nWo 18 Part V: The Third Man

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Welcome to the 10 part installment looking back at the New World Order, quite possibly the greatest wrestling faction of all time. With World Championship Wrestling and the World Wresting Federation going head to head on Monday night’s and battling each month for Pay Per View domination, it seemed to be a give and take battle each week. But with the creation of the New World Order, WCW broke through and gained an advantage that lasted for nearly two years of Monday Night domination. Come take a trip back and remember that when you’re nWo, you’re nWo for Life. Last week was Part IV: Strength in Numbers

“Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t. Why should we? They talk about the people and the proletariat, I talk about the suckers and the mugs – it’s the same thing. They have their five-year plans, so have I.”
– Harry Lime, The Third Man

In July of 1994, Hulk Hogan had his first wrestling match in World Championship Wrestling, defeating Ric Flair to become WCW World’s Heavyweight champion. It was the beginning of his six year plan, similar to Harry Lime. Or at least, that’s what I’d like to construct in the narrative of what made Hollywood Hogan the only acceptable choice to be the leader of the New World Order. Or more importantly, The Third Man.

Hulk Hogan left the WWF in June of 1993, dropping the WWF World Title to Yokozuna at King of the Ring. The original plan was for him to face Bret “The Hitman” Hart at SummerSlam 1993 as a passing of the torch. Instead he sat out the rest of his contract, trying to hide from the public light in 1993 and 1994 due to the Zahorian steroid trials. The steroid trials did a significant number on the reputation of both the Hulkster and the World Wrestling Federation, though Hogan did testify in support of Vince McMahon and was helpful to find McMahon not guilty. It was still a strained relationship at that point. Instead of working in North America, Hogan spent time in Japan wrestling for New Japan Pro Wrestling and making awful movies.

When Hogan came to WCW, it was two worlds colliding. Hogan represented WWF in every way. With him came several recognizable names from the WWF, all cleared out by the company for either being too old or too big. As Hogan came in, so did a lot of his friends like Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Brutus Beefcake and the Nasty Boys. It pushed a lot of wrestlers to the side like Steve Austin, Johnny B Badd and Cactus Jack. More interesting was the reaction of the fans. Sure there was a large segment of the audience new to WCW who watched as Hulkamaniacs, but there were very loud boos from the audience from loyal WCW fans who hated what Hogan and WWF did to pro wrestling. The invasion didn’t start in 1996 for them. It started in 1994 at Bash at the Beach.

In a year, WCW was trying harder and harder to combine the Hogan world with WCW: Where the Big Boys Play. Hogan went from beating the major players of WCW like Vader and Flair to taking on a stable of monsters in the Dungeon of Doom. WCW booker Kevin Sullivan said it was all about making Hogan comfortable in the company. Hogan eventually dropped the WCW title to The Giant, now better known as The Big Show. To many it was WCW trying to re-create the magic of Andre vs. Hogan, even calling Giant the son of Andre.

In late 1995, Hogan showed up on Nitro in a neckbrace and decked in black. He was also missing his famous fu Manchu stache (due to a movie role). Hogan was angry and even told Mean Gene to shut up. Hogan talked about playing the Dungeon’s games to the boos of the crowd. It needs to be seen to be believed.

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It didn’t stop there. Hogan expressed “The Evil in Hulk Hogan is real” in his promo at Halloween Havoc. He loved to talk about “Family Business” and compare himself to Don Corleone. It was angry. It had heavy heel overtones. It was the template for Hollywood Hulk Hogan, just as much as Vince McMahon in Memphis was the template for Mr. McMahon.

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The real points to take out of this is clear. One, Hogan was bored. The idea of being evil was already running through his mind. Two, Hogan was already working in a trio with Savage and Sting. Three, he made it clear Sting was his best friend. This implanted the idea that eventually these two icons were going to clash down the road, much like Savage and Hogan did back in the WWF. Finally, Hogan was embracing the idea of being the leader of a gang.

When the idea of the New World Order was launched, they didn’t actually have their third man yet. Eric Bischoff wanted Hogan, but Hogan wasn’t sure if he wanted to be that third man. There was also talk of it being Bret Hart, but he decided to re-up on his contract with the World Wrestling Federation. The final choice was Sting, who didn’t make much sense. Sting was about as WCW loyal as one could get, and aligning with invaders had little purpose. Hulk Hogan made the most sense.

Hogan turning heel is still the greatest heel turn in pro wrestling history. It had build up. It had purpose. It was the greatest icon of the business becoming its greatest villain, something whispered about him for years. Hogan was the Don Corleone in the wrestling world. He could make you and he could break you. You hated him under your breath but thanked him for putting food on your table. But more importantly, it helped WCW break its image of just being a re-hash of the WWF and allowed it to become its own thing. This was a new Hogan. And that new Hogan pulled WCW beyond the World Wrestling Federation in ratings and attention. Just like he made the WWF the leader of the pro wrestling world, so did he lead a New World Order in pro wrestling. WCW was now number one.

Hogan was perfect to make the group an all powerful force that nobody could stop, since he was just that as a babyface. Now with Hall and Nash by his side and a growing number of disciples, the nWo seemed unstoppable. And they were. That ended up being a big problem. Hogan was so protective of his image he could rarely lose. Hogan couldn’t let go of his fame and fortune in the New World Order and the power it contained. When he looked to be stepping away by dropping the WCW World’s Heavyweight title to Goldberg and after an atrocious match with Warrior at Halloween Havoc, telling Jay Leno he was considering a run for President, he was soon right back in the colours. The downfall of the New World Order coincided very well with the downfall of Hulk Hogan in WCW. If Hogan had a six year plan, it started slow, boomed big and eventually fell off a cliff, culminating in his return to the Hulkster red and yellow and leaving WCW in the worst way possible: a Vince Russo worked shoot.

Hulk Hogan wasn’t perfect for WCW but he was perfect for the New World Order. It echoed everything Bobby “The Brain” Heenan had been saying about Hogan since he arrived. He wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t a part of WCW. He was a part of his own world. It wasn’t enough for someone to simply betray WCW. Hogan betrayed the wrestling world. For World Championship Wrestling he was the original infiltrator. He wasn’t the Third Man. He was the First Man.

Next week is Part VI: Imitation World Order

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