La Gran Guerra
Chicky Starr’s Sports Club (Chicky Starr, The Iron Sheik, Abdullah The Butcher, Hercules Ayala, & Grizzly Boone) def. The Justice Army (Carlos Colon, Invader #1, Bruiser Brody, Dutch Mantell, & TNT)
December 12, 1987
WWC La Gran Guerra (The Great War)

Reviewed by Will Young (VOW Author Page@CC_PW, creativecontrolpw.wordpress.com)

Gifted by Griffin Peltier (VOW Author Page / @hollywd12 & Host of The Draft podcast

The WarGames match, once a staple of the NWA and WCW, is now an annual event put on by WWE and, like the Hell in a Cell and TLC matches before it, it has become an inevitability. It’s now less of a heated way to stoke or end rivalries as it is just a thing that happens every 12 months. Sure, there can be better reasons than others for its use, depending on the year and the talent involved, but it all feels a bit too safe, a bit too clockwork, compared to its reputation. AEW has tried to keep the spirit of the classic WarGames matches alive with its own version, Blood & Guts, but when modern viewers think of the match from decades ago, WWE’s keen and consistent branding will be there to greet them first.

As much as I’m not quite keen on WarGames being another mandated attraction, I can’t say that a lot of the older versions of the match have captured my attention, either. I was too young to get into the NWA and didn’t start watching wrestling until after WCW fell, so WarGames is something I remained largely ignorant of for a long time; truthfully, until NXT brought it back some years ago. The few I’ve seen outside of the WWE system have been long removed from their context, so it has been hard for me to truly get the feeling of what these matches meant in their time. So, being gifted this match by my Secret Santa is certainly unexpected, but it’s a great opportunity to see the match done not just closer to its time, but in an all-new setting.

As much as I don’t know about WarGames, I know less about WWC and Caribbean wrestling. This match features legends like Carlos Colon and Bruiser Brody, along with several other wrestlers I’d genuinely never heard of but, even upon cursory inspection, also seem to command a great deal of respect via their names (ie. Hercules Ayala, Chicky Starr). This match, not an official WarGame but a modifying of the original concept in the year it was presented, represents both the appeal and the age of those classic WarGames fights that are still spoken of reverently today.

The big difference with this iteration is that, instead of staggered entrances for the competitors, all 10 start in the ring at the same time, with the objective being to handcuff all of your opponent’s team to the cage wall; once done, the winning team gets 5 minutes to dish out punishment however they see fit.  Otherwise, it is essentially the same as the older WarGames matches, and therein lies the rub. The new version of WarGames, like it or not, is at least presented with a modern sensibility toward pacing and action, with big bumps at regular intervals and, often, story beats to break up the brawling. Here, it is just 15-or-so minutes of 80’s-style worked punches and kicks, with a hold or two thrown in every so often. As someone who is very much out of time with this viewing, I found a lot of this very boring, a fact not helped by the commentary on the tape from Hugo Savinovich (atonal) and Rip Rogers (annoying). 

However!

There is something undeniably different, in a positive way, about this presentation of the match as compared to its modern counterpart. For one thing, the WWC interpretation of doing away with times and entrances makes this a lean and mean affair, which is always appreciated. As well, the Caribbean crowd is hot for this whole thing. The arena set-up is so novel to see, as onlookers drape their legs over a theatre-style balcony, while others clamor up to a third wrestling ring set aside from the other two. There’s always a great deal of noise and the crowd watches the proceedings intently. Sure, it’s not exactly enthralling to see Iron Sheik hit the fakest-looking shots you’ve ever seen to a downed Colon, but such a match wasn’t meant for the kind of scrutiny we modern viewers tend to apply. This is playing big to the cheap seats and those seats are bought in.

I will also admit that, although the road to get there isn’t exactly enthralling, the final minutes of the video are easily the best part. With nine men handcuffed against the chain-link cage, we see Sheik and Colon battle; it’s a rare and striking image to see all of these fighters transfixed on the center of the ring, their arms hanging upward attached to their bonds. Surprisingly, Sheik wins the match for his team and the beatdown commences, climaxing with him draping the Iranian flag over a bloodied Colon. As soon as the five-minute beatdown period expires and Sheik, Abdullah, and company don’t stop their sanctioned assault, the crowd roars its disapproval as more wrestlers and officials try to stop this injustice from continuing. At this point, it doesn’t matter if you’re into this or not, because that crowd is with them all the way, and they got them with hokey strikes and slow brawling instead of death-defying high spots.

While I didn’t love this match mechanically, I am pleased to have watched it so that I can have a clearer image of the days of WarGames past. I don’t want to say which style of match, bloody brawl vs story-focused spot-fest, is better because I think both have their merits and downsides, but I do think that modern iterations of the match can learn from the ways of the past in getting the most out of doing less. **¾