History is written by the winners and that’s been very true when it comes to the lengthy war between WWF and WCW. Ever since Vince McMahon bought his competition, WCW’s been the redheaded stepchild. From the InVasion storyline to Sting vs. Triple H, Vince’s obsession with pissing on Turner’s old playground has gotten in the way of WWE’s own quality. There was even a YouTube series that was mostly an excuse for WWE to poke fun at the stupidity of WCW ideas.
But what of the good WCW ideas? Outside of wrestler gimmicks and personas, WWE usually ignores them. It’s a crying shame that we’ve never had a Raw or PPV dedicated to doing the Lethal Lottery/Battle Bowl. It’s…probably for the better that we’ve never had a World War 3. Then there’s WCW’s most memorable specialty match, WarGames. Despite being the ultimate in faction warfare for WCW, the most lip service WWE’s ever given it is having Eric Bischoff namedrop it as an ingredient of the Elimination Chamber.
The truth is that Triple H has always been chomping at the bit to do WarGames in WWE and has been pestering Vince about it for well over a decade. Between Vince’s general reluctance to use outside ideas and the headache of having two rings in an arena, Triple H has always been turned down. Luckily, NXT is his baby and he’s finally been able to get the go-ahead for a new WarGames match. Sort of.
At NXT TakeOver: WarGames, three teams of three will battle it out in the caged double ring. The rules are different from how they were for the initial days of WarGames, but honestly, that might be the best way to go about it. I’ve decided to marathon every WarGames match available on the WWE Network (most of the early WarGames matches were at house shows) and rank them from worst to best. Binging them in one go, I’ve found the match to be unique, but very flawed.
For most of its run, the rules to WarGames is simpler than the announcers let on. There are two teams of four or five. Two rings are covered by a low-ceiling cage. A member from each team enters and they duke it out for five minutes. After that, one guy enters every two minutes. The order is decided by coin flip. Once everyone is in the ring, the Match Beyond starts and they can finally figure out a winner via submission or surrender.
Because of the way wrestling works, the heels ALWAYS win the coin flip. Every time. Every single goddamn time. It builds a back-and-forth tempo for the faces to get their heat back, but the more I watch it, the sillier it feels. Yeah, you get an extra couple minutes with an advantage, but by winning the coin flip, you’re giving the face team the freshest entry. If this was a Royal Rumble, your opponent would have the #30 spot. Whatever.
Then there’s the whole “weakest link” factor, but I’ll get to that within the list. Now let’s get ready to rumble.
12. WCW NITRO 9/4/2000
Sting, Goldberg, Booker T, and Kronik vs. Vince Russo, Kevin Nash, Jeff Jarrett, and Scott Steiner
Despite being called “WarGames 2000,” this mess only has a scant resemblance to the classic match style. But I suppose that title is easier on the tongue than saying “Royal Rumble Capture-the-Flag Triple Cage Match for the WCW Championship.”
Like many Vince Russo concepts, this one starts off as novel enough, but continues on into being a gigantic clusterfuck of nonsense. The rules seem to be made up as they go with both members of Kronik getting one entry just because. There are two run-ins. Vince Russo is one of the participants. The whole match ends on a swerve.
At least the next entry on this list had the double ring going for it.
11. FALL BRAWL 9/13/98
Team WCW (Diamond Dallas Page, Roddy Piper, and the Ultimate Warrior) vs. nWo Wolfpac (Kevin Nash, Sting, and Lex Luger) vs. nWo Hollywood (Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, and Stevie Ray)
With the upcoming NXT take on WarGames, I welcome the format. The idea of turning it into a battle between three factions instead of two adds some much-needed unpredictability and options to the bout. If one team has two wrestlers in the ring and the other teams only have one, would that mean we’d get a desperate team-up to even the odds? You can do some interesting stuff with that and that’s why I think the initial idea of doing a three-way gang war between WCW’s faces, heels, and tweeners is a brilliant concept.
Even before the infamous final moments, the idea already falls apart. WarGames was always built on the danger of being stuck in a cage for a match that you could neither win nor lose until everyone was in the ring. Here, anybody could win at any time, meaning that one sly roll-up by DDP or Bret Hart in the opening minutes could have stopped the gimmick match cold.
And yes, there was no more “submit or surrender.” Now it was pinfall or submission. More importantly, it was a match where the winner would get a title match at the next PPV, meaning that it wasn’t a team-based match to begin with! Even Roddy Piper has no trouble attacking “teammate” DDP upon entering the cage. The only teamwork going on is Stevie Ray acting as a henchman for Hogan.
This all leads to a ridiculous ending where the Ultimate Warrior fills the ring with smoke, teleports into it, gets beaten up, teleports back to the entrance, runs out, and chases after Hulk Hogan. Somewhere in all of this, DDP wins after a botched Diamond Cutter spot.
10. FALL BRAWL 9/18/94
Dusty Rhodes, Dustin Rhodes, Brian Knobs, and Jerry Sags vs. Terry Funk, Arn Anderson, Bunkhouse Buck, and Colonel Robert Parker
In a way, WarGames is the opposite of Survivor Series. Survivor Series is about the two teams whittling away at the weak until only the strong survive. WarGames is about how a team is only as strong as its weakest link. That’s something that can keep you on the edge of your seat. Who is going to cost their team the victory? Which team of badasses is going to blink?
Going into this match, I knew that these guys weren’t the most promising performers (Dusty was great in his day, but 1994 Dusty?), but they were all hardened brawlers. More than anything else, the match built up Meng on the heel side as being an unstoppable monster who could take a chair to the head and casually wear its remains like a necklace while his sunglasses remained unscathed. How were the Nasty Dream supposed to contend with this guy?
Then they decided to ban Meng from taking part in this match and replaced him with the team’s manager Colonel Robert Parker. A non-wrestler. The most blatant weakest link you could have. Suddenly, the match lost all the wind in its sails and it became horribly obvious that the match was going to end with Parker surrendering while Meng was a non-factor.
9. FALL BRAWL 9/19/93
Sting, Davey Boy Smith, Dustin Rhodes, and The Shockmaster vs. Sid Vicious, Vader, Kane, and Kole
So. Good news on this one. Even though this is the year where the match has permanently gone from five-on-five to four-on-four, it’s still filled with heavy hitters. It’s WCW’s top heels vs. WCW’s top faces…and The Shockmaster.
I shouldn’t have to explain Shockmaster. We all know the incident. What is less known is that despite his debut torpedoing his career, he still lasted long enough to dominate at WarGames by being the final entrant. Within moments, Shockmaster got his arms around Kole (Booker T) and made him give up. All the while, Kane (Stevie Ray) and Sid (Brock Samson) just hung back and watched this go down, choosing not to do anything about it.
On the more positive side, Dustin Rhodes did a great job as the plucky babyface. Against the team’s orders, Dustin slid into the ring as the first entrant despite being injured. Even with Vader as his first opponent, Dustin still brought some hope to the table by weaponizing his boot and getting some good licks in.
Still, Booker T tapped to the freaking Shockmaster, which is probably his most embarrassing WCW momen–wait, no, there’s that time he said that thing.
8. GREAT AMERICAN BASH 7/23/89
Hawk, Animal, Bobby Eaton, Stan Lane, and Dr. Death Steve Williams vs. Michael Hayes, Jimmy Garvin, Terry Gordy, Fatu, and Samu
Now we’re getting to the truly fun stuff. I’m big into the line-up of this one because instead of overly-protected main eventers, we’re given a match that’s 90% tag players. Outside of the Road Warriors being so dominant, it comes off as a fairly even brawl where everyone is on the same level. Then you have Dr. Death showing some awesome fire throughout and it’s easy to get into it.
My main gripe comes from the ending. As mentioned, Hawk and Animal are very dominant and after annihilating Garvin with a top-rope clothesline out of nowhere, Hawk got him to give up to a hanging neckbreaker submission. All well and good, but after the match, Animal got jumped and beaten down by the heels. The faces came back to scare them off, but it just cheapened the whole thing.
It’s one thing to keep the feud going, but WarGames loses its luster as a deadly blow-off match when the losers can immediately react like they lost via roll-up.
7. GREAT AMERICAN BASH 7/4/87
Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, Paul Ellering, Hawk, and Animal vs. Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Lex Luger, Tully Blanchard, and JJ Dillon
The first showing of WarGames is a solid one, for sure. Within the first few minutes, Dusty Rhodes is already bleeding all over the ring and you get about twenty minutes of fun brawling. It’s really what it should be: the mold of a new match type. Others would take this basic approach and do it better, though for the most part, the differences would be few and far-between.
JJ Dillon eats it for the heel side due to taking a variation of the Doomsday Device that puts him on the shelf shortly after. Just a pitfall of having such a low cage ceiling.
6. GREAT AMERICAN BASH 7/31/87
Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, Paul Ellering, Hawk, and Animal vs. Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Lex Luger, Tully Blanchard, and The War Machine
Only a few weeks later, they redid the WarGames match, since it was a mix of touring and a series of closed circuit broadcasts. The big difference was that JJ Dillon was replaced by The War Machine, who I was completely surprised to find out was young Big Boss Man under the mask. I know Boss Man was a fat dude in his Twin Towers days, but War Machine looked like a palette swap of the Revolting Blob from Billy Madison.
The ending is a step up from the original as the surrender seems less abrupt (not that taking a Doomsday Device isn’t reason to give up). The face team is able to separate War Machine from the fray and attack him from all directions, culminating in Animal driving a spiked armband into his face. Yeah, that will certainly do it. The Horsemen remain protected despite losing, but War Machine doesn’t exactly look like a chump.
I mean, he DID look like a chump, but that was just visually.
In the end, WarGames was truly the specialty match for the Road Warriors. They were already nigh invincible, but they were always held back by rules and the fact that only one was supposed to be active in the ring at a time. Put them in a situation where they could work together and do whatever the hell they wanted and they were completely unstoppable. Hawk leaping over the double ropes was always a cool visual too.
5. FALL BRAWL 9/14/97
Ric Flair, Chris Benoit, Steve McMichael, and Curt Hennig vs. Kevin Nash, Syxx, Buff Bagwell, and Konnan
This was the last true WarGames and rocked due to its story and some strong performances. Even though the heels had the coin flip advantage and the Four Horsemen were potentially down a man, the faces were still mostly able to fight off their opponents despite the numbers game. If they weren’t screwed over, it would have logically been a bloodbath in their favor.
The angle going on was that free agent Curt Hennig was courted into joining the Four Horsemen and taking over Arn Anderson’s position as the Enforcer. Earlier in the night, he was laid out by the nWo. In the middle of the match, he came out with his arm in a sling, acted like he’s still going to fight in spite of the injury, then revealed he was perfectly fine and attacked the Horsemen with handcuffs.
Even though Hennig could have presumably just quit on behalf of his technical teammates, Nash demanded surrender from Mongo and Benoit or Hennig would destroy Flair’s head and neck with a cage door slam. They quit and Hennig became an utter bastard by doing the deed anyway.
4. FALL BRAWL 9/17/95
Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Sting, and Lex Luger vs. Zodiac, Shark, Kamala, and Meng
On one side you have an early-to-mid 90s Mount Rushmore of wrestling. On the other side you have a colorful reminder that wrestling is really, really stupid sometimes. Stupid as it is, it’s such a party of a wrestling match. Some of the biggest names in wrestling taking on some colorful monsters, all while everyone is wearing a little too much face paint.
Side note: Fall Brawl ’95 is one of Randy Savage’s best looks. That needs to be an alternate skin in the next WWE 2K game.
There’s enough of a story in there with Lex Luger being the guy that Hogan and the rest can’t completely trust and they even come close to blows. Then there’s the promise that Hogan can get his hands on Kevil Sullivan (who I’m still not convinced isn’t Jason Alexander doing Hogan cosplay) if his team wins, which leads to the Giant laying out the Hulkster.
It’s arguably the most fun WarGames match. The only drawback is that it’s really easy to confuse Savage and Zodiac at times due to their similar outfits and hair.
3. WRESTLEWAR 2/24/91
Sting, Brian Pillman, Rick Steiner, and Scott Steiner vs. Ric Flair, Barry Windham, Sid Vicious, and Larry Zbyszko
This one feels like there’s some actual thought put into it. For one, it’s the first four-on-four WarGames match and that works in the Four Horsemen’s advantage. They can actually compete as the Four Horsemen (sort of, with Zbyszko filling in for Arn) and not “Four Horsemen and Glass Joe” where Glass Joe is there to eat the loss and protect the team. It’s addition via subtraction and considering their ranks include giant, sweaty psychopath Sid Vicious, they’ve got their shit together.
On the other side, you have Brian Pillman. Pillman appears to be the one and only WarGames entrant who is affected by the format and succumbs to logic. Against the wishes of his partners, he enters first to get revenge on Barry Windham. Not only is he starting the match off, inviting about twenty minutes of endless punishment, but he’s doing it while obviously injured and covered in tape.
Put those two together and you have Sid absolutely maul Pillman in the end with a nasty botched powerbomb followed by a slightly better attempt where Pillman hits the ceiling. Then El Gigante has to run out and rescue the unconscious remains of Pillman as the match is called in favor of the Horsemen.
2. WRESTLEWAR 5/17/92
Sting, Nikita Koloff, Dustin Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, and Barry Windham vs. Arn Anderson, Bobby Easton, Steve Austin, Larry Zbyszko, and Rick Rude
Upfront, for the most part, this is another basic WarGames match. It’s the same format from the first installment and the second installment and presumably all the untelevised installments that featured guys like Cactus Jack and One Man Gang. That said, if your average WarGames is a song, then this is the best cover. Some of the best talent WCW’s ever had put on one hell of a performance that will keep your attention from start to finish.
The unease between Sting and Koloff is one of the highlights as it leads to the two nearly coming to blows, Koloff shoving Sting out of the way from an incoming attack, the two teaming up and coming out on top, then high-fiving to show that they finally trust each other. Totally excellent spot right there.
The ending is great, too. The Dangerous Alliance spend much of the match dismantling one of the corner posts and finally Zbyszko has a metal rod piece. Due to a miscommunication, he fails to hit Sting and instead gets Bobby Eaton right in the arm. Zbyszko is taken out and all that’s needed is for Sting to put on a mere armbar. Eaton easily gives up and the Dangerous Alliance is left arguing with Zbyszko while the winners leave the cage in celebration.
The faces do away with their inner conflict while the heels create their own.
1. FALL BRAWL 9/15/96
Lex Luger, Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, and Sting vs. Hollywood Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and “Sting”
If that last entry was a fantastic showcase of what WCW’s in-ring talent had to offer, this one is what WCW’s storytelling had to offer when the company was able to get it all together. While the New World Order angle never landed a satisfying ending, the opening chapter was on point, especially with this installment of WarGames.
As the story goes, the nWo had dominated WCW to the point that Sting and Lex Luger had aligned themselves with the Four Horsemen. In the lead-up to this four-on-four cage match, Luger was attacked by the nWo in the dark, which included a guy dressed as Sting. Since Luger, Flair, and Arn are untrustworthy, they don’t truly believe Sting when he claims his innocence. Meanwhile, Hogan, Nash, and Hall had yet to officially announce their fourth man.
The nWo’s fourth man appears to be Sting, though the production team is smart enough not to go too close on the camera angles for the most part. The real Sting arrives to clean house and rather than wipe out the nWo once and for all, Sting just yells at his so-called partners and storms off. Luger ends up getting torn apart until he gives up. His false accusations have become a self-fulfilling prophecy: Sting has turned his back on WCW.
It’s a truly kickass match to watch, even to this day, and everyone does their job well. If only WCW could have stuck by this level of quality, things would have been plenty different.
Gavin Jasper recalls the Marvel WCW comic having WarGames and it was basically just the Dangerous Alliance stomping on Tom Zenk. Good times! Follow Gavin on Twitter!