Hey, so, our lives are still miserable and there’s nothing to do so why not help keep things interesting with another round of VOW Social Distance Santa!
For an explanation as well as the history behind VOW Social Distance Santa, please read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 and Part 7. All matches from VOW Social Distance Santa that are available on YouTube can be found on a playlist:
WAR Super J Cup 1995 Quarter-Final Match – Wild Pegasus (Chris Benoit) vs. Lionheart (Chris Jericho)
December 13, 1995
WAR Super J Cup 1995 2nd STAGE
This is the first Chris Benoit match I have seen since probably 2008. The only other Chris Benoit match I watched after his death was against MVP on Wrestlemania 23 on a random rewatch of the show. I always felt uncomfortable with the idea of watching a Benoit match after what happened in 2007, even though I can differentiate the artist from the man. Still, this is not a review about how I feel about Benoit, but about an old match of his against Jericho. I have to say that I did not feel as uncomfortable watching this as in the past, and it is definitely a good match.
This match is awesome. I love seeing early Jericho since he is one of my favorites, and here he was in early asshole form. I was liking his energy in here, constantly yelling at the crowd and being a pompous dick to Benoit. And Jericho’s screams were glorious. I loved Jericho screaming curses (“come on motherfucker” followed by Japanese women going crazy) and yelling something like “sha!” throughout the match. He even screamed during a Benoit powerbomb and that made me smile. He did a beautiful running moonsault to the outside, something I had forgotten he did in the past. While Jericho is impressive, Benoit outshines him as the match progresses with his intensity. The match gets so exciting to the point when you are just as excited for the result as the crowd is in the final few minutes.
Oh, the crowd. Glorious crowd. It is just nice to hear a rabid crowd in these coronavirus times. The crowd was eating Jericho’s shit up until Benoit started smacking him and suplexing him. From beginning to end, the crowd was very into this and you can understand why they started cheering for one guy and changed to the other. To be honest, I’m just hoping that I read the crowd correctly, but still, it is awesome to hear a crowd going crazy.
The match is not long, running like 16 minutes and feels like 7. It’s fast paced, hard-hitting, you get to see early Jericho and Benoit, it’s a good time for any wrestling fan, even if future circumstances might make it uncomfortable for fans today.
MITSUHARU MISAWA VS. MASANOBU FUCHI
When I saw that I received this match I thought to myself, why hadn’t I seen or even heard of this before? It’s not on the usual lists of must-see AJPW matches from the 90s. Once I started up this video I realized why. It was a fan cam match. And apart from a few instances where someone’s head gets in the way, this is one of the better fan cam matches that I have seen, with the camera zoomed in on the ring almost perfectly.
And it is not just a great fan cam, it is a phenomenal match. And it’s a LEG MATCH. Fuchi goes after Misawa’s leg mercilessly, twisting it in all unnatural directions in this match and it is tremendous. Misawa sold the leg (almost) throughout. And even though this match occurred during the height of the Super Generation Army vs. Tsuruta-gun feud, when Fuchi was still treated seriously, I was surprised just how much control and offense Fuchi got in this match especially considering Misawa was only seven months away from winning his first Triple Crown Championship (and would unsuccessfully challenge Stan Hansen for it in less than two months from this match) and Fuchi was often the pin eater for Tsuruta-gun.
Fuchi confidently controlled most of the first half match, not only going after Misawa’s leg but grounding him for extended periods with Headlocks and then escalating to giving him Kneebreakers into tables on the outside. Fuchi also had counters for lots of Misawa’s major moves which was pretty wild to see from him in a one-on-one setting. And with so many AJPW matches, especially in the early 90s, the crowd remains hot through the whole thing even when Misawa has Fuchi in holds. Once Misawa gained momentum in the closing minutes, Fuchi took a shitload of offense from Misawa and got a lot of kickouts before giving up to the Front Facelock which in 1992 still made people submit. I’d subtract a couple of points in this because while Misawa sold the leg throughout, he still stopped selling it in the last minute or two, which, to be fair, is still far less egregious than some leg matches these days where the leg selling gets thrown out with five or even ten minutes left in the match. Fuchi is absolutely one of the most underrated wrestlers of the last 50 years (and yes 50 years really applies in his case because he debuted in 1974) and is still able to get heat out of a crowd these days at the age of 66.
This match was an unexpected treat. I’m going ****1/2 with no fear. A quick glance at Cagematch says Meltzer went ***3/4 back in the day which is like ****1/2 these days anyway, accounting for Daveflation and the fact this was during AJPW’s peak. I am always bad at guessing these things but I am going to guess Robin Reid gifted me this match as I know he is making his way through 90s AJPW and is a big enough completist to have made sure to have seen this match.
World X Cup Four-Way Ladder Match: Eric Young vs Taichi vs Mr. Aguila vs Jerry Lynn
NWA-TNA PPV #96 – 26/05/2004
What an on-brand gift!
We all know I love some old TNA and the weekly PPVs are a treasure trove of the weird and wonderful from the promotion’s past that I really should delve into more. This ladder match determined who was eliminated from the World X Cup and which three teams progressed to the Ultimate X. It was Eric Young’s first singles contest with the promotion and it represents my first ever look at Mr. Aguila.
I’ve never been a big Taichi fan but seeing him here as the underdog young lion was entertaining. It would be wrong to suggest that the action always flows seamlessly, because it doesn’t, but the four competitors combine well for an entertaining ladder match that makes a change from the monotony that the stipulation has produced in recent times. Some of the spots are telegraphed but then some aren’t – Eric Young leaning on an off-balance ladder before crashing to the floor to take out Jerry Lynn, for example.
The two big things that struck me while watching this were the match’s structure and the commentary of Mike Tenay and Don West. Tenay & West were incredible together and their use of the promotion’s canon in the opening exchanges parachutes you into the tournament and gives you the respective credentials of the four participants. They’re able to explain everything that occurs in a natural and genuine manner and express the right emotions at the right time – Tenay’s disgust at Scott D’Amore’s inevitable interruption is great.
The match works for me because you don’t have everyone trying to scramble up the ladder at the start. Those overdrawn scrambles are kept to a minimum and the end of the match – every participant has tried to grind their opponents down and only go up the ladder to grab the X when they feel they have a good chance. Working along those lines gives the match a natural pace and structure, leading to the finish with Eric Young coming out on top, pushing Team Canada through and eliminating Japan in the process.
I’ll go ***½ on this because it’s entertaining and engaging, if a little lacking in finesse. A fitting description for the promotion in those years, some might say. As for who gifted this to me, it could very much be anyone who knows what would be in my wheelhouse. The obvious pick is Garrett Kidney, but I’m not even sure if he signed up for this. Whoever it was, I approve this message.
Empty Arena Brawl: Motor City Machine Guns vs. Generation Me
TNA ReAction (11/18/2010)
Ten years before empty arena wrestling became all the rage, the Motor City Machine Guns and the Young Bu- er, Generation Me helped set the trend on TNA ReAction. It was a show that aired in 2010 after episodes of Impact and consisted entirely of backstage and interview segments. These segments were shot in a cinéma vérité style that eschewed the typical TV wrestling look for a more natural, candid, and spontaneous feel. ReAction only lasted 23 episodes, but its observational camerawork during backstage segments would carry over to Impact itself.
MCMG vs. GenMe was the only “match” that happened on ReAction. Keeping in line with the show’s style, it took place in a dark and empty Impact Zone. There are no fans, no referees, no ringside attendants, and no glitz and glamour; it’s just two teams beating each other up and the camera guys filming them. The usual buzz of the crowd is replaced with the sounds of the wrestlers bumping and grunting and swearing as they fight in and around the ring. Commentary from Mike Tenay and Taz is sporadic and subdued. It’s all meant to feel grounded and visceral, though the spectacularity of pro wrestling still peaks through thanks to these guys hitting their flashy signature moves during a backstage brawl.
GenMe take the brunt of the damage, especially Jeremy (Nick). He gets a bloody nose, takes an assisted Sliced Bread #2 onto a guardrail, then the Guns put him through a table with their Skull and Bones finisher. Max (Matt) busts his ribs on the upturned side of said table after missing a plancha to the outside, then gets tied up in the corner with his hands behind his back. Sabin and Shelley take turns superkicking him in the face (an apt punishment) until a double superkick turns Max’s lights out. The Motor City Machine Guns are the “winners” as they leave on their own two feet.
In hindsight, the visual of the Young Bucks getting beaten up raw and bloody in a dark and gloomy Impact Zone is a good metaphor for their tenure in TNA Wrestling. I remember being very excited when they came into the company as these hot young prospects; I wasn’t so jubilant a year later when they quit. A year of schizophrenic booking had sapped the enthusiasm for the Bucks in TNA right out of me, as it did the Bucks themselves. They did nothing of note for months (and were barely getting paid), turned heel for the MCMG feud where they lost all their matches, split up and feuded against each other for a hot minute, then inexplicably reunited right at the end. Oh, and they also lost a tag match to Eric Bischoff. By the time they quit out of sheer frustration, they were broke and demoralized. Matt almost left wrestling entirely. You would think it’d be rather difficult to make guys like the Young Bucks hate wrestling, but never underestimate the power of career frauds like Bischoff and Vince Russo.
But don’t feel too bad for Max and Jeremy. They managed to pull themselves out of the muck and become not just one of the greatest tag teams in wrestling history, but also the Executive Vice Presidents of the second-biggest wrestling promotion in the United States. Meanwhile Bischoff and Russo have proven themselves time and time again to be the absolute hacks that they are.
This video came from Griffin Peltier’s personal YouTube page, so unless there is some chicanery afoot, he’s the man responsible for my gift.
Genichiro Tenryu Vs. Toshiaki Kawada
AJPW October Giant Series (10/28/2000)
Almost any discussion about All Japan Pro Wrestling in the year 2000 has to include mention of the great NOAH exodus during the summer. Losing 24/26 of the native Japanese wrestlers from their promotion was a surefire road to death – but AJPW persisted. I’m not going to go into details about that, I’m not going to go into details about why Toshiaki Kawada and Masanobu Fuchi stayed behind, I’m not going to go into details about those two reaching out to New Japan Pro Wrestling as a last resort and the stellar inter-promotional matches they put on leading up to what I’ll be covering.
Well, I will – everyone watch 10/9/2000 “NJPW Do Judge!!!” for one of the best spectacle matches of all time (only 20 days prior to this!)
What we are dealing with here is how AJPW had to scramble and grab talent for a viable tournament field to crown a new Triple Crown champion. Kawada seemed the obvious choice to take the title, finally free of the stars of Misawa and Kobashi, there was no reason why this grizzled vet couldn’t finally be THE ace of AJPW. For their part, AJPW filled a tournament with Dr. Death, Shiro Koshinaka, Johnny Smith, Jinsei Sasaki, Mike Barton, 51-year old Stan Hansen and 50-year old Genichiro Tenryu.
Tenryu coming back to All Japan was a big fucking deal. He had been banished since leaving to form SWS in the early 90s and while AJPW was desperate and Tenryu was slower (and lumpier) than he once was – he was still one of the best in the world.
And he showed it in the tournament finals against Kawada. For 26 minutes, Kawada beat the shit out of Tenryu. For 26 minutes, Tenryu beat the shit out of Kawada. The two coming together to create an instant-classic match, rooted in the stiff strikes they were both known for. While Tenryu was chopping down Kawada with his huge meaty hands, Kawada could never match him, so he used his feet. Kicks to the head, to the chest, to the neck and eventually the legs. Within this match, it feels like Kawada throws more than one hundred kicks, all in an effort to topple the mammoth Tenryu. Throughout, Tenryu continually alternates between shrugging Kawada off, wincing in pain and hulking up. One of the toughest men in the history of wrestling was showing the crowd and his opponent that he could still outlast the field. Though many people will critique the “figure-4” portion of this match, in which Tenryu attempts to wear down the legs of Kawada, only for him to no-sell it later – I find it actually adds to the match. Kawada continues to kick later, but it comes much more as the typical AJPW escalation, than anything else.
Kawada busts open Tenryu with a huge boot to the face, sending him off the apron, and follows up with more outside, the two going to almost any length to “out-tough” each other. Around the 22-minute mark, the exhaustion sets in – these two have been giving each other everything. In a wicked exchange, Kawada has Tenryu stumbling around, kicking him in the leg, and the head, before Tenryu is able to pop up, lay out Kawada with a huge lariat. He follows it up with a nasty brainbuster and Kawada sells it like death. Tenryu, at age 50 is the new Triple Crown champion and Kawada is left wanting – again.
I was happy to be gifted this match, though I had already seen it before. In my eyes, prior to this viewing, this was a match that I always rated a little bit below the insane Kawada/Sasaki spectacle earlier in the month and while I don’t know if I like this one better than that – this is perhaps the better “match” in a more traditional sense and one of the best matches in the entire year of 2000. A true classic that everyone needs to see multiple times. Thank you to my Santa for reminding me of its greatness once again. For who sent it? I don’t know, everyone at VOW knows I love when people really beat the shit out of each other, so it could be anyone. Picking randomly – I’ll go with Robin Reid, who has been watching a bit of All Japan in the past year.