In October of 1996, the #WCW offered everything great about professional wrestling.
The nWo angle, led by a heel #HulkHogan, now named "Hollywood" Hogan, had injected an unprecedented amount of energy and excitement into the product.
Halloween Havoc 1996 took place three months after Hogan abandoned the red and yellow colors that he sported when Hulkamania was running wild in the 1980s for the black and white of the nWo. The nWo, along with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, made wrestling "cool," and almost overnight, we saw the aging, mostly male audience, drift away, replaced by college students of both sexes. Halloween Havoc was a pivotal show in the history of professional wrestling.
The crowd was hot at Halloween Havoc at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on October 27, 1996. The WCW, after poaching big names from the WWE, offered the best of the past, the biggest stars of the future, and an incredibly hot angle featuring the nWo vs. the WCW.
The show was headlined by Hollywood Hogan vs. Randy "#MachoMan" Savage, two of the WWE's biggest stars; they had headlined Wrestlemania 5 in 1989. Now, they were working for the rival company. It would be like Conor McGregor battling Nate Diaz in Bellator 5 years from now ... just weird.
Rising Young Stars
As famous as the two main event names were, Halloween Havoc was also memorable for its undercard. The show was about the emergence of the #nWo angle, which revolutionized professional wrestling, and showcasing of the sport's youngest brightest stars. Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio Jr. Chris Jericho, X-Pac (as Syxx), Eddie Guerrero and The Big Show (as The Giant) were just some of the stars who appeared in WCW at the time.
The show was also fueled by the stellar announcing team of Tony Schiavone, Dusty Rhodes and the Bobby "The Brain" Heenan. The announcers were actually calling the moves in 1996, unlike today, where many of the announcers not named Mauro Ranallo, sound overly promotional of the wrestlers and the matches.
For those that don't know the two-minute backstory of professional wrestling, and how we go to where we are today, here it is: The then WWF was the biggest and greatest professional wrestling promotion in the world, but a steroid scandal involving Hulk Hogan rattled the industry and the business tanked. Hogan was trying to sell himself as a good guy superhero, but the fans stopped buying it.
The WWF's rival at the time was WCW, which was owned by Ted Turner. Recognizing that the WWE was faltering, Turner infused millions of dollars into WCW -- and hired away its biggest stars, including Hogan, Savage, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Heenan, Mean Gene Okerlund, DiBiase, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and a multitude of other high-level names.
The Context of the Show
The WCW had all of these former WWF guys on its roster and the fans followed, but Hogan's days of being the good guy were over. He turned heel, and all he other WWF guys that came over to WCW, joined him, labeling themselves "The New World Order" or "nWo." The fans ate this up, and suddenly, WCW overtook the WWF in ratings, PPV buys and live attendance.
The WCW/nWo angle nearly put the WWF out of business. Had it not been for two guys: Stone Cold Steve Austin and #TheRock, who both emerged as major characters in 1997 and 1998, the WWF might have lost the so-called "wrestling war." Eventually, the WCW self-destructed; it could not sustain its multimillion-dollar guaranteed contracts, and when the nWo angle ran stale by 2001, WCW had lost its television contract after Turner had sold the company to Time Warner. The WWE stepped in and purchased WCW and won the war.
But, in 1996 at Halloween Havoc, the biggest names in professional wrestling collided: Hogan and Savage. It was not their best match. Their best wrestling days were behind them. Hogan was never a good wrestler by professional wrestling standards. He was big, had a lot of muscles and was a great talker, but he couldn't move well in the ring. Savage was one of the greatest ever. He was technically sound, a high flyer, athletic, agile and a great talker. But, he was at the end of his era, and his ability to single-handedly carry a match to greatness was fading.
Hogan, wearing a ridiculous wig, perhaps to further distance the new Hogan from the old Hogan, was the proud leader of the nWo, and was looking to retain the championship against Savage.
Hogan vs. Savage
The match began with Hogan playing the heel role perfectly. Still wearing sunglasses, he ran from Savage to appear as if he were a coward. This was a total role reversal from their matches in the WWE, when Savage was the heel and Hogan the good guy. By the way, they are still feuding over Miss Elizabeth here. In the WWE, Hogan was the good guy and Savage was the bad guy, with the shy Miss Elizabeth at his side. Savage manufactured in his mind that Hogan was after Miss Elizabeth, so he turned on Hogan, setting up a major feud between the two.
Now, they were feuding here again -- with Miss Elizabeth in the middle. After Hogan plays heel to start the match, at one point going to his knees to beg a la Ric Flair, Savage turns the tables and starts pounding on Hogan, ripping his sunglasses off -- and more.
Savage grabbed hold of Hogan's wig and ripped it off his head in a hilarious comedy spot. Savage then put the wig on his own head. This match was a far cry from #Wrestlemania 5, when the two battled in Atlantic City. Still, it was Hogan and Savage, and that alone made it special. Hogan, embarrassed, tried to run from the ring, but Savage knocked him down from behind and shoved the wig in his mouth.
Hogan turns the tables when referee Nick Patrick (who was secretly a heel member of Hogan's nWo) stopped Savage from hitting Hogan with a chair, allowing Hogan to hit him from behind. Hogan performed a bizarre move, dropping Savage between the legs on top of the steel guard rail; he then kissed Savage on the head twice.
Elizabeth then came out from the back, wearing a Las Vegas-style sequined cocktail dress, allowing DiBiase to jump on the apron to distract the referee. Savage then turned the tables and revealed Hogan's black thong underneath is tights. Savage, during a roll-up pin attempt, resorted to his natural heel days and hooked the tights.
As we know, Hogan does not like his private parts on display in front of the whole world, so Hogan's comedy demeanor during the match abruptly changed to anger. Now, instead of looking like an old man, he looks like an old, drunk angry man.
The rest of the match consisted of Savage "selling" for Hogan. In other words, Savage was taking a beating, doing his best to make the match look moderately realistic, no easy feat considering Hogan's limited working ability. Hogan did his typical "bad guy" work, hiding behind Elizabeth so Savage wouldn't hit him, and cheating. When Savage eventually went for a pin attempt after hitting his patented elbow drop off the top rope, the referee refused to count to three, complaining of neck pain. Next thing you know, The Giant comes into the ring and choke-slams Savage, giving Hogan the victory.
This was the only outcome there could be. The whole point of the nWo was to cheat to win, and on this night, they accomplished that. The show further cemented Hogan as a terrible person and the leader of the revolution.
After the match, Hogan grabbed the mic and said:
"I am tired of Ted Turner," he screamed. "I am taking over WCW. Everybody who gets in the ring with the nWo or Hollywood Hulk Hogan is going down. All I have to say, nWo-ites, you definitely caught the right train because we're heading out of town. Whatcha gonna do?"
As the show was ending, however, the latest contract signee would appear: "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, another former WWF Legend.
Heenan yelled: "That's one man that Hogan doesn't want to see. That's one man who has haunted Hogan's life since he started in this business."
Rhodes sealed the deal: "Once again, WCW has just shocked the world!"
Two decades ago, wrestling was in an entirely different place. In the years since that golden era, Savage and Piper have both died, as have Heenan and Rhodes. The WWE is the biggest wrestling company in the world now, and its champions are about as far away from Hogan as possible. World champion AJ Styles is 5' 10" and an incredible athlete, and Kevin Owens is 5' 11" and portly, but still a great worker and talker.
The new age #Halloween PPV is called Hell in a Cell or #HIAC, and it goes down next Sunday. The Halloween Havoc name has since been retired, but on that day 20 years ago at Halloween Havoc, Hogan was the evil king, and wrestling fans were loving it.