In just two nights' time, two teams of five will take to the massive steel cage that surrounds two juxtaposed wrestling rings, for the ultimate in acrimonious faction combat.
Usually, we'd call a spectacle like this "War Games". But since another organization owns the rights to that moniker, we'll go with AEW's alternative handle: Blood and Guts.
By all manner of reason, this Blood and Guts pitting The Inner Circle against The Pinnacle looks like a War Games, walks like a War Games, and quacks like a War Games, so it's pretty much War Games.
Add in the closed roof, and the fact that submission and surrender are the only avenues to victory, and it's actually more like War Games than what the current trademark-holder promotes.
From the first time AEW broached the revival of classic, Dusty Rhodes-designed War Games over a year ago, fans got buzzing, especially those of a certain age. There exists a certain magic in the very concept of two groups (one heroic, the other reprehensible) ripping flesh and cracking skulls in an inescapable cage, until one valiant soldier loses the will to continue, and surrenders on behalf of their team.
War Games, or Blood and Guts, is as theatrical as it is brutal - a pathos play bathed in red.
Between 1987 and 2000, Dusty's vision was trotted out 31 times, whether as the marquee match of a pay-per-view, or the main attraction of a house show (usually as part of the old "Great American Bash" tours that criss-crossed the United States). Some of those matches stand the test of time, earning a permanent place in wrestling lore as all-time classics. Others, meanwhile, have sullied the War Games name, making a mockery of a usually-proud gimmick bout (looking squarely at you, bastardized 1998 abomination).
Among the greatest of the War Games matches are the televised spectacles from the match's early years. In 1987, Dusty himself teamed with Super Powers teammate Nikita Koloff, The Road Warriors, and Paul Ellering to defeat a Four Horsemen contingent in two different bouts. An Atlanta-based version in early July saw the heroes vanquish Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Lex Luger, and manager JJ Dillon. Four weeks later in Miami's Orange Bowl, the same match was run, but with Dillion subbed out for the mysterious War Machine (played by The Big Boss Man).
A new high-bar was set for the match in 1991, when Flair, Barry Windham, Larry Zbyszko, and Sid Vicious outlasted Sting, The Steiner Brothers, and Brian Pillman at that year's WCW WrestleWar, culminating in an utterly-brutal finish where Sid's powerbomb of Pillman was stunted by the low cage ceiling, causing "Flyin' Brian" to be driven into the mat at a horrifying degree.
A year later, at the 1992 WrestleWar, the two-ring cage would be instituted once more in order to settle a group grudge. Counting house show matches, this would be the 24th time that a War Games match was staged.
In the near 29 years since, many still regard it as the greatest War Games of all time.
On May 17, 1992, before a crowd of 6,000 in Jacksonville, FL (three years before the NFL team presently owned by the Khan family played its first game), the reviled Dangerous Alliance squared off with five babyfaces that they'd been warring with for months on end.
The ten participants included a who's who of pro wrestling royalty, including seven WWE Hall of Famers, three more who'd certainly qualify based on established measures, and three men who work for the Jacksonville-based AEW today.
The Dangerous Alliance was managed by the always-scheming Paul E. Dangerously (aka Paul Heyman). In the autumn of 1991, Dangerously began putting the group together as a means of getting revenge on WCW, who had fired him as a commentator, but forgot that the vindictive Paul E. still held his manager's license.
The crown jewel of Paul's revenge plot was Ravishing Rick Rude, formally introduced by Dangerously in a surprise debut at the Halloween Havoc pay-per-view. Rude was Heyman's avatar for tearing WCW down brick by brick, and Heyman set his charge's focus on the face of the company: then-reigning United States champion Sting. Together, with women's wrestler and group valet Madusa, the foundation was set for a powerful heel conglomerate to come together.
Soon, the other members began joining the group. When Sting was left injured by Lex Luger prior to a US title defense against Rude at November's Clash of the Champions, erstwhile good guy Bobby Eaton secretly worked in concert with Dangerously and Rude, to try and ensure that a wounded Sting forfeited the match in a no-show. Sting did make it to the match, but ultimately ceded the title to a stronger Rude.
Eaton crystallized his heel turn by double-crossing Dustin Rhodes in a tag team bout that aired the following weekend. Recently deposed Tag Team champions Arn Anderson and Larry Zbyszko joined Eaton in filling out the group with veteran brains and brawn.
Rounding out the Alliance was 26-year-old "Stunning" Steve Austin, a two year pro who was wise and seasoned beyond his time. Reigning by this point as Television champion, Austin was to the Alliance what Randy Orton was to Evolution: the blue-chip "can't miss" upstart, with many golden years ahead.
By January, the Tag Team titles were back in the fold, as Anderson and Eaton won them from Rhodes and Ricky Steamboat. Between the near-monopolization of the major belts, and the frequent interference run by Alliance members on each other's behalf, the group was too powerful for any one or two men to reckon with.
The top babyfaces had to band together to combat this powerful, domineering Dangerous Alliance.
Sting (who captured the World title from Luger in February) was a given to lead the charge. Rhodes, Steamboat, and Barry Windham (who'd had his arm broken by Anderson and Zbyszko at Halloween Havoc) flanked Sting in the quest to dismantle to villainous group.
Rounding out the group was a recent Sting nemesis: the imposing Nikita Koloff. "The Russian Nightmare" had warred with The Stinger in 1991, but come the new year, he saved Sting from an Alliance attack, professing to have seen the error of his ways.
By May 1992, The Alliance had begun showing cracks. Anderson and Eaton lost the Tag belts to the Steiner Brothers, while Austin's near-one year reign as TV champion ended at the hands of Windham. Rude was the only group member still holding championship gold.
With The Dangerous Alliance on the ropes, what had become known as "Sting's Squadron" looked to end the threat once and for all, on the ultimate in battlegrounds.
Sting, Rhodes, Windham, Steamboat, and Koloff vs. Rude, Anderson, Austin, Eaton, and Zbyszko, matched up in the fight of fights, leading into the dreaded "Match Beyond."
Paul E. (complete with giant sheet of battle plans) and Madusa led the Alliance army into war, and Sting did the same for his Squadron. Austin and Windham began the skirmish with a feverish brawl. Very quickly, Austin was cut open, which Windham opened further by biting the wound in full view of the camera.
At the end of the five minute opening period, the heels won the coin toss to determine the man advantage (I'm as shocked you are). Rude hit the ring to save Austin and swing the momentum.
For every two minutes following, teams alternated with reinforcements. Steamboat hit the ring next to a thunderous cheer, and was a house of (dragon) fire. Anderson followed, and it was DDTs and spinebusters galore.
Rhodes evened the score for the good guys, and even managed to stunt The Alliance's attempt at an advantage, jumping Zbyszko as he hit the ring fourth. In desperation, a barefoot Madusa climbed the cage, and dropped Dangerously's bulky cellphone down to Rude, for use as a weapon.
By now, Anderson, Rhodes, and Windham had joined Austin in bleeding absolute buckets. And the action never slowed down, remaining chaotic throughout.
Sting was fourth for his Squadron, cleaning house, and press slamming Rude against the low mesh ceiling. Eaton rounded out the Alliance, working to stem the tide while Zbyszko began unhooking the steel turnbuckle from the post in one ring.
Koloff was last man in, and worked with old enemy Sting to halt the Alliance surge.
Finally, after over 23 minutes of non-stop brawling, creative uses of the environment, and gallons of blood spilled (not to mention commentator Jim Ross being at his most urgently supercharged), Zbyszko took the broken-off steel turnbuckle and swung it at Sting, only for the World champion to move, causing "The Cruncher" to smash Eaton in the arm with the weapon. In the frenzy that followed, Sting snared Eaton's injured limb into an armbar, drawing the submission.
In the aftermath, the heels took out their frustration on Zbyszko for the blunder. Before long, the Alliance's slow crumble would result in complete ruin, as the various members all went their separate ways in a WCW that was about to change drastically under new boss Bill Watts.
Praise for the match is near universal. Dave Meltzer awarded it a five-star rating (the last time he'd ever give such a grade to a WCW match), and called War Games a, "Definite match-of-the-year candidate." The users of cagematch.net give it an average grade of 8.91 out of 10.
Austin referred to the match as, "...the wildest damn thing I'd ever been in, up to that time." He also remembers Rhodes, mid-match, praising him on the impressiveness of his blade job, and called it their "bonding moment."
For many reasons, the 1992 War Games match sets a difficult-to-equal standard in showings of its type, and it's something that the first ever Blood and Guts match will inevitably be compared to.
Great as Blood and Guts may be, it's going to be awful hard for it to be the greatest match of its type - especially the best one to have occurred in Jacksonville.