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 eggnog and enjoy VOW Secret Santa 2018. -Rich Kraetsch
VOW Secret Santa 2018 Archives
Jonathan Gresham vs. Prince Mustafa Ali
July 8th, 2016
Freelance Wrestling / Freelance vs. CZW
As soon as I checked my inbox and see a match with these two, I knew I had been a good boy this year. Or maybe Rich is just being nice to one of the new guys. Either way, I’ll take it! I can’t say I’ve ever watched a Freelance match, and I’ve only become familiar with these two over the last couple of years, so this is a treat. A high flyer with sound technical skills against perhaps one of the five best technical wrestlers on the planet? In front of a hot indy crowd in an intimate setting? Merry Christmas to me indeed!
Gresham really studied his heel Bryan Danielson tapes. He’s got the look, mannerisms, and viciousness in his grappling down to a science. Gresham controls the first part of this match by getting the best of Ali in some slick grappling exchanges that involve wrecking Ali’s arm, which would be a theme in this match. Ali would make a nice comeback following a pop up drop kick and a lucha roll into a half crab, with a few unnecessary flips that we’ve grown to know and love on 205 Live.This is short lived though when Gresham hits an excellent crucifix pin attempt into an armbar. Ali would get a hope spot here and there, but the next several minutes are the Gresham show, as it looks like he’s having a blast out grappling Ali, even hitting a heart punch and a Zandig pose for good measure.
It looks like the tides might change after an exchange leads to a 450 from Ali onto Gresham’s arm. This leads to a chop exchange that ends with Gresham faking a chop and going low. The Freelance announcer then proceeded to ask the CZW sympathizing co-commentator why he would want to win the title by breaking the rules. Hilarious.
Things kick into a higher gear once Ali gets things moving and hits a perfect chaos theory followed by a rolling cutter. Gresham sneaks in a German to get the upper hand and hits his finish for a nearfall. Gresham gets a little desperate and takes Ali up top, only for Ali to hit a huge Spanish Fly for a great nearfall. The two go back and forth until Gresham throws a rana into a spinning crossface that Ali struggles through to the ropes. Once more getting desperate, Gresham takes Ali to the top for a Frankensteiner. Ali rolls through for a pin, leading to a long, creative pin exchange that Ali finally turns into an O’Connor Roll for the three.
This was a really fun watch. Gresham really controlled the pacing of the match, with Ali sprinkling in the high hope spots at just the right times in the match. Ali really performed well as the resilient babyface that he’s become tremendous at on 205 Live. Gresham was a machine here as well with the technical proficiency and character work mixed in wonderfully. Highly Recommend. RATING: ****¼ Snowman Cookies. Or would it be ****⅓?
Kurt Angle vs Rey Mysterio
August 25th, 2002
WWE SummerSlam 2002
SummerSlam 2002 took place four months after my 5th birthday, and whilst the show has been on my radar for a while, I’ve never managed to watch it. Having now had the pleasure of viewing this, the damn show-opener no less, watching the whole show is near the top of my Christmas viewing.
Angle and Mysterio both felt incredibly special when I first saw WWE in 2004, and they both look a million dollars in this match. Mysterio attempts to get the upper hand by coming out the back and surprising Angle, only to find himself perpetually fighting for survival. It’s only just over nine minutes, but they use every second to perfection. A complete break from the 50/50 monotony we’re presented with now, Angle dominates much of the match, countering every one of Mysterio’s traditional arsenal of moves with stiff lariats or forceful suplexes.
When, in a matter of a minute or so, Mysterio connects with a massive tope to the outside and follows it up with the 619/West Coast Pop combination, it feels like it’s the only chance Rey has to win. As such, when Angle powers out at 2.9999, you are made to feel like Mysterio’s moment has gone. That feeling is naturally enforced when almost immediately, Angle counters a top-rope hurricanrana into the ankle lock and after a brief battle, gets the submission victory.
A brilliant nine-minute sprint, full of intensity and drama. ****
Giving me this match was a wonderful gift, full of all the generosity becoming of the festive season. I’m not sure who gave me this, but if I had to guess I’d say Andrew Rich.
Rene Ben Chemoul & Gilbert Cesca vs. Anton Tejero & Inca Peruano
March 12, 1965
Catch à Quatre
When this match was dropped onto my desk amidst the clutter of crinkled fast food wrappers and various copies of Swank (it’s been a lonely few weeks), an overwhelming sense of dread took hold of me. I was expecting my Secret Santa gift to be somewhat contemporary with wrestlers whom I could recognize. What I received instead was this match that’s over fifty years old, is in black and white, the commentary is entirely in French, and I have absolutely no idea who any of the four wrestlers are. Uh oh. The TARDIS Cloister Bell started ringing in my head. What the hell have I gotten myself into? I wondered. Regardless of my trepidation, I had already committed to Secret Santa and was going to see it through to the end. So I marched forward and clicked the play button.
This turned out to be one of the most jaw-dropping matches that I’ve ever seen in my life. And the reason for that is because it blew away any preconceived notions that I had about this era of pro wrestling. These four guys may look like your stereotypical old school wrestlers (there was enough chest hair in this match to carpet my living room), but the athleticism, the intensity, and the fluidity that they bring to the table left me stunned.
Chemoul and Cesca are the French babyfaces and have an undeniable dynamism to their technical style. They not only out-wrestle their opponents, but do so with backflips, kip-ups, and leapfrogs that look smooth as silk. Every time Chemoul or Cesca use their skills to counter or dodge an oncoming attack from the heel team, the crowd roars in approval. They also have some really fun double team maneuvers that again get the audience to cheer wildly. The icing on the cake (or in this case the eclair) is seeing Cesca successfully pull off two flawless hurricanranas in a row, then, later on, he hits what looks like an early version of a sunset flip powerbomb. Chemoul also performs a picture perfect hurricanrana of his own towards the end of the match. In 1965.
Tejero and Peruano are the Peruvian heels. They use all sorts of conniving tricks to rough up the French heroes and gain the advantage, but they are not afraid to get roughed up themselves. The Peruvians receive some nasty looking strikes in this match, one of which is a running headbutt by Cesca that (spoiler alert) ends the match in a KO. Peruano has to be dragged out of the ring by his partner and manager because he can’t stand up. Tejero and Peruano also take more bumps over the top rope in this match than most wrestlers of their generation (or the next few generations) probably did in their entire careers. There are also no barriers between the ring and the audience, so it makes some of those bumps look even nuttier.
A lot of these moves that I’ve gushed about are nowadays rather pedestrian. In the context of the time period, they are amazing. I went into this match with a lot of apprehensions and it ended up being an absolute blast to watch, so I recommend that you do as well.
As to the identity of my Secret Santa, I’m going to guess that it is Andy LaBarre. My evidence is that it is an unlisted YouTube video from a channel called Yoshiaki Fujiwara. Andy is the only one I know at VOW whose worship of Fujiwara is powerful enough that he would name a YouTube channel after him. He’s also the kind of guy who would send me an obscure, black and white French tag team match from the 1960s. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.
Kevin Steen vs. El Generico, ROH Career vs. Mask, Fight Without Honor
December 10, 2010
ROH Final Battle 2010
A decidedly brutal final battle (fitting) in what is likely the best feud of the past decade. Kevin Steen began bleeding within the first four minutes of this 30-minute classic. Even El Generico would get busted open after Steen ripped his mask about halfway through. Personally, I was tangentially aware of this feud as it was happening—I had stopped watching a lot of wrestling from 2007 until 2013-or-so—but I’ve pieced much of the feud together through the years. Except, somehow, this one. I never saw the end of it and I don’t know why. Watching this in 2018, knowing how much I missed during those classic ROH runs and how hard the company has made it to go back and revisit those golden years, I wish I hadn’t fell out of wrestling so long ago.
This is exactly what I want in a feud-ending match. It should be the standard bearer. Maybe it is. This match FEELS different. It feels like it means more. There’s an emotional factor in the love these two have for each other and the hate that love manifests as on-screen. The lifelong history between the two, combined with a full year of storytelling, results in an epic match that will live on for decades.
The obvious guess for who gifted me this match is Sean Sedor, VOW’s ROH extraordinaire. There are, however, a number of VOWers based in the Northeast. Andrew Rich, Barry Hess, and Joe Gagne himself are all likely Northeasterners who probably wouldn’t lean puro on a secret santa gift. Still, play the odds and pick the ROH guy. Thank you for this match, Sean.
Johnny Gargano vs Ricochet (c), Open the Freedom Gate Title Match
16th November 2014
WWNLive In China – Event 4
Ah yes, WWN Live in China. A tour that would be well known to any Best Friends/Chuck Taylor aficionados like myself or those that tuned in to watch Bloodsport over WrestleMania weekend but instead were shown a promotional video for WWN Live in China about twenty times over. Lacey promised us that this wouldn’t be the last we see of WWN in China but alas, it was not meant to be. That’s not to say this tour didn’t have its highpoints. It had this great match that I’ll get into right now.
Johnny Gargano has the crowd (and cheerleaders) behind him for this match as he challenges Ricochet for the Open the Freedom Gate title, the very man that beat him for the title in the first place. The two had faced each other several times at this stage but every little thing they did in front of the Chinese crowd received audible gasps. It’s something that’s actually quite refreshing to hear – instead of the usual mundane crowds that these matches usually would have taken place in front of. It doesn’t hurt that there is reportedly 10,000 people there.
The two tell a good back and forth story, with Gargano the ultra babyface and Ricochet the cocky heel, goading the crowd at every opportunity. Gargano, now known as a plucky underdog – was that to a T in this match, building up for the fiery comeback, showing glimpses only for Ricochet to stop him in his tracks. After the Death Valley Driver on the edge of the ring, I really thought that could be it until Ricochet went that step too far. It’s matches like this that make you realize how good of a babyface Gargano can be without all the cheesy storylines and over the top tropes. All he needs is his ring work and innate connection with fans. The finish of the match is definitely… something, with Gargano finishing off Ricochet by throwing him head first into the turnbuckle to win the Open the Freedom Gate championship. What a way to end the tour! I just had to laugh. Apart from that, it was a pretty solid match and an easy watch.
And that was the last we ever saw of WWN in China. Little did we know what would have become of WWN and indeed Ricochet and Johnny Gargano.
Tom Pritchard, Stan Lane & Bobby Eaton Vs. Jimmy Golden, Robert Fuller & Dutch Mantell Vs. Ricky Morton, Robert Gibson & Arn Anderson (3-way elimination Street Fight)
April 2nd, 1993
SMW Bluegrass Brawl 1993
Receiving this match for my 2018 VOW Secret Santa was a bit like when you’re a teenager and you literally take your parents or grandparents to the mall and tell them what to buy you for Christmas, but don’t get to open until Christmas morning. Whoever my Secret Santa is, they either know me really well or not at all.
You see I’m a huge fan of Smoky Mountain Wrestling, even though I have only seen the first year+ of the promotion’s TV. I’m very vocal about it, just like I’m very vocal about how behind I am with modern wrestling (and how little I care). In our Slack, I mentioned I would love a match from the South of fat, sloppy dudes, so if that was picked up on, great – but while most of my wrestling watching from the past year or so has revolved around Shoot-Style wrestling (for my now defunct “Fighting Network Friends” podcast), did this person also know that over the past 18 months, I had been slowly making my way through all of SMW chronologically and the day I was sent this match, I was literally up to the TV that took place just two weeks prior? Hey, if you want to please the person you’re giving a gift to – give them what they want.
Up to this point, and about a year into the inception of Smoky Mountain Wrestling, any match that you could call reasonably “good” involved the Heavenly Bodies or The Stud Stable, veterans of the territories bringing their solid craftsmanship and fantastic promos alongside with them. Tom Pritchard in particular, has really revealed himself to be someone I love watching in the ring from this footage. To be fair, when I say good, we are talking about a promotion that has maybe one or two 3-star matches in the first year. The first genuinely GREAT SMW match happened 4 weeks prior to Bluegrass Brawl, when Tracy Smothers and SMW Champ Dirty White Boy MASSACRED each other in one of my favorite early 90’s brawls that I can think of (and the two replicated that with a Chain Match on this show), but even with the lack of great matches, every week of SMW TV is riveting to the point where the in-ring portion of the product is the least important aspect of the promotion, so I was STOKED for this main event.
To set it up, the Heavenly Bodies had been in the Tag Title scene since the beginning of the promotion, and the main attraction on most shows (they’re managed by Cornette after all). Early on they traded the titles back and forth with the Fantastics (Fultons), before moving onto a feud with the Rock N Roll Express. Both were heated. Once the RnR’s had won that feud and began to move onto a feud with The Stud Stable of Fuller and Golden, the Bodies slashed the tires of the studs, causing them to miss their scheduled title match and getting one for themselves, which they won. All 3 teams continued feuding and brawling, leading to Cornette introducing Bobby Eaton (on loan from WCW) as a third member of the Bodies (and introducing some uneasiness from Pritchard), Dutch became an official manager and member of the Stud Stable, splitting his time with them and on announcing (truly one of the best), and in a surprise, shocking twist, two weeks before the Bluegrass Brawl, the Rock N Rolls introduced long-time rival Arn Anderson (from under a sheet) to be their partner and the match was made with Street Fight Rules, to finally SETTLE THE SCORE.
If you, the reader, manage to watch any of the promos leading up to this match, it’s truly amazing to see the promo talent on here – with all-time greats like Cornette, Pritchard, Lane, Dutch, Fuller, Arn and Ricky. Of course, there is also Robert – maybe the worst promo of all time.
The match itself is truly a clusterfuck – an entertaining spectacle that is almost impossible to follow. In SMW, the “PPV’s” like this (this is their 4th?) have a different announce team (including Lance Russell) and different camera crews, and it honestly looks like shit compared to their TV product which rules. Because of this, having 9 guys brawling in and around the ring and the stadium that is dimly lit makes it really hard for the wide-angle, far away camera to capture any of the ferocity or action. At one point, Lance even says “This is impossible to call!” At some point Eaton has a tire around him, Pritchard starts bleeding heavily, Gibson gets hung off the ropes and eventually pins Fuller after a weak chair shot. The match is really really hard to describe, but it’s 20 minutes of blurry punches and weapons. The Bodies eventually win when Pritchard nails Gibson with what I assume is a loaded kneepad from the top rope, but the announcers don’t mention it and Gibson had Cornette in a Figure Four.
This match is a mess in a great way. Not a great match, but a fitting main event that had a flat finish. I’m guessing it’s coming from one of the dudes on VoW that cares about territory wrestling – let’s go with newbie Liam Byrne.