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Happy 19th Anniversary Hulk Hogan WCW Heel Turn
Nineteen years ago this week history was made and a revolution was started. Hulk Hogan dropped the leg on WCW and joined Kevin Nash and Scott Hall to form the New World Order beginning what some would call the greatest angle in the history of pro wrestling.
It is easy for a lot of us to sit back and criticize the many mistakes WCW made but on one night they got it right. July 7 1996 at the WCW Bash at the Beach 96 one angle revitalized a legendary career, gave new life to a struggling company, created icons, and pumped new blood into an entire business that some had left for dead months earlier. The night Hulk Hogan turned heel is something that those of us that were fans in 1996 will never forget.
To fully appreciate the impact of this angle I have to give you a little background. WCW had been a place up to that point that was more appreciated by hardcore and longtime wrestling fans for legends like Ric Flair and young athletic stars like Brian Pillman and Steve Austin. It had a nice following but it was more southern than national. Eric Bischoff was determined to change that and made a stunning move by signing Hulk Hogan in 1994. Bischoff put his job on the line and offered Hogan a deal which the WWE opted not to match.
The deal was a huge gamble for WCW. Hogan had been on the downside of his WWE career. It was generally believed that Hogan would have been used as a guy to hand the torch off to the next generation of stars rather than be the face of the company had he stayed in the WWE. Hogan was also the poster boy of everything WCW fans hated about the WWE. Could Bischoff level the playing field bringing over new fans to outnumber the fans who would be tuning out of WCW?
Fans started tuning out thanks to Hogan’s ridiculously cartoonish angles and just got tired of seeing the Hulk beat all of his repackaged foes. In addition to their own self inflicted damage, a little company called Extreme Championship Wrestling started making some noise. A big part of that noise was to expose the faults of WCW to their fans. ECW fans heard every week how lame WCW was and more people began laughing at the joke that was WCW.
Eric Bischoff played his ace card and developed a Monday night program to not only counter WWE programming, but steal some of their audience. In addition to the Monday night move, Bischoff slowly started poaching familiar names like Bobby Heenan and Randy Savage. Even with great talents like Heenan and Savage on board, WCW continued to come off as a company out of touch with the teenage audience and stale on ideas.
This all changed on May 27. Scott Hall clad in denim, walked out on WCW Monday Nitro and caused the biggest stir in the history of the program. Hall laid out a challenge to face three WCW wrestlers and said he would have two friends to join him in the match. A couple of weeks later Kevin Nash joined Scott Hall on Nitro. It was implied that Hall and Nash, seen on WWE TV for years as Razor Ramon and Diesel respectively, had invaded WCW. Nash and Hall were known as the Outsiders to play off of this. For fans that didn’t know any better, this was must-see television because anyone from the WWE could show up next.
WCW was starting to turn things around. Nitro had regularly done ratings in the low-mid twos yet were now pulling in ratings between 3.3-3.5. It may not sound impressive but to increase your ratings that fast and maintain them was a big deal. But even bigger than the ratings and the buyrates was the perception of WCW. WCW was cool again (well most of it).
The angle really kicked into second gear at the Great American Bash 96. Eric Bischoff accepted Hall’s challenge and said his three WCW wrestlers would meet them at Bash at the Beach. Bischoff refused to reveal the names to Hall and Nash. For that, he was powerbombed off the stage through a table by Nash. Today, this is something you probably see every week in wrestling. In 1996 the only place you were seeing anything like this was ECW. It was a very powerful angle and a historic moment in the angle.
To show you how big this angle was the Nitro rating that week shot up from a 2.7 to a 3.4. Nitro would only do one more rating below a 3.0 all year. A “random” drawing was held on Nitro the following week to determine who from WCW would wrestle Hall and Nash. Randy Savage, Sting, and Lex Luger were chosen to represent WCW. Hall and Nash refused to reveal their partner. For the weeks up to the pay per view all of the talk on Nitro was, “who is the third man?” For fans at home not knowing any better, it could have been anyone from the WWE.
The week before Bash at the Beach, Hall and Nash invaded Nitro as usual. The Outsiders walked through the crowd in the middle of a segment with Bischoff and Heenan. The crowd was all over this and just eating it up. Hall and Nash wound up taking front row seats with popcorn in hand. Nash eventually grabbed the microphone and said, “It looks like we’re taking over a little early.” Hall and Nash proceeded to walk up the broadcast area where Bischoff and Heenan were sitting. Heenan left. Security stopped them and Sting, Luger, and Savage all madeup like Sting came out to confront them. Nash yelled, “look at the clowns!” The entire WCW locker room emptied out to support their company. Everyone had to be separated by security. It was an unreal moment and only added more excitement for Bash at the Beach.
Keep in mind the Internet was in its infancy so most of the scoops during this time period came from either the wrestling newsletters or hotlines. Most of the reputable sources reported that Hulk Hogan would be the third man for the Outsiders in the weeks leading to the show. Dave Meltzer on the other hand reported a week or so before the show that Hogan didn’t want to turn heel. Lex Luger was reported to be the backup plan with more sources leaning towards Luger in the days leading up to the show.
I remember watching Bash at the Beach 96 and thinking, “just get on with it.” It was torture sitting through two hours of undercard matches with so much anticipation for the main-event. All in all it was a pretty lousy undercard that night which certainly didn’t help matters. Finally though it was time for the main-event and you could cut the tension with a knife in the living room amongst friends and live on pay per view in the arena.
The Oustiders come out first with no third man. Gene Okerlund walks down the entrance way and looks confused. Dusty Rhodes says on commentary, “This is bogus!” Okerlund then enters the ring to confront Hall and Nash and says, “I don’t see three men here tonight. Where is your partner?”
Hall answers and calls him “Scheme Gene.” Hall then tells Gene, “All you need to know little man is that he’s here, and he’s ready.” Okerlund then asks Nash, “Is your partner telling me your third man is in the building?” Nash says, “He’s here alright Gene. We’ve got enough to handle it right now, right here.” The WCW announcers are upset.
Before I talk about the match let me just say that Bobby Heenan is awesome here. He is selling this whole mystery like it is the biggest thing he has ever seen. Considering where he’s been, that said a lot. Heenan is mostly known as a witty commentator but when he had to get an angle over, he was a genius and highly underrated in that regard. We all talk about Heenan’s performance at the 1992 Royal Rumble but this may have been just as good.
Savage, Luger, and Sting all come out with war paint on. It’s your typical match early on, although very heated thanks to the audience. Lex takes a fall early on and is out on the floor. Luger is knocked unconscious on the floor. Heenan than tells the crowd that it’s now two against two, or three against two if the other guy is really in the building. Heenan tells Dusty, “Something’s up.” This was brilliant as it played into the whole drama surrounding the reports of Luger joining the Outsiders. Luger gets stretchered out and at this point just about everyone watching is thinking that Lex is coming back and turning on his friends.
The guys actually have a pretty decent match at this point. The crowd is red hot and everyone appears to be working their butts off. Savage was fantastic here. Savage wrestled with such aggression against Hall and Nash that he really got the whole idea over of how WCW hated these guys for invading their company.
Savage drops Hall with a double axe handle from the top rope. Nash and Hall are both down. Nash gives Savage a low blow. All four guys are out (Sting from earlier). Referee Pee Wee Anderson starts to count them out. The attention is turned to the ramp as Hulk Hogan walks out with the red and yellow and pointing fingers. The fans start screaming, yes screaming for Hulk. Once again this isn’t 2011 and most of the crowd had no idea at all about the Hogan rumors. God love that gullible WCW crowd.
Dusty and Tony Schiavone start screaming about Hulk Hogan being there to save the day for WCW. Dusty sounded a little phony but Schiavone was really believable. Dusty, “Hulk Hogan is in the building.” Schiavone, “You’re damned right he is!” Bobby Heenan asks the million dollar question, “Yeah but who’s side is he on?” Dusty won’t even hear of it.
Hogan enters the ring, Hall and Nash take a powder, and Savage is still laid out in the center of the ring from the low blow (he’s selling this low blow like he’s Josh Koscheck). Hogan leans back in the turnbuckle, looks around, and then drops the leg heard around the world across the neck of his old foe Randy Savage. Heenan announces that Hogan is the third man. Hogan drops another leg while Hall and Nash join the party and give each other high-fives. Heenan calls it, “the lowest shot ever given to professional wrestling.” Keep in mind this was before Dixie Carter’s state of the company address on TNA Impact.
I hate to keep gloating about Heenan but I will. What made Heenan so great in this situation in addition to everything else was his credibility. Heenan tells the fans that he told them so and he was right about Hogan all of these years. Another heel announcer like Michael Cole would have suddenly started talking about his love for Hogan where Heenan actually turned himself babyface here.
Of course we all know what followed next. Fans started throwing trash into the ring at Hall, Hogan, and Nash. Gene Okerlund immediately entered the ring to ask Hogan what the hell this was all about. One thing to note here is that if this was present day wrestling, you would have turned into RAW or Impact to get this interview. At Bash at the Beach, you were certainly rewarded for the money you paid to watch this great moment.
Hogan cut what would become a historic promo in the center of the ring to explain the turn. Here is the entire transcript of the Hogan promo thanks to IMDB.com.
Gene Okerlund: Hulk Hogan, excuse me. Excuse me. What in the world are you thinking?
Hulk Hogan: Mean Gene the first thing you gotta do is to tell these people to shut up if they want to hear what I’ve gotta say.
Gene Okerlund: I have been with you for so many years for you to join up with the likes of these two men absoulutely makes me SICK to my stomach! And I think that these people here and a lot of people around the whole wrestling world have had just about enough of this man and this man and you want to put yourself in this group? You’ve gotta be…kidding me!
Hulk Hogan: Well the first thing you’ve gotta realize brother is that this right here is the future of wrestling. You can call this the New World Order of wrestling brother. These two men came from a great big organization up north and everybody was wondering about who the third man was. Well who knows more about that organization than me brother?
Gene Okerlund: I’ve been there and done that. You have made the wrong decision in my opinion.
Hulk Hogan: Well let me tell you something, I made that organization brother! I made the people rich up there. I made the people that ran that organization rich up there. And when it all came to pass, the name Hulk Hogan, the man Hulk Hogan got bigger than the entire organization brother! And then Billionaire Ted amigo, he wanted to talk turkey with Hulk Hogan. Well Billionaire Ted promised me movies brother. Billionaire Ted promised me millions of dollars. And Billionaire Ted promised me world caliber matches. And as far as Billionaire Ted, Eric Bischoff and entire WCW goes, I’m bored brother. That’s why I want these two guys here, these so called Outsiders, these are the men I want as my friends. They are the new blood of professional wrestling and not only are we going to take over the whole wrestling business, with Hulk Hogan, the new blood and the monsters with me. We will destroy everything in our path Mean Gene.
Gene Okerlund: Look at all of this crap in this ring! This is what’s in the future for you if you want to hang around the likes of this man Hall, and this man Nash.
Hulk Hogan: As far as I’m concerned, all this crap in this 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 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 still be selling meat from a truck in Minneapolis. And if it wasn’t for Hulk Hogan, all of these “Johnny come latelys” that you see out here wrestling wouldn’t be here. I was selling the world out 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 when the New World Order runs wild on you? Whatcha gonna do?
Hulk Hogan: What are you gonna do?
Tony Schiavone: “All right. We have seen the end of Hulkamania. For Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, for Dusty Rhodes, For “Mean” Gene Okerlund, I don’t know…I’m Tony Schiavone. Hulk Hogan, you can go to hell! We’re outta here. Straight to hell.”
What made this equally memorable was the scene of Hogan talking as endless amounts of trash rained down on him in the ring. I never saw anything like that and man did it give this angle some extra punch. Seeing how much the fans hated this made it even that much more powerful to the fans at home watching on television. It was a moment that I and many others will certainly never forget.
Jeff Peck and I break this down on an upcoming edition of the Still Real to Us podcast. We debated whether this was the greatest angle ever. I argued that next to Hogan dropping the leg on the Iron Sheik and beginning Hulkamania that it was. It pumped new life into the wrestling business which was struggling across the board. It saved what looked like was the end of the career of Hulk Hogan. It turned Scott Hall and Kevin Nash into icons. Was Stone Cold Steve Austin’s confrontation with Mike Tyson more successful? Maybe, but I don’t know if we would have ever even seen Stone Cold if it weren’t for the N.W.O.
The angle also ended a lot differently than it started. The same angle that revitalized the business and shot WCW to the moon was also badly mismanaged and would end up hurting WCW in the end more than it helped it. It had nothing to do with the Bash at the Beach angle but more to do with the incompetent booking of Eric Bischoff, Hall, Nash, and Hogan.
I could also make an argument that this was the greatest heel turn ever in the business. Bruno Sammartino, Steve Austin, The Rock, and Hulk Hogan were probably the biggest money makers in pro wrestling. All made money as blockbuster babyfaces but only Hogan did it as a blockbuster heel. While I am sure that someone will argue differently, I can’t think of a bigger heel that drew more money than Hogan did during his N.W.O. run.
Happy 19th anniversary Hollywood Hulk Hogan, the N.W.O., and Bash at the Beach 1996.