#WWE59331 – nWo – Back In Black
Lee Maughan: “This is the story of three men, two companies, and one organisation” notes the voiceover, setting the tone for the fact that, as you’ll soon discover, this documentary isn’t really about the nWo as much as it is about the three guys who started the group, and the three guys currently employed by the WWF to reprise those very roles.
“I think the nWo represented turning the corner, the attitude, the new generation of wrestlers that [were] to become the new superstars of our business” begins wide-eyed young buck of the new generation, Hulk Hogan. “It comes back to what Chief Jay Strongbow told us years ago: “In this business you can make friends, or you can make money” and I remember looking at Kev and X-Pac and going “I’ve got already got some friends… I’d like the money”” adds Scott Hall, in a somewhat out of context quote. Presented in this manner, it sounds like a worked reason for starting the group, but on the later nWo: The Revolution DVD and Blu-ray set where this specific talking head is repeated, it becomes clear that he’s actually talking about his legitimate reasons for leaving the WWF. Not that there was any great cover up involved in that, but the editing choice made it sounds somewhat ambiguous. Even in 2002 the WWF couldn’t help but second guess themselves when it came to opening up and shooting on these documentaries, as the looming spectre of kayfabe still seemed to blow through the essence at the Titan Tower production suite. “The nWo represented the changes that were about to become the new wrestling industry” adds Hogan, and on that one, he’s not wrong.
With this being a WWF release, much is made of the company’s success as a dear old Mom n’ Pop’s self-built independent sports entertainment outfit, only for nasty Mr. Turner and his evil corporate empire to come along and offer genuine competition through their network of cable television outlets, which you get the impression is entirely underhanded, unscrupulous and just gosh darnit poor sportsmanship, given the tone of the voiceover. I’m almost certain Vince McMahon thinks Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life was inspired by his struggles against Turner. And anyway, WCW were only really able to compete because they signed Hulk Hogan, the WWF’s biggest star of the 80s, a wrestling icon made entirely on the platform offered by McMahon and not at all a megastar in waiting with New Japan and the AWA. Hopefully my facetious tone comes through in the black and white you see before your very eyes.
“Sometimes when you’re younger, things comes easily and you don’t appreciate them. The biggest difference is now the business moves a lot faster. If I was fighting King Kong Bundy or the Ultimate Warrior it would be a war that would go on for maybe a year. Now all of a sudden the wars end a lot quicker and the business seems to move with the times and changes faster” muses Hulk, who along with Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, Ted DiBiase and Jeff Jarrett were “lured to WCW with fat contracts and less demanding work schedules.” The contempt with which that line was spoken is absolutely venomous. I mean, how DARE someone seek out more money for less work when they should be toiling away without any guaranteed source of income. There’s only so far one of your infamous “opportunities” will stretch for an ageing wrestler with no pension security in place, Vince. And doesn’t whoever made this documentary realise the war is already over? You’ve won! Uncle Ted’s out of the ‘rasslin business! As personal as the WWF-WCW war may have cut, this is the equivalent to standing on a battlefield, pumping bullets into an already decaying corpse.
In addition to the success of the ‘Hulkster’, the WWF was also responsible for making the careers of Scott ‘Razor Ramon’ Hall and Kevin ‘Diesel’ Nash. Few arguments there. The highlights package on both men also manages to include the entirety of Diesel’s eight-second WWF Title victory over Mr. Bob Backlund at a Madison Square Garden house show in November 1994. Diesel and Razor are portrayed as “helping invigorate the business in a movement called the New Generation” along with Shawn Michaels, the Undertaker, Yokozuna and Hunter Hearst Helmsley. As noted, the war is over, there’s no need for such petty politics here, even if Bret Hart was still persona non grata after Montreal. Like Hulk and the boys, Nash and Hall also succumbed to the lure of more money in WCW, and their last night in the WWF was to be at Madison Square Garden. Says Hall: “My first match in Madison Square Garden, the arena was half full, and my last match there was sold out. I was really proud of the fact that the business improved with me and all the other guys working hard every night in all the towns.”
Hall also offers coverage of the infamous ‘Curtain Call’ at that evening’s show, although once again Hall’s words are presented without any context, as they don’t bother explaining the background of it to anybody not familiar with the incident in which babyfaces Ramon and Michaels shared an in-ring group hug with heels Diesel and Helmsley after a Michaels-Diesel cage match, which resulted in Helmsley being kept in the doghouse for a year and missing out on victory in the 1996 King of the Ring tournament. “Four close friends in the ring, the place was sold out, we’d made it through a successful run here and nobody [had] got hurt… we knew we were going on to WCW to see what lay waiting for us there and we felt like we had to say goodbye to the WWF fans, to the fans at Madison Square Garden. It was like ‘Thank you for your support for all these years, and goodbye.’ Guys (other WWF wrestlers) said we broke kayfabe and we were trying to hurt the company because we were leaving, and in fact that couldn’t be further from the truth. There were no bad intentions there, it just kind of evolved, there was no plan to hurt anybody. I don’t know why fans still talk about it but I find it really flattering that they do.”
Despite feeling like he was selling out, Hall took Turner’s guaranteed money in order to do what he thought was best for him and his family, and eight days later on Labour Day, 1996, Hall sauntered through the crowd unannounced on Monday Nitro in the middle of a Steve Doll-Mike Enos match, and cut that legendary first promo:
“Hey! You people, you know who I am, but you don’t know why I’m here. Where is Billionaire Ted? Where is the ‘Nacho Man’? That punk can’t even get in the building. Me? I go wherever I want, whenever I want. And where, oh where is ‘Scheme’ Gene? ‘Cause I got a scoop for you! When that Ken doll lookalike, when that weatherman wannabe comes out here later tonight, I got a challenge for him, for Billionaire Ted, for the ’Nacho Man’ and for anybody else in uh… Dubya-Cee-Dubya, ha-huh-huh. Hey, you want to go to war? You want a war? You’re going to get one!”
Hall admits that he didn’t think it was going to be very creatively satisfying to go to WCW, and was surprised by how well the nWo got over. Hall gets another classic line at the end of the show: “Like it or not, we are taking over!” The “we” part of course referred to Kevin Nash, who debuted on the programme two weeks later, with the two “outsiders” putting out a challenge to face three of WCW’s top stars in a match. At the Great American Bash, both were forced to admit that they weren’t working for the WWF (an admission caused by a lawsuit from Titan Sports, Inc. which claimed Hall was still using mannerisms of his Razor Ramon character to perpetuate the impression that this was the start of an inter-promotional feud between WCW and the WWF), before a memorable angles in which Nash Jackknife powerbombed mild-mannered announcer Eric Bischoff off the stage and through a table. “WCW basically, not to knock the talent but they really didn’t have anything going on, storyline wise. When I came in and when Kevin Nash came in, the rest of it just kind of fell into place. It was perceived to be a takeover… actually people thought Vince sent us to WCW to kill it.” They’d think the same thing once Vince Russo showed up there in late 1999.
Bash at the Beach in July sees the Outsiders take on a WCW team made up of Lex Luger, Randy Savage and Sting, a very well selected team given Savage’s WWF past and Luger’s gimmick in previous months of switching heel and face constantly, sometimes in the course of ring entrances, teaming with his babyface friend Sting despite management from the heel Jimmy Hart. As revealed years later by then-WCW booker Kevin Sullivan, Sting had actually been the backup plan for the heel turn had Hogan gotten cold feet and not gone through with it, and Sullivan had actually made Hogan sleep at his house the night before and stay away from the arena until go time to prevent anybody getting in his ear about what a bad idea the turn could be. Sullivan of course was proven right, and the reaction to Hogan’s leg drop on Savage remains spine-tingling to this day. Every fan who was sick to death of the ‘Hulkster’ preaching his “Say your prayers and eat your vitamins” verbiage suddenly had everything they had ever hoped for – the green light to boo the hell out of him. “A career of a lifetime, right down the drain, kid” said colour commentator Dusty Rhodes during the angle. “I hope you love it. You just sold your soul to the Devil.” It was a great line, but Hogan’s promo was even better:
“‘Mean’ Gene, the first thing you gotta do is to tell these people to shut up if they want to hear what I’ve got to say. The first thing you’ve gotta realise, brother, is this right here is the future of wrestling. You can call this the New World Order of wrestling, brother. These two men right here came from a great big organisation up north and everybody was wondering about who the third man was. Well who knows more about that organisation than me, brother? Well let me tell you something! I made that organisation a monster. I made people rich up there. I made the people that ran that organisation rich up there, brother. And when it all came to pass, the name ‘Hulk Hogan’, the man Hulk Hogan got bigger than the whole organisation, brother! And then ‘Billionaire Ted’ amigo, he wanted to talk turkey with Hulk Hogan. Well Billionaire Ted promised me movies, brother. ‘Billionaire Ted’ promised me millions of dollars and ‘Billionaire Ted’ promised me world calibre matches. And as far as Billionaire Ted, Eric Bischoff and the whole WCW goes, I’m bored, brother. That’s why these two guys here, the so called ‘Outsiders’, these are the men I want as my friends. They’re the new blood of professional wrestling, brother, and not only are we gonna take over the whole wrestling business, with Hulk Hogan and the new blood, the monsters with me, we will destroy everything in our path ‘Mean’ Gene.
“As far as I’m concerned, all this crap in the ring represents these fans out here because for two years, brother, for two years I held my head high. I did everything for the charities, I did everything for the kids, and the reception I got when came out here… You fans can stick it, brother, because if it wasn’t for Hulk Hogan, you people wouldn’t be here. If it wasn’t for Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff would still be selling meat from a truck in Minneapolis. And if it wasn’t for Hulk Hogan, all of these Johnny-Come-Latelys that you see out here wrestling wouldn’t be here. I was selling the world out, brother, while they were bumming gas to put in their car to get to high school. So the way it is now, brother, with Hulk Hogan and the New World Organisation of wrestling brother, me and the new blood by my side, whatcha gonna do when the New World Organisation runs wild on you? Whatcha gonna do!? What are you gonna do!?
Back in the present day, Hogan sucks up to his current employers some more: “My favourite piece of business when I was in the WCW was bringing everything I learned from the WWF down there, and basically wiping out their whole talent pool.” This is illustrated by a series of clips of beatdowns on Big Bubba Rogers, Sting, and a famous angle from the Universal Orlando outdoor Nitro broadcast, in which the Outsiders dismantle Arn Anderson and the American Males before Nash hurls Rey Misterio, Jr. headfirst into a truck. That leads to Hogan winning the WCW World Heavyweight Title from the Giant in a lousy main event at Hog Wild, where Hogan spray paints the letters “NWO” onto the belt. Going into full-on kayfabe mode, Hogan says “I knew every shortcut, I knew every way to get to a wrestler, I knew every way to get to a piece of talent in and out of the ring, and I used all my weapons to my advantage. So my favourite thing was basically stirring the pot in the WCW. That’s why I’m called the “Hulk-stir.”” And that line is why you’re also universally referred to as Hulk Ho-pun.
An eight-man tag team match on Nitro pitting warring heel factions the Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Chris Benoit and Steve McMichael) against the Dungeon of Doom (‘Taskmaster’ Kevin Sullivan, Big Bubba Rogers and the Faces of Fear, Meng and the Barbarian) sees the nWo destroy both sides in a red-hot beatdown before Dungeoneer the Giant arrives… and turns on his stable-mates with chokeslams on the Barbarian and Meng, a hug for new teammate Nash, and another chokeslam on Randy Savage. Sullivan later explained that his theory behind the heel vs. heel Horseman-Dungeon feud was to keep both stables occupied so the nWo could gain traction unabated, given what little sense it would have made to have just three guys run roughshod over an entire promotion, especially one already boasting two powerful groups. It worked a treat, as evidenced by the nuclear crowd heat drawn here.
Hogan waxes lyrical about how easy it was for him to be hated in the south, given his status as former WWF star. “I think the only problem I had was Nash and Hall were so cool in their image, and their “4-Life” gangsta rap and attitude that they were almost the good guys in the nWo.” That “cool heel” mentality would go on to become extremely prevalent in the late 90s, not just in WCW but in the WWF as well, where natural heels Steve Austin, the Rock and D-Generation-X all became accepted as monster babyfaces. It wasn’t until Edge made it to the pinnacle of WWE cards in 2006 that a new top heel allowed himself to be just that, a heel, without pandering to the fans with cutesy jokes or making the babyfaces look stupid at every turn to the short-sighted detriment of the drawing power of their programs.
Hogan laments that adding further members to the nWo watered it down and weakened it. “The nWo was so strong, you could take just a normal, everyday average wrestler, put an nWo shirt on him or put the nWo colours 4-Life on that average wrestler and he became a star overnight.” Hall agrees. “A lot of fans commented that the nWo was at its strongest when there was just three, when it was Hall and Nash, and Hulk Hogan. I kinda agree too. We thought the plan was to have our own TV show, our own merchandise, everything, so that the fans would decide “Do you like WCW or do you like nWo?” instead of choosing “Do you like WCW or the WWF?””
Meanwhile, a new attitude was changing things in the WWF, as ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and the Rock we’re making a strong connection with the fans and driving the business to new levels of success. The upshot of that is Ric Flair becoming the co-owner of the WWF alongside Mr. McMahon, and an increasingly crazed McMahon bringing the nWo in to kill the promotion in retaliation. Oh, wait… You thought there were five whole years between the nWo taking over WCW and joining the WWF? Guess again, bucko. 1997-2001? Nope. Never happened. At least, not here. And what a ludicrous storyline, as Vince had just spent the best part eight months doing all he could to ensure the WWF’s survival against the WCW/ECW Alliance, to then turn around and “inject it with a lethal dose of poison” in reintroducing Hogan, Hall and Nash. Perhaps even more ridiculous is the insertion of a clip at this point in which Bradshaw of all people has to explain to Flair who the nWo are. I mean, I know Flair is out of his mind, but c’mon.
So the WWF completely fails to foster any anticipation for the nWo’s impending arrival at No Way Out 2002 by sending them out to the ring as soon as the show hits the airwaves, and the best they can muster for what should have been the monumental returns of not only Nash and Hall, but also all-time legend Hogan, was to have them cut a promo promising exactly the opposite of McMahon’s proclamation that they were here to kill the WWF. “We’re not here to kill the WWF, we’re here to make it better. All we want to do is give the WWF fans exactly what they want!” Worse still were the backstage segments in which Austin declined a six-pack of Budweiser from the group and the Rock belittled the characters of Razor Ramon and Diesel. Why the trio had to be emasculated before they destroyed Austin at the end of his Undisputed Title match with Chris Jericho that night is something only the creative geniuses booking the WWF will know, but hey, they were the ones still in business and if they wanted to prove to a long-dead entity that the nWo was inferior to the WWF’s top superstars, then that’s their prerogative I guess.
An unpleasant feud between Austin and Hall followed, built around Austin torturing real-life alcoholic Hall with booze, just as the company had done during the equally disgusting Jake Roberts vs. Jerry Lawler feud of 1996 (you stay classy there, WWF), as did a dream showdown between Hogan and the Rock (the WWF’s second choice incidentally, after Austin turned the Hogan match down on the grounds that Hogan had rebuffed his requests for a main event program in WCW in the mid-90s). Presented as wrestling’s equivalent to a Muhammad Ali vs. Mike Tyson inter-generational showdown to determine the undisputed greatest of all-time, their initial promo in which Rock issued the challenge for a match at WrestleMania X8 was absolutely electric. The following angle in which the nWo destroyed the Rock by caving his skull in with a hammer before smashing into the ambulance with a monster truck was, to put it frankly, complete horseshit. The nose-to-nose showdown was all the bout needed to sell itself as a legitimate contender for the biggest match in pro wrestling history, but the entirely unbelievable angle in which Rock should by rights have been crippled for life, if not have died, let alone been fit to wrestle just four weeks later, turned the whole thing into a joke, just another hokey bullshit wrestling angle.
In fact, Rock was back in the ring on SmackDown! less than three weeks after the assault, for a match with Hall. “Speculation running rampant the Rock’s not one hundred percent” claims Michael Cole. Ordinarily I’d whinge about Cole making such dumb statements, but given that Rock works the match with taped ribs and nary a scratch on him whilst performing DDTs and kip-ups, I can’t say as I blame him. Cole also claims the ambulance incident was almost “career ending” for the Rock. Given that John Cena was on the Ohio Valley Wrestling roster at this point, training for a career in the WWF, it perhaps becomes extremely clear where he picked up the idea that babyfaces weren’t supposed to sell a damn thing.
At WrestleMania X8, the WWF’s supremacy over anything and everything not directly created by them was once again underlined as Austin downed Hall in a mostly lousy match (although Hall’s outrageous oversell of Austin’s match-winning Stone Cold Stunner was joyously ridiculous), and Rock pinned Hogan in a technically naff but terrifically entertaining bout that saw Hogan completely undermine the Rock, going into business for himself by riding a gigantic wave of nostalgia into an initially unplanned babyface turn. Don’t get me wrong, the Hogan turn was always coming, but it was Hogan’s “Hulking up” and fan manipulation that accelerated the turn, freeing him of the albatross that was the nWo in the WWF. Rock and Hogan shake hands and make up after the match, letting the bygones of month-old attempted assassination be bygones, and Hulk renounces his colours the next night on RAW.
The following evening at the SmackDown! taping, Rock squares off in his first-ever meeting with Nash, winning by disqualification when Hall interferes. Afterwards, Rock eats a Jackknife through the announce table, so new best bud Hogan makes the save with legdrops on both Outsiders, only for an nWo t-shirt bedecked X-Pac to “put the band back together” and belt Hogan over the noggin with a steel chair. “And that’s the real story of the nWo”, or so the helpful voiceover man would have us believe.
Summary: They say that history is written by the winners and rarely is that more evident than here, as the always right, never wrong WWF continues to stick the knife into WCW’s promotional policies whilst simultaneously brainwashing their audience with anti-WCW propaganda. They were WEAK, the viewer is lead to believe, and the only reason they had any success is because of the WWF. Meaning that even when the WWF wasn’t successful and were getting their asses kicked, technically they still were because they were responsible for it. Got it?
It’s a shame the WWF still had such a bug up their backside about the whole Monday Night War thing because the knock-on effect was shoddy output like this, and it was the viewers who suffered because of it. Here, the WWF had the chance to present a fascinating insight into a significant period in the wrestling industry, and with WCW coming under WWF ownership, meant that for the first time, they could present both sides of the story, complete with all the requisite archival footage. Instead, they gave a warped, potted history of the group, often lacking both depth and context, loaded up with premade highlights packages of insignificant matches and angles, particularly towards the end. That almost half the tape is dedicated to the group’s two months (at that point) in the WWF in a joke; that September 1996 until February 2001 is ignored entirely is downright insulting.
The whole thing is clearly designed as a promotional tool to bring newer fans up to speed on what the WWF wanted you to believe was the history of the nWo, kayfabe intact. Problematically, by the time the release was ready to hit the market, Hollywood Hogan had already regressed into Hulk Hogan, nullifying many of his contributions, and Scott Hall had been fired. Ironically, the only one of the original trio still working for the WWF in nWo colours at the time of the tape’s release was Kevin Nash, and he’s nowhere to be found as a talking head. Perhaps even stranger is that, while the WWF was willing to admit the Big Show was once a member of the group (and he would go on to rejoin them on-screen shortly after this production was wrapped up), there’s zero mention of Sean ‘Syxx’ Waltman’s time as a member of the original ‘Wolfpac’ (the nickname for he, Hall and Nash), yet the tape concludes with X-Pac joining the WWF incarnation. Some background on that would have been nice, but apparently things like that require fire too much effort. Fortunately, WWE would get much less lazy as time went on, with 2012’s nWo: The Revolution DVD and Blu-ray release offering a much more exhaustive presentation than was to be found here, although that documentary still didn’t quite give fans the definitive story on the history of the influential outfit.
On a positive note, the clips on offer here are largely entertaining, and much like the myriad of clips found on WWF tapes revisiting the Austin vs. McMahon feud, remain just as exciting years removed as they were to watch at the time. Be warned though that if you are planning to add nWo: Back in Black to your collection, that it is an extremely rare tape to track down, receiving a very limited amount of time on retail shelves as one of the promotion’s last releases under the “WWF” name, before a lawsuit case with the World Wildlife Fund prohibited them continuing to use those initials. By the time the WWE name was in effect, the nWo had been disbanded once and for all, and an edited re-release seemed to serve very little purpose. Furthermore, I’d also recommend the DVD version over the VHS as it comes with four extra matches, including a rarely seen Hogan, Hall & Nash vs. Rock & Austin handicap bout from RAW, notable as the only time Hogan and Austin squared off as opponents in a bell-to-bell match, and that if you can track down the also now out-of-print UK-only Tagged Classics release of it, you’ll also get the old Big Daddy Cool Diesel and Razor Ramon: Oozing Machismo Coliseum Video releases on a bonus second disc.