Hulk Hogan talks WCW heel turn, Hall & Nash
Today is officially nWo Day.
The pro wrestling world is celebrating 25 years of The New World Order today. The 1996 WCW Bash at The Beach pay-per-view saw WWE Hall of Famers Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash come together to form one of the, if not the, most famous stables in wrestling history. The “Hostile Takeover Match” main event of the Bash pay-per-view on July 7, 1996 saw Hall and Nash come to the ring by themselves to face WWE Hall of Famers Sting, Randy Savage and Lex Luger. After Luger was taken out of the match with a storyline injury, Hogan later made his way to the ring as the apparent savior of WCW. However, he ended up dropping the big leg drop on Savage in one of the most shocking heel turns ever. This led to Hogan and The Outsiders shaking hands before Savage took two more leg drops, and was carried away by Sting. WWE Hall of Famer Gene Okerlund then interviewed Hogan and The Outsiders in the middle of the ring as fans threw trash from their seats. This angle kicked off the legendary run of the nWo, which brought major success to WCW, and carried over to Japan and WWE.
The Hulkster recently spoke with Justin Barrasso of Sports Illustrated to mark the 25 year milestone. Hogan had remained a top star in WCW after leaving WWE in 1994, but this was a dozen years since his famous leg drop on WWE Hall of Famer The Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden to begin the mainstream success of Hulkamania. Hogan knew he could work as a heel, but he wasn’t sure if the timing was right.
“I knew I could work as a heel because I’d watched so much of Ray Stevens and Pat Patterson and ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham and The Great Malenko,” Hogan said. “They’d chop, kick and beat the crap out of you, but then they’d backpedal, cross their heart, and drop to their knees the moment the babyface would make his comeback. For me, the problem was the timing. I didn’t know if that was the right timing to do it.”
Hogan had been a top babyface for years, and was concerned about the risk of turning heel as it came without a financial guarantee or the promise of adulation from fans. However, Hogan said the momentum of Hall and Nash on WCW, which he sensed via videotapes of WCW Nitro that WWE Hall of Famer Jimmy Hart sent him while he was away filming a movie, was too strong to ignore.
“It wasn’t as intense as it was from ’89 to ’91, but there were still people who loved me as a babyface,” Hogan recalled. “I was so focused during that stretch with doing movies, and I still wanted to come back in the red and yellow. Eric had mentioned the idea to me, and I thought I could be a really intense heel. But turning, after all we’d been through to reach that point, it really concerned me.”
There had been talk of Sting being the third man with The Outsiders that night. Eric Bischoff wasn’t sure Hogan was going to do the turn until he showed up to the arena. There was no turning back when Hogan came walking down the ramp, and he wasn’t worried about his past or his future, or the promo he would cut, but he, in his head, was questioning his decision to wear cowboy boots, lamenting the fact that he would’ve been more confident and comfortable in his wrestling boots.
“I immediately worried it was going to be an angle alert,” Hogan said. “I was thinking that as soon as I was headed to the ring, telling myself I was an idiot for doing it. Those boots were really slippery, too, and I think you’ll see me grab the rope before I take a step and hit those leg drops on Randy. Had I been wearing my wrestling boots, it would have been a much bigger production. It was such a rookie move on my part.”
The footwear ultimately didn’t matter. The leg drop caused a visceral reaction that still seizes people’s attention a quarter century later. Hogan recalled the reaction they received when he attacked Savage, and said they got just what they needed for the angle.
“We needed a certain kind of heat,” Hogan recalled. “I was someone they had loved and believed in, so in order for this to work, there needed to be the right reaction. That’s what we got when people in the crowd started throwing water bottles, trash, and everything else at us in the ring. That’s what we needed, and we got it.”
The post-match interview was also a major part of the overall angle as Okerlund came into the ring for Hogan’s first heel promo. Gene and Hogan had been connected for years, and he didn’t hold back in showing his disdain for Hogan’s actions. Hogan said Okerlund was the right person to conduct the interview.
“Gene was the right person to do it with,” Hogan said. “And I tried to stick with what I believed to be the truth. Years before, Eric Bischoff had tried to get me to do a Hulk Hoagie sandwich. When I said Eric would still be selling meat out of a truck in Minnesota, that was true—Eric thought me doing frozen sandwiches was going to be his claim to financial freedom. The ties to WWE, talking about turning that company into a monster, it all turned out really well.”
Regarding the frozen sandwiches comment, Bischoff explained the story.
“Before I broke into wrestling, I was a sales manager for a food processor,” Bischoff said. “Later, I did have an idea for a ‘Hulk Hoagie’ sandwich and made an attempt to trademark the sandwich, but that never worked out due to licensing issues. That was as close as I ever got to selling meat out of a truck, but it made for a good promo.”
Hogan was forced to evolve by working with The Outsiders. He credited Hall and Nash with adding longevity to his career.
“Going into this, I didn’t know Kevin and Scott, but they ended up changing my entire career,” Hogan said. “I had a certain way of doing interviews, but I remember Kevin and Scott saying, ‘You don’t need to get every word in’ and ‘Just be cool.’ That changed everything. I was still in that machine-gun cadence of doing the Hulk Hogan promos, and they changed the way I delivered interviews.”