As a wrestling fan, one of the most fun discussion exercises centers around the simple question of “What If?” Well, we here at PTBN love talking wrestling, both past and present. And we love collaborating on columns too. So we have arrived at our “What If…?” series. Each month, our staff will tackle a new “What If…?” question and layout why they made their choice as well as the fallout for all involved in the decision.
This month’s subject: What if the New World Order’s third man was someone other than Hulk Hogan?
JT Rozzero: Bret Hart
Shortly after WrestleMania XII, Bret Hart took a prolonged hiatus from in ring action. Burnt out and bitter, Hart’s contract lapsed and he began assessing his future. Should he return to the company that he had worked for since 1984? Or roll the dice and jump ship to the suddenly hot WCW? After spurning a sub par offer from Vince McMahon and frustrated by the direction of his once beloved company under Shawn Michaels’ WWF Title reign, Hart decides to take a chance and sign on with Eric Bischoff. And a big part of Uncle Eric’s pitch to the Hitman included a high level part in a massive angle that was upcoming. Bret Hart would be the mysterious third outsider to join Kevin Nash and Scott Hall in taking over WCW.
Who better than the poster boy of the WWF’s New Generation to come in and want to eradicate his former competition? In 1996, very few wrestlers screamed “WWF Lifer” than Bret Hart. Sure, you lose some shock value, but you also gain a very believable enemy. Somebody that would have good reason to hate the company and want to see it wither. Plus, by that time, Hart had more than enough credibility to lead this type of faction. He was a grizzled veteran that could still work a hell of a match in the ring. And after tearing up Sting’s back and legs with the Sharpshooter and cutting a vicious promo on WCW fans and brass, he would announce his first official target: Hulk Hogan. The man that dodged him for years in the WWF. That was the reason Hart was here. And unlike Hogan, who turned his back on the WWF and became WCW through and through, he was remaining loyal to his roots and set to destroy the man who bailed on the boys back up north and refused to do the honors to him on the way out the door. After the Hitman mowed through the Giant to win the WCW Title at Hog Wild, and mashed up Sting, Lex Luger, Arn Anderson and Ric Flair at War Games, Hart and Hogan would be set on a collision course at Starrcade, where Hart would finally get his elusive win over the Hulkster, sending Hogan to the sidelines to regroup before returning for a massive rematch at Bash at the Beach 1997, one year after Hart began his reign of terror.
Jason Greenhouse: Shane McMahon
Scott Hall and Kevin Nash had been hyping a third man who would be joining their stable for weeks. The time had finally come for this to be revealed.
As Hall and Nash were battling Sting, Randy Savage and Lex Luger in the main event of Bash at the Beach, Team WCW was getting the upper hand on The Outsiders. Sting would hit a Stinger Splash on Hall, followed by an elbow drop from Randy Savage. Savage would go for the pin, when the lights at the Ocean Center in Daytona would go out. Fans in attendance, along with announcers Tony Schiavone, Bobby Heenan and Dusty Rhodes, had no idea what was going on. As the lights came back on, a man with a baseball bat wearing all black, including a black mask was in the ring and Team WCW were all knocked out cold on the mat.
A camera would zoom in on this man as he began to take his mask off. It was Shane McMahon! The 26 year old son of WWF owner Vince McMahon. Announcers, fans in Daytona and fans watching at home were absolutely stunned. Shane had yet to publicly be introduced on WWF television, but his face had been seen in wrestling magazines throughout the world over the past few years.
As Team WCW laid motionless in the ring, Hall, Nash and McMahon stood in the ring as a unit as fans began throwing debris in the ring. Gene Okerlund entered the ring to try and get an explanation from these three men.
McMahon was up first and said that he was in WCW to put them out of business. His father and grandfather were legends in this business and was disgusted by what WCW had become. He and his buddies Hall and Nash would take out the WCW roster one person at a time, starting at the top with the men who were knocked out in the ring.
Hulk Hogan came down the aisle and as he entered the ring would grab the microphone from Okerlund. Hogan said that there is no one alive that could kill WCW and Hulkamania. Hall would then attack Hogan from behind and he along with Nash and McMahon would pummel Hogan in the middle of the ring. After beating down Hogan, the Outsiders and McMahon would raise each others arms as the show faded to black.
In the months to come, the stable, which would become known as the nWo, would continue to dominate WCW. The Hogan and McMahon feud would be the hottest thing in wrestling, topped off with a match at Starrcade 1996. If Hogan would beat McMahon, The son of Vincent K would have to return to the WWF.
Ben Morse: Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michaels has been my favorite wrestler since I watched him throw Marty Jannetty through a barber shop window at nine years old. I never wavered as an HBK fan; not when he lost his smile, not when he screwed Bret – never. I steadfastly believe him to be the greatest in-ring performer of all-time with a body of work second to none and one of wrestling’s greatest talkers and characters. You will not find somebody more complimentary and reverent toward Shawn Michaels than me.
If Shawn Michaels had been the third man in the New World Order, it would have been a disaster.
As I’m sure you have already been asked to do and/or will be asked to do again many times over the course of this column, transport yourself back to July of 1996 and WCW Bash at the Beach. Imagine Lex Luger getting taken out and then the Outsiders putting a beating on Sting and Lex Luger only for none other than Shawn Michaels to emerge from the back. On the one hand, you’ve got the shock value of a man who – presumably – recently held the WWF title making his WCW debut, but on the other hand, you lose any question of whose side he’s on; Hulk Hogan may have still been a larger than life super hero and potential savior, but obviously HBK, not long on the side of angels, would help his buddies.
That’s ultimately the failing of Shawn Michaels as the third man: it’s predictable. Of course another Clique member would complete the nWo, and while HBK would have more impact than Syxx, the beauty of Hogan came from the risk being taken, not so much existent in this scenario. All due respect to Shawn, after a steady stream of former WWF stars jumping ship to move down South, he’d be among the least of them; in 1996, the future “Mr. WrestleMania” has yet to fully cement his legacy beyond being a great in-ring performer handed the ball at a down time for the Fed, not on the level of Hogan and Savage. “The Hulkster” lent Hall and Nash a credibility their pal could not.
Of course it also can’t be understated that the New World Order and WCW gain one of the best bell-to-bell wrestlers in the history of the business if Shawn Michaels signs on. Even 1996 Shawn gets some killer dream match mileage taking on the likes of Sting and Ric Flair as well as a young Giant and of course Hogan and Savage. Perhaps with Michaels in the fold, some of WCW’s high quality mid-carders like Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, and Chris Jericho get elevated at the request of a hungry “Heartbreak Kid” and the future of the company looks a bit brighter; or to play devil’s advocate, maybe some of the Outsiders’ laziness rubs off on their friend…
At the end of the day, that’s the big risk of Shawn Michaels joining the New World Order; beyond the dulled shock at Bash at the Beach and reduced outset credibility of the group, history has shown that the Clique behaved badly around this time. While Vince McMahon knew how to motivate the group, Eric Bischoff had his hands full enough with Hall and Nash; one can only imagine how he’d handle the political machinations and temper tantrums of a Shawn Michaels years away from finding himself.
If Shawn Michaels steps out as the third man at Bash at the Beach, I foresee the nWo making a quick impact before getting phased out by a threatened old guard without Hogan’s protection – and in fact his persecution instead – and WCW burning amidst backstage factions making Eric Bischoff’s hair going grey again.
Meanwhile, Bret Hart breathes a sigh of relief.
Marc Clair: Ric Flair
In my nWo fantasy booking, I would have things play out much in the same way they did leading up to Bash in the Beach. Hall and Nash would take WCW by storm and continually make reference to their “other buddy” leading up to the tag match vs Lex Luger, Randy Savage and Sting. Towards the end of the match, as Team WCW is looking down and out, out comes the Nature Boy Ric Flair! The announcers are stoked, and they know he’s out to defend the honor of WCW. Flair means business and grabs a chair, comes into the ring, and just as it appears he’s about to hit Nash, he turns and nails none other than STING! Yes, that’s right, Ric Flair turns on Sting for the zillionth time, and the second time in less than a year! It’s a story that never gets old!
Schiavone and Heenan feign shock and awe as they cannot believe the Nature Boy would turn on WCW. As trash fills the ring just as it did in real life, the Nature Boy grabs the mic from Mean Gene and delivers a classic promo explaining his actions:
Flair: “Whooooo! That’s right! It’s ME! I’m the THIRD MAN – forget WCW, forget the Four Horseman…THIS is my new family! I made this company what it is today – I carried these guys you just saw get wiped out – Luger, Sting – I carried these hardbodied broomsticks to the greatest matches of their lives! And what did I get for it? What did they say to the Nature Boy? Did they say “Thanks, Naitch, thanks for making this company what it is today”! No! They tried to put a goddamn GOLD HELMET on me and turn me into a GLADIATOR?! A GLADIATOR?!?! And when I refused they showed me the door. Well, if you want gladiators, look no further than these two men, my boys, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash! WHOOOO!!!!!!
Just like me, these talented men had to endure humiliating gimmicks in this company – The Diamond Studd?! Vinnie Vegas?! For the love of all that’s holy they made this poor guy (points to Nash) walk out as if he was the WIZARD OF OZ?! Are you KIDDING me?! I met my man Scott Hall here when I was exiled up north for a year, and I saw the pure talent in this man. Talent than was never appreciated here, not by Ted Turner, not by Eric Bischoff, and not from these STUPID FANS! (more trash in the ring). And it was certainly never appreciated up north. Now, I can proudly say, it doesn’t matter what they think up north, and it doesn’t matter what they think down here, because we are no longer going to BEG for our spots in the wrestling world. We are going to TAKE them. WHOOOOOO!!!!”
Mean Gene: “But Ric, what about the Four Horsemen…”
Flair; “I made the Four Horseman, and I’ll destroy the Four Horseman. Arn, you’ve been a great friend, but you’ve always held me back. I don’t need old school technical wrestlers at my side – I am the BEST to ever LIVE! – no, now I’ve got REAL MEN by my side, men that will join with me for a revolution…today is a new era, the day that we usher in a NEW WORLD ORDER in professional wrestling. WHOOOOOOOO!!”
Flashback to 1996 – the Outsiders are invading WCW and the NWO is about to be born. At the same time, 27 year old Dave Bautista has recently lost his job as a bouncer for knocking a couple of knuckleheads unconscious. Little do we know, these two supernovas are about to collide. In a momentary moment of lucidity, Scott Hall has an epiphany… with him and Kevin Nash they don’t need more star power for the NWO to work, they need youth, ferocity, unlimited potential, and someone to bring in the young female fans. They need a fresh face to take the wrestling world by storm. They need an ANIMAL.
Fast forward to that fateful night at Bash at the Beach. Hulk Hogan makes his way to the ring. He begins his heel-turn rant. He gets about 30 seconds in and the lights go out. The yet to be created (taking a little artistic liberty here) “I Walk Alone” starts blaring through the arena. Emerging from the locker room and making his way to the ring is Scott Hall’s new find. With a physique and presence that makes Hogan look like the beaten down old man that he is, Batista enters the squared circle for the first time. He spears Hogan to the delight of the crowd. The old man is already done but the Animal wants to inflict more pain. A Batistabomb from hell ends the Hulkster’s WCW career for good and sends him back to the struggling WWF. Scott Hall spraypaints the now infamous “NWO” on the belt and wraps around the Animal’s waist. A star is born.
Batista runs roughshod through the WCW and takes the championship from the Giant at Hog Wild. He remains champion for an extended run and singlehandedly wins the Monday Night Wars for WCW. The NWO goes down as the greatest faction in the history of the sport and, by embracing youth, are able add young gun Brock Lesnar in later years to share the top spot with the Animal. Meanwhile, in the WWF, Hogan is chosen by Vince McMahon to lead DX and the company quickly falls to pieces.
Aaron George: Yokozuna
“So this is where the big boys play? Look at the adjective…play.” A botch for the ages? A giant of a man buffooning his way through the English language? Or maybe, just maybe, a man struggling with his group’s inadequacy.
As July 7, 1996 grew near the entire world trembled with anticipation. We wanted to know who the third man was. Rumors were flying left and right: Would it be Bret Hart? Maybe Shawn Michaels? Perhaps a dinosaur. No one knew. If only WCW had made the RIGHT call and landed a man who would no doubt “change the measuring stick” of the southern based company. We would now need a full two measuring sticks to wrap around his giant stomach and his grotesquely enlarged heart. If time machines were possible, people say that they’d go back and kill Hitler as a child or strangle John the Baptist in his sleep, but I would make Yokozuna the third and fourth man.
If Yokozuna had been the third man, the WWF goes out of business in six weeks. Think about this: he’s big. As he waddled down to the ring Bobby Heenan would have no chance to botch the greatest turn of all time because if he didn’t know what side Yokozuna was on, I’d then be convinced there’s a spider eating his brain. You can even do the God damn legdrops on Randy Savage. Whose legdrops put out Hulk Hogan? Yokozuna’s pork chop leg drops that’s who! Imagine the horror of the audience as they pelt the ring with garbage and Yoko begins to devour said garbage in a feeding frenzy not seen since Lou Albano stuffed his fat pig mouth with pies. We would then be treated to “Hollywood” Yoko, as he strutted down to the ring with sunglasses and boas, his Jupiter-like face airbrushed onto his tights.
The NWO would grow by leaps and bounds with Yoko as their chief. By August he’s WCW champion and he’s expanded the group by adding Kato, Sato and the Incredible Crush to the fabled faction. It’s September though where the NWO scores its biggest coup, when former foe Lex Luger appears to join after kicking his friend Sting outside of Mr. Fuji’s rickshaw. War Games would prove that it was however a fake Lex Luger (Ron Simmons) when the real Lex appears, destroys the NWO and leaves. Poor Sting is forced to submit, and proceeds to crawl to the back screaming, “Lexyyyy.” The NWO was here to stay, and there’s nothing WCW could do about it. This of course leads to the year long story of Lex working out in the rafters until Starrcade 1997 where he’d finally defeat Yoko after a Vince McMahon fast count is overturned, by special ref Toots Mondt.
Why WCW wouldn’t make this move is beyond my comprehension. Look how fucking big he is.