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What Was The nWo? Sports Entertainment's World-Shifting Stable, Explained

In 1996, wrestling entertainment got a new trio of bad guys who ended up winning over the crowd and dominating the WWE for years.

By Tyler McCarthy
Members of New World Order

If you were a wrestling fan in the late 1990s, it was impossible to avoid the influence of one of sports entertainment’s most popular stables, the New World Order. For years the disruptive team fought against the traditional wrestling establishment with the sole intention of creating chaos they could then rule.

But who are they? Where did they come from? How did they create such a stir in wrestling? For those answers, fans will have to go back a few decades.

In 1996, there were two superpowers in wrestling entertainment: The World Wrestling Federation —  today known as World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) — and World Championship Wrestling (WCW), which was rapidly gaining popularity thanks to the transplant of big names from the WWF. Among those names were Scott Hall and Kevin Nash.

The tag-team duo showed up in the WCW out of nowhere that year and began taking down giants in the business, including Sting, Lex Luger, and more. They were dubbed The Outsiders because their goal was not to climb the ranks of the WCW but to take it over. There was a not-so-subtle implication they were sent from the WWF to sabotage the competition, but that was all part of the grand story.

However, it wasn’t until the now-infamous “Hostile Takeover match” that the nWo as we know it today took form. Nash and Hall demanded that WCW boss Eric Bischoff bring his three best wrestlers into the ring to take on them and a mysterious third person. Who would be evil enough to rebel against their own wrestling organization and join these two antagonists in dismantling everything fans knew and loved? 

Enter Hulk Hogan in what would become his new persona, Hollywood Hulk Hogan. As detailed in the Peacock series “WWE Evil,” Hogan shed years of his All-American good guy persona in mere seconds when he came out to the ring just as it looked like Nash and Hall were about to defeat Sting and Randy Savage for the honor of the WCW. Thinking the Hulkster was about to kick some butt and set these Outsiders straight, he instead upset everyone by revealing himself as Hall and Scott's third and declaring themselves the New World Order. 

What ensued was an era of in-your-face, anti-establishment Superstars that skewed wrestling entertainment in a decidedly adult direction. Instead, people wanted to root for these anti-heroes as they dominated world-class Superstars and their signature all-black look became a pop-culture phenomenon. No Superstar was safe from their nasty in-ring tactics and no surface was safe from being spraypainted with their signature initials, “nWo.” They stood for lawlessness, immoral behavior, and, of course, winning. For the first time, the world of professional wrestling had bad guys who people actually loved.

Throughout the years, the trio added more members, had internal wars, and even survived the closure of the WCW in 2001 only to make their way to the WWE. There, they continued their MO of toppling some of its biggest Superstars, including The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. 

Eventually, as with all things in the WWE, the nWo ran its course and fans moved on to new storylines and new Superstars. However, nothing was ever the same after the group's influence in the late 1990s. “We needed a certain kind of heat,” Hogan put it in the "Sports Illustrated" issue celebrating the stable’s 25th anniversary. “I was someone they had loved and believed in, so in order for this to work, there needed to be the right reaction. That’s what we got when people in the crowd started throwing water bottles, trash, and everything else at us in the ring. That’s what we needed, and we got it.”