On this day in Pro Wrestling history… Scott Hall made his return to World Championship Wrestling (WCW) on May 27th, 1996 to officially begin the New World Order (NWO) storyline angle. Prior to this day, Scott Hall was in WCW previously as himself but with blond hair and a handlebar mustache before Diamond Dallas Page convinced him to shave and dye his hair black to become the “Diamond Studd”. If you watched Studd work, he resembled the Razor Ramon character that he’d later become from 1992-1996 but with Scott Hall adding various Scarface references to the character (“say hello to the bad guy!”).
Why did he leave WWE after having a successful run as Razor Ramon? Money talks… As Scott Hall has been quoted (paraphrased), “in this business, you can have lots of friends or lots of money. I already have many friends, so I want the money!”. Through 1996, WWE’s contract structure isn’t quite what you see today. WWE wrestlers now have a base salary of guaranteed money, but Scott Hall and wrestlers of his generation in WWE made money strictly based on live shows and Pay Per Views that they worked, along with a slight cut of the merchandise. While money could be good in the WWE, you had to work for it for over 300 days per year AND you had to hope that the houses drew.
Meanwhile, under Eric Bischoff, WCW was ready to leap to the next level in the wrestling world. Since 1993, Eric Bischoff was correcting the financial wrongs of the past to actually make WCW profitable by around late 1994 or 1995. He saw what wasn’t making WCW money and greatly reduced it, and while his WCW tapings at Disney World seemed to be bad television, they saved WCW and Ted Turner lots of money by reducing the amount of unprofitable houseshows and TV tapings. Then, Bischoff began to improve his wrestler signings by first signing Hulk Hogan during mid 1994 and later signed Macho Man Randy Savage by late 1994. People took notice, as Savage and Hogan were working together again and many adult fans, who loved the Mega Powers as kids, began tuning in.
But Eric Bischoff wanted more… If he was going to make his new WCW Monday Nitro show popular for a 2 hour live show, he was going to need more talent. Eric saw the reaction that Lex Luger‘s return created and probably began thinking about other key free agents that could help his company. Through the Spring of 1996, it just so happened that Scott Hall‘s contract was coming up and that could be a major signing. Lucky for Eric, Scott’s buddy Kevin Nash also had a contract coming up and was just 1-2 weeks apart from Scott’s expiration. With Hall and Nash being buddies (2 pillar members of the Clique), Hall was sharing information on his WCW negotiations. Shocked, Nash presented said information to Vince McMahon and Vince couldn’t match what WCW could offer. Vince is even quoted as “if I gave you guaranteed money like that, I’d have to do the same for the Undertaker and others”. Poor loyal Undertaker, by the way… But he made up for it later.
Then during the early Spring of 1996, WCW hosted its “Uncensored” Pay Per View and the show was an embarrassment. The show was headlined by the “Doomsday Cage Match”, which featured Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage trying to escape a cage against members of the 4 Horsemen, Dungeon of Doom, and 2 actors brought in (one was Z-Gangsta, who played “Zeus” in No Holds Barred, and the other was the Ultimate Solution). Complete cluster that caused Eric Bischoff to have enough of the way Creative, under Kevin Sullivan, was taking things with the ridiculous Dungeon of Doom. Bischoff began pushing harder for reality-based storylines that were less about theatrics and more about real life tension from wrestlers with real life names. He was an admirer of New Japan’s storyline structure and really liked their invasion angle.
If you were lurking on wrestling forums during the Spring of 1996, you were hearing rumors about Scott Hall and Kevin Nash possibly leaving WWE and joining WCW. Scott Hall disappeared before Wrestlemania 12, as he was supposed to wrestle Goldust but was reportedly suspended by the WWE for substance abuse (which Hall has contended was false). Hall would return to the In Your House – Good Friends, Better Enemies show and lose, just as Kevin Nash lost his awesome match against Shawn Michaels that show as well. Then losing on the same show fueled the rumors, but then pictures of the famous “Curtain Call” incident really added fuel to the fire on their WCW debut speculation. On a Madison Square Garden houseshow, after the HBK vs. Nash match finished, Scott Hall and Triple H joined then in the ring to salute the fans one last time. Hall & Nash contend that Vince OK’d this kayfabe breaking incident but later turned on them once WWE’s officials and locker room reacted to their exposure of the business (Triple H was punished for the incident later).
Wrestling fans began to speculate how the pair would join WCW… They didn’t realize that Eric Bischoff would present them with the greatest storyline ever in professional wrestling history. The New World Order was about to cause WCW to dominate the WCW landscape for the rest of 1996, all of 1997, and mostly the first half of 1998. And it all started with a very simple yet HIGHLY effective promo cut by Scott Hall on the May 27th, 1996 edition of WCW Nitro.
If you’d watch that 5/27/96 edition of WCW Nitro, it resembled the typical WCW style of show. Just in-ring matches with a few promos and angles to set-up said matches. Often with WCW, though, they had filler matches and one such one was happening between the Mauler and Steve Doll. But if you were a WCW fan, these matches were common and just relaxing to watch… Then, in the upper left corner of the screen, you see a guy walking down the steps in the audience with a denim vest and jeans who kind of looks like Razor Ramon. Wait, it IS Razor Ramon. The crowd begins to react and they are all standing in complete surprise. Scott Hall climbs over the barrier and heads for the announcer’s table, demanding the microphone.
What Scott Hall did next was key to this situation being unique and different. Larry Zbyszko, before Hall went out there, suggested that he just interrupts the match by talking and does NOT attack the wrestlers inside the ring. If you watch the Mauler and Steve Doll, they look completely puzzled to see Scott Hall on the mic and speaking during their match. To Doll and Mauler’s credit, they sold being puzzled at the money to help emphasize that this moment could be a “shoot” and that a known WWE wrestler named Scott Hall was doing something unscripted. Furthermore, the announcers were questioning why Hall was there and were then stunned in silence as Hall began speaking. Those minor details with the Mauler/Doll and the announcers helped create the atmosphere that what you were seeing here was REAL even though it was on a highly scripted wrestling show.
Then, Scott Hall uttered the famous lines “you know who I am, but you don’t know why I am here”. THAT line created chills up wrestling fans’ spines and began to question whether we were somehow seeing an unscripted WWE invasion.
Hall would then begin to mock WCW, often citing “Billionaire Ted” and “Nacho Man” from the WWE attack ads that aired, and famously called WCW as “Dubya Cee Dubya” in a mocking tone that he’d continue to do for years as a NWO member. Hall laid the groundwork for the NWO invading WCW and everyone was buzzing about this appearance. It was different and it felt real because Hall walked through the crowd, didn’t attack the wrestlers, uttered that famous line, and was attacking WCW at a high level.
From the early goings of the internet to the playgrounds at school to the dorms at college campuses… EVERYONE was talking about Scott Hall‘s appearance on WCW. It felt real and different than any angle seen previously. Suddenly, WCW had a buzz and it was now up to Eric Bischoff and his Creative Team to build on that momentum. That they did…
1 week later, Scott Hall is confronted by Sting at the end of WCW Nitro (Sting slapped him!), and Hall hypes that a “BIG Surprise” was coming. The smart fans online knew who this was, but it was still shocking to see Kevin Nash appear later with the “adjective being play”. Boom, you suddenly had the greatest Intercontinental Champion ever in Scott Hall and a former WWE Champion in Kevin Nash on WCW television. Meanwhile, they WEREN’T on the WWE shows and RAW was struggling with a babyface Shawn Michaels as the WWE Champion. Making matters worse for WWE, Bret Hart’s contract came up and result in Hart not appearing on WWE television from Wrestlemania 12 through the RAWs just before Survivor Series 1996.
Then, Hall and Nash began to mock WCW further and actually attack them, such as the famous Lawn Dart incident with poor Rey Mysterio Jr. They’d also bring baseball bats to the ring full of WCW, which promoted police to all bum rush the ring to protect the WCW stars. On top of all of this, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash appeared at WCW Great American Bash 1996 where they’d first reveal they weren’t working for WWE but because of their characters, still maintained as if they were invading the company themselves. They emphasized this by attacking Eric Bischoff and Nash powerbombed him off the side of the entrance stage. That was a SHOCK of a moment, but the bigger shock was the challenge laid out by the newly dubbed “Outsiders” (which was a cool name!).
Hall and Nash challenged Bischoff to find 3 other wrestlers and take them on at Bash at the Beach 1996. The best part was the mystery 3rd man, as this caused every wrestling fan to speculate who it could be. Many thought Bret Hart since he, too, disappeared from WWE television. Bret Hart claims contractual negotiations happened during the early Summer of 1996 but Eric Bischoff has refuted those claims. Dave Meltzer famously reported that Mabel was potentially up for that 3rd role, but Bischoff has heavily denied that and had fought with Dave over that rumor for years. Eric Bischoff has gone on record that he initially desired Hulk Hogan to be that 3rd man, but Hogan initially turned it down. Sting was then selected to be the 3rd man in Hogan’s place, but Hogan later changed his mind after seeing how popular the Outsiders had become.
At the WCW Bash at the Beach 1996 Pay Per View, Scott Hall & Kevin Nash took on the WCW representatives of Lex Luger, Sting, and Macho Man Randy Savage but the 3rd man did not initially appear. Making matters more complicated, they had an injury angle for Lex Luger to make it just Hall/Nash versus Sting/Savage. When Hall & Nash eventually got the upper hand, Hulk Hogan appeared and instead of saving Sting/Savage, he began attacking Randy Savage with legdrops. The 3rd man was revealed! And the “New World Order of Professional Wrestling”, as Hogan later put it that night, was officially started as a trio that added many other members. The NWO became a force that exploded WCW in growth and moved so much NWO merchandise.
BUT maybe none of this could have been as successful if Scott Hall‘s return to WCW wasn’t so carefully planned and executed:
– Scott Hall arrives through the crowd.
– Hall demands a microphone.
– Doesn’t attack Mauler or Steve Doll during their match, just speaks to interrupt them.
– Announcers question why he’s here, and then go silent.
– Mauler and Steve Doll act puzzled as to why Scott Hall is interrupting their match.
– Hall delivers the line “you know who I am but you don’t know why I am here”.
– Mocks WCW heavily, alludes to the WWE attack ads that mocked Ted Turner, Hulk Hogan, and Macho Man.
– Makes no mention of his name or who he is… Creates the impression that he’s Razor Ramon and invading WCW on behalf of WWE.
– Later, confronts Eric Bischoff at the end of the show and does the same for the next 2 shows.
It was so perfectly done, creating doubt in wrestling fans’ minds about a possible WWE invasion of WCW, that WWE’s legal team filed a lawsuit against WCW for creating this impression. WWE would later win this lawsuit and one of the conditions that came from the lawsuit is that if WCW were ever to be on sale, WWE had the right to match it. Ironic that the seeds planted to create the NWO was also the ones that eventually caused WWE to officially win the Monday Night War. Well, WCW’s business model falling apart after Starrcade 1997 and struggling to keep Bill Goldberg relevant did that and caused WCW’s financial losses for 1999 and 2000.
The funny thing about this lawsuit, however, was that most Razor Ramon elements were crafted in WCW with the slicked back jet black hair and the Diamond Studd would fling a toothpick at opponents. Yet, WWE trademarks characters and everything associated with them in order to protect other promotions from taking advantage of WWE’s intellectual properties. There’s a reason why Vince McMahon is still on top of the wrestling business with many fallen competitors.
Sadly on this day in wrestling history, Scott Hall is no longer with us to celebrate this amazing day. We lost him last year but many wrestling fans will never forget him. Nobody in this business was as naturally COOL as Scott Hall. Not only that, he wasn’t selfish inside the ring as he put many wrestlers over and was just OK at being an upper midcarder. He had the talent to be a multiple World Champion but never sought it. Hall was OK with just being one of the boys and complementing other talents to be successful.
But Scott Hall significantly changed the business not just by executing the start of the NWO well, but by accepting guaranteed money that had a “favored nations” clause in it that caused him (and Kevin Nash) to become the highest paid wrestlers (besides Hogan) any time other free agents were signed. While Hall in particular had issues with Bret Hart in WWE, he cheered on Hart’s arrival during late 1997 because that would boost his contract. The guaranteed contracts changed the game and forced the WWE to start doing the same in order to protect their roster from free agency. Ironic that Vince McMahon refused to pay Hall and Nash guaranteed money but ended up paying guaranteed money after they left. Wrestlers today should be grateful for Hall and Nash not just making wrestling successful again, but for the way they changed the salary structures.
What a day… On this day in Professional Wrestling history, Scott Hall’s WCW return on the May 27th, 1996 WCW Nitro changed wrestling for the better and then gave us a tremendous New World Order ride to enjoy!
27 years ago… Are you feeling old, yet?