July 7, 1996, Daytona Beach, Florida
When Scott Hall and Kevin Nash allowed their contracts to expire with the World Wrestling Federation in May of 1986, it appeared to be a normal situation where two popular and talented wrestlers would be hopping from one promotion to another. While Vince McMahon valued both performers, he likely did not see them as game changers, as he felt (with some justification) that World Championship Wrestling would not know how to utilize them correctly. He had after all, taken both as castoffs from WCW years before and created the characters Razon Ramon (Hall) and Diesel (Nash) and turned them into top caliber performers, vying for and holding the promotion’s top titles. But on May 27, 1996, something seemed quite different about Scott Hall’s entrance on Monday Nitro which was being held at the Macon Coliseum in Macon, Georgia. It wasn’t made with fancy entrance music, glittering visuals or any fanfare. He was simply captured by the television cameras walking down the stairs through a startled crowd during the middle of a match. He made his way to the ring, grabbed a ringside microphone and announced to the crowd “You all know who I am… but you don’t know why I’m here.” He laid out a challenge for all wrestlers and officials in WCW, declaring war.
Later, during the second hour of the broadcast, he told play-by-play man Eric Bischoff to get three of WCW’s men to face his group. For the rest of the evening and for the next week, his appearance and for what it might portend was all that anyone in the wrestling world was talking about. The next week saw the appearance of Nash alongside Hall, boasting that they were coming in and would be taking over. For the next few weeks, the two continued making their presence known and referring to their partner, the 3rd Man, who would help them to overthrow WCW. Many observers believed that they had been sent by the WWF to infiltrate and overthrow their rival promotion. In fact, the WWF saw the same seeds planted, and feeling that Nash and Hall were being used to confuse fans, sued WCW.
Hall and Nash continued to bull their way through the promotion, launching sneak attacks on wrestlers and then attacking right out in the open, leaving wrestlers laying in their wake. At the Great American Bash PPV, Bischoff interviewed them asking if they were working for the WWF. Both said no and then warned that at the Bash at the Beach, they and their partner would defeat the best that WCW had to offer, as the beginning of their takeover. Nash then powerbombed Bischoff off of the stage. Interest in WCW ballooned beyond anything the promotion had ever enjoyed and the only question on anyone’s lips was “Who is the 3rd man?” Hotlines, websites and radio shows buzzed with rumors and speculation, perhaps another from the WWF or maybe one of the mainstays of WCW. The match was set, with Hall and Nash and their partner facing Randy Savage, Sting and Lex Luger at Bash at the Beach 1996, scheduled for the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Florida on July 7, 1996.
The match (called the “Hostile Takeover match”) began with Hall and Nash in the ring, but their mystery partner was still absent. After going back and forth, Hall and Nash (referred to as the Outsiders) began dominating, beating down Savage in the middle of the ring. Suddenly from the back, the crowd began roaring at the sight of Hulk Hogan storming to the ring. Tony Schiavone and Dusty Rhodes on the pay-per-view broadcast began cheering on the heroic Hogan to save the day. As he entered the ring with the crowd roaring, the Outsiders cowered outside of the ring. Hogan slowly bounced against the ropes and then executed a leg drop against the prone and helpless Savage. The crowd hushed and Nash and Hall scurried into the ring, backslapping Hogan and laughing at the fans. The All-American Hero Hulk Hogan had just turned heel and turned his back on WCW. The fans then went crazy, booing and showering the ring with trash. Mean Gene Okerlund then scrambled into the ring to interview Hogan. Hogan gave the promo of his life, chastising the fans for ignoring all of the charity work he had done over the years and the good guy persona that he had delivered for all of the little Hulkamaniacs. He offered that he and Hall and Nash were the New World Order of wrestling and would change the landscape of the sport forever. When Okerlund mentioned the trash now lining the ring, Hogan responded. “As far as I’m concerned, all this crap in the ring represents these fans out here! For two years, brother! For two years, I held my head high! I did everything for the charities! I did everything for the kids! And the reception I got when I came out here, you fans can stick it, brother! Because, if it wasn’t for Hulk Hogan, you people wouldn’t be here! If it wasn’t for Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff would be still selling meat from a truck in Minneapolis! And, if it wasn’t for Hulk Hogan, all these johnny-come-latelies that you see out here, wrestling wouldn’t be here! I was selling out the world, brother, while they were bumming gas to put in their car to get to high school! So the way it is now, brother, with Hulk Hogan, and the new world organization of wrestling, brother, me and the new blood by my side… whatcha gonna do, brother, when the new world organization (sic) runs wild on you?”
When the pay-per-view went off of the air, everyone in the wrestling world knew that they were experiencing a sea change. The emergence of the NWO would cause a turnaround in the television ratings war between the two companies, with WCW winning the battle for 83 straight weeks and the WWF coming perilously close to going out of business. But much of this might not have happened, as Hogan making a heel turn was not a certainty. Hogan was hesitant to make the change after ten years as the biggest babyface in the business. Concerned about losing endorsements and merchandising deals, Hogan had to be swayed by Bischoff (who was also the Executive Vice President of WCW) that a heel turn could resurrect his stale character and floundering career. The night before the pay-per-view, Hogan spent the night at the home of WCW assistant booker Kevin Sullivan, so as to prevent people from getting in Hogan’s ear and talking him out of it. Even on the day of the pay-per-view, a back-up plan was in place for Sting to be the third man in case Hogan balked at the last minute.
The NWO would become a lesson, that climbing too high and too fast would, like Icarus, lead to an inevitable downfall and became a cautionary tale. Remnants of its success would lead to WCW eventually going out of business with its assets being purchased by the WWF for the paltry sum of $2 million, (about the same amount Hogan earned the year the NWO formed). Nevertheless, it is considered one of the greatest angles ever created in professional wrestling history.