Hulk Hogan was supposed to save us from the Outsiders, not join them.
“Hulk Hogan, you can go to hell.”
Tony Schiavone said what we were all thinking. Wrestling fans couldn’t believe their eyes. The greatest hero in the annals of wrestling history was revealed as the long awaited "third man" and turned heel in front of a shocked capacity crowd twenty five years ago today. With Kevin Nash and Scott Hall by his side, Hulk Hogan took his leap into the dark side head first and founded the New World Order on July 7, 1996. It’s a moment that sent professional wrestling into an uncharted and exciting new direction, a course it’s still on today.
It’s hard to think of a modern day comparison to the shock waves that ran through fan bases as Hogan leg dropped Randy Savage and ripped a voice destroying promo in the middle of the ring into Mean Gene Okerlund’s microphone at Bash at the Beach 1996. The vitriol, the anger, the HEAT that came from Hogan’s mouth – it felt real. That realness, that blurred line between real and fantasy, propelled the industry into the boom of the late 1990s, and threw the Monday Night Wars into overdrive.
It’s equally as hard to think about a time in wrestling before the NWO took hold of WCW and changed the course of the business. Prior to the Hogan heel turn, wrestling felt like a stale product from a bygone era. Both major promotions felt flat and outdated, with silly characters, goofy storylines, and a clear lack of direction as to where it was going. Both WWF and WCW felt stuck in neutral, and all it took was one leg drop to kick the shifter into 4th gear.
Suddenly, everyone wanted on the NWO bandwagon, and the explosion of popularity with the NWO led to the greatest expansion of creativity in professional wrestling history. Arguably, the NWO forced WWF and Vince McMahon to rapidly shift course and amplify characters like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, and D-Generation X, all reality based and shocking in their own unique ways. Each organization pushed their respective envelopes and moved the needle, forcing the other to expand, shock, captivate the audience with the next big thing. It was an incredible time to be a wrestling fan.
Many have tried to replicate the NWO formula, the “hostile takeover” storyline where disgruntled employees came back to exact cold revenge on those who wronged them, but all have fallen short to the cataclysmic power of the original black and white. The NWO was gritty, violent, intense. But most importantly – they were cool. Hall, Nash, and Hogan made it cool to be bad. In some ways, they were the original anti-hero model: purposeful chaos, bad for the right reasons, self serving until it’s time to help the right people. As much as they tried, you couldn’t help but love them and want to be a part of them.
The New World Order exists in the echoes of history as the greatest faction in our great sport, and July 7, 1996 represents the day everything changed. 25 years later, it's still for life, brother.
Want to re-live the entire soul-crushing, but later-bonechillingly great event? Here's a re-cap on the official WWE YouTube Channel.
Adam Barnard is a staff writer for Kulture Popped and will forever and always be NWO 4 LIFE. Check him out on Twitter and listen to his interviews and pro wrestling insights on Foundation Radio each Tuesday.