20 years ago, Scott Hall invaded WCW and launched wrestling’s Monday Night Wars
The late ’90s were a good time to be a wrestling fan.
Both WCW and WWE (nee WWF, of course) were at the heights of their powers, as the Monday Night Wars raged. Officially, the war between the two biggest wrestling promotions in the world started on Sept. 4, 1995, when WCW Monday Nitro debuted its inaugural episode. Multiple title matches gave that initial broadcast a sense of importance, but it was the appearance of Lex Luger, a WWF mainstay who’d jumped ship overnight to Atlanta-based WCW, that indicated the scope of what was to come.
Unofficially, however, the Monday Night Wars truly began 20 years ago on May 27. In the middle of a completely irrelevant midcard match, a figure dressed all in denim and chomping on a toothpick made his way through the crowd. Wrestling fans knew him as Razor Ramon, a former Intercontinental champion in WWF who was one of the company’s biggest stars. Yet here he was on a rival show, interrupting the proceedings to deliver a warning: An invasion was coming.
“You people, you know who I am. But you don’t know why I’m here. Where is billionaire Ted? Where is the Nacho Man? That punk can’t even get in the building. Me? I go where ever I want, whenever I want. And where oh where is Scheme Gene? Cause I got a scoop for you. When that Ken doll look-a-like, when that weather man wannabe comes out here later tonight, I got a challenge for him, for billionaire Ted, for the Nacho Man and for anybody else in WCW. You want to go to war? You want a war? You’re gonna get one.”
Later in that same broadcast, the invader appeared once again with another bombshell — he wasn’t alone. Scott Hall, as Ramon would be known in WCW, teased that he was part of a larger "we."
A much larger "we," it would turn out.
Two weeks after Hall’s debut, he introduced the WCW audience to Kevin Nash, formerly "Diesel" in WWF. Nash cut another war-styled promo, in which he famously referred to the word "play" as an adjective:
You’ve been sitting out here for six months, running your mouth. “This is where the big boys play,” huh? Look at the adjective — “play.” We ain’t here to play. Now he said last week that he was going to bring somebody out here. I’m here. You still don’t have your three people. And you know why? Because nobody wants to face us. […] Where’s your three guys? What, you couldn’t get a paleontologist to get out a couple of these fossils cleared? You ain’t got enough guys off a dialysis machine to get a team?
Together, Nash and Hall would be known as the Outsiders, but they weren’t finished there. They demanded a six-man tag match at the next WCW Pay-Per-View, Bash at the Beach — yet they refused to reveal their third partner.
After some internal strife, team WCW gathered Luger, Sting and Randy Savage to take on the invaders. As the match began that fateful Sunday, the third member of the Outsiders was still nowhere to be found. Eventually, though, wrestling fans’ worst fears came true. Hulk Hogan made his way to the ring, seemingly to support his friend Savage and the rest of the WCW squad. Instead, he hit Macho Man with multiple leg drops, embraced the Outsiders, and launched into one of the greatest wrestling promos ever:
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? […]
Well let me tell you something, I made that orgainization, 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 the 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.[…]
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 I 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 Organization runs wild on you? Whatcha gonna do?
"New world organization," "New world order," — either way, the nWo was born. And WCW leaped to the front of the Monday night ratings war, beating out Raw for 84 consecutive weeks at the height of Nitro’s popularity. nWo embraced some of our baser instincts, doing whatever they wanted (both publicly and behind the scenes). They were the ultimate antiheroes, bad guys we couldn’t help but love.
Unfortunately for "Billionaire Ted" and his company, however, WWF responded in kind with the formation of D-Generation X. The stable built around Triple H and Shawn Michaels was the earliest indication of WWF’s shift into the Attitude Era, when the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock would re-establish the superiority of Vince McMahon’s promotion.
WCW’s fall from grace was a long and tortured process, but one moment sticks out above all others. The DX crew launched an invasion of its own, blurring the lines between scripted wrestling and reality with a brash display of … bravado, let’s say:
As WWF’s popularity rebounded, WCW panicked. The company was stretched thin by the introduction of a second live weekly broadcast, finances were adversely affected by large contracts for the likes of Hogan and the arrival of Bret Hart, and the creative team started to lose its touch. A few awful attempts to fix things later — including famously giving the world championship to actor David Arquette — WCW was done.
WWF/WWE absorbed the remainder, and the rest was history. McMahon & Co. have never had a real competitor since. There was a botched attempt at a WCW invasion angle, but it became clear that the wrestlers from the "other" promotion didn’t stand a chance of being placed on equal footing with the homegrown, loyal talent who’d always been with WWF. The "brand extension" followed, and WWF has been trying to claw back since.
The product has suffered due in part to the monopoly WWE created for itself — because when both WCW and WWF were at the top of their games, they pushed each other to be more entertaining every week. Maybe the recently announced roster split can generate some of that competition artificially. Either way, it’s hard to see wrestling rebounding to the dizzying heights of the Monday Nights Wars.
But we can dream.