"You people, you know who I am but you don't know why I'm here." 24 years ago today, Scott Hall interrupted a match on Monday Nitro and uttered possibly the most iconic phrase in the history of professional wrestling.
This iconic moment was the beginning of what came to be known as the "Hostile Takeover" angle of WCW that culminated with the creation of the nWo, the single greatest wrestling faction ever. Two weeks later, Hall, formerly Razor Ramon in the WWF, would be joined by real-life best friend, Kevin Nash, who portrayed Diesel.
In the six weeks that followed Hall's shocking appearance, we saw the greatest story arc in the history of professional wrestling culminating at 1996's Bash at the Beach PPV. For weeks on end we as an audience were teased with the question, "Who is the third man?" We would find out in Daytona at Bash at the Beach on July 7th (I'm going to go more in-depth on that event and the nWo's enduring legacy on that anniversary).
This moment proved to be a pivotal turning point in the world of professional wrestling. This seemingly real-life event led to many fans wondering if it was indeed a "shoot." Throughout my childhood, my friends and I would always envision classic WWF/WCW battles, but was this the moment when it would finally happen?
The element of realism is one of the things that made Hall's Nitro appearance so significant. He has talked for years in various shoot interviews that it was his longtime friend and former AWA compatriot, Larry Zybyszko's idea that he come through the crowd and cause the match to come to a screeching halt. This is an element that is often overlooked when analyzing this moment, in particular. Had Hall just walked down the aisle and done a run-in, as was par for the course for much of wrestling history, the moment wouldn't have had the same impact.
This small little detail, causing a match and two competitors to completely stop and vacate the ring, made a world of difference. In many ways, this moment ushered in a new age for professional wrestling, and WCW in particular. Eric Bischoff, WCW's Executive Vice President and main creative force, has stated he was trying to get away from the fictional, childish gimmicks that were still very prevalent in the mid-'90s. His goal was to create a brand that was based on more realism with characters that were relatable to people instead of characters like Doink the Clown and the Repo Man.
Having one of the biggest names in the business from a rival promotion interrupt a match was one hell of a way to drive the point home. The subsequent appearances of Hall and Nash on WCW programming almost always ended with these two renegades running rough shot over the entire WCW roster. The creative team did a tremendous job of keeping the element of realism going with the angle by having Hall and Nash sit front row at events as if they were paying spectators.
Things reached a high point at June's Great American Bash PPV in Baltimore, where Bischoff confronted Hall and Nash by asking them, "Do you work for the WWF?" This question was one that was on the mind of fans for weeks. The fact is, the internet was still in its relative infancy in 1996 and the wrestling rumor sites and message boards hadn't yet taken off, so many were left to wonder if Vince McMahon had sent these two stars he created down to wreak havoc on the competition.
In a broader context, Hall's appearance was really the first shot fired in the Monday Night Wars that waged on through the end of the decade between WCW and the WWF. Hall's surprise appearance followed by Nash a few weeks later was the catalyst for reviving an industry that was in a slump and in need of rejuvenation. We seemingly had real-life drama playing out on-screen every Monday night as viewers, many of whom drifted away from the industry (myself included), felt like they had to tune in next to week to see what would happen next.
Looking back on it more than two decades later, Scott Hall interrupting a match between two jobbers would prove to be a seminal moment in what became the greatest era in the history of professional wrestling. We may not have known that day why he was there, but we can now say definitively Scott Hall was on Monday Nitro on 5/27/96 to change professional wrestling history.