Today marks the 25th anniversary of the most monumental on-screen occurrence in professional wrestling. The Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, FL, was ground zero in 1996 when Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Hulk Hogan formed the New World Order.
Watching the story unfold on WCW Monday Nitro was indeed something unique that will never be duplicated. Not many people had the internet in their homes in 1996. The idea of looking at rumors and backstage news didn’t exist.
Heck, it would be two more years before I saw my first Netscape browser. All we knew was what was presented on screen. ‘Who is the third man’ was wrestling’s equivalent of ‘Who Shot J.R.’ It dominated the conversation and became the biggest mystery in wrestling history.
Scott Hall, followed by Kevin Nash, “invaded” WCW as pseudo-WWF/WWE representatives. It was surreal seeing them on Nitro. Back then, you didn’t know a wrestler had left a promotion until they appeared on the other promotion’s television show.
My money was on Bret Hart being the third man. No one had seen him since WrestleMania 12. Keeping with the idea that it had to be someone not in WCW, logic dictated that the “Hitman” would be the big surprise.
The inaugural match in what would become a multi-year war was set for the third annual Bash at the Beach. Macho Man Randy Savage, Lex Luger, and Sting against Hall, Nash, and the mysterious third man.
Our family usually couldn’t afford to order pay-per-view events outside of WWE’s big four. However, I had my first job that summer and convinced my parents to let me order the show.
As the main event began, my mother asked me if she could watch it with me. My teenage brain was like, “Why do you want to watch this?” She told me with a smile as she poured herself a glass of Diet Coke, “I want to know who the third man is.”
Hall and Nash started the match without their “surprise buddy.” Sting, Luger, and Savage had a one-man advantage, until they didn’t. Luger was knocked out of the match to serve as a red herring that he’d return as the third man.
All four men were down and out as the match neared its conclusion. Suddenly, the iconic red and yellow emerged from the entrance way as Hulk Hogan marched down the aisle.
“It’s him. He’s the third man,” my mom said mere seconds before Bobby Hennan infamously spoiled the finished on commentary. The accusation left my mind like a fleeting shadow because it was inconceivable.
As Hogan entered the ring, I said to myself, “Whoever the third man is, they better be good if they’re going to topple Hul…
Hulk Hogan drilled Randy Savage with his patented leg drop. My jaw hit the floor as Hogan delivered a second leg drop, followed by a third. My jaw was still on the floor as my mom smiled, looking at her son absolutely perplexed.
Hulk Hogan was the third man, and now, a bad guy.
When looking back at the formation of the nWo, there are three underrated items that led to its success.
Scott Hall and Kevin Nash using their real names is an overlooked piece of the puzzle. A new company meant a new stage name. However, using their real names made them stand out as true outsiders bucking wrestling norms.
Lex Luger, being knocked out of the match, gets lost in the shuffle when talking about that fateful night. The inadvertent Stinger Splash was the perfect catalyst. It simultaneously looked brutal enough to hurt Luger while also looked soft enough to be a ruse, adding to the match’s speculative fervor.
Lastly, Hulk Hogan not being on T.V. for three months augmented the surprise of it all. A wrestler off television is often out of sight, out of mind. Hogan’s trek down the aisle that night reminded everyone who the hero of the day was, only for him to become the villain of the story.
Eric Bischoff also deserves a lot of credit for even suggesting that Hulk Hogan turn heel. It could have gone wrong in so many ways and ended up working to the highest magnitude.
The formation of the nWo led to a New World Order in professional wrestling. Television ratings, ticket sales, merchandise sales, and interest in the genre were at an all-time high.
While the rogue group were meant to be heels, they became the cool antihero faction that was more popular than the WCW brand they were trying to conquer.
Unfortunately, the desire on the part of Eric Bishoff to eventually have the nWo as its own promotion diluted the group when perennial journeymen such as Buff Bagwell, V.K. Wall Street, Scott Norton, and numerous others obtained membership.
In 1998, a rift within the group caused it to split into two separate factions. nWo Hollywood was led by Hulk Hogan, and nWo Wolfpac was captained by Kevin Nash. WCW became an afterthought as most programming was dedicated to the feuding nWo as they imploded from within.
At the start of 1999, the infamous “finger poke of doom” occurred between Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash. Why would anyone willingly lose the world title just to reform a gang? It was the beginning of the string of storytelling that alienated the audience and led to WCW’s demise, two years later.
Storylines in professional wrestling have a beginning, middle but never a proper ending. Often, they fizzle out, and the promotion moves on and becomes too busy promoting the next big thing to neatly wrap up the story.
The nWo is no different. However, its beginning and middle changed the way fans look at mystery opponents, mystery partners, and factions in general. These things occurred before, but the nWo evolved these tried and true hallmarks of professional wrestling as their influence is still felt today.
New Japan Pro Wrestling’s high popular Bullet Club faction wouldn’t exist without the nWo.