Part Three: nWo & Monday Night Wars
September 15, 1996
The nWo (Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and nWo Sting)
Lex Luger, Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, and Sting
War Games matches are defined by their stories.
Much like a Royal Rumble, the bulk of the work in a War Games match is pedestrian punch-kick stuff designed to look busy while waiting for something important to happen. The nature of the War Games rules – the periods, the repeated heat segments, and the often anti-climactic submission finishes – mean the quality of the action is handicapped to a certain extent. The strength of the narrative, the war that these games are meant to settle, is vital to giving the match meaning.
The story leading to Fall Brawl 1996’s War Games match was fiery hot. Not Fire ‘n’ Ice, they collided earlier on the card. WCW’s hottest period ever began in July 1996 with the birth of the nWo. By September’s Fall Brawl event, the storyline was on fire. The nWo were running roughshod over WCW, and while hindsight shows that the narrative cracks were already forming, it was the most compelling angle in American wrestling in the second half of ’96.
The War Games match served as the linchpin of the most successful angle, financially, in WCW’s history. It was also one of the most ambitious wrestling stories I can think of. Over the course of 18 months, WCW introduced the heinous villains, brought low the only man who could stop them, and set up his triumphant return.
With War Games looming, the nWo challenged WCW, looking to legitimize their stranglehold on power within the company. While the nWo had more than three members already, they promised that their fourth man would be Sting. The primary tension of the story was Sting’s loyalty; he had agreed to join Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, and Lex Luger on the WCW team, but the nWo was adamant in their claim that Sting would side with them.
Prior to the match, Sting makes a final plea to his WCW comrades, but Lex Luger rebuffs him. As a result, when the War Games match begins, only seven names are known… Sting will participate, but that still leaves one team needing a fourth man.
The War Games theme plays throughout the cage lowering and the introductions – an epic, wailing guitar track reminiscent of the Four Horseman theme. Michael Buffer’s overly dramatic ring introductions are perfect for this environment. In a unique touch that serves to underscore that this isn’t just another wrestling match, the War Games theme plays the first two entrants – Scott Hall for the nWo and Arn Anderson for WCW – to the ring.
There’s not much to the work in the first period. Arn Anderson tries to pick apart Scott Hall’s left leg and render him inconsequential to the remainder of the match, but that doesn’t go anywhere. I remembered the first period being more exciting, but that’s a case of my investment in the story overriding the action itself. I had never seen a War Games match before, and, as a ten year old, desperately wanted WCW to repel the invaders and start making a comeback in the battle. I lived and died with each blow Anderson and Hall landed on each other, trying to will Arn Anderson to success through my television.
Kevin Nash and Lex Luger are the next two entrants. A bunch of punch-kick wrestling ensues, and it’s not overly noteworthy. Once Hollywood Hogan enters, the match starts utilizing the second ring. It’s visually interesting, but again not overly exciting. The bulk of a War Games match is reminiscent of a Royal Rumble – guys do a lot of punch-kick brawling and hit moves with no rhyme or reason, but we’re mostly waiting for the next entrant to advance the story.
Ric Flair enters the match, giving WCW it’s first major hope. He taunts Hogan, demanding he fight Flair on Flair’s terms, and Hogan eventually obliges. The steam is taken out of Flair’s entrance almost immediately, as he beckons Hogan to fight him and… Hogan thumps him. Flair busts out brass knuckles and tries to forcibly neuter a bunch of people, which adds some needed variety to the proceedings.
“Sting,” as he was known in WCW/nWo World Tour, brings us to the real juice of the match. The fake Sting enters, leading the fans to believe that the Stinger has really turned his back on WCW and joined the invaders. He hits all of Sting’s signature offence and the commentary does a great job of playing up the drama. They eschew actual commentary for wailing and gnashing of teeth, which suits the story of a company battling for it’s life. It’s the valley that allows for the peak.
That peak? Sting enters as WCW’s last man, and it’s electric. Sting storms the cage and obliterates the nWo Sting, running through the same string of offence that the imposter had delivered earlier. Once he’s suitably thrashed his doppelganger, he turns to the rest of the nWo, mauling the entire gang like a bear. Except, with scorpions all over his gear. Some sort of bear-scorpion, perhaps. Sting was the difference-maker that WCW needed, the one man who could stand up to these thugs – and he did it all by himself. While Sting wrecked everybody by himself, the rest of the WCW team just watched, mouths agape. Lex Luger, Sting’s best friend, didn’t believe him. But now, Luger tries to make amends… it’s too late. Sting showed what he was capable of, and what he could have offered the team… but the team didn’t want him, and now? He doesn’t want them. WCW’s most iconic angle is born, and it would culminate 14 months later at Starrcade ’97.
Once Sting bails, the finish is pretty flat. Very shortly afterward, the fake Sting puts Luger in the Scorpion Deathlock while Hogan… helps, I guess? He puts on a front facelock, which is a legitimately effective move, but it looks really dumb. The match ends, but the fighting doesn’t. In a move which really plays up the hatred between the two sides, and makes it clear that this is still only the beginning, the two teams brawl their way up the aisle while Luger crawls on his knees screaming apologies to Sting.
The 1996 War Games match isn’t something to watch if you’re looking for an all-time classic, or even great action. But if you were into the nWo invasion story,? This is one of the highlights of it, the launching point for the Crow Sting angle. The story of the match itself is more compelling than many War Games matches, and that alone makes 1996 stand out.
Fall Brawl 1997
September 14, 1997
The nWo (Buff Bagwell, Kevin Nash, Syxx, and Konnan)
The Four Horsemen (Chris Benoit, Steve McMichael, Ric Flair, and Curt Hennig)
Capping off a ho-hum WCW Fall Brawl 1997 card, the 1997 WarGames match between Team nWo and Team WCW left a lot to be desired.
Before I take a retrospective look at the match, I’ll take a few lines to express my adoration for Michael Buffer.
As an avowed boxing mark, he’s someone I’ve grown up watching, and his presence as the announcer for WCW events made things feel special.
He had, and still has, an unmatched aura as an announcer and hearing his dulcet tones reverberate out builds an authenticity and palpable sense of expectation wrestling often struggles to achieve. For all the flack WCW rightly gets for its presentation and booking, using him was undoubtedly one of their production masterstrokes.
We drop into this match, emanating from the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum (as a Brit, the long names of American sporting venues have always been anathema to me) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The nWo team comprised of Buff Bagwell, Konnan, Syxx, and Kevin Nash and their opponents for Team WCW were Chris Benoit, Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael, Curt Hennig, and Ric Flair.
Hennig was supposedly ‘taken out’ earlier in the show by Nash et al., being discovered by the notorious hotline shiller Gene Okerlund, leaving the babyfaces with a man disadvantage against the dastardly heels.
Benoit and Bagwell open proceedings for their respective teams, with Horseman representative Benoit getting the early advantage by throwing Bagwell into the cage. Things went awry for the Canadian when he went for a diving headbutt and Bagwell rolled out the way. Watching Benoit matches aren’t a problem for me, but seeing spots like that will always be disconcerting.
Konnan enters and we get some offence from Benoit before he falls victim to the numbers game, until the arrival of McMichael to a big pop. With the numbers equal, the babyfaces moved into the ascendancy – a formula that persisted all-match.
It took over eight minutes for both rings to be used simultaneously and soon after that we got one of my favourite spots: McMichael gorilla pressing Syxx into the top of the cage. With the cage so low, the spot looked like it might have done real damage, and Syxx sold it so hard.
Moments before Flair is set to go into the ring, Hennig comes down to the ring, replete with a sling – My initial thought: ‘HE’S GONNA DOUBLE CROSS YOU!’
Nash enters and the heels gain the advantage again, making use of their numbers. With the clock ticking down, the crowd buzzed for the Horsemen’s enforced to make his dramatic entrance. The moment he ran into the cage, ditching the sling and producing two sets of handcuffs, got a massive pop. And then he turned. The dastardly swine hit McMichael, chucked the cuffs to Konnan and Nash and proceeded to beat down Flair to a plethora of boos from the North Carolina audience. You could feel the crowd’s shock at his turn, which is the reaction you always want, but major companies usually fail to achieve.
With Benoit and McMichael cuffed to the top of the cage, the heels proceed to beat Flair down 5-on-1. The two horsemen valiantly refuse to quit, with Benoit repeatedly spitting at the NWO, until the NWO upped the ante, threatening to slam the prone Flair’s head with the cage door. It’s important to note here that after Hennig entered the match, the door remained open the ENTIRE time, something that wound me up and distracted from the already dull and monotonous beatdown being put on Flair.
McMichael eventually does the honourable thing, calling for the end to prevent his mentor Flair from taking any more damage, but the evil heels slam the door on his head anyway in a sickening spot. The NWO celebrate before the show ends with EMTs attending to Flair and putting him on a stretcher.
Where to start with breaking that down?
The match itself was largely flat, bordering on dull at times. I personally gave it **1/4—there were several better nWo multi-man matches in 1997 (the Slamboree main event, for example). The structure was highly formulaic and I got the distinct impression that the match would have been better in 1997 when it was fresh and the feud between the nWo and the Horsemen was reaching its peak, and not now, in 2017, where the same match type and tropes within have been done to death by WWE.
Given that the way the match was structured it took 17 minutes to get everyone in, the match only then lasted for another two-and-a-half minutes, yet they seemed like two of the most lifeless minutes I’ve ever seen in a wrestling match.
Yes, I popped for the cage door spot, but the beat down was lethargic and before the end it was literally Kevin Nash repeating the same spiel down the microphone, Benoit spitting, McMichael grunting, and Flair groaning.
The bloated nature of the nWo is well-known and there’s no need to elaborate on it further, but the line-up for them in this match summed that up. No intensity, no real star power, and a half-hearted imitation of what it could have been. I will say, however, that Buff Bagwell repeatedly shouting down the hard cam is a personal highlight that will never not be entertaining, even when his wrestling usually wasn’t.
Benoit undoubtedly came away from this match looking best, working at a high clip and showing his immense talent, but the match itself wasn’t good and the eight men failed to maximise the War Games infrastructure. The probably 10 throwing-into-the-cage spots and the handcuffs at the end don’t really justify the match stipulation as far as I’m concerned – these teams supposedly hated each other, but I never really felt the intensity the match required. Well, until that final spot. That had more emotional resonance than most of what they managed in 19 minutes of in-ring action.
However, this match is important to watch for posterity.
The nWo/Horsemen feud defined WCW in 1997, their hottest ever year, and Hennig’s turn was hugely significant. Before the show, very few saw it coming and it only comes off as obvious now because of the way WWE have used similar angles to the point that they have become tropes. WCW had done injury angles before using the NWO, notably at Uncensored that year, and they’d just paid off with a man advantage for the heels, so there would have been no reason at the time to assume Hennig was about to double-cross them.
Put into context this match was massively significant and it remains so for historical reasons, but it wasn’t some sort of in-ring classic by any stretch of the imagination.
Follow Voices of Wrestling’s War Games Week below:
Fall Brawl 1998
September 13, 1998
Team WCW (Diamond Dallas Page, Roddy Piper, and The Warrior)
nWo Hollywood (Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, and Stevie Ray) and nWo Wolfpac (Kevin Nash, Sting, and Lex Luger)
We’re back at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, North Carolina for the thoroughly underwhelming and frankly bad WarGames match between Team WCW, Team NWO Hollywood, and Team NWO Wolfpac.
As Michael Buffer carefully stressed in his pre-match introduction, this was a ‘Special Edition’ of the WarGames. It marked the first time in the match’s history where pinfalls were allowed and the victor would be rewarded with a title shot against Goldberg at Halloween Havoc.
The commentators for the match were Mike Tenay, whose use of facts and nuggets of history were a great addition, Tony Schiavone, and Bobby Heenan. The first two men to enter the ring were Team WCW captain Diamond Dallas Page (one of my favourite wrestling characters of all time) and NWO Hollywood’s Bret Hart. When the distance camera panned on the cage I couldn’t help but raise a wry smile at the lopsided cage. This wasn’t a minor misalignment, this was a good 15 degree slant from left to right.
Page and Hart had a back-and-forth opening five minutes, but these periods are utterly uninspiring. You are fully conscious that nothing will happen as it defies logic and as the two participants usually dial it in, because there’s at least another 15 minutes remaining. Page takes Hart down with a jumping lariat before Stevie Ray comes down and proceeds to lay the boots to Page in highly uninspired fashion.
Bear in mind the most memorable moment of this show was Perry Saturn beating Raven to end the Flock. As a faction the Flock was limp, lifeless and uninspired, but the reaction Saturn got upon securing the three-count made you realise how much these WCW fans appreciated a good moment. Just imagine if they’d properly cashed in on Sting’s momentum…
Speaking of the Stinger, he was the next man into this match and the pop he got was great, bringing some much needed intensity. Whilst the three-team format and the match structure was ridiculous (more on that in a bit), it did add a little more intrigue when the two-minute timer was counting down, managing to recreate some of the drama that makes the Royal Rumble special.
Next was Roddy Piper for Team WCW and he initially brought some fire, but a minute after his arrival it had already dissipated. That was then followed by the entry of Lex Luger and his right hands of doom! Luger’s only activity in the ring before Kevin Nash joined the fray was throwing singular strikes and clumsily dragging Stevie Ray over the top rope. Excitement, ladies and gentlemen, provided exclusively by the charisma-laden machine that is Lex Luger.
Nash entered the ring and hit a side slam, but then guess what? SHENANIGANS! Hogan came down to the ring a minute before his allotted spot and lays waste to everyone with a foreign object.
What is it I hear you cry?
Why a Slapjack of course!
But, but, what’s a Slapjack, Andrew?
I haven’t got a flying clue! It sort of looks like the sole of a shoe, but it must be lethal, as one strike from the Hulkster and everyone’s down!!!
From here the match just deteriorates. The ring suddenly fills with smoke and Warrior emerges, just to get the pudding slapped out of him by Hogan and his doting sidekick Stevie Ray. Then there is another blast of smoke, which must have been pungent given that Tenay and Schiavone started coughing on the other side of the arena, and Warrior has disappeared, only to make his famous charge to the ring!
Now we had all the participants. Now the match would pick up, or so I hoped. But as usual, my hope was misguided. Warrior got beaten down again almost as soon as he returned, and that meant everyone was down, with just Hogan and Ray standing. Surely they’d go for a pin? Surely? But no, Hogan decides to bail from the match with the assistance of Brutus Beefcake, probably because he decided he couldn’t be bothered to bump anymore.
Warrior by now is back to his feet and for a man who had done so little, his puffing and panting bordered between the humorous and worrying, especially given his untimely death in 2014. Warrior is determined to get at Hogan, and he manages to kick through the upper panel of the cage to chase Hogan and Beefcake up the ramp. What sort of steel cage peels away like a piece of wire mesh when kicked? What’s it made from, Styrofoam?!
Security takes the two men away and then suddenly it’s as if they remembered there was a match going on and someone needed to win. DDP reversed a double team from Ray and Hart, hit the Diamond Cutter on Ray and won the match to earn the shot at Goldberg, which he would lose.
What should have been a special moment for DDP ended up as an afterthought because, as was the wont of WCW, everything had to be about Hogan. Hulk always had to be the centre of attention.
That’s why WCW struggled in the late 90s. The inability to tell good stories, with creative often too late to pull the trigger undoubtedly played a role, but Hulk had the spotlight all the bloody time. Worse still, that was lazy Hogan with all the spotlight. There’s dialling it in, and then there was Hulk ‘I might as well be on vacation’ Hogan. It’s hard to understate how toxic he was for the company in this period but if you need proof, grit your teeth through the match between Hogan and Warrior at Halloween Havoc. How could they expect to compete when there was no one else getting the attention?
Aside from Hulk being Hulk and winding me up like a spring, this match just sucked. The concept was farcical. The WarGames was a match designed to pit warring teams against one another in a big blow-off match, yet this might as well have been a nine-way number one contenders match. Why even have the basic notion of teams in this match if everybody is fighting for themselves and could pin someone they’re ‘aligned’ with?
As much as the match concept was stupid, everyone played their role. Piper was the madman who just attacked everyone, whilst Stevie Ray was Hogan’s lapdog who never went for pins because he wanted to help the big chief. The main problem was that the match never had time to breathe.
We didn’t even have our full complement in the ring and it degenerated into shenanigans and nonsense. There was no maximization of the structure, other than Sting landing a running stinger splash from one ring into another. This was the sort of disorganised mess you’d have expected to find in an episode of Nitro, not on a big-PPV in the main event slot.
The attendance for this show was only 411 lower than in 1997, probably influenced by 1998 having a considerably stronger line-up, but the blatant signs of decline are so much more apparent. There is no reason to watch this match, even for DDP fans like me, because his win means nothing, other than setting up one of the best matches of Goldberg’s career at Halloween Havoc.
As Socrates once said ‘Death may be the greatest of all human blessings’, and for WCW, this was the beginning of the slow release.
WCW Nitro (WarGames 2000 Russo’s Revenge)
September 4, 2000
Team Russo (Kevin Nash, Jeff Jarrett, Scott Steiner, and the Harris Brothers)
Sting, Goldberg, Booker T, and KroniK
Earlier in the show, Vince Russo tells us the rules to WarGames 2000: Russo’s Revenge. There are three cages in a tower, and the WCW Title will hang from the top. The man who escapes the cage with the title will be the champion. Even though it’s every man for himself with only one winner, there are still teams. Russo’s team is himself, the champion Kevin Nash, Jeff Jarrett, and Scott Steiner. The other team is Sting, Goldberg, Booker T, and Ernest “The Cat” Miller. Even though he is on Team Russo, Kevin Nash is pretty peeved that his title is on the line, and spends the evening threatening dissension.
Russo is making the other team participate in qualifying matches. Sting qualifies by beating Vampiro and Muta. Russo tells Stevie Ray that he can take Booker T’s spot if he beats him, but Booker T defeats his own brother. However, this stipulation that if you win, you take the spot apparently continues, because The Cat is unable to win a handicap match against KroniK, so the tag team takes his spot. Goldberg keeps his spot by beating Shane Douglas. I think the only person who understands all the rules and stipulations to this match is Vince Russo himself, and he’s not sharing that information with the audience.
The match itself is as baffling as the preliminaries. Jarrett and Steiner are doing some decent damage to Sting, so the next person out should even the odds, right? Instead, both members of KroniK are out, giving the good guys the numbers advantage. So Vince Russo escalates by bringing out the Harris Brothers with him. Then Kevin Nash comes out. Aren’t the teams supposed to alternate entrances? He threatens to chokeslam everyone on his team. Kronik and the Harris Brothers disappear, so when Goldberg comes up as the last man, it’s Goldberg, Booker T, and Sting vs Jarrett, Steiner, Nash, and Russo.
Sting and Goldberg get handcuffed to the cage, while Booker T grabs the belt off the top of the third cage. Booker goes through Jarrett, but can’t get past Steiner. They’re now playing Hot Potato with the championship belt. Russo has the belt in the ring, but The Cat comes in and kicks him, grabbing the belt. Nash takes the belt from him. Goldberg break his handcuffs and takes the belt from Nash. Goldberg is walking out, but is stopped by Bret Hart, which is not a name I expected to type tonight. Russo hands Nash the belt, and the team of bad guys comes together to walk out with Nash retaining his championship.
Order of entrants: Jeff Jarrett. Sting. Scott Steiner. KroniK. Vince Russo. Kevin Nash. Booker T. Goldberg.
This match, the last match billed properly as WarGames (until the recent NXT announcement), is the perfect representation of Russo-esque Crash TV:
- Overly complicated,
- Fake swerves
- Surprise run ins
- Stipulations that make no sense.
Despite all of that, it’s a fun watch.
Russo, for all his faults, his many, many, MANY, faults, could make an entertaining episode of television. Like a mediocre action movie, if you can turn your brain off for a bit and not think about it too hard, this entire episode of Nitro is a decent watch.