First off, let me wish you, your friends and your family health and happiness during this wild time in our world’s history. Several of you have reached out over the last two weeks to wish my wife Michelle (“The Nurse”) your best wishes and it hasn’t gone unnoticed or unappreciated it. Thank you. She’s doing well and so far has been able to avoid getting infected despite taking care of many, many patients who are. If you still think this is some overblown media propaganda, talk to someone on the front line. Talk to a nurse, a doctor, a paramedic, you’ll change your tune pretty quickly. Anyway, stay the fuck home, okay?
Now let’s have some fun!
The concept behind this series of columns here at VoicesofWrestling.com is inspired by our annual VOW 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.
We’re borrowing that same concept here but with a bit of a different twist. During Secret Santa the goal is often to give someone a match they may have never seen before or have a little fun and gift someone naughty a bad match. For VOW Social Distance Santa we recommended our gifters be nice to one another and just gift very good wrestling matches. No one has time for shitty wrestling matches during these tough times.
Throughout this multi-part series, you’ll see wrestling matches from every region and every era possible. 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.
All VOW Social Distance Santa matches that appear on YouTube will be collected in a playlist and will be embedded below their review. I encourage you to follow each and every one of our reviewers and gifters and support them in any way you can. That’s enough from me… let’s get to the matches! -Rich Kraetsch
CWA World Heavyweight Championship: Bull Power © vs. Otto Wanz
December 22, 1989
Being a wrestling history nerd, I have heard of Otto Wanz and the Catch Wrestling Association. However, I have never actually watched any CWA or any of Wanz’s matches. And for those who may not know, Bull Power is Leon White AKA Vader. Bull Power is dressed exactly like Vader of that time except he’s going without his mask.
First thing that struck me is that Wanz is a rotund man, even more than Bull Power.
The second thing that became obvious early on was that there was not going to be a lot of wrestling moves in this match, though Bull Power did hit an impressive looking Sunset Flip and Wanz hit a pretty great looking Vertical Suplex at one point. Most of the match was stiff striking which was cool.
This match certainly exceeded my expectations as it went on. The European style rounds actually helped to make this match a lot more dramatic instead of had they just hit each other for 20 minutes. And the crowd was nuclear throughout which absolutely made this match feel like a big fucking deal. While the stiff strikes were great to watch, it was the crowd that really put this match over the top for me.
Wanz got the win with a nasty looking Running Lariat and won the title back from Bull Power. This was Wanz’s fourth and final CWA World Heavyweight Championship reign. ****. A really fun hoss battle that pulled you into the match as it went on. I think I will check out some more Wanz stuff now. As for who gifted me this video, I’m going to guess Kevin Hare because I know he likes big guys hitting each other really hard.
Unsanctioned Mask vs. ROH Career Fight Without Honor: Kevin Steen vs El Generico
December 18, 2010
This match is absolutely mental.
I know these two have a long history, so I checked and found out this is number 13 out of 28 singles matches they’ve had together. It’s the first time I’ve seen any of their pre-WWE work. This is also the highest-rated of their series according to Cagematch. How would it hold up a decade later to a first-time viewer, devoid of context?
The match is an ugly, violent spectacle; a crazy spotfest deathmatch with ridiculous bumps and weapon spots that could’ve ended most matches ten times over. There are head drops and neck bumps that would make Ibushi and Naito proud. But there are also run-ins and ref bumps galore. There are loudly signalled callbacks to previous matches. We even have a couple of “Why am I so violent?” moments in the climax of the match. In many ways, this feels like patient zero for the modern American indie style of main event.
On paper, these are ingredients that a 2020 viewer might dismiss as a recipe for an overbooked dog’s dinner. We’ve seen it all before – it’s a formula that’s been done to death on the western independent scene. It has become a self-parody that is churned out on every Takeover by the likes of Johnny Gargano, Tomasso Ciampa and Adam Cole, fresh from the creatively bankrupt minds of Triple H and Shawn Michaels. You can almost hear Mauro Ranallo screaming carefully-scripted soundbites in your mind.
However, the key difference here is that this feels earned. With seven years, 12 prior matches between them and an intense blood-feud as the backdrop, you would expect these guys to go out and beat seven shades of shit out of each other. This context is something sorely lacking in a lot of modern-day western independent wrestling main events, where clueless wrestlers stand on the shoulders of giants without any understanding of what made the thing they are copypasting special.
And ten years ago? Even to a casual wrestling fan, I imagine this all must’ve felt new, fresh and exciting had you only been exposed to the WWE style of sports entertainment. For loyal ROH fans who followed the careers of these two men and the rivalry between them, I’m sure this was a sensational and unforgettable dramatic conclusion to their feud. As an outsider going back to watch this, I’m envious that I wasn’t a fan of the product back then. Why the hell was I watching The Miz v Randy Orton in a tables match and John Cena v Wade Barrett in a chairs match when I could’ve been watching this? Why didn’t anyone tell me about it? Where was VOW then?
Even without the context, this is a match of breathtaking violence and brutality that can be enjoyed by any casual viewer with a twinge of bloodlust. What better way to escape from the oppressive modern dystopia of empty arenas, hand sanitizer and surgical masks than by watching a jam-packed Manhattan Center lose their minds as these two nutcases shower each other with blood, sweat and tears. Life was better back then.
(I’m going to guess this was gifted by our resident ROH expert, Sean Sedor.)
WR Australian National Championship: Jonah Rock (c) vs. AJ Istria
June 5, 2017
Even though I’ve always wanted to dive into the Australian wrestling scene, I’ve never fully committed to it. I watch and like the hyped matches and try to keep up with the biggest names… but I usually end up brushing everything aside due to lack of time. Luckily my Social Distance Santa gift seemed like another chance at enjoying the talent coming out of Oceania. That’s until I saw the name ‘Jonah Rock’.
I don’t get Jonah Rock. I’ve watched him numerous times both in USA and Australia… heck, I even saw his PWG debut live, and I just can’t understand what’s special about him. I find him slow, boring and uncharismatic: to this day, I can’t recall a single thing out of all the matches I’ve seen from him. And the prospect of watching him in a 40 minute match didn’t sound too exciting. Can this finally change my mind about Rock?
Apparently Jonah and his challenger AJ Istria are TMDK friends, or at least that’s what I got from the announce team. Clearly the match and the story are special because the crowd is making noise. I’ve never seen Istria, but I despise his name. While writing this, I still have to obsessively check if I’m writing it right.
It took me a while to get into the match. There’s something off about Jonah: for me, it’s like watching non-DDT Chris Brookes. It’s aggressively unremarkable. The first 15 minutes felt like hours and everytime Jonah Rock was in control, I desperately wanted to do anything else with my time. After some time. my patience was rewarded. It was Istria’s work what finally got my interest: his moves were stiff and his heel attitude energized the bout.
It looked like the match was reaching its peak with an exciting strike exchange but the action moved to the outside and after bragging a little too much, Istria was powerbombed through a table near the merch area. A satisfying moment for the live audience that mere seconds before, were begging for it. Back in the ring, Istria locked a ferocious-looking armbar. Jonah did a great job of selling it and the crowd was eating every bit of it. Jonah survived and slowly replied with three brainbusters for the victory.
I enjoyed the second half of this match. AJ Istria really impressed me and I’m sure I’ll be googling his name more than once in the future. Unfortunately, my opinion of Jonah didn’t change one bit: his pace was uneven, his moveset generic and his control periods dragged the match. In fact, that reminds me of the biggest sin of the match: the length. It could’ve been so much better without 5-10 minutes.
Negativity aside, this was a cool gift that introduced me to a great wrestler and allowed me to finally watch Wrestle Rampage, a company I’ve heard about but one that I had never seen. Who’s my social distance Santa? I’m going for Kevin Chiat because he’s one of our oceanic wrestling specialists and I think he’s higher on Jonah.
NWA World Heavyweight Championship: AJ Styles vs Jeff Jarrett (c)
Special referee: Tito Ortiz
May 15, 2005
This is a match that took me back to my teenage years. Styles vs Jarrett was the main event of TNA Hard Justice 2005, a porn sounding event that still makes me smile. One can’t talk about the YouTube video of this match without mentioning the quality. This upload is from the official Impact YouTube page and it looks like I pirated it from a bad stream while searching “TNA Hard Justice free stream” on Google. Obviously, the quality took me back to my teenage years when I didn’t have a job and I looked for videos in ways that weren’t 100 percent legal. Still, one expects better quality from official channels.
One thing that I remember is that I hated Jeff Jarrett with a passion. I was going on with my friends on how this guy is at the top while guys like AJ Styles, Petey Williams, and Christopher Daniels were killing it on the X division. When this match was given to me, I thought: “I’m older, so I’m going to watch this objectively. It’s been a while since I have seen a Jeff Jarrett main event, Styles is always awesome, this will be fun.” Then Jarrett theme music started and something in my brain went “Fuck Jeff Jarrett”. After finding out that I still had that in me, I went back to watching the match objectively.
The match was a usual Jeff Jarrett main event, but I don’t know if it’s the isolation or nostalgia, but I really enjoyed it. The addition of Tito Ortiz as the referee that wasn’t going to take any crap from Jarrett or Styles worked. His interferences were at the right spots, and I must admit that I had a smile at the broken guitar spot and when he knocked Jarrett out.
Even though the match had a weapon spot, a low blow, interference by Monty Brown (POUNCE!), and Ortiz helping Styles by knocking out Jarrett after having enough of him, I found that it flowed nicely even with a lot of things happening. Styles was awesome, as he always was in TNA. This reminded me that I have to go back and watch some of the old AJ Styles matches that impacted me.
TNA was my first non-WWE promotion that I actively followed at the beginning of my wrestling fandom. The wrestlers from the 2004-2008 roster bring back really good memories. It’s not my favorite type of main event, but I enjoyed it immensely and how it brought me back to the past, a time where one of my few worries was the awful quality of the illegal stream of the wrestling show I found on Google.
Spoilers for a 2005 match: AJ Styles won the NWA World Heavyweight championship. As a former Jarrett hater, this made me smile even more.
NJPW IWGP Heavyweight Tournament: Shinya Hashimoto vs. Victor Zangief
Late 80s to early 90s New Japan is certainly out of my wheelhouse. I’ve read some about it, of course, but other than Liger matches and other Junior Heavyweight stuff, I didn’t really seek it out. I don’t know, probably time, but whomever gifted this to me picked out a really fun gem. I said all of that, but I always loved the image of Shinya Hashimoto, the husky dude who somewhat looked like Elvis, did some hellish kicks and had a sweet brainbuster that I stole as my efedding finisher when I was a teenager.
The only thing I know about Victor Zangief is that apparently he was one of the inspirations for Zangief in Street Fighter, but I dug him a ton in this sweet little match. Coming in as the feisty Soviet technician against the homegrown star in the IWGP Heavyweight Championship tournament at the first ever (I just looked it up) Tokyo Dome show for New Japan. Zangief had Hashimoto’s number all through this match, frustrating him so much he would go to the outside after getting caught in holds. But then the two of them got really pissed off, Hashimoto spat in Zangief’s direction, and just like that, Jumping Wheelkick and the Figure Four, and the native hero won.
The thing that struck me most was the definite vibe and match difference between this era of Inokism and Bushiroad. To be honest, it’d be impossible to not note that this was a tight and compact seven to eight-minute match based on tight holds versus the current twenty minute plus build New Japan matches. That suddenness felt appropriate here. Zangief was the foreign amateur wrestling star, and in a tournament, Hashimoto had to take care of this problem without getting a limb dislocated. I enjoyed this a ton.
Really no clue who might have given this. The age of this makes you think it’d be someone older, so sorry to everyone here who wasn’t alive when Zangief went from Soviet to Russian. At the same time, I could see Robin Reid slipping one past me. Nah. Can’t shake the idea that this is the kind of a match that someone older would give me. Shot in the dark, I’m guessing Kevin Hare. Probably wrong. This was neat though. Thanks Social Distance Santa!
CM Punk/Ace Steel/Danny Daniels/Matt Sydal vs Chris Candido/Steve Stone/Claudio Castagnoli/Nigel McGuinness
October 22, 2004
Look at the talent in this match. Working in front of 80 people in a random gym in Indiana where the most visually arresting aspect of the venue is the poorly designed National Guard recruitment banner.
As a baby smark in Australia at this time; I was, of course, aware of Ring of Honor but had only seen a couple matches that I was able to download off a FTP Server. All I knew of IWA Mid-South was that CM Punk and Chris Hero worked a 90-minute match there and it was considered to be a kind of sleazy promotion.
Doing my research, this was the blow-off comedy tag match on a tournament show. For all I know it was the first of its kind. I am not a big fan of the comedy/irony style of modern indys; but this doesn’t feel like that style to me. Here, we have eight serious wrestlers who just want to goof off for 15 minutes. They’re trying to pop each other; not cycling through a range of goofy shtick with the intention of going viral. I really enjoyed it.
Team Candido enter to Back in Black, possibly the most common entrance song in indy wrestling history. Claudio is one of those rare men who look much better bald (also the slacks were a bad look). Team Punk comes out to some yacht rock song, including Punk doing silly hand motions and wow, it’s weird to see a Young Punk actually having fun in wrestling now.
We begin with a young Bryce Remsberg checking the heels for foreign objects; and all of them have various pieces of crap stuffed in their gear. Forks, weights, jump ropes; if there’s a potential international object that could be stuffed into gear then Team Candido has got it.
Candido starts and ends up getting his pants pulled down, leading to him working for about a minute with his full butt showing. He is very silly and very entertaining in this match. Later we have the heel manager get into a shoving match with the referee; which leads to the manager ripping off his own shirt but forgetting that he’s wearing a man-bra.
This is almost all comedy (apart from Matt Sydal who works a few minutes of serious flips and shit). I enjoyed myself a lot watching these future stars just fuck around on an indy show. The biggest laugh for me was when McGuinness’ plans to use the weight stuffed down his trunks turned against him via CM Punk. Nigel goes for a low-blow that was a very stupid decision on his part but it made for a good gag. It all ends with everyone caught in the middle tied up together in some sort of wrestler-twister as Punk small-packages McGuinness for the three.
Thanks to my Social Distance Santa for giving me the gift of this ridiculousness.