For an explanation as well as the history behind VOW Social Distance Santa, please read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5. All matches from VOW Social Distance Santa that are available on YouTube can be found on a playlist:
Marty Scurll vs. Will Ospreay
RPW High Stakes 2016
There’s very little point in talking about the work in this match. If you’ve seen any of their battles over the years, then you know what you’re in for; with very few exceptions, the output from Marty Scurll and Will Ospreay is always greater than the sum of their parts.
The whole match is stuffed with fantastic counters, callbacks (which I recognize but don’t fully appreciate as I parachute into this RPW show), and great action from two wrestlers who are imminently familiar with each other. The main point about the match itself, to me, is how they made 30 minutes feel like 15. The match is a now-rare example of how matches between longtime, bitter rivals should feel different than even other big matches. Strikes have a little extra behind them. Every movement feels a little more urgent. Every hold seems a little more desperate.
This match, from RPW’s High Stakes 2016, comes with a little extra juice: the winner will become the No. 1 contender and, perhaps more importantly, first independent wrestler to have their own action figure put into production.
To be honest, I may have never become a wrestling fan without action figures, and I’m guessing a lot of you wouldn’t have either.
I really can’t tell you when I became a wrestling fan, but my best guess is that it was some time in 1996. The only reason I can even come up with that is because I remember what my first two wrestling action figures were: WWF’s series 1 BONE-CRUNCHING ACTION figures of Bret Hart, and the Shawn Michaels figure with the blue-green pants. The SummerSlam 95 ones. Wrestling toys were one of the only ones on the shelves representing real people you could see do their thing on TV. Barbie, superheros, G.I. Joe, they’re all cartoons, but wrestlers were real people. And they had their own action figures, which meant I could have my own someday, too. Action figures were my first connection to this hobby, superseded eventually by only video games as I aged out of playing with the action figures.
I was never a collector outside of completing my roster, but I think my parents kept the crates of them until sometime in my mid-20s. But now, as my wife and I are expecting our first child, I kind of wish I had found a way to keep them. Who knows if my kid will have any interest in this dumb genre, but I’d at least like to have the option to share all those memories with them.
RPW may have tacked on the action figure stipulation to this match to Raise the Stakes at High Stakes, but I’m not sure they new what kind of connection it would make for the audience and how the chance to have your own action figure could give Ospreay and Scurll an extra element to add to their match. To me, it matters more than becoming the No. 1 contender. *****
Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs Jushin Liger
July 10, 2004
For some reason, I either don’t remember seeing this match or I’ve never seen it before. Why? I don’t know but I’m glad I changed that. This is incredible. Everything I love about pro wrestling melted down into a 20-minute package. Jushin Thunder Liger, known to most of us these days as the unflappable and legendary junior heavyweight, is on this night in the role of invader. He won Pro Wrestling NOAH’s GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship and has spent much of the spring and summer defeating NOAH’s best juniors. Yoshinobu Kanemura, now known to us as a cankerous whiskey spitting heel, is the beloved babyface defending the honor of NOAH and attempting to dethrone Liger.
It’s fucking great. It’s a war. The bell rings and these guys don’t waste a god damn second. Any match that starts with two guys running full force with their feet in the air is always going to chart well for me.
The first few minutes of this match are incredible as Liger quickly hits a Liger Bomb, goes for the win, postures to the referee to ensure everyone in the Tokyo Dome will boo him then gestures that he’s going to put Kanemaru away any second now. Kanemaru springs to his feet, plants Liger with a brainbuster (the first of literally 15 to happen in this match) as Liger runs away to the outside.
In just a few minutes, if you had NO idea who these guys were or what their history was, you get it here. This is pro wrestling storytelling. You can keep your Bray Wyatt talks about the Dr. of Thugonomics or Boneyard Matches, I’ll take this as the new template of how to present pro wrestling.
God, this was great.
The match slows down in the middle portion but remains interesting nonetheless as Liger takes complete control of Kanemaru. He beats the NOAH representative within an inch of his life even eliciting a standing 10 count as the ref stares at Kanemaru’s near-lifeless body.
Liger finally decides to put his prey away and goes for the pinfall but Kanemura kicks out at one and generates the famous Tokyo Dome “OOOOOOOOOOOOH!!!” A noise I miss so, so much. From then on Kanemaru is a deranged maniac. No amount of pain, no amount of brainbusters are going to stop him. Finally, after two brainbusters including one of the spinning variety, Kanemaru puts Liger away and wins the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship.
When pro wrestling is great, it’s really great, folks and this was that. A simple, to-the-point story told eloquently by these two great performers. At no point did the match need 45 finishers spammed back to back, it didn’t need close-ups of people holding hands. It needed 20 minutes to tell a great and simple pro wrestling story.
These past few weeks have made me fall in and out of love with pro wrestling at a moment’s notice but a match like this will make it impossible to even think differently. I love pro wrestling. I loved this match.
Genichiro Tenryu vs. Yoji Anjo
Wrestling in Japan in the 1990s was frequently defined by interpromotional feuds. Most companies that were around at that time participated in at least one feud with a rival promotion, and two of the companies most well known for these interpromotional dustups were WAR and the UWFi. Today’s bout takes us back to the main event of one of those co-promoted cards, as the head of WAR, Genichiro Tenryu takes on UWFi faithful Yoji Anjo.
I’ve been familiar with “Mr. 200%” Yoji Anjo for a while now, mostly from watching UWFi’s weekly English tv show, Bushido – Way of the Warrior (available for free on Amazon Prime, I highly recommend it for quarantine watching). I always enjoyed him whenever he showed up on the program, but he never seemed to be destined for a top spot in the company. Prior to this match, he didn’t strike me as someone on the same level as Tenryu, and watching the match only confirmed my thoughts.
The match is contested on a WAR show, so Anjo plays the heel, and he spends the first part of the match avoiding Tenryu and taunting him from a distance. Unfortunately for Anjo, the minute Tenryu gets his hands on him, the feeling of inevitability sets in. Anjo puts up a good fight, mostly managing to sneak in the occasional submission hold, but it never feels like Tenryu is in any danger and whenever Tenryu is on offense, he absolutely unloads on Anjo with a barrage of strikes. It never comes off as a fair fight, and at less than twelve minutes long, never builds to anything that I would consider all that compelling. There are some sequences that seem to hint at something more coming, but it never goes to the next level. It’s not a bad match, but for the main event, it definitely underdelivers.
The fans in attendance might have thought the same, as six months later UWFi would go out of business. A year later, Tenryu would return to New Japan and WAR’s fate would start the decline towards closure as well. In many ways, this match is a great encapsulation of the strengths and weaknesses of interpromotional feuds. On paper, it certainly is an interesting matchup, but never delivers to the extent it could and/or should. While interpromotional feuds offer fans exciting and unique matchups, booking matches with outcomes that improve the standing of both promotions is difficult to do, and often leads to disappointing results both in the ring and at the box office.
Sting vs. Danny Spivey
June 5, 1989
Did not know that Da Stinger ever wrestled in All Japan, but he apparently worked five matches on a tour in the middle of 1989, including two bouts against Akira Taue (!). This match is third from the top on a show headlined by a five-star Tenryu/Tsuruta bout.
The hairstyles here are already top-notch – Spivey’s mullet is in prime form, while Sting has his usual short spiked haircut, but with a weird patch of black hair on his rattail like he ran out of hair on the trip.
This match would not be out of place on the Power Hour, let’s see how it looks in Budokan. Spivey goes right after Sting from the start and hits some barely-in-control power moves until Sting takes over after no selling a suplex and hitting a hotshot. Sting then hits a bonkers drunk-guy-jumping-off-the-roof-into-his-pool top rope elbow drop. The pace of that first minute was unreal. Sting crotches himself on the top rope allowing Spivey to take over, including drilling Sting with a Bossman slam. They meander outside for a bit until Sting hits a piledriver and applies a very brief chinlock. Too brief apparently, as both guys appear blown up. Spivey messes up…a side slam? And then Sting retaliates by hitting the world’s gentlest Dominator.
At this point, I was worried the match would fall apart, but Spivey gets things on track by just nailing Sting with a lariat. Sting follows up with a gorgeous no hands dive to the floor. Back in the ring Sting locks in the Scorpion Deathlock, but Spivey grabs the ropes, and the ref responds by kicking the bottom rope like Spivey is doing something wrong. Spivey grabs the rope again and the ref makes Sting release the hold. Sting follows up with a top rope clothesline, but when he goes for the Scorpion again, Spivey rolls him up for the clean pin! Did not expect that, even though Spivey was the All Japan regular.
After he cleanly loses, Sting, champion of children everyone, attacks Spivey after the bell and hits a top rope splash before storming to the back. What a hero.
This match ruled. It was just both men throwing bombs and working at a blistering pace for 8 minutes. Makes me wish Sting could have worked a Champion Carnival once. I was gifted this by Jack Beckmann, which I only know because he gifted me another match, but by the time I got around to writing a review the bout had vanished off YouTube because I’m a lazy slug even in a pandemic. Jack deserved better.
Chris Sabin(c) v. Michael Shane v. Frankie Kazarian
August 20, 2003
The Early 2000s were a weird time in professional wrestling. I had mostly vacated my fleeting Attitude Era fandom, but I kept a cursory knowledge of what was going on through occasional teenage-boredom-induced trips to the earliest rumors and news websites.
I didn’t pay any mind to TNA during this timeframe. I knew of their existence and that they were next in line to challenge the Goliath that WWE had turned itself into by swallowing WCW and ECW in quick succession. I have seen Ultimate X matches before, but I really had no idea what level of quality or effort was output by the first ever Ultimate X Match.
After the rules are explained, Mike Tenay’s voice turns into a stark contrast to the dancing blonde bombshell in a cage as Michael Shane, Frankie Kazarian, and Chris Sabin entered the arena.
Sabin enters as the champion and I’m admittedly naive about his skillset at this time. My familiarity with Sabin is mostly through his more recent NJPW runs. Based on those runs, I’m not surprised to see that he was an anchor in the X Division. I truthfully know nothing about Michael Shane, as it seems I have missed his entire pro wrestling career, and I have a current familiarity with Kazarian’s role in SCU. I anticipated being surprised by Kazarian’s agility and willingness to take a big bump in this match and I wasn’t disappointed.
The competitors start with a lot of brawling and eventually, someone starts to climb the scaffold posts and slink down the X-shaped wires. The crowd is super hot every time someone starts their path towards the belt, and that makes for a fun watch because I bite on every near-grab.
The belt falls down twice during the match, and there’s a certain charm to it. This is the first Ultimate X match, and I would have been disappointed had there not been some fumbles or kinks to work out. TNA did a nice job of accepting that this was the nature of the match, re-hanging the belt, and letting the wrestlers get back at it.
The finish is fun and enhanced by the 4:3 aspect ratio. Sabin and Kazarian meet in the middle, Kazarian kicks down Sabin and he’s the clear favorite to grab the belt, but Michael Shane scales the other wire from outside the camera’s view to quickly snatch the belt and fall violently to the mat.
This match is mostly a chaotic three-way with some impressive displays of upper body strength and clear innovation as the wrestlers use the cables in ways they obviously couldn’t use something like a ladder or table in other gimmick matches.
I like Ultimate X matches, even though they got a little played out for a while. This is a fun window into TNA during what is most remembered as WWE’s most dominant era and I’m now poking around Impact Plus to see what other gems exist from the 2003-2010 era when I wasn’t paying attention to them.
I have to assume one of our TNA/IMPACT specialists gifted this along, so I’ll go with Garrett Kidney.