Posted in: Mr. Tito
On This Day in Pro Wrestling History... 20 Years Ago, Hulk Hogan Turns HEEL at WCW Bash at the Beach
By Mr. Tito
Jul 7, 2016 - 10:15:53 PM

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NOTE: It's been a while since we've had the On This Day in Pro Wrestling History... columns here on / It was a discontinued series given how many retro columns were out there. But for this very special 20th anniversary, it has returned...

ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... 20 years ago on July 7th, 1996, the guy that WWE presently wants you to forget about, Hulk Hogan, made a monumental HEEL turn at World Championship Wrestling (WCW)'s 1996 edition of their Pay Per View, Bash at the Beach. At the end of the event, Hulk Hogan would join newly signed wrestlers, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, to form the "New World Order of Wrestling" which was later shortened to New World Order (nWo). Hulk Hogan had sustained a babyface run for about 16 years at this point and through 1996, Hulk Hogan was a major draw. The heel turn was sudden and unexpected with wrestlers like Sting or Bret Hart suspected as being the 3rd man to join Scott Hall and Kevin Nash.

During 1995, WCW ramped up their competitiveness in the wrestling industry by creating WCW Monday Nitro to air LIVE and directly opposite of then World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE)'s Monday Night RAW. While Nitro was an instant success, it wasn't consistently beating RAW in the ratings. In fact, if you look at the numbers through early 1996, WWE had the slight upperhand. WCW viewers were wearing thin of babyface Red & Yellow Hulk Hogan. The Southern WCW fans were feeling overkill of Hulkamania and Hogan was getting older in the ring. The boos were getting louder and louder yet WCW kept pushing Hogan harder and harder as a babyface. It all came to a head in the complete disaster at WCW Uncensored 1996 when Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage together beat the Horsemen, Dungeon of Doom, and actual Hollywood actors hired (even brought back Zeus... Or Z-Gangsta!) in a DOOMSDAY CAGE match. Hogan disappeared from television after that match...

WCW became desperate. Reliving the glory days of late 1980s WWE wasn't quite working particularly in the Southern markets and late 1995/early 1996 WWE was actually interesting. WWE was building towards Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels and they FINALLY had Kevin Nash's Diesel character right by turning him heel and a badass one at that. However, WWE had various contracts about to come up. Scott Hall and Kevin Nash's contracts expired within a week of each other while Bret Hart's contract was set to expire soon after Wrestlemania 12 as well. There was real potential that WCW could have signed all 3 wrestlers to deals. While the WWE would spend about $1.5 million or so to retain Bret Hart, they weren't so willing to spend money on Diesel (Kevin Nash) and Razor Ramon (Scott Hall). As Kevin Nash has stated in various interviews, he presented Vince McMahon with offers he was receiving from WCW and asked Vince simply if he'd match it. Vince refused.

The under-utilized Scott Hall at that time had already agreed to join WCW. However, Kevin Nash was still hesitant. His mind changed, however, at the WWE In Your House: Rage in the Cage event when Bret Hart refused to take the Jacknife Powerbomb (Nash's finisher) during that event according to Nash. Nash wanted some heat on him heading into his Wrestlemania 12 match against the Undertaker but Bret wanted to protect himself as WWE Champion before his Wrestlemania 12 match against Shawn Michaels. Seeing how the WWE often folded to Bret's needs, Nash told Scott Hall at the event to tell WCW that he's in. Notice was given and Scott Hall/Kevin Nash worked their remaining dates before joining WCW. They even worked a famous houseshow event at Madison Square Garden where Nash, Hall, Shawn Michaels, and Triple H all broke character and saluted each other in the middle of the ring (the famous "Curtain Call").

Scott Hall was the first to appear as he interrupted a match on WCW Nitro to openly mock WCW by quoting some of the WWE sketches that mocked several older WCW performers (Hulk Hogan, Macho Man, Mean Gene) and then proclaimed "you know who I am, but you don't know why I'm here". That phrase implied that Scott Hall was actually invading WCW and was still under contract with WWE. Soon, Hall would hype that he was bringing a friend and weeks later, Kevin Nash would appear. However, you never heard the names of "Scott Hall" and "Kevin Nash". They were nameless and soon began to attack various WCW wrestlers through sneak attacks backstage or jumping over the railing. It felt very real and both Hall/Nash acted like they were truly invading. This would soon prompt a copyright lawsuit by the WWE because WCW was implying that WWE wrestlers were actually invading. One of the reported reasons for the FAKE Razor and Diesel characters later during 1996 was to bolster the idea that WWE owned the characters. WWE eventually won that lawsuit years later and gave the WWE exclusive rights to match any competitive offers to buy WCW. This helped ensure WCW's purchase during 2001 by the WWE.

To ease the lawsuit threat, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash appeared at the 1996 Great American Bash and were interviewed by Eric Bischoff who was then a member of WCW's commentating team (loosely known as WCW's VP at that time). Bischoff had to address the elephant in the room and ask if Hall & Nash were working for the WWE. Both had to say "no". While that could have created a major hole on their credibility, Hall & Nash soon reiterated their role as a threat to WCW by attacking Eric Bischoff. Scott Hall delivered a hard punch to Bischoff's gut while Kevin Nash delivered a devastating Jacknife Powerbomb to throw Eric Bischoff off the stage and through a table platform set up nearby. Through June 1996, you didn't see moments like this. ECW was still growing as a promotion and hardcore matches within WCW/WWE were rare. Thus, powerbombing Eric Bischoff through a table was compelling and shocking.

Scott Hall and Kevin Nash had a challenge for WCW... They wanted ANY 3 of their top wrestlers to take on themselves and a mystery 3rd person. The speculation began even in the earlier days of the Internet where some wrestling message boards and websites attempted to post insider news. Who was the 3rd man?!? Most of it was centering around another WWE Free Agent signing, possibly Bret Hart, joining Hall/Nash as the 3rd man. Others thought it would have one of the 3 WCW opponents turning, Lex Luger, Macho Man Randy Savage, or Sting. Most thought it would be Sting since he was a non-stop babyface since he joined NWA/WCW during 1987. Oddly enough, Hulk Hogan wasn't talked about as the 3rd man. During this period of time, Hogan was filming a few movies and most assumed he'd later return to his babyface ways.

WCW was reportedly pursuing Bret Hart for the role but the deal didn't happen. Bret Hart enjoyed the time off following Wrestlemania 12 and he always had a sense of loyalty towards WWE. Of course, that loyalty would break his heart over a year later... Sting was discussed by WCW officials as the 3rd man but when approached about the role, Sting reportedly refused. He didn't want to turn heel... It was then that WCW officials began inquiring Hulk Hogan about a possible heel turn. Hogan was hesitant at first because he was used to being a babyface and didn't want to upset his foundation of charity work, merchandise sales, and general appeal in the wrestling business. It wasn't until he observed Scott Hall and Kevin Nash immediately drawing as "cool" heels that his interest began to peak. WCW began to consistently win the Monday Night ratings battle when Hall/Nash began appearing and Hogan, a draw himself, saw real potential. It was then that he agreed to turn heel and become the mysterious 3rd man.

The stage was set for the 3 on 3 match to headline WCW Bash at the Beach 1996 between Team WCW (Sting, Lex Luger, Macho Man Randy Savage) and the eventual Team nWo (Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, 3rd person to be revealed) for the event held at Daytona Beach, FL on THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY, July 7th, 1996. The actual undercard for this event wasn't... Rey Mysterio Jr. vs. Psychosis tore the house down in the opener. As important as the debut of the fully formed nWo was, this opening match helped put Rey Mysterio on the map with an amazing offensive display. Again, this was July 1996 with many of their moves not yet seen by mainstream wrestling fans. Ric Flair actually won the US Title at this event against Konnan. The crowd was hyped for most of the night in anticipation to see who the 3rd man was, however.

The MAIN EVENT of the July 7th, 1996 WCW Bash at the Beach was Sting, Lex Luger, and Macho Man Randy Savage versus Scott Hall and Kevin Nash... But no 3rd person?!? The WCW team complained about there just being 2 and Hall proclaimed "we'll bring him out if we need him". The match started off as 3 on 2 until Lex Luger was accidentally injured when Sting went to hit the Stinger Splash on Kevin Nash but also hit Lex Luger into the turnbuckle (Nash was holding him near the corner). Luger was out and was removed from the match. 2 on 2. Sting/Savage vs. Hall/Nash went back and forth until it appeared that Sting/Savage were gaining the upperhand on the team dubbed the "Outsiders". Sting eventually found himself to be the "face in peril" with Hall/Nash beating Sting down as a team. The worn down Sting finally made the hot tag to Macho Man and soon thereafter, Savage received a low blow by Kevin Nash when the referee was distracted. Sting was exhausted, Savage was holding his groin area in severe pain... Team WCW needed help!

Then, from the entrance way, Hulk Hogan in full Red & Yellow, appeared... Crowd goes bonkers. Everybody assumed that the extensive babyface was there to help Sting and Savage fight off the Outsiders. In fact, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash cleared the ring and sold the fear of Hogan's presence. After tearing off the shirt, Hulk Hogan bounced off the ropes and delivered his trademark legdrop onto Randy Savage. HEEL TURN! Hogan then gave Scott Hall a thumbs up and delivered another legdrop to Savage. High fives to Hall & Nash with both in the ring. Hall attacked an emerging Sting and Nash kicked him off the apron. Hogan then tosses out the referee as the Outsiders adjust Randy Savage to receive one last legdrop from Hulk Hogan. Mean Gene Okerlund arrives in the ring, microphone in hand, and allows Hulk Hogan to cut the heel promo of a lifetime! He verbally bashes the fans, Ted Turner/WCW/Eric Bischoff, and proclaims that he has joined the "New World Order of Wrestling". In one great night, Hogan successfully turns heel, forms a strong dominant heel stable, and actually names the group. The New World Order was a perfect name because of many fears over world leaders grouping together to form one worldwide government.

From there, WCW's business exploded in growth... WCW Nitro would win the ratings war for the rest of 1996, ALL of 1996, and much of the first half of 1998. The New World Order would just grow and grow and become the most compelling storyline seen in pro wrestling at that time. Many free agents would jump aboard the WCW bandwagon and because of WCW's success in signing Hall & Nash, many other wrestlers would receive lucrative contracts. WCW's guaranteed money would change the game forever on how wrestlers were paid. The nWo storyline would grow and grow until ultimately peaking at Starrcade 1997 with a HUGE Sting vs. Hulk Hogan main event. The "fast" count of that main event disappointed and soon the nWo became overexposed through 1998 with multiple variations of the group and too many members. WCW would remain too dependent on the nWo brand through 1999 and it just didn't draw like it did during 1996-1997. Meanwhile, WWE improved their product during 1997 and became a valid competitor again through 1998 and eventually began beating WCW regularly by mid 1998. By 1999, it was over.

However, this magical heel turn of Hulk Hogan was done correctly, perfectly timed, and had great writing. It remains the best heel turn of all time and helped to extend Hulk Hogan's career as a significant drawing power for a few more years. Because of the nWo, the wrestling business exponentially grew again and in the end, pushed Vince McMahon and the WWE to evolve during the late 1990's.

ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... The greatest heel turn of all time happened in a WCW ring and changed the business forever.

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