In Defense Of… The nWo Split
A version of this article originally appeared on 411mania.com and was updated for the book IN DEFENSE OF… EXONERATING PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING’S MOST HATED. Learn more at https://www.jpprag.com
Certain people, events, organizations, and storylines in wrestling history have gotten a bum rap. Some writers have presented overtly critical comments and outright lies as fact, and others have followed suit. Well no more! “In Defense of…” has one reason: to bring the truth to the wrestling fan!
Some dame walked into my office and said…
Way back when, Andrew Strom said:
I am a really big fan of the entire nWo era, including the Hollywood/Wolfpac split. I know you are a busy man, but maybe in your backlog you can throw in defending the nWo split for me. A lot of people in the IWC seem to dislike this time period, but I thought it was really cool and profitable for WCW. I remember going to Great America (a theme park in Illinois, which may give you a clue where “nWo 4-Life country” is…lol) and wearing a Wolfpac T Shirt and getting (I kid you not) over 50 reactions from people including “Too Sweet”, “Wolfpac in the House”, and even some heckling from an nWo Hollywood fan (even though I assured him I was a fan of all colors of nWo).
Well wait no longer! The backlog of nine months has brought you to the forefront today!
At the time of this writing, it is the ten-year (!!!!) anniversary of the founding of the nWo, and there has been little denying the impact of the nWo on the sport of professional wrestling. Before the nWo, WCW was losing tons of money, the WWE was full of clowns, and ECW was just starting to define the word “Extreme”. Despite having two major powerhouse wrestling organizations, wrestling was in an incredible lull. Hulkamania had long since waned, the Horsemen had long since been a dominate force, the “New Generation” was met with yawns and empty seats, and the old guard were spinning in circles.
Enter the nWo. Eric Bischoff, inspired by an invasion angle he saw in Japan, originally conceived the concept when he was in the AWA. Since that company went out of business before he could do anything, the idea was tabled for another six years. When the time came, he launched the angle to great success, making WCW profitable, almost putting the WWE out of business, and creating a revolution in the sport that eventually morphed into Austin, DX, and the Attitude Era that catapulted the competition into heights thought impossible.
But before that could happen, the nWo had to go through many changes. At the end of a year and half storyline, WCW was without direction, without a central arc. In order to change this, the nWo split. But there were a plethora of other reasons why this happened. Though many lament this as the “end of WCW” (once again three years before WCW went out of business), we’ll show why the nWo split was not only necessary, but profitable, and actually helped WCW for quite a while.
People forget: the nWo wasn’t really a “storyline” in the sense of the word that we use it. Vince McMahon saw it as a storyline. But the nWo was a revolution, a separate organization, a change from the past. It’s OK for it to grow and change and be different. It’s not about a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is about the spirit of angle and the characters involved; it is about all the possible ways they could be used. This was another one of those ways.
What’s the story here?
411mania’s own Stuart Carapola in his That Was Then: The New World Order 1998 said:
At the first PPV of the year, Souled Out, Hulk Hogan got some good news: due to the circumstances surrounding their two previous meetings, the WCW World Title had been held up and Hogan would meet Sting at Superbrawl to determine the true champion. Although Hogan was happy to get this news, there were other people who weren’t quite as happy with the news. Among them was Sting, who had given up the title and now had to beat Hogan again to regain it. Also, Scott Hall was not thrilled to hear this because, by virtue of his win at World War III the previous November, he was scheduled to challenge for the WCW World Title at Superbrawl, although he was informed that his title match would be pushed back to Uncensored the following month rather than be cancelled outright.
However, before Superbrawl came, dissension started brewing amongst the leaders of the NWO. The chief dissenter was Randy Savage, who had again become tired of being a second banana to Hogan. Hogan tried putting Savage in his place by preventing the NWO from interfering in Savage’s match against Lex Luger at Superbrawl. Without interference from the NWO, Luger put Savage in the rack and got the submission. Savage would get some revenge later that night, coming into the ring and knocking Hogan out with a foreign object, allowing Sting to get the pin and regain the WCW World Title. Hogan was livid that Savage, who was supposed to be on his side, cost him the title that meant more to him than anything. They ended up facing one another in a cage match at Uncensored, and were fighting tooth and nail when Sting (who had successfully defended the WCW Title against Scott Hall earlier in the evening) got in the cage and tried to help Savage against Hogan, but rather than allow Sting to get between them, the two NWO members instead put their differences aside and beat Sting down two-on-one to close the show.
They seemed to reconcile that night, but the tension between the members of the NWO would continue. Kevin Nash was granted a shot at Sting’s title on [the] Nitro after Uncensored, but Hogan’s interference (ostensibly on Nash’s behalf) caused Nash to be disqualified and lose his shot at becoming WCW World Champion. Everything came to a head at Spring Stampede. Sting, angered at Savage’s betrayal, agreed to put the WCW World Title on the line in order to get the Macho Man in the ring. In the meantime, Hulk Hogan would team with Kevin Nash to face longtime NWO nemesis Roddy Piper and the Giant (who had been chasing Nash since Nash skipped their Starrcade match, then almost crippled [the] Giant with a botched powerbomb at Souled Out) in a baseball bat match. The NWO side got the bat first and Hogan used it to put Piper down for the count, but then Hogan turned on his partner and laid Nash out as well. In addition to his already addressing his issues with Nash, Hogan still had a score to settle with Savage. Any reconciliation between the two men had disappeared the second Savage accepted a shot at the title Hogan perceived to be his. Hogan got involved and, ironically, attempted to help Sting beat Savage by attacking the Macho Man, but Nash got a little revenge on Hogan by powerbombing Sting and putting Savage on top for the pin and the WCW World Title.
The official split came the night after Spring Stampede. Hogan came out and announced that the NWO had split in two, and that Nash and Savage had been booted out of Hogan’s half (now called NWO Hollywood), and were no longer welcome in the group, then challenged Savage to defend the WCW World Title against him that night. Savage accepted, and they met again in the main event of the evening. After interference from Bret Hart, Hogan had ended his former friend’s title reign after only one day, and was again the WCW World Champion. Nash and Savage responded by announcing that they were forming their own faction of the NWO, called NWO Wolfpac. The Wolfpac, which would use red and black colors instead of the traditional black and white that NWO Hollywood was using, already included Nash’s partner Scott Hall, and in the weeks following, they recruited Konnan and Curt Hennig to their side, and even managed to draw WCW loyalist Lex Luger to their side as well.
The battle lines were drawn.
That all makes sense to me, or does it?
Face? nWo? What?
The oft repeated complaint against this is that a face nWo made no sense. Why didn’t the nWo members just leave the nWo and join WCW against the Hollywood members? Why would they stay in the nWo?
That’s where I bring you back to this point: the nWo was not a “storyline”. The nWo was a separate organization (in kayfabe), and they had one mission: to take over the world of professional wrestling. Kevin Nash did not want to just be a fan favorite and win praise; his character was always about winning the big money. As a member of the nWo, he had made the most money in his career. As one of the founding members with Hogan and Hall, he (in kayfabe) was a part owner of the organization. If he walked away from that, he would be giving up all the time and effort and money he had invested in the nWo.
Randy Savage was always a loose cannon, even when he joined the nWo. But he was no WCW loyalist. In his time in WCW, he was always pushed aside in favor of Hogan, and in return Hogan turned against WCW. He was the man who was first to get beaten down by the nWo, he was the one who always paid for the negligence of WCW management. When he joined the nWo, it was in an effort to take over, to take his place, and make WCW pay. Just because his hatred of Hogan was now being backed up by others, it did not change anything. He fought with Hogan while in the nWo because he was nWo. Again, the nWo was an organization, not a stable. They even said at the first Souled Out that they knew one day nWo members would have to wrestle each other, but not before they had taken care of WCW. Until then, they were a team. Unfortunately for the ideal, being a team was not working out. That did not mean, though, that he had given up on the dream of the nWo.
Konnan was a man who was always on the outskirts of the nWo, yet was a major superstar in Mexico. To him, being in Hogan’s, or anyone’s, shadow was intolerable. He was tired of being pushed to the side, but he knew going back to WCW was not the answer. In WCW he was hardly given much opportunity either, with a rare US title shot here and there. He saw how WCW just brought in his brethren from Mexico, used them to pop the crowd, and then forgot about them. His Latino passion, as is visible in his LAX story at the time of this writing, was on fire then. In order to make a stand, he needed the nWo. They were the best opportunity for him.
Speaking of opportunity, that brings up to Curt Hennig. Hennig was always an opportunist, and ready to switch sides when need be. At first, he thought that with the powerhouses in the Wolfpac, that they were sure to succeed. But it quickly became obvious to him that they were not strategists, and that the nWo Hollywood had the brains. Although he and Rick Rude could have served that function well in the Wolfpac, the Wolfpac had a more, “Let me show you what we can do” attitude than the sneakier Henning would have liked. So he and his friend Rude quickly changed sides back to Hollywood, where their skills were more appreciated. Beside, Hennig sure as hell could not go back to WCW. After turning on the Horsemen, he was completely hated by the remainder of the WCW locker room. There was no place safe for him than back in the hands of the nWo.
And of course, there was the last man to change sides: Scott Hall. It was just taken as automatic that wherever Nash went, Hall would follow. But people forgot that Hall was his own man, and was striving for independence. Hall was able to get his World Title shot because of the nWo, and all the money he ever needed. But it was the infighting of the nWo that caused Scott’s title shot to get delayed. Specifically, Savage and Nash continually interfering in the affairs of Hogan and Sting made his shot get put off. And when he had his shot, his so-called brothers were not there to help him. Then the nWo infighting cost him from ever getting a rematch. No, he knew it was Hulk Hogan who gave him his greatest success, and he was prepared to follow him, until he went to rehab.
Henning, Hall, and Rude, though, failed to realize how disarming Kevin Nash was. Without changing a thing about himself, he was able to create an aura of “we’re not the sneaky nWo, we’re here to help.” But Nash never stopped being Nash, as would be demonstrated by the Fingerpoke of Doom at the end of the split. But because he was so disarming, Nash was able to lure away WCW’s prize: Lex Luger. For so long, Luger had fought against the nWo and was the face of WCW all summer. But that fight had taken a lot out of him. When he saw the nWo Wolfpac as a changed force, he thought that they could help rebuild WCW. How naïve he was. But Nash used that naiveté to his advantage by slowly manipulating Luger over time to the philosophy of the nWo. That’s why, when the nWo merged, Luger was able to follow. He realized that he was fighting the wrong battle, and the nWo was the way to go.
And the last piece of the puzzle: Sting. I’ll let 411mania’s own Mathew Sforcina cover this one:
But Sting then decided to focus on fighting the nWo. Thus, he challenged Hall and Nash, The Outsiders, to a match for the tag titles, choosing Giant as his partner, despite the fact that they were nWo Wolfpac, to Sting, the nWo was the nWo.
Then Giant, a bit before the show, joined nWo Hollywood, Hogan’s side, because he hated Nash so much. Thus Sting was left in a bit of a bind, but the match had been signed, so he went through with it.
And was then shocked when Hall turned on Nash and he and Giant won the tag titles.
Sting by this time had found a higher power, had become a born again Christian. And thus, when he looked at the three factions, he saw absolutes. He saw that nWo Hollywood was evil. And yet, he saw that WCW was chaos. And thus, that left the middle ground.
And therefore, Sting took it, and joined the nWo Wolfpac, which at the time was the best option, and also had his pal Lex Luger in it.
You see, everyone turned against Sting, and he needed someone to trust. The only person he trusted was Luger. The war with the nWo had left WCW in ruins, and yet each faction of the nWo was strong. He had fought for so long for nothing, so now it was time for him. Enough with being WCW’s savior, he just wanted to be with his friends again. And so, Sting became the final piece of the Wolfpac.
Yes, I did just say that the nWo factions were both strong. Because of the compression of time, people often equate nWo Hollywood with the nWo B-team. They are not the same thing! The nWo B-team only came into existence AFTER the nWo Wolfpac and nWo Hollywood merged to become nWo Reunion (Black, White, and Red). Before that, nWo Hollywood was meant to be a devastating force. Let’s look at who was in this crew (via Wikipedia):
- Hollywood Hogan — Undeniable World Champion Force
- Eric Bischoff — the brains and the money behind the nWo, still had power in WCW
- Brian Adams — Big huge guy good for backup
- Buff Bagwell — had found a personality and a winning streak in the nWo
- Miss Elizabeth — class defined and a great representative for “other” needs
- The Giant — he’s a giant! And a former champ
- The Disciple — a mystery wrapped in an interfering enigma
- Scott Norton — helping to destroy Japan
- Dusty Rhodes — holds the history of the NWA and is connected to everyone
- Dennis Rodman — a cross media star and mainstream draw
- Scott Steiner — an explosion just waiting to happen, on many levels
- Vincent — OK, everyone needs someone to pick on
While not as many super champions as the Wolfpac, Hollywood still had its fair share of power and glory. Besides, Hollywood was designed to make Hogan look good, while the Wolfpac was trying to break out of Hogan’s shadow in one way or another.
Of course, the nWo members were not the only ones who found opportunity in the split.
Because the nWo was feuding with itself, this actually left WCW to have storylines around the other wrestlers in the organization that were not nWo related. The most fruitful of these was the rise of Goldberg.
Over the year, Goldberg has been quietly gaining wins and momentum. People were chanting his name, his popularity was growing. But for the most part, he stayed clear of the nWo. The Wolfpac kept Hollywood in check, and Goldberg was more concerned with his growing streak than having an agenda with the nWo. Of course, this would greatly change by the time the nWo reunited at Starrcade, and even before that when Goldberg took the belt off of Hogan and beat Hall earlier in the evening. But these run ins with the nWo were not the norm for Goldberg, who was the first new wrestler not really involved with the nWo in any discernable way.
Also, Ric Flair returned from suspension and began to bring along Dean Malenko and Chris Benoit more. Though his main feud was with Eric Bischoff, the Horsemen still had separate programs, mostly involving the tag team championships. Eventually, this would morph into the feud of Benoit/Malenko vs. the Mysterio/Kidman, but that was still a bit off. The foundations, though, were built right here.
Booker T took most of 1998 to move away from the tag team ranks and begin his new singles career with the Television Championship. He and Chris Benoit had their memorable Best of Seven series (to get a shot at Finlay!), as well. Meanwhile, Malenko and Jericho continued their feud over the Cruiserweight Championship, which of course paved the way for Jericho to spend an entire commercial break listing out his 1004 moves.
Raven had made his WCW debut and quickly began assembling a flock. This, too, also led into the three-way feud of Raven, Saturn, and Kanyon, and its incredibly strong mix of hardcore and workrate.
Yes, plenty of other people used the nWo feuding with itself to build up what WCW was about. So many say WCW was without direction or characters, but there were a dozen stories and characters listed for you right there. There was a WCW beyond the nWo, though the nWo did have a central role to play.
Topic 1: The End
The number one complaint about the nWo split was that it stopped the nWo from having what it needed: an end. There needed to be some huge blowoff match that would destroy the nWo once and for all.
Well sorry kids, but the nWo was not the Empire, and no one was going to be Luke Skywalker. Han Solo, maybe. But no Skywalker.
Let me ask you this: did the Horsemen ever get their comeuppance? Did someone thoroughly destroy them? What about DX? What about the Dungeon of Doom? What about the Un-Americans? What about the Dudley Family (in ECW)? What about S.E.X.?
None of these stables or organizations ever got the huge blowoff ending that everyone seems to think is possible. We have been conditioned by huge blockbuster movies that once there is a major battle, that’s the end of it and everything is fine again. Happily ever after.
You see, in a movie or video game, you can have a huge blowoff and say that is the end. But in a weekly show (or in real life in general), there are consequences for all these actions. Even if there was some elimination style match that the nWo lost that caused them to be over, you would still have the problem of what to do with the guys next. How do you stop them from being the nWo?
Perhaps you recognize the problem. It is what happened during the InVasion. Vince had won the war, but there was a consequence to that: he had to do something with WCW. And once the InVasion was mucked up and he got that victory over the Alliance, there were still more consequences. He still had an additional 60 people sitting around. They could not just suddenly stop being who they were, and he could not suddenly forget what the stipulations of Survivor Series were. Sure, there was one last match, but it really was no ending. It couldn’t. There are no endings in wrestling because the people always exist after the fact. Even when someone is retired in a match, at some point they will appear again, and everyone will automatically believe it is time to get revenge for that last match. The blowoff was meaningless because it ends up right where they last were.
I think the best way to look at this is this quote from a song:
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
The end of the main WCW vs. nWo storyline was just the beginning of the nWo split. And the nWo split had one obvious end: the nWo reunion. The story did have an ending, it just was not necessarily the expectation that people had. The nWo split ended with the Fingerpoke of Doom. And it is not like that was the end either! That actually led to weeks of 5.0 ratings for WCW, not the destruction that many promised.
The nWo ended abruptly because of unforeseen injuries. Three-quarters of the main players in the nWo in 1999 were out with one injury or another. And then when the nWo reformed a few months later, almost everyone got injured again. THAT is an unforeseen circumstance that cannot be planned for. Who knows? Maybe there could have been something that really ended the nWo in a decisive way, or maybe the nWo was going to exist for another year with a huge storyline. We’ll never know because life threw us a curveball.
Still, the nWo split was just phase 3 of the nWo. It prolonged the nWo for a reason: because it was successful and could continue to be so.
Billionaire Ted says…
Even though the nWo split had to eventually reach an end, in the meanwhile it had to be worthwhile. We have previously gone through the storyline and kayfabe reasoning behind the split, but does that make a lick of difference to the average fan?
If you read the IWC today, people will complain about how the nWo split was the downfall of WCW, how it signaled the end of all the hard work everyone had done, and that it was a complete mistake. My first problem with this train of thought is that WCW did not end until 2001, three whole years later. It would take a lot more to kill WCW than that. Back in the case for the Fingerpoke of Doom we saw the same argument, that the fingerpoke destroyed WCW. Yet as noted in that case and above, the Fingerpoke of Doom led to weeks of 5.0+ ratings, hardly the devastating end of WCW.
Well, that’s true here as well. Except the nWo split was even more successful than the original nWo! How do I know this? I did the math.
From May through December 1997, during the biggest buildup to the highest payoff match in WCW history (Sting vs. Hollywood Hogan), the average Monday Nitro rating was a 3.8. From May through December 1998, during the turmoil of the nWo split and the rise of the Wolfpac, the average Monday Nitro rating was a 4.4! That’s right, the nWo split and other storylines in WCW actually INCREASED interest in WCW, not the opposite. So no, the nWo split did not drive away viewers in droves, but actually brought them to new heights not before seen in WCW or wrestling anywhere.
As a matter of fact, Nitro was the first show to break the 6.0 rating barrier when on August 31, 1998 it scored just that rating. That’s right, four months after the nWo split and WCW hit the highest rating mark in its history, a record that would not be broken until March 1, 1999 when RAW scored a 6.3 rating (and WCW still scored a 4.3 that night).
Nitro wasn’t always winning ratings, but combined with RAW it was biggest audience ever seen in wrestling. Raw wasn’t winning every week either, with wins going back and forth. Everyone likes to talk about the 83-week winning streak for Nitro, but it is not like WCW was dead the week they lost one to RAW. There was a long period of back and forth, and an even longer period when Nitro was getting big ratings, larger than those seen in the nWo vs. Sting storyline, but they just weren’t as huge as RAW’s numbers. We talked about it a number of times, but in those days when Nitro scored less than a 4.5 it was considered a terrible sign and that nobody watched WCW anymore. Here in 2006, when RAW scores a 4.0 rating it is seen as a huge triumph. Recently to this writing, SmackDown! scored a 2.2 rating. It does not seem so bad in retrospect.
Anyway, even though more people were watching WCW than ever because of the nWo split, did that necessarily translate into more dollars? Well, there’s one sure fire quick look: let’s browse the PPV buyrates for about the same period listed above.
WCW PPV Buyrates
In total the winners are…
· 1997 = 2
· 1998 = 6
· Tie = 1
That’s right, PPV buyrates actually WENT UP for the most part in 1998 with the nWo split, much higher than during the Sting vs. nWo storyline. True, the summer of 1998 was bolstered by mainstream media attention, but why do you think people like Jay Leno and Dennis Rodman would even consider getting involved in WCW? Because WCW was huge, and the nWo split was a captivating and interesting focus for all of WCW.
I also personally know how much impact the Wolfpac made on my wallet. At that time, I was selling many wrestling shirts at the flea market. Some sold OK, some did not move, but there was one shirt I could never keep in: The Wolfpac. It wasn’t even that greatly designed, and looking at it now, it is actually rather embarrassing. Yet that was the biggest seller by far. I still see nWo Wolfpac and Hollywood shirts, license plates, bumper stickers, flags, and everything else around today. The nWo cemented its legacy in its own personal war, and the monetary and cultural impacts are still prevalent today.
What did it all do in the end?
Besides the faded shirts that are around today, the nWo split began something that we see now. Even though the nWo had made it cool to cheer the “bad guy”, the split made it possible for someone to be the true anti-hero. With a face Wolfpac, others could more readily be accepted as faces. Austin was already well on his way up in the WWE, but the Wolfpac turning face made his job much easier. DX was able to become an effective face unit because the Wolfpac had paved the way (poetic, considering the membership). Even in 2006, people like Eddie Guerrero could cheat to win, while someone who wanted to play by the rules was booed. Chavo Guerrero helped Rey Mysterio cheat on SmackDown!, yet people loved him for it.
True, the nWo was just a reflection of the changing times that Eric Bischoff was able to capture. But once people were able to accept the bad guys as good, it became easier to flip everything.
Also, the idea of a long-term storyline with a twist took center-hold. Look at a storyline like Test/Steiner, or Jericho/Christian/Trish/Lita, or even Edge/Hardy/Kane/Lita. A story can have many lives with the same characters, and it is a storytelling device still very much in use today. Is it always used correctly or effectively? Probably not, but the inspiration is the key in this case.
Additionally, the impact of the nWo and the split is still being seen today. In Japan, the invasion storyline continues with many of the same people, yet just a slightly different name. Here in 2006, ECW keeps invading RAW, and vice versa. ECW isn’t really ECW of old, it’s a new twist on the nWo. And with people jumping and moving apart, it’s the same idea as the split. You have your mega-powers, just with a slightly different flavor.
No, the impact of the nWo split is quite obvious today, and will be for years to come.
Take out the spray paint one more time
Since the day the nWo formed, there was a thought that there had to be some huge ending, some insane blowup to finally put the idea to rest. Instead, the nWo used the ending of a year and half storyline to launch a new direction: a split. The ideas were sound in kayfabe, and that translated into a success in ratings and buyrates. Each nWo faction was strong and driving interest in WCW, while also allowing time for the rest of WCW to develop and catch up. In actuality, the nWo split did more to increase ratings, buyrates, and merchandise sales than even the original nWo did. After all, if you couldn’t decide your loyalties, didn’t you need two different color shirts?
Today, the effects of the nWo split are seen everywhere, from storylines to character development. Although the compression of time makes us forget just how long and interesting the nWo split was, and everything that came out of it (and what happened at later points in time), we cannot lose the knowledge of the true success the nWo split.
The defense rests.
After the Trial
IN THE CASE OF THE IWC VS. THE NWO SPLIT, THE NWO SPLIT HAS BEEN ACCUSED of being a terrible mistake in WCW that lead to the end of the promotion. it was a waste of time that hurt WCW and the rest of the wrestlers on the roster, and only served to further beat a dead horse.
And with 76.2% of the vote, the nWo Split was found:
Another one… for the good guys. I love being able to use that phrase whenever we do an nWo related case. Anyway, that was all for the nWo 10-year anniversary!
Whether people voted one way or another, there were a couple of comments that I felt deserved some additional exploration:
[Here’s] my problem with the NWO Split. The first is that you already had a WCW vs. NWO [feud]. Why not just put the Wolfpack guys back on team WCW? Why not let team WCW actually look credible for a change? Why do you need a third element to overshadow the main [feud] of WCW vs. NWO?
Don’t forget that the nWo guys were “Outsiders” and had no loyalty or desire to be in WCW. They — especially in case of Nash — made more money being in the nWo and had more control over their matches and careers (at least from a kayfabe perspective). What benefit would they have to being in WCW with guys who hated them for everything they previously did? Also, how does WCW look good by absorbing the nWo guys and basically becoming the nWo? Isn’t that exactly what happened in the InVasion when the Alliance took in WWE guys? Would not WCW actually just become nWo-lite and the storyline would end with the same anti-climactic fizzle?
[Y]ou said episodic television couldn’t have a final battle. Where the good guy wins at the end and the bad guy disappears. Not true bro. It’s true for pro wrestling, but not true for episodic television in general.
Look at most anime, or Japanimation if you will. God knows how many times Goku and his friends conquered evil in Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and Dragon Ball GT. I could also point out Full Metal Panic, any of the Gundam series, Yu Yu Hakusho, RuRouni Kenshin, etc. Take care man.
Oh, you mean like how Goku defeated Piccolo Jr. and Tien Shinhan at the end of Dragon Ball, and how both became his allies in Dragon Ball Z? Or how the same happened with Vegeta in Dragon Ball Z to the point where Vegeta (who tried to murder everyone on Earth) married Goku’s close friend and had two kids with her? Or how Majin Buu — who tried to eliminate all life in the universe — became a goofy companion to Mr. Satan and spent most of his time sleeping in Dragon Ball Super? Or like how Goku had a final climatic battle with Frieza on Planet Namek and then a short time later at the beginning of the Android Saga Frieza showed back up with a robotic body, and then after being killed and brought back multiple times has been both an enemy and an ally to Goku and team in several arcs?
I think I made my point: if you have something episodic — especially something that has a new episode/issue every single week — the stories can never have a true end. Sure, Goku and Frieza had a massive “5-minute” battle to end that particular storyline, but that just led into the next storyline arc. And worse, as time went on, the writers were obviously not as prepared as they were for the first big storyline, so there were diminishing returns in each successive pass. Gohan’s arc was complete when he overcame his passivist ways to defeat Perfect Cell, but his character could not just be removed in the storylines to follow. As such, he became something less because the show must continue!