WarGames. It is a concept that hasn’t been used in nearly 20 years, but next weekend a cage will contain nine men inside two rings one more time. As someone who was around 18 months old when the last official WarGames match took place, it was something I’d only ever heard of, but it was always something that was talked about as being legendary. The concept was designed by the late, great Dusty Rhodes, and became something of a signature match for the Four Horseman, especially in the early days. There have been thirty official WarGames under the WCW (and later by extension the WWE) banner, I have watched eight of them from throughout the years. I thought I’d put together this article to give people who, like me, had never experienced the concept before, an idea of what to expect.
How It Works
The best way I can describe it to people only familiar with the post-WarGames era of wrestling is as a cross between Hell In A Cell and the Royal Rumble. As previously mentioned, the match features one cage covering two rings, and usually two battling teams of four or five. Traditionally, two men start the match and slug it out for five minutes. After five minutes, there is a coin toss, and whichever wins the coin toss can send a member from their team into the cage, giving their side a 2-on-1 advantage. After two minutes, that advantage is nullified and it becomes 2-on-2. The teams alternate between sending a man in every two minutes, with the team who won the coin toss always retaining the advantage. When the last man has entered the cage, a period called “The Match Beyond” begins, which basically just means the match can now end. There are no disqualifications, and until the later versions there were no pinfalls either, meaning the match could only end when someone “submits or surrenders”.
Next weekend though, sees WWE tweaking the format somewhat. Instead of two teams of four or five, we will see three teams of three compete against each other. And as a consequence, instead of two men each representing their teams to start the match, three men will enter the cage before the bell, one from each trio. After five minutes, both remaining members of one team will be allowed to enter the cage, giving that team a 3-on-1-on-1 advantage. After another three minutes, not two, the remaining members of a second team will enter, making the numbers 3-on-3-on-1. And after a final three minute period, the last two men will enter the cage, meaning all nine men will be inside the structure at once. From there, the first man to secure a pinfall or submission will win the match for their team.
The first thing I noticed about the presentation of the match is that the commentators (often Jim Ross in the early days) really tried to put it over as the most dangerous match in wrestling. Now bear in mind that it predates Hell In A Cell by 10 years, and the Elimination Chamber by 15 years, and that is probably true. You know, if you discount death matches that as far as I know had never been shown on TV in the western world before then. In practice, the way that danger level manifested itself was through significant amounts of blood. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for more than half of the field to walk out a bloody mess.
Knowing that it was so far ahead of the Chamber and Cell matches, I also thought it was notable that WarGames used the steel mesh style of cage. I believe WWE used their big blue cages after WCW debuted WarGames, and the mesh certainly looks far more brutal than the blue bars. They would use this in the match – often what drew blood on an opponent was throwing them into the side of the cage, or grating their foreheads against the steel. In something that I imagine will be changed, the roof of the cage was quite low. Low enough in fact, that there wasn’t room for anyone to stand on the top rope, never mind jump off it. They were creative enough to hold on to the roof of the cage and swing off it, but it also caused issues (as seen above) for moves like powerbombs that require someone to be above head height. As I say though, I can’t imagine that won’t be changed in 2017.
In theory, it is an extremely tactical match format. On one hand, having the numbers advantage allows you to inflict more damage on your opponents, making them more vulnerable to losing in The Match Beyond. On the other, being at a numbers disadvantage gives you the fresh man coming in last, who could theoretically do the most damage in the most important period. There’s also the question of entry order – who can be trusted to last the whole match and not give up at the end? Do you go with a workhorse who can take high levels of punishments and keep going? Do you go with a powerhouse who is capable of inflicting the most damage by themselves? Do you risk your star name being taken out early in the match or do you save them for later? Is putting someone in last a sign they are seen as the weak link in a team? There are so many different stories that can be told from the entry order alone.
That being said, this match has the potential to make a star. The best opportunity I saw for this was at WrestleWar 1991: The Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Barry Windham, Sid Vicious and Larry Zbyszko) vs The Steiner Brothers, Flyin’ Brian Pillman and Sting. Pillman was the only high flyer in the match, and went into the show injured after a recent attack at the hands of his opponents. Before the match started, as the rest of his team grouped together to discuss strategy, Pillman ran into the cage to start the match. He fared well in the early going, but was soon stopped in his tracks when the Horsemen won the coin toss. Had he kept battling through after being beaten down time after time, and eventually won the match for his team, the impression I got (albeit watching without any further context) is that he could have been catapulted to the next level as a result. Equally, can you imagine how much this match could put over someone like Braun Strowman? Being able to tear through four or five men, inside a cage where they have nowhere to run to, often being outnumbered – it’s the kind of match that is made for a monster.
Unfortunately though, I found that kind of character development never really got the chance to get going. Once the ring filled up, more often than not the personal grudges went out the window, and the big spots were put on hold – that they were waiting for the final stage of the match was palpable. Think of a Royal Rumble when there are eight or nine people in the ring: nothing of any note really happens, and only serves to give a big name entrant a run of eliminations. When you don’t have the ability to eliminate people, it just stagnates and the match loses momentum. That might even be fine if it was put over as them saving their energy for the most important stage, but the commentators would be calling the downtime just as brutal as the rest – which it plainly wasn’t. It should really build to that final entrant, but either things were so cluttered around that neither side had the advantage, or the final entrants were managers that were realistically only there to lose.
I guess what I’m saying is that it is very easy for this kind of match to become very messy. It’s easy to overbook these kinds of things, and the key appears to be keeping a clear, strong overriding narrative throughout the whole match. If not, all you will get is a lot of action that only serves to distract from each other, with the crowd, commentators and cameramen not knowing what to focus on and as a result nothing becomes memorable.
The 2017 edition between Sanity, The Undisputed Era and the alliance of Roderick Strong and the Authors of Pain is going to be slightly different stylistically to most other WarGames matches. Only once before has there been three trios against each other. On that occasion, competitors entered the match one at a time after two people started the match, and to be honest by the end I couldn’t tell who was in which team. There were also shenanigans that affected the end of the match, but really not in a good way. Those are the kinds of things I mean when I talk about the match becoming messy, but I think the rules changes will help WWE avoid those pitfalls.
What To Expect
And looking at how NXT’s multi-person/team matches have been put together, I’m not at all worried that next week’s incarnation of WarGames will fall into that messy trap. I reckon there is too much talent there for it to go wrong (not to take anything away from, for example, the likes of The Four Horsemen vs The Dangerous Alliance), and if there is a weak link in the match as a whole it’s also fairly easy to protect them.
I would imagine the Authors of Pain will enter the match together, which would mean Roderick Strong starts the match. It’s more difficult to tell who will go where for the other trios, but my instinct is that Eric Young will open the match for Sanity, and one of Fish or O’Reilly will start for the Undisputed Era. It must be said, I have a vision of how the match will go, but I don’t really have any basis for why. If the Undisputed Era are the first full trio in the cage, they can dominate their two opponents using the numbers game. But when the second full team has entered the match, I don’t think they will be hurt too much, because suddenly they’ll have four opponents. If the goal is to make Roderick Strong the big face coming out of this match, the Authors of Pain should enter last to emphasise how alone Strong is – and to have him suffer the most out of anyone.
I can quite vividly picture a scene where the Undisputed Era are caught between the other two trios, and for a while face a 3-on-6 situation. But I also think they have to come out on top. Since debuting, they haven’t actually had that many matches, though they have certainly made their mark. Considering how early it still is in their run, they probably need the win most. There is also a part of me, seeing how the match can work and knowing NXT’s penchant for doing big angles on TakeOver shows, that wouldn’t be surprised if Roderick Strong finally does join the Undisputed Era. We’ll have to wait and see.
I realise there have been a lot of politics around why the match hasn’t been seen for so long, and there will be those who object to the timing of it’s return, but I for one am really excited to see what happens next Saturday. This could be chaos of the highest quality, the match we come out of Survivor Series talking about if it’s done right. It could be a fantastic spectacle, and a very useful concept for them to go back to in the future. After all, last year NXT used the sharkcage and Mickie James, and in January this year both of them found their way to the main roster. Who’s to say if WarGames goes well next Saturday, we won’t see it on a PPV at some point in 2018?