Diesel: From Failed Gimmicks to Record-Breaking WWF Champion

Standing at 7 feet tall and weighing over 300 pounds, Kevin Nash ticked all the boxes for Vince McMahon as a world champion. Maybe now more well known for his role in the groundbreaking nWo group in WCW, Nash was a crucial cog in the WWF machine during the mid-’90s, holding their world title for longer than anyone else that decade. Before there was the New World Order, the “finger poke of doom,” and the Nitro invasion, there was Diesel. This is the story of his record-breaking (and often described as “failed”) title reign.

Diesel as WWF Champion
[Photo: WWE.com]

Kevin Nash in WCW – Failed Gimmicks Before the Days of Diesel

In the early 1990s, Kevin Nash was working in WCW under various guises. Starting as one half of the tag team the Master Blasters and transitioning into the odd “Oz” before spending time as Vinnie Vegas, Nash struggled for an identity. Going through various looks such as the mohawk of “Master Blaster Steel” and the garish pink outfits of Vegas, nothing seemed to stick and get the Detroit native over. The best possible example of this would be the aforementioned Oz character. Complete with the green ring gear, a wizard’s hat and fake white beard, the debut of Oz at SuperBrawl 1 is a sight to behold, and worth seeking out (if for all the wrong reasons).

Kevin Nash, as Oz, debuts at WCW SuperBrawl 1
Kevin Nash, as “Oz,” debuts at WCW SuperBrawl 1

Diesel Arrives in the WWF

In 1993, Kevin Nash left WCW, signing a contract with the WWF at the request of Shawn Michaels. He would arrive to become bodyguard to the arrogant Shawn Michaels. The name of Diesel, suggested by Shane McMahon, was a play on the fact that Nash was from Detroit. To play off of his character’s name, Nash’s initial entrance music was a simple series of truck engine noises along with loud horns beeping.

Diesel makes his first appearance in WWE as the bodyguard of Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels. Monday Night Raw, June 7, 1993.
Diesel makes his first appearance in WWE as the bodyguard of Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels. Monday Night Raw, June 7, 1993. [Photo: WWE.com]
For the coming months, Diesel would first help Michaels in winning the Intercontinental title and then assist his charge in keeping the championship. By the time the 1994 Royal Rumble came around, Nash was a mainstay on WWF television without actually wrestling much himself.

Entering the Royal Rumble match at number 7, the WWF fans would get an extended look at this monster bodyguard, as he would go on to eliminate seven men (a record at that time) and run through various opponents using his size and power. After entering to boos, Diesel left the Rumble to some cheers, perhaps inspired by the hated Michaels contributing to his elimination. This was very much a taster of things to come between the pair, as for the next 18 months, their careers and storylines were inevitably intertwined.

As 1994 progressed, Diesel won his first singles title, defeating real-life friend Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall for the Intercontinental title, with assistance from Michaels. Nash would defend this title for the following months, with he and Michaels also tasting tag team glory, winning the championships from the Headshrinkers the night before SummerSlam 94 at a house show. However, as it was at the Royal Rumble, the Diesel/Heartbreak Kid alliance was again misfiring at SummerSlam. Michaels cost Nash his singles title by super kicking him in error while aiming for challenger Ramon in an entertaining contest. Despite being visibly angry, Diesel went along with Michaels in putting this down to miscommunication and set about defending the WWF Tag Titles together.

Eventually, the pair would make up part of a five-person Survivor Series team to take on Ramon’s ensemble of five. However, on this night in November, another stray Michaels superkick would be the undoing of the team, as HBK again struck Diesel instead of Razor. This led to Nash chasing Michaels (albeit very slowly) to the back, while fans cheered for the monster Diesel to give the proud Michaels his comeuppance.

On the topic of the 1994 Survivor Series, this opening contest is a great snippet of the time. With talent such as Nash, Michaels and Hall joined by other highly skilled performers in Owen Hart, The British Bulldog, and Sean Waltman, this 20-minute contest is worth going back and viewing again. After the match, as Michaels grabbed his bags and ran from his former friend, HBK threw down his WWF tag title, declaring he was finished with Diesel. This led to the tag titles being vacated, and Nash now being without any gold.

That would not last long, however, as also that evening, Bret Hart would lose his WWF World Title to veteran Bob Backlund in controversial circumstances. Three short days later, on November 26th, 1994, Backlund would defend the title against new fan-favorite Diesel at Madison Square Garden. One Jackknife Powerbomb later, Diesel was the WWF World Champion.

Watch: Diesel defeats Bob Backlund for the WWE Championship at Madison Square Garden in only 8 seconds

Two things stand out about this contest. The first is that the title change was not televised at the time. The second is how Diesel defeated his more senior foe. With one kick and one powerbomb, Nash won the title in just 8 seconds, again a record for the time.

Diesel’s First WWF Championship Run

With the Lex Luger experiment not working out, Hogan gone once more, Undertaker not in the title picture, and Randy Savage possibly seeking pastures new, Vince McMahon found himself, again, looking for more names to add to his main event scene. Yes, the WWF had the ever-reliable Bret Hart, who carried the championship for the most of 1994. However, overexposure and the lack of a deeper main event talent pool contributed to the drop in popularity of the far more charismatic Hulk Hogan in 1992, and this may have weighed heavily in Vince McMahon’s mind these few short years later. In the monster Diesel and his quick rise through the company, McMahon took a gamble and gave Nash the ball to run with. With Hart still in the title picture, the WWF had a backup plan in case the Diesel project did not bear fruit, and Diesel’s first big title defense would be against the dependable “Hitman” at the approaching Royal Rumble.

In hindsight, the sub-standard 1995 edition of the Royal Rumble was vital for many reasons. Diesel, now solidified as the company’s number one babyface, wrestled the very popular Bret Hart in somewhat of a coming-out party. Nash and Bret put on an excellent title match, telling a great story as Hart worked over the more massive champion’s legs in an attempt to prepare for his Sharpshooter finish. In previous years, Lex Luger and even Hogan himself would see waning crowd reactions when pushed as the babyface champion as “The Hitman” garnered more cheers in his quest for championship gold somewhat harming the WWF plans in the process. This occasion was different; however, as Diesel’s popularity at this point seemed to match Hart’s own, and fans in attendance cheered them both. Constant run-ins from the likes of Michaels and Jeff Jarrett ended this match in a no contest, but as Diesel and Hart shook hands afterward, nobody was protesting at Bret’s lack of a title win. This was a big step in the right direction for the WWF, and Nash himself, as McMahon looked for new talent in his main event picture.

Another critical moment came in the Rumble match itself, as Shawn Michaels won the contest and entered the main event of WrestleMania for the first time. Michaels’ ascension from the mid-card to main event picture seemed to go hand in hand with Diesel’s, and the two former friends would now square off for the title at the biggest show of the year.

Before reaching WrestleMania, Michaels on-screen decided he would fill the void to his side left by Diesel. In bringing in a new bodyguard for Michaels, the WWF would not only add more peril to Diesel’s title reign but also create a new opponent for the champion (and later Michaels himself) to contend with. A returning Sid Justice, now dubbed Sycho Sid, was given the role. Sid’s presence added an extra edge to the big upcoming clash, making it even more “must-see” for WWF fans.

Related: Sid Vicious: The Self-Proclaimed “Hardest Worker Ever” in Wrestling

Shawn Michaels and Diesel Go To Battle

Diesel takes Shawn Michaels for a ride at WrestleMania 11, April 2nd, 1995.
Diesel takes Shawn Michaels for a ride at WrestleMania 11, April 2nd, 1995.

Surprisingly, the title contest between Shawn Michaels and Diesel would not be in the main event at WrestleMania XI in 1995. Former NFL star Lawrence Taylor met Bam Bam Bigelow in the show closer, in a decision which slighted Nash and Michaels. Determined to prove they were the main event, Diesel and Michaels pulled out all the stops in an outstanding advert for the mid-’90s WWF. HBK was at his incredible bumping best, making all the Diesel offense look almost superhuman, and Diesel came across like a legitimate star. Nash would again retain the title here, in a contest described by Dave Rosenbaum of Pro Wrestling Illustrated as a Match of the Year candidate. This was not the end of the Diesel/Michaels story, though, as the next evening on Monday Night Raw would show.

While in the ring being interviewed by Vince McMahon, Diesel explained that he felt fortunate to have left WrestleMania with his title. Nash went on to explain that while the referee was outside the ring trying to contend with Sid and hurting his ankle in the process, Michaels had him beat. “Big Daddy Cool” extended the offer of a rematch, but advised his former friend to leave Sid at home that night. The interview itself had Nash commenting several times on the friendship the pair shared, a sentiment echoed by Michaels later in the show as he accepted the offer of another championship showdown. Michaels also agreed with Nash and told Sid that he would be having that night off. Angry at this suggestion, Sid attacked Michaels in an angle that was sadly missed by the Raw television audience as the show went to commercial. Returning from the ad break, fans saw Shawn lying at Sid’s feet, not moving, which perhaps added to the drama in a way the WWF could not have imagined. This attack bought Diesel to the ring to save his former ally, where he ran Sid off and turned Michaels babyface in the process. The “Dudes with Attitudes” as they were known, were reunited.

Battle of the Giants – Diesel Feuds With Sycho Sid

Diesel and Sycho Sid would battle in the main event of both the inaugural and the second In Your House pay-per-view events in May and July 1995, respectively. Whereas the match quality dropped somewhat from Nash’s confrontations with Michaels and Hart, the sight of these two gigantic humans slogging it out was a spectacle indeed.

Diesel faces off against Sycho Sid at the inaugural In Your House pay-per-view, May 14, 1995.
Diesel faces off against Sycho Sid at the inaugural In Your House pay-per-view, May 14, 1995.

Perhaps realizing that the in-ring standard was not the same with Sid as Diesel’s challenger, Tatanka and Bam Bam Bigelow were thrown into the mix for the 1995 King of The Ring show. The pay-per-view was main-evented by a tag team match involving the four, but the central talking point was the King of the Ring winner himself, Mabel. The gigantic Memphis export earned a title match against Nash at the following month’s SummerSlam by winning the tournament, but he was not a good foil for the in-ring style of Diesel. The SummerSlam match, much like most of the King of the Ring show, was a very difficult watch. It was becoming more apparent that while Kevin Nash was very good at what he did, a more mobile technical opponent was needed to raise the quality of the title matches further.

The above mentioned In Your House 2 show also included a slightly forgotten classic, as Shawn Michaels defeated Jeff Jarrett to reclaim the Intercontinental Championship. With both “Dudes” now holding singles gold, they attempted to complete the set at In Your House 3: Triple Header and capture the tag team titles from reigning champions Owen Hart and Yokozuna. In a novel twist, this match would have the competitors having access to all the gold. If Nash and Michaels won, they would regain the tag team championships. If either of the two got pinned, the respective singles title would then switch to the winner of the fall.

Before the match, Owen Hart was replaced by the British Bulldog. In a clever ending, Owen then did, in fact, show up and was pinned by Diesel. However, the following night on Raw, the titles were switched back to Yokozuna and Hart with the decision being that Owen was not officially in the match and thus could not lose the titles for his team.

Waning Crowd Reactions

By the end of 1995, the crowd reactions for Diesel were not as boisterous as before. The irrepressible Shawn Michaels was hearing more of a positive response upon his entrance to that of his tag partner. Perhaps with this in mind, and already planning on a potential WWF title win for Michaels at WrestleMania 12, the stage was set for Diesel’s record championship run of 358 days to come to an end.

At Survivor Series that year, Nash was again facing across the ring from Bret Hart. As Diesel entered the ring for his match with “The Hitman,” there were even some audible boos. Bret, on the other hand, was hugely backed by the fans in attendance, a stark contrast to their Royal Rumble square-off in which both competitors were cheered loudly.

Bret Hart works the legs of Diesel at Survivor Series, November 19, 1995.
Bret Hart works the legs of Diesel at Survivor Series, November 19, 1995.

If this article causes you to go back and re-watch any match after reading, your writer highly recommends this one. Fought under no disqualification rules, Nash signed off his 358-day title reign with one of his best WWF performances to date. Hart was excellent, as always. At one point, he even took a crash landing through a table in a stunt virtually unheard of in 1995 WWF. Surprising Nash with a small package, and with Diesel kicking out at three and a half, Bret was, once again, sat on top of the WWF mountain.

After this main event had finished, Diesel attacked the new champion. Hitting him with his Jackknife Powerbomb and leaving Hart destroyed in the ring, “Big Daddy Cool” left the arena to a chorus of negativity from the paying public.

In hindsight, turning Kevin Nash here was the right decision. Hart was still very popular, and Michaels was becoming a fan favorite with his incredible ring work. With The Undertaker still on the babyface side, the WWF found themselves in the opposite situation to when Nash first won the title. Diesel becoming a fan hero when he won the belt eased the lack of popular main event stars, whereas here when Nash lost the title, the WWF found themselves in much need of villains instead. On both occasions, the 7-foot Diesel filled a gap, something neither Michaels nor Hart could have done for differing reasons at both those times.

Diesel – Post-WWF Title Run and Eventual Departure From The Company

Diesel went on to involve himself with The Undertaker and cost “The Deadman” a chance at the WWF Title when challenging Bret Hart at the 1996 Royal Rumble. The Undertaker returned the favor at In Your House 6, causing Diesel to be defeated by Hart himself. This led to Nash losing to The Undertaker at WrestleMania 12. Diesel went on to have one last WWF title opportunity, against Michaels, at In Your House: Good Friends, Better Enemies. This would be his last TV appearance for the WWF for several years, as a deal with WCW was already signed.

The final occasion Kevin Nash stepped into a McMahon ring until the WWE debut of the nWo some six years later would be at a Madison Square Garden house show in May 1996. Famous for the send-off given to Nash and Hall by Michaels and Triple H, this event became known as the “Curtain Call” and is discussed and debated by wrestling fans to this day.

Related: Curtain Call: JIM CORNETTE on The Kliq’s Disrespect for Vince McMahon

Moments after Hulk Hogan turned heel turn and joined forces with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to create the nWo. WCW Bash at the Beach, 1996.
Moments after Hulk Hogan turned heel turn and joined forces with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to create the nWo. WCW Bash at the Beach, 1996. [Photo: WWE]
Kevin Nash would go onto have significant success in WCW. As one of the first members of the nWo, Nash, along with Scott Hall and Hulk Hogan, changed the wrestling business. Nash would return to the WWE with the nWo in 2002. Another singles run would follow, challenging Triple H for the World Title at various events in 2003. Nash would again resurface in WWE in 2011 and cost CM Punk his World Title at SummerSlam that year.

 

On the topic of his 358-day run as WWF Champion, Kevin Nash looks back somewhat resentfully.

“They never went with me,” explained Nash in a 2016 interview with Sports Illustrated.

“Yes, they made me a household name, but at the same time, they didn’t do what they said they were going to do. I was told they wouldn’t take the belt off me for three years.”

Nash was frustrated that, as world champ and the face of the company, he did not headline WrestleMania XI against Shawn Michaels. The main event was Bam Bam Bigelow against NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor.

“That’s another thing the office did, and they did that all the time,” explained Nash. “All those things added up to 1996 when it was time to leave, and I left. I love Vince McMahon and what he and the company did for me. I wouldn’t have been in the position to get the money I did from [Ted] Turner if it wasn’t for Vince. Vince is very smart, and that’s why he didn’t go with me 100 percent. He wasn’t sure if I would draw well, and I didn’t draw well.

“At that point, wrestling was dying. The Hulkamania era was over for Vince, and he was looking for the next big thing. A lot of his guys were working as occupations. There were a couple stars, and then there was a pig farmer, a dentist and a plumber.”

A name synonymous with wrestling, Kevin Nash was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2015. However, when going by the name Diesel, Kevin Nash was a vital part of the mid-’90s WWF television. Before the big boom period of the Attitude Era, and alongside Hart and Michaels, Diesel helped carry the company through some creatively (and financially) tough times. “Big Daddy Cool” may not have had the longest WWF run, but it was spent mainly on top, and mainly carrying championship gold.

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Si Powell
Si Powell is a contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories, a married father of four, obsessed with rock/heavy metal music, and all things wrestling for over 30 years. He can be reached on Twitter @SJPWORDS.