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The New World Order

The Heart Break Kid, Shawn Michaels

Yikes. This guy is still wrestling.

Slobberknockers abound
Ringside Shadows #157: The War of the Stables; DX vs. the nWo

It's been well documented that wrestling, just like life itself, works in circles. What's hot one year may lie in the gutter the next. No matter what heights the industry may reach during a hot run, it's a guarantee that won't last. It could be observed that wrestling and popularity have a hot and cold relationship. In the mid to late 90s, that relationship had come to a bitter, frozen halt. While longtime industry leader Vince McMahon was experiencing something of a creative block, a new kid on the block named Bischoff was just about to play his trump card. With the initial appearance of Kevin Nash and Scott Hall in WCW, Eric laid his groundwork. He gave what fans remained a little taste of what was to come. With the turn of Hulk Hogan, he did the unthinkable... he bested McMahon at his own game.

As word of Hogan's turn spread, so did interest and enthusiasm about WCW's product. Though Vince was still out in the cold, Eric's product was just warming up. Casual viewers, checking up on rumors of the Hulkster's turn for the worst, were converted into die-hard fanatics by the superb midcard of the day and an ongoing dynamic collision between the nWo and WCW. Teens around the nation took off their flannel and grunge in favor of the now-familiar black and white logo that changed the landscape. The nWo had arrived, and they'd brought a newly invigorated audience with them.

Over in the WWF's neck of the woods, things seemed to have gone from bad to worse. Pro WCW signs were turning up at each tv taping, and interest in the product as a whole was dwindling. Though many of the WWF's programs were critically acclaimed, fans just couldn't take their eyes off the action WCW was giving them. In addition to that, tempers were flaring and egos growing behind the scenes, with the federation's top two stars, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, at each other's throats nearly every week. For a while, fans were split in their allegiances... some taking Bret's side, others sticking with Shawn's. All that changed a couple weeks after Michaels relinquished his World Title unexpectedly just before Wrestlemania 13. Though the Heart Break Kid insists to this day his injury was legit, the popular consensus amongst fans was quite the opposite. Everyone with half a brain cell could see the WWF was building towards a Michaels / Hart rematch at the year's biggest PPV, and that his surrendering of the title came from out of nowhere hinted that Shawn was slated to return the favor Bret had given the year before; he was about to lay down for his most hated enemy in the most important match of the year. Slowly, fans started to turn on the former champion... something that didn't escape the watchful eye of one Vince McMahon.

So when Michaels did eventually return to action, it wasn't as the perennial face fans were expecting. Alongside backstage buddy Hunter Hearst Helmsely, (now dubbed Triple H, abandoning the blue blood angle he'd worked for years) Michaels took the punishment from the live audience and then threw it right back in their faces. In one fell swoop, Michaels had turned an ugly real life situation into a living, breathing, downright entertaining wrestling angle. Thus was born Degeneration X, the WWF's first real threat to their opponents' steamrolling nWo machine.

In theory, the nWo and DX aren't really all that different. They're each the textbook definition of a stable; three or more respectable workers, one of whom is a clear cut leader, that watch each other's backs in the cutthroat business of professional wrestling. Each had an easily distinguished direction, as well as the crowd reaction and interest to get them there. Both shaped the industry to an extent, and exchanged members at least once throughout their respective lifespans. Each owed a great deal to the originators of the wrestling stable, the Four Horsemen, but also took that group's ideas and methods a step further, altering them just enough to work in the modern day. So what sets these groups apart, and which was the more historically significant? Let's take a peek...

The real measuring stick of these two bands is the leader. Without Ric Flair, the Horsemen would never have worked and the same holds true here. Every monster must have a head, and in this case that head came in the forms of Hollywood Hulk Hogan and The Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels.

In Hogan, the nWo had instant recognition with young and old fans alike. Where a casual viewer may have been absent during the gradual elevation of Shawn Michaels, there was absolutely no way to get around Hogan in his heyday, the mid 80s. He was an icon, a status symbol, and to think that he'd crossed over to the wrong side of the law was enough to attract millions of curious spectators. Without his turn, the nWo wouldn't have had near the impact it did.

On the other hand, Hogan couldn't hold a torch to Michaels in terms of keeping a crowd entertained throughout a five minute interview, let alone a grueling thirty minute match. Though the thrill of a villainous Hulk Hogan was undeniable, it was also quite short lived, as little to no backstory was given for his jump and his promos quickly adopted an obvious, repetitive pattern. While Hogan was saying the same thing almost every night he went out there, Michaels was moving, shaking, and entertaining in a new and interesting way each and every episode. When it comes to match quality, there wasn't even a competition. Hogan had his charisma, and he had his legdrop while Michaels is regarded as one of the greatest of all time, hands down.

In the end, it came down to their individual character portrayals in and out of the ring. While Hogan was just playing the role of an evil wrestler, Michaels was out there living it. The fans' hatred for him was legitimate and sprung from a real life situation, while Hogan just seemed to be going through the motions. In my mind, there's no question; Hogan had the edge in terms of instant recognition and interest, but once the viewer took their first peek at a heel Shawn Michaels and his cronies, they were hooked. DX gets the edge.

It's been noted before that a no general can win a war without good troops, and that, too is quite relevant in this situation. In the nWo's corner stood Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, while Degeneration X boasted the services of HHH and Chyna. A strange debate, but a debate nonetheless.

With Nash and Hall, WCW had started a Southern exodus that would take up the majority of the next year and a half, raiding the best (and worst) of the WWF's locker room and dramatically changing the public perception of their product. Their individual arrivals on Nitro were both unprecidented and incredibly realistic. The way they were handled (as outsiders, never officially signed with the promotion) had a great deal to do with the future perception and image of the nWo. They were always together, watching one another's backs and attacking anyone who got in their way. For some time, there was truly a sense of urgency to the whole affair, that these two really needed to be stopped before something terrible happened. They had the desire to topple the old regime, and once Hogan joined up with them they had the means. There was this tremendous ongoing struggle against the establishment that carried over from their original appearances with the company to their war alongside the nWo, something that can't really be put into words.

Meanwhile, HHH and Chyna were just friends of Shawn's. There was a great chemistry between the three, but little more in the way of an ongoing theme. While Nash and Hall made the nWo legendary, Helmsley and Chyna seemed to be along for the ride. They had a little fun and they kicked a little ass, but didn't have the straightforward vision that drove Hall and Nash. Even in the ring and on the mic, the two areas that set Michaels head and shoulders ahead of Hogan, these two weren't any more special than their opposition. Helmsley wouldn't become "The Game" for years, and Chyna had little to no experience between the ropes, aside from the occasional nutshot or forearm while the ref's back was turned. Meanwhile, Hall still had some of the drive that made him so great in the WWF and Nash hadn't yet completely regressed into the lazy waste he is today.

Though the leadership was unquestionably better for the original DX, the troops themselves were somewhat lacking when stacked up against those of the nWo. Nash and Hall melded their already-hot angle with this one, and in the end created an even better story. Meanwhile, Chyna and HHH weren't going anywhere before the angle, but instead had their careers made by it. The edge goes to the original nWo here.

Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, is the effects the stables have had on the direction of wrestling today and in the future. As I'd mentioned above, the Four Horsemen had possibly the most long reaching influence of any angle in wrestling history, as they introduced the premise of the stable. Though both have undeniably changed the landscape, each took a different approach to it.

With the nWo, WCW achieved what they'd been reaching for throughout their existence; they changed the rulebook. In a day that featured clear cut faces and heels, the nWo played the grey area. They had depth, they were believable. Instead of a superhero facing off against a would-be world conquerer, you had real people fighting over the paychecks they hoped to take home. Scott Hall was an egotistical jerk. Scott Norton was an easily misled powerhouse. Though Hogan's promos left a lot to be desired, the "us vs. them" nature of the conflict was strong enough to carry the entire feud over that stumbling block, and on towards what should have been a logical conclusion. Up until Starrcade 1997, Eric Bischoff and the nWo had played their cards perfectly, deceiving the fans time after time, mocking their heroes and debasing their morals, but never crossing the line of believability. In the months before what should have been the big blowoff PPV, the cracks within the nWo heirarchy were already evident. With the perfect foil already signed, sealed and delivered in Sting, the story should have written itself. Instead, Bischoff sent out a blunder of monumental proportions, something that's haunted the stable ever since. In the biggest blowoff PPV of the year, he put over almost every heel. The good guys were flattened, the fans sent home unhappy... all in an attempt to boost sales for the next PPV, Souled Out. The nWo had grown too big for its britches, and slowly descended into anonymity, to the point that nobody noticed when the last t-shirt had been taken off.

Though the stable went down with a whimper instead of a bang, the healthy years just before were exceptional, truly something worth remembering. The nWo took that first step towards reality, away from the circus that professional wrestling had become. They gave characters personality, and though when all was said and done it was just an act, the idea alone was something revolutionary. In more than one way, the nWo paved the way for the WWF Attitude era that was to come.

DX, then, naturally took the work the nWo had accomplished and used it as a stepping stone toward some innovations of their own. Where the personalities that set the WCW stable apart were just characters, those DX put forth were their own. Fans would love or hate the members because of who they were, not because that's how Vince McMahon wanted it to be. The creature that was Degeneration X was as unpredictable as they come, both in terms of the storyline and the bookers themselves. It was a predecessor for the wave of reality TV that's overtaken television audiences today, it had gone beyond art to life itself. And, unlike the nWo, the original DX had a distinguishable beginning, middle and ending. Though the stable itself continued after Shawn Michaels, that first story had been successfully introduced, hyped and blown off. Austin had beaten the odds and taken the gold from the dickhead that held it, despite his mind games and backup plans. It was how the nWo should have gone down, and it told more than any angle or storyline. The WWF understood the business. WCW did not. Game, set, match... DX.

While both groups have since come and gone several times, boasting new members, different storylines and new colors, the original message of either has yet to be touched. The late 90's were some fertile years for the progression of the industry, rewarding viewers with the growth spurt they'd deserved for some time. With DX and the nWo, wrestling really came of age. It's now only a matter of time until someone new comes along to carry that progression even farther.

I'll be waiting.

until next time, i remain


Copyright © Q 2006. If you want to link me or repackage my words somewhere else, it's cool... just let me know.
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