nWo 18 Part VII: Bash At the Beach 1996

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 VI: Imitation World Order

It was on the start of the second week of July that Bash at the Beach took place in 1996, the exact date July 7. It was two weeks prior over in the WWF that Shawn Michaels defeated the British Bulldog in the main event of King of the Ring, despite that not being the moment anyone talks about today. Everyone today talks about what happened prior in the actual King of the Ring event with the birth of Austin 3:16. It’s amazing to think that two of the most important wrestling moments of the last 30 years happened just two weeks apart, but they did. The difference is that when Stone Cold told Jake Roberts, “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!” nobody thought they were witness to the birth of the biggest wrestling star in the business. When Bash at the Beach 1996 went off the air, everyone knew they witnessed a monumental shift in the business.

First, the card itself. Back in 1996, WCW was having trouble organizing their midcard into something that could produce acceptable midcard matches. That isn’t to say the talent wasn’t there. The company taped matches for WCW Main Event including the Steiner Brothers taking on Harlem Heat and a match between Eddie Guerrero and William “Lord Steven” Regal. The opener for the PPV included an early Cruiserweight division match, spotlighting Rey Mysterio Jr. against Psychosis for a solid 15 minutes. Any high from the crowd came down when John Tenta (Earthquake) and Big Bubba (Big Bossman) plodded through 10 minutes of what could have been a decent big man match (the gimmick was a Carson City Silver Dollar match, which was basically money in a sock on a pole. And you thought pole matches were Vince Russo’s fault!). A pre-Yoga Diamond Dallas Page had a mediocre match with “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, followed by the Public Enemy taking on the Nasty Boys in a double dog collar match. Don’t ask. The cruiserweights bailed out the card again as Disco Inferno faced Dean Malenko for the WCW Cruiserweight championship only for the card to give us a six minute plodder of Steve “Mongo” McMichael and Steve Gomez, a match that screamed “bathroom break”. Ric Flair then defeated Konnan for the WCW United States championship in an acceptable match, with the semi-main event being The Taskmaster and The Giant taking on Horsemen members Arn Anderson and Chris Benoit. While Benoit beat on Taskmaster after the match, it was technically the end of the Sullivan/Benoit feud.

And now, the main event. As detailed earlier, the weeks leading up to the pay per view was a promise of a six man tag match. However, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall (dubbing themselves “The Outsiders”) were not revealing their third man yet. On the last episode of Monday Nitro, WCW did a “random drawing” to see who would face the Outsiders, revealing the predictable outcome of Sting, “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Lex Luger. It wasn’t that odd that Hulk Hogan wasn’t named, as he had been missing from PPV since March. Lex Luger and Sting had been deep in the main event scene trying to beat The Giant for the WCW World’s Heavyweight championship while Macho Man was called out by Scott Hall in promos specifically.

For many fans, the third man sparked a lot of predictions. Many thought that it might have been Bret Hart, and it could have been since he was in contract negotiations. Another guess was Shawn Michaels, seeing as he was WWF World champion, best friends with Hall and Nash and this angle did feel like a WWF invasion. When some wondered about an Inside Job, thoughts went to Lex Luger, who jumped from WWF to WCW in 1995 at the start of Nitro to mix it up with Hulk Hogan. There was also belief it could be Sting, and Sting was one of the closest guesses as he had gone from the Franchise of WCW to second fiddle behind Hulk Hogan. Wouldn’t it make sense for the Stinger, called Hogan’s best friend, to bring an invasion against Hulk Hogan’s twisted version of WCW?

And then there’s Hulk Hogan himself. It was absolutely ridiculous to think he would ever turn heel. Before Austin shared a beer with Vince McMahon and CM Punk clotheslined The Rock, the idea of the biggest babyface in the company turning evil just didn’t happen. Bruno Sammartino never turned his back on New York. Dusty Rhodes never turned his back on Florida. Jerry Lawler never turned his back on Memphis. And Hulk Hogan? There’s no way he’d turn his back on the Hulkamaniacs. That’s why the moment when Bobby Heenan asks, “Is he the third man!?” as Hulk walks down to the ring ended up in hindsight feeling like a miscue. But for anyone who knew Heenan? He hated Hogan. He would never trust Hogan. Anyone who heard that and believed in Hogan would shrug it off as Bobby Heenan being Bobby Heenan. But when you watch the Hulk Hogan Anthology on DVD, Heenan’s call on Hogan is edited out.

Before Hogan made it to the ring, the match was a three on two handicap match. It’s bizarre to see the babyfaces have such an advantage but Hall and Nash weren’t mere competitors. You really had the feeling that Hall and Nash were capable of giving Sting, Luger and Savage a run for their money in the match. They weren’t afraid of cheating, they outsized their opponents and it just led to the feeling that these two were part of something bigger than their individual selves. So when Hulk Hogan came down to the ring, for many in the audience and watching at home? Hogan wasn’t there to be the third man. He was there to make sure WCW won. What is obvious now wasn’t so obvious then.

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I feel it’s important to point out that this moment could have never happened without Tony Schiavone. His calling of the legdrop was the stuff of legend, including his entire reaction to the formation of the New World Order. He wasn’t just a play by play announcer but someone reacting to a national tragedy. Today as people splice some of Jim Ross’ best calls into World Cup matches or videogames, it’s important to see that this might trump even some of JR’s best. Heenan sounded both proud of finally being right about Hulk Hogan but ashamed himself of what he saw. Dusty Rhodes, usually a comical buffoon on commentary, made himself one of the best calls in wrestling: “A career of a lifetime right down the drain kid! I hope you love it. You sold your soul to the devil!”

It didn’t stop there. As I noted back in Part V, Hulk Hogan had a 50/50 split of people who loved him and hated him. The fans who loved him? Heartbroken. The fans who hated him? Now hated him even more. The ring spilled in garbage. It wasn’t straight boos in the audience but what sounded like pandemonium. When I said it was like a tragedy happened, I’m not being simply hyperbolic. It isn’t a regular wrestling reaction.

Hogan then talks with Mean Gene. Hogan references the WWF without name, expressing the ego that people always assumed with Hulk Hogan. He made it sound like he left the WWF to come to WCW out of the promises of Ted Turner, and formed the nWo due to boredom. He called Hall and Nash “The New Blood”, making one wonder if the red on their tights was supposed to represent that. Hogan told the fans to stick it, referencing the tepic reactions in the south. He said nobody would be there if it wasn’t for him (which, has partial truth in basis of the success of the business at that time). Then he finally said it. They were the New World Order of Professional Wrestling. At that moment, the New World Order was officially born.

Tony finally ended the broadcast with one of the most heartfelt closings of a broadcast as he told Hogan to goto hell. Without the commentary reaction, this might have just been a heel turn. Instead, much like Austin 3:16 two weeks prior, it changed the industry. The New World Order did take over wrestling for a solid two years. It took the WWF themselves close to two years to amount a comeback. But in this moment, from that legdrop, Bash at the Beach changed everything in 1996. Bash at the Beach was everything.

Next week is Part VIII: Brand Split

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