What-if-Wednesday: Sting is the 3rd Man

On July 8, 1996, I did something I had not done in a long time: I turned on and watched WCW's Monday Nitro. At that point in my life, I was far more invested in ECW, and had rejected the corniness of both WWF and WCW programming. But as I watched television news that morning, I was shocked at hearing the story that Hulk Hogan had become a bad guy.

I don't remember a whole lot about that episode of Nitro, expect a lot of camera shots of the NWO's limo parked outside the arena where TNT was filming the wrestling event. And god I was hooked: what will they do next? Will they appear? What is happening?

Hulk Hogan joining / forming the NWO in 1996 was, without hyperbole, one of the most important moments in professional wrestling history: indeed, you can easily point to this moment as the genesis of wrestling's "Second Golden Age," and for a time wrestling was cool and at the forefront of American popular culture.

And it almost didn't happen.

So for today's What-If-Wednesday, we'll take a look at this alternate timeline where the Stinger is the 3rd Man of the NWO.

And no, this isn't about the "Fake Sting" or Sting joining the Wolf-Pack. It's about Sting turning on Randy Savage and Lex Luger at Bash of the Beach 1996.

In contrast to other What-If-Wednesdays, I'm not going to go into great detail about the actual timeline here. But in short, after Scott Hall and Kevin Nash began appearing on WCW programming in 1996, they kept proclaiming that they would take over the company through brute force, determination, and grammar lessons:

In the build-up to Bash at the Beach 1996, Hall and Nash kept claiming that a 3rd man would join them in their battle against Lex Luger, Randy Savage, and Sting. Inquiring minds wanted to know who the third man was, and rumors swirled that a prominent WCW star would turn against his company.

In the WCW history documentary produced by the WWE, Hulk Hogan claims that he, Eric Bischoff, and Ted Turner came up with the idea of Hogan being the 3rd Man while sitting in Turner's office. But as Scott Hall (and I believe a few others have noted), Hulk Hogan wasn't totally sold on the idea of turning heel. In an interview a couple years ago, Hall detailed how he, Kevin Nash, and Eric Bischoff weren't entirely sure that Hogan -- who had a creative-control clause in his contract -- would agree to participating in the main event. In fact, Bischoff allegedly said to Hall and Nash if Hogan didn't show-up (the Hulkster wasn't advertised for the event), they would have Sting become the 3rd Man.

So let's change the story here a bit: prior to Bash at the Beach, Hogan gets cold feet and decides he won't join the NWO. In a moment of desperation, Bischoff and company change the match on the fly. Luger is still knocked out, leaving Savage and Sting to battle Hall and Nash. We will leave the match almost as is, expect we will have Savage take the brunt of the punishment as Hall and Nash prevent Savage from making a tag. When the Macho Man is finally able to get to Sting for the hot tag, Sting dances around the ring before he attacks Savage, tosses Nick Patrick out of the ring, and embraces his new teammates.

I have to admit, the NWO with Sting seems kinda interesting. Sting, after all, always had people turn on him, so it would be unique to see him turn on other wrestlers. I suppose he could also claim that he felt neglected by WCW or was unhappy how the company was booking him, so joining with Hall and Nash was meant to be a way for him to change the culture of the company.

I think a Sting heel-turn would have been shocking to a lot of wrestling fans, and WCW would have definitely taken some eyes away from WWF programming with this storyline. But I'm not sure the angle would have had as long of legs as the original NWO narrative. I still think an NWO vs WCW battle at War Games would happen, as would a series of title changes, but I think the faction would have started to break-apart by Starcade 1997 where you could have Sting -- as world champion -- drop the belt to.....*checks rules*....Shit, it would be Hogan right? They would have made Hogan the "hero" of WCW.

To be perfectly honest, it's difficult to forecast an NWO with Sting because this would have been a titanic shift in wrestling programming and history. If Sting joins the NWO, we would have never gotten (or likely never gotten) Sting's "Crow" persona (and those really amazing shots of Sting sitting alone in the rafters of arenas). If Sting joins the NWO, we would likely have a few defections of WCW talent to the stable -- perhaps the Giant and Randy Savage -- joining the NWO to give it more weight, but we wouldn't have the bloated roster of wrestlers that would come to the ring every week (actually, this is probably a good thing).

However, of course Buff Bagwell would join the NWO. This is Wrestling Shame after all.

In all honesty, however, Sting being "the 3rd man" would have meant the NWO story-line would have never garnered the media attention that Hogan turning heel did. Can you imagine a scenario where Sting is getting mainstream attention in the same way Hogan did? I certainly cannot. Let's face facts: Hogan joining the NWO brought a lot of eyes to WCW and, in a few months, almost single-handily made mainstream professional wrestling "it" television again. Despite whatever issues you have with its booking, you cannot deny that WCW's renaissance of the 1990s was built on the backs of the NWO and Hogan. Without him agreeing to turn heel, there's no Dennis Rodman, Jay Leno, or the Monday Night Wars (as we know it). Instead, we would have a wrestling storyline that only wrestling fans remember.

That's right: I just gave praise to Hulk Hogan. I just hope he doesn't appear at my apartment like he has for the last two posts where I mentioned him.

*suddenly a limo pulls up to my house. As "Voodoo Child" plays, Hogan slowly gets out of the limo, flanked by Dennis Rodman. Soon, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall get out, flashing "too sweet" signs to no one in particular. Then Randy Savage gets out of the limo, followed by Ted Dibase, Virgil, Curt Henning, Buff Bagwell, Eric Bischoff, Fred from Marketing, Tim, the pizza delivery guy, Fernando who works in the cigar shop....then another limo pulls up*

Sigh. *glances at watch* Look, this is going to take awhile, so that's it for this installment of What-If-Wednesday. Got an idea for me? Email me at @[email protected] or hit us up on twitter at @wrestlingshame!

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