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
Kensuke Sasaki and Kenta Kobashi vs. Genichiro Tenryu and Katsuhiko Nakajima
Presented by Kevin Wilson
Immediately this match, the way that it is filmed, takes me back to 2006, when I was buying NOAH DVDs at ROH shows to watch Kobashi and Morishima and KENTA and everyone else. At the time, I don’t really think Tenryu left much of an impression on me, which is a horrifying thing to admit. In some ways, I think he is the only wrestler I would compare to Negro Casas, not in terms of style, but in terms of longevity and confidence in the fact that his shit is battletested and it won’t let him down. It’s interesting to me how each competitor in this match gives me a very strong sensory memory. Nakajima, for example, is perhaps the first time I remember not quite buying the hype when Gabe brought him in. From what I understand he’s still around and doing his thing? Is he good? I kind of want to investigate.
I love how the relationships in this tag are so well defined that tags lead to reactions and anticipation from the audience. I wish that modern American wrestling had something similar. The chop battle between Tenryu and Kobashi is fun for me for the same reasons others have called it cliché. I don’t watch this style often, so it’s like hearing a great song on the radio. I love how Tenryu eventually just says fuck it and kicks Kobashi in the knee. Do you think chops hurt him more or less because of his weird lumpy body? The narrative from Kobashi and Tenryu is similar to a lot of the 80s and 90s lucha main event stuff I love, in that there is a clear game of one upmanship taking place, and instead of just trading spots, they invert the other person’s offense in interesting ways.
I can’t decide if Tenryu’s complete lack of concern for the well-being of his partner is a show of true trust, a teaching moment, or a sadistic old man enjoying watching a young dude get killed. That being said, when Nakajima is finally able to tag, he has built up enough good will that he comes across as skilled and together and opportunistic and not just a Mikey Whipwreck type character. It pays off more minutes later when he is able to make a hot tag himself and finally knock Sasaki down, but the roles are defined so clearly that you know it won’t last for long.
This match is good, a study in how to get mileage out of simplicity and how to clearly delineate roles within a tag match. It does so much of the contextual work for us. This was a treat. -JR Goldberg
Prince Devitt vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
PROGRESS Chapter 13
Presented by Suit Williams
As I write this, I am fresh off seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I also have five straight overnight talk radio shifts in my immediate future, three of which are hosted by a guy whom I actively dread. So tonightI’ll watch some wrestling and make every happy second count.
To give you an idea of when this match took place, Zack Sabre Jr. is the reigning GHC Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champion with Yoshinari Ogawa. Prince Devitt, meanwhile, is in that period of time between leaving New Japan and debuting in NXT. I remember seeing clips on Reddit of the various entrances he made wearing different costumes. One night he was Bane, another night he was Hannibal Lecter. Here Devitt is dressed as The Joker from The Dark Knight: He’s dyed his hair green, his face is covered in the Heath Ledger makeup, he’s wearing the purple suit, and he’s got a joker playing card. Devitt’s even carrying the clown mask that Joker wore during the bank heist in the beginning of the film, which is a nice touch. Some might roll their eyes at Devitt playing dress-up; I think it’s just a bunch of good fun.
And that’s what this match is, a bunch of good fun. Nothing spectacular, nothing throw-away-your-underwear worthy, but a really solid 12-minute match between two fantastic wrestlers who make for a fun clash of styles. Devitt is the bombastic showman. At one point, he sits Sabre on a chair on the outside, then runs full speed at him and dropkicks him into the crowd; Devitt’s scream as he does it fills the Electric Ballroom. Sabre, on the other hand, is the technical dickhead. He has Devitt in an armlock, then he grabs Devitt’s hand. “This little piggy went to market,” he taunts as he bends Devitt’s index finger. Then he bends Devitt’s middle finger, saying “This little piggy went ‘Fuck you!’” I loved that so much.
I should also give props to the commentator for speaking in a normal, level tone of voice throughout the match. It’s so much easier to enjoy wrestling without having someone screaming in my ear like it’s the Tet Offensive. Devitt eventually pins Sabre with the Bloody Sunday, then raises his hand in a show of respect. The crowd chants “Thank you Devitt.”
This was a lovely way to kill some time while my dinner was cooking. As for who gave me this gift, I’m gonna guess that it was Lee Malone. He is Irish. Prince Devitt is Irish. Seems like sound logic to me! -Andrew Rich
Jushin “Thunder” Liger vs. Flyin’ Brian Pillman
WCW SuperBrawl II 1992
Presented by Andrew Sinclair
This is a really cool Secret Santa gift, as it falls right into one of my blind spots. This is one of those matches that I’ve heard about, and has been on my radar, but I’d never gotten around to seeing.
The entrances are my first impression. WCW’s theme music is so bad I have a hard time telling what’s dubbed on the Network and what’s supposed to be there. Liger’s music is obviously dubbed, because it sounds like a piece of classical music written about some sort of Asian goblin sneaking up on an unsuspecting fairy tale child. Pillman’s? Only someone with a VHS tape of SuperBrawl II knows for sure.
The story of the match is laid out early; Pillman wants to mat wrestle Liger as a means to avoid the “most prolific aerial wrestler in the world today” (as Jim Ross calls him). In a stroke of irony, Flyin’ Brian finds his greatest early success when he lives up to his nickname, but he doesn’t realize that until the pace picks up halfway through. A flying headscissors and baseball slide put Pillman in the driver’s seat, but once Liger is back in the ring, Brian grounds him. When the action is on the mat, Liger is able to reverse Pillman’s offence and take control, which builds to the Mexican Surfboard and the Figure Four.
The action really picks up when they start going to the top rope. Liger is more impressive, hitting his signature somersault dive to the floor. Flyin’ Brian responds with aerial moves more common to 1992 America, which are mostly flying cross-bodies. The combatants trade high-flying bombs before entering the weirdest sequence of the match; Brian counters a top rope dive with a dropkick, then goes up top for a missile dropkick, which Liger ALSO counters with a dropkick. They go to a double-down off of the dropkick blocked with a dropkick, then both go for spinning wheel kicks, which has the same result. This kills the crowd briefly, but they’re gotten back with some near falls. The bombs continue, with Liger missing a diving headbutt and Pillman capitalizing with a prawn hold.
Jim Ross and Jess Ventura are AWESOME on commentary here. They present Liger as the best aerial wrestler on the planet, and discuss the intimidating qualities of his mask. Jesse in particular does a great job breaking down their offences as part of grander strategies, with each move either suiting their goals or being an ill-advised break from their game plan. They also masterfully build the finish throughout the match, as they frequently bring up that a big high-flying move could end this thing at any point, either by hitting it or missing and wiping out, which, of course, Liger does.
This match is very WCW. It’s a mouth-watering match-up on paper, and delivers some fantastic action. The crowd only really cares about the moves, though, and that hurts this match for me. It feels like an early match in a longer series, where they left some in the tank for later. But it’s still Liger at the peak of his athletic ability, and Brian Pillman before injuries slowed him down, so it’s a ton of fun and worth a watch. Liger always makes me simultaneously feel great and hopeful that I might be a tenth as good at my art form as he is at his.
As for my Secret Santa guess, this one is tough, as it could reasonably be from about half the staffers. Jeff Hawkins, maybe? He likes WCW. Sure, let’s go with that. You, of course, will see in this article how hilariously wrong I likely am. -Jeff Martin
John Cena © vs Rey Mysterio Jr. vs Kane vs Chris Jericho vs Edge vs Mike Knox
Presented by Sean Sedor
First and foremost, I completely forgot this was a match that happened. I don’t even remember watching Wrestlemania 25 live in 2009; I was in my final semester in undergrad so my attention was placed elsewhere. On top of that, this was during my peak of CHIKARA fandom as I was about a month away from watching my very match gift to Kelly Harass live. So it should go without saying, but this was my first time watching this match from a period I was completely out on WWE.
Before getting into the match itself, I was really confused to see Mike Knox listed as a member of this match. Everyone else made perfect sense, but Mike Knox of all people was throwing me for the loop so I did some research. This was the fourth, and last, WWE PPV that Knox appeared on and his only true main event (the others were a Survivor Series match, a Mixed Tag at December to Dismember and a Royal Rumble appearance that it seems he was just there as a warm body to be eliminated by the Big Show). This was also his only televised title match, all his others came on a UK tour where him and Charlie Haas were defeated by Unified (totally forgot this was a thing) WWE Tag Champions Primo and Epico eight times.
The first thing that struck me about the match was this was during a time where WWE still did unique entrance stages for pay per views. That’s something I sorely miss with now every show outside of Wrestlemania having their brands’ dedicated stage, but it is understandable why they went to this given how they cut costs. It was a rather neat stage given that it was 2009 with a bunch of screens including one that was modelled after the Elimination Chamber.
Before the match started, Edge came out and attacked Kofi Kingston during Kingston’s entrance and stole his spot in the chamber. He was apparently WWE Champion to start the evening and lost it in that chamber match in a quick roll up, so this felt a bit silly. On the other hand, this was setting the stage for Wrestlemania, so it makes sense why that change would happen.
The match itself felt different from other Chamber matches. From memory, most Chamber matches are a bit of a slog with some big bumps coming from the Chamber itself. This one broke down into a lot of really solid sprint sections. Jericho and Mysterio were the two that started the match and had a great five minute opener which included a chamber-aided hurricanrana. First in was Kane, who did most of his big man moves and was quickly eliminated with a Rey seated senton right before Mike Knox came in. Mike Knox really didn’t do anything and stuck out as I expected he would. Knox lasted for only four minutes and twelve seconds, so congrats on your random main event of standing around and then promptly getting jobbed out Mike!
This left Edge and Cena as the last two entries with Cena coming in last. Edge’s entry prompted Mysterio to go nuts and attack him in his booth due to Edge’s attack of Kofi. This felt like the only real rivalry going into the match, so it was nice that they had this, but it showed a glaring issue I had with WWE’s usage of this match. The Elimination Chamber rarely feels like it is needed. When it was on the schedule, they had Elimination Chamber matches because they needed to have those matches. Sure, everyone wanted both the title and the opportunity to main event a Wrestlemania, but this is tenuous reasoning for a match of this purported magnitude. I wasn’t planning on contrasting this with my usual Dragon Gate beat, but the Dead or Alive cage match is the best comparison for the Elimination Chamber. Dragon Gate forces stakes on people entering Dead or Alive. The loser often gets their head shaved or loses their mask. Often there is interpersonal reasoning for this sort of match up in Dragon Gate. It makes the match more than just its gimmick and gives the emotional gravitas that I felt was missing from this Chamber match.
Cena was eliminated just after he came in, which was a surprise. He basically did a few moves and then immediately got Codebreaker’d and then Spear’d and that was it. I read up that this provided the reasoning for Cena and Edge to face off with each other at Wrestlemania 25 with Big Show tossed in for whatever reason. Jericho got eliminated after a sweet ultra hurricanrana from Rey which left us with a great final sprint between Rey and Edge, which Edge won after sending Rey into the plexiglass and then a spear.
This was a real interesting match for me. As I mentioned at the start, this was during one of my biggest “down” periods in WWE so I didn’t see it before getting it as a gift. The match itself was very good, but I think it lacked the emotional investment than similar matches put on by other companies. It was really the Rey Mysterio show, and it was great to see him in a time before his body got beat up by the end of his WWE stint. I’d probably go ***¾ for this. I’m a bit lower than Meltzer (****¼), but I’m okay with that given the fact that Mike gosh darn Knox was in this match instead of anyone else on the roster.
I’ve got zero idea who gave this match to me. So I’m going to close my eyes and scroll up and down in the VOW slack channel #vow-secretsanta and I’m going to stop on someone and say they gave it to me. Taylor Maimbourg. I guess Taylor Maimbourg gave this to me. -Michael Spears
Kenta Kobashi vs. Yoshinari Ogawa
Presented by Case Lowe
I can count the number of NOAH matches I’ve seen on two hands and still have a few fingers left to spare (checking the promotion out has been on my to-do list since about 2014 but what can I say, life always gets in the way). Ironically, my fractional exposure to NOAH is top heavy with Kobashi matches around the time of this match (2003), but this particular match I was gifted was not one I’ve seen. Furthermore, I’ve never even heard of Yoshinari Ogawa; I know nothing of his work or the backstory of this match whatsoever. Doing research prior to watching the match felt like going against the spirit of this exchange and so I went in colder than cold.
The thing that immediately stood out upon my initial viewing was the beautiful story these two performers told; pro wrestling truly is an international language all its own. While it certainly has a healthy dose of Kobashi’s infamous chops and other tenants of strong style, the psychological foundation of this match was something right out of Mid-South or Jim Crockett Promotions in the mid-1980s. Without having sufficient background knowledge of the NOAH product I don’t know if this style was par for the course or just a creative choice specific to this match. Either way, it was not what I was expecting so it caught me off guard (in a good way).
From the moment he spits water in Kobashi’s face and attacks right at the opening bell Ogawa serves as the pace-setter of the match. Ogawa plays the role of the annoying heel perfectly. Though significantly smaller than Kobashi, Ogawa goes on the attack as if the two are the same size. Isolating Kobashi’s knee (which appeared to be compromised prior to the match?) serves as the equalizer Ogawa needed to have a chance. Kobashi shows great fire as he fights through the attack to his knee. As the match progresses you can’t help but wait for the moment Kobashi finally snaps and puts the smaller heel down for good.
Ogawa, for his part, thwarts each comeback in standard heel fashion to maintain his frustrating advantage. When the action spills to the outside things begin to get out of control and Kobashi finally turns things around with unbridled aggression. Ogawa’s head is smashed into the post multiple times, which opens the heel’s forehead. Kobashi delivers a DDT on the entrance ramp before administering vicious closed-fists, each one directed at the gash in his opponent’s head. Ogawa’s color doesn’t go full crimson mask, but rather long jagged streams of blood across his forehead and down his face, which actually make for a more compelling visual. The comeuppance portion of the match is most satisfying, a remarkable testament to both workers considering my lack of context.
When Kobashi delivers a thunderous powerbomb Ogawa’s fate appears to be sealed, but amazingly he kicks out at two, setting up an exciting finish that is anything but predictable. Can this little smarmy heel actually best Kobashi? Ogawa gets progressively more desperate with each passing minute as he refuses to accept his fate; he comes oh so close to earning a pinfall with his feet perched on the second rope for leverage before Kobashi gets the shoulder up at the last possible moment. Ogawa manages to escape the half-nelson suplex several times, but he doesn’t escape Kobashi’s mighty lariat and the heel is finally put down for good.
I watched this match three times; each time was more enjoyable than the last. Ogawa really stood out as a tremendous worker and someone I most definitely want to learn more about. Kobashi is a legend and while I’m familiar with most of his more epic encounters, I’ve learned to appreciate his range as a performer after seeing this. Getting into current the NOAH product may not be in the cards anytime soon, but watching this has definitely inspired me to check out more from this time period in my spare time. Thanks Secret Santa! -Barry Hess
Check back tomorrow for the fourth installment of Voices of Wrestling’s 2017 Secret Santa!