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“You people, you know who I am, but you don’t, know why, I’m here”. It would become a line that would be played for decades to come; three months after he handed in his notice with the WWF Razor Ramon appeared on the first two hour edition of WCW Monday Nitro. His debut promo would set in process a chain of events that would lead to the arrival of Diesel (Kevin Nash) as the second “outsider”, before the two were joined by Hulk Hogan in one of the most shocking moments in wrestling history.
It’s actually very difficult to properly frame where WCW was at the time when Hall debuted on Nitro. Save the feud between Ric Flair and Randy Savage, that was entertaining throughout and Lex Luger, wrestlers lacked crowd reactions and storylines lacked meaning. Despite all of the very real justifications you could make for Hulk Hogan’s departure at the end of April, the programming felt like it had a more defined (if more predictable) direction.
The plan, as it was before the angle started to come together, was for Hogan to depart, Giant to get a title run going (one that really never should have been thwarted when he won the title the November previous), before Hogan could make his triumphant return as a babyface probably in August or September and regain the title. The other bit of info you need to know at this stage was that Hogan had signed a two year deal at the end of 1994, one that had him by a mile WCW’s highest paid performer.
Hall and Nash arrived two weeks apart. The first angle with Hall was great, typical of Eric Bischoff’s tactic of making surprise arrivals as low key as possible. Since Nitro had started Lex Luger had walked out abruptly midway through the first show announcing his arrival at the beginning of the show. Alundra Blayze also had made a surprise appearance, famously dropping the WWF Women’s Title in the trash. Neither were necessarily massive long term bets – Luger at this stage was a nice steal from the WWF and a good short term replacement filling in for the suspended (and soon departed) Vader. As for Medusa (Blayze), it would take six months before WCW bought in another female to work with her other than Sister Sherri, her only PPV match was against Col. Robert Parker (yes, really).
The debut of Hall had bigger things in mind, but it was no more conspicuous than the rest. Hall walked out during a match early on the May 27th between The Mauler and Steve Doll. Yep, you’d be right to say “who the hell are they” – a match the like of which we hadn’t seen before or since on Nitro. Hall walked out, demanded a microphone, and set off a chain of events that would change the wrestling world.
“You know who I am, but you don’t, know why, I’m here”. It was Razor Ramon, except it wasn’t. Hall then cut a promo that only really made sense if you’d have seen the Billionaire Ted segments in the WWF six months prior: “Where is Scheme Gene? Where is the Nacho man?” Hall returned at the end of the show, getting in Eric Bischoff’s face and promised that “we” were taking over.
The show marked WCW’s formal move to two hours after a month of being shuffled around thanks to the NBA play-offs. Raw in the end won five weeks on the spin between mid-April and mid-May, the move to 7pm in the first week in May stopped it being a head to head, but the 4.1 to 1.9 Raw victory was harrowing. And guess who hadn’t appeared on Nitro in four weeks? Yep, the man in red and yellow.
The Hall debut, obviously a surprise, coincidenced with a move to 8pm but with the increase to two hours meant Nitro’s second hour would opposing Raw. They now had a full hour to run at Raw, and often lop-sided their shows to feature a big match or angle beginning just before the second hour started, and frequently fired off a deluge of pyrotechnics. Nitro won that week 2.8 to 2.3, the following week (a holding week where Hall showed up at the end, antagonised Sting and reiterated the promise of his “big friend” for next week) saw Nitro win a 3.0 to 2.3. Raw, it should be said, was floundering without Hall, Nash or Bret Hart – Vince McMahon did at least say a goodbye to the latter two on Raw that week (read that here).
But don’t get fooled into thinking things on Nitro were coming to a boiling point. The stretch to two hours woefully exposed some cracks in the WCW’s mid-card, the initial two hours shows were pretty dull – particularly as Hall and later Nash only really appeared for a few minutes. Hogan was gone, Savage was kayfabe “banned from the building”… all of a sudden WCW were asking Ric Flair, Sting, the increasingly popular and Lex Luger and World Champion Giant to keep two hours interesting.
Nash’s debut was another moment in time. Bischoff, for the first time since the angle started, found some bravado, but this time Hall had some back up. Nash cut the famous “look at the adjective, play” line but otherwise cut a fine promo that belied the wooden Champion he had been in the WWF a year prior. “What, you couldn’t find a palaeontologist to dust off these fossils you’ve got backstage on dialysis machines?”
All thoughts of a home run angle were extinguished within WCW towers a couple of days later when the ratings came back. Nitro 2.6… Raw 2.7. A rating so bad it's said Kevin Sullivan wasn't even allowed in booking meetings the following day! A look at Raw that evening: Owen Hart vs Yokozuna, Marc Mero (WCW’s Johnny B Badd) vs Skip and Davey Boy Smith vs The Undertaker. Nothing there to suggest Raw was doing anything to draw the audience away, in fact the evidence suggested that the two audiences were almost entirely separate. A year later, Raw’s ratings at the beginning of July 1996 were almost identical to the ratings they were doing a year prior without Nitro as opposition. The idea that people were flicking between the two belies the evidence that Nitro had created an almost entirely new audience on Monday Nights. People still had their sides.
In amongst the stuff happening on screen was a legal battle taking place off it. WWF took offense of WCW essentially presenting Hall and later Nash as invading forces taking part in an inter-promotional angle with WCW. Reading about the legal wrangling’s was as funny as it was long; the WWF wanted WCW to explicitly say three times a show that both men were contracted WCW performers. In another legal document, they laid claim to everything about both characters – from their names and likenesses, right down to Diesel’s facial hair. In the end it did make both men have to explicitly deny that they were a part of the WWF at the pay per view.
At the end of the angle Bischoff promised Hall and Nash that he’d have an answer of their challenge at the Bash At The Beach pay per view. The show itself was the best pay per view WCW had put on since Spring Stampede two years previously, a solid to good wrestling card underscored by three great angles: Arn Anderson reuniting with Chris Benoit, Steve “Mongo” McMichael turning on Kevin Greene and joining the Four Horseman and the confrontation between Hall, Nash and Eric Bischoff.
There had been talks of having Dusty Rhodes in the role, with the feeling Dusty could’ve cut a promo for the ages bemoaning the treatment he had in the WWF and drawing close to real life with what had become of his son Dustin (Goldust) in the company the twelve months prior. This idea was (likely) stopped for two reasons: Firstly, Dusty would’ve likely killed it on the promo – Nash had an attitude an Hall was a good talker but both would’ve been gunned out by Dusty on form. The second was exactly what they had planned… and it involved a gimmick table.
The bump actually was a pretty dangerous one. Sure Nash was a unit. Sure, Bischoff was light. Sure, the target was big – but that was it. After Bischoff said WCW had accepted the challenge, but couldn’t reveal who their opponents were, the mood of Hall and Nash went from confrontational to hostile, Hall punched Bischoff in the gut, Nash picked up Bischoff into the familiar jacknife power bomb position and just flung him towards the target.
It’s worth remembering that this was an era where you didn’t put your hands on people who weren’t talent. Managers of heels were a different issue, but they were the antagonisers – they got what was coming to them. When Nick Bockwinkel was the WCW Commissioner in the two years prior, what he said goes. Bischoff wasn’t the Commissioner, but he was on air talent – as Bobby Heenan famously showed to Brian Pillman six months earlier – you don’t touch on air talent. Like everything in this angle, forget everything you knew about conventional wrestling storytelling.
The angle went so well there was actually a decent case to be made that the show could've ended without a main event. Nothing could've followed the Four Horseman match, less an underwhelming World Title match between Lex Luger and Giant never had a hope. The angle was still ridiculously good, but WCW missed quite breaking some new ground. Still, they had a great angle on their hands – but would the ratings back it up?
Emphatically. After the 2.6 the previous week the rating Nitro rebounded to a 3.4, defeating Raw by an entire ratings point with a 2.3. Not that the TV was, necessarily, improving - the show after The Great American Bash didn't feature either Nash or Hall. There was something, perhaps, to be said for the genesis of the angle lifting the entire industry, along with The Great American Bash being a great WCW show, WWF's King Of The Ring effort a week later was their best show since 1994 also. The tide was rising.
If there was one man the rating was bad news for it was Hulk Hogan. Hogan who, not for the last time, had made a strategically timed exit in attempting to coincide with a dip in rating had overplayed his hand or, at the very least, underestimated quite what effect Hall and Nash would have on ratings. The hope was ratings would sink as WCW was temporarily move to 7pm (which they did), but would struggle meaning Hogan could time his return, pop a rating an re-establish how important he was for the company. In the three weeks following The Great American Bash Nitro never did lower than a 3.3... life after Hogan was stating to become a possibility.
If the night after Great American Bash didn't feature either Hall or Nash, it did feature the reveal of who Nash and Hall's opponents would be in the six man tag match. It was said six WCW performers were up for the random selection; the three they went with – Randy Savage, Lex Luger and Sting; along with World Champion Giant, Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan. It should also be said that at the time WCW were frequently running video packages on Hogan during Nitros – we couldn't risk the audience forgetting who he was, brother.
(Also worth saying they were also running the "Blood Runs Cold" Glacier promos every week at this stage, these had been going since April!)
Surprising, perhaps, is that easily the best angle of the "pre-NWO" run of the Outsiders is probably one of the ones that history remembers least vividly. On June 24th, during a main event triangle tag match between Champs Sting and Luger, The Steiners and Harlem Heat Hall and Nash descended from high up in the stands, through the crowd carry baseball bats with no security around them. Tony Schiavone called the segment with the gravitas it needed and the crowd whipped into a frenzy. The pair got to ringside and Hall smashed the ringsteps three times with the bat making a sound like a rifle going off.
In amongst the carnage, Harlem Heat picked up the titles, but it was as good as missed as security officials carry side-arms stormed the ring. The Heat, somewhat comically, scarpered up the aisle way past Hall and Nash with the Steiner Brothers and Luger and Sting were left stood in the ring flanked by half a dozen officers with guns... wrestling had never been so bad ass, far from this being a great heel invasion Hall and Nash looked like two of the most defiant, bad-ass good guys you'll ever see.
It was probably this moment that clinched Hulk Hogan's fate. Not only did WCW have an angle that was slowly catching fire, they had a future without Hogan. When Hogan arrived two years prior he signed a lucrative contract that made him WCW's top paid guy and gave him a significant cut of pay per view revenues along with a lot of other perks. As I've written previously, as the level of pay per view opponent for Hogan declined so did his drawing power. WCW had a money drawing angle, and most importantly of all, they had options.
The crux of their choices went like this: given the nature of the angle the third man *probably* had to be someone with big ties to the WWF, either a member of the current WCW roster who had wrestled their in the past or someone who was coming in there from the outside. This opened up options, some good, some bad. Jeff Jarrett was rumoured, but his non-compete with the WWF wouldn't expire until months after the pay per view. One ludicrous report in the Observer even suggested Mabel was going to be discussed. The wrestling industry would be in a *very* different place today if Mabel was the third man!
But there was one option from the outside that seemed to fit the bill quite nicely: Bret Hart. Even though there was seemingly no chance Hart would be the third man, he fit the bill almost perfectly. A big name current WWF guy like Hall and Nash were, and one that hadn't appeared on WWF televison in months. While it was a rumour that wouldn't stand up to closer scrutiny, it was a plausible story and one that absolutely would've fit the bill of what WCW were looking for.
Beyond Hart though, the only options WCW realistically had were ones inside their own walls, namely the six top names considered for team WCW in the first place. Flair would've made no sense at all, so he was a bust, Giant similarly was just a really awkward fit (as he probably was when he did join the group). But in Hogan, Luger, Sting and Savage you had four quite different stories.
Savage had the strongest “WWF past” of the four other than Hogan, but Savage in this role would feel like a left turn. He was in the midst of a really fun and important feud with Ric Flair – he was a babyface who had his own problems, pivoting into this new program would feel a bit like a lame duck particularly in amongst an abrupt ending of the feud with Flair.
Luger was originally considered for the turn, someone who had enough of a link to the WWF thanks to his run between 1993-1995. Arriving as a surprise in 1995 Luger had arguably become WCW’s most popular act in the first half of 1996, finding a lovely medium with a tweener character that basically enabled him to play whatever character fitted the town he was in. It also helped that with his Torture Rack finisher he had the most over move in the company.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the alternative names, and the one that became the “backup” on the evening of was Sting. Sting was a WCW lifer, and with a story that seemed to run opposite to that of which Hall and Nash were running on. But ever since Hogan and Savage arrived the babyface Sting had sunk down the card, if anyone had a motivation to “turn towards New York” then it was Sting. A heel turn would’ve seriously freshened up his character and perhaps opened up even more potential fresh match-ups than Hogan’s turn did.
If Hogan had turned down the opportunity to turn he likely would’ve been writing the last chapter in his wrestling career. Given the acquisitions WCW were taking on there was a case to be made that Hogan was no longer paying for himself, if WCW could maintain key metrics without Hogan – and we were at the stage where his difference on pay per view and on television was sometimes indistinguishable. Never mind the metrics though, his outdated babyface character likely would’ve sunk further, certainly opposite the uber-cool nWo act lead by Sting, Nash and Hall. With the WWF having burned the bridge with Hogan in the six months prior (bringing him back after the months of Billionaire Ted segments would’ve been insanity), Hogan likely might have found himself without a wrestling gig in 1997.
As it was, WCW executed the angle to near perfection. Starting the match 2 on 3 at Bash at the Beach, Luger was eliminated from the match quickly after a Stinger splash went awry. The match that followed was OK… it was hard to build any drama given that the crowd were waiting for something to happen. And they got that when Hogan walked out to the ring.
With that, the “New World Organisation of Wrestling” was formed.