Each of the last four years, members of the VOW staff have participated in our very own version of Secret Santa. VOW Secret Santa sees our writers, reviews, podcasters and contributors giving a gift to one another… the gift of a wrestling match. Learn more about the history and purpose behind this project in this introduction piece.

VOW Secret Santa 2019 Archive

Part 1: voicesofwrestling.com/2019/12/09/vow-secret-santa-2019-intro-part-1/

Drawing Death Match – Antonio Honda vs. Mitsuru Konno
Gatoh Move
June 23, 2019

Reviewed by Andy LaBarre (@trillyrobinson)
Gifted by Paul Volsch (@Darth_Dragon)

Gatoh Move is just not my thing. 

It might be that it takes place in a tiny little cafe where the patrons are almost part of the action. It might be that the action takes place in on a little 8×8 blue mat. It might be that in my limited viewing experience, my generalized curmudgeon attitude toward nearly all wrestling automatically wants to wave a hand at something so different – I don’t know. It’s just not my thing.

I’ve been vocal about this in the past in our little VOW Slack channels, though I do not begrudge people who are into Gatoh Move. I know some of our staff have experienced it live, and I agree that it would probably be fun to be a part of – but it has almost never translated to me on tape. What is weird is that as I age in my wrestling viewing, neo-traditional “workrate” as most often defined (ie: G1 Climax) has had less and less appeal to me as a viewer in place of things that focus on traditional mat-psychology, weapons or something not TOO far removed from Gatoh Move; DDT. It isn’t that I hate comedy wrestling, I actually think GOOD comedy wrestling is some of the best wrestling that can exist (see: Minoru Suzuki vs. Sanshiro Takagi). It also isn’t that I am against absurd gimmick matches (see: dozens, if not hundreds of matches in history). This just…didn’t make me feel anything, really.

On the outside, the premise could be fun. Though I’m not familiar with Mitsuru Konno, I enjoy and respect Antonio Honda and find him to generally be one of the best comedy wrestlers in the world. Here, the two of them have to wrestle a match with a 10-minute time limit, and for each 2-count, are then given 30 seconds to DRAW something that is written on a prompt held by the referee. The drawing is then shown to a neutral judge in the crowd (who doesn’t see the prompt), and if she is able to guess what the drawing is – that wrestler gets a point. It’s obviously silly, even stupid for the wrestling to be involved at all, but I think what really gets lost is that it COULD work on a grander stage (and perhaps with more time). That sounds crazy, since I didn’t particularly enjoy this (it didn’t offend), but just imagine this during DDT Peter Pan, OR taking place at an Art Studio or something – it has the right ingredients to be the good amount of funny and silly, but it just sort of…lacks. For what it’s worth, the only drawing the judge gets correct is one of Freddie Mercury.

Anyway, this match doesn’t do it for me, not as a joy (wow! What a find!), nor as a troll (I didn’t hate it), it just wasn’t for me. I don’t hate Gatoh Move and a lot of people that I like are into it…Gatoh Move is just not my thing. My guess: Taylor Maimbourg

Motor City Machine Guns vs. Speed Muscle
June 12, 2008

Reviewed by Mike Spears (@fujiiheya)
Gifted by Suit Williams (@SuitWilliams)

This is a match that I probably end up watching once every two or three years and it really encapsulates a certain era of all these wrestlers. It’s probably the most concentrated version of the junior tag team sprint that was perfected by these teams and now we are seeing the derivatives of that over the last few years in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and now on All Elite Wrestling. It’s also one of the big “what if” stories of its time in my Dragon System-focused bubble. 

This match was about three months before the Dragon Gate and Ring of Honor relationship went to absolute hell over Ring of Honor’s Japan shows (yes kids, Ring of Honor did shows in Japan almost a decade before the “Honor Rising” ones). They had a pair of shows at Pro Wrestling NOAH’s home venue, Differ Ariake in Tokyo, where NOAH would promote a show, and DG would do another. This ended up being an awkward situation where an Osaka-based promotion would have to sell tickets for a Tokyo venue owned by a competitor that the competitor would profit from. So naturally DG’s show didn’t do as well as NOAH’s. Anyway, this led to a huge blow up and severed the Ring of Honor and Dragon Gate relationship for good and a month later Gabe Sapolsky would be fired in some part for defending Dragon Gate. So with that backstory, that leads me to the big what if question: “With Naruki Doi being such a fan of working in the states, what if Dragon Gate worked with TNA vs sticking with Gabe and launching Dragon Gate USA the next year?”

It probably would have been a weird and awkward situation, but we could have had more special tag matches like this. Shelley and Sabin obviously know their Toryumon tapes and they found an instant chemistry and flow with Yoshino and Doi. Masato Yoshino of 2008 is very different from his current day incarnation, where he decided to go full blast from the bell in this match versus a more measured response. This is a very special match that I don’t ever want to see “ran back.” Leave it in its box, its standard definition, in 2008, where it deserves to be celebrated.

Okay so the obvious guess would be Garrett Kidney, and I feel like my gifter would try to pull a fast one and impersonate him with this gifting. So let’s go with Andrew Rich. He’s crafty enough to pull something like that. 

Shotaro Ashino (c) vs T-Hawk
W-1 Wrestle-1 Tour Sunrise Day 1
January 5, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Case (@coachcase44)
Gifted by Garrett Kidney (@GarrettKidney)

I have never in my life watched a match from Wrestle-1, so this is quite the treat! I have also never heard of Shotaro Ashino. In the pre-match video, he sure seems like he is trying REALLY hard to be Minoru Suzuki, so he can’t be that bad. He definitely has the grizzled old angry veteran look down, dad bod and all. That is meant as a compliment. I am not messing with this dude. T-Hawk I am familiar with from his Strong Hearts work, though I must say he is a firm third place to me behind El Lindaman and CIMA. In addition, Monster by Skillet is quite the choice for music in this pre-match video.

Ashino is clearly a Metallica fan, judging by the lettering on his tights and the fact he entered the match to “Fuel.” I am instantly a big fan. I assume he is the big bad leader of a faction in Wrestle-1, with T-Hawk representing the crowd favorite Strong Hearts.

This match starts off a lot slower than I expected. Perhaps I was thinking this would be more of a Dragon Gate sprint, because the opening couple of minutes nearly took me out of it. That was until my suspicions of Ashino were proven true, and he began to mercilessly beat down T-Hawk. It began when Ashino threw T-Hawk’s knee into the ring post on the outside, and for the meat of this match, he obliterates the knee. T-Hawk would get a lightning-quick hope spot here and there (mostly his thunderous chops), but Ashino would almost immediately go back on the offensive. At one point, he put T-Hawk in a stretch muffler, stood up and flung him around a bit, before settling back in on the mat.

T-Hawk would finally find an opening after a chop/attempted german suplex exchange. He really sold the pain in his leg from the beating, and showed great fire and spirit through the last ten minutes leading to the finish. The final portion of this match really felt like a New Japan main event, with tremendous back and forth action from both. Ashino would seemingly have the edge after hitting a series of german suplexes on T-Hawk and signaled for his finish. T-Hawk would thwart it with chops, adding to Ashino’s already discolored chest. T-Hawk would then hit Ashino with a huge knee, and hit a reverse, Razor’s Edge-like driver for a great near fall. CIMA added to the near fall by climbing into the ring to celebrate while the referee counted. T-Hawk, barely able to stand and limping on his leg, would then hit Ashino with one final running knee for the win to become the new champion.

After the slow start, this match really told a great story. Ashino’s work on the leg was brutal and vicious, and T-Hawk sold it as such. T-Hawk had a great performance here as a never say die babyface, and you truly felt he earned the win by the end of the match. This was a truly enjoyable watch and I would definitely recommend adding it to your holiday viewing. As for who sent it to me, it has to be a staunch Japanese wrestling supporter, so that really narrows it down. I’ll go with John Carroll, because why not? Rating: 4 Christmas Cookies

Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart
WWE WrestleMania X
March 20, 1994 

Reviewed by: Andrew Sinclair (@AMSinclair97)
Gifted by Jeff Martin (@HEATcomic)

I have always had an odd fascination with matches that took place before I was born. This is perhaps because I feel, probably subconsciously, less conditioned to analyze the booking or approach the matches as critically. There is often a sense of childlike engagement with the matches as I get hooked on every exchange. For that reason, and the fact that this included one of my all-time favorites in Bret Hart, this match was a great selection for me. 

It had a simple backstory coming in, with Owen looking to prove that he was every bit as good as his older brother. The chain wrestling exchanges between these two early on highlighted how good Bret was. He came across as that bit more refined, bit more technical and always one step ahead of his brother – he knew what buttons to push to get a reaction that he could use to his advantage. Yet as the match developed, Owen was able to showcase some superb athleticism and a tremendous mean streak. His work over Bret’s leg, a key part of the story coming in, was vicious and it ended up being a central element of the finish. Owen ground Bret down, only for his big brother to throwback with some big bombs before he eventually saw his attempt to outsmart Owen undone by a pinning predicament that trapped his weakened leg.

I absolutely loved this because every move and sequence felt like it mattered, both in the moment but also in the grand scheme of the match. Moves that are commonplace now came across as deeply significant because of the crowd and the commentary. I absolutely loved that very few nearfalls were followed up by the cameras zooming in on the sheer look of exasperation that magically appears on the face of the wrestler who came close to victory. Rather than trying to reinforce that those ‘moments’ were significant with cookie-cutter facial expressions, Bret and Owen both just immediately followed up nearfalls with more offense. To me, that has always been a more effective way to retain fan engagement. The match built to a tremendous crescendo and it finished superbly, reaffirming my love of Bret and highlight just how good Owen was. It was a case of two tremendously gifted professional wrestlers doing their thing for 20 minutes. It doesn’t really get better than that and this match was a big factor in these two winning Feud of the Year in 1994.

Working out the person who gave me this is a little difficult, as it could really have been a variety of people. Andrew Rich is an obvious choice, but I’ll go with the captain himself, Rich Kraetsch.