Matches That Defined 2017: NXT War Games
The Undisputed Era vs Sanity vs The Authors of Pain and Roderick Strong
NXT Takeover: War Games
Toyota Centre, Houston
18th November 2017
As is standard for WWE, the video package for this is excellent, doing a lot to put over the War Games stipulation as a part of wrestling history, with particular emphasis on the role of former NXT booker, the late Dusty Rhodes, in its creation. Footage of legends of the past (Ric Flair, Sting, Mr .com) is juxtaposed with snippets of the feud that led to this newest War Games match. The feud was decently heated and provided intrigue with the tease of Roderick Strong potentially joining his old ROH colleagues in The Undisputed Era (crap name).
However, it did suffer from WWE’s increasing tendency to view the mere display of faction warfare as a substitute for actual storyline developments; see also the false start of the Divas Revolution. Remember Team BAD, Team Bella and Team PCB? Shudder. At least two of the factions here feel cohesive and logical, but we do also get Strong coming out with the Authors of Pain dressed as a Silurian.
The rules stipulate that the team captains start the match, and the other two members of each team will be released at intervals, imprisoned on full display in shark cages because it’s nearly Christmas and we have toys to sell. The early going is decent enough as Undisputed IRA leader Adam Cole plays coward and mega babyface Strong shows some fire, though even in a cage we still got the WWE’s usual Triple Threat Syndrome of “two men fight, one man sells”.
Cole’s subcomadantes Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish are released first and do some MMA all over Strong and Eric Young, but it soon turns into a not terribly interesting group beatdown. Things pick up when Akam and Rezar of the AoP are loosed; the second ring gives a whole new dimension to their particular brand of man-flinging, with Cole and Young getting lobbed from canvas to canvas, and teammate Strong used as a human missile to great effect.
There then follows what the commentary team call THE MATCH BEYOND (i.e. pinfalls and submissions are now legal), as Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe of SaniTy bring the chaos with a police baton, chairs and bins. The crowd demand tables and get one. Dain uses a chain to lock the cage door and then swallows the key, as the wrestlers settle in for a long all-nighter of waiting for Big Damo to do a shit. Men get German suplexed and chucked onto bins, Dain does a very nifty combo where he dropkicks one AoP member and delivers a back senton as he lands on the floor. He ascends to the top rope and hits a big fat man cross body, tells Cole and his kendo stick to fuck off and then Michinoku Drivers him onto Fish. The Beast of Belfast then faces off with Akam and/or Rezar and they compete to see who can do a better job of fall away slamming two people at once. Awesome. Sky’s the limit with this lad.
The Undisputed Era are back and hit some moves, including their Chasing the Dragon finisher, a combo of a dual head kick and a brainbuster (I’m amazed they’re letting them do that). O’Reilly gets Wolfe in a chain-assisted armbar but Eric Young breaks it up with his top rope elbow, a lovely example of the form but now only the third best in NXT, after Kairi Hojo and that man Paddy Clark. Bobby Fish does a moonsault which is well-performed and functional but no more, like everything Bobby Fish does.
The AoP powerbomb Fish and O’Reilly, first taking the time to use the indie darlings’ bodies as a vice between which to squish Dain, Young gives one of the Authors a Death Valley Bomb onto the other and Strong runs wild with knees and backbreakers. We then get TWO simultaneous four-man Towers of Doom, one in each ring, with Adam Cole the odd man out, safely perched on top of two turnbuckles, celebrating his lucky escape like a shitter. The AoP get the tables and try to fuck Cole through them but he flees up the cage and ends up crawling on his belly along the top like he’s in Metal Gear Solid. One of the Authors of The Phantom Pain gets Germaned off the top rope through the table by Wolfe, who has quietly become one of NXT’s standout performers. Wolfe spends the rest of the match pissing blood out of his head off camera. Such is life.
Things get, if anything, even madder as Dain hits O’Reilly with the old Shane O’Mac bin-assisted Coast to Coast, which was impressive enough when he was doing it in tiny British indie rings, but in the huge 20×20 WWE one it’s utterly ludicrous. Speaking of utterly ludicrous, Strong goes up top to fetch Cole and ends up giving him a superplex off the top of the cage onto the other seven men, none of whom manage to catch them properly. Good job, lads.
Somehow Cole kicks out, and then we get into the finish. The AoP hit their finisher on Dain on the steel platform that stops the gap between the rings being like when you book a double room at a hotel but they’ve lashed two single beds together, the tandems of Fish and O’Reilly and Wolfe and Young do their own double team moves, and we’re left where we started; with the team captains. Young wheelbarrows Strong into the wall but takes a kendo stick from Cole. The SaniTy leader picks up a chair in a last act of defiance but Cole Shining Wizards it into his face and gets the three count to give the Undisputed Era (still a crap name) the win.
Why It Defined 2017
Ever since the so-called Monday Night Wars ended, WWE have done everything in their power to tarnish the legacy of WCW, the only company in living memory that provided a true threat to the Fed’s existence (not that the last few baffling years of WCW TV didn’t denude that legacy in themselves). DVDs, YouTube series and lines of commentary all coalesced in an attempt to get over the idea that WCW was an organisation run by serial incompetents who couldn’t book their way out of a paper bag. The party line was that WCW went out of business because their storylines made no sense, they overextended themselves in terms of content, and they relied on stars from the past without building up young wrestlers to the same level, even when it became apparent to all and sundry that WWE was increasingly making these very mistakes.
Significant moments in the wrestling history of the late twentieth century were swept under the rug because they happened in WCW and not WWF; in Stamford’s chronology, Hacksaw Jim Duggan was mentioned more than Sting, Ric Flair was constantly put across as a sixteen-time world champion without any discussion of how he came to win (and lose) those many accolades, Royal Rumble 1992 excepted. The nWo seemed less a groundbreaking plotline than something to bring out when you needed Triple H and Kevin Nash to feud, or an example of how WCW was prone to running a good idea into the ground. You will again note the irony of this, coming from a company whose idea of a rivalry nowadays is for two wrestlers to fight every week for two months until nobody wants to see them face each other ever again.
WWE’s complete inability to get over a war despite winning it (as a Brit this is a state of mind I’m more than familiar with) has reached comical levels at times. Who can forget Sting losing his long-awaited WWE debut against Triple H at Wrestlemania 31 because we needed another reminder that WWE beat WCW? The Monday Night Wars are finally over, proclaimed JBL, as though the result proved anything other than a) Wrestlemania is over-reliant on part-time stars from the 90s, and b) Vince McMahon, as in 2001’s lamentably one-sided WWF vs. WCW/ECW invasion, will harm his bottom line if it means he can get one over on a business rival. That WCW hadn’t existed since this very storyline, and WWE owned all the defunct company’s intellectual property – and indeed had uploaded a lot of the footage to a Network whose popularity depends in part upon people thinking WCW was actually worth watching – seemed not to factor into it.
However, we are seeing some signs of a change in thinking. Commentators are now allowed to mention companies outside of the WWE; there’s no way that if AJ Styles had debuted in 2011 rather than 2016 he’d have been referred to as a former IWGP Heavyweight Champion. There was even a house show in the Carolinas called Starrcade, featuring appearances from many luminaries of southern rasslin’. The Fed seem at long last to have realised that there is fan satisfaction (and, no doubt more importantly, money) to be had from celebrating the rich history of wrestling not just in WWE but outwith as well.
It is no longer accurate to say that this history – WCCW, Jim Crockett Promotions, the NWA, Memphis – only matters on the one night of the year they hold the Hall of Fame ceremony. NXT’s War Games isn’t the greatest match I’ve ever seen, and it won’t be on many people’s Match of the Year lists. It wasn’t even the best match on the show; that honour would go to the shockingly awesome Aleister Black vs. Velveteen Dream bout. However, It represented that rarest and most pleasant of beasts; a WWE match which not only was intended as an entry into a tradition started by a different company, but proved a worthy addition to the canon in terms of quality. Good stuff, though I reserve my right to start complaining again when Triple H beats Goldberg in the main event of Wrestlemania 34.
Fans had been clamouring for a War Games match ever since the modern, definitely 80s NWA/WCW-flavoured iteration of NXT began. It was a surprise that they chose to make the first use of the stipulation in over fifteen years a three-way, considering the only previous three-team War Games match was famously cack, but this looked good on paper, and overall I’d say it delivered. The best moments were where we got a real sense of organised chaos, with bodies and weapons flying around in a dynamic fashion that never felt overly planned and contrived in the way that the opening six-man scramble at your local indie does.
Killian Dain in particular looked like an absolute star; I know from my experience watching him on the UK indies that plunder-laden brawls are an environment in which he thrives. In fact, all of SaniTy performed very well; after a rough start, this faction has developed into a very watchable unit both inside and outside the ring. The Undisputed Era wrestled very well and got across their kayfabe status as a cohesive unit, though I’d like NXT booking to rely less on bringing in indie stars and simply assuming the crowds will care because they’re predisposed to like them on account of their earlier work. The Authors of Pain and Roderick Strong were also great, but that’s come to be expected.
However, although this match contained some excellent performers performing excellently, the length of the match felt excessive, and in a match with so many big spots they ran the risk of burning the crowd out. The finish in particular felt somewhat anti-climactic; if you’re going to end proceedings with a knee strike into a chair when you’ve just done a superplex off the top of the cage, you’d better have a more engaging build than “follow-up to a kendo stick shot after everyone got moves done to them”.
Which brings me to my second point; layout. The early segments of the match, in which the second and third members of each team were released in turn, did well to get across the strengths of the individual units; The Undisputed Era’s cocky shithousery, the AoP and Roddy’s dynamic ass-kicking teamwork, and SaniTy’s love of chaos. Yet the second half of the match came across as a spotfest, with little in the way of ebb and flow in terms of factional dominance. The camerawork was typically slapdash, the usual surfeit of shakycam leavened with more than one big move being obscured or missed altogether. If, as I hope is the case, they do another of these in 2018, they need to sort production out.