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
Shuji Ishikawa vs Abdullah Kobayashi – Lighttube Bundles Death Match
September 19, 2010
My Secret Santa knew that in 2018 I became a deathmatch guy and by extension Voices of Wrestling became a deathmatch website. Thus, I received a Light Tube Bundles Death Match between two of deathmatch legends in Shuji Ishikawa and Abdullah Kobayashi.
The DEATH in deathmatch was never more fitting than what I watched during the course of this match as Kobayashi bled and bled and bled… there are famous bloodbaths Eddie Guerrero messed up a blade job and gushing puddles of deep, dark blood remains the most frightening but man, this one wasn’t far behind.
At one point during the tail end of the match, Kobayashi rips off his pants revealing sumo gear and the juxtaposition of his lily-white ass and his blood-soaked back was startling.
As far as the totality of the match, it was very good even if it at times was uncomfortable to watch. The two wasted absolutely no time both irish whipping one another into the light tube filled ropes basically a minute into the match.
I couldn’t help but notice on Yuji Okabayashi doing young boy duties on the outside. Even then, you could tell the dude was a star. He looked stronger and bigger than both men in the ring. This isn’t even hindsight, go watch the match and look at him. He’s a fucking beast even then.
My favorite portion of the match came about 5-10 minutes in when Ishikawa started hitting Kobayashi with headbutts… headbutts with light tubes. Yes, Ishikawa would put a light tube between his and Kobayashi’s head and headbutt it.
Look, these guys aren’t the sharpest shards of light tube. And immediately after this exchange, Kobayashi strives to not be outdone by biting into one of the light tubes while blood pours out of his mouth.
Okay, I lied earlier. I had a REAL favorite spot in this match which saw Kobayashi put light tubes onto Ishikawa’s knee and kick them. Ishikawa is wearing long pants, mind you. BUT he’s selling the knee and Kobayashi begins working over the knee! This just became a leg selling match!
Kobayashi really starts hitting this home as he sets up light tubes and hits an old-school elbow drop to Ishikawa’s knee. I’ll remind you Ishikawa is wearing pants and Kobayashi has no shirt on and no elbow pads. This leads of course to a FIGURE FOUR IN A DEATHMATCH! The limb work is paying off!! Ishikawa breaks the hold, of course, by slamming a fucking light tube over his head and then the two just exchange tube shots for about a minute. That’s more like it.
I’ve gone through periods where deathmatches make me squeamish and usually can get through even the most brutal matches these days but at one point in this one Kobayashi takes a brutal superplex through a giant bundle of tubes and his bicep is cut WIDE open. Blood is gushing and I had to look away. These guys obviously have an insane pain tolerance but you can tell even he realizes and knows that this is not good.
A few minutes later Kobayashi is literally covered head to toe in blood. I had mentioned that Kobayashi removed his pants to reveal sumo gear but I forgot to mention that his first move after removing his long pants is a FREAKING PILEDRIVER INTO LIGHT TUBES. 18 minutes into the match and the men hand one another shards of glass to put in their mouth as they enter into a slapping battle. What am I watching? Both men hit Shining Wizards because of course, Ishikawa begins his closing stretch with a brutal powerbomb and a frog splash to mercifully put an end to this match.
I haven’t seen enough deathmatches to know where this ranks in terms of all-timers but I can’t imagine there are too many more as brutal as this one. Overall, though, I enjoyed it. A great way to cap off a year where I fell in love with deathmatches again.
Toxin vs. Fly Star – Mask vs. Mask
August 4, 2018
Hello, Garrett Kidney renowned lucha expert here! How are you doing? My heart sank a little when I got lucha. As a person who has watched all of the lucha (I have watched very little lucha) I have placed most lucha into three categories – rolling and tumbling lucha (in which technical lucha is a sub-genre), walk and brawl lucha, and flips lucha.
I like flips lucha. Flips are cool.
This was not flips lucha. This was a sub-genre of the walk and brawl lucha – the wild hate filled blood brawl (I hope you’re enjoying this thoroughly ignorant taxonomy of lucha). That is better than the straight walk and brawl but quality varies.
The first spot in this match was a forward electric chair drop into some light tubes in the corner. It looked like utter murder. That was the start. This match was 25 minutes long. That immediately (and fairly understandably) led to a fall – I now assume this is two out of three falls. There was mask ripping, there was blood, there were some of the nastiest unprotected chair shots you’ll ever see. Seriously, I got a headache looking at these chair shots. They were vile.
The crowd was SUPER into Toxin. Toxin lleveledit at 1-1 with a pretty neat pumphandle shoulderbreaker. As it turns out this match took elements from all branches of lucha – Fly Star did a moonsault onto Toxin, who happened to have a bunch of thumbtacks across his chest. That is a rather grotesque mix of flips and violence that should probably not be a thing but is nonetheless captivating.
So many chair shots… Too many chair shots…
The match then basically stopped as they cleared the fans out of the first four rows to set up some sort of plyboard contraption. They made their way up to the balcony, both men climbed over the railing for no real reason and Fly Boy was sent plummeting below through the board onto a bunch of chairs. It looks like it sucked. It was the most contrived set up for a spot like that maybe I’ve ever seen. Charmingly so, I think though.
Toxin’s mask, which began a crisp white, has become a deep red – soaked in blood. Oh good, we have skewers now. AND FIRE! WHAT IS THIS MATCH?!
Fly Boy attempted to set Toxin on fire, Toxin kicked out and the place went NUTS. I guess wrestling hasn’t burned through fire as a believable nearfall quite yet. It blows my mind that this match transitioned from fire, skewers, thumbtacks and balcony falls to doing a standard babyface hand drop tease on a sleeper hold of all things. To go from WILD plunder to the most basically 101 babyface spot is crazy.
Toxin won with basically a gutbuster off the top and that was a little tame.
This was an absurd pro wrestling match. At times it literally felt like they were cooperating in taking turns to butcher each other but equally the butchering was thorough and a tad repulsive. You can’t help but squeal watching it. It is literally crazy.
Am I happy I watched it? Probably not. Was it undeniably compelling? Definitely. Was it frightfully violent? Unfortunately so. Am I glad I got it for Secret Santa? I dunno. Has it changed my mind about lucha? Not really. Will elements of it haunt my nightmares? Most certainly! Merry Christmas everybody…
Vader vs Ahmed Johnson
February 1st, 1997
WWF Shotgun Saturday Night
With an anxiety that almost amounts to agony, Vince bellows ‘Shotttggguunnn Saturday Night’ into the murky, powdery air of the Mirage Night Club in New York City. This match is a bizarre time warp; two wrestlers working for a huge company and clearly foreshadowing a post-release future. The 90s New York crowd got to experience the Preston City Wrestling de rigueur of watching two mid-card Attitude Era stars compete to see who gives less of a shit.
The work is uneventful in a very literal sense. Both men move through water to exchange clubbing forearms that seem neither painful for the recipient nor practical for the deliverer. One swing from Vader broke all manner of physical and corporeal laws, sending Ahmed whirling in the completely wrong direction. Even technicolour night club lighting dancing across his pecs in a sea of baby oil can’t quite hhypnotizeme into enjoying this match.
The shining light of this affair wasn’t a competitor, but a commentator. Mick Foley was superb, taking on the role of a demented bon vivant that inhaled his surrounding and revealed its ridiculousness. His commentary is on Spinal Tap levels, dripping with sumptuous soundbites that, like an in-joke between close friends, need to be experienced rather than repeated.
It all ends with a chair shot so gentle a disqualification seems laughable.
Watching this match is like reading Proust’s “À la recherche du temps perdu.” I’m not sure I enjoyed it, but I’m glad I’ve experienced it.
Low Ki vs. Twiggy Martinez
This is from a Toys for Tots benefit, which makes it apropos for this project. This match is a Rubicon between what independent wrestling was in the 90’s (King Kong Bundy headlined this show, for example) and what it has evolved into today. This is very early in Ki’s career – Cagematch has it as his 13th match ever. Twiggy was one of those names who was on a lot of independent wrestling shows around this time but I haven’t personally seen much of him. “Twiggy Martinez” was the name of Marilyn Manson’s bass player, and Twiggy comes out to the “The Beautiful People,” which is confusing. Is his gimmick that he plays bass when he’s not wrestling? Twiggy is also For The Kids, as a gaggle of Tri-State youngsters greet him at the entranceway. One kid fakes him out going for a hi-five, and I can only hope and assume that kid was a young Joe Lanza. Both men are wearing shirts, with Twiggy looking like it’s league night at the local bowling alley. “Working like that?” the ref asks Twiggy before ringing the bell, which delights me to no end.
They screw up a leapfrog almost immediately, which seems churlish to mention but given Ki’s future rep for tantrums it warrants a mention. They work some decent cruiserweight spots, albeit with spot calling loud enough for the back row to hear. Some kid starts yelling out a slur that starts with F, which is not surprising but still disheartening. Ki takes over with a vicious clothesline and appears to kick Twiggy square in the face. Ki distracts the ref by literally pointing to the crowd and saying, “Hey look at that guy,” although he just kicks Twiggy in the back during the distraction so who knows what the point was.
Twiggy a comeback with some solid turn of the century offense. Ki manages a Ki Krusher but Twiggy kicks out (!). Ki goes up to the middle rope to taunt the crowd, but Twiggy uppercuts him in the groin right in front of the ref, who is apparently OK with this sort of thing. Twiggy hits a top rope sunset flip bomb for the pin. They do a sort of version of the independent handshake post-match as Twiggy comes back out and puts over Ki, albeit from the floor as if he’s afraid Ki will shoot on him or something.
This was more of an interesting footnote than a great match. Low Ki had a presence even back then and you had to think he would probably go somewhere. He’s had a long and winding road in wrestling (mostly because he’s napalmed his share of bridges) but he’s still kicking and somewhat relevant almost two decades later. Twiggy isn’t a great lost worker or anything but I would bowl a frame with him.
Kane vs Christian & Chris Jericho vs Bubba & Spike Dudley vs Jeff Hardy & Rob Van Dam
October 7, 2002
WWE Monday Night Raw
The forgotten Raw TLC 4 match from Raw Roulette! My guess on who gifted me this match is Andrew Rich because this is exactly the type of forgotten tv match that only he would remember. A little background to why this match is taking place is it being Raw Roulette every match had a gimmick of some sort so earlier on the show we had a Blindfold Match, a bra & panties paddle on a pole match (2002 was a different time), a Vegas Street Fight and the famous William Regal vs Goldust Vegas Showgirls match.
RVD gets a mega pop on his entrance and is the first one to have his name chanted by the crowd. A reminder of just how over RVD was at this time and why oh why didn’t WWE strap a rocket to that man at the time. Kane entering to Slow Chemical made me stupidly happy because it’s an all-time great entrance song. To steal a phrase from JR (the commentator not the VOW contributor) this was the epitome of a human demolition derby. Jeff Hardy was very on brand as not only did he leg drop Kane through a table from the top of a ladder but he was also backdropped from the ring through a table on the outside. Spike Dudley the poor little runt took an ungodly amount of punishment including being Irish whipped chest first into a ladder in the corner and being dump from the ring through a table when Christian blocked his Dudley Dog attempt.
Christian meanwhile was the low key MVP of the match as he appeared to be everywhere and constantly involved and even took some crazy bumps of his own. The worst being a full nelson Bubba Bomb from a ladder which had to jar his spine worse than anything else in this match. The most spectacular bump though would belong to Chris Jericho, who was sent flying from the top of a ladder in the middle of the ring over the corner of the ropes and narrowly avoiding the ring steps on his way down. It was to be Kane who would overcome the odds and win the match and retain the titles for himself and his absent partner The Hurricane who had been taken out of the match before it could begin by the dastardly duo of HHH and Ric Flair. This was an awesome highlight reel match and well worth revisiting if you have not seen it in a while, just ignore the Katie Vick stuff after the match is over ****¼
Beau James vs. Brian Overbay
I think I’m done with this Secret Santa shit.
This match sucked and the wrestlers did virtually nothing, so I don’t know how to really recap that. It was funny for the first eight minutes or so when they quite literally did nothing but stall and tease a lock up and then tease a punch—Beau James kinda came off like a fatter, whiter Taichi, so I was enjoying that—but then when they actually DID start wrestling things went downhill quick. If this was like eight minutes long and was just the dudes pretending they wanted to fight without actually doing literally anything, it would have been pretty enjoyable actually. But it was SIXTEEN MINUTES and the actual wrestling they did was excruciatingly boring. This match by the end was one of those moments where I wondered where I went wrong in my life to have ended up watching it.
The best part of it by far though were the announcers, who did the following:
- Spent the entire first three minutes of the match debating whether or not Beau James’ Television title was on the line (apparently it was, as we would later learn, but they never came to a definitive conclusion)
- Referenced a “board of directors” during the above debate, despite this match seemingly taking place in front of about 12 people
- Told us the story of Beau James and Brian Overbay’s falling out, which involved Beau giving him a gift for Christmas and then, when Brian went to open it, THROWING A FIREBALL IN HIS FACE. That sounded so much more entertaining than this match that it made me instantly angry again at my Secret Santa for not gifting me THAT.
- After talking about the above story, the color commentator casually mentioned that he once liked and trusted Mr. James but after also having a fireball thrown at him, he decided he no longer trusted him. Yes, I’m pretty sure I would also no longer trust a man who THREW A BALL OF FLAMES at me.
So yeah, the announcers ruled. The crowd (all ten of them) ruled as well. We got a Dusty Finish at the end (I’m not an expert in Southern wrestling but I believe every promotion has a legally mandated annual quota of them, so that wasn’t too surprising) and when the referee ripped the TV title belt away from Brian Overbay (RIP apparently) and handed back to the dastardly champion, these fans were MAD. That did rule.
This match as a whole though was just too boring and long to be actually funny. There were funny things about it, to be sure, but it definitely felt like giving me this match was a punishment. I survived your damn 罰ゲーム, Santa, and if I do re-enter the Santa pool in the future (which is honestly at this point rather doubtful—I think after three years I am now retired) it will be only in the hopes that I am assigned you next time, so I can give you the same kind of, ahem, treatment. I have no clue who picked this for me, but I have a standing offer to fight them.
With all that said, this was better than Kenny vs. Cody for the IWGP Heavyweight Title at the Cow Palace. ½*
Atsushi Onita vs. Masahiro Chono
April 10, 1999
NJPW Strong Style Symphony New Japan Spirit 1999
Another year of Secret Santa, another match from an era of puro that I’m not too familiar with. My guess is that Deathmatch Rich Kraetsch dropped this one on me. I am familiar with both men in this match. Onita is a bad motherfucker who saunters down to the ring smoking a cigarette and slapping garbage away while Wild Thing blares in the background. Chono is a bad motherfucker whose won 3 G1’s at this point in time before winning two more for shits and giggles. He comes out in a Humvee with a cigar in his mouth.
A little background on the match. Onita wants to fight Riki Choshu in a deathmatch, but Choshu wants no part of that. He sent Kensuke Sasaki to take him out on January 4th that year, but Sasaki was only able to win by DQ. Now if Onita wanted his match with Choshu, he would have to beat former IWGP Champion Masa Chono.
Here’s the thing. This match is not what I would describe as…good. I wasn’t going in expecting a workrate classic or a 5 star epic, as they didn’t have any ropes. I was hoping for a good, heated brawl. What I got was a meandering match with so much more sizzle than steak. They went into the barbed wire a couple times. There were explosions. There were a lot of punches and headbutts and chair shots. Tiger Hattori came in to ref after Onita’s WAR (Wrestle And Romance) referee went down. Then, Onita and Chono went into the barbed wire together, blew up, and knocked each other out. This didn’t feel epic or anything. It just happened. It was just a match.
The entrances were cool, though. **1/4
Strike Force vs. The Islanders
October 3, 1987
Boston Garden House Show
All of my hard work to stay on the ‘Nice’ list this year has finally paid off. I don’t know who gifted me this match, but God bless you, you glorious angel of pro wrestling joy. The World Wrestling Federation in 1987 is my happy place, it’s where I go to remember why I fell in love with pro wrestling in the first place. I watch something from this time period at least once a week and that’s not an exaggeration.
1985-1989 is, in my opinion, the greatest period of tag team wrestling in the company’s history. Here we are in October of 1987, smack dab in the middle of that run with two great teams: Strike Force (Tito Santana and Rick Martel) and The Islanders (Haku and Tama) doing battle inside Boston Garden. These two teams had a nice little rivalry in 87’ that would eventually turn into a Tag Team Championship program. The Islanders actually turned heel earlier this same year in a match against The Can-Am Connection (Martel and Tom Zenk) when Bobby Heenan showed up in The Islander’s corner and harnessed the savage side his new charges had inside them all along.
Your ring announcer this evening is Mel Phillips (yikes) and your ringside commentators are Gorilla Monsoon and The Duke of Dorchester (he’s no Kal Rudman, but maybe that’s just my Philly bias coming out). We’re told ‘The Brain’, conspicuous by his absence, is in Washington D.C. conducting official business. The crowd is hot for this match before the opening bell even sounds. God, I miss the sound of the hot crowds in those old buildings; an echoey combination of the guttural roar from the men and excitable shrieks from the women combined with the unadulterated cheers of the young ones. We’re in Boston for this match so you can also throw in a few loud and out of place boos for any ethnic babyface that dare enter the ring, but what else would you expect from Beantown?
The action is fast and furious as the fiery babyfaces of Strike Force hit the ring ready to rock. Before long all four men prove that they came to Boston to bump for the industry on this particular evening, and bump they did. A dropkick by Martel sends Tama out of the ring and over the thin guardrail into the fans, which is my favorite spot of the match. Martel never got the singles run he should have, but I dare say he is the greatest tag team wrestler in WWF history in terms of athletic ability and in-ring chemistry with a wide variety of partners. I’m not as high on Santana as others, however, his time in Strike Force is my favorite work outside his rivalry with Greg Valentine for the Intercontinental title.
Overall the match is structured in classic 80’s WWF fashion. There’s nothing exceptional in terms of moves, just solid believable work with a few wwell-timednear falls and larger than life personalities telling a fun story. Even with ‘The Brain’ conducting his secret business in the nation’s capital, his influence is present at the finish as The Islanders execute the ol’ swap-a-roo to steal the win. I could watch this all day long and never get bored. Thank you Secret Santa and Merry Christmas!
Flyin’ Brian vs. The Z-Man
May 17, 1992
WCW WrestleWar 1992 – “War Games”
Another blast from the past. Last year I watched Funk/Flair from NWA/WCW and this year I jump ahead a bit to 1992. I was an avid fan of WCW in 1992, at the time of this PPV I was eight years old. I still have vivid memories of early WCW and Flyin’ Brian was one of my favorite wrestlers. Since I don’t generally re-watch old matches, I probably haven’t seen this match since I saw it live so long ago (we had a magic black box so we didn’t miss any PPVs). Let’s see if it holds up.
Coming into the match, Z-Man and Flyin’ Brian were friends but they were competitive friends and dammit Z-Man wanted Flyin’ Brian’s belt. Z-Man, also known by his real name Tom Zenk, is quite the riddle. At the time it felt like he had endless potential from his stints in AWA, WWF, and WCW, and watching this match I was reminded how good he was. It helped in this case that he and Brian had great chemistry due to being a team as well, and back then their style wasn’t one you saw as often on American television. While it was fast paced and had some cool flips, they also did a fair amount of ground work as that was still the thing to do in the early 90s. But they balanced it well and listened to the crowd, so the action stayed flowing. Brian was so so good, we talk about wrestlers like Windham and Magnum TA not reaching their potential and while those are two other great examples, Brian Pillman really could have been something special if it wasn’t for his car accident, drug issues, and untimely death in 1997.
While I knew what I was getting into, fans that only saw WWF Brian Pillman would be in for a surprise watching this. From the smooth chain wrestling to the emotion both showed, even though it was “only” for the Light Heavyweight Championship they made it feel like an important match and that having the belt meant something. Brian is known for his high flying but he spent much of the match doing leg work and he kept it varied and interesting enough that the crowd was really into it. Both wrestlers were faces so both got cheered, meaning it was just endless happy noise from the crowd. I mean they were popping for a powerslam, they were hyped. That is what really sticks out to me here, not just the hot crowd but that Brian and Z-Man were performing such that they stayed hot – anytime the noise fell to a murmur they’d do something to spring them back to attention.
Z-Man made a diving crossbody look deadly, possibly on accident, and while there was high flying at times it wasn’t some mid-card spot fest as everything had a purpose. Sure they blew off the leg work but it is a Jr. Heavyweight match in 1992, you accept there are going to be some flaws and back then no one really cared about that as there was no social media for people to complain on. This was before the Internet, you watched it and then went to school the next day to talk to your friends about how cool it was. Needless to say I enjoyed the match, early 90s Brian Pillman was fantastic and even though Zenk’s career never went anywhere before he retired in 1996 he kept up with Brian just fine. WCW in 1992 was a bundle of entertainment, it wasn’t perfect but sometimes you get little gems like this. Really well done and if two wrestlers did this match spot for spot in 2018 I think it would be well received. ****
This was clearly given to me by someone that is old, smart, and likes me. I don’t even know who all was in this thing but I will randomly guess that it was my dear friend Kelly Harrass who gifted me this beautiful match.
Katsuyori Shibata vs Tomohiro Ishii
August 4, 2013
NJPW G1 CLimax 23 – Day 4
I remember a pleasant bus journey on the morn of August 4th as myself and Alan4L ventured to the world-renowned Tayto Park in beautiful Ashbourne, Co. Meath – Ireland’s biggest theme park and one which is dedicated to the world of Crisps (“Potato Chips” for the Yanks) as opposed to cartoon characters or movies.
On said bus journey, we heard about the delights of the latest event in New Japan’s famous 2013 G1 Climax – and in particular this fierce battle. Now I had to be reminded of all this, as I don’t remember wrestling unless it’s the merging and recruiting of The Corporate Ministry. So watching this today, it may as well have been a fresh match.
What struck me from the opening was it was as if the two men hated each other or had some kind of intense rivalry. The ferocity with which they charged at one another felt more like a grudge match rather than a tournament match in the course of a long series. New Japan sometimes loses me with too much happening in the course of a long match but this kept my interest with the pace and length being right.
This felt like a match ahead of its time as I feel a lot of stuff was taken from it and used in different ways by wrestlers in New Japan and across the world in the years that followed. Even the incredible Jordan Devlin vs. Scotty Davis match from OTT Belfast last weekend in some ways you could tell was a spawn of this bout.
Even the boys who sadly have to sit in the aisle facing the fans as opposed to the ring were sneaking a peek at the action, as they knew it must be good with the reactions of the incredible Osaka crowd (GHOST-WRITER ALAN NOTE: The Edion Arena still has a rep for having one of the best atmospheres in the world but it’s nothing like this anymore…… DAVE).
Overall I enjoyed my gift. I was surprised it was something I had seen before and grateful that it wasn’t a gross deathmatch. I was a newbie getting into NJPW at this point and Ishii was one of my early favorites. It took me longer to warm to Shibata but I came to love him and his nice haircut in the end.