When Vince McMahon purchased the rights to World Championship Wrestling, he secured more than just the tape library of Nitro and a handful of under-contract midcard talents. He also secured the rights to every specialty event, show, and match concept. In mid-2001, not only were fans envisioning matches like Sting vs Rock or Goldberg vs Austin, but expectations were also high for a Starrcade show featuring Ric Flair and Kurt Angle, or a Clash of the Champions with Rey Mysterio vs Jeff Hardy. People were envisioning how “World War III” would work with talent from WWF, WCW as well as ECW. But more than anything, the one WCW match that people were giddy about seeing on WWF TV was “War Games.”
Over the years, WCW produced one classic War Games match after another. Only one (the infamous 1998 match) of the many contests was ever anything less than brilliant. A bloody and brutal contest with an intense energy and an always-frenetic pace, War Games was the crown-jewel match for WCW in the way the Royal Rumble was “the” match to watch for WWF fans.
Held annually for most of WCW’s golden years, either at the Great American Bash or Fall Brawl PPV, War Games (traditionally) pitted two teams against each other inside a unique structure with unique rules governing the proceedings. Two rings were surrounded by a cage encompassing both, with a roof overhead. It might be easier to call the structure a Hell in a Cell, but that would not be accurate. There was not ring-side area within the cage and the ceiling of the chain-link structure was much lower than in the Cell; wrestlers performing top-rope moves inside the War Games arena had to hunch over, making leaps and superplexes awkward.
Still, the thrill of the event was in the pacing of the match. The contest begins with one member of each team going at it 1-on-1. After a set amount of time, another competitor joins the fray, making the match–for a moment–a 2-on-1 handicap contest. Who enters is based on a coin flip, which the heels invariably would win. The story of the match then becomes a battle of survival for the good guys. The audience sits on pins and needles while the heels gang up on the hero; the fans cheer and rally behind the underdog, hoping he can hang on until the bell sounds and backup can enter the cage to even the fight. 2-on-1 then becomes 2-on-2 and the rules follow the formula of a tornado tag (if all four men are in one ring) or a pair of singles matches (if the action spreads out across both rings).
Eventually the bell rings and a fifth wrestler enters the fray, alternating between both pairs of combatants, making one or the other a handicap match, until the next good guy enters to even the odds. 3-on-2 then becomes 3-on-3 and it goes on like this throughout the match, becoming 4-on-3 and eventually 4-on-4. Some War Games had 5-on-5 teams while others kept it at 4-on-4; either way, when all the members of the teams are inside the cage, it is only then that the match formally begins, and the only way to win is by tapout or verbal submission.
By the time the match formally starts the audience has already been treated to at least six mini-matches, spread across two rings inside a steel cage. It is the ultimate blow off match in Pro Wrestling; nothing WWF ever did–not even Hell in a Cell–offered the kind of catharsis that a well booked War Games could provide. Multiple storylines converge, a variety of styles is displayed and there is almost always a thrilling finish leaving the fans exhausted and highly entertained.
Of course Vince McMahon would want nothing to do with it.
This is the same “millionaire who should be a billionaire” that instructed his WWF commentators to refer to WCW wrestlers as “the stars of WCW” as opposed to the “superstars of WWF” (this was back when they were still trying to relaunch WCW as a separate brand). This is the creative mind that booked WCW talent as wannabes who didn’t belong in the same ring as WWF’s golden boys. And while that might be true to a large extent (WCW did lose the war after all) it doesn’t make the best business sense. Still, Vince is a stubborn fellow, and other than turning the Great American Bash into a B-PPV, there was almost nothing big from WCW that made the transition to WWF programming. No Clash, no Starrcade, no War Games.
The closest they came was Survivor Series 2002, when Triple H lobbied for a War Games match to close that show. Vince resisted the idea and in its place was born the Elimination Chamber. The similarities between the two match-types is obvious but there are some big differences. Elimination Chamber features timed-entries into the contest, but instead of teams everything is contained as singles-competition. A 1-on-1 match becomes a triple threat, which morphs into a fatal four-way, until potentially 5 and then 6 men are all battling in a chaotic environment, one which is much smaller than the two-ringed War Games set up, due not only to the single ring, but also the metal structure that surrounds it.
Elimination Chamber can be a fun match, and when done well can be brilliant, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the thrill of War Games.
War Games takes the best of two of WWE’s best match types–the Royal Rumble and Survivor Series tag matches–and combines them. You get the delayed entry that makes the Rumble unpredictable and the team-aspect that made Survivor Series matches so fun in the late-80’s to mid-90’s.
Though the same stubborn Vince McMahon is still in the driver’s seat, there is a renewed hope that perhaps the time is right for War Games to return. Certain circumstances have made it more than a pipe dream; there’s a logical story in place as well that would make the match a natural climax to a hot feud.
First of all, Daniel Bryan’s sudden leave of absence means the next few PPV events have a large hole to fill. Even though we’re in the post-PPV era and fans are no longer asked to shell out $60 for an event, there is still a great need to ensure that fans get a special 3 hour event every month; it’s the best way to add new subscribers to the WWE Network. PPV’s usually had a floor of about 100,000 buys but even the most historically subpar B-show could have a one-year spike if the card was good and a particular feud was hot enough. Time and again it was proven that the right PPV card could entice a non-PPV buyer into making a one-time purchase. The WWE Network has the ability to take that fan and say “here’s a must-see event, and as a bonus we’ll let you pay us in 6 installments, AND give you the next five shows free.” That’s a deal too good to pass up but you can only sell it to them if you have a PPV show that’s must see. Bryan being injured takes away a major player in making a show a must-see. Something else has to fill that gap. War Games can do it.
War Games can do it in multiple ways. For long-time fans, the prospect of a renewed classic would be too good to pass up. On the other hand, there’s a large segment of the current fanbase that wasn’t even alive when WCW was on the air; many of them have never even heard of it. War Games, to them, becomes a novelty. It becomes a brand new concept that they have to see in order to appreciate. If Vince was reluctant to give War Games a spotlight in the days after WCW folded, he can rest easy that many of his current fans have no affinity for WCW and thus will not start yearning for Nitro to return to the air. His WWF legacy has crystallized; he can now mine the WCW vault the way he exploited ECW back in the mid-2000’s.
The obvious feud to build the new War Games match around is Shield vs Evolution. The two teams of young and old have been going at it since the day after WrestleMania. It looks like the final blow off will come at SummerSlam with Triple H facing off against Roman Reigns 1-on-1. If that is the plan, as rumored, there’s no better way to blow off the feud between the teams than a War Games match at the Battleground PPV prior to SummerSlam. Not only does the name perfectly fit the match (better than even Fall Brawl or Great American Bash), but the July PPV had previously been held by Money in the Bank. That PPV moved to late June and is expected to continue being one of the top-grossing B-PPV events on the WWE calender (remember that not everyone has the WWE Network…yet). With the move, July is in need of a PPV worth making a fuss over. Being just before SummerSlam means Battleground needs to be the penultimate chapter in the story. It needs high stakes and, at the end, the heroes need the odds so stacked against them the audience doesn’t see any way they can overcome the villain. That’s storytelling 101.
A proposed War Games match at WWE Battleground would feature the following teams: Team Sheild (Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Goldust and Cody Rhodes) vs Team Evolution (Triple H, Randy Orton, Batista, Ryback, Curtis Axel).
Obviously Rybaxel and the Brothers Rhodes are added to the mix in order to flesh out the match to 5-on-5, and presumably along the way the WWE Tag Title could get in the mix, giving those two tag teams some extra incentive in the match.
Since this is the show before the big show (SummerSlam) and since, as said, this is the time in the story when the bad guys have to triumph, a fitting end would see Cody Rhodes turning on his brother, costing his team the victory and setting up the brother vs brother story they’ve been teasing for so long now. That match would blow off at SummerSlam. And since Shield v Evolution would be without a decisive finish, their feud would come to its conclusion at SummerSlam as well (perhaps with a trio of singles matches).
Obviously nothing is certain and Vince McMahon is nothing if not fickle with plans, but with the WWE stock taking a tumble, their World Champion temporarily shelved and a need to secure more and more WWE Network subscribers, the time is now to take some risks, to shake things up and to try new things. Bringing back War Games would accomplish all three. It would attract lapsed fans of yesteryear, entice new fans unfamiliar with the match and could offer a compelling match in the run-up to one of the most important SummerSlam events in company history.
War Games makes sense now more than ever.