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War Games is Pro Wrestling’s Christmas Morning

Where would wrestling be without Dusty Rhodes?

Somewhere very boring.

Let me just stop myself right there because if I’m not careful that question can be spun into ten separate thousand-word articles. Let’s instead focus on one of The American Dream’s brilliant creations:

War Games

It was thirty years ago, at the Great American Bash, that the match made its first appearance. Dusty Rhodes had been inspired by Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (they don’t name movies like that anymore) and conceived of a souped-up cage match that could be a showcase for the villainous four horsemen stable. Of course cage matches had been a staple of pro wrestling, going back to World War II, and Rhodes himself had participated in one or two memorable ones himself, but this would not be any ordinary cage match: This was a double-cage, roofed, and stretching around two separate rings. It was ungainly. It was visually disorienting. It was not the most conducive to a traditional pro wrestling television broadcast.

But it worked.

Remember, this was before the era of Hell in a Cell and the Elimination Chamber. Back then, the gimmick match in wrestling was the Steel Cage. It was the place where scores were settled. You could usually expect a big title change to occur in a two-out-of-three falls match, but when there was a grudge between two guys, and audiences were itching to see a heel, not just lose, but get bloodied, it happened in a cage. Rhodes just said “Leth givum two cageth daddeh.”

And it worked.

That first War Games match is not the most memorable in the series but it was a great start. Rhodes team consisted of he, Nikita Koloff, Paul Ellering, and the Road Warriors. They clashed, naturally, with Ric Flair, Lex Luger, Tully Blanchard, J.J. Dillon and Arn Anderson’s spinebusterofdoom. The match even began with a lights and music display, similar to how the Hell in a Cell lowering has its own intro today!

The poor lighting and awkward camera angles added to the panache. The match never felt like the kick-off of a franchise-match concept; if anything it felt like a one-off. The announcer tried his best to explain the rules, only to fail miserably (a running gag that is now a necessity for the match). The crowd didn’t care. They didn’t care that it was a new, or a weird, match in front of them. They were just salivating at seeing The Four Horseman get got. Whether it happened inside two cages or ten, it didn’t matter so long as The Four Horseman ate it.

And they did.

The match was taken on tour throughout 1987 and 1988, and returned to the Great American Bash, and again the next year, and the next. It was such an instant success, the NWA would have been crazy not to make it a regular attraction.

It continued into the days of WCW as well, and it’s there where the match found its highest highs (and lowest low).

The 1992 match at WrestleWar is rightly considered the peak of the concept, with Sting’s Squadron taking on the Dangerous Alliance. Everything worked: the starpower was a who’s who of guys who were already hall of famers-in-waiting (Sting, Larry Zbyszko, Nikita Koloff, Ricky Steamboat, Arn Anderson) and others who would blossom into Hall of Famers (Steve Austin, Dustin Rhodes). The match was the most fluid and well-told, arguably of any before or since. The pace was steady and the finish perfect. It was the last 5-on-5 match WCW would host, and none that came after was able to match the level of intensity and energy that it brought.

The 1993 edition is infamous for the build up more than the match itself.

The 1994 edition brought back Dusty Rhodes, but it was a pale imitation of days gone by.

The 1995 match was, to that point, as low as the match could get, as Hulk Hogan’s merry band of Hulkamaniacs took on the Dungeon of Doom. And if you’re young and don’t know what the Dungeon of Doom is…picture the Avengers, only like the exact opposite of that.

1996’s match deserves credit from a story-telling perspective; it kicked off the transformation of Sting from surfer to crow. The nWo falsely claimed that Sting had joined their team and hired an imposter to attack Lex Luger. Sting tried to plead his case but his friends failed to believe him. He interfered in the match and declared himself a free agent, reappearing soon after with a trenchcoat and a grim disposition, kicking off a year-plus storyline that culminated at Starrcade 1997 and one of the most impressive wet farts in wrestling history.

1998 had Ultimate Warrior. It killed the match dead.

When Vince McMahon purchased the rights to World Championship Wrestling (cost him a pretty penny too…literally. It cost one penny, shined up real nice), he secured more than just the tape library of Nitro and a handful of under-contract midcard talents. He also secured the rights to every specialty event, show, and match concept Ted Turner had the rights too.

In mid-2001, not only were fans envisioning matches like Sting vs Rock or Goldberg vs Austin, but expectations were also high for a Starrcade show featuring Ric Flair and Kurt Angle, or a Clash of the Champions with Rey Mysterio vs Jeff Hardy. People were envisioning how “World War III” would work with talent from WWF, WCW as well as ECW. But more than anything, the one WCW match that people were giddy about seeing on WWF TV was “War Games.”

We’ve talked about this. We’ve talked about how Vince gets a serious boner disappointing his most loyal fans.

Nevermind that now because War Games is back. It’s exclusive to NXT but it’s still War Games. It’s not 2015-2016 NXT, but it’s still War Games. It’s a weird three on three on three match, but it’s still War Games. It’s two rings. It’s chaos. It’s botching the pre-match rules explanation. It’s two (or now, apparently, three) sets of people who hate each other, going at it inside a cage with so much hatred to go around they needed two cages and an awkwardly low roof to hold it all in. It is everything I love about this silly fake fighting pseudo sport. It’s “SUBMIT OR DIE” people. SUBMIT OR DIE!


If you’re not dying to see it, you have no pro wrestling soul.

I’m Matthew Martin, and for half an hour next Saturday, everything will be awesome and I’ll never miss another show.

Are you excited about War Games? What’s your favorite match and why is it WrestleWar 1992? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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