time was such an amazing moment, and would’ve easily been the number 2 moment of the night for nostalgia’s sake, but for:

The End of the Streak

The match was, sadly, not the five-star classic we hoped for deep down. The build towards it was also somewhat half-arsed – god bless Paul Heyman for giving it his outstanding best as always. But two things are required for The Streak match to be pulled off convincingly: a great match and a real sense that the Streak was in jeopardy. I don’t really feel like either of these were satisfied, which perhaps explains my own deep sense of shock. It came out of nowhere, but in a bad way. When Daniel Bryan hit those sweet running knees on all three of his opponents last night, they literally came out of nowhere – ie, out of camera shot. What we got to turn ‘Taker’s 0 into a 1 last night was a sort of crumpled F5 into a half-arsed cover. Heyman sold it like a genius – that’s what he does – but it wasn’t a good shock to the system. Not like The Rock hitting the stage earlier in the night. Not even like Ron Simmons turning up for his annual curse.

Where do they go from here? For The Undertaker, whose old school tradition and love for the business keeps him grounded in the knowledge that you go out of this game with a loss, it could be time to bow out.

For Lesnar, as the Man who beat The Streak, surely the World Title picture beckons. But if Triple H refused to believe that Daniel Bryan was the Face of the WWE, then god help us if Lesnar’s face decides it fits the bill better.

Maybe The Streak should go out quietly. Adding the phrase “and one” to any future mentions would tarnish the fact that there’s an entire 21 before it. Don’t let it hang around anyone’s neck – Lesnar’s or The Undertaker’s. I don’t think Lesnar can be booked effectively enough to maximise its value given his part-time commitment to the company. And it certainly wouldn’t do to tarnish The Undertaker’s entire career with it. Don’t let 21-1 be an exclamation point. Let it be an appendix somewhere at the end of an extraordinary and unique document.