In light of WWE announcing that two(!) WarGames matches will take place at the 2022 Survivor Series pay-per-view, the time is right to revisit one of Dusty Rhodes’s greatest inventions, a bout that (normally) finds two teams in the heat of a feud facing off in two rings surrounded by a steel cage. Here are the 10 best WarGames matches in pro wrestling history, with five great WarGames tribute matches as well.
10. The nWo (Hollywood Hogan, Kevin Nash, nWo Sting, and Scott Hall) vs. Team WCW (Arn Anderson, Lex Luger, Ric Flair, and Sting)
WCW Fall Brawl 1996
This took place during the height of the nWo invasion in WCW, and initially announced three wrestlers for Team WCW (Flair, Luger, and Anderson, all members of the Horsemen in the very first WarGames) and three wrestlers for the nWo (Hogan, Nash, and Hall), with each team having a mystery partner. Anderson and Hall started out ripping into each other; their section was the best part of the match. It was also really fun to see Flair as the house of fire after being on the other side in previous matches; Flair low-blowed and chopped the entire nWo team, and the crowd ate it up.
The end of the match devolved into some booking nonsense, with a fake Sting (Jeff Farmer) coming out as part of the nWo, which required the announcers to bemoan a betrayal by a guy who didn’t look very much like Sting. Real Sting came out last and laid out the entire nWo, only to give an “up yours” to Luger and leave, setting up Goth Sting in the rafters for the next year. The nWo Sting made Luger submit with a C-Scorpion Deathlock, and then the nWo laid waste to Team WCW, which included the Giant coming out and chokeslamming Randy Savage, which he followed up by spray-painting both Savage and Miss Elizabeth. Eventually, the nWo would eat itself with a million turns and tons of random C-listers joining, but it was still the biggest thing in wrestling in 1996, and this match was able to coast off of their heat.
9. Sting, Lex Luger, the Yellow Dog, and El Gigante vs. Barry Windham, Nikita Koloff, Kevin Sullivan, and One Man Gang
WCW The Great American Bash Tour 1991
This match is from the era when the WarGames match would go on the road; this took place at the Meadowlands and is an interesting historical document. Ric Flair was originally supposed to be on the heel team, but was replaced by Kevin Sullivan because he had just left the promotion. The crowd was clearly less interested in the Taskmaster compared to the Nature Boy, and let their displeasure be known. The Yellow Dog (a.k.a. Brian Pillman under a mask after losing a “loser leaves town” match) and Windham start the match with Pillman flying all over the ring and even using the roof of the cage as a handhold to throw hurricanranas. Nikita Koloff was such a great babyface WarGames wrestler, but it was fun to watch him in the heel beatdown role. Sullivan comes in last for the heels and starts drilling everyone with a ring bell hammer, only to end up getting iron clawed by the 7-foot-6 El Gigante (a.k.a. Jorge González, a failed Atlanta Hawks draft pick whom Ted Turner tried to make into a wrestling star). Not an amazing match, but it had its moments for sure, and is a cool snapshot of 1991 WCW.
8. The Undisputed ERA (Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, and Kyle O’Reilly) vs. SAnitY (Alexander Wolfe, Eric Young, and Killian Dain) vs. Roderick Strong & the Authors of Pain
WWE NXT TakeOver: WarGames, November 2017
NXT’s first WarGames had the novelty factor of the gimmick being back to mainstream wrestling. The rules were different here, however: there was no roof on the cage, there were three teams (with three wrestlers starting, with the remaining two members on each team coming in at certain intervals), and pinfalls were allowed. There were some big highlights; Authors of Pain were really fun in the powerhouse Road Warriors role—complete with Paul Ellering at ringside—throwing all of the little guys around the ring, and Alexander Wolfe had a nasty cut on the back of his head that led to the carnage that WarGames really thrives off of, and there were some big spots. Still, this match has the bloat that makes some late-era NXT hard to watch. Triple suplexes, Tower of Dooms in the corner, superplexes off the cage, tables, garbage cans, and eight near falls when two would do. Die Hard worked because John McClane did one jump out of an exploding building; this felt like Live Free or Die Hard, in which McClane drives a truck into a jet plane.
7. Steve Williams, the Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton & Stan Lane), and the Road Warriors vs. Fabulous Freebirds (Jimmy Garvin, Michael Hayes, and Terry Gordy) and the Samoan SWAT Team
NWA The Great American Bash 1989, “Glory Days”
Bloodless WarGames are always a bit suboptimal—they were clearly saving the crimson for the all-time classic Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk match later in the night—but they made up for that with some big guys hitting hard with some huge, memorable spots. Williams and Gordy spent much of the bout paired with each other, slinging heat and revisiting their classic feud from the UWF. The highlight of the match was when Williams press-slammed the 300-pound Gordy into the top of the cage eight times in a row, an amazing example of Williams’s ridiculous strength. We also have a pair of leaping shoulder blocks from one ring to the other by Animal, and then later by his tag partner Hawk. The finish saw Hawk destroy Jimmy Garvin’s neck with DDTs and a hangman spot; I would definitely not want that brute yanking recklessly on my neck, so I totally bought Garvin giving up the ghost.
6. The Four Horsemen (Arn Anderson, Barry Windham, J.J. Dillon, Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard) vs. Dusty Rhodes, Lex Luger, Nikita Koloff, Paul Ellering, and Steve Williams
NWA The Great American Bash Tour 1988
NWA ran 11 War Games matches during the 1988 Great American Bash Tour, but this is the only one that has been released on video. It came from a WWE Network Hidden Gems drop. (RIP, Hidden Gems, an awesome feature that was just gone from our lives one day.) On one side, you had a hodgepodge of babyfaces, with the Super Powers team of Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff teaming with a now-babyface Lex Luger, a recently imported from UWF “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, and Paul Ellering, who was in this match despite the Road Warriors being absent from WarGames (they had a scaffold match early in the night against Ivan Koloff and Russian Assassin #1). They faced a Horsemen group that subbed out Luger for Windham, which arguably makes this version the ultimate Horsemen lineup.
The match had a lot of great action; Dusty and Arn started like they did in the two 1987 WarGames matches and were both bleeding before the third man entered the match. Williams and Koloff are great fired-up ass-kickers coming in to even the odds. It was also fun to see Williams and Flair match up—really makes me want to find copies of their NWA title matches earlier in 1988. Despite all of this, J.J. Dillion being in the match really telegraphs the finish; he doesn’t get nearly as obliterated as he did the previous year, but it was still satisfying to see them get there.
5. Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, Paul Ellering, and The Road Warriors vs. The Four Horsemen (Arn Anderson, Lex Luger, Ric Flair, and Tully Blanchard) and The War Machine
NWA The Great American Bash Tour 1987
This was the rematch of the first WarGames; an injured J.J. Dillon was replaced by the War Machine, who was really Big Bubba Rogers in a generic black mask and black unitard, which must have smelled interesting at the end of an outdoor show in July at the Orange Bowl in Miami. This rematch had a similar level of intense brawling and crowd heat as the first match, with Rhodes again being a maestro at conducting the crowd. It never really felt like the babyface team was in any danger; they just ran through the Horsemen in front of a crowd that lived and died with every shot, which is truly a sight to see. The finish was pretty grody: The faces took turns hitting the War Machine with lariats until he timbered, and then drove the Road Warriors’ spiked armband into his eye over and over until he quit. It felt like it would have been more cathartic to have that gruesome finish happen to someone else on the Horsemen team—the fans hated Blanchard for years, Windham turned his back on them, and Flair stirred the pot—this poor shmoe just showed up, got wrecked, and then went back to his suspenders, sunglasses, and trilby. It didn’t feel like he deserved to get butchered like that.
4. Sting’s Squadron (Barry Windham, Dustin Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, Ricky Steamboat, and Sting) vs. the Dangerous Alliance (Arn Anderson, Beautiful Bobby, Larry Zbyszko, Rick Rude, and Steve Austin)
WCW WrestleWar 1992, “War Games”
Structurally, a WarGames match is worked like a Southern tag match, with a series of heel beatdowns and cage entrances that serve as hot tags. Here we had a team of incredible heel beatdown guys facing off against some of the greatest hot tag workers ever. Dustin Rhodes is the WarGames legacy, the son of its mad designer, and had both the babyface fire and eagerness to tap a vein. Steamboat was the master of the sympathy sell; he was coming in with a broken nose courtesy of Rick Rude, and he could make you believe in the agony of a broken nose. Austin wasn’t “Stone Cold” just yet, but he was a great heel and got opened up early. Arn Anderson was the institutional memory—this was the 20th WarGames match of Anderson’s 22 total, which is tied for the most WarGames appearances ever with Sting—and he is so great at the little bits of connective tissue that tie a match like this together. The finish was a bit slapstick, with Zbyszko unscrewing the ring post and accidentally injuring Eaton’s arm, leading to Sting submitting him with an armbar—the only blemish on an otherwise perfect match from a glory period of WCW.
3. Flyin’ Brian, Sting, and The Steiner Brothers vs. Larry Zbyszko & The Four Horsemen (Barry Windham, Ric Flair, and Sid Vicious)
WCW WrestleWar 1991
This match was highlighted by one of the single greatest babyface performances of all time by Brian Pillman, who achieved his greatest acclaim as a heel but on this night looked like a promotion’s top star. Despite coming into the match with a damaged shoulder, Pillman jumped the line, starting the match against Barry Windham, who he beat all around the ring, sending him flying over the ropes with a huge bump. This didn’t last long; the Horsemen won the coin toss, and Flair came in and immediately focused on Pillman’s shoulder. Sting and Steiners are great at evening the odds, however, and all of their explosions were technicolor. Sid famously botched the finish, with Pillman’s feet hitting the top of the cage on a powerbomb that caused Sid to drop him straight down on his neck before pulling him up and hitting a second powerbomb for the ref stoppage. With the beating that Pillman fought through, the accident actually added to the overall match.
2. Dustin Rhodes, Dusty Rhodes, and the Nasty Boys vs. the Stud Stable (Arn Anderson, Bunkhouse Buck, Col. Robert Parker, and Terry Funk)
WCW Fall Brawl 1994
This match was an elegy. WCW was fully embracing Hoganism, and the Southern style of wrestling that was the backbone of Turner pro wrestling since its inception was dying. This match was its final hurrah.
The feud was about family and this war was filled with members of the royal families of Southern wrestling. The Fuller/Welch family was represented by Robert Parker and Bunkhouse Buck; the Anderson clan had Arn (who wasn’t a blood Anderson, but it’s wrestling); the Funk family obviously had Terry; and the Rhodes had Dusty and Dustin (and Jerry Sags, whose wife’s sister was married to Dusty). As is tradition, Arn started the match and got tossed all over the ring by Dustin in a great opening section. Funk only wrestled in one big league WarGames, but what a perfect WarGames wrestler he was—totally out of control, swinging a boot, flopping all over the ring, he even took a piledriver by Sags on the gap between the rings, which disappeared him into the abyss. Sags had his career match as well, dealing a lot of damage and even power-slamming Bunkhouse Buck into the side of the cage. The finish was a classic, with Parker being forced into the ring against his will only to fall to Dusty’s Bionic Elbow and a big figure four to send everyone home happy. If this was the end of something glorious, it was a glorious end.
1. The Road Warriors, Nikita Koloff, Dusty Rhodes, and Paul Ellering vs. the Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Lex Luger, Tully Blanchard, and J.J. Dillon)
NWA Great American Bash, July 1987
This was the original (and best) WarGames. People have come close, but no one has ever been to replicate this atmosphere. The match was the culmination of the Horsemen running rampant through the NWA: They broke Dusty’s leg, damaged Nikita’s neck, and warred with the Road Warriors. This match wasn’t just about getting revenge and settling scores, each team was an avatar for society’s competing values.
All great WarGames babyface teams all have heaters, as seen in the team assembled in the first match: Koloff, the Road Warriors, and Rhodes are all guys that come off the hot tag like unchained Dobermans. Hawk especially was sitting outside the cage, teeth grinding for 15 minutes. Dillion was the mastermind of the Horsemen’s reign of terror, and the babyfaces pay him back in spades. Dillion never had the rep as a bumping manager like Bobby Heenan or Jimmy Hart, but here he got destroyed, soaked in blood, and had his shoulder dislocated after taking an awkward but violent Doomsday device. Add in one of the hottest crowds in wrestling history and we had an all-time classic, a solid contender for greatest match in wrestling history.
WarGames has inspired some great non-canonical versions in small indies over the years; here is a list of five of the greatest WarGames tributes.
5. Justice Army (Carlos Colón, Bruiser Brody, Invader 1, Dutch Mantel, and TNT) vs. Chicky Starr’s Sports Club (Chicky Starr, Hércules Ayala, Abdullah the Butcher, the Iron Sheik, and Grizzly Boone)
WWC, December 1987
La Gran Guerra (a.k.a. the Great War) was a variation of WarGames that took place in World Wrestling Council months after the first WarGames match. They used the double ring and roofed cage, but all 10 men started in the ring, and the goal was to handcuff your opponents to the cage. The whole match was chaotic, with as much action happening off camera as on. The match narrowed down to Invader 1 and Colón facing off against Abdullah and the Sheik, which turned into a double fist fight. Colón cuffed the Butcher and Sheik cuffed the Invader. Then Sheik destroyed Colón with a spike, cuffing Colón to the cage and laying waste to the entire Justice Army, eventually burying Colón under the Iranian flag. It was an intense angle; you could see the crowd on the verge of riot, which is always the best thing for a crowd to be on the verge of.
4. Team Ellering (the Dawson Brothers, Andrew Everett, Brad Attitude, and Cyrus the Destroyer) vs. Team Dillion (Caprice Coleman, C.W. Anderson, George South, Preston Quinn, and TIM)
AML Acts of War Games, February 2022
AML is a North Carolina indie promotion that wrestles in the lineage and style of the Mid-Atlantic promotion of the 1980s. This match had two cages but no roof, and was worked in a reverential way. The match started with former ECW star C.W. Anderson (in the tradition of his namesake Arn) and former WWE developmental veteran Brad Attitude. Andrew Everett came in next and Anderson started bleeding. The 60-year-old George South was the second babyface in, and he was leaking almost immediately. Really fun performance by all of these guys, with lots of feuds being blown off. Preston Quinn is one of those wrestlers who has been excellent for decades but never really got his shot, and I dig that he is still out there throwing killer rights and lefts. There were some indie wrestling spots by TIM, Coleman, and Everett (including a cage dive which I honestly could have done without), but it was mostly great-looking punches and stomps and guys going into the side of the cage violently. It was a tribute, but one that did the original proud.
3. Al Getz Enterprises (Ace Rockwell, Scottie Wrenn, and Shaun Tempers) vs. the NWA Elite (Jeremy V, Mikal Adryan, and Murder-1) vs. Iceberg, New Jack, and Tank
NWA Wildside Last Rites, April 2005
This was the final NWA Wildside show, a promotion that birthed some big stars (including AJ Styles, Ron Killings, and Abyss) and kept the WarGames tradition alive during that period between the end of WCW and the NXT era. The three-team aspect of this match seemed awkward on the surface, but it just ended up with one guy coming in every 90 seconds and beating on each other, so it was fine. At that time, Tempers and Rockwell were working as a flashy heel tag team called Pomp and Circumstance, but they earned their stripes here, literally; by the time the match was over, the white T-shirts they wore to the ring were painted candy cane red. Both guys also took huge bumps, with Tempers getting curb stomped into thumbtacks and eating a flip senton off the top from the refrigerator-sized Iceberg (who was billed at 600 pounds and was probably at least 450). Rockwell got powerbombed multiple times into the side of the cage, and took a superbomb off the top rope from Adryan, which looked like it broke his back. New Jack was a surprise partner, and is perfect for that role; you probably wouldn’t want to watch a 2005 New Jack singles match, but having him come in, brawl in the crowd, and beat on his opponents for five minutes fit great. WarGames matches often live and die on their finishes, and Tank sticking a sickle into Jeremy V’s mouth is a hell of a WarGames finish. This ended up becoming a grindhouse version of WarGames, and there’s something very cool about horror on a small budget.
2. Team CZW (Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli, Eddie Kingston, Nate Webb, and Necro Butcher) vs. Team ROH (Ace Steel, Adam Pearce, BJ Whitmer, Bryan Danielson, Homicide, and Samoa Joe)
ROH Death Before Dishonor IV, July 2006
I have written about this true U.S. indie classic match in both my book and on The Ringer. Full of great performances, and featuring a pair of supernova shows by Chris Hero and Homicide. Hero was the leader of the CZW team and did his best to rile up the crowd as a total pompous shitbag, stopping in the middle of the match to give a speech, and hiding from Homicide; the match was built around Team ROH getting their hands on Hero and shutting him up. Homicide was the beating heart of ROH and he came in as a surprise entry after Danielson jumped Samoa Joe and turned on ROH, taking them both out. His coming in blew the roof off the arena and he got the big moment of triumph at the end. We also got some cool supporting performances by guys like Necro Butcher, Nate Webb, Adam Pearce, and the newsworthy Ace Steel. It was also the indie version of one of those perfectly pulled off (but heavily overbooked) WWF Attitude era matches; they tried so many different mini-stories and angles that it was a miracle the match wasn’t derailed; the bookers were juggling chainsaws and somehow escaped with all of their hands.
1. Team Anarchy (Ace Rockwell, Nemesis, Shadow Jackson, and Slim J) vs. the Devil’s Rejects (Azrael, Iceberg, Shaun Tempers, and Tank)
NWA Anarchy Hostile Environment, July 2006
This is one of the greatest underseen matches in wrestling history, a truly horrific classic that is as good as the best NWA/WCW WarGames. As I said in Way of the Blade, the Rejects “look like they have lost hikers hanging on meat hooks in their basement.” They were led by Rev. Dan Wilson, who did Satanic cult leader better than anyone since prime Kevin Sullivan. The Rejects had been battling Anarchy since the promotion formed, and the stakes of this match were high: if the Rejects won, they would gain control of the promotion, but if Anarchy won, Anarchy owner Jerry Palmer would get five minutes in the cage with Rev. Dan.
Ace Rockwell came into the ring with a bad arm and J came in with a bad eye, and both injuries were gruesomely exploited. Slim J is best known—if he is known at all—as a high-flyer, but he was one of the great brawlers of the past couple of decades, and put that on display in this match. His first move of the match was a cage dive, and it came off less like a big spot to get GIFs and crowd pops, and more like someone diving off a speaker at a punk show into a mosh pit, ready to throw hands. Everyone bled, everyone brawled, and we got a great, ugly finish with Rockwell grabbing a claw hammer and trying to tear out Temper’s cheek. In the post-match, Palmer got his hands on Rev. Dan, only to get swarmed and destroyed by the Rejects. The stretcher job after the match had a real melancholy feel, and the crowd apparently followed the ambulance to the local hospital, where Palmer had to hide in a closet until they left. It is nearly impossible to find that kind of emotional buy-in from a modern crowd, and it is a real credit to what everyone was able to achieve in that tiny barn in Cornelia, Georgia.
Phil Schneider is a cofounder of the Death Valley Driver Video Review, a writer on the Segunda Caida blog, host of The Way of the Blade podcast, and the author of Way of the Blade: 100 of the Greatest Bloody Matches in Wrestling History, which is available on Amazon. He is on Twitter at @philaschneider.