War Games – WCW’s Most Notorious Matches (Cert 18)
3 Discs DVD/ 2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 367 minutes approx.
For modern wrestling fans who get a kick out of the WWE’s Elimination Chamber match, TNA’s Lethal Lockdown match or even CZW’s Cage Of Death, you maybe surprised to learn that the origins of both those matches came from the mind of the American Dream Dusty Rhodes over twenty five years ago! Want to learn more? Then this is the disc for you – although, you’ll have to queue up behind the line of older fans who want to revel in the nostalgia of yesteryear with this definitive collection of some cast iron classic bloodbaths that rewrote the cage match rulebook.
Dusty Rhodes shares with us his recollections of how he came up with the concept for War Games match in order to consolidate the various feuds he and his babyface chums in Jim Crockett Promotions (later to become WCW) were embroiled in with the dastardly Four Horsemen in 1986/87. After seeing the film Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome Dusty was taken by the sight of a giant structure with a roof, which he felt would make a great visual for wrestling cage matches. Deciding one ring wouldn’t be enough, Dusty got permission to make his roofed cage structure big enough for TWO rings and thanks to the tireless efforts of former wrestler turned ring construction supervisor Klondike Bill, Dusty had his cage and War Games was born.
The rules are fairly straightforward: two men start off the match then after five minutes a coin toss which team has the advantage (spoiler: it’s ALWAYS the heels). A second man enters the match so it’s two on one for the next two minutes then the other team sends a man in. This continues every two minutes until all eight or ten men have entered the match then it’s “The Match Beyond: Submit or Surrender” (which in this instance surely is a tautology?) where the victory is earned by submission.
Every War Games match recorded by JCP/WCW (a number weren’t taped) is presented in the collection in chronological order from the first ever match at the Omni in Atlanta on July 4th 1987 as a part of the Great American Bash (when it was the name of a whole tour before eventually becoming a regular PPV event in 1989) to the final Russo-riffic version War Games 2000 on Monday Nitro on September 4th 2000. As added bonus we even get the infamous Tower of Doom match from the 1988 Bash, a confusing and clumsily executed triple cage match that failed to replace War Games and remained confined to the storage shed until Vince Russo (who else?) revived it at Slamboree 2000 and again for War Games 2000.
For those of you with the grainy bootleg video copies of the original Bash 87 home video, rejoice as both War Games matches are here for you to enjoy with improved clarity (although the commentary track hasn’t survived too well over the years on the first match). Both are brutal affairs, with the first featuring J.J Dillon having his collarbone broken by the Road Warriors, leading him to be replaced in the second match by the War Machine, who was Ray “Big Bossman” Traylor under a mask. Also included here, which may surprise some, is the 1997 match featuring Chris Benoit, who as we know is now persona non grata in WWE for obvious reasons.
Suffice to say these matches are exercises in full on brutality (Sid Vicious almost kills Brian Pillman – twice – in the 1991 match) and a lot of claret is spilled in the process, especially in the earlier matches. Quite how Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Dusty Rhodes and Tully Blanchard didn’t bleed themselves dry after competing in so many of these matches is a miracle. Arguably the bloodiest affair is the 1992 classic pitting Sting’s Squadron against the Dangerous Alliance. Blondies Barry Windham, Dustin Rhodes and Stunning Steve Austin all left the match with their hair literally coloured red from spilling so much blood everywhere. Aside from Dustin Rhodes in 1993, this would be the last War Games to feature crimson masks as the importance and draw of the match was losing its lustre in the eyes of then WCW head honcho Eric Bischoff.
This release shows the best and worst of the concept and how Dusty’s original vision was either watered down or compromised for the sake of other storylines. With no real feuds to carry them the match soon became “just another match” as the dead crowd and flimsy line-up for the lousy 1993 instalment perfectly demonstrates. Thankfully the arrival of the nWo gave it a much needed boost in 1996 but by 1998 the wheels had come off again, with the match that year being held to determine the next challenger for the WCW World title rather than settle a feud. It also features the risible Warrior debacle with Rick “Renegade” Williams dressed as the Warrior magically appearing through a cloud of smoke mid match to freak out Hulk Hogan.
Naturally, this being wrestling other promotions copied the concept as we see from the Blu-ray extras. The first ECW War Games style cage match from December To Dismember ‘95 has never before been released which explains the absence of a commentary track. This would have helped as every participant in the match had a personal stipulation attached to them should they take the pinfall. The entry from Smoky Mountain Wrestling is quite the rarity but unfortunately we only get the last few minutes of it, which may be for the best as it looks quite the shambles!
Regardless of what it became, War Games was a stroke of genius from Dusty Rhodes and during its most significant period gave us some classic matches and wonderful memories from when wrestling was a red hot spectacle before the showbiz factor took over. Kudos to WWE for bringing these gems out from the vault and sharing them with us again in what is a bloody great release!
English subtitles for the hard of hearing
Smoky Mountain Wrestling Volunteer Jam II May 9th 1993 – Rage in the Cage Match: Brian Lee, Jimmy Golden, Rock & Roll Express and Robert Fuller vs Kevin Sullivan, Killer Kyle, The Tazmaniac & The Heavenly Bodies (Tom Pritchard & Stan Lane)
ECW December To Dismember December 9th 1995 – Ultimate Jeopardy Steel Cage Match: Tommy Dreamer, Public Enemy & The Pitbulls vs Raven, Stevie Richards, The Eliminators & The Heavenly Bodies (Tom Pritchard & Jimmy Del Ray)
ECW Cyberslam 3rd April 1999 – Ultimate Jeopardy Steel Cage Match: Buh Buh Ray Dudley, D-Von Dudley & Mr. Mustapha vs New Jack, Axel Rotten & Balls Mahoney
War Games Fantasy Booking with Dusty Rhodes
Rating – **** ½
Man In Black
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