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War Games is back (it needs to stay that way)

Now that we’ve all had a week to soak in the first new War Games match in a (wrestling) generation, let’s reflect on the legacy of the match and what its place should be—going forward—in WWE.

If NXT’s recent take on War Games was your first experience, you owe it to yourself to see how it was done in the old days, because quite a lot has changed...

Over the years, NWA/WCW produced one classic War Games match after another. Only one (the infamous 1998 match) of the many contests was ever anything less than a blast. A bloody and brutal contest with an intense energy and an always-frenetic pace, War Games was the crown-jewel match for WCW in the way the Royal Rumble was “the” match to watch for WWF fans.

Held annually for most of WCW’s golden years, usually either at the Great American Bash or Fall Brawl PPV, War Games (traditionally) pitted two teams against each other inside a unique structure with unique rules governing the proceedings. Two rings were surrounded by a cage encompassing both, with a roof overhead. It might be easier to call the structure a Hell in a Cell, but that would not be accurate. There was not ring-side area within the cage and the ceiling of the chain-link structure was much lower than in the Cell; wrestlers performing top-rope moves inside the War Games arena had to hunch over, making leaps and superplexes awkward (and occasionally dangerous).

Still, the thrill of the event was in the pacing of the match. The contest began with one member of each team going at it 1-on-1. After a set amount of time, another competitor joins the fray, making the match–for a moment–a 2-on-1 handicap contest. Who enters is based on a coin flip, which the heels invariably would win. The story of the match then becomes a battle of survival for the good guys. The audience sits on pins and needles while the heels gang up on the hero; the fans cheer and rally behind the underdog, hoping he can hang on until the bell sounds and backup can enter the cage to even the fight. 2-on-1 then becomes 2-on-2 and the rules follow the formula of a tornado tag (if all four men are in one ring) or a pair of singles matches (if the action spreads out across both rings).

Eventually the bell would ring and a fifth wrestler would enter the fray, alternating between both pairs of combatants, making one or the other a handicap match, until the next good guy enters to even the odds. 3-on-2 then becomes 3-on-3 and it goes on like this throughout the match, becoming 4-on-3 and eventually 4-on-4. Some War Games had 5-on-5 teams while others kept it at 4-on-4; either way, when all the members of the teams were inside the cage, it was only then that the match formally began, and the only way to win (again, back in the day) was by tapout or verbal submission.

By the time the match formally started the audience would already have been treated to at least six mini-matches, spread across two rings inside a steel cage. It was the ultimate blow off match in Pro Wrestling; nothing WWF ever did–not even Hell in a Cell–offered the kind of catharsis that a well booked War Games could provide. Multiple storylines converged, a variety of styles was displayed and there was almost always a thrilling finish leaving the fans exhausted yet highly entertained.

Of course Vince McMahon would want nothing to do with it.

This is the same “millionaire who should be a billionaire” “billionaire that is lucky to be a billionaire” that instructed his WWF commentators to refer to his newly-acquired WCW wrestlers as “the stars of WCW” to contrast with the “superstars of WWF” (and this was back when they were still trying to re-launch WCW as a separate brand). This is the creative mind that booked WCW talent as wannabes who didn’t belong in the same ring as WWF’s golden boys. And while that might be true to a large extent (WCW did lose the war after all) it doesn’t make the best business sense. Still, Vince is a stubborn fellow, and other than turning the Great American Bash into a B-PPV, there was almost nothing big from WCW that made the transition to WWF programming.

Until now.

Clash of the Champions has come back, although WWE dropped the “the” in the title as a cost-cutting measure. Starrcade came back as well, although WWE has kept it confined to an untelevised house show. Now War Games is back…although as of now it’s exclusive to NXT.

There was a time, actually, when they almost brought War Games to the main-roster.

It was Survivor Series 2002, when Triple H lobbied for a War Games match to close that show. Vince resisted the idea and in its place was born the Elimination Chamber. The similarities between the two match-types are obvious but there are some big differences too. The Elimination Chamber match is a single-player affair; no teams here. Like War Games, there are timed-entries, so a 1-on-1 match quickly becomes a triple threat, which morphs into a fatal four-way, until potentially 5 and then 6 men are all battling in a chaotic environment, one which is much smaller than the two-ringed War Games set up (due not only to the single ring, but also the metal structure that surrounds it).

Elimination Chamber can be a fun match, and when done well it can be brilliant, but after fifteen years it has yet to consistently equal the thrill of a good War Games. Even the new-age version that NXT offered last was able, in its final minutes, to bring back a lot of the “rock in my chair, grin from ear to ear and shout random things at the screen” excitement of the old contests. I can’t remember the last time an Elimination Chamber match did that. Maybe the 2014 version...but that doesn’t count because the finish made me so sick I almost puked.

War Games is simply too good to leave on the sideline. It’s too good to keep as a “once in a blue moon” match on NXT. It’s a concept that should have been embraced from the moment the WWE got their hands on it. It takes the best of two of WWE’s best match types–the Royal Rumble and the traditional Survivor Series tag matches–and combines them. It was a match made in Heaven and it’s a travesty that almost two decades passed before we saw it on WWE programming.

Right now WWE is wrestling with their WWE Network schedule. After the brand-split was brought back they immediately launched into having brand-specific WWE Network events. It was an idea that failed the last time because the expensive PPV model made it hard to justify paying full price to see only half the roster. Now, since you’re already paying $10 a month for the network, it’s no big deal to watch a show with only Raw talent on it. But though that side of the equation was fixed, attendance to those shows has diminished. Thus WWE is debating cutting down the number of monthly events they run in 2018.

Here’s an alternative idea: Give fans a reason to go to those monthly events.

War Games is one of the easiest “specialty matches” to set up. Making it an annual event on par with Hell in a Cell, TLC and Money in the Bank should be a no-brainer. Granted, I’m the guy who has complained before about Hell in a Cell and similar matches getting annual shows, but I also know it’s going to happen so there’s no use wishing it were otherwise. If they’re going to give HIAC its own show, why not War Games too?

For long-time fans, the prospect of a renewed classic would be too good to pass up. On the other hand, there’s a large segment of the current fanbase that wasn’t even alive when WCW was on the air; many of them have never even heard of it. War Games, to them, becomes a novelty. It becomes a brand new concept that they have to see in order to appreciate. And when they do, they’ll be hooked.

NXT scratched the itch…but it still itches.

Sound off, cagesiders: What did you think of the NXT edition of War Games? Would you like to see it (either in the new NXT format or the more classic style) brought to the main-roster and placed on the same level as Hell in a Cell, TLC and Elimination Chamber?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

I’m Matthew Martin: I love WWE but everything sucks and I’m never watching again.

See you next Monday.

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