When we last left, Hogan had turned on the fans (and presumably AMERICA), to form the nWo. In doing so, Hogan pushed all his chips into the middle of the table as it related to his future relevance. If the turn failed, he would have likely been put out to pasture despite the mountain of guaranteed money he had coming his way, like a proto-Gilbert Arenas without the shark grotto to go home to.
But as hindsight can tell you, there’s no way that the nWo wasn’t going to succeed initially. Hogan, Nash and Hall were far too big of stars to not capture fan’s attention and the storyline was far too innovative it to not keep their interests. It breathed life into not just a dead character, but along with the work being done in the WWF at the same time (Austin’s 3:16 promo had happened just two week prior), a dying medium.
The nWo storyline wasn’t revolutionary because of what was happening — as it is widely known, the nWo was based off a storyline out of Japan — but how it was presented. When juxtaposed with what was happening just the year or two before with Hogan and the ridiculously over-the-top Dungeon of Doom (with their accompanying Doomsday cage… of DOOM!), the nWo felt like it had to be real.
Seizing on the incredible momentum that Hogan’s heel turn had generated, the WCW title very quickly found itself in the hands of Hogan, who would hold it on and off for the better part of a year and a half (with a five-day interruption to build PPV for his match against Luger at Hog Wild.).
While the nWo ran roughshod over the company, infecting every single part of the organization from the booking committee on down, it became very clear that the whole “takeover” had become a little too real for WCW’s own good. The only thing stopping the organization from completely taking from a storyline perspective was Sting, who spent the entirety of the rise of the nWo on the sidelines. Or, more accurately, the rafters.
After building towards a match between the two for more than a year, the entire storyline built to perhaps the finest “meta” idea in the history of wrestling. The plan was for Hogan to win via fast count from crooked referee Nick Patrick, then have the recently screwed Bret Hart — who had been wronged by the very same people it was implied that the nWo was either supposed to represent or be directly working for — come out, and, along with Sting, let righteousness have its day. With the brilliant build and an even more brilliant finish, the match should have went down as the Platonic ideal of how to build a professional wrestling program and nail the payoff.
What ended up happening, alas, was this:
Instead of fast count, Patrick — in what’s believed to have involved some backstage maneuvering on Hogan’s part — treated the count like any other, essentially given Hogan a clean victory. It made Sting look like a chump and Bret Hart (who, if you’ll remember, Hogan had previously screwed over for personal gain) look like a paranoid asshole.
In the time before fans were truly “smart” to the business — when they treated the product less as the long-running television show it is and more like what could best be described as some incredibly intricate sports satire (where it’s difficult to tell what’s a joke and what isn’t — these types of things had massive resonance. Hogan knew that, and that, much in the same way you’re only as good as your highlight package, what matters is what people perceived happened instead of what actually did.
Despite the build, the story went nowhere, and the title was very quickly handed back to Hogan with Savage playing the role of the Iron Sheik this time. He’d hold it for two months before losing it to Goldberg, clean, for free on Nitro. This was perhaps the only time in his career — or at least to that point — that Hogan did something that could be even charitably described as “selfless”.
From there, the nWo would slowly devolve from an elite group of extremely popular performers into a place where Scott Norton could feel loved and wanted. Because of this, the nWo designation no longer signified anything in particular outside of itself. It didn’t say anything about anyone involved other than “this person is cool and/or trying desperately to appear that way”.
With the stable splitting, and the rise of Goldberg, it appeared that Hogan’s days at a top star were over.
Not so much.
Easily the worst thing that’s ever happened in wrestling that didn’t involve someone dying or not being able to walk, the “Finger Poke of Doom” was the end of an era. As we’ve covered in the past, for #JCPWCWWeek:
“People buy wrestling PPVs and tickets not just to see something they’ve never seen before, but, to feel like things will never change, that they’ll always be entertained by the familiar things: the idea of good vs. evil, the excitement of trying to figure how close to reality something truly is, and most importantly for the sustainability of the business, that they’ll be given the right to pay for something in exchange for a finish, whether or its satisfactory or not. And The Poke ended that.
But what The Fingerpoke of Doom ended wasn’t WCW life, though. It was WCW’s will to live.”
Hogan, using creative control and friends in high places — or, in this case a tall friend on the booking committee — completely destroyed the credibility of a title he himself had spent much of the last two years building. After making the title into something that didn’t just matter from a marketing perspective but — because of the way the nWo had initially defaced it as part of their initial iconoclastic run — as a truly important symbol for the company in an era long past a time when the title had any real significance.
From there, Hogan’s time in WCW would a bitter downward spiral, even as he faced basketball and TV stars like Karl Malone and Jay Leno. It would all come to a head one night at that most important of WCW PPVs, Bash at the Beach.
And Vince Russo, of all people, would end up being the voice of reason