War Games was one of the best gimmick matches of all time, at least if you ask a fan of old school Southern wrestling. It was Dusty Rhodes’ idea to put two rings side by side, cover them both with one long cage with a roof on it, and then let everybody just beat the daylights out of each other for like 25 minutes.
The specifics of the rules change a little from match to match, but the general idea of War Games is that there’s two teams of either four or five members apiece. Two of them go in the cage for the first five minutes, after which there’s a coin toss. Whoever wins the toss (literally always the heels) gets to send another man, then the teams alternate adding a man to the cage until all eight or ten guys are in there. Once everyone’s in the cage, the “Match Beyond” begins. That means the match goes until someone submits or surrenders, at which point their team loses. Before everyone’s in the cage, there’s no way to win or lose. You just have to beat up your opponent or get beaten up until the Match Beyond. Everything about WarGames is built around brutality, as the name implies.
Let’s take a look at eight WarGames matches that are worth revisiting on the WWE Network.
The First War Games
Face Team: The Road Warriors, Nikita Koloff, Dusty Rhodes, and Paul Ellering
Heel Team: The Four Horsemen: Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Lex Luger, Tully Blanchard, and James J. Dillon
This is the first WarGames match ever. It was held at a house show as part of the Great American Bash tour, but it’s on the Network as part of the War Games Collection. As for the story, it’s basically 1980s NWA Wrestling in a nutshell. The Four Horsemen are the worst guys in the world, plus they’re bring their manager JJ Dillon, who’s also a scumbag. Dusty Rhodes is the best guy in the world, Nikita Koloff is his Russian friend (Dusty doesn’t judge people based on where they’re from), and the Road Warriors Hawk and Animal are their incredibly dangerous friends from the post-Apocalyptic future, who are managed by Paul Ellering. Ellering is a former wrestler and basically knows what he’s doing in the ring, whereas Dillon can’t really go, which gives the face team an advantage here, and ultimately Dillon submits after the Road Warriors hit him with a Doomsday advice.
This is one of a few early house show WarGames matches in the Collection, and it’s mostly worth watching for the historical significance and the talents in the ring. Lacking audible commentary and even the production values of 1980s NWA television, it’s not something you’d want to try to show anyone who’s not a devoted ’80s wrestling fan.
Great American Bash 1989
Face Team: The Road Warriors, the Midnight Express, and Dr. Death Steve Williams
Heel Team: The Fabulous Freebirds and the Samoan Swat Team
The first War Games match that happened on PPV doesn’t get sold as an exciting new thing the way it would today. House Shows were much more a part of the canonical product back then, so even though nobody had seen a War Games on their TV before, commentary just treats it like a kind of match that they do all the time. The Road Warriors are back and as tough as ever, joined by Jim Cornette’s Midnight Express (who I have a hard time accepting as babyfaces, but that’s okay) and Dr. Death. The heels are led by Michael P.S. Hayes at the height of his scuzzy Southern Faux Rockstar powers. He dances around the ring making everyone inside and outside the cage hate his guts more than they already did. The heelishness of the Freebirds makes Road Warrior Hawk look like even more of a superhero when he finally gets in there and forces Jimmy Jam Garvin to submit.
Face Team: Sting, Brian Pillman and the Steiner Brothers
Heel Team: The Four Horsemen: Ric Flair, Barry Windham, Sid Vicious, and Larry Zbyszko
One running theme of WarGames is that whether his team wins or loses, Sting comes out looking great. This match style is a perfect venue for his character, because there are lots of opportunities to rescue other babyfaces from multi-man beatdowns, and plenty of chances to look dangerous and brutal in a context where it’s considered appropriate for a pure babyface like Sting to behave that way. The other babyface who comes out of this particular match looking like a star is Flyin’ Brian Pillman, who basically spends the whole time taking a massive beating and not giving up. In fact, he gets hurt for real when Sid Vicious repeatedly power-bombed him with at least one botch where Pillman’s head hits the top of the cage. That leads to a weird ending where El Gigante runs in and rescues Brian, submitting on his behalf and carrying him away like some kind of friendly Frankenstein.
Face Team: Sting’s Squadron: Sting, Nikita Koloff, Dustin Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, and Barry Windham
Heel Team: The Dangerous Alliance: Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton, Steve Austin, Larry Zbyszko, and Rick Rude
This right here is the best War Games match of all time. Just look at who’s involved: Sting, Dustin Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, Arn Anderson, Steve Austin, and Rick Rude, not to mention Paul E. Dangerously (aka Paul Heyman) on the outside trying to figure out how to pass a huge cell phone through the cage so his guys can hit somebody with it. Ultimately they don’t need the phone, because Rude and Zbyszko just straight-up unscrew a turnbuckle and turn it into a weapon. But of course evil never wins on Sting’s watch (except when it totally does, but that day is not today) so ultimately Zbyszko accidentally hits Eaton with turnbuckle, and Sting submits the injured man.
Fall Brawl 1993
Face Team: Sting, Davey Boy Smith, Dustin Rhodes, and the Shockmaster
Heel Team: Sid Vicious, Vader, and Harlem Heat
Remember when the Shockmaster fell through a wall and everyone laughed? Of course you do, even if you weren’t born yet. What you might not remember is that this match is what that segment was supposed to be building to. Here the Shockmaster just wears regular clothes, but he’s still treated like a force to be reckoned with. A much more legit force to be reckoned with is Vader, who looks amazing in the only WarGames match of his career. That guy always looks huge and terrifying, and he’s even bigger and scarier inside a small metal box. Harlem Heat are also here, and even though this is early on when the gimmick was handled in a pretty overtly racist manner, Booker T and Stevie Ray are giving it their all. Ultimately though, Shockmaster is put over strong, forcing Booker T to submit with a bearhug. I guess creative hadn’t accepted yet that whatever they did, Shockmaster would only ever be remembered for falling through a hole in the wall while dressed like a sparkly stormtrooper.
Fall Brawl 1994
Face Team: Dusty Rhodes, Dustin Rhodes, and the Nasty Boys
Heel Team: Terry Funk, Arn Anderson, Bunkhouse Buck, and Colonel Robert Parker
The best part of this match is the build where Dusty Rhodes recruits his team, which you get to see almost all of thanks to a lengthy video package that’s included on Fall Brawl. This is when he tells his son Dustin that he wants “a hug and a kiss to seal the deal” instead of a handshake. It sounds weird out of context, but I promise it’s actually really sweet. He also recruits the Nasty Boys after watching them kick ass in a bar fight. Once the Match Beyond begins, Dusty has the best strategy in WarGames history (of course he would, he invented it). He puts Colonel Parker in a Figure Four, and keeps it on while the Nasty Boys and Dustin keep the other three heels away. When nobody else is nearby, the Nasty Boys take turns elbow-dropping Parker. Parker, who was a manager and not a wrestler, inevitably submits with the hope of rescue removed.
Fall Brawl 1996
Face Team: Team WCW: Lex Luger, Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, and Sting
Heel Team: The nWo: Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and nWo Sting
This is only a couple of months after Hogan turned heel at Bash at the Beach, when the nWo is still new and fresh and exciting. Even Sting, WCW’s greatest hero, has joined the dominant heel faction. Or has he? Sting seems to be in the nWo, but denies it every chance he gets. That turns out to be because the nWo has their own Sting, who looks close enough under the facepaint to at least be confusing. But after some drama about whether Luger, Flair, and Anderson even have a fourth team member, the real Sting runs in and cleans house. Like I said, Sting looks great in every WarGames match, and this is no exception. Seeing him beating up the man who pretended to be him while doing things Sting would never do is about as satisfying as wrestling gets. It’s even enough to get me to include a match with Hulk Hogan in it on a “Best of” list.
Fall Brawl 1997
Face Team: The Four Horsemen: Chris Benoit, Steve McMichael, Ric Flair, and Curt Hennig
Heel Team: The nWo: Buff Bagwell, Kevin Nash, Syxx, and Konnan
This is the last WCW War Games match that’s really worth a look at all, and it’s still not nearly as good as the previous ones. By 1997, the nWo was already trying to repeat the hits. See, former WWE star Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig had just joined the Four Horseman, and was wrestling in this match despite an injured arm, which made him seem all the more heroic. Except the minute he gets in the match he immediately turns on the other three Horseman and joins the nWo. It would be a better twist if it didn’t already seem like a cliché by this point.
NXT TakeOver: WarGames 2017
Face Team: Sanity: Alexander Wolfe, Eric Young, and Killian Dain
Tweener Team: The Authors of Pain (Akam and Rezar) and Roderick Strong
Heel Team: The Undisputed Era: Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, and Kyle O’Reilly
You’ve probably already seen this one, since it was just last year, and the first official WarGames match since WCW went out of business in 2000. It wasn’t actually the first three-team WarGames — that happened in 1998 after the nWo had split in two, and decidedly did not make this list — but some of the other rules were changed and there’s no longer a lid on the cage (probably so people can’t bang each other’s heads on it like Sid Vicious did). Despite all of that and the unnecessary shark cages, this is still a really great match that gives these nine talented guys the chance to cut loose and do some of this old-school violence to each other. This was the moment that the Undisputed Era really came into their own, Sanity proved they could be great babyfaces, and Roddy Strong showed that sooner or later he’ll join just about any team.
Although last year’s three-team match was fun, it’s all the more exciting that this year they’re taking it back to two teams of four, so we should get something that looks a lot more like these classic matches. Sadly, there still probably won’t be a roof on the cage, and the odds of a Sting run-in are tragically slim.