In 1987, following a viewing of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Dusty Rhodes came up with the basic idea for the War Games match. Two teams, two rings, one cage. The idea turned into a match that has endured for decades. Now, for the first time since WCW shut its doors, the War Games match returns to the big stage at NXT Takeover. In the years since WCW closed, several wrestling companies have stepped in to keep the legacy alive. Over the next several days, Voices of Wrestling will take a look back at War Games and the many matches it inspired.

Part One: JCP Era

 

Great American Bash
July 4, 1987

The Road Warriors (Road Warrior Hawk and Road Warrior Animal), Nikita Koloff, Dusty Rhodes, and Paul Ellering

vs.

The Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Lex Luger, Tully Blanchard, and James J. Dillon)

Drew Wardlaw

Drew Wardlaw

Co-host of Burning Spirits, an indie-centric puro podcast on the VOW Podcast Network.

The first ever War Games match took place on July 4, 1987, as a major attraction on the Great American Bash tour. Jim Crockett Jr. had announced the match, originally referring to it simply as “The Match Beyond” before later explaining the War Games concept, on an episode of NWA Pro earlier in June, and set up the match as a way to try to slow the momentum of the Four Horsemen. Up to that point, The Four Horsemen had been dominating the promotion as an elite faction who would stop at nothing to win. The team would be made up of the four members of the group plus their manager. Ric Flair, as the World Champion, had been feuding on and off with Dusty Rhodes for the better part of three years, splitting his time up in 1987 with matches against Nikita Koloff, among others. For Dusty’s part, he was embroiled in an credibly heated feud with Tully Blanchard, the World Television Champion at the time, involving a stolen $100,000. Arn Anderson was having a quiet in ring year so far, mostly focusing on his role as “The Enforcer” outside the ring and teaming with Blanchard. He helped maintain the Horsemen’s status as a group who would win at any cost. Newest member Lex Luger was trying to prove his worth in a feud over the US Title with Nikita Koloff. Last, but certainly not least, James J. Dillon constantly made his presence known outside the ring with his dirty tactics and cheap shots.

The opposing team was formidable to say the least. Comprised of the two previous Crockett Cup winners, The Road Warriors, and the Super Powers (Nikita Koloff and Dusty Rhodes) along with Paul Ellering, they were the biggest and best Jim Crockett could find.

The crowd heat was immediately off the charts and stayed that way for the entire match. At some points, either due to poor production or overwhelming cheers, the commentary was mostly inaudible. Rhodes and Anderson were the first two competitors ever in a War Games match, and Dusty immediately established the brutality of the match by hitting Anderson with a low blow and scraping Arn’s face across the roof of the cage, leaving him a bloody mess. Part of the genius of the War Games rules is that each time a new member comes in it creates a dramatic shift in momentum. Blanchard entered the ring after the heels won the coin toss (can you believe that?!) creating the first two-on-one beat down. The crowd screamed as Dusty tried valiantly to fend off two opponents but just can’t keep up. This led to Road Warrior Animal entering to even the score, and the crowd exploded. Animal leveled both men with some impressive power moves, including giving Blanchard multiple catapults into the cage.

The match builds and becomes more and more chaotic with each entrant, Flair, followed by Nikita, then Luger, Hawk, JJ, and Ellering in that order. Everyone did a great job building that tension and anticipation for The Match Beyond, as each wrestler sells the increasing exhaustion and desperation of the situation tremendously. Each wrestler has varying levels of success within the confines of the War Games cage, Dusty really standing out as a strong captain and leader always breaking up two-on-one spots, while Animal appears to wander around aimlessly much of the time. Flair also seems to disappear a bit as the match goes on, which is disappointing. The world champion doesn’t stand out as the leader of the Horsemen, although he does bleed a good amount, as does almost everyone else. Luger was impressive here as well, showing a rough-and ready attitude he doesn’t show often, really delivering some stiff clotheslines and boots. Paul Ellering was a non-factor, bringing in a spiked wristband but seemingly vanishing the moment he hits the canvas. JJ Dillon, on the other hand, had maybe the best performance of the match. The spot of the match happens when he enters the cage and immediately goes over to Road Warrior Hawk and gives him an elbow. BAD IDEA, JJ. Hawk looks pissed off and just destroys JJ, with Animal coming over to help deliver a primitive Doomsday Device. JJ’s selling is really off the charts, just completely out of his element and terrified. Tony Schiavone and Jim Ross, in what might be his first high profile match for JCP, do a great job of pointing out that JJ is the weakest member of the Horsemen and they really put over the strategy of isolating him to try to get him to submit or surrender. JJ eventually does, after he cannot withstand the beating of the Road Warriors any longer, and the Horsemen suffer a brutal defeat. The slightly anti-climatic finish actually works really well here, as the match builds and builds, but it’s slightly unclear who has submitted. It really adds to the chaos and confusion for there to not be a clear, perfect finish, although some might find it slightly disappointing.

The concept alone, and the added novelty of this being the first ever War Games match makes it an enjoyable watch, but when you add in the impressive, hard-hitting work from all the wrestlers, the molten hot crowd, and the solid psychology, it makes this a classic match and sets a very high bar for the stipulation going forward. 

Star Rating: ****3/4

Great American Bash
July 31, 1987

The Road Warriors (Road Warrior Hawk and Road Warrior Animal), Nikita Koloff, Dusty Rhodes, and Paul Ellering 

vs.

The Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Lex Luger and Tully Blanchard) and The War Machine

Drew Wardlaw

Drew Wardlaw

Co-host of Burning Spirits, an indie-centric puro podcast on the VOW Podcast Network.

After suffering an injury in the first War Games match, JJ Dillon was unable to compete in the rematch, so he found a substitute: a masked man called The War Machine (whose body is suspiciously similar to Big Bubba Rogers).

Right from the start, this match lacks the heat and intensity of the first match, with this match feeling much more like a house show match performed on a loop. There’s several repeat spots that feel like a routine rather than callbacks that are built upon, like Animal’s deadlift catapult spot. Dusty and Arn start off again this time, but Dusty resorts to a much tamer strategy of working Arn’s leg. That strategy is broken, however, when The War Machine comes in. War Machine looks like a total jobber, complete with generic mask and frumpy top and bottom tights that look like a sweatsuit. He works very slow and clumsy, struggling to find anything to do, even when it’s just three men in the ring.

The fact that JJ Dillon introduced him on TV as his replacement, only to have him enter second and not play a dominating role really hurts the overall match. However, credit should be given to Ray Traylor, who looked like he was making an attempt to work differently and avoid using his usual offense. The match still works in the sense that you still get the built up anticipation of each entry, but the fact that this is a rematch from earlier in the month really hurts the concept of this as the most brutal, final blowoff match ever created. Tully is the standout wrestler in the match, really flying all over the place, including diving over both sets of ring ropes on a bump, swinging from the cage to kick Dusty Rhodes, and hitting some impressive elbow drops from the top rope. Another thing that hurts the match is the Match Beyond portion, which only lasts about two minutes. Paul Ellering comes in, once again wielding a spiked wristband to even the score, then gets beaten up by Ric Flair.

Fortunately for Ellering, Animal picks up the spiked gauntlet and attacks War Machine, who surrenders shortly after. It’s a fun match with plenty of bloodshed and brutality for all, but the War Machine replacement of JJ Dillon and the lack of intensity make this a big step down from the first match. ***

Star Rating: ***

Follow Voices of Wrestling’s War Games Week below: 

War Games Week: The Matches Beyond (Part 8: Miscellaneous Independents)

Our last entry into War Games Week looks at War Games-style matches from smaller independent companies

War Games Week: The Matches Beyond (Part 7: Lethal Lockdown)

War Games Week continues as Mr. TNA/Impact Wrestling Garrett Kidney takes us through each and every Lethal Lockdown match in the company’s history.

War Games Week: The Matches Beyond (Part 6: Steel Cage Warfare)

We finally bring honor to the War Games concept as Sean Sedor reviews Ring of Honor’s Steel Cage Warfare through the years.

War Games Week: The Matches Beyond (Part 5: Cage of Death)

It’s time to get violent! Our War Games Week moves to CZW and their famous Cage of Death match.

War Games Week: The Matches Beyond (Part 4: SMW, FMW & ECW)

The first set of War Games away from JCP & WCW takes us to SMW, Japan’s FMW and ECW with part 4 of Voices of Wrestling’s War Games Week.

War Games Week: The Matches Beyond (Part 3: nWo & Monday Night Wars)

Voices of Wrestling’s War Games Week continues with a look at WCW War Games matches from 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2000.

War Games Week: The Matches Beyond (Part 2: WCW)

Voices of Wrestling’s War Games Week continues with a Part 2 looking at War Games matches in WCW from 1989-1994.

War Games Week: The Matches Beyond (Part 1: JCP Era)

Over the next several days, Voices of Wrestling will take a look back at War Games and the many matches it inspired.




House Show
July 16, 1988

Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, Lex Luger, Steve Williams, and Paul Ellering 

vs.

The Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Barry Windham, and James J. Dillon)

Alex Wendland

Alex Wendland

Alex Wendland is a FOLIO award winning magazine editor based in Milwaukee. He enjoys travel, high spots, a good drink and Sherman’s March.

By and large, War Games matches are this delicate balance of novel, exciting, violent concept and peak wrestlecrap. Quite frankly, the setup makes no sense and the wrestlers seem to know it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one without an accidental pin attempt or time-killing submission move while waiting for the next wrestler to enter. In many ways, this house show matchup from 1988 is every War Games trope, both good and bad, in one match—well, two if you’re counting The Match Beyond.  

Before Arn Anderson and Dusty Rhodes climbed into the ring to start this match, the production team spent three or four minutes disorienting the viewer. Even after Anderson and Rhodes got into the ring, the geography of the rings and the factions was hard to keep track of. Who is in which ring and where were the various teams coming from?

Thankfully, that mattered little and less when Anderson and Rhodes started brutalizing each other with five straight minutes of walking, punching and kicking. Anderson’s face was dripping blood before the third entrant, Barry Windham, even got in the ring. We all could’ve done with more Dusty and Arn one-on-one, just as a general rule. Though the Four Horsemen would have the advantage throughout War Games, the brutality of the beginning part of the match drifted away—Windham kept Rhodes in the iron claw for a solid two minutes.

Next came Steve Williams like a house of fire, delivering shoulder tackle after shoulder tackle to both Anderson and Windham. That bought them most of the time until the fifth man entered the match, Ric Flair. The crowd, which was wild the entire match, was just beginning to wilt when Flair got the call. They subsequently went nuts.

The good guys continue to win in fair fights with even numbers, but—as always—the Horsemen have the advantage. Somewhere in the madness, Dusty Rhodes, covered in blood from hairline to chest, sells a boot to the gut like he was shot.

Lex Luger comes in and does a whole bunch of no selling. Meanwhile, there are a lot of choke/stomp spots going on in other corners of other rings while Lex gets the spotlight. The match begins to lull again.

Tully Blanchard is in for the Four Horsemen and he’s brought a chair in with him, the scoundrel. So now all of the (real) Horsemen are laying waste to the three babyfaces with a one-man advantage and a steel chair. The crowd is WAY more into this than I am, but I get it.

Nikita Koloff enters to even the odds. With eight wrestlers in the ring, the good guys are taking over again. Everyone gets a chance to beat up Flair until James J. Dillon enters the ring. No one cares. The admittedly-high hum of the arena doesn’t change when he enters, but the crowd gets into it when Koloff mounts him in the corner for 10 punches.

The Match Beyond begins when Paul Ellering finally makes it into the ring. After a brutal start, surprisingly still just Dusty and Arn have color.

As with so many of these War Games matches, the match beyond is short and confusing. It tells no story and the whole melee lasts a scant two minutes before Rhodes locks Dillon in a Figure Four and uses the ropes for leverage, making Dillion submit.

There’s no gloating and barely any celebration. The faces saunter off into the evening, bruised but victorious. The Horsemen rally around Dillon, presumably questioning their team building.

Star Rating:****¼