Monday, 6 April 2015

War Games - WCW's Most Notorious Matches

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 369 Minutes
Certificate: 18
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: July 1 2013

As someone who has primarily watched the WWF/WWE and who only caught bits and pieces of WCW when it was in business, there were many key moments from the latter company that I never saw at the time. Even as WWE began releasing DVDs featuring such incidents, there was still one group of matches from WCW history which, by and large, I had never seen and only knew a little bit about, and that was War Games, a stipulation invented by Dusty Rhodes (who is the talking head before matches here). This DVD finally provides the chance to see War Games in all its glory.

For those unfamiliar, War Games was a NWA/JCP/WCW creation which saw a roofed steel cage cover two rings. The match saw two teams of five, mainly, head into battle with one man on each team starting and fighting for five minutes. Then, after a coin toss, another wrestler off one team enters (usually from the heels; actually, it was always someone from the heel team). Two minutes later, a wrestler off the other team enters. Then two minutes later a third man off the first team goes in and so on, until everyone is in. At this point, the door locks and you have The Match Beyond; only now can someone win, which happens when one man surrenders or submits, and his team then loses.

It sounds a bit complex, but it's easy to follow once in progress. The key thing is that, whilst the entry parts can't end the match, they do involve a lot of brutal, bloody action, so it isn't uncommon for many entrants to be bleeding by the end. Plus, as Dusty notes, when it debuted in 1987, at the time The Four Horsemen were running roughshod in the NWA/JCP, so each member of a babyface team would have a score to settle with at least one adversary from the opposing faction. It all meant one huge, violent brawl, something very different from what the WWF was providing at the time. One can understand its appeal in the late 1980s.

This DVD begins with two 1987 War Games bouts from the Great American Bash tour (TGAB was a summer tour of shows back then). Dusty explains that these matches were recorded for video but weren't on TV because War Games was an experience you had to see in person. Both matches are very similar; they aren't about spots, although there are some big moves. They are more about fighting, action, violence, bloodshed. Both are engaging but a little hard to watch due to poor production values. Another bout from 1988 follows with roughly the same personnel, give or take a couple of names.

Before then, we get a Tower Of Doom match from the 1988 Great American Bash (now a PPV). This is a triple-decker cage and has slightly different rules. It's enjoyable and the better production makes the viewing experience a lot better, but the rules are almost impossible to follow; it would require a full article from me to explain it, so I'll just suggest that you try to just enjoy it and not think about it when watching. Disc one ends with a War Games from the 1989 Bash which lacks blood but has more exciting moments of actual wrestling and is a really good match, actually.

The Horsemen weren't in that one, but a newer version appears in the opener to disc two from Wrestle War 1991 (which begins the trend of 4-on-4 War Games matches). I liked this match although the lasting image is a nasty one of Sid Vicious almost breaking Brian Pillman's neck with an attempted powerbomb. Beforehand, though, Dusty says that the concept was starting to move away from his original version; as an occasional PPV attraction, and without factions like the Horsemen, he states that the match started to lose its lustre. That being said, the next match from Wrestle War 1992 between Sting's Squadron and The Dangerous Alliance is one of the best of this type: it is chock-a-block with activity, has a strong crowd reaction, plenty of blood and includes several spots which take advantage of the caged environment unlike those before it.

The following clash from Fall Brawl 1993 is when some say the stipulation began to really suffer. I didn't think I was that bad, although it wasn't as good as those before it. The 1994 clash feels like a mid-card match although it does see Dusty and his son team in the American Dream's creation (by the way, Dusty tells a funny story before this match which provides a moment to look out for, in a way, in this bout). The 1995 meeting sees War Games debuts for big WWF names like Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, but it's largely uneventful and it becomes clear that War Games had now changed from what it had been.

The next two matches are from the nWo vs. WCW rivalry and, for that reason, have more purpose to exist and provide more lively bouts as a result. The 1998 Fall Brawl clash is something else: a star-studded 3-way meeting of teams of three, with a World Title shot at stake for one winner. It is good, bad and ugly all at once; it is definitely worth seeing, if not for the reasons that those involved would have hoped for, and if you research online the back story of this scrap, you'll enjoy it even more. But even for the mistakes and occasional daftness, it's still better than the incredibly confusing War Games-rules triple-decker cage match from 2000, which ends the DVD and can only be described as an absolute clusterf--k (sorry, but it is).

Dusty's talking spots are worth watching as they provide context and include a few intriguing stories. (By the way, there is a hidden "Easter Egg" on disc one where Dusty compares War Games to the Royal Rumble; to access it, go to the second chapters page on disc one and press right on the penultimate match until a WWE logo appears and then click on it.) The Blu-ray includes a few War Games-style matches from SMW and ECW which is a nice twist; I would have liked to have seen the other triple decker cage bouts from WCW here too, especially since the DVD would have had plenty of running time left to include them.

This is an unusual DVD for me. The best matches are from a time period where the production values are gritty and make them hard to watch. By the time the visuals are of a more acceptable standard, the match quality and storylines have largely decreased. And besides the nWo plot developments, the last few matches are largely confusing. Plus, the earlier matches are very repetitive, and the same general story applies to almost every War Games match; it'd be wrong to say that if you've seen one then you've seen them all, but it isn't too far off. Also, many War Games bouts quickly end once the final entrant comes in. And while the idea of making War Games something that you had to pay to see makes sense, it means that many were not recorded and thus couldn't be here, and by the time it regularly featured on PPV, the consensus is that the stipulation's glory days had passed.

And yet War Games is lauded as one of the all-time great wrestling stipulations and, as this DVD shows, rightfully so. It was the ultimate battlefield, at a time when many fans perceived wrestling and its feuds as being real, and before the likes of Hell In A Cell and Hardcore matches. As a grudge match where all hell broke loose, this was a perfect stipulation, and the matches pitting the Horsemen against teams led by Dusty or Sting are great in emphasising this. The 1989 match is good for the action, and the 1992 clash is a tremendous fight involving another faction (The Dangerous Alliance). And the nWo matches are enjoyable for different reasons, as they both play big roles in that amazing storyline of 1996-7.

WCW folded in 2001, and at no point since then has the WWF/WWE decides to finally stage a War Games match. Various reasons are given as to why, the rumour being that Vince McMahon doesn't want to use a "Dusty Rhodes idea" that he didn't invent. The best chance of it happening would have been in the mid-2000s when Raw and SmackDown were split and creating an inter-brand rivalry of star talent to end in War Games, before WWE went PG, would have been great. Instead, it never happened, and probably never will ... or might it?

At a time when Hell In A Cell and Elimination Chamber have lost some of their appeal, it could be an ideal time to bring back War Games as a "new" WWE match. The cage itself could be modernised to look more threatening and different to the likes of HIAC. The rules could be tweaked to require entire eliminations of teams to make it a bit different. The extra ring could be brought down the aisle and built prior to the main event, which it would be. The 1989 match proved that a PG War Games would work. And, with Sting finally in WWE and with The Authority as a ruling heel group, what better scenario than a modern-day Sting's Squadron (perhaps consisting of Sting, Roman Reigns, Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan and John Cena) against The Authority (Triple H, Seth Rollins, Kane, Big Show and a new member in Rusev)? And where better to have it than at Extreme Rules where anything goes, or at Survivor Series where multi-man combat has ruled since 1987, which ironically was the year that War Games debuted?

Whether WWE ever holds a War Games match or not, though, this anthology of the stipulation is still enjoyable. I would recommend that you space out your viewing of the matches as they can be very repetitive, more so than on most other match stipulation DVDs, but you should find this release to be a good one regardless. And there are a variety of people that you'll recognise, a large number of whom you'd never have known were in a War Games (including Roddy Piper, The Nasty Boys and even Kamala). It is full of bloodshed, though, even if you rarely see actual violent moments. Simply put, if you own the compilations for Steel Cage, Hell In A Cell and Elimination Chamber matches, this round-up of War Games will complete your structure-enclosed collection.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good

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