The Gang Wars storyline played a significant role in bringing wrestling back to the forefront after a low time in the business. In 1997, Vince McMahon provided an opportunity to breathe life into many wrestlers by creating storylines that had a real-life element to them, placing wrestlers together who seemed like they belonged together.
1997 was one of the most interesting years for the WWF. With WWE moving away from the stale New Generation Era with its cartoony characters to the Attitude Era with more real-life, relatable characters, a clear transition was taking place. The Gang Wars storyline provided an opportunity to breathe life into many wrestlers and offered storylines with a real-life element, putting together guys that seemed like they belonged together.
Let’s take a look at a storyline that dominated much of 1997, the battle between Faarooq (Ron Simmons), Crush, and Savio Vega and their respective factions – and later The Truth Commission – during the Gang Wars era.
Factions in the WWE
Ron Simmons made his WWF debut on July 22nd, 1996, under the name Faarooq Asad. During this run, Faarooq was managed by Sunny and wore a blue and black outfit resembling a Roman warrior. After competing for a few months in the singles ranks and feuding with Ahmed Johnson, he appeared at the November 17th, 1996 Survivor Series pay-per-view surrounded by members of the debuting Nation Of Domination. Among the members were J.C. Ice and Wolfie D, previously PG-13 from Memphis, and D-Lo Brown, who, although he was on television for months, was an unnamed member of the group for the time being. Faarooq himself dropped the Asad last name and sported a new outfit – an all-black militant look with a red, yellow, and green trim.
Over at WCW, the nWo was running wild and winning the Monday Night Wars with higher TV ratings. The Nation Of Domination was the WWF’s first attempt at building a faction to see how it would fare on WWF television with regards to competing in ratings and with how well the nWo was doing on WCW television. The Nation was seemingly a pro-black militant type group led by Faarooq, who in previous years was the first-ever African American to hold a World Title in pro wrestling, yet it was not an all-black group. Soon after Survivor Series ’97, Crush joined the Nation Of Domination ranks. Crush, having previously been the third man in Demolition and having solo WWF runs in the early 1990s, was the biggest name alongside Faarooq within the Nation. Then, on January 25th, 1997, at a WWF MSG show, Savio Vega joined the crew when he turned on his tag team partner for the evening, Ahmed Johnson, and sided with their opponents, Faarooq and Crush, to attack Johnson.
The Nation was growing and heading towards King Of The Ring on June 8th, 1997, where Faarooq would get a WWF World Title shot at the current champion, Undertaker. The Nation of Domination fit the bill of a pro-black group with militant mannerisms, but the actual members were racially diverse. This has even more relevance later on down the line. Crush was a white guy from Kona, Hawaii, and Savio Vega was a proud Puerto Rican with everyone aligning their beliefs and building strength in numbers using the Nation catchphrase, "By any means necessary." At King Of The Ring, Faarooq failed to capture the title amidst ringside infighting between members of the Nation, most specifically Crush and Vega, who had tension building over the previous weeks in which they had cost each other victories. Crush and Vega had now helped cost their leader from winning the WWF World Title. The following night on WWF Raw, June 9th, 1997, following a WrestleMania 13 6-man tag team rematch and loss to Ahmed Johnson and the Legion Of Doom, in which Crush and Vega walked out of on Faarooq, Faarooq fired every single member of the Nation except for the loyal D-Lo Brown.
One week later, on the June 23rd, 1997, Raw, Faarooq, Ahmed, Kama, and D-Lo were in the ring doing an interview when they are interrupted by Crush and three other guys. Crush gets in the ring with his back up and introduces Chainz, known in Smoky Mountain Wrestling and ECW as Brian Lee, and Skull and 8-Ball (the Harris twins). This is the moment where he introduces themselves as a collective known as the Disciples Of Apocalypse. He says they are brothers that "ride together" and, on cue before an ensuing 8-man brawl breaks out, says they also like to "fight together." During this melee, Ahmed gets injured and is on the hurt shelf until August. Later on, Savio Vega returned with a crew of his own, also a four-man team, and when they jump the Nation in the ring, they have a one-man advantage due to Johnson’s injury. We later learn that Savio has brought three friends from Puerto Rico into the WWF to form the stable Los Boricuas. The three guys are Miguel Perez Jr, Jesus Castillo, and Jose Estrada Jr. Thus, the Gang Wars began.
Faarooq previously stated that the Nation was now "bigger, badder, and blacker" and therefore continued, even more so, their pro-black, militant message. The DOA who entered the arena and headed to ringside on huge motorcycles were an all-white, big man, biker crew, and Los Boricuas represented the Latino street life.
As the faction feud escalated over the following weeks, an 8-man match was booked for SummerSlam 1997 on August 3rd, in which DOA would face Los Boricuas. During the match, the Nation walked out through the crowd, Ahmed alongside them, back from his injury, and distracted both teams. Los Boricuas ended up with the pinfall win. The following night on Raw, Ahmed faced Chainz in one-on-one competition. Ahmed blamed Chainz for the previous injury and came for revenge. During the match, Savio Vega and Jose Estrada distracted Chainz by revving up his motorcycle, and the distraction caused him to lose to Ahmed. Following the match, Chainz’s DOA teammates run Vega and Estrada off before surrounding Johnson. Before they can do anything further, the rest of the Nation hits the ring. However, much to the DOA’s bemusement, the Nation turned on Johnson and attacked him, consequently ex-communicating him from the group.
Faarooq went one-on-one with Chainz on the August 11th edition of Raw, and during the match, whilst Chainz had the upper hand, the referee was knocked down. Whilst the ref was down, Rocky Maivia, a former WWF Intercontinental Titleholder who was returning from an injury, came through the crowd and slid into the ring. He checked on the ref before hitting Chainz with what would become known as the Rock Bottom. This allowed Faarooq to get the win. In a memorable moment, The Rock joined the Nation, replacing Ahmed’s position, and he also vented his frustration at the large section of the fans who had started to jeer him. Rocky, who quickly became The Rock, said upon joining the Nation, "This isn’t about the color of my skin, this is about respect!"
At the September 7th, 1997 pay per view Ground Zero, the three leaders of the warring factions faced off in a triple threat match in which Savio Vega won. As the gang wars raged throughout the winter, the then-WWF’s In Your House Badd Blood pay-per-view approached on October 5th, 1997. In a rematch from SummerSlam, DOA went up against the Boricuas in another eight-man tag team match, this time being won by the Disciples.
On November 24th, 1997, Crush was standing in the Raw ring and was attacked by Kane, signaling his final showing in DOA colors, leaving Chainz to resume leadership of the crew, as Crush had left the WWF and had signed with WCW. DOA was a man down, and the Nation was about to become a man up.
The Rock and D-Lo, accompanied by Kama, were set to tag against Ken Shamrock and Mark Henry on January 12th, 1998, on Raw. During the match, Henry turned against Shamrock and joined the Nation. The interesting thing about this is that Mark Henry was offered a spot on the Nation by The Rock, not Faarooq, the leader of the stable, who was somewhat angered by this move.
In Your House: No Way Out Of Texas was the WWF’s February 15th, 1998 pay-per-view. Animosities are renewed in a big ten-man tag team match billed as the ‘war of attrition.’ This match saw Faarooq, The Rock, Kama, D-Lo Brown, and Mark Henry lose to Ken Shamrock, Ahmed Johnson, Chainz, Skull, and 8 Ball.
Afterward, Rock yelled at Faarooq, and Faarooq took out his frustrations by hitting D’Lo Brown. D’Lo then wanted to get at Faarooq, but the whole thing was diffused by Kama and Henry – clearly interesting times were ahead for The Nation of Domination.
TRIVIA: Savio Vega makes his only ever pay-per-view main event appearance at In Your House: No Way Out of Texas as he fills in for the injured WWF World Champion Shawn Michaels. He teams with Triple H and WWF Tag Team Champions the New Age Outlaws in a losing effort against Stone Cold Steve Austin, WWF European Champion Owen Hart, Cactus Jack, and Chainsaw Charlie/Terry Funk.
At WrestleMania 14 on March 29th, 1998, The Rock was defending his WWF Intercontinental Championship (which had been handed to him by Stone Cold Steve Austin on December 8th, 1997 Raw as Austin began his quest for the WWF World Title) against Ken Shamrock when things got volatile. Shamrock had submitted The Rock to win the match and the belt. After the match, Shamrock disposed of Kama, D-Lo, and Mark Henry, who had accompanied The Rock to ringside. Shamrock reapplied his ankle lock submission move to The Rock, which he had already used to win when Faarooq came running to the ring from the locker room. Instead of helping The Rock, Faarooq just flipped him off and turned around and walked back out, signaling his disgust with The Rock’s behavior over the last several months. Faarooq was the leader of the Nation, and here he was, letting everyone know it.
The next night on Raw, The Rock teamed with Faarooq, with the rest of the Nation at ringside, to face off against Ken Shamrock and Steve Blackman. During the match, The Rock walked out on Faarooq, leaving him to get pinned. The Rock, who was reacting to Faarooq’s actions from the previous night, headed backstage, but Faarooq grabbed the microphone and called him out. The Rock reappeared and headed to the ring and, after a brief scuffle, went back to walking away from the ring towards the locker room. However, this time, when Faarooq called out The Rock again, he himself was attacked from behind by Kama, D-Lo, and Mark Henry. The Rock was the new leader, and a new Nation was born where it would head into its most successful period.
Over the following months, Owen Hart joined the Nation, and they had an amazing feud with DX. Chainz had left the WWF later in the year, and the DOA was now a tag team of Skull and 8-Ball who feuded with the Legion Of Doom throughout what was left of 1998. The Boricuas made fewer and fewer appearances, and Savio Vega was last seen on WWF television, taking part in the Brawl For All. By the end of 1998, all of the stables had disbanded with the exception of DX, and the emergence of the Corporation and the gang wars had all but ended.
Related: The Failure that was BRAWL FOR ALL
The Gang Wars Storyline – In Retrospect
The Nation, DOA, and the Boricuas were mid-card factions created to not only fit perfectly in with the whole new Attitude Era of the WWF but also to give relevance to a lot of wrestlers whilst hopefully creating a future star or two along the way. The gang wars were also created to aid the WWF in the Monday Night Wars against WCW. One of the likely reasons was because the three groups were all of different races, and the idea was to appeal to fans of all races to get behind the faction they could relate to, which would, therefore, bring mass interest to the show, helping to improve the ratings in the process. The Nation was created as a heel group and remained that way for its entire duration, the DOA was seen as the face group although they were badass bikers, and the Boricuas were also a heel group.
There is so much that can be analyzed within the gang wars. For a start, today’s WWE being PG, and society, in general, would be quick to call out the gang wars era for its sometimes use of stereotypes. Today’s WWE would very likely not even be able to get away with using the term’ gang wars.’ That said, this shows, in retrospect, how real the angle felt and that segregation and stereotypes do exist within the world, and seeing it all come to life in a WWF ring every week on Raw was amazing to watch. In a way, it was educational. This type of magic usually occurs when the lines between pro wrestling and real life are blurred. The WWF offices were likely hoping for a social impact with the booking decisions they made and during the Attitude Era, and the creative envelope was often pushed to the limit. This is one of the reasons why this era is so fondly remembered.
Although the nWo was a stronger, more successful stable than the Nation, DOA, and the Boricuas, through the gang wars, The Rock was born and grew to be one of, if not the, greatest superstars in pro wrestling history.
Looking back, the gang wars holds a much more nostalgic, authentic-time in pro wrestling history. Other stables in the Attitude Era such as DX, The Hart Foundation, The Truth Commission, Jim Cornette’s NWA, Kaientai, The Job Squad, The Corporation, The Union, The Right To Censor, The Ministry Of Darkness, and The Corporate Ministry also appeared, thus cementing factions as an important aspect of professional wrestling. From the 4 Horseman to Raven’s Flock to the bWo to the Triple Threat to the Bullet Club and everything in between, factions are imperative in building layers of storylines and characters for several wrestlers at once, and long may it continue to do so.
As we finish up and look at the first faction that started the gang wars, the Nation Of Domination, and the two factions that were created from it, the Disciples Of Apocalypse and The Los Boricuas, we have to think about the legacy it all leaves behind- and it’s easy. Faarooq, Kama Mustafa (aka The Godfather), and Mark Henry are all in the WWE Hall Of Fame. The Rock is a sure-shot future Hall Of Famer. Lastly, we have to make a case for the two leaders of the two groups spawned from the Nation to one day be in the Hall of Fame. Crush started his WWF career as the third man in Demolition, implementing the Freebird Rule and held tag team gold with Ax and Smash. He came back as a singles competitor and had a memorable feud with Randy Savage that culminated in 1994 at WrestleMania 10. Like mentioned earlier, Crush left for WCW following the Montreal Screwjob going under his real name, Brian Adams. He ran with the nWo before forming a tag team with Bryan Clark. The team, called Kronik, won tag team gold and competed in both WCW and then WWE once the Invasion/Alliance angle began.
Savio Vega began his WWF career under a mask as the martial artist Kwang. Upon the unmasking, he teamed with Razor Ramon, and following this brief stint, he had a very memorable feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin, thus helping Austin on his way to becoming the top guy in the business. Vega could hang with everyone he worked with, and that is proven in that he was chosen, even if by default and to a groan from the audience, as the guy to replace the injured Shawn Michaels at 98’s No Way Out in the main event. After the gang wars died down and Savio competed in the infamous Brawl For All, he was off WWF television, and his contract expired without renewal. To this day, Vega is active in the Puerto Rican scene and is considered a legend amongst Latino fans. Crush and Savio should both be at least considered for induction based on everything mentioned.
We encourage fans new and old to watch the era spoken of here and appreciate the physicality and psychology behind the gang wars angles. Watching it all these years later, it’s hard not to appreciate and enjoy it even more.
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