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 Six: Steel Cage Warfare
Even since the inception of WarGames in 1987, a plethora of different promotions have presented their own variation of the famous match over the past thirty years. From ECW and Smoky Mountain Wrestling in the 1990s, to TNA and CZW in the 2000s, there have been many attempts to recapture the magic of WarGames while also putting their own unique twist on the concept. Ring of Honor certainly falls into this category as well. Their version of WarGames is called Steel Cage Warfare, and over the company’s nearly sixteen year history, it’s only appeared on four occasions, making it incredibly rare.
I see that as a positive attribute, as it’s much better to use Steel Cage Warfare when it’s necessary, as opposed to bringing it out at the same time every single year. What’s fascinating about the match itself is that the rules haven’t exactly been uniform over the years. The only things that’ve really been constants are the usage of just one ring, a cage with no roof, and participants entering the match at fixed intervals (the basics, essentially).
I’ll touch on the rule changes in each Steel Cage Warfare as I go through them. If there’s a silver lining that comes with the numerous tweaks to the rules, it’s that all the matches are different from each other in some form, and that does help each one stand apart from the others.
ROH Steel Cage Warfare
December 3, 2005
Generation Next (Austin Aries, Jack Evans, Matt Sydal & Roderick Strong)
The Embassy (Abyss, Alex Shelley, Jimmy Rave & Prince Nana)
Steel Cage Warfare made its debut on December 3rd, 2005, and served as the culmination of the Embassy vs. Generation Next feud (which evolved out of Alex Shelley searching for new allies after being kicked out of Generation Next) that had been raging throughout the second-half of 2005. As for the rules, you have the usual format of a WarGames-inspired bout, where one team gets the advantage throughout the match as participants from each team enter. However, in this instance, instead of an initial five minute period to start and subsequent periods being two minutes or three minutes, the other remaining periods were also five minutes. The biggest rule change that differentiates the first Steel Cage Warfare from WarGames is that in the former, you have to eliminate all members of the opposing team to win, and eliminations can occur at any point during the match. Honestly, I’m a huge fan of this particular format that ROH used, mainly because it means that two rings aren’t necessary. The usage two rings in a traditional WarGames (to my knowledge) was done so they could allow for more room for people to move around. If people can be eliminated at any point, that solves the issue of needing space. It also opens the door for more storytelling opportunities, as was the case with this first Steel Cage Warfare.
Austin Aries & Jimmy Rave started the match for their respective sides, and it was during their entrances when I noticed VOW’s own John Carroll sitting in the front row, hurling expletives at Rave. These two had a fun exchange in the first five minutes before Alex Shelley made his entrance (I believe commentary noted that The Embassy had won the right to have the advantage in a Eight-Man Tag that took place at Vendetta the month prior). What I really liked here is that Aries essentially took Rave out before Shelley entered the match. Thus, we didn’t get a double team sequence on Aries for the full five minutes. Matt Sydal evened things up for Generation Next, and we got some more entertaining action before Abyss made his entrance into the match, swinging the odds heaving in The Embassy’s favor. A chair was brought into the cage, and Abyss ran wild as Rave and Shelley were reinvigorated. Roderick Strong then even the odds at 3-on-3, but this was short lived, as Sydal was eliminated after an amazing Black Hole Slam from Abyss, followed by Greetings From Ghana by Rave. This put Generation Next in a big hole, and the entrance of Prince Nana meant that it was now a 4-on-2 situation. Aries & Strong somehow managed to survive this assault without being eliminated.
Before Jack Evans came out as the final entrant for Generation Next, Jade Chung (who, in storyline, had gotten close with Roderick Strong after she spent months being humiliated by The Embassy, essentially serving as their “slave”) made her return after she had been taken out in the parking lot on a prior show by The Embassy. She distracted The Embassy, bringing the rest of them out of the cage (Rave had been brawling outside of the cage with Strong), which allowed Jack Evans to run out, climb to the top of the cage, and hit an INSANE double moonsault to the floor on The Embassy!! Evans seemed to hit his head on the floor when he landed, but I guess it wasn’t that serious, as he kept going. Later, Evans & Strong hit a crazy double team move where Strong had Rave in a torture rack position on the top rope, which allowed Evans to basically use Rave as a platform to hit a massive moonsault on Abyss to eliminate the monster (words don’t describe that move justice. Evans was on fire during this part of the match, but he was soon eliminated by Shelley after a huge Air Raid Crash from the top rope. This left Aries & Strong with Prince Nana, Jimmy Rave, & Alex Shelley. After an attempt by Nana to showboat went horribly wrong, Strong hit several backbreakers on Rave (he was the one who attacked Jade Chung) to eliminate him, while Aries gave Shelley a NASTY brainbuster onto a steel chair to eliminate him. Of course, this meant Nana was left alone in the cage with Generation Next. Aries & Strong beat him up for a little bit before eliminating him, thus getting the win to Generation Next. The whole team (including Jade Chung) celebrated to end the show.
I’m sure that if you were a fan of the original WarGames format, you might’ve been skeptical about these rule changes. However, I think this format that ROH used here worked brilliantly. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this first Steel Cage Warfare did WarGames better than WarGames. There was incredible action throughout (I couldn’t possibly recap it every single crazy spot), and the booking was near perfect, with everyone playing their respective roles extremely well. This showed that a WarGames style match in just one ring can absolutely work. You don’t need two rings! Making sure the ring doesn’t become overcrowded is a concern in this kind of environment, but if you have the right rules, and book it well, then you can make it work. Another element about this match that some might not like is that they spent a decent amount of time brawling outside of the cage. What’s the point of the cage if you’re just going to brawl outside of it? Well, I thought Gabe Sapolsky, who was on commentary (as his “alter ego” Jimmy Bauer), had a great explanation, saying that the Steel Cage was simply there to be used as a weapon. It wasn’t necessarily about these two stables needing to be contained within the Steel Cage, but more about using the structure to beat the crap out of each other, and both sides certainly dished out a ton of punishment. This was an excellent conclusion to the Generation Next/Embassy rivalry, and as far as Steel Cage Warfare goes, it’s fair to say that this was the best one ROH ever did. It was a major highlight from “the golden years” of ROH (at least, in my view) and if you haven’t seen this match before, you need to go out of your way to see it.
Star Rating: ****1/2
ROH Glory by Honor VII
September 20, 2008
Austin Aries & The Briscoe Brothers (Jay & Mark Briscoe)
The Age of the Fall (Jimmy Jacobs, Tyler Black & Delirious) and Necro Butcher
After the incredible debut in 2005, we didn’t see Steel Cage Warfare again until September 20th, 2008. This time, it was brought out to settle the score between a number of different parties, but The Age Of The Fall was the common thread. Of course, they made their violent debut almost a year earlier at Man Up in Chicago Ridge with their assault on The Briscoes. You also had various individual issues involved as well. Austin Aries had been feuding with Jimmy Jacobs throughout 2008, and The Necro Butcher’s defection from The Age Of The Fall was a direct result of that rivalry. While they lost a member in The Necro Butcher, they gained a new member just a month earlier in the form of Delirious, at Age Of Insanity in Cleveland. That was the fallout from the Delirious/Daizee Haze/Rhett Titus storyline. All of those elements combined resulted in Steel Cage Warfare being used once again.
As I alluded to earlier, the rules for Steel Cage Warfare have changed multiple times, and this was the first instance of that. The elimination format remained, but aside from the initial five minute period at the start, the rest of the periods were reduced to three minutes. However, the biggest change in this particular Steel Cage Warfare was that it (technically) involved three teams. There were two teams of three, but then you had The Necro Butcher, who didn’t want to be on a team. He wanted to be on his own, and thus, was labeled as “The Wild Card”. He could enter the match at whatever point he wanted to. The extra wrinkle made for an….interesting match, to say the least.
Austin Aries started the match with Tyler Black, and they had a fine exchange until Jimmy Jacobs entered, after a bait & switch involving Delirious (as expected, the heel side had the advantage). Aries was double-teamed by The Age Of The Fall until The Necro Butcher decided to enter the match. He did go after Aries later on (and even tried to attack Todd Sinclair), but he mostly focused his attention on Black and Jacobs. Jay Briscoe threw several steel chairs into the ring once he entered. He, along with Aries, were busted open (that didn’t take long) by the time Delirious came in. During this portion of the match, we got our first elimination, as Aries and Jacobs actually teamed up to take out The Necro Butcher with several chair shots to the head (those look so ill-advised in 2017, but we all know that The Necro Butcher likes to do crazy things). Aries and Jacobs piled on top of him for the cover and the elimination.
Mark Briscoe then entered the fray, and brought a barbed wire table with him! It was at this point when the action started to pick up. Jay Briscoe & Delirious climbed up one of the sides of the cage, but they both ended up crashing through the timekeeper’s table. Shortly thereafter, Tyler Black put Mark Briscoe through the barbed wire table with a running powerbomb. The odds then turned quickly in The Age Of The Falls favor, as Aries was emphatically eliminated (with almost no fanfare) by Jacobs when he passed out in the End Time after several Panic Attacks in the corner from Delirious. Jacobs decided to bring out his railroad spike, but directed Delirious to use it on The Briscoes. This prompted Daizee Haze to run out, and she tried to reason with Delirious, but the conflicted lizard man ultimately struck Daizee Haze in the head with the spike. The crowd went nuts at that spot, but it left Delirious in shock. After that moment, it was all downhill for The Age Of The Fall. The Briscoes soon eliminated Delirious with a Doomsday Device, and after a brawl with Black & Jacobs (which included both Briscoes no-selling chair shots to the head), they simultaneously eliminated the rest of The Age Of The Fall with a Jay Driller and a Cutthroat Driver.
As a whole, I enjoyed this second Steel Cage Warfare, but it was nowhere close to the first one. I would say this one was certainly more hardcore (which is fitting, given who was involved), but it didn’t have anywhere close to the same amount of excitement and thrilling action as the original. Most of that first half of the match was solid, though largely uneventful. There was definitely some cool stuff in the latter stages, but it just couldn’t touch the first Steel Cage Warfare. The booking played a huge factor, in my view. First, while I didn’t mind the Daizee Haze segment, that pause in the action did take away from the match as a whole, in my view. Then there were the eliminations. It was very odd to see Austin Aries taken out….fairly easily. I know he took a fair amount of punishment, but the way he was eliminated (in my view) almost made him seem like a chump. Then you had the fact that The Briscoes, in the final few minutes, essentially hulked up and just ran through the entire Age Of The Fall like they were nothing. It did make The Briscoes look really good, but….do you do that at the expense of one of your top heel groups?
Then there was The Necro Butcher. The way he was booked here was very perplexing. Having him be the first one eliminated, after being double teamed by Aries and Jacobs (who are supposed to hate each other) was not only very strange, but a total buzzkill for the Philadelphia crowd, who chanted for Necro at various points later in the match. That part was just bad booking, without question. Now while some probably didn’t like the three vs. three vs. one setup, I didn’t necessarily mind the idea of The Necro Butcher being in there by himself. However, if they were committed to doing this way, then he should’ve been the final entrant. That way, the crowd would’ve exploded when he came out to make the save (which technically still being on his own), and it should play out much better in that scenario. I’m not sure how you would handle things from there, but that would’ve been one way of fixing the issue. Another way this could’ve been done better is if you did a regular four-on-four Steel Cage Warfare, with Austin Aries, The Briscoes, & The Necro Butcher against Jimmy Jacobs, Tyler Black, Delirious….and Brodie Lee. I’m not sure if he was available at the time, on that specific day, but that would’ve been a great way for him to debut. Plus, I’m pretty sure he made his actual debut soon after this show anyway, so that really wouldn’t have changed much.
Despite all of those flaws, I still thought the match was really good as a whole (as my rating indicates). They did enough to make it pretty enjoyable, at least for me, but there’s no question that it could’ve been much better. ***3/4
Star Rating: ***3/4
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ROH Caged Collision
January 31, 2009
Brent Albright, Jay Briscoe, Ace Steel, Erick Stevens and Roderick Strong
Sweet & Sour Inc. (The American Wolves, Adam Pearce, Tank Toland and Bobby Dempsey)
While there was a nearly three-year gap between the first two Steel Cage Warfare matches, only four months separated the second from the third. This third edition took place on January 31st, 2009, and involved Larry Sweeney’s Sweet ‘n’ Sour Inc., the other major heel unit that was in ROH at the time (along with The Age Of The Fall). They were taking on an assortment of babyfaces, mainly led by Brent Albright, who were looking to put an end to Sweeney’s stable. Roderick Strong & Erick Stevens were also on the babyface side, which was very interesting since, in 2007 & 2008, they were embroiled in a heated rivalry that included a lot of brutal matches. You also had Jay Briscoe, who was just starting a singles run after his brother Mark Briscoe went down with a knee injury that would keep him out of action for several months. The final member of the babyface team, as well as much of Sweeney’s team, was left as a mystery (with Sweet ‘n’ Sour Inc., that was mainly because they had so many members at various points, as the commentary team explained).
As for the rules, this third Steel Cage Warfare was the biggest deviation from the first two matches. Not only were the sides expanded to five members on each team, but the elimination rule was completed eliminated. Here, much like a more traditional WarGames match, a team could only win after everyone from each team had entered. I believe the intervals were also supposed to be every three minutes after that initial five minute period, but I don’t think they really stuck to those rules, as the time between entrants seemed to be more like one minute. I think the main reason for this was because this was being taped for PPV. In that scenario, they probably had to condense the time as much as they feasibly could, but that’s just a guess on my part.
Roderick Strong and Davey Richards started things off for their teams, which really isn’t much of a surprise. They had a fun first portion of the match, before Tank Toland (remember him?) was revealed as the second entrant for Sweeney’s team, meaning that Sweet ‘n’ Sour Inc. would have the advantage. Strong got double-teamed until Ace Steel (yes, you read that right) entered, and he managed to even the odds. Eddie Edwards was scheduled to be the third entrant for Sweet ‘n’ Sour Inc., but he hid at the end of the entrance ramp, with the intent of setting a trap for the next entrant on the babyface side. That ended up being Jay Briscoe, and after he was initially jumped by Sara Del Rey, Edwards attacked Briscoe’s knee with a steel chair, seemingly taking him out. This left the babyface side (I really, REALLY, wish that team had a name so I don’t have to keep referring to them as “the babyfaces”) in a dire situation. It technically becomes four-on-two with Bobby Dempsey coming out (in his silver fat suit), but he was….ineffective, to say the least. Erick Stevens then makes his entrance, and provides some relief for the babyfaces, but it soon becomes five-on-three with the arrival of Adam Pearce, thus completing Sweeney’s squad. Pearce gets some offense in, but he’s immediately busted open after Brent Albright entered the match and tossed him into the cage.
The action picked up at this point, with a number of big spots, along with people brawling on the outside of the cage, but the biggest and most memorable moment came from Jay Briscoe. He returned to the match limping, with his one knee really wrapped up, and somehow climbed to the top of the cage to hit a big dive to the floor onto the rest of Sweeney’s army. Bobby Dempsey did pretty much nothing while all of this went down. Aside from getting busted open after being thrown into the cage by Jay Briscoe, he just cowered in one of the corners. Eventually, Pearce ate a bunch of finishers, and Albright got the pin for his team. The main story, however, is what happened after the match, Larry Sweeney verbally abused Bobby Dempsey for doing nothing to help his team, and eventually struck him. The rest of the babyfaces encouraged Dempsey to fight back, and after two years he finally did! Sweeney went down, and Dempsey ripped off his fat suit as he beat Sweeney to a bloody mess. The babyfaces and the crowd in Chicago Ridge went crazy for Dempsey as Lenny Leonard screamed on commentary that Dempsey had finally become a man.
This was entertaining, but out of the first three Steel Cage Warfare matches, it was easily the worst. There was certainly some good action throughout, but the abbreviated entry intervals, along with the removal of the elimination format, really limited the possibilities of this one, in my view. Again, I’m sure the constraints of doing a PPV Taping impacted the potential length, but even so, they could’ve gone about this better. Also, there was one booking issue that really stuck with me. If you’re Larry Sweeney, why in the world would you put Bobby Dempsey in such an important match?! I believe this would’ve worked much better if Sweeney had another member in there instead of Dempsey. Chris Hero would’ve been the best choice, but I believe he was touring with NOAH at the time. Still, you could’ve found someone to fill that spot (maybe even Sweeney himself). In addition to that, they could’ve had Dempsey’s fate be on the line here, with him gaining freedom from Sweeney if the babyfaces won. You still could do the “Dempsey fights back” spot, but he didn’t need to be in the match to get to that point.
The fourth Steel Cage Warfare took place at a set of TV Tapings on June 23rd, 2013. It was the culmination of the ROH vs. SCUM feud that dominated the first half of 2013. The stipulations stated that if SCUM won, then Steve Corino (the leader of SCUM) would take the job of ROH matchmaker from Nigel McGuinness. However, if ROH won, then SCUM would be forced to disband. Jimmy Jacobs, Rhino, Rhett Titus, & Cliff Compton were representing SCUM here, while BJ Whitmer, Michael Elgin, Jay Lethal, & Kevin Steen (who had been kicked out of SCUM a few months prior) made up Team ROH. Now I was planning on doing a write up on this match as part of this article, but unfortunately, I was unable to. Recently, ROH did some sort of update to the TV archives, along with an assortment of shows from the golden years in their VOD section, on their website. Essentially, all of the ROH on SBG episodes prior to 2014 were taken off the site. I’ve seen some speculation that this might be happening in preparation for the rumored ROH streaming service that’s potentially coming in early 2018, but that’s just a guess. The only way to see that match now is on the ROH vs. SCUM DVD compilation, and I don’t own that particular set.
This particular Steel Cage Warfare was a return to the format of the earlier versions of the match. There was a five-minute period to start, with new entrants coming out every two minutes. In addition to that, the elimination rules returned, meaning that one side had to be completed eliminated for the other to win. From what I remember, it was a pretty good match as a whole (I would at least put it above the Steel Cage Warfare from 2009), but since I haven’t seen it in four years, I can’t fully comment on it. The only thing you really need to know is that there was plunder involved (including a fireball from Corino), but ultimately, Kevin Steen proved his loyalty to ROH by winning the match for his side. We haven’t seen Steel Cage Warfare since this appearance in 2013, so it’ll be curious to see if, or when, we’ll see the match brought out again in ROH. Personally, I hope it’s sooner rather than later.