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25 Years Ago: Hulk Hogan Makes Wrestling Cool with the nWo

This summer, I've reflected on how so many of my good summertime memories are connected to professional wrestling.  Later this month, I'll be posting an article about five of my own personal memories of summer-time wrestling that I really think you'll enjoy.  In August, there will be another post looking back 25 years at WWF's summer-time spectacular "Summer Slam" from 1996.  

But today, it's absolutely necessary that we look back 25 years to WCW's summer-time showcase event, the "Bash at the Beach."  It was the catalyst that ignited the boom period of professional wrestling of the mid- to late 1990s, and it's a day that changed wrestling and American pop culture forever.  

25 years ago, on July 7, 1996, I would have just finished the sixth grade a few weeks earlier.  I was twelve years old.  I would have been dead set on spending my summer doing absolutely nothing but swimming in our backyard pool, watching American Gladiators, Saved by the Bell, and I Love Lucy reruns when the mid-morning heat set in.  Then, after probably a grilled cheese or peanut butter sandwich for lunch, I'd watch Salute Your Shorts reruns on Nickelodeon in the afternoon and then spend my evening hours watching professional wrestling.  If I wasn't watching wrestling, I was reading about it online or pretending to be a wrestler in Prodigy's e-federation system on the BBs.  

WCW was in the midst of an invasion, with newcomers from the rival promotion, WWF, coming out of the woodwork to overthrow the show.  As a diehard WCW fan, I was predisposed to think of these WWF guys as "the bad guys" anyway, but the actions of Scott Hall and Kevin Nash made me really hate them.  

Back then, not everyone had the internet, and knowing the behind-the-scenes details wasn't as readily available as it is now.  Even though my family had the internet, the real news was still hard to come by, and most of it was a lot of rumors and fan's best guesses.

I've mentioned a few times over the years on this blog that my parents never let me buy PPV events.  They didn't like wrestling, and they didn't like that I watched it, so surely they weren't going to spend 30 or 40 bucks a month on a 3-hour show.  So, on the Sunday night of the big event, I'd always be online clicking around in wrestling chat rooms or waiting for the slowly updated "newz" sites to post commentary.  It's hard to believe in this day and age of social media, where people post their most insane thoughts every few seconds, that it would take a good 20 or 30 minutes for someone to update a line or two on their website, but that's what it was in those days.

This PPV, the 1996 "Bash at the Beach," was different than the rest.  The fate of WCW rested on who the infamous "third man" would be.  They had promised someone big, and I was practically biting my nails, waiting for the "wrestling newz" websites to update their results page.  

When I finally read the news, I couldn't believe it.

Hulk Hogan, the ultimate hero of wrestling... had gone bad.

Just months prior, on May 19, 1996, in what would be the infamous "curtain call" video from Madison Square Garden, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall wrestled their final match for the WWF.  Eight days later, on May 27, Scott Hall made his first appearance with WCW on Monday Nitro in the Macon Coliseum in Macon, Georgia.  

During a mundane mid-card match that featured The Mauler (Mike Enos) and Steve Doll, Hall entered the arena through the crowd right in front of the hard camera.  As fans stood up and turned their backs to the ring, the viewers at home knew something big was happening.  He hopped the guard rail and grabbed a microphone, and then uttered the classic line, "You all know who I am, but you don't know why I'm here."  He then challenged WCW and Eric Bischoff, the Executive Vice President of WCW, when he accosted Bischoff in the announcing booth and demanded that "Billionaire Ted" (Ted Turner) pick three of his best wrestlers for the coming war.  

But it appeared to be just Scott Hall, so why would he want three of WCW's men?  The following week he appeared again and told Sting that he had a "big" surprise, and on the next Monday Nitro, the "big" surprise turned out to be the 6 foot 10 inch, Kevin Nash.  They called themselves "The Outsiders" as a reference to their past in the rival WWF.  The pair would randomly appear at WCW events causing trouble and led to the infamous Rey Mysterio "lawn dart" incident during a groundbreaking segment backstage at one of the Monday Nitro shows at Disney MGM Studios.

Bischoff held a draft for the representatives of WCW in the "war" against the Outsiders and the yet-named third man.  Sting, Lex Luger, and "Macho Man" Randy Savage were chosen.  Luger and Savage had a past with WWF, and fans wondered if they could be the "third man" from the "other" company.  Sting was a WCW mainstay, so we could trust him... right?

On July 7, 1996, the day arrived for Bash at the Beach at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Florida.  WCW was in a weird spot where they were still presenting half of the show with the 80s and 90s childish storylines, and the other half a more realistic adult-based storyline featuring the Outsiders vs. WCW.  

The event had 14 matches that night, but people only remember the final few moments of the show.  Before the event, Jim Powers defeated Hugh Morrus in a dark match.  Then, in matches taped for WCW Main Event, the "Steiner Brothers" Rick and Scott Steiner defeated the WCW World Tag Team Champions "Harlem Heat" Booker T and Stevie Ray by disqualification.  Bobby Walker defeated Billy Kidman, the legendary "Rock n' Roll Express" tag team of Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson defeated the "Fire and Ice" team of Scott Norton and Ice Train, followed by Eddie Guerrero defeating Lord Steven Regal.

The first match on the "Bash at the Beach" event was between Psychosis and Rey Mysterio, Jr. in an amazing high-flying match that would have stolen the show on any other card.  Mysterio countered a move into a head scissors takedown from the top rope and defeated Psychosis by pinfall.

The second match was a "Carson City Silver Dollar" match between John Tenta and Big Bubba.  Bubba was accompanied by Jimmy Hart.  This match involved a pole, straps, and a sock full of silver coins.  In any event, Tenta pinned Bubba for the victory. 

The third match on the show was yet another gimmick match, a "Taped Fist" match between Diamond Dallas Page and Jim Duggan.  The victor would get DDP's "Lord of the Ring" ring.  DDP eventually won with the Diamond Cutter after a low blow.  Duggan then taped his fist up and knocked out Page after the match.  I remember not understanding the taped fist concept since nearly every wrestler tapes their wrist, fingers, and fist anyway.  I guess it makes the fist "harder" when it contacts your opponent's face?

Another gimmick match was up fourth, where The Nasty Boys (Brian Knobs and Jerry Sags) defeated Public Enemy (Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge) in a Double Dog Collar Match.  The four wrestlers were chained together by the neck and used the chain as a weapon.  Tables, chairs, and other plunder were, of course, used as well.  

Up next featured Dean Malenko defending his WCW Cruiserweight Championship against Disco Inferno.  Disco gets a bad rap, but I always enjoyed his work in and out of the ring.  Dean Malenko is a legend who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.  Malenko hit a double underhook powerbomb and applied the Texas Cloverleaf to win by submission.

The sixth match featured "Mongo" Steve McMichael and Joe Gomez, where Mongo won with a pinfall. 

After that, Ric Flair, with Miss Elizabeth and Woman, defeated Konnan for the WCW United States Heavyweight Championship.  Flair's valets helped him several times through the match, including the final sequence.  Miss Elizabeth distracted the referee, and Woman hit Konnan with her high-heeled shoe to allow Ric to pin Konnan (with both feet on the top rope for leverage) to win the match and the Title.  

Up eighth was a match between The Giant and The Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan against Arn Anderson and Chris Benoit of "The Four Horseman."  Eventually, The Giant choke slammed Arn Anderson for the win, but Benoit continued to attack The Taskmaster after the match.  Woman came down to the ring to stop the beatdown but only when The Giant returned to ringside did Benoit stop.  This was a continuation of a storyline that eventually found Woman (Nancy Sullivan) falling in love with Chris Benoit.  In real life, she was married to The Taskmaster but soon left him (in real life) for Chris Benoit.  

Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for was upon us.  Labeled the "Hostile Takeover Match" by the commentators, we started the match with Randy Savage, Sting, and Lex Luger taking on only The Outsiders.  The Outsiders, before the match, said their mystery third man was in the building, but they were capable of taking on the three WCW wrestlers by themselves for now.  

Lex Luger was "knocked out" early in the match, and the match was stopped to take him backstage.  Sting dominated for quite some time before tagging in Savage.  Eventually, as the match wore on, Kevin Nash turned the tide and began to beat down the WCW defenders.  Sting was exhausted and beaten and lying on the floor at ringside.  Savage seemed like he was mounting a comeback until a low blow from Nash took the wind out of him.  

And then, the fans began going nuts!  The camera cuts towards the entryway, and Hulk Hogan is making his way to the ring!  We hadn't seen Hogan for a few months on WCW television as he had been taking some time away from the ring after a long 15 month run as the Champion.  The truth is, he was filming "Santa with Muscles."  

Yet, here he came, striding to the ring with purpose, decked out in his trademark red and yellow attire.

You could feel the excitement as the crowd roared and the announcers shouted, "Hulk Hogan is in the building!" "You're Damn Right He Is!  Go Get 'Em!" 

Hulk climbed into the ring past Sting while Hall and Nash bailed to the outside.  Savage was lying in the middle of the squared circle while Hogan ripped off his shirt and posed for the crowd.  The crowd went wild as our hero had come to save the day and defend WCW from the "Outsiders"!

Hogan looked troubled as he nervously tapped the top rope with his hand and paced back and forth. Afterward, Hogan has said that at this point, he was still deciding if he was going to go through with the transformation into the top heel (bad guy) after so many years as the good guy.

Then, Hulk leans back, shoves the referee out of the way, and drops the Atomic Legdrop across Savage's neck!  The crowd exploded and trash from the unhappy audience filled the ring the likes we've never seen before.  How could he do this?  This was unheard of!  Hulk Hogan was the third man!?!

Gene Okerlund entered the ring and asked Hogan why he had turned his back on the fans and how he could look at himself after aligning with Hall and Nash.  Hogan claimed that the three of them were "the future of wrestling" and named the group the "New World Order of wrestling (brother)!"  Hogan claimed he was bored of WCW and had grown tired of the pandering to the fans, especially considering that more and more of them turned on him after joining the company to such big fanfare in 1994.  Hogan, Hall, and Nash declared their intention to take over the wrestling business and destroy anything in their path.  

During the original broadcast, color commentator Bobby Heenan exclaimed, "whose side is he on?!" as Hogan entered the arena.  This comment seemingly spoiled the surprise, but Heenan and Eric Bischoff both confirmed that only Hogan, Hall, and Nash were aware Hogan was the third man, and it was an off-the-cuff comment by a heel commentator meant to sow division.  Little did "The Brain" know...

Reportedly, Lex Luger was the first guy considered to be the third man, but, according to Bischoff, he hardly remembers considering it because it wouldn't be much of a shock for the fans.  Bischoff talked Hogan into turning heel only days before the PPV, but since Hogan had creative control written into his contract, Bischoff knew Hogan could change his mind at any time, even moments before he walked through the curtain towards the ring. Just in case Hogan got cold feet, Sting, another long-time good guy and WCW icon was the "Plan B."  

For Hogan, the risk involved was substantial.  For 15 years, his character was a profit-generating machine.  He drove TV deals, ticket and merchandise sales, and PPV buys.  If not done properly, his new bad guy persona (eventually turning into Hollywood Hogan) would have an immediate negative impact on WCW's (and Hulk Hogan's) financial bottom line.  Thankfully, due to the intrigue created by Hall and Nash in the early stages of the invasion storyline and the unique novelty of a Hulk Hogan heel turn, the opposite happened.  The nWo became the coolest thing in pop culture, and merchandise began flying off store shelves faster than they could make it.

The success of Hogan's heel turn and the nWo angle unquestionably changed the wrestling business forever.  It forced the WWF to get creative and create new stars, never knowing if their current ones would leave for a lucrative contract with WCW.  Soon, the WWF became the promotion where a talented young wrestler could shine without the shadow of Hogan or Savage or someone similar.  Thanks to this, people like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, and Mick Foley emerged.  

WCW's success also forced WWE to air live television more often while experimenting with new storyline ideas.  The "Attitude Era" was, in large part, WWF's attempt to be seen as the more hip and edgy of the two shows as WCW and WWF battled for rating's success every Monday night.

The Hogan heel turn was a symbolic end of one wrestling era and the beginning of another.  It marked the end of the hokey cartoonish storyline writing and began the modern, edgier, adult content.  For 83 weeks, WCW became the front runner and top dog in the wrestling business.  The Monday Night Wars ignited a pop culture revolution that forever changed the wrestling landscape.  For the rest of the 90s, wrestling was everywhere.

So, in the end, I must say "Thank You!" to Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan.  Thank you for having the bravery to try something new that ultimately changed wrestling... 25 years ago today.