It was only a little over three years ago that NXT resurrected War Games, but given the current world climate the idea of going to a Wrestling show with thousands of fans in attendance never mind flying trans-Atlantic to do so seems rather quaint and of the past in 2020. Of course, the main reason for my trip was the Survivor Series show than would happen the following night. But as a long-time WCW fan and advocate of just how great War Games could be as a concept, it was certainly a Brucie Bonus that my trip would include that Double Cage extravaganza.
Such was the excitement, after some internal back and forth with myself, I made the decision. I was going to go VIP. And with NXT this was no ordinary VIP where an expensive ringside ticket comes replete with a seat that would have been a nightmare to get back home (even more so considering after leaving Houston my trip was continuing to Dallas). So whilst I may not have been purchasing a seat to take home with me, I was getting the promise of so much more.
Not only was there the promise of an early trip to the merch stand but a peek backstage, some exclusive meet n greets, the chances to watch the event from a VIP suite with food and drink supplied and the opportunity to step out onto the rampway and get a little taste of what it is like for the WWE superstars to make their way into the arena.
The fun and games started early, as a mid-afternoon walk around the outside of the arena saw a chance meeting with Pat Patterson. A quick photo opportunity was a must (his security man seemed baffled that the guy he was looking after was someone worth having a photo with) and then it was off to the VIP queue. Some of the two dozen or so people on this experience had clearly been to this rodeo before. Some had come prepared with a4 folders full of pictures and trading cards of every NXT name under the sun (a must considering there was no indication of which superstars you would meet). After thankfully being on WWE’s list, I spent a good few minutes wondering where I recognised a girl from another queue before realising that it was the one and only Izzy.
After being ushered inside through a private entrance there was a bit of waiting around combined with an opportunity to visit the merch stand without any queues. It’s not much of a “selling point” I suppose but it did mean that all the weekend’s necessary purchases (including Survivor Series related ones) could be made without a fuss. After numerous warnings that from this moment until we reached the VIP suite that all camera photography was a no-no, we were led through a rather circuitous route to the fabled backstage area.
The first thing that hit me was that even though, when you think about it, you know just how big an operation it is to put on a PPV/Network show you can’t really quite appreciate it until you are wandering around backstage as hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment is being set up and producers and other non-wrestling employees are scuttling around. Other than the odd random sighting of the likes of Ruby Riott there wasn’t really much more to it beyond amazement at the sheer scale of it but there was no denying the feeling of excitement of the group as we were led towards “Gorilla”.
Of course now it seems as if every WWE Network documentary is not worth it’s salt unless it gives us a peek at Gorilla, but even though it is obviously a new set up in every arena, just being there and thinking back to some of the craziest, heartfelt and controversial moments in WWE history was certainly an experience I would never forget. Neither was stepping from there through the curtain and onto the rampway to the adulation of thousands of fans. Well, ok, maybe not. The fans who were in at that time were probably wondering who on earth we all were. But if you’d have told the ten year old me that one day I would walk out into the arena, down the rampway, at a WWE event I wouldn’t have believed you. You could certainly believe why so many wrestlers would continue to chase that buzz long after they might have been better walking away.
Going back through Gorilla, Pat Patterson (again) and Mauro Ranallo was in there preparing for the show (Mauro was on top form and a great guy) before our little taste of the forbidden world of the WWE backstage was over and we were on our way to our VIP suite.
Free (soft) drinks and nibbles were provided. We were told that at various points in the evening that NXT Superstars would be brought up to the suites and would pose for pictures and sign autographs. The odd thing, I suppose, was that these guests showed up during the show which meant time away from watching the actual matches. We weren’t short-changed with the names though.
Zelina Vega and Andrade Almas were first up and although Almas didn’t appear to speak much English, both were very friendly. Sonya Deville, who was mere days away from her main roster call up had something of an intimidation factor around her which I’ll take as being a good heel rather than any fault of mine! Although not on the main card, she had wrestled earlier in the evening as part of the subsequent NXT TV, in losing effort to Ruby Riot. Johnny Gargano was chatty, I was able to pass on the praise to Aleister Black after his match on the show and talk to him about his shots for Progress and then wouldn’t you know it you fly 5,000 miles for a meet n greet to be, well, met by the Brit lads in the form of Pete Dunne, Moustache Mountain, Mark Andrews and Wolfgang. Dunne had retained the UK Title in a great match against Johnny Gargano in another NXT TV Taping match.
All of the above excitement meant that part of the undercard of the show was missed and it wasn’t until getting back to the hotel that I could watch the show without interruption.
Kassius Ohno against Lars Sullivan was exactly what it needed to be (and was a very good carry job by the ever underutilised Ohno) as an opener and Aleister Black’s match against Velveteen Dream was an unexpected (to some extent) cracker that was aided by a white-hot crowd. A four-way for the (vacated by Asuka) NXT Women’s Championship between Nikki Cross, Kairi Sane, Peyton Royce and Ember Moon was a fast-paced affair which made the most of what they were given. I’m still not quite sure what went on in the closing moments of the NXT Title match between Drew McIntyre and Andrade Almas, but as noted before it was a thrill to see a man I’d met just an hour or so before lifting the title. Perhaps he got extra inspiration from me.
And then it was the main event. Of course, it would be easy to say that this wasn’t “War Games” in the traditional sense. And you’d be right to say so. But you couldn’t really complain about the action that we got. This was the one match of the show, live, that the VIP guests could give their full attention to and it was well worth it. Maybe it never quite threatened to surpass the best of the War Games matches that the NWA/WCW gave us, but it certainly proved worthy of being put in the same company.
The “once in a lifetime” cliché abounds in any type of fandom. Having done WrestleMania (18 and 19) before it became the cool thing to do, it was always going to be a thrill to make it to a Survivor Series. That I could witness an NXT Takeover AND the return of War Games was a great bonus. Getting to watch the show from a VIP suite and chat with a number of wrestlers as well as getting a sneak peek of backstage and the chance to walk out into the arena through Gorilla meant that this was one wrestling experience I will never forget.
You can find me on Twitter @IWFICON