The ‘War Games’ (often printed in full as ‘Wargames’ in advertisements) are one of professional wrestling’s ultimate wrestling matches.
Two teams at odds with each other enter a steel cage that spans not one, but two wrestling rings, and must use their skill, toughness and some military-level strategy to defeat their opponents.
The match was the brainchild of legendary ‘American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes in the 1980s and became an annual tradition for the National Wrestling Alliance/Jim Crockett Promotions and later World Championship Wrestling.
Here’s everything you need to know about the classic stipulation bout.
War Games: Rules
Traditionally, two evenly-ranked teams will play against each other, often four or five teams. Each team has a ‘captain’, who will select their team members in the run-up to the tournament, although leadership duties may also be assumed by non-wrestling managers or wrestlers in a managerial capacity.
One member of each team will enter the doubles cage to start the match. Which team member starts, as well as the order of the rest of the team after that, is usually decided by the captain/manager. It will be 1vs1 for the opening period of the match lasting five minutes. At 5:00, a new wrestler will enter the cage – but only one.
Either team winning the ‘advantage’ will be able to send off a team member, making the match 2vs1 for two minutes. Advantage may be determined by a coin toss, a match between members of both sides in the build-up to wargames, or some other method.
After that 2:00 period, the other team would send out their second wrestler, returning things to 2vs2 for the evening. After another two minutes, the first team goes 3vs2, then 3vs3, and so on, and the ‘advantage’ team always goes first. Once both sides have entered the cage, the ‘match beyond’ portion of the bout begins.
War Games: ‘The Match Beyond’
A match can be won or lost without everyone in the match entering the cage.
At that point, the ‘match beyond’ begins, where both sides (or, given the brutality of the match, what’s left of it) try to win. Nowadays, this can be done by pinfall or submission. In the old days, only submission or ‘surrender’ (giving up without being in an actual submission move, similar to ‘I Quit’ matches) could end a ‘battle’.
War Games: Strategy
In theory it makes sense for captains to send their most durable or athletic team members first as “lead-offs”, since they will have to endure the full duration of the match (and for one team, several numerical losses). There have been many occasions where the captain will lead by example and start the match himself, although many prefer to arrive late and “clean-up” as the newest member.
The “clean-up” member (or “closer”) is often the longest or hardest-working team member who often also has the biggest stamina or long-term problems. They will be at or near the start of ‘The Match Beyond’ and thus will try to target the most injured or vulnerable opponent for a quick finish.
If part of a regular tag team wargames match, the captain will make sure they are next to each other in order to take full advantage of their teamwork. This type of camaraderie is extremely valuable in the early stages of a match, as many wargames teams throughout history come together to pursue a common enemy.
War Games: History
The first Wargames match took place during the NWA’s Great American Bash ’87 tour at The Omni in Atlanta when Dusty Rhodes asked for a new grid match that pitted the entire villainous Four Horseman stable against all of their heroic foils.
Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, The Road Warriors, and The Warriors’ manager Paul Ellering won the first WarGames against the Horsemen’s representative Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Lex Luger, and manager JJ Dillon. Due to the nature of the business at the time and live gate receipts being king, the company returned the match three more times that summer, each time slightly altering the line-up.
1988 and 1989 also saw several WarGames matches, with the 1989 Great American Bash hosting the first PPV edition of the score-settler. The match then disappeared until 1991, when the Four Horsemen Flair, Anderson, Larry Zbyszko and Sid Vicious became the first ‘heel’ team to win the WarGames at Wrestlewar ’91 against Sting, The Steiner Brothers and Brian Pillman.
The WrestleWar ’92 edition, which saw Sting’s Squadron defeat The Dangerous Alliance, is considered by many to be World Championship Wrestling’s greatest in-ring effort since the full-on transition from the NWA/JCP to WCW. After that, the match became synonymous with the September PPV Fall Brawl – but memorable performances were far less frequent.
From 1993 to 1997, Wargames ranged from OK (Rhodes Family and Nasty Boys Revenge on the Stud Stable in ’94 was decent enough) to embarrassing (Hulk Hogan and Friends vs. Dungeon of Doom ’95 – ’nuff said). Plots often overtook the action, especially during the New World Order years of ’96 and ’97. And WCW babyfaces doubting Sting and Curt Hennig’s heel turn over the Horsemen were key moments, hampered by years of toned-down and bloodless acts and the Order’s reluctance to arrive.
In 1998 and 2000, WCW created two confusing and at times embarrassingly improvised WarGames matches before being bought by WWE in 2001, who refused to use the concept until 2017. And the matter of tweaking a winning formula is double-caged. More than having a head-first vault into a cavalier net.
War Games: Changes
Aside from switching between 4vs4 and 5vs5 or forcing non-wrestling managers to participate, the match stuck to a clear pattern for most of its early run from the NWA to WCW. However, things got weird in 1998.
No longer two teams facing off, this time the main event of Fall Brawl ’98 featured three teams: the nWo’s Wolfpack stable, the nWo’s Hollywood stable, and a WCW team fighting in a feud where only one member of a team could win and earn money. WCW World Title Match. This led to the ‘team-mates’ attacking each other and everyone trying to keep up with what was happening – especially when the Ultimate Warrior showed up with numerous ‘magic’ entrances to harass Hollywood Hogan.
This made 1999 the first year since 1990 not to see a WarGames match. In 2000, however, Vince Russo dropped the name Random Nitro in an attempt to quickly fix the declining ratings again on his watch. And yes, literally just the name ‘Wargames’ is nothing more.
This time, the usual double cage was replaced by the ‘Ready to Rumble’ triple cage seen earlier that year in the titular wrestling film as well as the Slamboree 2000 main event. And while that cage was an imposing structure, there were no wargames booked inside it.
A team of ‘babyfaces’ and a team of Russo’s gang of villains battled against each other, but also against the men who didn’t qualify for the night but still showed up, but also against each other as one man was the target to climb to the top. Climbed the top of the cage and captured Kevin Nash’s WCW World Championship, but had to drop the belt and exit the cage to be declared champion. Got them all? Smashing.
Of course, it was all a Russo “Swerve” where the heels pretended to be mad at Nash for jeopardizing his belt in such a ridiculous manner, but the Swerve was clearly too powerful to overcome the company’s top heroes. Either that, or they had an aneurysm trying to complete the match objective.
With that last effort, it’s easy to understand why WWE didn’t see the value in using something that wasn’t Vince McMahon’s own creation. However, they took some inspiration from wargames to create Elimination Chamber, which turned out to be a really enjoyable way to experience ‘every man/woman for themselves’ wargames.
Independents such as Major League Wrestling would ‘borrow’ WarGames in the early 2000s before WWE consolidated on the copyright. But it was NWA: TNA that came closest to bringing WarGames back to its true glory on a national level, with the addition of the National Wrestling Alliance and Dusty Rhodes.
During the debut of their polarizing PPV concept Lockdown in 2005, where each match was held inside a steel cage, the first ‘Lethal Lockdown’ match featured a 3vs3 wargame-style setup as the match started as a 1vs1 and team members joined in at intervals. . Diamond Dallas Page, BG James and Sean Waltman defeated Jeff Jarrett, Kip James and Monty Brown on the night, but a year later Deadly Lockdown found legs.
Sting, the wrestler most synonymous with captaining the babyface Wargames team, formed a team to get revenge on Jeff Jarrett and his army for constantly harassing him after he tried to retire. Stinger called for the return of the cage canopy seen in classic wargames bouts – but only when the ‘Match Beyond’ period kicked in and various weapons were attached!
This change of Wargames was what many thought of when thinking of the TNA Deadly Lockdown matches. And because it preserved the basic foundation of wargames, it became a once-a-year charm for the next decade, with second editions in 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2016.
As TNA/Impact entered an ugly transitional period through several court meetings in 2016 and 2017, it was then that Triple H finally convinced McMahon to greenlight a comeback for the red-hot NXT brand called WarGames.
The iconic but sometimes dangerous ceiling counter and ending the match beyond by pinfall as well as submission were two changes that didn’t hinder much. Teams in NXT are threatened with immediate disqualification if they leave the structure without a roof, which we can only hope is a rule that isn’t used just for profit.
However, Wargames’ big return – UE vs. Sanity vs. Roderick Strong and Authors of Pain – actually brought back the ill-conceived three-team format of Fall Brawl ’98. Thankfully, this was actually a win for the entire team – in this case the Era – and the resulting bout was enjoyable.
It was the traditional 4vs4 format in 2018 and 2019, and the WarGames matches got better with other significant changes WWE made – including requiring team members to be placed in small cages until entering the match – playing smart multiple times until getting in. For the 2019 edition, two WarGames matches took place on the same night, including the first-ever all-women edition. The bout was critically acclaimed and served as a breakthrough performance for Rhea Ripley.
War Games: The Future
The spectacle has now finally been upgraded to a main WWE show and will headline this weekend’s Survivor Series Premium live event. Once a beloved concept through multi-person elimination tags, Survivor Series has lost its identity in recent years and wargames have become a staple of WrestleMania, The Royal Rumble and SummerSlam.
Meanwhile, all of Elite Wrestling, after delays caused by the pandemic, finally presented their own versions. Now named Blood and Guts thanks to the WWE-owned trademark, it still tries to follow the traditional format of the early days, including plenty of title bloodshed for a less TV-PG but undeniably intense grudge match.