Happy Holidays, wrestling fans! We at Voices of Wrestling wanted to give you all a little holiday treat. Last year, 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.

The result was a huge success and a good representation of the different styles of wrestling that we all love.

There were lots of first time viewings and people getting out of their comfort zone. We decided to bring the secret santa project back this year but make some small changes mostly instead of posting every gift/match review in one piece, we’ve broken it up into a few smaller articles that will be released over the next few days. 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

Bret Hart vs. 123 Kid
Provided by Barry Hess

This match brings back fond memories for me. I always loved summertime wrestling when I was younger, just the feeling of watching Raw and not having to worry about homework or getting up for school the next day. It’s a feeling that carries over to today, even as a sucky adult. I remember watching this one live, because it was so unique to see a babyface vs. babyface match. The opening video package is primitive but effective in putting over the Kid’s prior upsets. Owen Hart and Jim Neidhart come out and make a stink, but thankfully (and amazingly) they soon head to the back and don’t ruin the match. The Kid stymies Bret to start but Bret soon takes over and really works over the Kid with crisp (but clean) offense. The Kid makes a comeback, but Bret blocks a crucifix and gets a pin, only to realize the Kid’s foot was on the ropes.

Bret won’t accept the win, so the match continues. The closing stretch is great, and Kid’s highspots are still crazy over 2 decades later (he just splats on a dive to the floor near an end). The finish sees Kid try something off the top but get caught in a sharpshooter for the loss, with Bret raising the Kid’s hand in victory afterwards. This was taped at something called the Fernwood Resort in front of only 1600 people, but the crowd is into things the whole way. This is a perfect match for Jim Ross’s announcing, and while Randy Savage’s commentary can be, um, erratic, his enthusiasm really adds to the match. This whole setup of a young up-and-comer trying to unseat the veteran champion has a very Japanese feel to it and very different from what the company had traditionally presented. Of course, the very next thing we see is an ICO PRO ad featuring Lex Luger, as if to reassure any upset viewer that yes, this was still the WWF.

Is Kraetsch doing this? I’ll guess he was my Secret Santa. -Joe Gagne

Kota Ibushi vs. Nick Jackson vs. El Generico vs. Jigsaw
March 28, 2009
Provided by Michael Spears

It’s been a few year since I last saw this match and, my god, does it ever hold up. What starts with a slow feeling out process between Ibushi and Jigsaw quickly turns into all out insanity. Pure and simple, this is a spotfest and it is an incredible one. Ibushi immediately stands out as a star in the match. He’s just as good and athletic as he is today, which leads me to believe that Kota Ibushi is ageless. El Generico works flawlessly with Ibushi, pulling off some amazing sequences, including spots that he would become famous for later like the DDT on the floor following the dive through the turnbuckles. Speaking of familiar spots, Nick Jackson pretty much wrestles like the Nick Jackson we know today. You can see every spot he does in this match in a Young Bucks match today and it makes me wonder why it took the team so long to catch on in the wrestling world. Obviously, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but the Bucks didn’t “make it” for far too long. Regardless, they’re there now. It’s a shame that Jigsaw didn’t make it much higher in the wrestling world because he’s tremendous here.

This is a four way elimination match, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t forget that as all four men threw everything they had at each other to score the first fall. Following a thrilling stretch of action between Ibushi and El Generico, Ibushi would score the first fall. Soon after, Jackson was eliminated by Jigsaw, who would then be taken out with a Phoenix Splash by Ibushi. This one has damn near non-stop action from start to finish. If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and give it a watch. If you have seen it, rewatch it and experience how fun it is again. ****1/2

Who gave it to me? I would guess that I was given this match by John. This is from the era of CHIKARA that they were into and I’m pretty sure I remember that they recommended it on an episode of Wrestling Omakase. Or maybe that was Mike… -Kelly Harrass

Kento Miyahara vs. Suwama
Provided by John Carroll

I completely understand why anyone in love with the modern All Japan style would love this match. Miyahara is a dynamite ace. Few in Japan match his charisma, and even fewer can say that they’ve had an impressive Triple Crown reign like Miyahara has. Suwama has always been a polarizing figure, and I’ve always seemed to fall into an anti-Suwama crowd. He has his moments of brilliance, but more often than not I’m left shrugging and thinking, “that was it? That’s the guy?”

Suwama and Miyahara’s half hour battle was as dramatic as it could have been. Miyahara had his knee targeted from the sound of the bell. This was a rare occurrence in which I thought Suwama came across like a killer, which was nice to see. He had a clear size edge on Miyahara, and despite a valiant fight from Suwama, he came up short, ending his second Triple Crown reign.

All Japan has finally found stability from a business perspective, but I continue to be unsure of how I feel about the current product. Miyahara’s first Triple Crown run was something to behold, but ever since he lost the title in mid-2017, the company has lost my interest. They have an incredibly talented, and are able to put on matches like this, but even this match didn’t make me want to dive back into the company. That being said, this match was clearly an epic and one worth going out of your way to see. -Case Lowe

Kento Miyahara (c) vs. Suwama от RealHero на Rutube.

Claudio Castagnoli vs Bryan Danielson vs Christopher Daniels
Provided by Taylor Maimbourg

When I think of early-to-mid-aughts independent wrestling in the United States, I generally assume it involves either Bryan Danielson or Christopher Daniels. And what do you know, this has both of them, along with Claudio Castagnoli, working a triangle Iron Man match in front of a hundred fans in some randomly-generated Ohio promotion. Three-way dance offs, in my opinion, are hard to pull off without turning it into some spot-heavy clusterfuck. Add in a 30-minute time limit, and this could easily turn into a nightmare scenario but, fortunately, this has the caveat of featuring one of the greatest in-ring performers in modern American history. I mean, Daniels and Castagnoli are good, too, but Danielson is wrestling on another plane of existence.

As for the match, it was a fun, intimate exhibition with little to no heat but everyone involved seemed to be having a good time. It’s a match that doesn’t take itself too seriously, as evidenced by Danielson’s Wonderbread ass hanging out of his trunks for a good minute or two, but the comedy is well-placed and doesn’t take away from the action. Much of the first fall is an elongated stalemate with back-and-forth pin attempts and some quick counter wrestling. Claudio fakes a dive to the outside but follows up with a plancha while Danielson and Daniels are arguing. Suplexes and neckbreakers are exchanged and after Daniels misses the Best Moonsault Ever, Claudio hits a torture rack slam to pick up the first fall.

Claudio and Bryan engage in a suplex competition, where they’re trying to suplex an unwilling Daniels but the Fallen Angel ends up taking both guys out with a quebrada off the ropes. The American Dragon being the American decides to work Daniels’ leg out of nowhere, which leads to a neat spot where he’s got Daniels in a leglock and he simultaneously German suplexes Claudio. Danielson is just so good, even in these more convoluted match types. His transitions are silky smooth, his technique sound, and his execution near-flawless. He goes from a butterfly lock on Daniels into a double arm suplex into an armbar, not giving Daniels an inch to counter. He isn’t above the cheap shot, which he utilizes here when need be, and after a dragon suplex, he floats over into the Cattle Mutilation to pick up the submission fall.

Love the old farm boys sharing a chuckle in the front row over Danielson delivering a bare-assed double superplex to Claudio. The action picks up as desperation sets in for Christopher Daniels to even the score. He breaks up Claudio’s pin attempt off the torture rack slam and when Danielson tries for the Cattle Mutilation on Claudio, Daniels scoops him up and hits the Angel’s Wings to earn a pinfall. The final minutes is a bit of a scramble, with all three men trying for quick pin attempts. Daniels catches Claudio off the ropes with the Blue Thunder Bomb but Claudio is able to pin him with a roll up to take the lead. With less than a minute remaining, Danielson struggles to hit the super backdrop but he’s unable to make the cover before the time limit expires and Castagnoli retains the title. A fun showcase with good in-ring action, solid pacing, and a little comedy gold to lighten the mood. -Brennan Patrick

Meng vs. Goldberg
Provided by Rich Kraetsch

Wrestling is about moments in time. Capturing every emotion: the rise, the fall and the gray area in between. We are enthralled by the idea of two titans meeting, clashing, fighting and clawing with all of their might, every last will, to prove that they are, indeed, the better man and competitor. A good wrestling match brings out every emotion in the viewer. It is a roller coaster where one can laugh, cry, and feel like they are personally invested in a match. I thought I had experienced that feeling in wrestling previously, but, after watching Meng vs. Bill Goldberg from April 29th, 1999’s edition World Championship Wrestling Thunder, I realized that I never truly experienced wrestling at its absolute peak until now.

We begin with Meng. Long known as one of the toughest men in wrestling, he brings a true aura to the ring. His braids are crisp, his hair is pressed, and he’s all about that action, Jack. His music summons great images of samurai warriors arriving at the battlefield, ready to die. That perfectly sums up Meng here: he is ready to die if it means defeating Goldberg.

Next, Goldberg arrives. His pyro is reminiscent of the same pyro used by ancient Roman gladiators entering the Coliseum. Goldberg looks like a man who is about to go one-on-one with a lion, with one twist: he knows he can defeat that lion. Easily.

We start with an intense stare-down. The crowd is already in the palms of these two master technicians. Finally, they lock up, and it is electric. The crowd chants “GOOOLLLDDBERRRGGG,” but is solidly behind both men. Goldberg draws first blood early, forcing Meng’s Calvary to retreat and regroup outside of the ring. Goldberg may be phased, as he desperately panders to the crowd. Meng’s lion is finally unleashed, and it is relentless. He almost breaks Goldberg’s back across his knee. The crowd chants for Goldberg some more, but their pleas are a bit more desperate. They are enough, however, and their hero plants Meng with a savage body slam.

Goldberg appears to go for a pinfall, but no. A pinfall will not accomplish his goal: utter decimation. He lands some brutal strikes right to Meng’s throat. This is quickly turning into an all out fight. This only fires up Meng, who throws Goldberg’s head into the turnbuckle and just starts brutalizing more. The “Goldberg” chants are even more desperate, but they do not stop Meng’s demonizing standing side kick. Goldberg’s head nearly came clean off! But, NO! He kicked out! Hercules has risen once more! What can stop this man? Goldberg reaches down into his soul, further than any man ever has. HE’s desperate, but the mark of any true warrior is the ability to look death in the eye and say, “Not today.” He quickly reverses and Irish whip into the corner, and, with every last bit of energy he has, uses Meng’s own standing side kick against him. Goldberg can barely stand, but he knows he has one weapon that can put Meng down forever: THE SPEAR! He nails it, full force, and then lands the killshot: his trusty jackhammer. That seals the deal and, today at least, Goldberg is victorious over his greatest rival.

While I tried my damnedest, words cannot truly describe the journey here. This is wrestling’s Iliad, it’s War and Peace, it’s On the Road. This is truly art, and must be seen to be believed. Just a stunning performance. ***** -Kevin Hare

KENTA & Naomichi Marufuji defeat Jushin Thunder Liger & Takehiro Murahama
Provided by Jojo Remy

Like (I’m sure) many of my fellow VOW Secret Santa-ers, I have no context for this match whatsoever. Being in Japanese, the announcers are no help. Thankfully, I’m well-versed enough to recognize all of the players involved.

Right off the bat there appears to be some level of existing animosity between KENTA and Takehiro Murahama. Suddenly I feel up to speed on everything I need to know following two shoves between KENTA and Murahama with Jushin Thunder Liger separating them and Liger going nose-to-nose with Naomichi Marufuji during the introductions.This isn’t difficult, American promotions, make it this easy for me.

Maruhama and Marufuji start the match off with the requisite NOAH strikefest. I’ve only sought out a handful of NOAH matches from this era, so I know what to expect, but the impact of the intensity still remains. I must admit, especially in the early going, I have this mental block telling me KENTA doesn’t wear long tights and so Murahama must be KENTA. Speaking of Murahama, he is a tiny machine of a man and, surprisingly for me who has never seen a match of his before, he has the greatest aura in the early part of this match. Even with Liger in the ring, Maruhama comes off as THE star of the first half-or-so of this match. Why couldn’t he comes stateside? Did he? I could look this up. He apparently did not.

As someone who is only-slightly-more-than-aware of KENTA’s reputation in NOAH, it’s weird to see someone out-strike him in one of just a handful of KENTA-in-NOAH matches I’ve seen.

The whole match briefly breaks down when Maruhama gets knocked to the outside and tossed over the barricade. KENTA leaps from the turnbuckle over the barricade and onto Maruhama and the only thing I can think is “KENTA DOES DIVES? MY VERSION OF KENTA DOES NO DIVES!” Seriously, is everyone positive that Hideo Itami is KENTA? Because I no longer am.

While they’re in the crowd, Marufuji dropkicks Liger out of the ring, throws him over the barricade and races back to the ring to land an ASAI MOONSAULT FROM THE TOP ROPE OVER THE BARRICADE. I’ve never seen that I’ll not forget it for a long time. One of the best spots I’ve seen in 2017 is from 2003.

The match slows down when Liger starts a control period, but it doesn’t lose an ounce of intensity. Liger spends his brief control segment bending KENTA into a series of uncomfortable positions. Liger from 2017 looks to be in at least as good of shape as Liger from 2003, if not better, so good for him. And good for us. Did Liger have a swole phase I didn’t know about?

Liger is amazing in this match and a complete utility player. He’s the glue that holds everything together an ultimately elevates this match. The legendary Power Ranger/pro wrestler cuts off a KENTA hot tag to Marufuji before hitting a series of powerful signature moves on his rival. Marufuji kicks out of a Liger Bomb before being hit with a pair of brainbusters and being saved from an inevitable three-count by KENTA.

Until they cut to the titles I had no idea this was for the GHC Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championships! Don’t blame me, I can’t read Japanese!

I feel like I’m writing a ton about this, but there was so much going on! The match clocks in just under 25 minutes, but every pin attempt could’ve been the end of the match starting at about the halfway mark. Head kicks, brainbusters, suplexes–even Liger’s palm strikes seemed like they could’ve ended the match. And the crowd was molten for a full 10 minutes leading into the finish.

Ultimately, Liger was thrown out of the ring and Murahama was the victim of a doomsday dropkick from both opponents and a Marufuji shooting star press for the victory. And apparently KENTA and Marufuji win a trophy as well! This was a surprise (for me) tournament final! Wonderful.

Just an incredible match and I want to know everything about this NOAH run and how to watch it. Anyone got an ebook for that? ****¾ -Alex Wendland