1994 was a tough time for Vince McMahon and the WWE. Hulk Hogan’s departure in 1993 and Lex Luger’s subsequent failure to become his accepted replacement had left the company without the ‘big man’ figurehead champion that had always been wanted. Bret Hart was the fans’ chosen one, but there was someone else that management were grooming for the top spot, and had been since the 1994 Royal Rumble. A 7 foot someone.
To be inducted by: TBC
Diesel – Kevin Nash’s latest gimmick attempt at the big time following flops as Oz and Vinnie Vegas in WCW – debuted in the WWF as Shawn Michaels’ bodyguard. He stayed silent, interfering in Michaels’ matches. His first big moment came at the Royal Rumble, where he entered the 30-man battle royal as just another combatant, but left the most dominant wrestler of the pack and the surprising object of the crowd’s affections. Diesel was still a heel, but the favourable crowd reactions at the Rumble had already convinced management that when the time came to turn babyface, there was something in the 7 footer. Sure, he was still green and though being associated with the one of the premier workers in the company – and regularly working against Scott ‘Razor Ramon’ Hall – was doing no harm, he still wasn’t ready for the main event. A plan to get him there, however, was in motion.
SummerSlam ’94 saw the first seeds of dissension being planted between Diesel – now Intercontinental champion – and Michaels, with the latter inadvertently causing the former to drop the title to Ramon. Survivor Series that November saw the full turn take place, with the crowd again reacting favourably to Diesel. On commentary, McMahon did his upmost to put the former bodyguard over and position him as a big star in the eyes of the watching fans. It was clear this was the start of the push. No-one could predict what Vince next had planned for his newest star though.
An eight-second win over Bob Backlund and Diesel was the new WWF champion. A push was expected, but not this quick. Moreover, Bret Hart had spent most of 1994 putting on excellent matches as champion, Nash was never going to follow in his footsteps as a technical marvel, though he had undoubtedly improved since his debut the previous year. However, he was over and McMahon believed the shock victory was the shot in the arm that his company needed. Following Hogan’s exit and fan favourite Hart’s installation as top guy, business was down. McMahon – never one to deviate too much from habit – had to find a big man to put at the top of his mountain. And following favourable crowd reactions towards Nash at the Rumble, SummerSlam and Survivor Series, the boss decided he had found his man.
Following the Backlund victory, Diesel was immediately programmed with Hart heading into the Royal Rumble as speculation mounted that a showdown between Diesel and his former ally Shawn Michaels was planned for WrestleMania XI. And following a spirited draw between Diesel and Hart, and Michaels going the distance and winning the Rumble, the match was made official for the biggest show of the year. Problem was, Diesel as champion had not made any early difference to ratings, and though the 1.0 buyrate the Rumble pulled was higher than the previous year’s 0.9 number, things were not going as expected. WrestleMania XI is often regarded as one of the worst Manias of all-time, but that can not be attributed to the main event. In the ring against his real-life friend and one of the top wrestlers in the business. Nash delivered on the big stage while also getting the celebrity rub from Pamela Anderson and Lawrence Taylor, who were drafted in to market the event to the mainstream. Post-Mania saw Diesel team with a newly-turned Michaels to form the Tag-Team championship-winning Dudes with Attitude, and ongoing improvement could be see in the champion. No doubt, teaming with Michaels at live events regularly did him no harm. On TV, however, Diesel wasn’t being done many favours with the wrestlers he was being booked against. True, the calibre of the WWF roster in 1995 wasn’t conducive to quality matches for the champ, but it was a struggle for the champion still striving to be accepted amongst all fans. Matches against Tatanka, Sid and Mabel unsurprisingly did not deliver, both at live events and on TV and PPV. Wrestling fans were being turned off by the WWF and despite Nash’s improvement as a wrestler and his likeable personality and charisma, he was not the man to bring the viewers back. Never one to give up easily, though, McMahon persevered with his champion, and he held the belt through to his one-year anniversary of beating Backlund.
Come November’s Survivor Series though, a change was afoot. Shawn Michaels was the new chosen one to lead the company forward, and it was clear early on that WrestleMania XII was the booking location to kickstart the HBK era. There had to be a change in who would drop the belt to Michaels though; the hugely negative reaction to WM XI may have been because the card as a whole faultered, but the fact remained that Diesel-Michaels main evented the show and that meant that the same match couldn’t headline two Manias in a row. Diesel had to drop the belt and Bret Hart was drafted back in to take it. Their match was dramatic and exciting, and showed how far Nash had come as a worker and how good he could be when in there with the right opponent; Tatanka and Mabel weren’t getting this kind of match out of him. Heading into 1996 and no longer a permanent fixture in the WWF championship picture, Diesel moved into a programmed with Undertaker, while outside of the ring and behind the scenes, speculation started over Nash’s future with the company; WCW were gaining momentum in the Monday Night Wars and with Ted Turner’s money behind then, we’re looking to make a major statement in the business. Scott Hall had been in talks and it was no surprise when word leaked out that Nash had seen what was on offer ‘down south’.
Back on TV, Diesl vs Undertaker had been made official for WrestleMania XII and while Taker’s Streak wasn’t a focus of the character at this point, there was still some talk that the four years unbeaten run could come to an end at the hands of Big Daddy Cool. That talk stopped when news came out that Nash – along with Hall – had agreed deals with WCW. Years later, Nash would admit that he did not want to leave the WWF and only did so when McMahon refused to match the offer on the table. Business always has to come first. And the first order of business was seeing out his contract; he lost to Taker in a well-constructed big-man match at Mania, before heading into his final WWF rivalry – fittingly against Shawn Michaels.
The two clashed in a ultra-heated and spectacular no holds barred match at In Your House: Good Friends, Better Enemies, with Michaels coming out on top and signalling the end of Diesel on WWF TV. There was one more piece of business to take of though, one more booking to fulfill in Madison Square Garden. Everything went to plan, with Diesel putting over Michaels in the main event cage match. And then, things went off-script as, away from the view of TV cameras, Nash, Michaels, Scott Hall and Paul ‘Hunter Hearst Helmsley’ Levesque decided to say goodbye in the most famous arena in the world. Backstage, a bomb had dropped. And while Helmsley was left to take the punishment and Michaels remained at the top of the card, Nash and Hall packed their bags and headed to Atlanta.
June 10 1996 saw Kevin Nash return to WCW, joining up with Hall, and immediately painted as a WWF invader (an angle that was soon scaled back once WWF legal made a few phone calls). It was expected that WCW boss Eric Bischoff would have a mega-angle planned for his major new signings, but much like Vince McMahon when he made the shock call to crown Diesel the new WWF champion in November 1994, Bischoff pulled off a masterstroke when he convinced Hulk Hogan to turn heel and form the New World Order with Hall and Nash. Immediately, the act became the biggest thing in wrestling. In the WWF, Nash was the champion and company leader for a year, but this was bigger. The nWo was mainstream and, as one of the founding fathers, he was front and centre.
The WCW Tag-Team championships inevitably shortly followed for the Outsiders (as Hall and Nash were quickly dubbed), and they regularly appeared in the top storylines and matches. And unlike WWF, observers weren’t scrutinising the quality of the matches. The nWo angle – and by extension the wrestlers involved in it – was so hot and cool that the crowds brought into everything presented to them. 1998 saw a change to the dynamic of the nWo with the group being split into two – Hogan leading nWo Hollywood and Nash leading nWo Wolfpac. Nash and friends went babyface following this and it was his cool and likeable personality which made it easy for fans to gravitate towards him. That all changed in January 1999, however, when WCW ran the infamous ‘Fingerpoke of Doom’ angle, which saw Nash lay down for Hulk Hogan and hand him the WCW championship. The next year saw the nWo split once again, Nash regain the WCW Title and another nWo rehash, before spending 2000 meandering (for lack of a better term) in mid-card singles feuds and tag-team matches.
Following the demise of WCW in early 2001, Nash sat out his guaranteed contract until it expired at the end of year, before getting the call to return home.
As we all know, that never really went anywhere and almost exactly two years later, Nash was again gone from WWE.
Nevertheless, even though he never spiked the ratings and buyrates as bosses intended as Diesel, and he was never the greatest in the ring, he made a statement and carried the company the best he could at a difficult time. He was likeable and had a magnetic charisma that could rarely be matched. He would go on to create more controversy and historic moments in WCW, but for the two years that Big Daddy Cool did his thing in the WWF, he carved his place in history and, if nothing else, it is for that he deserves his spot in the WWE Hall of Fame.