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

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Part 2:

Part 3:

Torneo TripleMania
August 26, 2017
AAA Triplemania XXV

Reviewed by Jeff Martin (@HEATcomic)
Gifted by Ricardo Gallegos (@TheUnderwally)

We’re about to go on an adventure, dear reader, and it’s going to get weird.

Here’s my best explanation as to what I think the rules are – it’s a Royal Rumble structure with teams instead of individuals, and eliminations coming via pinfall or submission. There’s also a gang of KISS impersonators and clowns around ringside hitting people with large rubber bands. I, uh, don’t know why those guys are there, as they mostly just wander around until an opportunity to listlessly whip at somebody crops up. Apparently AAA just needed to increase their clown quotient on their biggest show of the year.

The action starts with three teams of three in the ring. We’ve got a mixed team of Faby Apache, Australian Suicide, and Pimpernela Escarlata, three AAA stars of the ’90s, and some other guys who don’t have a graphic on the video screen. One of them has a mask that looks like papier mache covered in streamers, so that’s… that’s a look. I’m not going to go through each team as they enter, or try to describe the match as it unfolds, because I don’t know who half of these people are, and for the most part the play-by-play doesn’t matter. It’s a lot like any rumble-style battle royale, which means it’s mostly aimless brawling in the corners to clear space for a rotating cast of people doing moves in the centre of the ring.

Things start to get… interesting? Let’s go with interesting. Things start to get interesting when the Global Force Wrestling team of Moose, Bobby Lashley, and Jeff Jarrett are announced. Bobby Lashley enters, and he’s inexplicably solo. This seemed weird, but I didn’t think much of it until the next entrant was Moose, also by himself. That’s when I realized what was happening, and why this match would be notable enough to gift in this Secret Santa – here comes a completely shittered Jeff Jarrett, his drunk ass hurling tacos and, presumably, racial epithets at the Mexican fans. I remember watching this in 2017 and wondering what the hell was going on, and aside from the added context of Double J going into rehab not long after this, I still don’t really know what the hell is going on. Lashley and Moose don’t either, because during Jarrett’s entrance they start brawling with each other and are never heard from again.

Jarrett is surprisingly safe wrestling on autopilot, and thankfully doesn’t injure himself or anyone else. La Parka pins him with a DDT, which both eliminates Jarrett and somehow ends the match, but also doesn’t? The commentators declare La Parka the winner (I think? My Spanish is VERY limited), but then the match continues. Jeff Jarrett also isn’t done, as he spends the rest of the match (and beyond) drunkenly yelling at a teenager, which is both very sad and incredibly funny in its absurdity. La Parka eventually wins when one member of OGT pushes a different member of OGT off the top rope – which looked like it suuuuuucked – and is in turn kicked in the balls by the third member, who promptly loses to La Parka. I guess only one person could win this trios match? I had to watch this twice to make any sense out of the ending.

I watched all of TripleMania 25 shortly after it aired, because I was very psyched about Dr. Wagner Jr and Psycho Clown’s mask match that ended the show. One of two scenarios resulted in me watching this match for the second (and third) time – either my Secret Santa was attempting to troll me (and failed), or truly understands how much I enjoy chaotic trainwreck wrestling. This is not a good match. I watched the whole thing twice, and had fun. For some, those two sentences together will be baffling, but they’re both true. I think Ricardo Gallegos is the one responsible for that, since he’s the lucha guy, and specifically said he was going to be gifting a AAA match to somebody.

If you’re using these articles to find great wrestling to watch, this match isn’t that, but definitely check out the Dr. Wagner Jr./Psycho Clown apuestas match from this show – it finished in the top half of my MOTY top 10 list in 2017.

Akira Maeda vs. Super Tiger
September 11, 1984

Reviewed by Liam Byrne (@tvtimelimit)
Gifted by Taylor Maimbourg (@tamaimbo)

For someone who has spent the past two years watching mostly wrestling from 1984, this match is both in and out of my wheelhouse. It is cool to see something from a year that I’ve been so invested in, but I’ve never watched any UWF at all, outside of perhaps one match on a compilation. I have seen Akira Maeda and Super Tiger wrestle before.

That this is sold on the idea of being a more realistic style of wrestling, yet you have a man competing in a tiger mask is pretty funny in and of itself. The crowd are really into Tiger though, so you can’t argue with that. They also are completely sold on the spectacle they are watching as a round of applause follows Tiger escaping a kimura by getting to the ropes, as well as ooohs and aaahs the moment anyone goes for a submission attempt.

The best parts for me are when the wrestlers both add the odd pro wrestling move into the contest, started by Tiger with a rolling senton, though he would upscale that offense by going for a top rope knee drop later on – and missing. The crowd continued to make some noise, with some people screeching at the top of their lungs, all helping to create a powerful atmosphere that doesn’t sag at all. Maeda felt like he was in control for most of the contest, targeting the arm, but Tiger does the shoot fight-esque variation of hope spots throughout to keep himself in the contest

Before the finish, Tiger nailed a tombstone that saw him hold Maeda really low and looked incredibly stiff because of it. An Octopus hold by Maeda is countered; the finishing crossface chickenwing by Tiger appeared as if Maeda truly couldn’t escape and so had no choice but to tap. Unsurprisingly, the crowd exploded when the ref signaled for the bell.

An enjoyable watch in places, but my enjoyment tended to peak at times when the pace quickened and the more ‘pro wrestling-y’ the match became. Though both men peppered the other with stiff kicks, a lot of the early offense was a little on the laboured side for my own personal tastes. Still, the audience carried even the slower parts of the contest to a situation where it was eminently watchable. I’m not going to guess who mine is from as I really have no idea, but do thank my Secret Santa for getting me to watch something a little outside of my usual comfort zone.

All Asia Tag Team Titles – The Can-Am Express (c) vs. Kenta Kobashi & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi
May 25, 1992
AJPW Super Power Series 1992: Night 8

Reviewed by Sean Sedor (@SASedor2994)
Gifted By Lee Malone (@Malone_713)

Memorial Day Weekend is one that I mostly associate with auto-racing, with three of the worlds biggest races taking place on that weekend. However, on Memorial Day Weekend in 1992, All Japan put on an incredible tag team bout for the All Asia Tag Team Titles. The Can-Am Express, which in this instance was Doug Furnas and Dan Kroffat were the champions coming in, and they took on the team of Kenta Kobashi and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi. Believe it or not, this was my first time watching a 90’s All Japan match of any kind (I would love to watch more but it’s always a struggle to find time). That being said, I had a feeling going in that this would be pretty awesome, especially since Kenta Kobashi was involved.

Both teams got big reactions when they made their entrances, and during the ring introductions (which included streamers!). The music for Furnas and Kroffat was dubbed over, but you could clearly tell that it was “Welcome To The Jungle”. Anyway, the match got off to a wild start. Kroffat managed to get a slap in on Kikuchi at the start, and Kikuchi responded by just beating the crap out of Kroffat with forearms as the crowd absolutely EXPLODED. Initially, I was a little perplexed that Kikuchi, at least in the first half of the match, was getting much bigger reactions than Kenta Kobashi (Kikuchi the only person in this match that I hadn’t at least heard of before). However, when I found out that Kikuchi was from Sendai, which was where this show took place, it made perfect sense. After that, we got some strong back and forth action between both teams, as the crowd went nuts any time Kobashi or Kikuchi nailed a big move. About midway through, the momentum started to turn in the favor of the Can-Am Express, and at one point, Furnas just casually lifted Kikuchi up for a military press and dropped hit straight to the floor!! That looked pretty painful. This led to Funas and Kroffat taking turns locking Kikuchi in some nasty Boston Crabs.

The crowd rallied behind Kobashi and Kikuchi, and once they started their comeback, we got an awesome closing stretch. Both teams successfully nailed their own variations of the Doomsday Device (Furnas and Kroffat hit a traditional Doomsday Device, while Kobashi and Kikuchi did a variation with a dropkick off the top rope instead of the clothesline), and with each big kick out, the crowd got even louder. Kobashi tried for a big moonsault on Kroffat, but it appeared to end in a botch. Kroffat was supposed to roll out the way, but because Kobashi had such a tight arc on the moonsault (very similar to Kurt Angle’s moonsault, actually) that he landed face first into Kroffat’s ass cheeks. Fortunately, the second time proved to be the charm, as Kobashi would successfully nail the moonsault on Kroffat shortly thereafter to win the match and the All Asia Tag Team Titles. The two teams shook hands afterward and, in the ultimate sign of respect, Furnas and Kroffat strapped the belts around the waists of their victorious opponents.

On its own, this was a great tag team match, but the crowd reactions took this to a whole other level. It turns out that this was the voted the Wrestling Observer Match Of The Year for 1992, and while a lot of credit has to go to the four wrestlers for their incredible work, the fans deserve a good share of the credit as well. When you combine a great, action-packed match with a hot crowd that was going CRAZY right from the opening bell, you have the perfect ingredients for an instant classic. This bout is proof that you don’t need to do a ton of completely insane moves to get a crowd invested in a match (we saw another great example of that this year with Cody vs. Nick Aldis from All In). Dave Meltzer gave this five stars at time, and after watching that match, it’s hard to disagree with him. *****

As soon as I saw that this was my Secret Santa match, I instantly knew that it had to be from someone who’s been watching wrestling (particularly Japanese wrestling) for a very long time. My top pick would be Damon McDonald, with Jeff Hawkins being my second guess. If I ever have more free time (which is a hard thing to come by for someone who has a lot of different hobbies AND ten hour work days, four times a week), I would love to dive into ’90s All Japan and, by extension, early 2000’s NOAH. To whoever sent me this match, thank you for the excellent Christmas gift!!

Keith Lee & Shane Strickland vs. Sean Guinness & Jordan Devlin
May 13, 2018
OTT Contenders 9

Reviewed by Kevin Hare (@stan__hansen)
Gifted by Sarah Kenneally (@The2Sarahs)

We’ve got a lot of Irishmen (and women!) on the VOW team, so I’m really not surprised to get this match. The European indie scene isn’t too much of a blind spot for me. Over the past few years, I’ve transitioned bigtime from watching the US indies to instead mainly watching the Euro ones. OTT is generally a promotion I like but don’t follow on a show to show basis. I mainly just drop in for big shows and hyped matches. This match was in my queue earlier in the year, but I never got around to watching it. I’m glad I finally will now!

The atmosphere for this one is very intimate. The room looks packed and very small. This is Keith Lee’s last match in the promotion before he leaves for NXT. He’s partnering with Shane Strickland, who he started to tag with routinely towards the end of his indie run, against the hometown heroes Jordan Devlin and Sean Guinness.

One thing that I very much appreciate about OTT is that they have been able to create their own stars and niche within the larger scene. It is very easy to use the same guys that every other Euro indie does, and they definitely do that, but Jordan Devlin, in particular, is the perfect example of growing a hometown guy, presenting him as a star, and using him to carve out your own niche. Devlin in Dublin is a complete aura guy. Considering the larger wrestling world’s initial exposure to him was a disappointing run in the first WWE UK tournament, I view that as a success.

It starts with Lee vs. Devlin. From the beginning, this match is very much wrestled for the small room, with wrestlers bantering back and forth with the crowd and some early comedy spots. While this is a style I definitely like and watch routinely, I do think the way wrestlers interact with the audience can sometimes take away from a match. It kind of makes the whole presentation come across like a joke the audience is in on, breaking the 4th wall. It would make the shows a blast to be apart of but can take away some of the impact on tape. I think this plays into why I don’t follow OTT in particular as much. Devin and Lee going into a weird comedy kung fu segment in the middle of setting the groundwork for the match doesn’t really help, either. Finally, they start to try to wrestle a bit more, which leads to Devlin trying to hit a hurricanrana, which Lee catches and throws Devlin out of, who then lands on his feet. It’s a cool looking spot.

Sometimes I think Keith Lee needs to wrestle more like a big man instead of trying to prove he can hang with the smaller, more agile guys.

Guiness and Strickland now enter and ramp up the athleticism and pace. I haven’t seen too much of Guinness, but he does look impressive here. The match continues with more high paced action and typical indie-fare from both sides. Keith Lee even sings for a second, leading to a big reaction. Again, at this point, it is all about the showmanship within the match. I don’t really have any investment in who wins or loses, as it is just all about making sure the fans smile and laugh along. Guiness mounts a comeback and the crowd does finally get behind him. As the match goes on, we get to more big moves and nearfalls. It does feel like the crowd does begin to lose steam towards the end, before Devlin hits a poisonrana and a big Spanish Fly, then lifts up Lee for a huge suplex. Finally, Devlin and Guinness combine to rollup Lee for the win. They all hug and the Lee gives a goodbye speech.

As a viewer watching this at home, I thought this was a decent match that didn’t do much to stand apart from any other bigtime indie tag match. It had its entertaining parts, but not much really resonated with me enough to make it stand out against anything else. My gut is that whoever sent me this match was live in the building. The live experience is one that I can very much appreciate and respect. There have been plenty of matches I’ve seen live that I came away raving about, that were probably not as actually good as they were in the building, because independent wrestling is really about the live feeling and being a part of something.

Alex Shelley vs. Chris Sabin
January 11, 2009
TNA Genesis 2009

Reviewed by Taylor Maimbourg (@tamaimbo)
Gifted by Andrew Sinclar (@AMSinclair97)

I discovered TNA in 2005 when, quickly tiring of WWE, I heard about a new promotion that was going to be bringing in Rhyno.  Their weekly TV show was on a channel I had (Spike TV), so I gave them a shot and was immediately hooked by a mixture of both familiar and unfamiliar characters and some exciting in-ring action.  I followed TNA closely for about two years, but by 2007, I had become hooked by Ring of Honor and my time with TNA dwindled. It didn’t help that the TNA storylines seemed to get more and more absurd as the months passed.

All of that is to say that by the time my Secret Santa match occurred, I was fully out of TNA, so I never saw it.  I’m very familiar with both Shelley and Sabin from their time in both TNA and ROH, but with any TNA match, you never really know what to expect.  Both Shelley and Sabin are fantastic wrestlers, but would they be allowed to show it or would this match contain some typical TNA tomfoolery that brought down a lot of other promising match ups during this time period?

Luckily for me, it was the former.  The story goes that Shelley and Sabin were wrestling in the finals of a tournament to determine a new X-Division champion, and because they were in a tag team together, the Motor City Machine Guns, and were both heels that some thought the match would contain some sort of “sucktitude” (Mick Foley’s word by the way, not mine).

However, both go out and put on an absolute classic, a match that had me thinking back to the days when I first got into the promotion.  It’s a tight match, as it lasts less than 20 minutes, but it contains so much fun stuff. There’s some early mat wrestling, some great aerial maneuvers from both competitors, a hot closing stretch and even some story all mixed into one excellent match.

Shelley and Sabin will probably never end up in any wrestling Hall of Fame, but to me, they are two guys who you can always count on to deliver just as they did in this match.  But credit also has to go to Mike Tenay and Don West. Watching a lot of modern American wrestling, commentary has become a lost art, but Tenay and West complement each other well, getting both the story and the moves over without ever falling into the over-exuberant shouting that plagues a lot of modern day wrestling announcers.  West has become a bit of a “meme announcer”, but his level of excitement combined with his ability to flesh out exactly what is going on in the ring is a real strength.

Watching the match had me thinking that maybe I had missed a golden period of TNA, until I realized that the match that followed was Sheik Abdul Bashir (Shawn Daivari) vs. Shane Sewell (a referee).  So maybe this match wasn’t the beginning of a renaissance for TNA, but it did make me happy to know that even years after I first got into the promotion that they were still capable of capturing that magic from time to time.

As to who gave me the match, not to sound too cliche, but was it Garrett Kidney?  Is that too easy?