Each of the last four years, members of the VOW staff have participated in our very own version of Secret Santa. 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.

Throughout this multi-part series, you’ll see wrestling matches from every region and every era possible. Each gift giver has a different objective with their match selection: some choose to be naughty, others choose the be nice, some go out of their way to find a match that the recipient has never seen before while others gift matches of great importance to themselves.

At the end of the day, the goal is for you, the reader, to experience the joys of the season along with us while also watching some good, bad and funny pro wrestling matches.

Writers were encouraged to review the match however they wanted so don’t expect one universal review style throughout the piece but rather a reflection of the individual writer/reviewer. Also, we asked each reviewer to try and guess who gave them their gift.

That’s it from me. Roast some chestnuts, pour some egg nog and get ready for VOW Secret Santa 2019! -Rich Kraetsch

Satoru Asako & Naomichi Marufuji vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Makoto Hashi
All Japan Pro Wrestling
December 5, 1998

I’m a fan of Kanemaru’s grumpy performances in NJPW and I’ve been meaning to watch some of his older stuff, so this Christmas gift seemed perfect to start with that task. 

Here we had a very young Kanemaru facing off with non other than Naomichi Marufuji, who at that point was approximately three months into his career. In fact, Kane was Marufuji’s opponent in almost all of his rookie matches in 1998, whether in singles or tag matches: and here you could see that good chemistry was being developed between them. 

During the opening minutes, Marufuji looked like a thousand bucks, speeding through the ring, exchanging holds with Kane and even showing off his athletic skills with a moonsault from the ropes to the middle of the ring. From then on, the match became a crisp, fierce tag battle that dragged a little but closed strong with a hot Makoto Hashi tag and some fast tag team action.  

Unfortunately, the production missed the finish: while Asako was hitting Hashi with a finishing move, the camera was focused on Marufuji taking out Kanemaru with a plancha. And that’s a great encapsulation of this match. Even though the crowd was popping for Hashi and Asako, it was Marufuji who stole the show and even with less than 40 matches under his belt, it was clear he had the potential to be a star. If this was shown to someone that doesn’t know who any of these guys are, I’m convinced he would’ve thought that the young wrestler in the green trunks was going to be a big deal.

I mentioned that I was interested in old Kanemaru stuff, and I got exactly what I expected out of this: a great, hard-working performance that didn’t steal the show, but allowed a fellow young wrestler to shine.

My Secret Santa gift didn’t blow my mind, and to be honest, I felt it ran too long for what it was. However, I rarely go back to see old puro stuff like this and I was fascinated to see the younger versions of wrestlers I’ve loved for many years now. So for that, thank you Secret Santa! I’m in the dark on who gifted me this match, but my best guess would be Captain All Japan himself, Gerard Di Trolio.

Invader #3 vs. Chicky Starr
May 1986

Puerto Rico is one of my major wrestling blindspots, as I’ve really only seen the Hanson vs. Colon matches, so I’m excited about this. In theory, the blood and guys brawling style the region has a reputation for should be right up my alley. I don’t know too much about this match going in.

This is a scaffold match, so we start with both men elevated above the ring. Right away, Chicky Star feels very hesitant, not just as a character, but just in small movements like how he throws his punches. This makes the danger feel even greater. The scaffold stip is definitely very limited, as there’s not too much you can do safely other than brawl and throw punches, but once this started, they are going at it pretty hard. 

Starr is immediately standing out for his selling and bump taking on the scaffold. His exaggerated movements make everything on the scaffold feel bigger. Finally, he’s busted open, and it is a gusher. This scaffold does feel a lot higher above the ring than the famous NWA/WCW scaffold matches. The whole crowd moves and shifts whenever they think someone may fall off. They are actually hitting big moves like suplexes and dropkicks. I appreciated this for two reasons: 1) a suplex just feels more dangerous 15 feet above the ring anyway, and 2) because so many stipulations now revolve solely around the goofiness of the stip (think any WWE stipulation). 

The match moves from the initial brawling stage to teasing eliminations. Each time a man hangs over the scaffold does feel very dangerous and real, as each guy is really going for it and barely holding on. Invader #3 even hangs completely only by both hands, but Chicky doesn’t keep the pressure on and thought that he won, allowing Invader #3 to come back and sneak up on Starr and almost get the victory. Finally, Chicky is the one who hangs over the ring, but Invader doesn’t let up on the pressure, stomping away at Starr’s hands until he falls brutally to the mat, giving Invader #3 the victory.

I appreciated this match because of its simplicity. Even without seeing any backstory, I could tell that these were two guys who did not like each other, and the only way to solve their issue was in the most dangerous match there could be. The scaffold stip is generally very limiting, but they did a good job of structuring the match around the brawling, with teases thrown in but not too overdone or hamfisted. Overall, a very good and fulfilling match. 

Tajiri vs. Billy Kidman
WWE Velocity
May 25, 2002

While I don’t remember this match, I assume that I saw it when it originally aired on the debut episode of Velocity in May 2002. Tajiri was one of my favorites from this period, and his work held up. Kidman was better than I remembered: impressively smooth on offense and sold well. I don’t typically go back and watch WWE matches, but it seems like I would appreciate Kidman more on rewatch.

The commentary was mostly inoffensive, but watching this on mute highlights the crispness of the work. I wonder if Al Snow still thinks Tajiri was in WCW…? I didn’t love the finish, but it seemed to make sense given the context. Overall, an enjoyable watch and a good, smart match.

Without the power of the internet, I was going to guess Kevin Hare because he seems like a Tajiri guy. With the power of the internet, I’ll guess Case Lowe:

NWA World Heavyweight Title Match – Kerry von Erich (c) vs. Terry Gordy
May 7, 1984

While I know a bit about the history of the Von Erich’s and the Freebirds, I’m not very well versed in the matches of this region. It’s one thing to know the story, but it’s another to actually experience it. A match like this is a time capsule of an entirely different era, one that I never had the chance to live through. I may get roasted for this take, but out of context, this is a wholly unremarkable match. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but the work in the match isn’t anything special. Kerry is a great babyface and Gordy is a surprisingly good technician. 

What really makes this match shine is a crowd that modern promoters would sacrifice their own children to have. These fans live and die by literally everything that these two men do. I’ve never seen a crowd so hot for a chinlock. It was a constant cacophony throughout the whole match. I had a hard time discerning cheers from boos, to be honest. Everyone was just so damn loud. Kerry was stuck in the chinlock I mentioned earlier and a woman in the crowd was almost in tears. It’s incredible how the Von Erich’s were able to position themselves as these near godlike figures. 

The match itself is a solid gentleman’s three. It had good action worked at a relatively quick pace. Gordy and Von Erich went back and forth with neither man controlling the match for very long. To me, the match never really kicked into high gear to make it feel like a big-time main event. This was very clearly another chapter in the greater Von Erich vs. Freebirds story rather than being a story that stands alone. A tremendous time capsule and a solid match. *** I haven’t got a clue who gifted this one to me, but I sure am glad that they didn’t give me the Buck Zumhofe vs. Buddy Roberts draw that opened this show. I suspect that this was someone trying to throw me off their scent, so I’ll go with Kevin Hare as my pick.