A treacherous battleground comprised of two rings encapsulated by chain link and steel. Two teams of five taking turns entering the fray one by one until all 10 combatants are fully engaged. A pivotal coin toss that invariably swings the pendulum of momentum from one side to the other. And then there’s, The Match Beyond. There are no pinfalls, no count outs and most definitely no disqualifications. It doesn’t get any more WCW than War Games.

Few gimmick matches offered the opportunity to create a psychological roller coaster the way War Games could. The team dynamic allowed for multiple stars to participate within the same match, exponentially increasing the stakes and providing the booker with an opportunity to insert layers of depth as the match progressed. Built-in high spots prevented the lengthy format from creating lulls in the action. The visual stimulation supplied by the unique structure was well ahead of its time and enhanced even the most basic physicality. All of this led to The Match Beyond, where the battle was decided by either submission or outright surrender.  

The inaugural War Games match was actually promoted under the banner of Jim Crockett Promotions; made necessary by the intense rivalry between Dusty Rhodes and The Four Horsemen. Held at The Omni in Atlanta, Georgia on Independence Day 1987, the match was an overwhelming success. Alas, even War Games weren’t enough to rescue JCP from years of sinking profits and crippling debt. Ultimately the company was sold to Ted Turner in the fall of 1988 and WCW was born. New management notwithstanding, the War Games concept was one of many things preserved by the new regime (though few were as justified) and would eventually become a staple of the company’s annual summer tour before landing a role at the Fall Brawl pay-per view in the mid 1990s.

WWE Network recently released a slew of War Games matches within its Collections series, capturing matches from 1987 through 1998. Whether you’re reliving the matches decades later or viewing for the first time, the intensity surrounding the War Games gimmick makes for an enjoyable experience (especially if you are a fan of the physical southern brand of pro wrestling). Few chapters of the innovative concept achieved the perfect combination of brutal intensity and compelling storytelling as took place inside the Jacksonville Memorial Coliseum in May of 1992. This edition of War Games was the main event of the short-lived Wrestle War pay-per view and pitted Sting’s Squadron (Sting, Barry Windham, Ricky Steamboat, Dustin Rhodes and Nikita Koloff) against The Dangerous Alliance (Steve Austin, Rick Rude, Larry Zbyszko, Bobby Eaton and Arn Anderson).

Four years before Scott Hall crashed and episode of WCW Nitro, instigating what would become the most notorious invasion angle in American pro wrestling, The Dangerous Alliance attempted to bring WCW to its knees with a hostile takeover coordinated by the dastardly Paul E. Dangerously. After being unceremoniously removed from his color commentator role in late 1991, Dangerously retaliated by secretly establishing a heel dream team for the direct purpose of creating chaos. After months of seemingly unrelated attacks against babyfaces like Sting and Windham, Dangerously’s calculated plan was revealed at Clash of the Champions XVII, laying the groundwork for the epic battle inside the infamous double steel cage.

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Aside from the greater narrative of WCW babyfaces joining forces to subdue the vicious heel posse, individual storylines between the combatants were established to create a more nuanced drama before the action culminated at War Games. Notable angles involving Sting and Rude, Austin and Windham and Steamboat and Rude particularly added fuel to the fire. At one point Dangerous Alliance members owned all major WCW championships, generating white-hot heat on the faction and making the possibility of an impending takeover feel real. Adding to the intrigue was an angle involving former rivals turned curious allies, Sting and Koloff, providing yet another layer of depth to the story. Subtle doubts as to Koloff’s true intentions were brilliantly peppered into the story; was the one-time notorious heel serving as a destructive secret agent at Dangerously’s behest or were his intentions pure? No one would know for sure until the ominous cage was lowered and the battle began.

The match itself was presented as a literal war; two armies battling with ultimate control of WCW hanging in the balance. All aspects of presentation were designed to enhance this sentiment. Everything from the dramatic reading of the rules, to hyperbolic commentary from Jim Ross and Jesse Ventura, to Dangerously’s outrageous ringside presence as a pseudo general (barking orders to his bloodthirsty warriors, desperately clenching a blueprint of the ring serving as his battlefield map and well-timed pronouncements of war in the way only Paul Heyman can pull off) created an explosive atmosphere that more than holds up today.

The live crowd’s emotional investment in the outcome is quite clear.  Valuable interest accumulated by the well-executed individual storylines allowed for perfectly timed high spots as each new fighter entered the cage; Ross’ commentary eloquently reinforces every aspect of these stories. With the coin toss landing in favor of The Dangerous Alliance (shocker) the heels enjoyed a man advantage throughout, squashing every comeback and brilliantly manipulating the audience’s emotions. Significant clashes in style and work rate that would hinder a match under normal settings were nullified by the cage match aspect of the event. Basic ground and pound offense complemented by gruesome cage spots were the order of the day. By the time the Match Beyond began, all participants were covered in blood, either their own or someone else’s. Dark patches of spilled blood stained both ring canvases and the cage itself appeared to be buckling from multiple human torpedo strikes; a perfect depiction of a metaphorical war.

As strong of a concept as War Games was, the outlined path to victory inherently lent to an anticlimactic finish more often than not; a member of one team decides he can no longer withstand the violence, verbally submits and brings the match to a sudden halt. Keeping in line with the crisp booking surrounding the angle, the 1992 version of War Games covered all bases, including a sensible and climactic finish (which I will not spoil – to the degree an event that took place 24 years ago can be spoiled).

The compelling episodic nature of the build, the delivery of strong performances by all involved and a rewarding finish makes War Games 92 one of the top angles produced by WCW in the 90s – certainly among the best of the pre-Bischoff portion of the decade. For those who prefer to experience an angle from start to finish it’s recommended that you watch Halloween Havoc 1991, Starrcade 1991, Superbrawl II and Clash of Champions XVII and XVIII prior to viewing the match (episodes of WCW weekly television are not currently available on WWE Network). That said, however, viewing the match in a vacuum takes little away from the overall experience, a testament to the skill of all involved in making War Games 92 come to life.