24 years ago today in Daytona Beach, Florida, the world of professional wrestling changed forever. The culmination of the first act of what became professional wrestling’s greatest angle EVER took place. A six-week story arc, that began when Scott Hall made his way through a crowd on WCW Monday Nitro and declared war on WCW, finally provided some clarity.
Hall (formerly Razor Ramon) was joined by Kevin Nash (formerly Diesel), two former WWF performers that were “taking over” the rival promotion. For weeks the duo of “Outsiders” teased a third member of their group, that wanted to take on WCW for bragging rights. At June’s Great American Bash PPV, they were promised a match at July 7th’s Bash at the Beach PPV. When the two weren’t told who their opponents would be, they took matters into their own hands:
The following night we would discover the duo would face off against the team of Sting, Lex Luger, and Macho Man Randy Savage, all while not divulging who was their third partner. For the next three weeks, the question raged on, “Who is the third man?” It was perhaps the greatest mystery in professional wrestling’s history.
As the “Outsiders” made their way to the ring for what was dubbed the “Hostile Takeover Match,” a third man was mysteriously absent. But soon enough, we would find out who was the third man. As the match progressed and Lex Luger was incapacitated, it was now a 2-on-2 affair, but the Outsiders quickly began to turn the tide. Then the world of wrestling as we know it changed in an instant.
The Immortal Hulk Hogan, the eternal good guy babyface of the industry, did the unthinkable and joined the Outsiders. The heel turn by Hogan is still, to this day, one of the most shocking moments in the history of wrestling. His first heel promo following the match culminated with him telling WCW fans to “stick it” and proclaiming the trio was the “New World Order” of wrestling.
The heel turn helped rejuvenate Hogan, as his career was stuck in neutral since arriving to WCW in 1994. This turn launched a second phase of Hogan’s historic career.
This event began a near three-year odyssey that captivated the wrestling viewing world and launched the most successful period in its history. With the success of the nWo, for the first time in its history, WCW became the leading wrestling promotion on the planet, surpassing the WWF something that seemed unthinkable previously.
The nWo’s rise to the top of the wrestling landscape forced Vince McMahon to launch the “Attitude Era” — a time frame unlike any other in history. It was filled with real-life soap opera drama, fueled by violence, sex appeal, and alcohol that we’ve never seen since, and never will again. But it was the nWo’s rise that forced the WWF to rethink its product for a modern era.
In a broader context, the lasting appeal of the nWo goes further than launching the “Attitude Era.” For the first time, cheering for a group of “heels,” or bad guys in layman’s terms, was the cool and popular thing to do. Before the nWo, it was rare for a “heel” to be wildly cheered in arenas when doing battle with their babyface counterparts. The group was hip, had an edge to them, and their counter-culture appeal resonated with rebellious teenagers of the time (yours truly included).
The nWo crossed over to mainstream pop culture with Bulls’ star Dennis Rodman joining the group and making appearances annually (most notably during a Monday Nitro event in Detroit that caused Rodman to skip practice the morning in between games 2 and 3 of the 1998 NBA Finals). Hollywood Hogan and Eric Bischoff made appearances on the Tonight Show, eventually taking place in a dreadful match against Jay Leno and Diamond Dallas Page in August of 1998.
The nWo helped launch the live era of modern professional wrestling, with their live, unscripted promos and over-the-top antics. It really did change the way wrestling content was created and presented to fans, and many of these changes still exist today.
Well over two decades later, it’s almost impossible to turn on a live wrestling event and not see an nWo t-shirt in the crowd. I’ve gone on trips all across the country wearing my Outsiders t-shirt only to have some random person throw up the “too sweet” sign the group popularized.
Several baseball players have used various nWo theme songs as their walk-up songs before getting into the batter’s box — most notably Jason Giambi, who used the nWo Wolfpac theme while a member of the Yankees. So it’s clear that the group had the broadest appeal outside the typical wrestling audience that any faction has ever seen. Not the Four Horseman, not Vince McMahon’s Degeneration-X, but the nWo!
The rise and fall of the nWo is in many ways a modern-day Greek tragedy. They rose from nowhere to take over the world, but their exuberance became their downfall eventually. But the good far outweighed the bad with the group, as it was the catalyst for the most popular era in professional wrestling history. There never will be another group like the nWo, and remember when you’re nWo, you’re nWo…