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


The Hell Raisers (Hawk Warrior & Power Warrior) (c) vs. The Steiner Brothers (Rick Steiner & Scott Steiner)
NJPW
January 4, 1993

Reviewed by Taylor Maimbourg (@tamaimbo)
Gifted by Alex Wendland (@AlexWendland)

Growing up a fan of late 90s WCW, I always disliked Rick Steiner.  He was always in terrible storylines, he wore amateur wrestling headgear (which I hated), and he barked like a dog.  Since that time, I’ve never really gone back to take a deeper dive into the quality Steiner matches, so I think some of my bias against Rick Steiner still exists to this day.  But maybe matches like this will turn that around.  

Rick is the best part of this match!  The minute he gets in, he is throwing (and I mean THROWING) Kensuke Sasaki around with no regard for where he ends up.  It looks cool, it looks dangerous, and it’s the best. He also is cool standing on the apron screaming “SCOTTY!” to rev up Scott Steiner.

On the other hand, Hawk Warrior starts this match off rough.  He isn’t all that impressive, and then his arms visibly shake as he throws Scott from the ring to the outside.  He tags out, and I was wondering if they would just keep him out of the ring and let Kensuke do the work. But then, he gets the hot tag, and he’s GREAT.  He’s running all over the ring beating up the Steiners, he flies in from off-screen to break up a pinfall (one of my favorite wrestling happenings) and he delivers a crazy looking Doomsday Device on the outside.

Really, the star of the match is the Doomsday Device.  Every variation hit by either team looks so great, with the people taking the maneuver crashing to the mat or the floor in increasingly reckless ways.  If you couldn’t tell, I thought this match was great! I only wish it had been a bit longer and ended with a more definitive winner, as it felt that they were really starting to ramp up the wildness right before the match ended.

A gift of a 90s New Japan could mean it’s a lot of different people, but I think it’s Kevin Wilson trying to throw me off the scent.


Chris Sabin vs. AJ Styles vs. Petey Williams
TNA
January 16, 2005

Reviewed by Lee Malone (@Malone_713)
Gifted by Tyler Forness (@CCSTheRealForno)

Oh man was I ever delighted to receive my Secret Santa gift. I LOVE mid-2000s TNA. If I ever have the time I would love to rewatch TNA from the beginning of the Impact era on. AJ Styles also happens to be one of my favorite wrestlers of all time so this match is beyond perfect for me. 

Petey Williams is coming into the match as the longest-reigning X-Division champion of all time having won the title five months before this match in a twenty two man Gauntlet for the Gold. Chris Sabin at just 22 years old at this time was one of TNAs biggest success stories to this point and within the X-Division he was fully entrenched as the #2 face beyond AJ which wasn’t a bad place to be. AJ Styles was already a multi-time X-Division and NWA Heavyweight Champion by this time and IMO one of the very best in the world. 

AJ entering to the best version of his TNA music and wearing what I called his Superman (blue and red) biker shorts attire just instantly makes me happy. I already love this. There are a couple of rapid exchanges involving all three men early on before we get AJ attempting a springboard to snag the title but he comes up well short. As you would expect there are many insane HOLY SHIT moments involving all three men and liberal use of the ropes above the ring. A Petey Williams hurricanrana on Sabin while Sabin was on AJs shoulders as Petey was traversing the ropes above was beautifully executed. Don West speculating that Petey may have slipped from the ropes and not purposely performed the move was the cherry on top. 

An AJ springboard forearm would this time deny Petey his chance to grasp the title as he hung upside down just beneath the prize. Another hurricanrana would bring the Impact Zone to their feet this time by Sabin as he hung from the ropes above and swung back to AJ who was on the top rope. Sabin and Styles would combine to give us a moment that TNA replayed for years to come and that still to this day it is a bump that leaves me in awe. As Styles attempted to cross the ropes Sabin would spring into action quite literally, as he hit a perfect springboard dropkick that would turn AJ inside out. The resulting bump that AJ takes is an image that will remain forever burned in my mind. 

Towards the close of the match, Petey would trap Styles arm in the steel rigging holding up the X structure and damage AJs arm so severely that he could no longer support himself on the ropes above the ring. This meant it was down to a straight shootout between Williams and Sabin, or so we assumed. As Williams and Sabin tussled over the title, both having a hold of the now unfastened title Styles would again springboard for the title. This time he was successful as he knocked the belt from the hands of his two opponents and AJ was once again King of the X-Division. 

I loved this match. The story told throughout surrounding AJs springboard was so simple and so satisfying. This really threw me back to a great time in my fandom and I enjoyed it so so much. For my gifter I am going to for the Captain himself, Rich Kraetsch





Bandido vs. Will Ospreay
NJPW
May 23, 2019

Reviewed by Kevin Wilson (@JoshiPuro)
Gifted by Chris Samsa (@TheChrisSamsa)

I probably have watched less wrestling in 2019 than any other year in my life as other things have taken up my time, and the bit of wrasslin’ I do watch tends to be Joshi. So to say I am behind in New Japan would be an understatement since I haven’t seen anything from the promotion yet this year. But because I am a wrestling nerd I still keep up with what is going on over there, so I am familiar with Ospreay and the great year he had in 2019. I’ve never seen Bandido wrestle but since he wears a mask of sorts I assume he does cool flipz and stuff so this should be fun.

This match took place during the New Japan Best of the Super Junior Tournament, but it was early enough in it that the winner here wasn’t going to determine the Block winner. But, Ospreay did come in with more points than Bandido (6 vs. 4), so a loss by Bandido would certainly hurt his chances of winning the whole thing. As I sort through my thoughts I’m not going to do any type of play by play as the last time I did that, Joe suspended me from VOW for six months, plus if I did it would make my review 2,000 words which is frowned upon in group articles unless it’s a DDT Preview.

The aspect of this match that really popped off the screen to me was the smoothness between the two, which is quite an accomplish as cagematch.net tells me this was only the second time they ever faced off against each other. Amazing chemistry. And even though I joked about the flipz this match was so much more than that – lots of hard strikes, slams, and dramatics. Also important – no pointless rest holds as the few submissions they did felt painful and meaningful as they went back and forth killing each other for over 15 minutes.

But there were flipz! Swandive shooting star press to the floor, ranas, reverse ranas, standing shooting star slams, moonsault fallaway slams, and more jaw-dropping moves. But to reduce this match to just that aspect of it would be doing these two a serious disservice as it was so much more, everything was tied together fluidly in an exciting but structured way so it never felt like overkill. The end stretch was great but really tight as they didn’t do a long series of 2.999 kickouts, with Ospreay planting Bandido with the Storm Breaker to win in decisive fashion. Overall just a fantastic match, flawless for the style. Easily *****1/4, and for my first time seeing Bandido it is safe to say I came away very impressed.

As for who gave me this masterpiece, I didn’t check who has already been picked but I assume it is Andrew Sinclair as he is one of the few people that likes me in the VOW Slack and wouldn’t give me a troll match like Seth Rollins vs. The Fiend.


Kento Miyahara vs. Naomichi Marufuji
AJPW
May 24, 2018

Reviewed by Garrett Kidney (@garrettkidney)
Gifted by Ricardo Gallegos (@TheUnderwally)

Kento Miyahara rules. Literally any time I watch him I’m like “Kento is the best wrestler in the world.” He is everything you could ever possibly ask for in an ace. He looks the part, he wrestles the part, he has the aura. And yet, I still go months and occasionally years without watching Miyahara. It makes no sense. I watch infinitely more WWE than All Japan. Why do I do this to myself? Why do I inflict this suffering on myself? Gonna need somebody to start saving me from myself, saving me from watching so much bad wrestling when there is, in fact, more great wrestling than I could ever watch. 

This match was fascinating because for as much gravitas as Miyahara has, for as much as he projects confidence beyond his years – he’s in there with Marufuji. While Marufuji is a very different wrestler now than he was a decade ago, his high-end work is still as good as anybody. With that experience and with two decades of great matches comes a legendary status, a certain gravity. In many ways what Miyahara projects himself as is what Marufuji actually is, the difference being Miyahara is ten years his junior. 

Of course, it being a match between Miyahara and Marufuji – the match is built around strikes. They jockey for position, attempting to assert dominance for much of the early exchanges before Marufuji finally unloads a series of strikes and kicks to gain advantage. Marufuji nails an apron piledriver and we enter the closing stretch. Marufuji throws everything he can at Miyahara – every submission, every Shiranui but Kento survives. As Marufuji gets more desperate, there are more openings for Miyahara and then we enter the final minute of the match. A minute of pure electric magic as both men look for the death blow. The pace ramps up to 100 as they lay in every knee strike and hook kick they can muster before Miyahara finally wins with a big trap arm German. 

This match is a testament to great pacing. It builds and builds and builds, logically escalating at each stage until it hits a beautiful final crescendo. The skill of layering a match like that is so difficult but these two made it look easy, masters of their craft. I should watch Kento Miyahara matches more. By process of elimination by writing my review so late I can narrow it down to a smaller number of people (despite cheating I will probably still be wrong), so I’ll guess JoJo Remy is my Secret Santa.