LYNN, MA – The New World Order debuted in 1996 and disbanded in 2002, but for Kevin Nash, the memories remain as fresh as ever.
“When Scott [Hall] and I first came up to WCW, I remember Hulk saying, ‘I’ve spent the last ten years working with guys in the locker room just happy to be underneath the Hogan tree,’” said Nash. “Hogan told us, ‘They hoped one of those golden apples fell into their hands. Then I met you two mother-------, and you came at me with a chainsaw. You wanted the whole tree.’ And it was true, Scott and I were just like, ‘F--- it.’”
Nash stressed that Hogan was the necessary ingredient in the NWO’s cocktail of success.
“Hogan’s credibility validated the NWO,” said Nash. “Him turning–and us being the guys who turned him–that worked, and it still works. The timing couldn’t have been better. Scott and I were six days apart of our [WWE] contracts ending, so we’re a week apart [of debuting] on TV, Hulk’s off doing a movie, and we built the momentum train.”
Nineteen years later, turning Hogan to the dark side is seemingly a simple decision. But that was a serious matter in ‘96, as Hogan had legitimate concerns about forever tarnishing the “Hulkamania” brand.
Hogan refused to commit to the heel turn, Nash explained, so World Championship Wrestling president Eric Bischoff put in a contingency plan, He convinced Sting to turn heel and become the face of the NWO.
“Up until two nights before, the third member was still was supposed to be Sting,” said Nash. “Hulk wasn’t sure he could turn.”
While he could not predict the future had Sting joined the NWO, Nash is certain the entire landscape in wrestling would have been permanently altered.
“I can tell you this much,” said a laughing Nash. “I can’t see Hulk coming out of the rafters for a year and a half.”
Nash, decked out in his bright red wrestling gear before a show this past Friday, stretched out backstage while he captivated an intimate audience reminiscing about his days in charge of the creative team at WCW.
“If you want to judge a man, give him power,” said Nash. “And that position was hard. We had twelve-to-fifteen Hall of Fame guys on that roster, and we’ll probably end up with another ten Hall of Famers from our mid-card guys.”
Despite the difficulty, Nash was up for the challenge. Even today, the 56-year-old does not allow regret to question his job while running creative throughout 1999.
“The office was up Eric [Bischoff]’s a--,” said Nash. “There were always mutinies and people saying they weren’t going to do what he asked. Bischoff figured, ‘I don’t think a lot of people are going to say no to Nash.’ When I took the book, one of the first things I did was put Rey Mysterio over in the middle of the ring in Sacramento. In other words, ‘Size and all this bulls--- is done, so let’s go.’”
The biggest obstacle in leading the creative side of the company were the superstars–such as Hogan–who had creative control of their characters built into guaranteed contracts.
“Hulk would come in and say, ‘That doesn’t work for me, brother,’” said Nash. “Well, Hulk, it’s 5:45pm and you’re in three segments, so I have rewrite those three segments, time them out, get them to sheets, then get them to the trucks, and we’re going live in fifteen.
“And then people complained there were gaps in the storyline–well, you think?”
Complicating matters were additional demands from Turner Broadcasting, which created another weekly show–Thunder–after witnessing WCW’s outrageous success. The additional content created countless headaches and helped lead to WCW’s demise.
“It was also such a different animal,” explained Nash. “At the time, you couldn’t compare it to doing an hour of live Raw, then then two taped hours, and then doing a bunch of squash matches on Superstars and Challenge. That was not like trying to book three hours of live television and a monthly pay per view. And, back then, the pay per view drove [our bottom line]–it’s not like now with the [WWE] Network where the pay per view is a throwaway.
“People don’t realize the way it was formatted. We would do a three-hour show live every Monday. That next Thursday, we shot two Thunder’s–one live, one in the can. So in order to write the Thunder in the can, you had to write the Nitro. When you came off of Monday Nitro and into the booking room on Tuesday in Atlanta, you had to write ten hours of television, and we only had three days to do that because then we’re shooting Thunder.”
In addition to running the creative side of the company, Nash was one of WCW’s most popular superstars and a genuine main eventer. He dealt with never-ending criticism from the wrestlers that he was only out to help himself and his friends, and the complaints only grew louder when he ended Goldberg’s undefeated streak and championship reign at Starrcade ‘98.
“It’s just like the ‘Fingerpoke of Doom,’” said Nash. “People say that killed WCW. Well, no, it didn’t. How else were we going to put together a heel factory for Goldberg to run through? The only thing that had any validity was the NWO, and the plan was to have Goldberg go through everyone. He got pissed off and then he eventually got hurt, but that was the original plan.”
Nash, who credits Bret Hart for helping deliver some of the best matches of his career, lamented the fact that “The Hitman” never found his place in WCW.
“Bret had been such a part of that machine for so long at WWE,” said Nash. “It was so loosely done in WCW. For Bret, it was kind of like leaving Major League Baseball and going over and playing Japanese players, and that’s nothing against Bret. Then Goldberg basically kicked him in the head and ended his career.”
Nash also admitted that, much to his chagrin, Shawn Michaels never seriously contemplated joining WCW.
“Shawn was so happy in his spot,” said Nash. “He wasn’t a guy who did it for money. I’ve always said that you can be the quarterback of the Jets and make five million dollars a year, or you can be the fry guy at Hardy’s and make ten million. Personally, I’m working at Hardy’s, but Shawn was different.”
While wrestling is still part of Nash’s heartbeat, he is now deeply enthralled in his acting career.
“I take every role, whether it’s a line or more, and try to make it my own,” said Nash. “All these people talk about the secret to acting. To me, it’s once you find the character, like Engleheart in ‘The Longest Yard.’ I could turn that character on morning, noon, and night. That’s the key–finding the character.”
While Nash was once cast solely because of his size, his credentials have grown considerably thanks to his talent as an actor.
“I’ve had a career in wrestling, and this is the next area where I’m determined to be successful,” said Nash. “You have to be realistic and know that you’re just going to be a character actor. You’re not going to be a lead, you’re not going to be doing romantic comedies, but there is plenty of work out there.”
Nash enjoyed his role in the Magic Mike films, and was proud of his turn in Keanu Reeves’ John Wick, as the seven-footer plays a Russian bouncer in his one gripping scene.
“The hardest thing was they wanted me to speak pure Russian and not just use an accent,” explained Nash. “I got in that day, went to wardrobe, and we’re shooting that night. They brought in a woman who was an interpreter. I asked her to phonetically write out the Russian words, but she phonetically wrote it in Russian. That didn’t do much for me.”
Nash and Reeves did not have much time to interact during the filming in New York City.
“It was cold, close to three in the morning, and there wasn’t a whole lot of takes left in anyone,” said Nash. “We had a moment, and they were trying to figure out how to get Reeves to come up on me. I said he can pretty much walk out of the shadows behind me if you frame, and the director looked at it, and we shot it and two or three takes.”
While Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dave Bautista are certainly changing the stigma, Nash admitted that pro wrestling does not help an actor’s credibility in Hollywood.
“I think it hurts,” admitted Nash, “especially in a fight scene. I remember when I was doing The Punisher, I was actually told not to hurt anyone. I said, ‘You know what we do is a work, right?’
“But Dave Bautista is getting a nice little run right now, and I’m looking forward to seeing him in the Bond movie. Dwayne has taken the stigma out of it and he’s a guy who has proven he can be box office. He set a new standard, so Dwayne has opened that door for us. Before him, it was really hard to get work.”
While acting for major motion films and performing for independent wrestling companies seem like worlds apart from one another, Nash also enjoys the opportunity to interact with fans who have stood by him for over twenty years. He still puts on a spectacular performance–and connects with the masses before and after his match–for Steve Perkins’ Big Time Wrestlingpromotion.
“I never had this experience when I broke in because I broke in on top,” said Nash. “I broke in live at [the 1990] Clash of Champions. This is my ‘Dinner in the Round.’ I can still do enough and still work well enough to tell a story.”
After wrestling in Massachusetts last Friday, Nash made a four-hour trek to Vermont. The opportunity to wrestle provides an opportunity to reconnect with himself while he is on back on the road.
“It’s the long drives at night by myself where I actually get a chance to talk to me,” said Nash. “I just had a little Yorkshire terrier that my wife and I had for eleven years and we put the dog down last Thursday. The vet that came to the house saw my reaction, and I know she didn’t think that person existed. But being a seven-footer or being 300 pounds doesn’t make you not afraid of the dentist, or afraid or losing someone you love.”
One of the factors that made Nash’s character so compelling was his love for the business. He remains a fan, even when he is away from the WWE, and is still amazed by the work of the Undertaker.
“There’s a reason why, right now, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson are out touring,” said Nash. “People want the drama. When guys are kicking out of 450-f------ moonsaults on one-and-a-half, what’s the false finish? There are so few storytellers left, but ‘Taker can go out there and tell a story.”
Nash does not foresee an Undertaker match with Sting at WrestleMania 32.
“You don’t put ‘Taker against Sting at [WrestleMania] 32,” said Nash. “I don’t think Sting wants it.”
Nash mentioned how the Undertaker was close to signing with WCW in 2000, and that there was a seismic change in the business when the wrestlers started looking out for one another’s pay day instead of solely their own.
“‘Taker would have played the biker character in WCW,” said Nash. “The money was going up, and we kept getting more. That group of guys talked. We all talked. We’d say, ‘We can get you this in WCW, make sure you’re getting that with Vince.’
“Look back at my match at the  Survivor Series–Shawn [Michaels] got paid $50,000 and came in and superkicked me, and then me and Scott worked the whole match and got $20,000. It was bulls---.”
In addition to his contributions behind the scenes for the wrestlers, Nash also takes pride in his work, particularly matches with both Hart and Michaels.
“Because of their size, both Bret and Shawn had guys who wouldn’t sell for them that were my size,” said Nash. “It was so refreshing, when I came there, that I was willing to let Bret give me a backbreaker. I wasn’t going to ‘Warlord’ my way into mediocrity, I was going to sell.”
While Nash is extremely proud of his farewell match with Michaels at WWE’s Good Friends, Better Enemies pay per view (“The whole world knew I was gone for WCW, but we still made them believe,” said Nash), he listed his favorite match as the world title match against Hart at the ’95 Survivor Series.
“We put that together on the telephone in about twelve minutes, then walked out there and did it,” said Nash. “Bret and I had such a similar perspective. We knew we had 25 minutes, and we needed five minutes for the close, and we just told the story through four five-minute periods.”
Hart defeated Nash for the title, ending his 358-day title reign.
“The story was that Bret couldn’t touch Diesel when Diesel when on his feet, but Diesel was in trouble when Bret had him down,” explained Nash. “The longer it went, the advantage went to the smaller guy. I pushed him onto the table and threw him back in the ring, and asked myself, ‘What have I done? I’ve become the old Diesel.’ Then, when I did bend down to pick him up, he small-packaged me for the 1-2-3, and that triggered me emotionally to go back where I had gone.
“If you look at the title run, I was originally supposed to be a killer heel. But people don’t realize, when I became champion, I hadn’t even had 200 matches.”
Nash’s title reign was eventually eclipsed by John Cena and later by CM Punk and his 434-day run as WWE champion. Nash and Punk were scheduled to work together at Night of Champions in 2011, but Triple H was inserted into the match after Nash was too injured to pass his physical.
“I never had a problem with Phil [Brooks aka CM Punk],” said Nash. “I wish we could have had our match. I knew he was talented enough to carry me, even at that point in my career, and he was super over. Even with the size difference, he could have done enough to help carry me. We could have done something with it, and we would have told a hell of a story. It wouldn’t have made my run any longer, but it would have been one more nice piece to add to the puzzle.”
Nash’s vigor for the business has yet to wane, and he is still coming up with new ideas for his next WWE return.
“When Kane wrestled with one sleeve, that one sleeve would have covered my tattoo,” said Nash. “Our size is pretty close, so you could have had me as Kane, or you could have tied in the Authority.”
Kane lost his role as “Director of Communications” with the Authority this past Sunday, and Nash shared–perhaps even with a hint of foreshadow – that he works very well with Paul Levesque and Stephanie McMahon.
“I have one more run,” said Nash. “I’m started to get things fixed. I’m getting my shoulder fixed, I’m getting my neck fixed. I miss it, so never say never.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.