Twenty-three years ago, pro wrestling was introduced to the nWo: The New World Order.
Scott Hall and Kevin Nash’s invasion of WCW at Bash At The Beach 1996 was complete when they unveiled the third man in their hostile takeover: Hulk Hogan.
For the next three years, the nWo factored into every major story in WCW. Hell, the nWo was every major story in WCW. And it led to the biggest profits in company history, and an 83-week run as the top wrestling company on the planet.
It was also the beginning of the end of WCW.
As we look back at the nWo and its legacy, we find that its role in storytelling for WCW from 1996 is basically a texbook. It’s a how-to manual. The ultimate guide to “do’s and don’t’s” in pro wrestling.
Keep It Cool — But Not Too Cool
The nWo were supposed to be the worst bad guys in WCW history. From the minute Scott Hall made his entrance through the crowd on the May 27, 1996, episode of Monday Nitro, it was clear the audience didn’t see it that way.
WCW was doing something that nobody had done before. Whether they knew it or not (they knew it), they were hinting, by Hall’s words if not his mannerisms, that WWE was coming to destroy WCW.
And when you see something you’ve never seen before, there’s usually only one appropriate thing to say: “That was cool.”
From that point on, no matter how dastardly or how evil they were, the nWo was cool. Even a few weeks later, when Hall introduced Kevin Nash to the mix, this definitely meant bad things for the good guys. Nash was verbally and physically intimidating Eric Bischoff, a defenseless announcer. And yet, you couldn’t deny that he was cool.
Even if he didn’t know the difference between a verb and an adjective. And no, Kevin, you will never live that down. Ever.
And yet, the fact that they were cool became a problem. The nWo was too cool.
The idea was for them to continually overwhelm the babyfaces and, eventually, build to an epic confrontation where a good guy would rise and finally deliver justice. Unfortunately, audiences and crowds didn’t want to boo them. They wound up booing their opponents.
Hulk Hogan coming into the group made for a big splash at first. Hogan’s red-and-yellow vitamins routine was getting stale, so turning him heel made a huge impact. WCW fans hated Hollywood Hogan. But the longer he hung out with the nWo, the cooler he became. And the cooler he was, the less fans wanted him to get his butt kicked.
WWE has almost the opposite problem today with Roman Reigns. The guy is too cool. Or at least he’s presented as being too cool. Nothing fazes him one way or the other, and that makes it difficult to make a connection with him. If he doesn’t care that another wrestler is talking smack in his face, neither do we.
The nWo proved that finding the right balance of coolness is important.
Make It Big — But Not Too Big
Hogan, Nash, and Hall were a formidable trio. But if WCW was going to make this angle about the nWo taking over World Championship Wrestling, they knew the group would have to have more than three guys.
So the group started to grow in strength. The Giant (better known today as Big Show) joined the group. In a rare bit of logic, a newly-arrived Ted DiBiase was revealed to be the group’s financier. And with each passing week, the nWo unveiled more new members, each a more devastating blow to WCW.
But it didn’t stop growing. New members just kept coming in to the point that being the newest member of the nWo was kind of like being a modern-day episode of Monday Night Raw: Nobody cared.
In fact, the nWo became so bloated, that a big storyline that carried WCW through 1998 was the nWo splitting up into two separate groups. The lesson to be learned here is that when a story becomes so expansive it’s unwieldy, it’s time to pull the plug.
WCW did not learn that lesson until it was too late. Once they learned, the damage was done.
Make The Story Long — But Not Too Long
The lack of long-term storytelling in WWE is one of the biggest complaints most fans have about the company.
WWE will start a program or a feud between two wrestlers, and it’s obvious from the jump that they have no idea where it’s going. We’ve talked before about Raw being written on-the-go while the show is airing live.
The nWo, at its outset anyway, had a long term plan. Hogan and the group ran roughshod over WCW for 18 months and started teasing Sting as the ultimate hero for WCW in the fall of 1996.
Sting didn’t challenge Hogan for the WCW World Championship until Starrcade in December of 1997. In the meantime, Sting teased his allegiances, and Hogan fended off mediocre challengers. But it was always clear that the endgame was for Sting and Hogan to meet up.
Unfortunately when they did, WCW botched the blow-off to the biggest feud in company history and wound up having to do an anti-climactic rematch a couple months later. But the problem here isn’t the screwed up ending. It’s that the nWo never got what was coming to it.
There was never a moment where a hero stood tall and said, “I have put the nWo away, once and for all.”
And it’s understandable that the nWo kept going. They were still big merchandise sellers, and it couldn’t just be dissolved instantly. But consider that, as we mentioned, the next big story for the nWo in 1998 was a feud with itself.
The good nWo, led by Kevin Nash, against the evil nWo, led by Hulk Hogan. Even that story ended with both groups reuniting in early 1999.
Here, the moral is pretty simple: Know the ending before you start writing. Part of me wonders if the nWo would still be at the center of every story if WCW had survived past 2001.
Few stories in pro wrestling are perfect. It seemed as though the nWo might be one of the few exceptions. Instead, it was the thing that wouldn’t die.
Pro wrestling hasn’t learned many lessons from the nWo, unfortunately. WWE’s Authority angle ran for a year-and-a-half and, in some way, it’s actually still going on.
No pro wrestling storyline should continue 4-life. Not even the nWo.
All images courtesy of WWE.