It’s the most wonderful time of the year. We’re talking, of course, about Secret Santa season at Voices of Wrestling. The brainchild of JR Goldberg (@wrestlingbubble), VOW Secret Santa sees our writers, reviews, podcasters and contributors giving a gift to one another… the gift of a wrestling match.

The result of the initial VOW Secret Santa was a huge success and a good representation of the different styles of wrestling that we all love. Last year’s Secret Santa was another resounding success and we expect this year to be more of the same.

The goal of the project was to provide first-time viewing for contributors while also trying to get people getting out of their comfort zone. Throughout this multi-part series you’ll see wrestling matches from every region and every era from black and white French wrestling to modern Japanese deathmatches, our contributors went above and beyond to make this year’s Secret Santa the best yet. Sit back, sip on some egg nog and enjoy VOW Secret Santa 2018. -Rich Kraetsch

Joey “Jet” Avalon vs. Naomi Yoshimura
November 23, 2018
MKE Black Friday

Reviewed by Jack Beckmann (@packerman120)
Gifted by Alex Wendland (@AlexWendland)

I feel hurt. What is a Joey “Jet” Avalon? I know of Naomi Yoshimura, but Joey “Jet” Avalon? The hell? Anyways, we’re in West Allis, Wisconsin for this sure to be classic. This match was for Silas Young’s MKE Wrestling promotion that started this year. If the rumors of Silas signing with NXT turn out to be true, it will be a very short-lived promotion. I’m guessing that there’s about thirty people in the building, forty max. I’m not sure what this “Knights of Columbus” building is supposed to be. I think that it is either an American Legion Hall or a really bad bar. Or both. To answer the question of who Joey “Jet” Avalon is, he appears to be a really bad Wisconsin shindie worker. He’s not in great shape, and he comes to the ring with a shovel. I feel bad for Yoshimura for having to wrestle this geek in the suburbs of Milwaukee. The tourist destination of America, West Allis is not.

Anyways, the match. Someone in the front row is wearing a shirt that has #StainTrain on the back, which is distracting due to its hilarity. What the fuck is the Stain Train? Do I want to know? I do want to know who sent me this match, though, because this was TERRIBLE. Joey Avalon is a cookie cutter shindie geek, right down to his look and how 95% of his moveset consists of rest holds and shoulder blocks. His only redeeming value is that he seems to be quick-witted when responding to the crowd. He made me laugh once after taking a shoulder block from Yoshimura, as he yelled to the ref to “CHECK HIS (Yoshimura’s) SHOULDER”. Other than that, this match did nothing for me, other than convincing me that I will never attend any independent show in Wisconsin in the near future. As for who gave me this, it has to be one of the fellow Wisconsin VoW writers – Kelly Harass and Alex Wendland. Kelly’s a nice guy so I don’t think he’d subject me to this torture. Since Alex, I believe, was the one who brought up to me that Yoshimura was working for this company in the first place, I believe that he is my Secret Santa. And if he is, you better hope I don’t get you next year, friend. 3 #STAINTRAINS / 100 (**)

Eddie Kingston vs. Chris Hero (Loser Leaves CZW Match)
April 7, 2007
CZW Out With The Old, In With The New

Reviewed by Paul Völsch (@Darth_Dragon)
Gifted by Jeremy Sexton (@JeremySexton)

Whoever loses this match has to leave CZW and I’m failing to see how that is a punishment. A bunch of jobbers are in the ring separating the two competitors. Hero is chomping at the bits to get to Kingston. Having no context for this and judging by the crowd reactions Hero is the face in this one. We are starting of with some really stiff strikes and you can feel the hate between these two. This match reminds me a lot of the matches Tomohiro Ishii and Katsuyori Shibata used to have.

Hero gets the upper hand and just beats up on Kingston at ringside until Kingston gains control once their return to the ring. Everything in this match just looks like it has so much impact. We get a headbutt exchange and then Kingston tries to gauge out Hero’s eyes before just straight up choking him. Hero hits a beautiful missile dropkick and after some back and forth dumps Kingston with an Exploder. He then tries to murder Kingston by hitting him with knees and elbows while he has him in a headlock. We get some nasty headbutts and both guys are bleeding now. Hero looks like an absolute beast. Both men are exhausted and are just dropping each other with suplexes now, before Hero takes of Kingston’s head with two brutal looking Lariats. Hero nearly pins Kingston off of a powerbomb and then reverses his kick out into a modified crossface, but Kingston gets the ropes. We get one final strike exchange before Eddie Kingston knocks out Chris Hero for the win.

This was awesome. This was everything I love in wrestling. It was stiff and felt like a fight. This felt like the culmination of a long feud and you could see the hate between the two. If you haven’t watched this go out of your way to watch it and if you have rewatch it as soon as you can.

Ok, I read the notes for this show on Cagematch and apparently, Zandig got upset with Kingston after the match for no good reason and shoot fired him. Oh CZW. Regardless this was a great match.

Bobby Gunns vs. Mike Bailey
March 10, 2018
wXw 16 Carat Gold 2018 – Night 2

Reviewed by Griffin Peltier (@Hollywd12)
Gifted by Liam Byrne (@tvtimelimit)

This is my first time watching a full match from wXw. I’ve heard good things so this should be a treat! As a bearded, maple syrup, beaver tail, flannel wearing Canadian, I love me some wrestling featuring Canadians! I liked the interview/promo piece before the match and Bobby Gunns seems like an asshole. I want Mike Bailey to win. LET’S GO MIKE BAILEY YOU’RE THE BEST WRESTLER IN THE WORLD YOU DO WAY BETTER KICKS THAN LOW KI

This was a very good match but I cringed so hard and had to stop it so many times. The finger manipulation story grossed me out but it was so well done. STOP WITH THE DAMN CLOSEUPS OF THE FINGER!!! I’ve literally paused and looked away every time they’ve done a closeup on Bailey’s finger/hand. Bailey won Face of the Year for cracking the finger back into place! Bobby Gunns managed to get the victory with a beautiful submission.

I was very impressed by Bobby Gunns and will gladly watch more of his matches whenever I get the opportunity to do so. A very good match and a great introduction to wXw. By the way, this match only when around 13 minutes but it took me about 35 to watch the whole thing because of awesome finger disgustingness. I want to thank whoever my secret Santa is but I won’t take a formal guess, seeing as it could literally be anybody from the VOW wXW crew. This match gets a solid 4 Calling Birds from me. Happy Holidays!

Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay
October 3, 2015
RevPro Global Wars UK

Reviewed by Joel Abraham (@joeljabraham @thesuperjcast)
Gifted by Neil David (@chubby_cthulhu)

Thank you and Merry Christmas to whoever gifted this match to me. My guess is that it’s one of my fellow Englishmen, possibly Andrew Sinclair or Neil David. This is a fascinating match to come back to after a transitional year for both Okada and Ospreay. Here we see Okada in his third reign as IWGP champion, resplendent in his golden Rainmaker gear, and with Gedo at his side. It’s a world away from his slightly unhinged, balloon-wielding, vest and longboy-wearing late 2018 iteration. Ospreay, off the back of a truly brilliant, wrestler of the year-caliber 2018, looks set to move to heavyweight and become an even bigger star than he already is. This match is more significant for Ospreay than Okada, because many would argue that this is where his ascent to greatness began.

This is the match that got him noticed in Japan; the match that made Okada offer Ospreay a spot alongside him in the CHAOS faction. Ospreay made his NJPW debut in April 2016 at Invasion Attack, a moment documented in the excellent NJPW OnTheRoad series. Since then, Okada and Ospreay have shared a warm friendship with Okada playing the playful big brother to Ospreay. Judging by the way they interact on Twitter, it seems they genuinely like each other and share the same silly sense of humour that makes them such fun to watch together. They have much in common – tall, good-looking, athletic, endless talent, adored by fans worldwide. You certainly wouldn’t bet against Ospreay’s career following a similar trajectory to his stablemate.

I actually watched this match prior to their March 2018 showdown at the NJPW 46th Anniversary Show, a terrific match where Ospreay took Okada to the limit before ultimately falling short. Will didn’t come quite so close this time, although it’s an incredibly fun match to watch. Okada busts out a few unusual submission maneuvers as the pair try to outdo each other in showmanship. Ospreay combats the superior experience and technique of Okada by launching his idiosyncratic array of spectacular, high-flying offence. The two have excellent chemistry, and the closing stretch makes Ospreay look like he’s been wrestling in NJPW for years. It’s easy to see why Okada recommended him.

So aside from being a very good match, this has historical significance as the match where it all began for Ospreay and NJPW, the moment he proved he belonged at the top table of professional wrestling. He’s lost both his matches against Okada thus far, but the next time they face off, the smart money is on young Will.

The Great Sasuke, Super Delfin, Yuji Yakushiji, Gran Hamada, Gran Naniwa vs. Dick Togo, Shiryu, MEN’s Teioh, TAKA Michinoku, Shoichi Funaki
December 16, 1996
Michinoku Pro

Reviewed by Case Lowe (@_InYourCase)
Gifted by Jeff Martin (@HEATcomic)

Thank you to my secret Santa because this is one of my favorite matches of all-time. Our dear friend Alan Counihan put together an essential Michinoku Pro playlist a few years ago, and this was the highlight of the series. This is peak lucharesu, peak Michinoku Pro, and peak professional wrestling.

I’ve always adored the performance by Yuji Yakushiji. He’s one of my favorite Michinoku Pro performers because he’s the ultimate plucky underdog. He’s simply incredible in this match. He takes a beating from the Kai en Tai folks, but in the closing stretch, he dishes it right back out. He’s the highlight of this match.

The Great Sasuke takes one of the most brutal heat sections ever in this match. He’s beaten down with a chair, nearly paralyzed with a piledriver, and practically left for dead. He displayed the SELLING~! that certain dorks will look for. This has to be one of the best Sasuke performances out there.

Gran Hamada opens the match with a hot sequence against TAKA and closed out the match by rolling up Shiryu in a thrilling fashion. The crowd goes wild. People are literally jumping up and down. This was a monumental win for the MichiPro Sekigun with context, but even without, it is clear that this win meant more than the average one.

Watch this match. I’m sure there are other matches in this project that are good, but this one will be the best of the bunch. This is a five-star match. Thank you very much, Santa.

Kenoh vs. Hajime Ohara
December 23, 2015
Pro Wrestling NOAH / NOAH Destiny 2015

Reviewed by Aaron Taube (@aptaube)
Gifted by JoJo Remy (@jojo_runs)

Despite the exhaustive efforts we take to find meaning in this great hobby of ours, the truth is that the vast majority of wrestling we’ll consume over the course of our lifetimes is imminently forgettable, presenting nothing more than a brief, pleasant interlude from the anxieties and responsibilities that fill the rest of our waking hours. As in life, the big, memorable climaxes are few and far between.

For the most part, the best we can hope for from the average wrestling match is a single shot of endorphins and perhaps a nuanced narrative wrinkle that might make the long-off storyline climax a touch more satisfying. In this context, it would be hard to argue that my VoW Secret Santa match did not deliver. Kenoh vs. Hajime Ohara, from NOAH’s Destiny 2015, is an undoubtedly fun match I will never watch again.

Prior to the match, I’d never seen either of the two wrestlers perform before, though I was aware that Kenoh won the company’s top title and would talk about “taking you bastards to Budokan”  about a year ago. I feel like you don’t hear as much about him these days? Anyway, I looked it up on Cagematch and learned that these two guys were tag team partners at some point and that this match takes place about two years before Kenoh’s big push. I’d venture to guess that it was a mildly important chapter in Kenoh’s ascent to the throne, but I don’t know for sure.

The match is fast and furious and very stiff, probably not more than 11 minutes bell to bell. Ohara begins in control, attacking Kenoh’s back with some real menace in his backbreakers and modified single leg crabs. What stands out most from the match, apart from its pace, is Kenoh’s selling in these holds. He has this sort of very desperate grunting that goes a long way to convince you that he really is in pain and very badly needs to get out of the hold right this second. You don’t often see someone sell a mid-match submission hold with this much gusto, especially without resorting to Ospreay-esque “Eyyyyy, I’m sellin’ here!” shtick.

Kenoh eventually makes his comeback after winning a couple mile-a-minute exchanges filled with countered strikes and narrowly avoided throws. These sequences are too fast to remember, much less describe, but you’ve probably seen enough of them to imagine what I’m talking about. Still, they’re pretty exciting, and all the kicks look great.

Ohara kicks out of a double stomp at one and a PK at two, and Kenoh’s disbelief is somehow both comically over-the-top and very believable. Moments later, he finishes the job with Ragou, a move describes as a “cross-armed Gory special flipped forward into a sitout powerbomb.” After the match, the two (current? former?) tag partners shake hands and exit the ring together.

If you’re looking to check out for a few minutes with a stiff and frenzied bit of pro wrestling fun, there are plenty of matches on YouTube that will likely do the trick. This match is definitely one of them.