Wrestling, at its core, is so simple. It’s two people fighting until one of them either can’t get up anymore or quits. It follows then that the most iconic way to blow off a rivalry that has extended beyond the realm of competition and obtained the wonderful ingredient of hatred is equally simple: you enclose the people in question in steel. There’s an instinctive visceral nature to it, seeing man give in to their baser violent emotions when they’re caged like beasts. When done well, it brings out the fire in both the competitors and the audience. The fire and the blood, and often lots of it.  – Robin Reid

Ric Flair vs. Kerry von Erich WCCW Christmas Star Wars

Match #42
Ric Flair vs. Kerry von Erich
WCCW Christmas Star Wars

Watch: Peacock / WWE Network
Testimonial by Dave Meltzer

I can’t think of one match that set a territory on fire to the extent that the Ric Flair versus Kerry von Erich cage match did for WCCW. 1983 and 1984 were the golden years of the Texas-based promotion, and were built around Freebirds versus Von Erichs. So much of the root of the feud, from Buddy Roberts arriving late and David taking his place and winning the six-man titles for The Freebirds, to the Freebirds then costing Kerry the world title later that Christmas night before the largest gate in Texas history, was where it all came from. The Freebirds had come in as David’s friends, and with three Freebirds and three Von Erichs it was a natural program that made the six-man titles bigger than they ever were anywhere in history. The slamming of the cage door on Kerry’s head was shocking at the time, and so iconic a spot it got copied to the point it’s become a part of a large percentage of cage matches and means nothing now.

Further Viewing

Triple X vs. America's Most Wanted TNA Turning Point

Match #43
Triple X vs. America’s Most Wanted
TNA Turning Point

Watch: YouTube
Testimonial by Garrett Kidney

There’s always been two competing visions of TNA. A place for the stars of yesteryear to be rolled out in one final attempt to capture the long-gone WCW audience that disappeared in 2001 and never came back, and a place for the brightest young stars of tomorrow to step up on a national level and make a name for themselves. Few TNA PPVs had two top matches that encapsulated those conflicting ideals better than Turning Point 2004.

Randy Savage’s final pro wrestling match as he teamed with Jeff Hardy and AJ Styles to face Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Jeff Jarrett alongside the Losing Team Disbands Six Sides of Steel conclusion to Triple X and America’s Most Wanted’s two-year rivalry. A cynical desperate ploy to pop a PPV number with a star long past being even remotely able to deliver to the standard of a PPV headliner versus the defining rivalry in TNA history to that point. It would have been so easy to just go with Randy Savage. Even in spite of Savage only wandering out for the last minute of the match to pin Jeff Jarrett, he was still the biggest star to step foot in TNA over its first two years. It took some guts to go with the guys who had never main evented a major US PPV. After their disastrous Last Team Standing match the month before (which completely fell apart after Skipper suffered a concussion in the opening exchanges), it wasn’t a sure thing they’d deliver in that spot. It was a risk to back the less proven quantities, a risk that paid off to the degree of one of the best matches in TNA history.

Triple X and AMW had faced eleven times over the prior two years and this was their final encounter; the losing team had to disband. An ultra-heated war managing even to vastly exceed the quality of their excellent June 2003 cage match, you simply couldn’t help but be sucked inside that steel cage with them. The main event of TNA’s second-ever monthly PPV—this was brutal, violent, disturbingly bloody, and emotionally charged.

Hate fuels pro wrestling. The best most soundly executed wrestling matches can feel like an exhibition without at least a little hate. Steel cage matches thrive on hate even more so. Hate fuels the emotional urgency that makes the best cage matches so memorable. From the moment the bell rang, hate reinforced everything Triple X and AMW did. This was a blow off in every way – one of the teams could never team again after – and they wrestled like they were fighting for their lives. It was absolutely everything you could want from a steel cage match.

And then there’s the Elix Skipper cage walk, one of the most breathtaking high spots in the history of professional wrestling. There’s a lot of moves in wrestling that involve risk, but still leave a large amount of control in the hands of the wrestler. There are certainly ways a Swanton Bomb off a ladder can go wrong, but there’s a lot of ways the wrestler doing it can do it safely. When Elix Skipper took that first step out onto the razor-thin steel cage, he was leaving everything to fate. He either completed the four or five steps across that cage and entered immortality, or slipped and embarrassingly fell to the floor below. History was on Primetime’s side that night. The cage walk stands with ‘Steiner Math’ and ‘the Woo off’ as one of the most shared clips in TNA history. For as long as TNA lives even a little in the wrestling consciousness, Elix Skipper’s name will live alongside it.

For too much of TNA history, the backwards looking vision won out. Stars like AJ Styles and The Motor City Machine Guns and LAX and Amazing Red and Samoa Joe and Beer Money would take a back seat to whatever the latest Sting or Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair story was. Too often was the company stuck in the past, so focused on trying to recapture the magic of eras gone by that they refused to see what was right in front of their face. Triple X vs. America’s Most Wanted was a shining example of what TNA was at its best – young talented pro wrestlers simply given a platform to be the very best they could be and delivering in spades.

Further Viewing

Sting's Squadron vs. Dangerous Alliance WCW WrestleWar

Match #44
Sting’s Squadron vs. Dangerous Alliance
WCW WrestleWar

Watch: Peacock / WWE Network
Testimonial by Andy LaBarre

You will see in this very series of match write-ups that changes and evolutions in how wrestling is performed are natural and good. This is obviously true in any entertainment medium, from movies to music to comic books to literature to poetry to even professional wrestling. Change happens and SHOULD happen. There are growing pains, there are more things that don’t work than do, but great art inspires people to try their hand at twisting their given medium into something reminiscent but new. However, no matter what the given medium is, many of us can spot a classic when we see it. We can spot a legendary performance. We can spot unique, visceral images, we can take the ideas of what makes a good story, segment out the storyline beats that appear perfect to us and wonder why anyone would EVER try to change things. Sometimes a classic is just a classic, even in professional wrestling.

The WarGames match from WCW WrestleWar ‘92 is a stone-cold classic.

Back in 2017, the Voices of Wrestling staff got together and wrote about virtually every WarGames or WarGames-adjacent match up to that point in the high anticipation we all felt about NXT bringing the match stipulation back. While the NXT matches have been WarGames matches in name alone (and according to this writer – mostly terrible), the eight articles written about the history and evolution of the match produced a lot of opinions. You see, WarGames takes a simple concept and storytelling device and makes it about as complicated as possible. It’s vintage Dusty Rhodes. Why do something simple when you can do something simple with a lot more steps? And yet – for many of the earliest iterations, it not only worked, but it ROCKED. 

For those somehow unfamiliar – the basic concept is this: two rings next to each other, enclosed by a cage with a short roof. A heel team and a face team squaring off. The match starts with a five-minute period where two “super workers” typically get in the ring and carry out a hate-filled brawl. Then there is a coin toss, determining which team gets to have the next man enter. They enter and there is a handicap match for two minutes, until the other team gets to even the odds. Once all ten men are in the ring, the match ACTUALLY starts and you can win by submission or surrender. It’s stupid as hell, it makes little sense, and yet what it does, when done right, is spell out the absolute easiest story in all of professional wrestling: The heels are bad, the babyfaces are good, good will prevail.

You see, by having a LITERAL timer that allows for the heels to get a timed advantage in the match, it allows for the babyface team to rally the fans around them every period as they get beat down unfairly before they come roaring back. It is paced out for YOU the fan. It’s complicated, but it is so so simple. And that’s why it works.

Any WarGames where the babyface team has the advantage is wrong. Don’t watch it.

One thing that makes the ‘92 match truly stand out is the collection of talent involved. In perhaps the coolest stable ever created, the Dangerous Alliance, you have five incredible talents (Austin, Rude, Arn, Eaton & Zbyszko) plus Paul E. Dangerously and Medusa. In Sting’s Squadron, you have five incredible talents (Windham, Dustin Rhodes, Steamboat, Koloff and Sting himself). All told, if I were to submit my list of “100 Greatest Wrestlers Ever” today – eight of these ten men would be on the list, and Rick Rude wouldn’t be one of them. It’s a nearly unmatched level of talent to have in one match for early 90s American wrestling, and that talent helps drive the story of the match for each intense two-minute period.

The match kicks off with Steve Austin and Barry Windham – one of the best punchers of all time in Windham and one of the best bumpers of all time, in Austin. For five minutes to the two go toe-to-toe with Windham getting Austin to bleed a true gusher early, raking his face across the cage. That’s another thing that makes the best WarGames matches work: Blood. The crowd is molten from the jump and explode with each Windham strike. On the outside, we get the devious Paul E. Dangerously with drawn-up plans on how to win the match, just truly silly stuff that really helps sell how dastardly and annoying the Dangerous Alliance is. One of the funniest spots of the match, and one that has been etched in my memory for almost 30 years, is Barry dragging Austin to the corner cameraman, his face a bloody mess, and saying clear into the camera, “How about a postcard for mama, big boy?” before biting his bloody forehead.

At the coin toss, the match goes the way you would expect, with the heels winning and getting the advantage as in a surprise move, the Dangerous Alliance leader, Rick Rude enters to take it to Windham. The crowd is so behind Windham and he gets some hope spots against the two extraordinary heels, but ultimately can’t overcome them. The timer reaches zero and in an absolutely brilliant movie – in comes Ricky Steamboat, one of the best babyfaces and hot tags of all time.

The match continues with Hot Tag after Hot Tag before it gets slightly mired in Medusa climbing the top of the cage and dropping a Brick Cell Phone inside, only to get stared at by Sting and climbing back down in fear. This little moment kills the momentum slightly, which has been on fire the entire time, but the group is able to recover and though the execution of removing the turnbuckle hook for the screwy finish doesn’t go off smoothly, it works with everything taken into account and most importantly – the babyfaces win.

Every single wrestler in the match is over. Everyone on the outside is over. The WHOOPS finish is over. Arn Anderson getting his head stuck between the rings is over. The tense high fives between former rivals Nikita Koloff and Sting are over. The match succeeds because it does what everyone who came to the arena to see: The babyfaces overcame the odds and the heels not only lost, but began to dismantle.

Even though Gary Michael Cappetta’s endlessly long explanation of the overly complicated rules is laughable before the match begins – WarGames ‘92 tells the most pronounced, simple story in wrestling. The bad guys are bad. The good guys are good. The good guys win. Sometimes, simplicity works.

Further Viewing

Team ROH vs. Team CZW ROH Death Before Dishonor IV

Match #45
Team ROH vs. Team CZW
ROH Death Before Dishonor IV

Watch: Honor Club
Testimonial by Kevin Hare

Wrestling has evolved. I’m not telling you anything new here. Athleticism has increased, new moves were created, matches are put together differently, and different styles become in vogue. There is constant movement and evaluation within the medium. One major change is how matches are laid out, and stories are told.

A shining example of that can be seen in how multi-man matches are structured now. In previous eras, they may have been an off-night, or a way to build to one big angle. Now, they can be used for much more. In many, there’s constant action. Opponents pair up and may stay somewhat together for the entire match. Multiple stories may intersect, they may branch off in many different directions and lead to many different stories. Different promotions and styles have their major blowoff multi-man match. Dragongate has Unit Disbands matches. Lucha has the Cibernetico. And in US wrestling, there’s the WarGames match.

WarGames started in the Dusty Rhodes Crockett era—two teams of five square off. Two men would start in the ring. At timed intervals, one more man would enter at a time. The match would ebb and flow with different teams having advantages and gaining equal footing until all ten men were in the ring. Once all ten men entered, “The Match Beyond” began, where only submissions, surrenders, or knockouts counted. These matches were usually bloody spectacles. While the original iterations of the match were great, they were generally simple layouts. Heel teams have the advantage, babyfaces come back, simple brawling leading to a submission.

The match has evolved over the decades. Dragongate had the Dead or Alive cage match. AEW and NXT both brought back the concept and devote major annual events to it. However, oftentimes these attempts are too convoluted, too bogged down with modern wrestling tropes, and sometimes overextend too far beyond the original concept. They struggle to blend the bloody, brawling chaos of the originals with the modern wrestling styles. However, in 2006, Ring of Honor was able to perfectly capture this magic in the Cage of Death.  

Ring of Honor and Combat Zone Wrestling were the leaders of the early 2000s indie boom. Each blazed their own path in separate ways. ROH filled a void that many thought was missing from the wrestling at the time. Athleticism and “pure” wrestling were the focus. Rules and sportsmanship were emphasized. Young, athletic wrestlers using new spectacular moves were featured. Ring of Honor fans felt like they understood “good” wrestling and wrote off “garbage” wrestling – wrestling that relied on weapons and brawls.

Combat Zone Wrestling took the opposite direction. CZW took the hardcore wrestling of ECW and added a dose of early-millennium adrenaline. Deathmatches were their forte, adding heaps of blood, light tubes, barbed wire, fire, weed hackers, and whatever else someone could find in their shed or junkyard into the mix. Wrestlers there were not as crisp or athletic as the Ring of Honor wrestlers. They had their own sleazy and renegade aura around them, and their own segment of fans ate it up. It was more dangerous, more reckless, more of a party, and less about stars in a notebook. ROH and CZW fans were polar opposites.

These differences culminated in the ROH vs. CZW feud of 2006, the greatest storyline in which either company was ever involved. It began with CZW star Chris Hero debuting in Ring of Honor. It led to many different turns, invasions, attacks, and cameos. Wrestlers from CZW would circulate in and out of Ring of Honor, bringing a true feeling of chaos into a promotion that could feel rigid. Philadelphia shows would alternate between the ROH home base of the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory and CZW’s New Alhambra Arena (the then name for the infamous ECW Arena). Finally, this all peaked that July, with Ring of Honor running its version of the Cage of Death, CZW’s trademark match.

The Cage of Death rules were the same as the traditional WarGames match. Team CZW featured Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli, Eddie Kingston, Nate Webb, and Necro Butcher, while Team ROH started with (more on this later) Ace Steel, Adam Pearce, BJ Whitmer, Bryan Danielson, and Samoa Joe. What ensued was a perfect encapsulation of evolved storytelling, violent brawling, and modern moves. This match contains it all. Barbed wire filled the cage, which was more like a chicken-wire fence with no top that expanded around the entire ringside area. Fans are rabid from the moment Castagnoli and Joe entire the cage.

It would be impossible to list every violent and crazy spot in this match. There’s a reckless feel to the brawling and weapons use, with even standard spots like a Samoa Joe dive feeling more dangerous within the confines of the wire cage and concrete floor.

The brilliance of the match really began with the entrance of Bryan Danielson. Danielson was the arrogant ROH champ. The top heel at the time, he believed he was the best technical wrestler in the world and had the body count to prove it. However, he, too, knew the stakes of the ongoing war and even put aside his bitter rivalry with Samoa Joe to take out the evil invaders. Or so he led us all to believe. He sprinted to the ring like a bat out of hell, attacking Hero and Castagnoli immediately and even double-teaming with Joe. Finally, after instructing Joe to hit a Muscle Buster on Hero, Danielson chop-blocked Joe’s knees out from under him, beginning a vicious attack on Joe to the chagrin of the flabbergasted ROH fans and the leader of the ROH team, Jim Cornette. Joe is carried out, and Danielson leaves, never to be seen again. Team CZW now had a 3-to-1 advantage.

Chaos reigned. Whitmer and Pearce were savagely beaten, their blood spewed. Necro Butcher, one of the wildest brawlers of all time, emerged. Ace Steel ran rampant with vicious cowbell shots to the skull of every CZW member. Steel ended a mid-match Hero promo with the most vicious trashcan shot to the head you’ll ever see. Hero even brought out his own major rival, Eddie Kingston, as the final member of the CZW team. With all ten announced men in the match, CZW still had a 5-3 advantage. While CZW controlled the match, chants of Homicide rained down from the ROH fanbase.

Homicide is one of the original members of ROH. He was a vicious, reckless anti-hero. However, in the build to the Cage, Cornette appealed to Homicide to join the team. He was trepidatious. He didn’t want to be involved. But finally, with Ring of Honor being decimated and Hero and Kingston’s own tensions started to boil over, the sirens went off, the lights went down, and Homicide himself entered the ring to a monstrous reaction. Finally, the match actually began. Homicide forced the shoeless Necro to run through thumbtacks. He dispersed forks to the rest of the ROH team to viciously carve the enemy. Webb was recklessly thrown through a barbed wire table on the outside. Homicide almost murdered Hero with an insane weird piledriver-type of thing off of the top rope through a set-up chair. Hero climbed to the top of the cage, while weapons were being hurled at him, and moonsaulted onto the entire other team. Chaos and violence emanated from every single corner of the cage.

Unlike the previous WarGames matches, this one featured pinfalls. This led to a more fully fleshed-out match period. There were big, tense nearfalls. While “The Match Beyond” would sometimes be short and culminate quick, this is a very long section here, continuing to build the drama and milk the crowd. Ring of Honor knew exactly how to mold the concept and even the simple weapon brawl to its own high-intensity big match style.

Finally, after 40 minutes of chaos, Homicide hit a devastating Cop Killa on Nate Webb onto a barbed wire board. The crowd exploded in ecstasy. Cornette instructed to ring crew to literally drag out the evil CZW invaders. Cornette began the final go-home goodbye and goodnight celebratory promo after, which was actually the last brilliant segment of the match. Months of Cornette and Homicide being at odds, only for Homicide to finally link up with the team, led to this moment of Cornette putting over Homicide in the ring. Cornette had previously offered Homicide three wishes to join the team. Now. Homicide wanted Steve Corino in a match. Cornette granted it. He wanted an ROH title shot. Granted. And finally, he wanted Low Ki, banished from the company for attacking Cornette, to return.

The crowd explodes. They wanted it. They were excited. This was a bridge too far. Cornette wouldn’t do it. Cornette maced Homicide, locked him in the cage, had his minion Pearce handcuff him to the turnbuckle, and viciously lashed him with his belt. The crowd was furious at the sight of their new hero betrayed. The reason this worked so well was because of the storytelling through the match. It didn’t just culminate here. This match served as both the blowoff to a long feud and the beginning of the next.

This is one of the greatest hours in US wrestling history. A violent, brutal, bloody, exciting match with big impactful false finishes, multiple stories, and cool moments that peaked with a super hot closing angle immediately following the match. A star was made and a style perfected. In a company known for its “pure” wrestling, the best match in company history took place inside the Cage of Death.

Further Viewing

Tully Blanchard vs. Magnum TA NWA Starrcade

Match #46
Tully Blanchard vs. Magnum TA
NWA Starrcade

Watch: Peacock / WWE Network
Testimonial by Drew Wardlaw

God, what a match. Magnum TA versus Tully Blanchard I Quit Steel Cage match at Starrcade ’85 brother, that’s it. Two certified BAD BOYS going toe to toe.  It’s sketchy, bloody, uncomfortable, primitive, everything that the great sport of pro wrestling should be. It’s a nonstop butt-kicker, FOR HARD ROCKERS ONLY.  

Magnum (High) TA came to Jim Crockett Promotions in late 1984 as a young up-and-comer. He was blonde, jacked, hairy, he walked tall and rode a motorcycle, killing everyone with that belly-to-belly suplex.  Tully Blanchard was already an established name with a hefty TV title run—a real high-class playboy type who had found his Perfect 10, Baby Doll. Magnum defeated Wahoo McDaniel for the NWA United States Championship in the spring, and as the #1 contender to the 10 Pound of Gold, feuded with Ric Flair heading into the summer. Eventually, Tully got a title shot, and during a cage match, a security guard came down and passed a roll of quarters through the cage to Tully, enabling him to knock Magnum out and win the title. It turns out the security guard was Baby Doll! That’s it, man, that’s all it took. After he lost the title, Magnum was different. There was a whole other level of intensity and anger displayed in his matches. The punches were harder, and the suplexes were meaner. He had been wronged, and he was letting everyone know. As payback, Magnum dressed up as a security guard himself and attacked Tully during a match. They wrestled each other for like six months, each match Tully managing to sneak away with a cheap win. You could feel the tensions escalating during the promos, and after all those months, Magnum’s title shots were finally running out. In a final match, they went close to 60 minutes before they were both knocked unconscious and counted out (anyone got a copy of that? Was the full thing taped?). Tully said that was it, and he was done with Magnum, he and Baby Doll were going on vacation. But guess what? Magnum had one contact left. He petitioned Bob Geigel for the match, an I Quit match in a steel cage. Geigel refused to sanction it, citing that the feud had become too personal and it would not be safe. In a bold move, Jim Crockett Jr. actually ignored Geigel and decided to sanction the match anyway, and set the date for Thanksgiving Night in the Greensboro Coliseum, Starrcade 85: The Gathering! The final encounter was a real seedy deal on TV where Baby Doll approached Magnum to give him her business card, and Magnum grabbed her and says “It’s about time you found out what it’s like to be with a real man” and then forces a kiss on her, then rips her dress (not good!). All the while David Crockett’s eyes are bugged out in ecstasy as he screams, “She likes it! She likes it! Look at her! Ohhhhhhughhhh!” Tully then attacked Magnum and the two brawled on the floor. I mean, this is a real degraded scene, man. Each step in the feud, each interaction, is more and more heated, and by the end, it shows just how much disdain there is between the two.

The match itself transcends pro wrestling. It captures an atmosphere and a spectacle that cannot be replicated. There is no other match that is this visceral, that pays off a long-term feud the way this does, and that conveys the pure hatred each man felt. You watch the match, and it doesn’t even go 15 minutes. Neither man hits their finishing move. In fact, the only real “move” in the match is Tully giving Magnum an atomic drop. Otherwise, it’s just two men punching and clawing at each other. Several minutes are spent with both men on the mat tearing at each other’s bleeding wounds. Baby Doll is there and periodically screams. There’s a mic in the ring for the loser to say “I quit” into, and the sounds these two make into that mic are from beyond. Just grunting and breathing and Magnum sounds like Tom Warrior on the Hellhammer demos screaming “NOOOOOO!”. They use the mic to hit each other, and each time they do, it makes this loud thud and clips the PA. Whenever I watch this, my wife gets mad at me, and I have to turn down the TV because it scares my daughter. How many matches can you say that about?! The thing is horrifying just to listen to! There’s this real animalistic sexual aspect to the match too where Magnum is trying to assert his dominance by holding the mic to his crotch and makes Tully yell into it. The whole thing is just so grimy, and as you’re watching you start to question everything from watching violent sports on TV to the morality of war. No one comes out unharmed type of thing you know? Oh God the finish of the match! The two are on their knees punching each other, bleeding all over the place, the crowd is out of their minds. A wooden chair comes flying in, and Tully slams it on the ground to break it. He picks up this sharp wooden stake and tries to stab Magnum, but Magnum fights back! He gets control of the spike and STARTS STABBING TULLY IN THE HEAD WITH THE WOODEN STAKE! Magnum is screaming “Do you quit, do you quit?” and Tully says yes! That’s important, he doesn’t say, “I quit,” he says yes. The bell rings, and Magnum grabs Tully and starts to go after him again, looks at the stake, and throws it down. Tully is cowering on the mat and looks absolutely pathetic—just a humiliated defeated man. You almost feel sorry for him it’s incredible. Magnum grabs that US belt, slings it over his shoulder, and walks out of the cage, and that’s it.

Best match ever best feud ever best blow-off ever who cares it doesn’t matter. This match is unreal there’s nothing like it, this is it. There’s a different kind of energy that was captured on that night. Special shout out to the match right after it, The Midnight Express vs. Jimmy Valiant and Ms. Atlanta Lively. Those two matches right there, that’s how you know there’s truly nothing better in the world than pro wrestling!

Further Viewing

The Wrestling 101

The Wrestling 101 is a Voices of Wrestling group project headed up by Kevin Hare and Robin Reid. You can discuss the series with them on twitter @stan__hansen (Kevin) and @TheRDouble (Robin) or join the conversation over in the Voices of Wrestling Discord.