Happy Holidays, wrestling fans! We at Voices of Wrestling wanted to give you all a little holiday treat. A couple of months ago, I had the idea to put together a secret santa for my fellow writers and reviewers, but instead of giving a gift, we would all have to review a match. I intentionally left the guidelines pretty vague, but after randomly drawing (I used one of the websites that they have to make my life easier), I asked people to try and find a match that not only is one that they enjoy, but one they thought their gift getter wouldn’t have seen before. In a perfect world, it would be something that they might even enjoy.

I don’t want to give too much commentary on the choices, but overall I would say this has been a fun time and a success and a good representation of the different styles of wrestling that we love. If anything, I think it’s very cool how different all of our tastes are. There were lots of first time viewings and people getting out of their comfort zone. Because people were seeing things they might not have a major frame of reference for, not everyone has given traditional star ratings. Anyway, please enjoy! Whatever you celebrate, I hope you find some time to give a gift to someone you love, and I hope you find some time to watch a little wrestling. -JR Goldberg

For those interested, here was how the Secret Santa shook out:

  • JR Goldberg drew Rich K
  • Barry Hess drew Joe Lanza
  • Case Lowe drew Barry Hess
  • Drew Wardlaw drew Warren Taylor
  • Joe Gagne drew Sean Flynn
  • Joe Lanza drew John Carroll
  • John Carroll drew Milo M.
  • Kelly Harrass drew Case Lowe
  • Michael Spears drew Joe Gagne
  • Milo drew Michael Spears
  • Rich K. drew Sean Sedor
  • Sean Flynn drew Drew Wardlaw
  • Sean Sedor drew Kelly Harrass
  • Warren Taylor drew JR Goldberg

(Note: Brennan Patrick wanted to participate but wasn’t around when I drew names, so I gave him a match to review and he didn’t pick for anyone)

JBL (c) vs. Eddie Guerrero in a Steel Cage Match for the WWE Championship, 7/15/14 SmackDown (Episode 256)
Chosen by Sean Sedor

When people say that WWE cage matches are bad these days because there isn’t any blood, please direct them to this match. Every time there’s a cage match, we’re reminded that the psychology of these matches are totally backwards. All the focus is on wrestlers escaping the cage, regardless of whether they’re a heel or face. In this match, Eddie and JBL play their roles expertly. JBL wants to get out of the cage as soon as possible to save his belt, while Eddie keeps things in the ring because he knows he can win this. There is a moment when Guerrero can escape the cage, but instead delivers an incredible Frog Splash from the top of the cage.

These two have amazing chemistry and while Eddie, rightfully so, gets most of the accolades for his in-ring work, I do think that JBL is underappreciated as a top heel. He looked like he was actively trying to hurt his opponents and he clearly didn’t care what the fans thought of him. Bradshaw wasn’t worried about being liked in the future, he only cared about being hated in that moment. The only thing holding this match back from being a timeless classic is the ending, which featured interference from then-Smackdown GM, Kurt Angle. This match should be required viewing for all current WWE wrestlers that are going to be in a cage match. You don’t need blood or weapons or multiple high spots. Strong storytelling and an understanding of the proper psychology for a match like this will take you a long way. ****1/2 -Kelly Harrass

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x23fjc2_smackdown-07-15-2004-jbl-vs-eddie-guerrero-steel-cage-match_sport

Sgt. Slaughter & Don Kernodle (c) vs. Ricky Steamboat & Jay Youngblood in a Steel Cage Match (with Sandy Scott as the special guest referee) for the NWA World Tag Team Championships, MACW/NWA The Final Conflict, 3/12/83
Chosen by Rich K.

To be completely honest, I haven’t watched a lot of old wrestling. The only wrestling I’ve even seen from the 1980’s are the first five WrestleMania’s, though this particular match was only the second oldest match I’ve ever seen (I did see a Jake Roberts/Big Daddy Ritter Ladder Match from Stampede Wrestling in 1979 that was on WWE’s Ladder Match DVD set). This match takes place in the famous Greensboro Coliseum, and features a stipulation that says if Ricky Steamboat & Jay Youngblood are unable to win the NWA World Tag Team Titles here, then they could never team again. I have no idea that Don Kernodle or Jay Youngblood even existed until I saw this match, so this was my first time seeing them. This was a very interesting match, in terms of how it was worked. The first fifteen minutes or so (which accounts for nearly half of the match) saw Steamboat & Youngblood, who were the babyfaces, isolate Kernodle, which I find to be strange.

You would think that the long control period in a big tag team title match like this would feature a long heel control period (like we saw recently with The Revival vs. Ciampa & Gargano in NXT), not the other way around. The heels of Slaughter & Kernodle did fight back eventually, and did we set some fun moments (those jumping/rolling snapmares/headlocks by either Steamboat or Youngblood were cool), and there was color, which shouldn’t be a surprise in a 1980’s NWA Steel Cage Match. This match was split into five parts on YouTube, but unfortunately, Part 4 was cut out, so I didn’t see the full match, but I generally got the idea. Steamboat & Youngblood won the titles after a weird finish, but the fans wents nuts. One thing I’ll say about this match is that the crowd in Greensboro was really hot for most of the match, and went nuts when Steamboat & Youngblood won (they were certainly more lively compared to most WWE shows you see today). I’m sure this match was good though the eyes of someone in the 1980’s, and while it did have some good moments, this wasn’t exactly the best, or most exciting, steel cage match in the world. *** Sean Sedor

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xyt6zy_final-conflict-cage-match-slaughter-kernodle-vs-youngblood-steamboat_sport

Dragon Kid vs. Darkness Dragon, Mask vs. Mask, 2/3 falls (9/8/2002)
Chosen by Michael Spears

This was the main event of the famed Toryumon vs. T2P show with the 2 different rings (and Disco Inferno of all people). I remember getting this show as a double VHS from Highspots – welcome to being a puro fan in the early 00’s. This match marks the end of a nearly 2 year feud between the Dragons. We start off by drawing lots to see which of the 3 referees will ref each fall, with evil ref Yasushi (now Jimmy) Kanda getting fall number 3.

The first fall starts fast with Darkness ripping Kid’s mask to shreds before keeping him outside the ring for the double count out, so we jump to the deciding fall. I believe the idea was that crooked Kanda would be the ref since it’s the third fall, but it’s announced that ref #2 will handle it. And he does, until he’s attacked by M2K, who also take out ref #1, so we get Kanda as the ref. And Kanda…calls it down the middle, much to the chagrin of Magnum and company, so M2K just starts blatantly interfering. They hold Kid for Kanda to hit him with the dreaded blue box, but Kanda whacks M2K instead, bonks Darkness Dragon, and Dragon Kid hits the Ultracanrana for the pin. Afterwards Darkness Dragon kneels and offers his mask to Kid, beats him up instead, takes his own mask off, and then hugs Kid, so he cycled through the stages of grief pretty quickly.

This match is a cluster, but I use that term with all the positive connotations. If you go in cold you’ll likely be confused, and if you don’t like shenanigans this isn’t for you. I hadn’t seen this in a well over a decade and found it an entertaining and compelling spectacle, the kind of match where star ratings won’t do it justice. – Joe Gagne

Big Fuji, CIMA & SUWA (c) vs. Darkness Dragon, Masaaki Mochizuki & Yasushi Kanda vs. Dragon Kid, Magnum TOKYO & Ryo Saito Toryumon Japan UWA World Tios Championship (03 Aug 2001)
Chosen by Case Lowe

This match was exactly what I was hoping for from this project; a contest between wrestlers I have never seen before from a promotion I was totally unfamiliar with. My initial viewing was completely cold; no clue who anyone was, unaware of any creative woven into the match, nothing. From a purely mechanical perspective this was a brilliant display of both work rate and match structure. A total of nine competitors in this match, a minimum of three in the ring at once, and yet this flowed at a remarkably flawless pace. After doing a bit of research I was stunned to learn that this match took place in 2001; I was under the unsubstantiated impression it was much more recent. Had I been exposed to this level of talent as I prepared to begin my freshman year of college in 2001 it may have changed my outlook on the industry entirely (in the year 2000 I stopped watching everything that wasn’t WWE, a stance I largely maintained until 2013).

I had always been aware that Ultimo Dragon started a promotion of his own, but never knew much more than that. As I watched a second time it was obvious there was some sort of dynamic between Dragon Kid and Darkness Dragon; the post-match altercation between the two, which included both men being de-masked, made it more clear. Dragon Kid’s offensive arsenal is an entertaining hybrid of strong style and the high-flying style most closely associated with Lucha Libre. The elimination aspect of the match was somewhat confusing without understanding the rules of the match, but that is my lone complaint. The triple electric chair spot was by far my favorite. Dragon Kid’s counter to a standard suplex that resulted in a stunner-like maneuver was a close second. This match has me interested in exploring more from Toryumon Japan, especially the feud between Dragon Kid and Darkness Dragon. **** ~Barry Hess

Chigusa Nagayo vs. Dump Matsumoto, Hair vs. Hair (08/28/85)
Chosen by Sean Flynn

The atmosphere of this match is immediately apparent as Dump comes to the ring flanked by the various members of her leather-shrouded Atrocious Alliance.  Nagayo’s music hits, and the mostly female crowd erupts with rhythmic chants as she is carried to the ring by her crew, most notably fellow Crush Girl Lioness Asuka.  Dump instantly sets upon Chigusa, using a variety of weapons for mauling, including a chain and scissors hidden in a boot.  Dump asserts herself as a beast, cutting off Nagayo’s offensive attempts with power and force, as Nagayo valiantly attempts a series of rollups and kicks.

The brawl spills out of the ring, with both collective factions grabbing and swinging wildly at each other, creating a dangerous feeling of chaos.  Nagayo appears to have learned what it will take to get an advantage, and starts pounding Dump’s face repeatedly with a metal box produced from the ether.  Her advantage is short-lived, however, as Dump uses the scissors to open up a nasty wound on Nagayo’s forehead once back in the ring.  Literally smelling blood, Dump increases the use of weaponry, grabbing the ring mic and alternately assaults and berates Chigusa with it.  In the background, Lioness Asuka is seen furiously trying to claw her way into the ring to save her friend.  Stunned and woozy, Nagayo, through sheer force of will and spirit, manages to take down Dump and apply a scorpion death lock as the crowd explodes.

 True to the narrative of the match, though, Dump easily breaks the hold.  Sensing the impending doom, Nagayo’s corner throws in the towel, and in a final act of strength, she throws it back!  Dump brings in a table and a chair to finish off the hero, and after a concussive chair shot to the head, Chigusa crumbles to the floor.  Even the ensuing 10 count finds each wrestler playing their role perfectly, with Nagayo attempting to stand up and keep fighting, and Dump simply strutting around the ring in casual mocking.  What follows is an incredible release of emotion and pain, as desperate attempts are made by Chigusa’s friends to fight off the ensuing haircut and protect her dignity.  In the crowd, young girls are shown screaming in agony, with tears streaming down their faces.  The final shots are of Dump dragging a now shaved Chigusa Nagayo around the ring, showing off her handiwork to the defeated fans.  

This is an incredible spectacle and one of the most emotionally overwhelming matches you’ll find anywhere, with the intense crowd, warring factions around the ring, and liberal use of weapons and blood.  Nagayo’s selling of exhaustion and disorientation throughout the match are impressive, slowly succumbing to the oppressive violence that befalls her.  Dump plays her role expertly as well, coming off as an absolute beast who revels in dehumanization.  Unbelievable. ****½ -Drew Wardlaw


Watch Chigusa Nagayo vs Dump Matsumoto (Hair vs Hair) – Feb 28, 1985 in Sports  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Dr. Wagner Jr. vs. LA Park (TXT, 5/11/13)
Chosen by JR Goldberg

This match establishes beauty in chaos in about a half hour. I mean, before this thing even starts, there’s a burning Dr. Wagner Jr. shirt on a chair – an ill omen of things to come during the brutal first fall. Park destroys Wagner with the still smoking chair, rips away part of the mask to expose Wagner’s face and bloodies him, reveling in the violence. The way the action traverses the arena conveys a sense of anxiety, as Wagner struggles to escape only for Park to hunt him down like some faceless 80’s horror flick baddie. Even after he wins the first fall by powerbombing Wagner onto chairs, Park wants to feast on the blood of his victim, biting him in the face and licking the gore from his fingers. The way he repeatedly slams Wagner’s near lifeless head into the canvas is ghoulish. The fans are calling for Wagner to rise up and he does, getting his revenge on Park with chairshot after chairshot.

Within the swelling crowd, Wagner continues punishing him to the encouragement of the fans. He tears Park’s mask open, takes a beer from an onlooker and cracks it over Park’s skull. But this fight is blood for blood, so Wagner smashes the bottle and sticks Park with the broken glass, evening the score with the Wagner Driver back inside the ring. The third fall is a bit more controlled but by this point of the match, Park’s mask is hanging by threads and he’s bleeding profusely. They’re evenly matched for the most part, although Park takes advantage of some late game shenanigans with the referee. After inadvertently splashing the ref, Wagner scores the pinfall after drilling Park with another Wagner Driver. But there’s a bit of bullshit here as the ref reverses his decision and awards Park the third fall.

The first two falls of this match are visceral and frightening – Park genuinely creeps me out here, with his loathing and the sick pleasure he gets from hurting Wagner. One of Park’s career performances. Brennan Patrick

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v57-ppkdTN4

Zack Sabre Jr vs. Roderick Strong (Evolve 45)
Chosen by Warren Taylor

Despite watching a lot of Indie stuff during this time period, I never saw this match. Truthfully, I never even really watched a ton of the Roddy Strong resurgence from a few years ago. Like most wrestling fans, first impressions for me are too valuable, and I’ll always think of Strong first and foremost as “The Messiah of the Backbreaker” and that dude who only cut promos that began with “That’s right, Austin…”. In fact, if you go back and watch any of those ROH promos you see Roderick behind Aries, and whenever Aries talks, Strong mouths all the words along with him. It’s bizarre. You can’t unsee it.

Anyway. The early parts of this are really interesting, as Sabre’s style makes Strong’s strikes stand out as true difference makers, while Sabre’s unflappable presence in the ring gives him somewhat of a psychological advantage. It’s a fun set up for a match, and a pretty unique one. I think Strong is smart for really changing his pace and working a different style during this heel run, although there are moments when I really wish he had taken the air out of things a little bit (the fight on the apron after the Jim Breaks special, for one).

Strong does a great job in this of showing a growing displeasure of how much the joint manipulation stuff hurts, which really helps to establish Sabre, who sometimes I find a little lacking when working from underneath. Sabre is great when he looks as though he needs to think about things and figure stuff out, as though a match is a puzzle, which he is able to do in this because Strong is so forceful and deliberate about throwing his bombs. The Sabre counters probably go a little overboard when he counters the superplex, especially since a major narrative point of the match was strong going for it early and often, so the viewer is in some way trained for it to be a major shift when it happens. Instead, it becomes just another spot and doesn’t stand out as much. Stong’s sequence leading to the big nearfall and the eventual reversal in to the win for Sabre was a really great stretch, and came at just the right time.

This was a fun match, not quite at MOTYC level, but something that would make a compilation of a best a promotion. It made me want to go back and seek out more Strong matches from this time period to see what I was missing. –JR Goldberg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=un3ftvpyoUw

Dynamite Kansai, Mayumi Ozaki, Cutie Suzuki & Hikari Fukuoka (JWP) vs Aja Kong, Kyoko Inoue, Takako Inoue & Sakie Hasegawa (AJW), JWP New Dimension (7/31/1993)
Chosen by Milo M.

This was one of the most creative matches I’ve ever seen, and that’s coming from someone who used to watch a whole lot of CHIKARA and saw a match made by children throwing darts at a spinning board earlier this week. Joshi Puroresu is by-and-large my weak point in wrestling fandom. I only knew of Aja Kong, Dynamite Kansai, Mayumi Ozaki and Kyoko Inoue before watching this match. Using that all as a preface, this might have been one of the most incredible displays of wrestling and storytelling I’ve ever seen. So for people who haven’t seen this, it’s an eight woman tag ironman match, where the first 20 minutes is divided into four separate five minute singles matches, and then remaining 40 has all eight in the tag. What an incredible concept. I would love a company *coughcough*dragongate*coughcough* to bring back this match.

The match itself did an amazing job of educating a hot crowd on how this match is going to work (a quick pinfall in the first singles match so falls can happen everywhere), got over wrestlers and storylines (Kong as the absolute lynchpin of the AJW team, Cutie Suzuki as in over her head, Kansai trying to prove her worth after losing an early, and shocking, fall), and showed the brutality and enmity of the two rival promotions (Kyoko Inoue bleeding heavily by the end of the hour and Mayumi Ozaki’s eye nearly being swollen shut). I feel like the absolute stars of the match were Kong, Kyoko Inoue, Kansai and Ozaki, but all eight were highlighted in throughout the hour. When JWP finally ties the match with ten minutes left, the AJW focus on an outclassed Suzuki was incredible and I felt the sheer terror of the crowd when she was left alone in the ring with a dominant Aja Kong.

The incredible conclusion of Ozaki pinning Takako Inoue as time expired proved to me that it is possible to book an exciting and emotionally exhausting ironman match. It was such a contrast to the Banks vs Flair ironman match that was half the length but exponentially more boring. The link provided to me mentioned that Dave Meltzer gave this match five stars in its description and I am in complete agreement. This is what I wanted when I entered this project. I was hoping a match would completely open my eyes to a genre or a wrestler that I haven’t considered before. The next time I find myself a bit bored and wanting to watch something new, I’m going to enter JWP or Mayumi Ozaki into YouTube and I’m excited to see what it’ll bring. -Michael Spears

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIAeVc6axfw

Kaientai DX (Dick Togo, Shiryu, MEN’s Teioh, TAKA Michinoku, Shoichi Funaki) vs. Team Michinoku Pro (The Great Sasuke, Super Delfin, Yuji Yakushiji, Gran Hamada, Gran Naniwa), Michinoku Pro, 12/16/96
Chosen by Joe Gagne

Oh yeah, the hatred is flowing from the beginning of this one. During the intros it was clear that 12 year old snot nosed punk Taka was on a collision course with Gran(dpa) Hamada, with Hamada just so tired of being smirked at that only a good slap to the face would do. Naniwa is so damn happy to be scuttling along the ropes, doing some proto-”YES” movements to get the crowd fired up, that you can’t help but love that crazy crab man. The theme early in the match seems to be everyone just desperate to kick the crap out of Taka. Everyone loathes everyone else, but all the members of Team M-Pro have extra zing in their shots when his face in the other involved party, reaching a zenith when all five teammates put Taka in submissions at the same damn time. One minor note, the camera work/quality is odd, but it helps. When KDX is ganging up on Hamada, the camera is in close and shaking. It looks like footage from a street riot or Clockwork Orange night on the town. Around the 14 minute mark I thought for sure I watch Naniwa kill Shiryu by backdrop suplexing him directly on the top of his head. He kicked out, so I assume he lived.

The quebrada that Sasuke hits on Taka and Shiryu at 18 minutes is so graceful it hurts, knowing in the cold of winter such delicate beauty is destined to freeze, crack, and become a thing it once not was. The closing stretch begins with what I believe was the first dive to the outside, almost twenty minutes in by Shiryu. This is when the match goes bonkers with everyone just hitting everyone else with huge moves. At one point a KDX member tosses a chair from off screen to knock Sasuke off the top rope. I bet it was Teioh. Yup, it was Teioh. When Hamada gets the win over Shiryu the crowd goes crazy chanting his name and cheering for the old guy. Just an awesome match. Long intense buildup full of disdain before exploding into a breakneck pace of bomb throwing. As Secret Santa gifts go, this was near the top of my list. Sean Flynn

NWA National Championship: Ron Garvin vs. Tully Blanchard ©, Jim Crockett Promotions Worldwide (05/03/1986)
Chosen by Drew Wardlaw

Do not let the designation of title match fool you; the belt was secondary here. Sure Ron Garvin probably wanted it, but revenge sat at the forefront of his mind. Tully Blanchard and his bastardly manager James J. Dillon broke Garvin’s prize right hand three weeks prior, handicapping the challenger going into the fight. It was evident that Garvin wanted to use his right duke badly, and of course, he did early in the contest. Moments later he was grimacing in pain and the “hand of stone” subsequently lay limp for much of the duration of the match. So he pursued an alternative path, work the champion’s ankle and keep him tied up for the rest of the fight. In contrast, Blanchard strategy borrowed a page from Garvin’s playbook. He backed the challenger into a corner, literally, and started working the ribs with a series of body shots Things like that are the reason why I enjoyed this match.

I had always heard about the sports-centric approach of JCP but had not taken the time to look into it. I’m glad I watched this, it is nice to know that back then, like now with promotions like EVOLVE, purposeful wrestling still exists and provides an alternative the thrill ride style that dominates worldwide. However, I also got to see a Dusty Finish when the Son of the Plumber himself tapped Garvin’s fist (an obvious no-no), and the challenger clobbered the champion. Garvin got the three count only to have the decision reversed when the referee saw the tap on his hand. I guess stupid booking in wrestling will always a follow a now, then, and forever model as well. ***3/4 -Warren Taylor

Atsushi Onita & Tarzan Goto vs. Dragon Master & Masanobu Kurisu: FMW 4/1/1990
Chosen by Kelly Harrass

I have seen very little FMW in my short time on this Earth. It’s a promotion that I’ve heard a lot about from both wrestlers and fans, and while there are a handful of visuals that pop into my mind as soon as I think of FMW, I really haven’t seen all that much from this world of grappling. I enjoyed this match for what it was: a spectacle. All four men were in street clothes and at times, this quite literally looked like some lads brawling in a pub. I really enjoyed watching Onita in such a small building, also. He was the man. There was a certain leadership value to him that I saw even in this short, ten minute match, that made me want to follow him into battle.

At the end of the day, for as fun as Onita was and as much as I enjoy Tarzan Goto, there’s always going to be a disconnect with me and this style. I enjoyed the chaotic brawling aspect, but once the chairs were put down and the four tried to “wrestle”, I couldn’t help but feel like everyone’s offense looked so weak. It’s just uncomfortable seeing someone shake off a chair shot, only to be stunned a few minutes later by a right-handed jab. Onita & Goto won after some nice teamwork. Very fun, and perhaps the motivator I needed to dip my toes in the FMW water. –Case Lowe

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfEy5c35lwE

La Fiera vs. Negro Casas (CMLL – 10/01/1993)
Chosen by JR Goldberg

The goal of this project was to expose our writers to styles, matches and eras they either haven’t seen or for whatever reason don’t enjoy. Whoever got me for secret santa nailed it. As long time listeners to the VOW Flagship podcast know, I don’t watch lucha. I don’t keep up with lucha and frankly, the little lucha I do watch, I tend to not enjoy. I’ve often wrestled with myself as to why I don’t like lucha. It has everything I want out of my wrestling — colorful (literally) characters, clear heel (rudos) and face (tecnicos) distinctions, meaningful stipulations—like the one in this very match—high-flying, hot crowds… I could go on. There’s really no reason for me to not love lucha, except that I don’t. I never have and I’m not sure I ever will.

Bonus points to my secret santa for finding a match that I not only had never seen or heard about but one I really enjoyed. I have a sneaking suspicion who my secret santa was by the choice in matches and it was only confirmed when the star of the show was clearly Negro Casas. Man, was this an all-time great performance for Casas. Despite me not watching lucha, I’m well aware of the reputation Casas has all-time and well, even to this day. I’d go far as to say if there’s a better singular Casas performance than what he did here, I want you to send it to me now. Right now.

Casas channeled his inner KENTA during the bulk of the match unleashing a barrage of stiff, quick kicks to La Fiera all the while blood poured down his forehead. The camera work throughout this match put it on another level as well, each grimace, each drop of blood seemed to be shot perfectly. The optics of the match made me, despite not knowing either of the competitors going in, emotionally invested in the outcome. Of course, for those who don’t know, this is a Hair vs. Hair match at CMLL’s 60th Anniversary Show from the famed Arena Mexico. Emotions are at an absolute peak for this one.

Fearing I was bound to get a “grapple lucha”-style match given my holes with lucha and lack of uh, love, for that style, I was pleasantly surprised to see a fast-paced match filled with the aforementioned kicks, suplexes, submissions and action throughout. I’m still not in love with the three-fall concept or the slow referee counts (arguably two of the biggest reasons I can’t get into lucha) but those did not take away from this match in anyway. This was a ton of fun and has made me interested in actively seeking out more of Negro Casas and perhaps more lucha — it’s a Christmas miracle! Mission accomplished, Santa. Mission accomplished. -Rich Kraetsch

Jim Breaks vs. Adrian Street, World of Sport 2/12/72
Chosen by Joe Lanza (editor’s note – chosen by JR Goldberg and approved by Joe Lanza, who slacked off and took too long in choosing his gift to John)

I’m convinced someone gave me this match as a rib. “Hah, let’s have the Dragon Gate person do twenty-five minutes of 70s British grappling- there’s no flips here, pal!”. Well done, whoever assigned me this. No, seriously, if the point was to assign someone a match they would have no idea about and would never watch on their own, whoever picked this one out for me really did do a great job; my knowledge of World of Sport basically amounts to “it was a thing in England” and “it had rounds I think?”. I didn’t even know about the scoring system, so when Jim Breaks made his opponent submit very late into the fifth round and the match continued I was extremely confused.

Okay, so there’s no nice way to say this but: this match bored the living piss out of me. I’m sorry, but 70s British grappling is just never going to be my thing. I watched two men exchange headlocks and headlock takeovers and headlock reversals for a good solid 6 minutes or so at the start of the match and briefly began wondering if I could claim my computer broke to get out of this. When they finally moved past the headlocks it was a little more watchable- some of the funky mat work stuff is more up my ally, reminding me of Battlarts, a promotion I’ve always found extremely underrated- but things got back to boring again when the two started exchanging wrist locks. I’m sure in 1972 two men twisting each other’s wrists and bruising their arms was considered the peak of entertainment, but here in 2016 this was some kind of nightmare torture for someone who has ADHD anyway. You have no idea how hard it was to not look at my phone. Watching this match all the way through honestly feels like a minor accomplishment on my part.

If there’s a bright spot here for me, Adrian Street’s “Look at how flamboyant I am!!” prancing and posing was entertaining and definitely more up my alley than any of the actual wrestling going on. I understand this was some kind of rare match for the time as a heel vs. heel battle, but the announcer really did a poor job explaining that; unless you heard him offhandedly mention that Breaks was “also a rule breaker” (I missed this the first time but went back and caught it, he may as well have whispered it), you’d probably have no idea until the crowd started booing both men at the end. Oh and what was your reward for 25+ minutes of headlocks and wristlocks? A fuckin’ draw! Each man got a submission toward the end and apparently that was it, the match ends in a draw. It was like the 1972 version of “two men wrestle on RAW for 20 minutes just to give us a DQ finish”, because it felt just as unsatisfying. Adrian almost saved this entire thing with his post-match declaration that he “would have beaten Jim Breaks 2 falls to nil” if he hadn’t been late getting back from South Africa or something, which was hilarious and by far the best part of this whole thing. Anyway. I won’t dare give this a star rating, because really I have no idea on the style and I think it would be pretty foolish of me to pretend otherwise, but this definitely did not make me wanna run out and watch more World of Sport. Points for cleverness though, whoever assigned me this! -John Carroll

Bret Hart vs Vader vs Undertaker vs Steve Austin In Your House 13: Final Four
Chosen by Barry Hess

The first visual I was hit with when I fired up this match was a mini arena blimp. I forgot that those things existed.

The ‘96-’97 transition period just before the Attitude Era kicked off is one of my favorite periods in WWF/E history. A weird, charming blend of the old and new, with endearing WWF camp mixed with just the right amount of ECW influence. Stone Cold was quickly emerging, Rocky Maivia was slowly developing on the undercard, Undertaker was becoming more human, Vader was in the midst of his underrated run, Mankind was about to show up, and the in ring style was progressively becoming more aggressive and violent. Everything that worked for me during this era would be amplified by the subtlety hammer a few months later, to the point it largely drove me away from the company. Stone Cold morphed into an over the top caricature, edgy promos became flat out crass, and the overall envelope pushing went too far, delving into the utterly ridiculous. The main event matches were no exception to the excess, with the aggressive, hard hitting style of the ‘96-’97 period replaced with tiresome, mundane walk and brawls that exemplified the worst aspects of black sheep drug addicted brother ECW and drunk unemployed uncle Memphis. This was also the most financially successful period of any wrestling company in history, so clearly my tastes were not in tune with the South Park watching, JNCO jeans wearing, Korn listening populace that filled arenas to watch Steve Austin give Vince McMahon the finger and go batshit crazy insane for The Rock leading Triple H around the arena by his hair.

The match I was gifted hit the sweet spot before all of that shit hit the fan. This felt like a fight, because it was a fight. Watching this some 20 years after the fact with eyes that have been watching modern RAW’s week after week, I was hit with just how more realistic the action came across. Vader is bleeding hardway within minutes. Bret Hart (who was clearly the biggest star here) brings his hard hitting no nonsense style. Steve Austin is a wild force of nature, minus the gratuitous over the top middle finger wielding trash talk, and (to be fair, partly due to injury limitations) the shortcuts that would drag his stuff down a few years later.

Undertaker isn’t a zombie anymore, so he’s allowed to sell, but he’s also not a demonic cult leader or mystical legend so there is no lighting coming out of his fingers or cartoon elements to his work. He just beats people up. The action feels far more organic than modern WWE, with things like highspots happening at the same time in two different parts of the arena, making it impossible for the director to catch them both. Stuff like that would never happen in the publicly traded company, slickly produced television show era we are in today, where the agents, the talent, and the production team are all in sync in something more akin to a network television drama than territory wrestling. Today it is still men in spandex throwing fake punches, but the men in this match were from another era, an era where you were trained in a dirty gym and taught to make it look real. Today, they are sent to a multi million dollar Performance Center and taught how to perform for television cameras, and how to make it safe. This is not a good old days rant, because today is always tomorrow’s nostalgia, and I like modern wrestling. It’s just an honest observation of the dichotomy of the two eras that stuck me upside the head while I was watching this. I can appreciate, and loathe, elements of both.

They ran out of ideas towards the back end of the match, so maybe it went about five minutes too long. A four way elimination match (with over the top eliminations in play, to protect people from taking pins) worked like this and at this pace is probably better suited as a shorter mid card match rather than a main event where there is an obligation to give people their money’s worth, but that’s minor gripe. This was a shit ton of fun, and I wish this near perfect era of WWF had lasted a few years longer. ****¼ -Joe Lanza

Kenta Kobashi vs. Jun Akiyama, July 10th 2004
Chosen by John Carroll

Some matches don’t need context.

When a bout takes place in a larger story, with continuity at play to make you understand the characters and their motives, context is key. It is, in my opinion, one of the most important things in pro wrestling. But sometimes, matches don’t need context to still be thoroughly enjoyable. They just need to take your breath away. This is one of these matches.

Kenta Kobashi is a bonafide legend of professional wrestling. He is a man who is one of the symbols of an era, and continues to be active in the field, notably through his self-produced Fortune Dream shows. He is a man who embodies the “fighting spirit” that we so love, and that engages us in stories that take us away from the dull reality of life, even for just a moment. That’s exactly what he did here.

That’s not taking away anything from his opponent, of course. In 2004, Jun Akiyama, complete with full head of hair (oh, the good old days), was already a star in his own right, though he never seemed to truly be able to step away from the shadow of his elders. This was his chance to become the biggest dog in the yard, and he’d be damned if he let it slip through his fingers.

What I mean when I say that this match doesn’t need context though, is that more than all of that, more than the story it takes place in, more than the story it tells, it is simply a astounding display of professional wrestling. I believe you could show this match to anyone, whether they are a wrestling fan who has never seen it, or a non-wrestling fan, and they would be blown away all the same. It’s a competition, a game of who is the better man, who will be left standing tall in the end, of who can hit harder and show that he wants it more. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

It is a spectacle. Intense, brutal, even disgusting in some regards, as bodies hit the floor and the mat at angles that make you cringe but leave you in awe regardless. This is a match that made me feel like I lost several years of my life while watching it. It was emotionally exhausting, but left me feeling so content to be a fan of professional wrestling, which is, ultimately, what I think we all look for. We want to be awed, entertained, sometimes horrified by what these people do to each other. Because we want to be part of stories that are bigger than all of us.

This is what this match is. An awe-inspiring piece that doesn’t need explanation, but demands to be enjoyed to the fullest. Milo M.