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. You can also check out Round 2 Part 1 as well. All matches from VOW Social Distance Santa that are available on YouTube can be found on a playlist:
Rey Mysterio vs. Brock Lesnar
December 11, 2003 (Taped December 9, 2003)
There are some really weird coincidences attached to me getting this match as my Social Distancing Santa gift.
Firstly, during my early years as a wrestling fan my family didn’t have Australian Pay TV so I had no access to Raw or Smackdown. This match is one of the few I saw at the time; though not in full. One night when I was on holiday in Singapore, our hotel’s TV had a station that played the WWE highlight shows. I ended up seeing a clipped version of this match on one episode; one of the few TV matches I actually got to see growing up (I also remember seeing part of a Jericho/Christian/Trish/Lita angle on the same episode).
Secondly, this match was actually taped 3 days after I saw my first ever live wrestling show. WWE did a house show tour of Asia and they tacked on Perth, Australia as the last leg. This was also the show where Nathan Jones walked out of WWE as soon as they got into Australia and no-showed what was meant to be his big homecoming night.The main event was Brock Lesnar vs Chris Benoit (which obviously has a somewhat different connotation for me now). Rey Mysterio opened the show in a three-way against Tajiri and Jamie Noble.
We’re on Rey’s hometurf of San Diego and his family is in the front row. Young Dominick has no idea that he’ll be beaten up by Brock almost 20 years later.
This is the first time I’ve watched a pre-2012 Brock match in ages. I’m not one of those people who got worked by the build-up to Mania 34 into thinking that Brock is lazy. When he is put with someone he can work with, he is still a great pro-wrestler. It’s kind of bizarre to go back to pre-UFC Brock now though. He’s still a monster, but he had a much more varied and traditional pro-wrestling moveset in his first run.
Brock begins the match being a total shithead about Rey’s height. They start with a lock-up which Michael Cole and Tazz rightly point out is a bad idea for Mysterio. This quickly turns into a match more suited to Mysterio, with him basically adopting a stick-and-move strategy. Rey is one of the best of all time and that he was able to get around all of WWE’s biases against luchadors and smaller-wrestlers to be a main-event level star is proof of his supreme talent.
That being said; the weakest part of the match are some of Rey’s punches which just look ridiculous against Brock. Otherwise, Rey works a pretty much perfect David vs Goliath match. There’s a bit where he’s running around the ring to try to blow-up Brock and he actually sells it as a strategic play rather than coming off as a coward.
Rey gets some great nearfalls; the stipulation of this match was that if Rey won he would get a title shot the next week. I honestly couldn’t remember if the match I’d seen clips of was this one or the title match the week after; so I actually didn’t know what the outcome of the match would be.
Eventually, Brock catches Rey with his awesome Stretch Muffler (which he briefly used as a submission finish at the end of his first WWE run) and Rey has to submit. Post-match a random guy in a mask runs in to attack Brock and it ends up being HARDCORE HOLLY! Remember Bob Holly’s two-month world title program? Yeesh. In his book, Holly speculates that he got the smallest pay-off of any world title challenger on a Big 4 PPV. Really makes you wish in retrospect that they had put Rey over here and run Brock vs Rey as the title match at the 04 Rumble instead.
Thanks to my Social Distance Santa for re-acquainting me with this awesome piece of early 00s nostalgia.
Gran Naniwa vs Gorgon Cross
August 25, 1995
I love any time the site does surprise match trading with each other because there truly is so much wrestling out there to be consumed and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the big treasure trove. This is why I was so glad to receive a Michinoku Pro match, a company I’ve heard so much about. I finally can get started on a new journey discovering new wrestlers and characters.
I wasn’t let down. This was chaotic from the first second of the match. People screaming. Balloons flying. Confusion rested on my face but I knew that whatever was about to happen would be right up my alley. Gran Naniwa was a name I was familiar with going into this match but I’m so sorry I didn’t start watching sooner. Gorgon Cross? Well, we’ll get to him a bit later. Naniwa wasted little to no time getting to work on Gorgon Cross’ leg early on in the match, the crowd absolutely eating it up. I couldn’t help get distracted by the sound of what I can only imagine were more balloons getting blown up in the background but that didn’t last long.
I feel like a masked wrestler trying to rip another masked wrestler’s mask off (how many times can I say mask in this whole piece?) is the ultimate heel move, the audacity of it all will always get the crowd riled up. It truly is an utter betrayal to the brotherhood that is masked wrestlers. So boo you Mr. Gorgon Cross! How dare you! It was at this point the match really went to a completely different level than I was expecting. Blood pouring from Naniwa with his mask hanging around his neck, showing proper fighting spirit against Cross. Even without being familiar with his work I was completely behind Naniwa, fist pumps were flying in the air as he was battling back trying to get even, and so were the crowd and hello very young TAKA! He had to win this match right? It was an easy story to follow cold with no context and the actually bones of the match were like any other, with some crazy high spots and near falls catching me out everytime with excellent timing on kickouts. Naniwa wins with an incredible roll through, defends the honour of the mask and Gorgon Cross must say goodbye to his m… wait.. WHAT?!!!! IT’S JERRY LYNN? When I say I had the biggest smile on my face. How did I not connect the dots.. I should’ve known this! Unreal. I’m happy that I didn’t remember because it really was like a cherry on top for me at the end. It’s like watching a movie you’ve forgotten the ending to.
Needless to say I really enjoyed this match, some great wrestling, emotion and reveals!
CDK (Chris Brookes and Masahiro Takanashi) and Rin Rin vs. Antonio Honda, Mei Suruga, and Yuna Mizumori
November 24, 2019
They opened a Taco Bell where I live, in the dark north of England. It sort of hangs in a loud silence in the food court of the Arndale Centre. I want to go. I love Mexican food. I love fast food even more. But, I keep walking past.
Why? Because perception is reality. Every mention I see of Taco Bell online is linked to someone taking an involuntary shit with their clothes on. I can’t disassociate the two.
For the same reason, I’ve never seen a Gatoh Move match. Every mention of Gatoh Move by critics whose tastes generally line up with mine revolves around it being the wrestling equivalent of that involuntarily clothed shit.
I suppose I should be glad, then, that someone gifted me CDK, Masahiro Takanashi and Rin Rin vs Antonio Honda, Mei Suruga and Yuna Mizumori. Perhaps it was a sign that I should be my own man, and find out if Gatoh Move really is #actuallygood.
CDK is Chris Brookes, and to say I don’t like his work would be an understatement. It’s a shame, because he seems like a lovely bloke. His passion for wrestling is clear, and the work he has put into building a rabid fanbase is incredibly impressive. It’s particularly impressive considering his work is, generally, a beige carpet. He’s the wrestling equivalent of a plain cheeseburger. His control periods feel like watching a wrestling video game on easy mode, where a fringed CAW is free to cycle through his moves. The pieces are there, but the spirit is lacking. Will he do any better here..?
Well, he’s clearly enjoying himself. His work at the Schadengraps shows have hinted that he likes this style of silly wrestling and he’s getting paid to live his dream. I’m genuinely happy for him.
With my critic’s head on, however, this match was about as funny as the aforementioned bowel disaster. I just didn’t understand what was funny about Honda locking in a hair lock. Mizumori having to be rolled over for the pin was little more than movement on the screen. At one point, Brookes jumped out of a window, which was wacky I guess.
I’m all for trying new things in wrestling, but the most interesting part of this match was the Mizumori/Yin Yin exchange because it was good wrestling. I can forgive comedy wrestling if either the comedy or wrestling are good. This wasn’t funny and the sections of good wrestling were so short they were insignificant.
I’m glad someone gave me this match, because it filled a hole in my wrestling knowledge that would never have been filled otherwise. It has left me with one question, though. Is this match considered good by Gatoh Move standards? If this is the best they have to offer, the worst would definitely be worth a watch.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match
Motor City Machine Guns (c) vs. Apollo 55
July 5, 2009
First things first, I’m not going to do a ton of play-by-play in this review, but this match is awesome, so you should definitely watch it.
The ’08-’10 era of New Japan is really fun for me to revisit, as it was my entry point into modern NJPW. Prior to this period, most of my puro experience was following the King’s Road through ’90s AJPW and 2000s NOAH, with only occasional dips into NJPW for Jushin Liger’s greatest hits. That changed when I started drawing a wrestling comic. I used to draw a webcomic called HEAT: The Space Age of Pro Wrestling, and interacting with my readers ended up being my gateway into regular New Japan viewership, because people started sending me issues of Weekly Pro Wrestling and, at one point, DVD rips from Japanese markets in California. On those DVD rips were a plethora of Best of the Super Juniors matches, which created a huge affection in me for this period of juniors. It certainly doesn’t hurt that most of the gaijin were guys I had been watching in Ring of Honor a couple of years earlier, so I already had a better foothold of interest.
I spent the entrances of this match being completely jarred by Prince Devitt looking like a scruffy 14-year-old ragamuffin and Ryusuke Taguchi not being a rugby coach. Time, man. My next aesthetic observation was that Alex Shelley looked like the Hulk. He was noticeably bigger than every other guy in the ring, and ultimately felt to me like the star in this match. Everything the Guns did was so fluid and crisp, and their style of tag team wrestling is almost perfectly suited to my tastes. Their double teams are sublime – they’re highly intricate and immaculately timed but never hurt my suspension of disbelief or come off as choreographed. Apollo 55 matched MCMG with high-speed, interesting double teams (despite some noticeable flubs by Taguchi) with more emphasis on Devitt’s flying. Both teams looked to push the pace and batter each other with rapid-fire double-team attacks and nobody bothered with an extended heat segment. It was like watching wrestling on fast forward, but without cutting out any of the drama, which is exactly what I want out of tag team and multi-person matches.
My biggest takeaway from this match, other than it being great, was that it’s criminal that Alex Shelley has never had a run as “the guy” in a division or promotion. He’s so good, and has been for over 15 years. I’d love to see him get that signature run somewhere. Also, a complete aside, but this match really made me miss the TimeSplitters team of Shelley and KUSHIDA. It’s too bad KUSHIDA retired or whatever.
Anyway, this match is great, and you should watch it. Alex Shelley is also great, and you should watch him. Whoever gave me this match is great, and I have no idea who it is, because it being a New Japan bout gives me almost no useful guessing information.
MCW Heavyweight Championship
Gino “Mr. Juicy” Gambino© w/ Sebastian Walker vs. Robbie Eagles
MCW New Horizons, October 5, 2018
Coming into this match, my views of both men are based on experiences with them in New Japan, which I would assume is true for many reading this right now. Robbie Eagles so far has had a fantastic start in NJPW with a short run in Bullet Club before having a stellar showing in the Best of the Super Juniors 2019 and then eventually joining with CHAOS in Australia through a continuation of his Will Ospreay feud. The timing of all this is actually quite interesting in retrospect, as this match happened on October 5th, 2018. Only three days later on October 8th, Bad Luck Fale announced that Robbie would be participating in the Super Junior Tag League with Taiji Ishimori. That tournament would kick off on October 16th, 2018. So in the short span of 11 days Robbie would go from feuding with the Bullet Club adjacent Gino Gambino in this match to fighting in Japan as a member of the Bullet Club. For the Australian and other fans following his career that had to create quite some whiplash.
Speaking of Mr. Juicy, this is the first time I have ever seen him wrestle before. I have quite enjoyed him on NJPW English commentary and think he has done a great job of being a slight heel due to his Bullet Club allegiance, but doesn’t go overboard into ridiculous territory. The combination of him, Kevin Kelly, Chris Charlton, and Rocky Romero consistently have produced great results. And apparently your first and last name have to start with the same letter to be in the NJPW English commentary booth. Also, for my last random tangent, while watching this match I can’t get Jay White saying “Mr. Juicy!” out of my head.
Ok, back to the actual match, and to Mr. Juicy himself. Overall, I was quite impressed with Gino. Only being familiar with his commentary work, I really thought he would be more of a comedy wrestler. A conniving, smarmy heel that only won matches and held titles through all sorts of shenanigans and bullshit. And while yes, this match does contain its fair share of that, Gino more than holds his own in the ring as the “superheavyweight” (shout out to Crash Holly, RIP) monster. I was actually taken aback with his intensity and almost emotionless, cold nature at the beginning of this match. Likely this was due to my preconceived notions of Gambino, but in the context of the match against the underdog babyface, playing up the heel antics may have worked a little bit better. However, there is also the possibility that there are aspects of the storyline that make it work better that I am just not familiar with.
I keep hoping and expecting the commentary to explain more of the backstory and history of the wrestlers and the feuds, so that I can understand it all better. And at times, they do. There is mention of Eagles pinning Gambino in a multi-person match to earn this title shot and some talk about the character traits of Juicy being a heel who doesn’t care about putting on a good match for the fans – which honestly is a little too cute by half, and fourth-wall-breaking for me if its explicitly stated like that. Stepping back a bit, all of this really does make me think how difficult pro wrestling commentary is. Even as I type that I want backstory from the commentators, I can think of numerous occasions where commentators are doing just that, but it annoys me because I want them to call the action in the ring. It’s a delicate balance and just further illustrates the point that even though we all might think we can call a wrestling match, we probably can’t. I believe it was Gino’s commentary partner Kevin Kelly who once said his goal was to tell the wrestler’s background and motivation in the time it took them to walk to the ring, and then once the match starts it’s time to focus on what’s happening in the squared circle.
As for the actual work of this match, it tells the classic David and Goliath story well, with Robbie having great bursts of offense in between Gino hitting big power moves and slowing him down with bear hugs and other big man submissions. Robbie does a great job of going back to the leg again and again to get the advantage, which leads to a hot closing sequence where he hits the 450 to the leg and locks in the Ron Miller Special, as we have now seen him do in NJPW many times. There are also a lot of great spots where Robbie ends up using the turnbuckles to assist him in hitting Gino with moves like a Turbo Backpack or Psycho Driver that he wouldn’t be able to do on his own. They do a great job with those spots coming in the natural flow of the match and not being obviously elaborate setups.
The ending though starts to be a bit of a letdown, as the overbooking starts to rear its ugly head. Now growing up on the New Generation WWF and mostly being a WWE watcher until about 2 years ago, I am not opposed to interference and angles, they just need to be well executed, and a few things here miss the mark. After a big near fall for Robbie, the crowd starts to chant “fuck off Sebastian” at Gino’s heel manager, Sebastian Walker, and Robbie soon gives him the middle finger. The problem I have with it, is that I am not really sure why. Sebastian didn’t do anything particularly heelish at that moment at least not that was captured by the cameras, so it just seems forced. This continues a little bit later when after Robbie kicks out of a brutal pounce (period), Gino signals to his manager and Sebastian gets up on the apron. Again, I am not sure why. Does Gino want the belt to hit Robbie with it? If so, why doesn’t Seb slide it into the ring? Does Gino just want to take the belt and leave? If so, why doesn’t Seb just wait for Gino to get out of the ring? Ultimately, the real reason Sebastian gets on the apron is so that Robbie Eagles can kick him and pop the crowd. It reminds me a lot of Garrett Kidney on the Wednesday Wargames Podcast (@wargamespod) complaining about NXT wrestlers coming out to talk and not saying anything, because they are only out there to be interrupted. This manager spot doesn’t feel particularly earned either. It doesn’t come at a point where Robbie has kicked out of all of Gino’s major moves and the champion is rightly frustrated to the point of blatantly cheating or getting counted out. So in the end, it comes off quite flat to me. The live crowd though is hyped for it, so I can’t say it was a total failure.
The shenanigans do ultimately lead to the aforementioned leg submission sequence which the crowd is ravenous for, and truly looks like the finish. But of course that dastardly manager pulls out the ref. We then get a belt shot from Gino followed by a piledriver for the….KICK OUT AT 1!! Gino is momentarily shocked but quickly boots Robbie in the gut and hits a second piledriver for the win. I really loved that ending, as it exemplifies how a good “fighting spirit” spot is so much different than a “no sell.” Robbie is able to kick out at 1 and feed off the crowd for a moment, but the effects of the belt shot and piledriver are still there and Gino is able to quickly put him down for good.
Overall a good match, but nothing that really stands out to me or puts it in the upper echelon. I would give it a solid 3 stars, with the interference bits really bringing it down. However, I must say that I would definitely be interested in seeing these two fight again. In the interim Robbie has joined and left the Bullet Club, and Gino’s hatred for him is constantly emphasized on commentary. I think that would give a future match a good amount of juice. Pun definitely intended.
Lastly, doing a gimmick like this where we “gift” matches to each other inevitably leads me to wonder – why was this match picked? Maybe to some people it was a 4 star or higher match, but to me it was basically a pretty good TV main event, which isn’t something I would jump to recommending. Maybe whoever picked it was there live, and from how hot the crowd was that was probably a memorable experience. Maybe they just wanted to show off the Australian wrestling scene a bit with an accessible match (free on Youtube) featuring wrestlers that many would be familiar with. Maybe they wanted to show that Gino Gambino was more than just a humorous commentator. If those were the goals, I would say mission accomplished.
And one last time, for posterity’s sake, in my best “Switchblade” Jay White voice – “MISTAH JUICY!”