Tuesday, 09 July 2013 12:01
Who ever doubted the power of advertising? In the late 80s, the NWA created a gimmick match that had never been seen before in terms of scale or ambition. And they pushed it. Hard. On the road, NWA would transfer a huge double-caged structure with a roof from town to town to give fans a brutal and bloody match night after night. And it drew. Watching the early tapings of these matches shows how crowds liked the idea of the gimmick and were hot for it. Fans would come to see the shows just to see the War Games that they had heard so much about. It was a gruelling match that beat up the workers but it was a success at the box office.
Dusty Rhodes takes us through this three disc set in honest and frank style. This collection is as much his chance to eulogise about his creation, his concept, his baby - the War Games - as much as it is his opportunity to lament the direction that the business went in the 1990s under WCW.
Aside from Rhodes commentary and input which makes the collection interesting in a historical sense, this set is far from exciting. Some matches are long, poorly executed and end in anti-climactic - sometimes chaotic - fashion. The faces practically always win; the heels rarely react to losing and the announcing is often woeful, sometimes non-existent. In the ‘submit or surrender’ section of the match, no-one ever really seems to surrender. Star power, however, is strong here: Sting, Luger, Hogan, Rhodes, Road Warriors and Flair make up the backbone of this collection and should provide fans with enough intrigue to part with their money.
Creating the War Games
Rhodes talks about the inception of the War Games: he had been to see Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and had seen the idea for a caged fighting arena that had a roof. With the help of Klondike Bill, he excitedly mapped it out in a parking lot with a flash light after a show one night. It would be the first time that the cage would be suspended over the ring, to be lowered and it would have a roof. There’s passion and excitement in Rhodes’ eyes as he relives this in front of us.
We’re shown the War Games Match between The Super Powers (Dusty Rhodes, The Road Warriors, Nikita Koloff & Paul Ellering) vs. The Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Lex Luger, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard & J.J. Dillon) from the Great American Bash in Atlanta from July of 1987. Apart from the endless recapping of rules on commentary, this was a good match. There’s a lot of hardway blood that would go on to colour, literally, many of the matches on this first disk but the crowd are really hot. Arn Anderson and Dusty start things off and really know how to work but the match comes alive when Flair is in working with Dusty – two great workers who really knew each other and trusted each other. Interestingly, Hawk comes off as a major star in the finish; he works a comeback that is ferocious and uncompromising and looks like the hero of the team. The finish, as it is in many of these matches, is sudden as JJ Dillon submits.
Great American Bash on Tour
The finish in the previous match was actually due to Dillon breaking his collar bone, Dusty reveals. The replay reveals Hawk giving him a stiff clothesline that Dillon sells by flipping over but he lands awkwardly and immediately clutches his shoulder. When they took the show on tour, they did the same show most nights and it was the power of the Great American Bash that made the match an even bigger draw. Dusty remembers the period with utter fondness.
Dusty Rhodes, The Road Warriors, Nikita Koloff & Paul Ellering vs. The Four Horsemen & The War Machine from Miami in July of 1987 is largely the same match as the previous one, with many similar spots. It becomes more brutal and there’s even more juice, ending with The War Machine (Big Boss Man) being eye-gauged for the submission. The Orange Bowl is one hell of a venue for it and, like the previous match, the crowd are really hot for this. There is constant reaction from them and it creates a fantastic spectacle, of WrestleMania proportions. These early matches are worth seeing.
A Different Type of Animal
As the match starts to become separate from the Bash, they experimented with other methods of caged combat. The Tower of Doom, Dusty claims, was also a success. I seriously doubt it. This was a ridiculous concept, had little direction and looks precariously dangerous to say the least. It has to seen to be believed, actually.
We’re shown the Tower of Doom match between The Road Warriors, "Dr. Death" Steve Williams, Ron Garvin & Jimmy Garvin and Kevin Sullivan, Mike Rotunda, Al Perez, Russian Assassin & Ivan Koloff from the Great American Bash in July of 1988. This really is more of the Mad Max, sci-fi idea that Rhodes discusses at the outset of this collection. We spend minutes watching all the competitors climb the ladders to get to the top of the tower and once they’re there, because of the awful camera work, it makes pretty terrible viewing. Jim Ross really tries his best to put the match over and is tremendous here but even he can’t make a believer out of me on this one. The crowd were into it but not as much as the War Games with Hawk, once again, coming across as the super babyface.
War Games is something that really worked when you had factions appear, when all the individuals in the team had scores to settle with the opposing team members. Rhodes remembers here how hard it was to make this work on tour – these were brutal and raw matches. The fence would take a beating and was really only fairly rudimentary and so it took a serious toll on the workers. At this point, they’re really still trying to put across that this was a fight, not ‘sports entertainment’.
We’re then shown the match from the Great American Bash Tour in Greensboro, NC from July 1988. Dusty Rhodes, Lex Luger, Nikita Koloff, "Dr. Death" Steve Williams & Paul Ellering are up against The Four Horsemen but the match is completely dead. There is no commentary on this match and so where Jim Ross or Tony Shiavone would fill the spaces, here there is nothing. It feels really long as a result. It’s worth mentioning, though, how good Arn Anderson is at this stage of his career. He’s really Austin-esque at times: tough, combative, uncompromising, not to mention the middle finger he flicks at the crowd when he enters the cage at the outset of this match. Of course, as usual, the faces win here.
Rhodes remembers that these live events where there weren’t normally cameras were something else. Hawk he says, in particular, would be really stiff predominantly on people like JJ Dillon. Dillon would actually hide in the crack between the two rings for the majority of the match and the crowd would go nuts when his head would pop up half way through the match. Hawk would play on this by going down to ‘get him’ only to pop up 5 minutes later with a pair of pants, to try and sell the idea that Dillon was down there without any trousers on.
By the War Games Match from the Great American Bash in July 1989, cameras are now in the ring. This makes the whole thing far, far better as a spectacle to be appreciated at home on your TV. The Road Warriors, Midnight Express & "Dr. Death" Steve Williams are up against The Fabulous Freebirds & The Samoan Swat Team. This is a fun match and it’s great to see Rikishi this early in his career, before WWF took him on as part of the Headshrinkers. Jim Ross is on the announce team here which makes for a much appreciated improvement over the previous bout. Garvin submits to Hawk’s neckbreaker hold but after the match they hold the cage door shut as the babyfaces are outside and the heels go to work, mauling Road Warrior Animal. This was a nice twist and a far better way to book the match: beat the heels but keep them strong.
Rhodes discusses how the 90s lead to huge change: “corporate companies now run an industry that they knew nothing about.” This DVD is as much a chance for Rhodes to air his passion about these matches as it is an opportunity for him to vent his frustrations about the direction WCW took the business.
The War Games Match from WCW WrestleWar from February 1991 saw a refreshed line up. This time the Four Horsemen (now Ric Flair, Sid Vicious, Barry Windham & Larry Zbyszko) battle Sting, Brian Pillman, & The Steiner Brothers. It is the first heel win in the collection and is tremendous in places. Pillman’s conditioning is awesome; he starts off the 20+ minute match and works such an energetic performance. Sting is also awesome here – a breath of fresh air who acts as an appropriate foil for Flair’s smooth experience and Sid’s worrying stiffness (Pillman really gets killed by Sid at the end of the match with his powerbomb). Giant Gonzales (El Gigante) makes an appearance at the end as a babyface to carry poor Pillman away.
Rhodes agrees that the talent change helped these matches. You had an influx of real athletes into the company. Presumably he feels that way because Dustin was part of the roster at this stage, as ‘The Natural’. He works a good match in the War Games Match from WCW WrestleWar 1992: Sting's Squadron (Sting, Nikita Koloff, Dustin Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat & Barry Windham) squared off against The Dangerous Alliance (Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton, Steve Austin, Larry Zbyszko & Rick Rude). The match is full of good performances from the likes of Austin, Anderson and Rude but Steamboat is still in great shape in 92 and really knows how to tell a good story. They take a new direction here by taking apart the ring and use the steel behind one of the turn buckles to submit Windham with. A decent War Games match but these guys would be better in a different context.
The Almighty Dollar
Rhodes explains that money took over by the mid 90s and that now it wasn’t a case of booking a show using long term planning, it was more about throwing something together at the last minute. Now where have I heard that before? Therefore, War Games was now an event dusted off when they felt like it. Fall Brawl became the home of the War Games.
At WCW Fall Brawl 1993, Sting, Davey Boy Smith, Dustin Rhodes & The Shockmaster were against Sid Vicious, Vader & Harlem Heat. Interesting to see Tugboat in his old gimmick but sad to see Booker T in such a poor match. It started far too slowly and for a match that now wasn’t allowed blood, they used the cage far too much. The ending was supposed to see the Shockmaster submitting Booker (Kole) with a bear hug but Kane (Stevie Ray) was in position to make the save but Davey Boy Smith was out of position so the whole thing looked messy and the referee called it before it had really finished. It’s worth noting here that Bobby Heenan was really strong on commentary for this match when so often in WCW he was uninspired.
A Really Special Night
Dusty remembers WCW Fall Brawl 1994 as being a “really special night” but only because he wrestled with Dustin. The match was Dusty Rhodes, Dustin Rhodes & The Nasty Boys vs. Terry Funk, Arn Anderson, Bunkhouse Buck & Colonel Robert Parker. This was another poor War Games match. There was far too much posturing and not enough action and the Nasty Boys often looked clueless, not to mention stiff on Colonel Parker. Poor Parker takes such a hard cross body from Knobbs at the end of the match that he actually craps his pants – the cameras try to hide it at the end of the match when he submits but it’s clear because the gimmick (Colonel Sanders) means that he had to wear a plain white suit. The in-ring talent here is really weak.
Pride in Their Product
By 1995, Rhodes said that it was just a gimmick and it wasn’t what it was. At Fall Brawl 95 there was more intrigue about who might turn and whether Luger and Sting could get along than there was in the gimmick itself. The Hulkamaniacs (Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Lex Luger & Sting) took on The Dungeon of Doom (Kamala the Ugandan Giant, The Zodiac, The Shark & Meng) and you only have to look at the heel line up to know that this won’t be any good. Shark (Earthquake) starts the match, inexplicably, and is blown up within minutes of working with Sting. By the end, Zodiac submits from a camel clutch from Hogan but the camera isn’t on Beefcake when he taps. Hogan’s team also used some powder (no idea where it comes from) to try to confuse the heels and everything is rather weak and confused. This was a match that saw ex-WWF talent working with new gimmicks that were going nowhere. The nWo angle really did save this company.
Glimmer of a Fire
The nWo saw factions returning and obviously were unpredictable times for fans. By 1996, you were never sure what might happen on WCW television or who might turn up – just not knowing and the element of surprise made it all the more interesting. At Fall Brawl 96, a heel team win! Team nWo ("Hollywood" Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash & A Mystery Partner) took on Team WCW (Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Lex Luger & Sting). The mystery partner was of course nWo Sting – Jeff Farmer – in a gimmick that never really went anywhere. This was the first time that a referee was actually inside the cage but Nick Patrick clearly had no idea what he was being asked to do because early in the match when Scott Hall is choking Arn Anderson, he tells him that if he doesn’t stop, he’ll call for the bell. Heenan and Dusty are on co-commentary and to good effect. The finish sees nWo Sting and Hogan forcing Luger to submit with a combination of the Scorpion Deathlock and a reverse chinlock. Due to Team WCW doubting his allegiance, Sting abandons Luger, Flair, and Anderson shortly after entering and the match and it becomes a 4-on-3 handicap match. After the match, Randy Savage comes out to attack Hogan, only to be beaten down by the entire nWo. Elizabeth was also attacked after she came down to plead with Hogan to stop.
Pulling Out Every Stop
Rhodes puts over Eric Bischoff, and not for the first or last time in this collection. He said that Bischoff took talent from WWF who were in their prime (more likely end of their prime) and brought them in to do what they couldn’t have done in WWF. By this I assume he means storylines because, they could have had matches better than these under Vince.
Fall Brawl from September 1997 saw Team nWo (Kevin Nash, Buff Bagwell, Syxx & Konnan) vs. The Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Steve McMichael, Chris Benoit & Curt Hennig). It will be remembered for Hennig’s turn but at a time when everyone was turning and defecting to nWo, we will remember this match for the fact that Chris Benoit is involved. Benoit appears on a WWE DVD release for the first time in recent memory – he isn’t ignored, the commentary puts him over and he’s really one of the best things in this match. He dominates Konnan and Bagwell in the early stages and, later, when he is handcuffed to the cage (an over-used gimmick in these matches) he answers Nash’s offer of surrender on the mic with firstly, a spit and latterly, a loud ‘bite me!’ which is awesome. One of the best spots early in the match is when he suplexes Bagwell into the cage and just lets him clatter to the floor in a messy heap – it looks really painful; Benoit always had that awe of being such a danger when he was in the ring. Another heel win.
The Talent Made The War Games
In the past, Rhodes concedes, the War Games would make talent. The match would help put over new talent, strike up new rivalries and make new heroes out of babyface teams. But by 1998, the talent started to make the War Games. At the Fall Brawl of 1998 we were faced with three factions in WCW who needed to battle it out in the War Games match. As a result, pinfalls were allowed for the first time in this, the first 3 way. Team WCW (Diamond Dallas Page, Roddy Piper & The Warrior) vs. Team Hollywood ("Hollywood" Hulk Hogan, Stevie Ray & Bret Hart) vs. Team Wolfpac (Kevin Nash, Sting & Lex Luger) was the match.
The match was really a vehicle for Warrior to come in and get over but it didn’t come across as much and, by 1998, filling the ring with smoke so that Warrior could enter the ring, disappear and then needlessly re-enter, was not what fans wanted to see. Less comic book and way more exciting was when Warrior smashes his way out of the top of the cage with his feet at the end of the match to go and chase after Hogan. He stands on the top turnbuckle and pounds away at it so that he can get out but, he jumps down clearly lands awkwardly on his left leg and then has to hobble after Hogan. Easily the best thing about the match was ruined by Warrior not being careful. Sound familiar? Page, who was super over at this point, pinned Stevie Ray but this match wasn’t about him.
The End of the War Games
Rhodes mourns how War Games would become a name that was synonymous with anything that they wanted it to be by the end of the 90s. “Two Divas grabbing dollars in the ring would be War Games,” Rhodes jokes. The last match on this collection had nothing to do with War Games really. It is more reminiscent of the horrible Tower of Doom match from ’88: at the top of three cages was the belt hung, like in a normal ladder match. Participants started in a single ring, hand to climb a ladder to get to a trap door to get into the next cage. From there, they would have to leave the second cage, using the door, climb the rigging to reach the top of the three cages, stand up and take the belt. But it doesn’t end there. They would then have to climb back down, going past and through all the other wrestlers, so that they could walk out of the door at the bottom. Simple, right?
This was a messy as it sounds. Sting, Booker T, Goldberg & KroniK vs. Kevin Nash, Jeff Jarrett, Scott Steiner & The Harris Brothers was the match given away for free on Nitro on September 4, 2000. It is impossible to follow at times and I would imagine a TV director’s nightmare. Spots would happen off camera and the announce team had to fill us in and replays weren’t available. Vince Russo appears in a crash helmet halfway through, seems to want to help Nash, then doesn’t and then finally does at the end. Goldberg was the last entrant, was really hot with the crowd but gets cuffed to the ropes for the majority. He rips the cuff off at the end of the match when Booker T descends with the belt, annihilates everyone so that he can get to the door where Bret Hart, in street clothes, climbs the dasher boards to slam the door in his face. From there Nash picks up the pieces for the win. This was not the best way to close the door on War Games franchise.
Rhodes brings this DVD to an end by putting over the modern day evolution of his child, his baby, the War Games. The Elimination Chamber, he says, is an attempt to make War Games better and he argues that making things better is all that he was ever trying to do for the business.