With Takeover: War Games just around the corner, Matthew Roberts takes another trip back in the TWM Time Machine to give his opinion on the 5 greatest War Games matches.
If there was one WCW “gimmick” that long-term fans always wished that WWE would bring back into circulation it was War Games. I was one of those fans; imagine my delight then in 2017 when a long planned trip to Survivor Series coincided with NXT resurrecting that gimmick for their Takeover event the night before; ok, so it wasn’t really War Games in the traditional sense but it was still an excellent match and it was obviously a success because the match it back this year (slightly tweaked in terms of teams/numbers from last years).
Of course one has to admit that the aura and anticipation that War Games builds up in most people’s minds comes from the early years of the gimmick in NWA and WCW. Once Eric Bischoff and, shudder, Vince Russo got their hands on it it started to become something of a parody. But the best matches still retain their power and intensity when watched today and I’ve trawled through the back catalogue to bring you what I consider to be five of the best.
5) The Nasty Boys, Dusty & Dustin Rhodes vs. Terry Funk, Bunkhouse Buck, Arn Anderson & Col. Robert Parker – Fall Brawl 1994
Ok, I know what some of you might be thinking; a match from 1994, that includes Bunkhouse Buck and Robert Parker, the past-it Dusty Rhodes and Terry Funk who had already retired at least seventeen times by this point in his career. That doesn’t sound all that promising. And I’ll admit that there is a certain bias in the inclusion of this match. After all, Terry Funk would be in my top 5 of all-time. But whilst this might not quite hold a candle to the other matches that come higher up in my list there is more to this than simply another legendary display of madness from the Funker (who, let’s face it was still three years or so from being ECW Champion AND a further year or so away from throwing himself about in a Dumpster Match at WrestleMania).
The lack of blood hurts this one a little, I would have to admit, and there is a sense that this is safely playing within the usual formula, but for all that there is still an intensity and aggression in this one that is very entertaining. Highlights include Arn Anderson getting his head stuck between the rings, the attempts to break Dustin Rhodes’ arm, Funk taking a piledriver BETWEEN the rings and the ever obvious ending of the non-wrestler (Parker) taking the loss. It may not have the drama and the “star names” that it’s earlier counterparts had but it perhaps remains the last great WCW War Games match.
4) The Road Warriors & The Midnight Express & Steve Williams Vs Fabulous Freebirds & The Samoan Swat Team – Great American Bash ’89
So you may have to get past the strangeness of seeing Jim Cornette accompanying the babyface team but even if that sight disorientates you slightly, you’ll soon be caught up in the action. There’s a satisfying amount of hatred in the air here, which can be seen by the heels trying to reach into the cage to hit Bobby Eaton even when really they can’t get their hands on him. Another early highlight is Steve Williams press-slamming Terry Gordy into the roof of the cage seven or eight times.
The build up throughout the match is really for the big pay off of Hawk entering the match last for this team; indeed the last man for his opponents, Michael Hayes, even delays his entry into the match to taunt Hawk on the outside. Of course once Hawk gets into the match he pretty much lays out everyone en route to smashing Jimmy Garvin with a clothesline and a neckbreaker before a collectors item of him making Garvin tap out to a Hangman submission.
From this distance this match perhaps doesn’t have the “star power” throughout that the matches that follow it in this list have; it also perhaps doesn’t seem as much of a “big” match as some that would follow it. Nevertheless it’s an exciting match and one that plays the crowd perfectly; they want Hawk to come in and kick some ass…and that’s exactly what he does.
3) Sting, Brian Pillman, Rick Steiner & Scott Steiner vs. Ric Flair, Larry Zbyszko, Barry Windham & Sid Vicious – Wrestle War 1991
This was the first War Games match I ever saw. It captivated me as much then as it does now. It’s a fantastic all-round effort. First of all there are a number of rivalries coming together in this one; we all know about the history between Sting and Ric Flair, but Scott Steiner had his issues with Flair (taking him all the way at the previous Clash of the Champions) and the Steiners had their issues with Barry Windham and Arn Anderson in the tag ranks (although Larry Zbysko replaced the injured Arn here).
It starts like a house on fire as Brian Pillman ignores the advice of his captain and enters first for his team; he puts in a great effort (including getting the advantage with a blatant low blow which emphasises that even the faces will do what it takes in a match like this) before the numbers game takes over. The high octane action continues with a particular highlight being the face team locking on Quadruple Figure Four action. There are lashings of blood (Flair and Windham in particular wear crimson masks) and lots of hard-hitting action. The only real problem, and what means the match sits at number three in this list and not slightly higher, is the finish. Everyone remembers Sid legit knocking out Brian Pillman with a powerbomb (the low height of the cage root means Pillman’s feet hit it and he ends up taking the bump straight on his head) but it’s hard viewing to see Sid give him another powerbomb anyway, and El Gigante running, well walking, out to beg the referees to stop the match is an anti-climax to say the least. But the last minute or so shouldn’t detract from the awesomeness of what came before.
2) Road Warriors, Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff & Paul Ellering vs Arn Anderson, Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, Lex Luger & War Machine – Great American Bash ’87
In 1987, the Great American Bash was a tour event that had a number of different cards. Amongst these were the first two War Games in the history of the match. In the interests of fairness I have limited myself to making a choice between the two of them, and whilst the first which took place on July 4th and pitted Dusty Rhodes, The Road Warriors, Nikita Koloff & Paul Ellering against Ric Flair, Lex Luger, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard & J.J. Dillon was a cracking match, I’ve gone for the second once which took place at the end of that month in Miami. (Incidentally, there would be other War Games matches in 1987 and in 1988 there were 11 during the Great American Bash tour, sometimes happening on consecutive nights!)
If you want blood, this match has it. If you want brutality, this match has it. The double team moves that are on display are highly innovative for the time. The conclusion is top notch too. Paul Ellering (who would play a part at ringside in the first NXT War Games match) entered the ring with a wristband full of metal spikes, a weapon that Road Warrior Animal used against War Machine (who you will recognise as the future Big Boss Man) making the submission a formality.
1) Sting’s Squadron (Barry Windham, Dustin Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, Ricky Steamboat and Sting) Vs The Dangerous Alliance (Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton, Larry Zbyszko, Rick Rude and Steve Austin) – Wrestle War 1992
This isn’t just the greatest War Games match of all time. It’s one of those matches that I would have on that “Desert Island DVD” of my favourite matches ever. First of all it’s got a genuine feud behind it; The Dangerous Alliance have been make the lives of WCW babyfaces a merry hell and so this feels like a match where Sting’s Squadron simply have to get their opponents within the confines of the War Games structure to settle the issue.
The action starts at a furious pace, with Steve Austin and Barry Windham, and rarely lets up for nearly 25 minutes. There’s numerous sub-plots and feuds going on, which adds layers to the overall storyline. There’s blood and guts galore and even those stationed at ringside (Paul E Dangerously and Madusa) play their parts well and add to the drama. You can quite easily get caught up in this match and forget that this is not “real”. In fact you’d swear blind that these two teams utterly detest each other and will pull out everything that is necessary to take the win. That the babyfaces take the win, and the feud in essence, just tops everything up superbly. Not only the best War Games match ever, but one of the best matches in WCW full stop.