? Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore…

Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow ?

The brainchild of JR Goldberg (@wrestlingbubble), VOW Secret Santa sees all participating website contributors giving the greatest gift of all to their fellow VOW friends: a pro wrestling match!

VOW Secret Santa Archives: voicesofwrestling.com/category/vow-latest/columns/vow-secret-santa/

Robbie X vs. Chris Ridgeway
Rising Sun Wrestling
March 30, 2019

Reviewed by Joe Gagne (@joegagne)

Gifted by Neil David (@chubby_cthulhu)

When I hit play I first thought the production values were really bad as I couldn’t make out anything the ring announcer was saying, only to realize this was taking place in Italy and he was speaking Italian. This is a company called Rising Sun Wrestling Promotion that’s been around for a few years, and this is listed as an offer match from Wrestle Gate, an English company that ran some shows in 2019. I feel obligated to point out that the mat is mustard yellow..

I have seen a match or two with Robbie & Ridgeway, but they are not overly familiar to me. Robbie has the look of a scheming brother-in-law in a mid-90’s sitcom and the fans are super into him. Ridgeway comes out to “Paint It Black” and has the decency to use the Stones original and not the wretched U2 version.

The ref wiped what I believe to be vaseline under each man’s eyes so I was wondering if this will be shoot style, but what we got is a perfectly good 2019 independent match. Robbie stymied Ridgeway with his speed until a handspring got countered with a hard kick. Robbie tried to fight back but chops the post hard, with one of the louder clangs I’ve heard from that spot.

Someone in the crowd was randomly blowing a harmonica. I don’t know if this is a thing in Italy or if John Popper was taking in some matches.

Robbie started a comeback with some surprisingly good high flying. We got some back and forth and Robbie hit a Lethal Injection (which he probably calls the Xstacy or something) for the win.  The Italian crowd certainly had their tropes down, with a “please don’t tap,” the yay/boo strike exchange, and pounding the mat after the match. They were loud and into everything though, so fair play to them.

This was a fun sprint at about nine-and-a-half minutes and certainly did not wear out its welcome (a common issue these days). I came away liking Robbie X and wanting to see more of him. Not a classic, but a good match I never would have seen otherwise. And isn’t it nice to get an unexpected present now and then?

I’ll guess Paul Volsch gifted this to me.

Mike Awesome vs Masato Tanaka
Extreme Championship Wrestling
November 1999 November 7, 1999

Reviewed by Sarah Flannery (@SarahFlann)

Gifted by Alex Wendland (@AlexWendland)

Whoever gifted me this match definitely wanted me to continue on my journey in watching the entire Awesome/Tanaka feud.  I reviewed their match from Anarchy Rulz which took place the prior month during Social Distance Santa. I’m not complaining, I was delighted to see this match land in my inbox.

First off, Masato Tanaka looks even more badass than he did the previous month with even more scars all over his body, Don Callis on commentary mentioning he looks like a road map of sorts. He still looks badass to this very day, I think we can all co-sign on that. 

This match captures what made ECW so special in 1999. Intense action from the moment the bell rings, with dives, trading blows outside of the ring as the crowd hypes up the wrestlers, this along with some incredible brawling means the time flies by throughout this contest. But not before Awesome, Awesome bombs Tanaka into a table on the outside in the sickest spot of the match. Joey Styles with the most understated line on commentary, “My mother’s probably going to hate me for this but HOLY SHIT!”. You think the match isn’t going to get any better than that but then minutes later, Tanaka flattens Awesome with a suplex through a table. The crowd is fired up and so is Tanaka at this time. Some fans try to get a Tanaka chant going but for the most part the fans are still trying to take in all the action they’ve just seen. The crowd is actually pretty subdued throughout portions of the match in comparison to how the regular ECW crowd acts, though maybe that’s due to the building they’re in. The match has plenty of near falls, every single one you bite on, the fans in the building do too, but you’re never unhappy to see a kick out because you want to see the action continue. After some fire up spots, a sit out Awesome Bomb seals the deal and Awesome retains the title and celebrates with Judge Jeff Jones (which is such a dumb gimmick, by the way). A great sprint of a title match and is easily consumable. 

When thinking of underrated wrestlers, Mike Awesome has to be a name that has to enter the conversation. He had it all, the size, skill and man, lets face it, the mullet was cool. He’s someone we should all go back and watch more often. Tanaka was coming back to ECW with this incredible aura about him but Awesome rose to the occasion. The two would continue to feud for the ECW title throughout 1999 and 2000. A feud that is now a staple for those discovering ECW for the first time.

This brought me tremendous joy getting to rewatch this for the first time in over 10 years. If I had to guess who gifted me, it would have to be Lee Malone as he was the person who gifted me the Anarchy Rulz match! 

Happy Holidays everyone!

Shingo Takagi vs Masato Tanaka
March 29, 2015

Reviewed by Mike Spears (@fujiiheya)

Gifted by Kelly Harrass (@comicgeekelly)

One of the things I’m historically pretty bad about is following Dragon System wrestlers when they do random freelance stuff. I probably saw half of Susumu Yokosuka’s recent AJPW World Jr Title run. I didn’t watch all of Shun Skywalker or Yuki Yoshioka in Mexico. Stronghearts have really gotten away from me. But I always tried to make time to find to follow Shingo Takagi when he was a DG roster member and his stops along of the way, but I’d avoid the Yasukuni Shrine shows so I’m glad that someone thrust this on me because I normally wouldn’t have watched this.

The match itself rocked. Shingo was always the circle peg in the square hole withing DG, and people like Masato Tanaka always brought the best out his power junior style. Considering how much of an FMW fan Shingo was as a kid, you can tell that he was thriving in this element against someone he viewed in such high regard like Tanaka. Tanaka immediately took Shingo Takagi to the outside and drove him through the table from the top rope. One wouldn’t know unless they looked into Shingo’s eyes as he ate the splash, but this was a guy who was having the time of his life.

It’s something how Masato Tanaka still has incredibly high quality matches at his age. The two went at each other with corner to corner lariats right after the plunder and the crowd was here for it. Tanaka’s someone with an incredibly deep gas tank so this wasn’t Shingo slowing it down for him (if anything Tanaka forced Shingo to sprint with him), and considering what all he went through from FMW to ECW to Zero1, you’d always think he’s more shredded than he is.

Anyways, this is already at 300 words that are all saying this match rocked. The Zero1 crowd was incredibly familiar with Shingo and went huge for the Stay Dream and Pumping Bomber (it’s also somewhat likely that Shingo’s loyalists from DG came out to this since DG is so rarely in Tokyo). Shingo turning a Sliding D into the Made in Japan for a deep near fall had me out of my seat. Shingo tried to survive the onslaught of Sliding Ds as much as he could, but eventually a lariat and one flush to the temple knocked him out for three. Probably’d go ****1/4 to ****1/2 if I watched this at the time. Guessing it’s someone like Paul or JoJo who gifted this to me.

Jun Akiyama vs. Kenta Kobashi
September 17, 1992

Reviewed by Gerard Di Trolio (@gerardditrolio)

Gifted by Jeff Martin (@HEATcomic)

While I have seen this match before, it has been years, so I was excited to go back and watch it. This was new Wrestling Observer Hall of Famer Jun Akiyama’s debut match. 

This match started with some grappling, and surprisingly, both Kobashi and Akiyama were relatively evenly matched. Akiyama got in some counters of his own and slapped on some holds of his own on Kobashi. Kobashi finally had enough and then just started kicking Akiyama on his back while on the ground. Despite being a debut match, Akiyama managed to survive a nasty looking Crab Hold and a Cobra Twist from Kobashi, moves that will often put rookies away. As the match went on, Kobashi clearly got angry he couldn’t put this rookie away and started unloading with lots of stiff chops that Akiyama managed to power through. The crowd was really getting into Akiyama’s fighting spirit at this point. Akiyama even got a near fall with a beautiful Bridging German Suplex that the crowd bit on as a possible finish. Kobashi then slapped Akiyama around some more and won the match with a Pumphandle Powerbomb. What a hell of a debut. Akiyama already showed a grasp of wrestling and busted out stuff you don’t see male rookies in Japan do. Kobashi was also awesome here, getting progressively more aggressive as he realized that Akiyama isn’t your typical rookie. ****

I think what I appreciated more watching this match again with 2020, is just how great Akiyama’s timing was as a rookie. He looked confident on the mat and he timed his hope spots later on in the match perfectly and the crowd popped big for them. You could tell from how much Akiyama got in this match that he was earmarked very early on as a future star. Few wrestlers get pro wrestling in their debut match as Akiyama did. A true prodigy. Less than three months later on December 4, 1992, Akiyama would headline Nippon Budokan for the first time as he and Akira Taue took on Mitsuharu Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada in the final match of the 1992 Real World Tag League. 

I’m not very good at guessing who may have gifted me this match but I will guess Andy LeBarre.