Last week, Batista was announced as the main headliner for next year’s WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Despite only eight years as a full-time wrestler on WWE TV, with a few brief returns after that, Batista undoubtedly earned a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame, as he was one of the most popular stars in the organization in the mid-2000s. Ironically, Batista’s best work was probably done during the latter stages of his career as a heel. Even more ironic than that, he was once told by trainers at the WCW Power Plant that he had no chance to make it in sports entertainment. Despite a later start than most to the industry, Batista played a notable role in the post-Attitude Era of the business, winning the world heavyweight championship on several occasions.
But, the actual HOF ceremony, once considered one of the highlights of the wrestling calendar, has lacked somewhat in recent years, specifically when certain mid-card talents went on for over 40 minutes about their mostly average careers. No disrespect intended, but the extended Hillbilly Jim speech from a few years ago saw the entire show grind to a halt. Perhaps this scenario occurs because WWE brass inducted too many major names at the same time, and the depth for more than just a headliner isn’t there. I’ve always thought that inducting stables after individuals were already inducted was repetitive and unnecessary. However, it was announced that the New World Order, including Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Syxx will be inducted as a group next year. Considering that all four of them have already been inducted, the move is nothing more than a reason to try to shoehorn some extra star power on the show to try to sell more tickets, but the impact that the NWO had is certainly worth the discussion.
When Eric Bischoff took over Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling as Executive Vice President of the organization in 1994, he had an uphill climb, both because of the climate of the industry and the shaky structure that WCW itself had at the time. After Turner bought Jim Crockett Promotions after the group collapsed, the name was changed to World Championship Wrestling to reflect its status as a national product on the TBS network. After the purchase in 1988, the Turner league didn’t have much direction as a wrestling commodity and a revolving door of figure heads were tasked with running the beleaguered company. Former Pizza Hut executive Jim Herd infamously had the job, which yielded results such as a tag team named the Ding Dongs, a pair that would ring a bell during their entrance. Further proving that he should’ve continued cooking bread sticks, Herd also didn’t think that Ric Flair, one of the greatest champions of all-time, could draw money in the early-90s. The rift between Herd and Flair is actually what led to Flair’s two-year run in the WWF while WCW floundered in mediocrity. Around the same time that Flair was WWF champion, Bill Watts, former owner of Mid-South Wrestling before it was sold to Jim Crockett in the late-80s took over the job from Herd. Watts lasted roughly a year before he got himself fired and the job was briefly taken by Ole Anderson, who quit the position in late-93.
When Bischoff took over in 1994, the wrestling business was still in a slump from the steroid scandal that caused a lot of negative press for the industry a few years earlier, and WCW had almost zero momentum as a company. A former third-tier announcer in Verne Gagne’s AWA before it folded, Bischoff had previously experience in the sales department and took a more simplistic approach to the struggling wrestling brand. Considering that there wasn’t enough buzz around the promotion to draw decent numbers on the road, he scaled back house show events to mostly a few overseas tours a year, as it was a market that didn’t get live events as often as the United States. Along with that, he moved the WCW TV tapings to Disney studios so that it would be easier to get a crowd to be in attendance for the television product.
Bischoff also knew that he needed a spark, something that would get more viewers to watch the shows, and in some ways, remove the stains of the Herd/Watts era. The previously mentioned steroid scandal shook the foundation of the WWF, and as a result, Hulk Hogan, the company’s top star for the prior decade, distanced himself from the sports entertainment empire. When his film career didn’t take off with titles like Mr. Nanny, and the TV series Thunder in Paradise lasted just one season, Hogan opted to listen when Bischoff pitched a possible return to the ring. A contract that would make him the highest paid performer on the roster and a limited schedule was enough to get Hogan to sign a deal with Turner in 1994.
Bischoff’s next step was to attempt to put himself on the same level as the WWF, which saw Ted Turner use his umbrella of networks to put WCW Nitro in prime time on TNT in head-to-head competition with Monday Night Raw in 1995. Along with the use of the networks under the Turner banner, Bischoff was able to invest money into the organization for the first time since he took over and slashed the budget. He knew that he needed star power to get viewers to sample the product, and Ted Turner’s funding made it possible for him to offer better contracts to talent. Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, the pair known as Diesel and Razor Ramon respectively, were two of the WWF’s most popular acts in the era. They worked through the lean years of the early 90s when business was down, and Bischoff’s offer of a guaranteed contract gave them the chance at financial security for the first time in their careers.
In a transition that couldn’t have been planned any better than it naturally happened, Hall’s WWF deal expired just a few weeks before Nash’s contract, allowing them to walk onto Nitro directly after their peak run in the WWF. As is usually the situation in pro wrestling, their debuts needed a major angle to accomplish them to TNT, and Bischoff borrowed from the UWFi invasion angle that he saw in New Japan prior to that. Hall and Nash were presented as WWF talent that had invaded the rival group with the claim that a third man was there to join them. Keep in mind, this was at a time when cartoonish gimmicks were common place in the WWF so fans took notice of the reality-based angles on Nitro.
In another situation that couldn’t have been planned better than how it organically happened, Hulk’s typical routine of cupping his ear and hulking up before he pinned an endless line-up of goons had become stale to the viewing audience. They had seen Hogan’s song and dance regularly for the past decade, and his tacky persona seemed foolish in the mid-90s. The crowd had enough of the red and yellow parade, as boos accompanied most of his run in 1995. It was at Bash At The Beach the following year that the entire wrestling world was shocked when Hulk Hogan, the classic hero of the 80s, turned heel, joining The Outsiders in their crusade against WCW. Fans pelted the ring with trash as the villainous trio claimed dominance against the organization.
Hulk Hogan as a villain hadn’t happened since the early 80s, and just a few years prior to Bash At The Beach, it wasn’t even thought possible. Hulk as a heel had the fans buzzing about Nitro and the Outsiders provided a sizzle that made Nitro “must watch” programming for fans. Since just three wrestlers wouldn’t logically keep an entire roster away, more names were added to the group, mostly other former WWF talent, including Syxx, Ted Dibiase, and others. At one point, Nitro had fans on their edge of their seats, as you never knew who might betrayed WCW next to jump ship to the New World Order faction. All of this along with the stellar cruiser weight division gave Nitro the ratings win over Raw for 83 weeks in a row, a time frame that is still discussed today.
Make no mistake about it, the reality and sizzle that the NWO brought to Nitro is the main reason that the ratings tilted toward WCW. As heroes like Sting, Diamond Dallas Page, and eventually Goldberg challenged the heel stable, it fueled much of the company’s momentum in the late-90s. While Sting was already an established star, the argument could be made that he reached his peak as a draw during his feud with the NWO. Unquestionably, DDP and Goldberg became money-drawing stars because of the fan support they had against the New World Order.
Unfortunately, when the NWO expanded, it became bloated with wrestlers that simply had nothing else to do on the show and the entire concept became extremely diluted. Instead of an elite group of stars, mid-carders like VK Wallstreet, Virgil, Buff Bagwell, and others lowered the standard of the stable. As much as the success of WCW as a whole in the late-90s was built around the direction of the NWO stable, the argument could be made that the peak of the NWO angle was probably the peak of the entire organization in that era. After Bill Goldberg, the former Atlanta Falcon, stormed onto the scene in late-1997, his incredible intensity made for a tremendous presentation as short matches showcased his strengths without exposing his weaknesses. The Goldberg playbook was simple, but it was effective and within a year, he was one of the most popular stars in the industry. Hollywood Hogan’s extended title reign had always been protected by the NWO until Goldberg finally claimed the championship in front of more than 40,000 fans at the Georgia Dome on Nitro in July of 1998.
At the end of the year, Kevin Nash ended Goldberg’s winning streak after Scott Hall zapped him with a taser. While that defeat garnered much criticism, the infamous “finger poke of doom” that saw Nash basically hand the title back to Hogan in early-1999 was probably the turning point in the Monday Night wars. Fans saw that one way or another Hogan would be champion again and after such a dominate reign before the prospect of more Hogan title matches soured many fans on the product. Soon, the NWO split into different factions itself, which could’ve been used as a way to sell a confrontation on pay-per-view before the conclusion of the angle. However, the group continued in several different forms and names like Stevie Ray and Horace Hogan were involved in matches for leadership of certain factions. Again, this entire concept was diluted when the angle got stale after the viewing audience had seen the group have such a dominate role on TV for more than two years.
As is often seen in these scenarios, the meteoric rise of the New World Order angle fell just as fast at a time when the company was in disarray behind the scenes. Four years after the Hogan heel turn, the Bash of the Beach pay-per-view saw his exit from WCW after the infamous shoot promo from Vince Russo, who wrote WCW into nearly $60 million in debt in 2000. Hall left WCW because of personal problems in early 2000, and only Nash remained as one of the top stars prior to when Vince McMahon bought the company in 2001. Despite the fast decline, the New World Order was pivotal to the success of not only WCW, but was also important in the start of the Attiude era in the WWF, which saw the boom period for a peak in the industry.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
E mail firstname.lastname@example.org | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta