The War Games. Dusty Rhodes’ most brutal innovation. A bout where pinfalls were irrelevant, where there would be no disqualifications, no possibility of a countout. The match is one of WCW’s lasting legacies, but it was by no means perfect.
As for any present-day implementations of the match, if it’s just four/five heels and four/five faces thrown together for the sake of having the match & trying to sell a PPV on the first WarGames in so many years, instead of a legitimate feud between warring factions that require such a brutal blowoff to finally settle the score once & for all, it’ll flop. (I have the oddest feeling that if there’s ever a War Games match in WWE, that’s exactly how it’ll go if only to disprove the drawing capability of the match.)
You can’t just have a WarGames match for the sentiment of it all. You need to establish a heel faction that is dominant, violent, willing to break any and every rule to achieve their goal. You need a set of faces to go against them that people believe in, but also that people believe will be willing to pull out the necessary stops to have a prayer inside the double-ringed cage. You need to convince the people that despite the presence of these faces, that it will require such a hellacious match to finally put the heel faction to rest, that ordinary matches will no longer suffice.
With the recent passing of Dusty Rhodes, I sat down and re-watched the WWE’s excellent War Games DVD compendium. Seven and a half hours of War Games gives one a certain perspective on the match itself. In this article, I’ll go over four improvements I’d hope to see should the match ever return to prominence in the current day of wrestling.
1) Improved cage construction
Everybody remembers the Pillman-Sid powerbomb finish of the WrestleWar ’91 WarGames. While a taller cage lid does prevent some of the more innovative hang-from-the-cage maneuvers, those moves are best left to the high-flyers who don’t really fit into the match to begin with. Unfortunately it also eliminates the show of strength where somebody military presses someone over their head into the cage ceiling. Then again, the cage lid was always sagging so much it didn’t really look that painful to get your back pressed gently into a piece of chain link fencing with a literal foot of give in it, anyway.
In some of the earlier WarGames matches (as well as the knockoffs in ECW) the cage walls were so shaky guys were taking bumps on them just hitting the ropes. I, personally, find it hard to buy a face-first ram into the cage (that flies back about a foot when you hit it) as the most painful maneuver you’ve ever fallen victim to. When I’ve seen you ram your back into it a half-dozen times just running the ropes during the match, it takes me out of it that much more.
Not saying they have to go so far as to bring back the unforgiving blue steel bars…but it would help!
2) No more managers
JJ Dillon & Colonel Parker. Two guys that hadn’t wrestled in ages getting thrust into the most violent match possible. This was stupid then and it’s even more stupid now. If you aren’t on the active roster, you shouldn’t be in the match.
They were only there to give the fans the small comeuppance after the manager’s meddling (and realistically so the heel team could lose without an active competitor having to concede defeat), so in 2015, no small loss with their elimination.
3) More coin tosses!
It’s 2015. Everybody understands that you’ve historically gimmicked the coin toss so the heel faction has the advantage throughout the match. Simple suggestion: more coin tosses, so that the faces occasionally get the advantage. Make it 2-1 heels, 3-2 heels, and then 4-3 (and 5-4 in the ten-man version) in favor of the faces. Put the leaders as the last ones in, so the face leader gets a few minutes in there before the heel leader comes in with the cheap shot to draw heat and begin The Match Beyond. This breaks the flow of the match? Well, yes it does, but that’s why we go to:
4) The Match Beyond… throughout?
The concept of “you can’t submit or surrender until everyone is in the match” is stupid. There are a lot of times when you’d want to quit. Making the first guy just get beat up throughout, but he can’t actively lose until he has all his teammates in there to (fail to) bail him out from the predicament he’s surrendering to is just asinine.
The final change I propose is that any man can surrender at any time, at which point he will be escorted out of the cage and leave his team at the disadvantage. This is how you let the faces win some coin tosses; they go “up” 4-3, but in actuality it’ll just be evening the odds because one of the faces has surrendered.
It helps the legitimacy of the match moving forward. Too many WarGames ended up with four capable heel wrestlers all on the losing side because their manager surrendered to a face wrestler’s assault, or a midcard tag team wrestler surrendering to another midcarder’s assault. By requiring a full contingent of submissions, you fill a few more minutes of action on the show (to make up for 8-10 quality wrestlers being tied up in the match). You also don’t end up with two guys actually brawling towards a finish while the others just busy themselves with restholds to catch their breath & keep them incapable of breaking up the finish.
Since a submission can happen at any point you don’t feel like the first 20 minutes of violence are just pointless filler. The old way, a guy gets caught in an armbar and you don’t really care: what’s the worst that can happen, he sells the arm for a little while & maybe he surrenders fifteen minutes from now if they go back to working the arm? With this change, that armbar matters; he might surrender, that’d put his team a man down, that could weigh heavily on the finish.
In the end, perhaps none of these changes really need to exist. The mid-80s cage construction, the obvious heel successes with the coin toss, and the manager giving it up for his faction of dominant heels under a tremendous onslaught from the biggest babyface in the cage could still draw quite a bit with the proper booking. But I’d hope that after all this time we could move to the point where you could turn WarGames into something where the more experienced fans didn’t have to look past obvious booking ploys to enjoy.