#TheNationWeek: Essential Viewing

It’s Day Two of #TheNationWeek. In celebration of this month’s Survivor Series, we’re taking a look at famous stables from the wonderful world of wrestling. This is the twelfth installment in our patent-pending Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. As always we started by making The Nation a Stable You (Should) Probably Know Better. Today, we give you the finer points of their oeuvre with some Essential Viewing. On Wednesday, we’ll be making lists and giving tapes. After Hump Day, we make our “Amazon.com on steroids” dreams come true with “Juice Make Sugar Recommends…“. before finishing everything off on Friday with a Difference of Opinion (where JMS HQ hopefully doesn’t erupt in a giant race kerfuffle like that episode of Community.) 

Looking back at the The Nation of Domination is oddly like looking into the future of the WWE. Much of what happened with them was part of the non-wrestling sections of the show, the Attitude Era style that almost took the sport into full on soap-opera territory and took nearly a decade and a half to fix. And, worst of all, led to a decade of people talking about how much wrestling was happening on any given show.

And because of YouTube, their promos manage to exist in their own orbit while also appearing in a vacuum separate from the worst slog of the era, that awesome time those Japanese caricatures threaten to “Choppy-Choppy” pornstar-cum-professional wrestler Val Venis’s “pee pee”. So, the entire experience feels much more reminiscent of the current product: bits and pieces of important storylines are discussed but much of the things that propel the majority of less engaging (read: shitty) storylines forward are done outside of what I choose to watch. The difference between then and now is mostly that “outside of what I choose to watch” is the WWE App and YouTube channel shows, and not “the rest of the show I would have to sit through” like it was when Raw was the only game in town.

Another odd happenstance, mostly a function of the integral part that the faction played in the history of the company’s 2nd most popular current superstar, The Rock, is that there is a surprising amount of footage of them that hasn’t been taken down by WWE using internet magic. Many of the more important pieces of the NoD history, from when Faarooq kicks everyone not named D’Lo Brown out of the group — which at that time was rather intentionally the size of a small congregation — to when The Rock has the rest of the Nation do the same to Faarooq and most of it in between can be found if one wants to look hard enough.

This “Bigger Better Blacker” version of the Nation of Domination, now rid of the Hawai’ian scourge Crush and his Hispanic partner Savio Vega, would become best known for The Rock and his eventually juggernaut push to the main event through his power struggle with Faarooq. But it was also briefly home to Ahmed Johnson, who filled largely the same role the Rock would eventually take over, as the young future main-eventer who would eventually take down Faarooq.

It’s remarkable to think about — even after spending a week talking about it — how close Ahmed Johnson was to superstardom in the eyes of Vince McMahon. Thank god for small favors like Ahmed Johnson’s inability to stop hurting people intentionally and stay away from the buffet.

When The Rock joined the Nation, he gave the squad — which, after getting Ron Simmons as close as he ever would to the WWE title with a match at the 1997 King of the Ring against the World’s Champion, The Undertaker, had immediately been turned into the “Bigger Better Blacker” version — new life, and more importantly a new purpose: make The Rock a star in a way he hadn’t been able to do himself.

Spoiler alert: it worked.

From the moment he joined the group, the former Rocky Maivia became everything that he would be known for for the rest of his career: a cocksure, extremely impressive athlete who injected electricity and style into everything he did. The fact that the official WWE video for this moment is called “Joining the Nation of Domination, The Rock embraces destiny” gives not just a glimpse into what it meant for his career and how badly the WWE wants you understand that, but how they go about their creation stories.

The Rock didn’t just embrace his destiny, he insisted upon it. And in doing so, the angle became — however hollow as it would feel looking back — about the large question of what it meant to be a black man in Vince McMahon’s WWF. In the same way Goldust served as a large discussion of the role sexually ambiguous and androgynous characters played in the, The Nation forced social taboos — along with just regular old sex, drugs and rock n’ roll (wrestling) — to the merchandise/dinner table.

Dwayne seemed like a star, and a leader almost instantaneously. Not just with his words, but his actions, like this lovely bit of subterfuge during a backstage interview segment featuring the other members of The Nation.

The disrespect that Dwayne shows for Ron in that interview doesn’t just underline how he feels about Faarooq, but how he feels about everyone. The point of that promo, and this one, right before his WrestleMania XIV match against Ken Shamrock, is to show that The Rock knows that sometimes manipulation requires strong arming, and sometimes it requires bribing people with fake rolexes.

He would eventually push the old lion out of the pride, ordering him to be ambushed after a pull apart brawl between the two following the events of the aforementioned Shamrock match. After deposing Faarooq, the Rock would lead the group following a brief feud between the two.

Eventually, the Rock would find himself in a feud with Triple H, which would produce a few of the more memorable — if not necessarily great-in-retrospect and more than a little racist — promos, like the infamous Nation parody complete with blackface.

Plus, an actually enjoyable physical altercation or two that would, more or less, lead them both to main-event careers mostly spent in the pantheon of all time greats.

While there was a lot of the Nation that existed outside of him, it’s clear why the late-period mission of the squad was to be a star making vehicle for The Rock. And, ultimately, that’s not a bad, thing necessarily. It worked out pretty okay for Jerry Seinfeld, and it feels like it worked out for Dwayne Johnson too.