? 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/

El Gato de Ecatepec vs Demus (Mask v. Hair)
Lucha Memes – Chairo Kingdom

Reviewed by Alex Wendland (@AlexWendland)

Gifted by Ricardo Gallegos (@wallyrgr)

I am a self-realized lucha novice. A lucha dunce, perhaps. Maybe even a lucha dummy. I try to catch Triplemania every year (and it’s fun!), but that’s about the extent of my lucha immersion. When I received this match, however, my ears perked up. It looked like a spectacle and my dearest friends at THESE Voices of Wrestling wouldn’t send a boring match for Secret Santa.

The entire match was suitably intense for what turned out to be pretty high stakes. The Cat of Ecatepec putting his mask on the line against Demus’ hair. I don’t know the history between these two, and El Gato has not risen to the level of “has a Cagematch profile,” but it’s obvious from the start that this has been bubbling for a while.

This ended up as a series of bizarre realizations for me, a self-proclaimed lucha outsider, more than it serves the culmination of a wrestling feud. Rather than try to squeeze all of these ideas into a narrative analysis of the match, it’s more effective to do them by time stamp of the YouTube video:

0:05 – Is that the music from WCW/NWO Revenge? I think that’s the music from Revenge…

0:16 – Oh wow, this is in a tent and that ring appears to be a series of connected couch cushions held together by a tarp. The ring apron says “Arena Coliseo Coacalco Lucha Libre,” but calling this a coliseum seems overly generous.

1:03 – Demus whips El Gato into the corner and I thought to myself “gee, his head is right at the turnbuckle, he must be a pretty short guy.” Turns out Demus, who is WAY BIGGER than El Gato, checks in at 5’3” and this is a Mini-Estrella division match. Again, total outsider stuff here. Carry on.

Also, this is all in the FIRST MINUTE of the match. There’s a lot for me to catch up to.

1:40 – That’s a pretty piss-poor La Valagueza, but we’ve got our first fall in under two minutes. Already a classic.

2:39 – There appears to be an ongoing disagreement between Demus and the ref as to the number of required falls? I don’t know Spanish, but Demus seems to think he should already be victorious.

3:16 (nice) – The match has picked up once again now that El Gato has attacked Demus outside the ring. Time for some lucha plunder on the dirt floor (!!) to keep this thing mov….

3:26 – Oh my god Demus just smashed a beer bottle over El Gato’s head.

4:02 – Holy shit he did it again.

4:52 – Lots of mask ripping going on, which could really lessen the impact of El Gato losing this match. Just sayin’.

6:47 – El Gato grabs a bottle of his own and smashes it against the ring post (inefficient) because (Jesus Christ) he’s hacking at Demus’ forehead with a broken beer bottle like this is Road House or something.

7:40 – We’re back in the ring and El Gato gets his quick fall. Now the match starts, really.

9:00 – The match is back outside plundering. Everything is filthy (dirt floor, remember), wrestlers are bleeding all over fans (seems like a problem), and El Gato’s mask is already almost completely ripped off (the entire stakes of the match). Things are going well!

10:29 – I don’t want to completely write off the talent of the performers here. Demus is clearly a powerhouse in this division, and El Gato puts himself on the line. There’s some surprisingly crisp hurricanranas and headscissors happening in the ring before El Gato takes things back outside with a suicide dive headbutt.

14:17 – Things are heating up (and slowing down). I’m unfamiliar with both wrestlers, but it seems they’re both hitting their big moves: Demus with his La Valagueza and El Gato with double stomps from the top rope as they’re kicking out and reversing traded attempts.

15:30 – Demus wins after hitting a double-underhook piledrive (not sure what he calls it). El Gato is about to lose his gato mask.

17:38 – The mask finally comes off, and this is going to be a tough sell for El Gato. Dr. Wagner Jr. levels of handsome he is not.

From there El Gato raises Demus hand in congratulations (I don’t know why), each wrestler delivers a promo I’m unable to understand (beyond El Gato identifying himself as Javier Rodriugez Cruz), more than a dozen random people jump into the ring with some just standing around texting.

This insane fever dream was a trip. The match was intense and surprisingly clean considering the environment in which it was held. I couldn’t tell you how to rate it, but I certainly don’t regret parachuting in to check it out. As there’s only one remaining VOW lucha reviewer, I’m guessing my gift came from Ricardo Gallegos.

Fabulous Rougeau Brothers vs The Rockers

Reviewed by Neil David (@chubby_cthulhu)

Gifted by Joe Gagne (@JoeGagne)

I love a bit of subversion.  Maybe it’s because I started watching wrestling in the nineties, when we all decided we liked to cheer the baddies and call each other bitch and chop our crotches.  The fascinating subversion in this match is that The Rockers act like the baddies.  They dance just on the right side of cocky, as their control period is littered with false tags.  Like a stopped clock, Jimmy Hart is right to scream that the Rougeau Brothers are on the receiving end of some right dirty tactics.

It’s sad to watch old WWF, because it feels like looking back on a relationship that went wrong.  It doesn’t matter how many dirty weekends in Paris there were if he cheated on you.  It’s sad to see how much star power Shawn Michaels emanates, when you wonder just how many Shawns have decomposed on the Largo Loop.

It would have been interesting to start this match from halfway through, as Shawn Michaels was being choked by a tag rope, and wonder what led to the glorious outburst of violence from the Rougeaus.  There are brutal elbows that feel like justice; a sweet revenge for the conniving tactics of The Rockers earlier on.

Of course, this is 1989 and wrestling hadn’t entered its renaissance of the cool heel yet but there’s a lot of foreshadowing for that here.  The Rockers are Day-Glo cool and it proves that star power is universal.  It’s unfortunate that a lot of the Shawn Michaels dialogue centres around his struggles with his own disgusting personality, to the point that we often lose sight of how captivating he was doing the smallest of things.

There’s some classic comedy bump-avoidance early on, but what follows is a tag-by-numbers that gets a few colours wrong in the best way.  The faces win with a foreign object smash, and the heels are right to be annoyed.  It shows that with a little forethought and talent, even the most basic wrestling stories can be captivated and interesting.  Baddies don’t always have to be wrong and goodies don’t always have to be right.  Very good!

NWA World Title Match – Jeff Jarrett(c) vs. AJ Styles (Guest Ref: Tito Ortiz)
Hard Justice May 15, 2005

Reviewed by S. Dakota Jones (@DakotaIbushi

Gifted by Tyler Forness (@TheRealForno)

​Because 2020 has been a tough year I’m going to be extra nice and let you know what your gift will be this year. In addition to all the great wrestling matches that you typically get with the Voices of Wrestling Secret Santa gimmick, in this particular article, I will be giving you a detailed breakdown of how Jeff Jarrett vs. AJ Styles from TNA Hard Justice is just like a Lifetime (or Hallmark – take your pick) Christmas movie. Happy Holidays. That will come at the end of this column – first, I have to get the gift ready. Wrap it. Put a bow on it. Maybe some nice ribbon.

I will admit, I came into this VOW Secret Santa match with some pre-conceived notions. Upon learning that I was gifted a Jeff Jarrett vs. AJ Styles match from TNA my initial thoughts were – “I wonder which heel army Jeff Jarrett was leading at this time, and how are they going to lead to some sort of bullshit finish?” Obviously, my view was tainted by what is often referred to as the “TNA stink”, as well as my own personal experiences with the promotion.

​My historical TNA viewing has been quite sporadic, but as I guess is the case with many others, it is mainly centered around the Dave Meltzer Five Star Certified three way match between AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and Samoa Joe at Unbreakable 2005. After first watching that classic, I then found matches featuring those three competitors from that time period including the outstanding Samoa Joe vs. AJ Styles match at Turning Point 2005 (a match VOW’s own Case Lowe and Garrett Kidney often speak quite highly of). I mention this because it leads to the only TNA PPV that I ever purchased, and actually, what I think was the first wrestling PPV that I ever purchased on my own – TNA Destination X 2006. The few things I remember from that show was anticipating the Ultimate X match between Styles, Daniels, and Joe could potentially be the greatest match of all time (narrator voice – it was not), and that the show featured a match with a heavy amount of Jeff Jarrett heel army bullshit. Now I could have been convinced that was in the World Title match – but on further review it was an “8 Man War” featuring what I think was at that time called “Planet Jarret” but I’ll just have to see if Garrett Kidney reads this and corrects me later.

​So, going into this match, that what was on my mind. The other thing on my mind was the title of the PPV – “Hard Justice.” When reading that, the first TNA PPV that came into my head was an edition where I believe Samoa Joe fought, and I believe defeated, World Champion Jeff Jarrett in a non-title match where the fans had whips or something and were able to take our their frustrations on the terrible, X-Pac heat having heel champion (side note, as a big Sean Waltman fan, can I start a campaign to change that term to King Corbin heat from here on out? Thank you). I remember that was a non-title match so that Jarrett could go on to Bound For Glory as champion, I believe to face Sting. Now, I have no idea where this Styles vs. Jarrett match fits in the TNA cannon and I purposely tried to avoid looking at the year of this match so I wouldn’t spoil myself. Because of all these mental walls I put up I then went in assuming that Bound For Glory is coming up and Jarrett is probably going to main event, likely with a heaping dose of shenanigans. Now that you are in my headspace, lets get on to the match. And don’t worry cheesy holiday movie lovers, the comparison is coming.

​The match begins and the first thing I have to say is that AJ Styles’ entrance in TNA is one of the all-time greats. The way it starts with the camera shot from behind in the tunnel is really what brought it to my attention. Then you have the music, the lighting, his gear, and poses – it all works so well and makes him look like the star that he is. We get AJ’s amazing entrance, as well as Jarrett’s great TNA entrance music, but then we then have the shenanigans I was worried about in the form of special guest referee Tito Ortiz. The first part of the match spends a little too much time focusing on Tito and establishing him as the enforcer of the match. Lots of interactions with Jarrett to prove that he’s not going to take his crap. It doesn’t ruin or derail the match, it just goes on too long and isn’t anything too great.

​Once they get Tito out of the way though, the middle portion of the match is fantastic stuff. It starts off with a great and simple story of Jarrett trying to ground the athletic and high flying AJ with mat work, but he keeps getting one-upped by the Phenomenal One. The frustration mounts with Jarrett as Styles peppers in his patented bursts of incredible high-flying offense. And it’s not just the athleticism and execution of AJ that is impressive here, but the timing of it all and how he and Jarrett perfectly work it into the flow of the match with the young whipper snapper out-smarting the old veteran. The contrast of the grizzled heel and the young babyface is great in the match, not just in the manner of wrestling in this portion but also in the gear they wear – punctuated greatly by AJ’s very early-2000s bright neon colors.

​Eventually, the cagey vet starts to take advantage by working over the leg and then begins to do some great heel work with the crowd. It is at this part of the match that I start to have a change of heart – a Grinch moment if you will – is Jeff Jarrett actually good? He has played his part to perfection as AJ’s foil. His control period here has all the danger of being boring, methodical heel work, but it’s not. It’s engaging and keeps the story going. Earlier in the match he did everything he could to make AJ look like a million bucks and he continues to do so here. Jarrett then puts on a figure four leg lock, and it’s at this point that I have to discuss how great the Mike Tenay and Don West commentary is. They point out that Jarrett is going for what is typically a finishing submission move pretty early and explain that it’s probably not to try and get a victory but rather to just weaken AJ’s legs more and take away from his explosive, high flying offense. Just a pitch perfect example of how commentary can add to a match. And it’s only one of the many excellent moments Tenay and West have throughout the entire match.

​Sadly though, all good things must come to an end and the great wrestling match between these two comes off the rails as some classic TNA overbooking rears its ugly head. Jeff Jarret’s guitar and Tito Ortiz start to become more and more prominent throughout the final stretch. AJ makes a big comeback and stops selling the leg during all his springboard and other moves, making the great middle portion of the match somewhat meaningless. The two go back and forth, using each other’s finishing moves (the Styles Clash and The Stroke) for what should be big kicks outs – but they really feel built to particularly well or earned. We get a Monty Brown run in and more Tito BS. Eventually Ortiz provides some HARD JUSTICE and lays out Jarrett with a punch, letting Styles hit the Spiral Tap off the top rope for the win. The announcers say it’s the first time AJ has used the move in two years, which would have been a cool story if they had actually been telling it during the match – but they weren’t.

​So overall a good match – a great middle portion of actual wrestling bogged down by too much-overbooked BS at the beginning and end. They were obviously going for the Tyson-Austin-HBK at Wrestlemania 14 angle, but like so much with TNA they just came off like a cheap WWE knockoff rather than doing their own thing.

​Ok, so now it’s time to open the gift. Much like a Hallmark Christmas movie, I came into this with pre-conceived notions that it would be pretty bad and cliched. Also, like many people who are made to watch Lifetime Christmas movies by a significant other, this match was chosen for me – it wasn’t my idea to watch it. It featured an older actor who was never a huge star but was recognizable enough, along with a hot new star on the rise. In order to pop ratings a little bit, they brought in a semi-famous athlete as well who shows up for the opening scene and then just kind of disappears.

​For the first portion, I am rolling my eyes. This has all the tropes and bad acting that I am expecting. Celebrity cameos and B-list leading men with an easily predictable plot. But, like a lot of these Holiday movies, as it goes along I start to suspend my disbelief and I get into it. It turns out this old actor is actually pretty good when given a leading role. He’s got some chops and is pretty charming. This new guy they got – he’s got potential and has pretty good chemistry with the older star. The story is nothing new or groundbreaking – but it doesn’t matter, it’s a classic and its being well told.

​But then they get to the ending, and they have no idea how to finish it. It all starts to get convoluted. The new star starts to try a little too hard and his acting gets a little cringey. The old guy starts to get on your nerves. They introduce a new character out of nowhere just to move things along and it doesn’t work. The athlete comes back to save the day in a plot twist and its groan-inducing. And of course, in the end everything works out for the protagonist. It all feels very reminiscent of a much better, more popular movie you’ve seen before. We are supposed to be happy for the characters, but by now I’m back in the cynical territory. It had its moments where it was quite good and I really got my hopes up that it could have been great, but it just wasn’t. In the end it was enjoyable for what it was. And that was a Jeff Jarrett Total Nonstop Action wrestling match. Which much like a cheesy holiday movie, is only going to peak so high.

As for who sent me this wonderful gift. I’m going to give a shout out to my fellow Jones brethren down under – Liam “Ellis” Jones from the on hiatus but not forgotten Wednesday Wargames Podcast. May everyday be Wardlow Day. 

Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Taz
ECW Living Dangerously 1998

Reviewed by Jack Beckmann (@packerman120)

Gifted by Lee Malone (@Malone_713)

I’ve never seen an ECW match before. Yes, I know this should be inexcusable considering one of the co-owners of this very site is in the middle of an ECW retrospective that will last until my dying day. I’ve always found it hard to get into retro wrestling (or retro anything, for that matter) for whatever reason, so I always enjoy projects like these to give me a reason to watch something I wouldn’t have thought to watch otherwise. Of course, that didn’t happen the last two years (where I received a Milwaukee shindie match and Seth vs. The Fiend), but finally this year I have received a good match. It’s a shame I didn’t give one in return. Nonetheless!

Before the match we had a little video explaining why these two men were fighting. It’s refreshing to see a build that makes sense and isn’t rooted in hokey comedy bullshit. It also helps that Taz is an incredible promo, something that is holding true to his current AEW run where he is a highlight of every segment he is in. The match itself was a pretty simple hoss fight, one that while basic still kept the rabid ECW fans in Asbury Park on the edge of their seat. At least it sounded that way, it was hard to tell since the audio in this video made me think something was vibrating against my wall or my laptop speaker had blown out. It’s refreshing to hear a crowd after going so many months in 2020 without a real one. They did a fairly basic brawl for about 10 or so minutes. One spot I particularly enjoyed was Taz no-selling shots to the head from Bigelow as the crowd was egging him on. I always enjoy fighting spirit shit, especially with a hot crowd behind it. The obvious highlight of the match and what I assume made it worthy to be remembered 22 years later was Bam Bam backdropping Taz and both falling through the ring. Having never seen/heard about this match, I do wonder if the spot was gimmicked or not. I’ll look forward to Joe talking about it in 2042. If it was gimmicked, the wrestlers did a great job of selling it, as Bam Bam looked quite dazed in the minute after he rose from the ashes. Once he had the strength, Bigelow lifted Taz up from the hole and pinned him for 3. A fairly simple brawl with a hot crowd followed by a very memorable spot. I’m just glad I finally received a good match this time! ***1/4