Scott Hall’s Iconic WCW Debut Sparked the Wrestling Boom of the Late-1990s

In September 1995, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) launched WCW Monday Nitro, a weekly wrestling show that competed head-to-head with WWF’s flagship program, WWF’s Monday Night Raw. On paper, this kicked off the “Monday Night Wars,” that period of the late 1990s when pro wrestling became a television juggernaut. But things didn’t really heat up until May of the following year. 

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In 1996, Turner Entertainment Network president Brad Siegel had the idea of extending Nitro from one hour to two. This would give the show a leg up over Raw, which was still only one hour at the time. Plus, the network could sell more advertising and thus increase overall revenue. 

For Nitro’s executive producer and announcer, Eric Bischoff, the prospect of expansion was daunting. A two-hour show would strain the company creatively, and they’d need more talent. And the debut two-hour edition of Nitro would need to be big—done correctly, it could kickstart the new era and draw both attention and excitement to the updated product. 

Luckily for Bischoff, the chips were falling in his favor. Four-time Intercontinental Champion and one of the most popular performers on the WWF roster, Scott Hall, recently had his WWF contract expire. The Bad Guy was now WCW-bound. 

While Hall had found success in the WWF as Razor Ramon, he was never positioned as the “top guy” in the company. The opportunity to reach a new level of stardom in WCW—and to make more (guaranteed) money while working fewer dates—was simply too good to pass up. 

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Hall’s WCW debut went down on May 27, 1996, in what is now one of the most celebrated segments in Nitro history. It provided the exact big bang moment Bischoff needed to send Nitro skyrocketing into the pro wrestling stratosphere. 

Because WWF owned the rights to the Razor Ramon name, WCW had faced a daunting task: coming up with a fresh monicker for their newest superstar. They decided to keep it simple. He’d have no ring name, just going by Scott Hall eventually—a move that would only add to his effortlessly cool persona. 

And instead of airing weeks of fancy video packages hyping Hall’s debut, or having him appear in a one-sided squash match, WCW did something different. They had Hall walk to the ring through the crowd, unannounced, with no entrance music, in the middle of a match that didn’t even involve him. 

While the awestruck commentators acknowledged his presence—as did the wrestlers in the ring—they didn’t call him by any name, building the intrigue around him to previously impossible heights. Hall grabbed a microphone, sauntered into the ring, and with a smirk, delivered the iconic line: “You know who I am… but you don’t know why I’m here.” 

The concept of Hall’s first storyline was that he was “invading” WCW from the WWF. Not using his name, playing entrance music for him, or even having him wrestle in a match on that first night were strokes of creative genius. It was a simple, well-executed concept that pro wrestling companies have tried to replicate for years without the same level of success. 

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It’s also worth mentioning that all of this was happening while the internet was still in its infancy. Without the spoiler-ridden “dirt sheets” of today, Hall’s WCW debut was a surprise to fans, giving an already massive moment an even greater impact. 

A few weeks later, Hall’s partner in crime at the WWF, Kevin Nash, also jumped ship to WCW. The duo, dubbed “The Outsiders,” began a “hostile takeover” storyline that provided the centerpiece around which the entire Nitro show revolved. What followed in the next few months was not only a high point for WCW creatively but also the start of the 1990s “wrestling boom.” 

After weeks of teasing a “third man,” the trio was finally completed in July. Jaws all across the country dropped as “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan revealed himself as a founding member of professional wrestling’s newest phenomenon, the New World Order (nWo).

Hogan had been in WCW for a few years and was doing his traditional “Hulkamania” character. Rather than the standing ovations of years past, however, Hogan’s Marty Stu persona had begun to draw boos from a mid-90s audience who craved an edge to their idols. 

Though it risked decades of work honing his image as a shining hero, Hogan took the plunge, reinventing himself as a “bad guy” and changing the trajectory of WCW forever. 

Together, Hall, Nash, and Hogan would run roughshod over WCW—both on-screen and behind the scenes—for the next few years. Hogan’s creative control clause in his contract gave him the power to ensure that he, and the nWo, were always near the top of the card. Sadly, the nWo’s seemingly limitless popularity would eventually sour as the group overstayed its welcome, stifling WCW’s creative plans entirely by the middle of 1998. 

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Before the nWo—and WCW as a whole—began its downward spiral, however, Hall, Nash, and Hogan set the standard for main event entertainment. From Sting’s rise to WCW’s savior from the nWo in 1997 to Goldberg’s legendary championship win over Hogan in 1998, the group was a key figure in many of the company’s greatest moments. 

The nWo’s success was so great that it transcended WCW, forcing the WWF to change course as well. Formerly colorful and cartoony storylines morphed into a gritty, risqué product, with stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock hauling the WWF past WCW in every important metric by 1999. 

The nWo would disband for good in 2000 and, less than a year later, WCW shut its doors entirely. Many would argue that the main stars of the nWo—including Scott Hall—played a major role in the company’s eventual demise. The trio seemed far too focused on what was best for them, and not for the company overall, which didn’t help things when it came to WCW’s survival. 

However, it’s impossible to deny that Hall’s debut set in motion the events that would become the biggest boom period in the history of professional wrestling.

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