1998: The Rebranding of the nWo
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Professional wrestling must constantly reinvent itself as audiences are fickle and surprises are expected. After the popularity surge for the nWo group at WCW in 1996-97, the dominant group gang beatings in the ring were becoming all-too predictable. Fortunately, the writers and producers at WCW had plans for reinvention and adaptation and executed well on them thus prolonging the longevity of the nWo for more than one additional year. This list outlines the methods of how WCW reinvented their most valuable asset and kept the drama fresh. The list is primarily in a loose chronological order.
10. The nWo Split into Hollywood Faction and the WolfPac
Hollywood Hogan was milking the heel turn and adding prominent heels to the nWo stable while spitting venom at the audience, however, the nWo was still a popular group with the fans. The group split in half forming a Hollywood Hogan faction and the new Wolfpac group. The Wolfpac was led by the crowd favourites, Kevin Nash and Konnan and soon attracted two of the other popular faces who had been dealing with the torment of gang-ups by the nWo - Sting and Lex Luger. Macho Man was affiliated with the Wolfpac, but more for his age-old on-an-off personal relationship with Hogan. The Wolfpac immediately established itself as a babyface faction and retained some of the catchphrases, signs and symbols of the original nWo. The scoundrel behaviour of the nWo brand was pushed aside for the Wolfpac. It was obvious when Curt Hennig and Rick Rude claimed membership to the Wolfpac that it would quickly turn... and did. The Hollywood faction of the nWo firmly boasted only heels. It was a good time for Buff Bagwell to get some time off as he didn't fit it properly with the Wolfpac, but was also too fun-loving for the Hollywood faction.
9. Scott Hall Traitor to The Outsiders
Scott Hall's behaviour was locked in as scoundrel from his days as Razor Ramon and even as the Diamond Studd prior to that, back in the WCW in the early 90s. When the nWo split, it seemed natural for Hall to join Nash in the Wolfpac, however he was also the "bad guy" which worked better for the Hollywood faction. Scott Hall's persona developed brilliantly as he turned against Nash and became a truly complex and enigmatic figure in WCW. Hall began showing up drunk at matches (likely almost all occasions were kayfabe) and he claimed that he needed the Hollywood Hogan money as motivation to turning traitor on Nash and the Wolfpac. Hall throughout 1998 had mystery and the audience didn't know what to expect with him. The enigma of Hall created great depth for his character and for the idea and brand of the nWo.
8. Redefining Ethnicity within the Factions
The Wolfpac boasted a more colourful profile through the antics of the Latino, Konnan. Even his waspy co-members began emulating some of the gang signs and ghetto bravado. This was refreshing because the original nWo had a marked racist profile. For most of the early years, the nWo only had a single ethnic minority represented - Vincent. Vincent as Virgil in the WWF had been the bodyguard for the Million Dollar Man, Ted DiBiase, but in fact he had an embarrassingly obvious "house nigger" stigma attached to him. When he came with Dibiase to the nWo, that stereotyped stigma remained. Vincent was an obvious tool and he jobbed for almost any wrestler at any time and at any event - he was the weakest nWo member by far. The Wolfpac became a more inclusive group inviting ethnic minorities in the crowd to support them, while the Hollywood faction rebranded as biker goons, especially through the budding relationship of the Disciple and Hogan.
7. Hennig and Rude Reaffirming the Brands
The original nWo split was confusing for some fans as it wasn't clear what defined each faction. It was obvious that Nash and Macho Man had had enough with Hogan's ego trip, but the other Wolfpac members were organized seemingly haphazardly. It stood out to many that Curt Hennig and Rick Rude didn't fit in with the rest of the Wolfpac. Hennig and Rude were established heels and it was difficult to see how they could face-turn. Very soon after the nWo split, Hennig and Rude turned on the Wolfpac and it made total sense. The new brands of nWo Hollywood and nWo Wolfpac were clearly defined by that treachery with the former being a heel stable and the latter being a babyface faction.
6. The Giant rejoins nW0 Hollywood
The original nWo had The Giant as a member - in fact he was one of the first members of the group and this made a lot of sense to the fans. The Giant was never popular with the fans as a face and it was only when he left for the WWF and became the Big Show that he was able to become well-liked by audiences. His membership in the nWo was a natural one because his talents were being wasted in Kevin Sullivan's cartoonish, Dungeon of Doom. The Giant was a centerpiece for the nWo and most big gang beatdowns at the end of Monday Nitro episodes were capped off with the Giant's signature choke slam. When The Giant left the nWo and face-turned, it was not well-received by the crowds. The audience didn't support The Giant's works on the mic condemning the nWo being goons and bullies - The Giant seemed like a goon and bully. The face-turn came out of the blue and there was little motivation for it. The Giant wanted a title shot, but the heavyweight world champ, Hogan, was seemingly afraid to face him. The Giant's greed and quest for personal glory was the reason for leaving the nWo which made it difficult to root for him. His "defense" of WCW against nWo just didn't add up and fans recognized it as a contrivance. When The Giant rejoined the nWo it was a natural fit and the right move for the future hall of famer. It also mitigated Sting joining the Wolfpac. The Giant resumed his goon behaviour on behalf of nWo Hollywood. WCW had a difficult time making Paul Wight's character complex and in the end, he had to go to McMahon to be properly branded.
5. Sting's Return to the Light
Sting was faced with a dilemma in 1998 - to join nWo Hollywood or nWo Wolfpac. For over a year, Sting had basked in the shadows of arenas, appearing enigmatically in rafters and eventually ziplining into the ring to defend WCW wrestlers against the nWo goons. One of the great talents of Steve Borden was his work on the mic. He was arguably the next biggest hero in professional wrestling after Hulk Hogan and he was for many years WCW's answer to Hulkamania. Where Hogan was the father figure, Sting was the older brother. When Sting took on the Crow persona, it was dark days for WCW and the fans only wished to have the jovial Sting back on the mic making matches and events fun, exciting and inspiring.
When Sting joined the Wolfpac, there was an opening for him to retain the gothic "attitude" of the crow persona while also bringing back some of the upbeat qualities of his original character. Sting took to the mic again and although his "gang" affiliation was a stretch and a little hokey (even corny), it was refreshing to see Sting doing what he did best - getting fans excited and inspired. With Sting in the Wolfpac, that faction was clearly established as a babyface group contra nWo Hollywood.
4. Bagwell and Steiner
Buff Bagwell was the first recruit when the nWo expanded and he assumed his new heel persona magnificently. His vanity fit well with the nWo and added a dimension of vice to the group's profile. His "Vicious and Delicious" tag team partnership with Scott Norton worked brilliantly. Bagwell was the mouthpiece for the tag team while Norton was the stoic brickhouse. Bagwell was full of flamboyent antics in the ring, while Norton was a straight-laced juggernaut cleaning up on Bagwell's messes. Bagwell and Norton became popular with the crowd as midcard stars from the nWo stable, however, with the imminent split defining nWo Hollywood as a heel group, Bagwell had to be ushered off. Bagwell was "injured" by Rick Steiner during a match and was taken off the card for several months. When he returned he was able to parlay his vaunted injury into a drama with the Steiner brothers. For weeks, Bagwell tarried with the face-heel definition and eventually proved to be a nefarious heel, teaming with "Big Poppa Pump" Scott Steiner in a tag team that worked well but lacked the dynamism of his partnership with Norton. Steiner and Bagwell played up their narcissism and Bagwell's membership in nWo Hollywood fit despite the crowd having liked him well. Bagwell always had trouble as a single's wrestler, so his dynamic with tag team partners was important to defining his career as well as the flavour of the group to which he was affiliated.
3. Miss Elizabeth as the Definitive Tool
The golden quality of Miss Elizabeth was that she was almost always seen but not heard. Personally, I feel that professional wrestling has lost the interest of dilettantes (like myself) because since 2000 it has focused too much time on women and drama related to male-female relationships. Miss Elizabeth was never part of that convolution and she was an ideal tool for defining face and heel status for wrestlers. When Macho Man abused her in the WWF, he was a heel and when he treated her well as a loving wife, he was a face. In 1998, Hollywood Hogan took Miss Elizabeth captive through stipulations in her contract and used her as a tool for drawing Macho Man Randy Savage back into the fold of nWo Hollywood. Macho Man was always a rogue in any group because of his loose cannon status and personal quests for titles and glory. Macho Man's affiliation with the Wolfpac was a loose one and it confused fans on what the Wolfpac stood for. Through machinations with Miss Elizabeth, Macho Man was cleared of duties with the Wolfpac and able to act independently and eventually rejoin nWo Hollywood.
the lWo, Latino World Order
In late 1998, Eddie Guerrero took on Eric Bischoff in an ongoing storyline where he claimed that he wasn't being given real opportunities in the WCW. Eddie defended the luchador wrestlers in the WCW and recruited them into the new lWo. The newly formed group mimicked some of the gang behaviour of the original nWo, and Eddie emulated the uninspiring, egomaniac leadership of Hogan. The Latino heel stable didn't last long and Eddie was moved over to the WWF, however, for a time the group made better use of the luchadors than previously was the case. Uninteresting characters, were consolidated in the new group and the chain started to look like it didn't have weak links. When the nWo reunited, they forced a disbanding of the lWo further strengthening the nWo brand.
1. Finger Poke of Doom
Although it was on the first Nitro episode of 1999, arguably the "finger poke of doom" event was a hangover from the final pay-per-view event of 1998 - Starrcade. A rematch was planned for the Nitro main event, between Goldberg and Kevin Nash as Nash had won the heavyweight title from Goldberg at Starrcade in a nefarious manner when Scott Hall tased Goldberg behind the ref's back. This had officially ended Goldberg's prolific winning streak. However, Hogan used Miss Elizabeth to get Goldberg detained by the police for stalking. The main event switched to Nash versus Hogan and that's when it happened. Hogan poked Nash in the chest and Nash fell over pretending to be defeated. The ref counted 1-2-3 and Hogan was the champ again. Nash and Hogan embraced and it was clear that the nWo factions were reunited. The reunion was ironically divisive as the "heroes" of the Wolfpac were now heels once more, but Hollywood Hogan had the popular support of the Wolfpac membership. Basically, fans who wanted heroes were forced to back Goldberg. Goldberg's troubles were multiplied ten fold making his character more interesting and complex. A drama played out for the nWo were stars were in the Wolfpac "A-team" and the midcarders were clearly identified as the black-and-white B-Team. Hollywood Hogan basically disavowed his black-and-white nWo membership and embraced being the leader of the Wolfpac. This contrivance worked temporarily but ultimately led to the demise of the nWo. When the group was revived with Jeff Jarrett, it just wasn't legitimated by the fans and the name was an empty signifier as the group was bereft of the qualities of the brand.