In the late 1990s, two massive wrestling companies dominated the industry which at the time was deeply entrenched in American pop culture. Then-the WWF and the now defunct WCW competed for the audience’s attention on a near-nightly basis.
Many of these colorful and charismatic characters were icons, if not heroes, for kids and adults alike. One of them towered above the rest — both physically and with his personality.
Kevin Nash is widely recognized as one of the best wrestlers of his generation and, in my opinion, is one of the greats of all-time. He was equally entertaining as he was intimidating, which is a perfect combination.
Nash was born on July 9, 1959 in Detroit. From a young age, wrestling was always an interest, but it was basketball that was one of Nash’s first loves. He played collegiately in America before playing professionally in Europe. But injuries made playing an impossibility.
He’s always been a fan of the game and the NBA. “Since the Lakers traded for (Wilt) Chamberlain, I’ve been a Lakers fan … and I’ve always been a Pistons fan,” said Nash.
Asking about what he took from the basketball court to the wrestling ring, Nash joked, “Injuries! By the time I got into wrestling, I think I’d had nine knee surgeries. So, I was pretty chewed up from basketball.”
After working several jobs in Germany and back in the United States, Nash decided to try his hand as a professional wrestler.
Nash entered the ring professionally for the first-time way back in 1990 as part of World Championship Wrestling (WCW). But he wasn’t known as “Kevin Nash” until much later in his wrestling career.
Nash said, “When I broke into pro-wrestling, I had a mohawk and I was Master Blaster ‘Steel’ — it was part of a tag team. My second one was ‘Oz’ and my third one was ‘Vinnie Vegas’.”
A move to the World Wrestling Federation, better known as the WWF, meant that he had to change names again due to copyright laws. It was then that Shane McMahon — son of company owner Vince McMahon — suggested the new wrestling name “Diesel”.
“It was street talk for somebody that was jacked – they were diesel.”
But a move back to WCW meant yet another name change, and with this, Nash decided to simplify things. “At that point, I said I’m not going to go back and forth, I’m not going to be somebody else … I’m just going to be Kevin Nash.”
Nash was a successful wrestler by himself, but it was when he joined forces with fellow wrestler Scott Hall as a group known as “The Outsiders” that he really became apart of something truly special.
Of Hall, Nash to this day has nothing but affection for his old friend. “I’ve spent more days of my life with Scott Hall than any other human being on the planet … and we’re not tired of each other yet … When Scott and I were together, you know, ‘Hall & Oates’ and ‘Hall & Nash’ — it had a good ring to it!”
The two of them were founding members of a faction within WCW known as the “New World Order” or the NWO — a group which was part of a storyline involving an attempted take over of the whole company.
The NWO was formed after an infamous match in 1996 during a pay-per-view event called “Bash at the Beach,” which was taped at the Ocean Center in Daytona, Florida — near where Nash currently resides.
“The genesis of the NWO … I probably drive by it once a week. It was a great concept! Eric (Bischoff) had seen it with some Japanese companies that pulled it off and he thought it’d be a great thing.”
They weren’t alone. The main event of the 1996 Bash at the Beach was a six-man tag team with three WCW representatives, Hall & Nash and a mystery third team member. The third man turned out to be known other than the one and only Hulk Hogan — a shock to all wrestling fans that had known him as a ‘good guy.’
Nash thanks nothing but luck for the timing that allowed the group to come together. He said, “The stars were aligned. Scott showed up one week, I showed up the next … who’s going to be the third man? It turned out to be Hulk. And the rest is history.”
The NWO’s legacy has been long-lasting, which has surprised and humbled Nash all these years later. He said, “In wrestling, if you can have an angle that has relevancy for six months, it’s incredible. I don’t turn on a wrestling program nowadays and not see an 'NWO' shirt … we came along at the perfect time when wrestling became pop culture.”
The New World Order and WCW’s feud was as much a part of my childhood as anything else I can think of. The memories of sitting with my older brother and my dad while watching the weekly bouts between the two factions are very near and dear to me. We weren’t the only people to feel that way.
“We hit on all cylinders. We were super violent — they allowed us to be. We used aluminum baseball bats. West-Coast rap was just taking off, so we kind of took a little of that ‘Death Row’ vibe … we just tried to cross as many cultural paths as we could and touch as many people as possible and it worked!”
Nash left WCW for the now-known WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment — formerly the WWF) and has since been signed to a legends contract, appearing now and again much to the joy of fans worldwide. He thanks the WWE Network and the company’s video games for keeping him relevant to young audiences, saying, “You stay relevant because you stay apart of their lives.”
Nash has also carved out a nice little career as an actor as well, with roles dating back to 1991’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze,” where he appears as Super-Shredder to more recent projects like the “Magic Mike” movies.
I asked which role is his favorite that he has played thus far and was surprised by his answer. Nash said, “I did a show called “Detroiters” on Comedy Central and I got to play (comedian) Tim Robinson’s dad — Big Hank. They kind of just let me be me and I got to ad lib a lot.”
But it is perhaps his role as Guard Engleheart in the 2005 remake of “The Longest Yard” that he is best remembered for, which starred the incomparable Adam Sandler. Nash credits Sandler and the crew of the film for helping him deliver such a hilarious performance.
He said, “Adam Sandler was so kind to me. The original Guard Engleheart had one line … and the rest of that was, you know, I kind of found a character … and was able to get some good screen time. I thank Adam and Pete (Segal) the director. I thank them everyday because that was probably the one thing that got me un-type casted. They said, ‘This guy can actually do comedy,’ … for years, every time I read a script, I had an axe in my hand. This was the first time that I had pom poms.”
Now, Nash prepares to visit Madison for this weekend’s Wizard World Comic Con. But this isn’t the first trip to Mad Town for him. “I think WCW, we did Madison. Madison’s a great city. The climate — for years, it was a top ten place to live… I’ve been to Madison a couple of times. It’s a great college town. It’s just a really cool vibe city.”
For the record, in this cool vibe city, Nash won as part of a six-man tag team match in 1997.
Kevin Nash was one of the more intimidating wrestlers to ever enter the ring, but it came as no surprise to me that he was a genuinely nice person with plenty of interesting things to say and a lifetime of appreciation to everyone that help make his career possible.
You will have a chance to meet this living wrestling legend in person at this weekend's Wizard World Comic Con. Located at the Alliant Energy Center, this event will take place on Friday from 4pm to 9pm, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Kevin Nash will be available for autographs and photo opportunities on Saturday and Sunday. He will also be featured as part of an individual event at 2 p.m. on Saturday called “No Holds Barred: A Conversation with pro-wrestler Kevin Nash."
More information about times and prices for the Comic Con can be found by clicking here.
John Everman is an Arts Editor for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.