May 17, 1992
So continues my most-likely feeble attempt to show that WCW wasn’t always about stupidity and sucking. There actually was a point in time when it was fun to watch WCW. Case in point, this has War Games the way it was meant to be.
Brian Pillman . . . takes out Tom Zenk’s knee like he owes him money.
Rick Steiner . . . makes a few adjustments to Takayuki Iizuka’s facial features.
Steve Austin . . . bleeds buckets along with a lot of others in the main event.
TERRY TAYLOR/GREG VALENTINE © vs. MICHAEL HAYES/JIMMY GARVIN (WCW United State Tag Team Titles)
Taylor and Valentine’s work here is far from being anything state of the art, but it’s still good enough to smoke anything that the Freebirds do here. One recurring trend of the match is Taylor and Valentine not being on the same page (something the announcers pretty much hammer home). On several occasions they’ll wind up running into each other, and their double team attempt will go up in smoke. Obviously with tag team gold being at stake here, it’s fair to say that teamwork should be an issue here, but the Freebirds don’t look like tag team specialists themselves. Sure Hayes and Garvin tag in and out a lot (and let me stress a *lot*) but tagging frequently is far from being a well-polished tag team.
The match itself is pretty much broken up in two halves, one for each team to have control. The control segment for the champions is the more tolerable one, if only because Taylor and Valentine actually have some offense they can use. Valentine also isn’t shy about laying right into Hayes or Garvin with the chops and forearm shots. Compared to the Freebirds, who’s idea of control is simply working an arm ringer over and over again. Hayes’ supposedly lethal left punch looks like he’s afraid of breaking a nail. Taylor and Valentine both use their finishers and they’re both wasted, and explained away as Garvin and Hayes not being worn down enough for them to actually put them away. Of course if that were the case then I’ve love hearing why Garvin sold the Five-Arm as a knockout and Garvin needed to save Hayes from the figure four. There is a bit of build to the DDT though, which isn’t necessarily needed because the DDT has always been the Kiss of Death, but it’s a nice thought, with Garvin’s first attempt being met with a cheap shot from Taylor, and then Garvin learning his lesson and avoiding it the second time and the result being new champions.
TRACY SMOTHERS vs. JOHNNY B. BADD
Despite a total lack of offense other than the basics, Badd isn’t totally worthless here. He does an exceptional job of selling for Smothers’ karate kicks. Of course it’s not a Johnny B. Badd match if he’s not firing off punches left and right, and beyond that there isn’t much else he puts to use. Badd rolls through Smothers’ cross body press much the same way he did to Morton at the Clash, but isn’t successful here. He also pulls out a sunset flip off the top, which he’d go on to use as a finish a couple years down the road. Smothers isn’t bad, but he’s forgettable here. The only things of his that stick out are the cross body press and the karate kicks, and they’re both more memorable for what Badd did with them, than anything Smothers did. The only thing this match as a whole really accomplishes is showing how to use previous events in the match to set up the finish. Badd finally learns to dodge Smothers’ kick and is able to hit the left hook and knock him out. Not that it suddenly makes this a great match, but it’s a nice little touch.
SCOTTY FLAMINGO vs. MARCUS BAGWELL
It’s relatively easy to enjoy matches involving inexperienced workers, because they’re so easy to put sympathy on. That’s why this so disappointing in a sense. Bagwell is better here than he was at the Clash, by virtue of not screwing up any moves, but his offense is still virtually nonexistent at this point. He’s got a nice looking vertical suplex and a nice fisherman suplex, and that’s about it. Flamingo doesn’t really have the size or offense to put any easy sympathy on Bagwell, so right from the start they’re in trouble. There is a fun little sequence where they trade off slaps to the face, resulting in Flamingo finally losing his cool and throwing the punches. But the match is quite littered with rest holds and a distinct lack of interesting offense. Bagwell celebrating like he got the win after the fisherman’s suplex set them up for a perfectly good ending in Scotty ambushing him, but they decide to send the same message with an extra step, by Bagwell attempting a roll up, and Scotty rolling through and holding the tights for the win.
Mr. HUGHES vs. RON SIMMONS
Just like the last match, this more or less has a simple story practically gift-wrapped. It was supposed to be a tag team match, but Cactus attacked Ron’s partner on the way to the ring and now it’s been made a singles match. The difference here is the reason why it turns out so disappointing, and that’s because (A. Simmons couldn’t sell to save his life and (B. Hughes has zilch to add to the match other than clubbing forearms, despite his huge side advantage. Simmons doing a hip toss to Hughes might almost be worth the huge reaction (think Dennis Rodman arm dragging Lex Luger for an example) that it gets, if he’d just sell or put over the idea that he’s in real danger. In addition Cactus being on the floor puts some cheating spots *right there* and it’s not utilized except for some punches, and this is Cactus Jack of all people. Sure it’s impressive that Simmons and give Hughes a spine buster, and equally impressive to see Hughes flip over for Simmons’ football tackle, but this winds up being a snoozer when it could have easily been a lot of fun.
TODD CHAMPION vs. SUPER INVADER
As good as Ross and Ventura usually are, here is a great example of stupidity. They try to push Todd Champion as an inexperienced rookie, despite him being a former co-holder of the United States Tag Titles less than six months previous to this. Aside from that, there isn’t much else to talk about with this match. Invader does a whole bunch of “karate chops” and Todd just sort of sits there and takes them. Champion does work in some token jobber big man offense, but nothing of any real note. The Fire Thunder Powerbomb was a cool finish, something that the fans in the US probably hadn’t seen before, and Invader does a decent job of protecting Todd on the way down and making sure he has a safe landing.
RICKY MORTON vs. BIG JOSH
And now we start to see the problem with practically every piece of talent being in the main event. The undercard sucks royally. The undercard has yet to contain a match that looks like it belongs on PPV. The closest is the opener, and that’s due to the booking, not the quality. This is somewhat passable thanks to Morton using his quickness to his advantage, and outsmarting Josh on a couple of occasions. Morton also does a funny sell-job of the Log Roll. Other than that they plod along with neither of them really taking control of things, and making it plainly obvious that they’re just farting around to kill time. Morton makes a mistake and Josh flattens him with an Earthquake splash for the win. To get the most enjoyment possible out of this though, just close your eyes, or open a book or something and listen to Jesse’s comments about Josh’s ring attire.
BRIAN PILLMAN © vs. THE Z-MAN (WCW Light Heavyweight Title)
One of the oldest angles in wrestling is a heel turn, based on jealousy. The angle leading to this match (Zenk looking past Pillman and challenging Scotty Flamingo, complete with offering a title shot) as well as the actual way this is worked, makes it almost ideal for that very angle to play out. The way the match is worked and structured is how you’d expect, which is both good and bad. Being played out how you’d expect means that there won’t be much in the way of surprises (outside of nobody going full heel that is), but the upside is that these two care capable of better work and spots than a lot of others would be. It starts out with the spots to establish how well they know each other, and things do somewhat break down but never into an all-out brawl where the friendship takes a backseat to the title.
Zeroing in on injuries and body parts is more or less mandatory in matches like this, and if you judge simply based on how much actually gets done then Zenk would win hands down. But it’s Pillman who winds up looking the best because even though he doesn’t do nearly as much to Zenk’s knee, as Zenk does to his back, Pillman’s stuff looks much more damaging. The selling is an issue though, neither one is really phased that much when it’s their turn to go on offense. There are times when something will happen to bring the focus back, such as when Zenk counters Air Pillman into the powerslam, but more often than not the work isn’t factored into things when it’s time to get offense in. Despite Zenk’s knee getting worked on, he still counters Pillman’s cross body press with a big boot. Pillman proves to be one-step-ahead though, when he attempts the crucifix knowing that Zenk knows the counter, but Pillman counters that and still holds the pin. After Zenk nearly KO’s Pillman with the big boot, he plays to the crowd and head up top for his big dropkick, only for Pillman outsmart him again and sidestep him and then quickly score a roll-up for the win. This doesn’t hold a candle to the stuff Pillman was able to do with Lyger, Benoit, and as half of the Blondes, but it’s still pretty good for being a mostly formulaic match. ***
RICK STEINER/SCOTT STEINER vs. TATSUMI FUJINAMI/TAKAYUKI IIZUKA (#1 Contenders match for the IWGP Tag Titles)
Many matches are remembered as great matches, more for a specific occurrence in the match, than the actual match itself. Look at Taker/Foley HIAC, and the Misawa/Kawada Ganso Bomb match as easy examples (although the AJPW match is quite good). This would be one of those matches, it’s certainly good, but just because Iizuka came into the match healthy and left with a broken nose and his eye swollen shut, doesn’t make it a super-great match. What makes this a good match though is the fact that Iizuka is pretty much dead on until Rick adjusts his facial features. Everything he does looks really crisp, and it’s too bad that he didn’t get to take the Steiners down to the mat and show them up at all. It’s sort of disappointing to not see Rick and Scott start sharking at his face the way Tenryu did to Fujinami, but it doesn’t hurt the match at all. The only part that drags is the matwork that comes afterwards because it’s just not that interesting. It’s nice that instead of sitting in a headlock for ten minutes that Rick and Scott used some the amateur looking stuff so it wouldn’t look like they were trying to kill time, especially since when something goes wrong in a match the first idea is to slap on a rest hold and stall.
As good as Iizuka was looking before he got his face busted, it’s even more remarkable that he was able to suck up the pain and keep on fighting. “Fighting” is the operative word here, as Iizuka and Fujinami really start to heel things up after Iizuka gets his bearings back together. Their spike piledriver looks great, and the Doomsday Device gone wrong would have made a great finish if they hadn’t used it so early. Neither Fujinami nor Iizuka has qualms about coming in behind the ref’s back and starting a brawl, and all four of them really follow through with the punches, kicks, knees etc. resulting in an already hot crowd only getting more fired up. The finish is understandable, if a bit of a letdown. Obviously the bulldog wasn’t going to happen with Iizuka’s facial condition, but the Frankensteiner was right there and would have been very fitting, after taking a monumental beating, Iizuka is put down by the move that always wins it for the Steiners, the same move that won them the IWGP Tag Titles in the first place. Rick’s belly to belly off the top has given the Steiners success in the states, but the move wasn’t built up to at all and comes off feeling tacked on as the ending. ***1/2
War Games: STING/NIKITA KOLOFF/DUSTIN RHODES/BARRY WINDHAM/RICKY STEAMBOAT vs. RICK RUDE/STEVE AUSTIN/BOBBY EATON/ARN ANDERSON/ LARRY ZYBYZSKO
While Vince always had the Royal Rumble as his pet gimmick match that had varying results in quality given the booking and the storylines, but could always be counted on to at least contain something enjoyable, WCW had War Games. This is without question the best War Games that WCW ever produced, and it’s probably no coincidence that it was the final one before Bischoff came into power. The concept of the heels maintaining the advantage is good in order to keep the fans on the edge, but much like the concept of a triple threat match, it causes the match to follow a certain rotation. Besides the real excitement doesn’t start until everyone gets inside the cage.
On this occasion however, it’s a very rare occurrence of WCW getting things right. Things start off with Austin and Windham continuing their feud, and Windham wastes no time in causing the blood to flow, out of all the blood in this match (and there is a whole lot of it) Austin bleeds the worst. With Windham being the hardest hitter on Sting’s team (especially with the taped fist) The Dangerous Alliance sends in their heaviest hitter in Rick Rude to even the score, and that gets followed up with Steamboat coming in to get his hands on Rude (whom he had a beef with over the U.S. title and a broken nose). Even though things do start to fall into rotation a bit after Steamboat gets in, there are still a few good spots that come up. In the very beginning Austin tried swinging from the ceiling to kick Windham and got himself sidestepped. When Steamboat gets in, he shows Austin how it’d done properly. Anderson being the next man in for the Alliance is another wise choice, as who better to slow down the spunky babyfaces than the War Games veteran and it’s done in style leveling Windham with the DDT and then Steamboat with the spine buster. Steamboat also takes flight over the top ropes of both rings, with a bad looking fall.
Things don’t always follow the rotation formula though, when Zybyzsko (the oldest member of his team) comes in, Dustin Rhodes is ready for him and starts hammering away on him to keep the babyfaces in good shape. But Paul E. has another trick up his sleeve sending Madusa up the cage to give Anderson the telephone and quickly turn the tide once again. It’s bit odd that Sting’s ribs were never made a major target in the match (it’s also odd that Vader wasn’t given a match on the show), it would have been a really easy way to tease the Dangerous Alliance being able to get the win. The big will he/won’t he mystery with whether or not Koloff would turn on Sting is resolved, although with a quick twist to get in one last bit of uncertainty before it’s declared that Koloff won’t. The business with the turnbuckle was nice, although it’d have been cool to see the Dangerous Alliance use their one-man advantage to keep attempting to loosen it throughout the match, rather than just toward the end. Zybyzsko hitting Eaton by mistake works perfectly as the opening needed to give the babyfaces the win. It’s obvious that Dangerously had planned out his team’s strategy to a tee. Everything from the order to send his boys in, sending Madusa up with the phone, and breaking the turnbuckle to use the hook all to get the win, and Sting happened to move out of the way and send it all down the commode. A simple armbar doesn’t exactly look like the sort of move that should be able to get the submission in a match like this, but it works in the context of how his arm was hurt in the first place, as well as Sting making sure to exert pressure on almost the exact part of his arm where he’d been hit. Although why Larry got chewed out when Eaton was the one holding Sting doesn’t quite make sense, if Bobby had held on like he was supposed to then the whole thing wouldn’t have happened. When Bischoff decided to use War Games for Fall Brawl, someone should have shown him a tape of this match and explained that nobody in WCW at the time had the brains and talent to pull off anything as awesome as this one. *****
Conclusion: The undercard is horrible, murderous, brutal (and not in a good way), and every other adjective you can use. But you do have the best War Games ever done and one of the best matches ever in WCW, and the two good matches before then is gravy. Highest recommendation possible, unless WWE decides to release this match uncut on DVD.