It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Yes, it’s Voices of Wrestling Secret Santa time again, everyone. The brainchild of JR Goldberg (@wrestlingbubble), VOW Secret Santa sees all participating website contributors give their fellow contributors, the greatest gift of all: wrestling matches!

VOW Secret Santa Archives:

Magnum TA vs. Tully Blanchard
November 28, 1985

Reviewed by Liam Byrne (@tvtimelimit)

Gifted by Jeri Evagood (@TheJerriest_Jer)

In the pre-baby, pre-COVID days, I ran a small ‘Wrestling Club’: a collection of myself and two other women from my work who wanted to meet up occasionally, drink beer and watch wrestling. They were fans inasmuch as they knew of the WWF/E and would attend the odd live local event, so I set out to show them a range of different matches from around the world. The first time we met up, I focused mainly on big meaty WWE men slapping meat alongside the quirkier end of wrestling with time given over to Ebessan vs. Kuishinbo Kamen. Everything I chose seemed to go down well and I looked forward to the second gathering so that I could show off other matches that I loved and thought they would love to.

Things were going well until I showed them Magnum TA vs. Tully Blanchard inside of a steel cage. This became the line in the sand for my casual friends. Not only did we not finish the match (if I recall correctly), but I was not allowed to choose anything similar in tone or sensibility to that match in the future.

Now, nominally the complaint was about the spilling of blood. They just didn’t want to watch legitimate bleeding in what – for them – had been the largely soap opera world of wrestling. Whilst this was the reason given, I feel it only skims the surface of what they found hard to digest. Even from the very beginning, things feel a little off, a little dirtier, a little sketchier than what they were used to. These weren’t the colorful wrestlers who said prayers and took vitamins, but guys who looked like they’d be at home in a street fight, men who were throwing punches and rolling around on the mat within the first thirty seconds of the ‘match’ beginning.

This is a match that is largely absent from the world of modern wrestling. Rather than having two men who hate each other mix it up with chain wrestling and grappling, TA and Blanchard relied primarily on strikes, chokes, rakes and the cage. There was a legitimacy to their hatred which was only magnified by their scrappy, oftentimes ugly exchanges. This was a battle where only one man was walking out, but neither man was going to be the same.

My biggest regret, whenever it comes to rewatching this match, is that I have never seen any of the television or angles that led to this match. That a match can be so affecting to me, even without large chunks of the narrative, speaks to the quality of the action on offer. I didn’t have to watch week in week out to feel TA’s pain as the valiant hero, or despise the arrogant Blanchard for his actions. However, I can only imagine that time spent with the storyline before this climactic encounter would only serve to afford this match even higher regards from me.

The feeling of escalation – strikes turn to chokes, chokes turn to microphone-aided blows – is palpable, as is the sense of what is at stake as each man took their turn to shriek into the microphone and implore their opponent to quit. The match is almost as much about the auditory components as anything else; you can hear the fatigue, the tearing of the vocal chords, the spit and the snot played out over the PA system for all to hear. The fight barely goes fifteen minutes – it doesn’t need any more time to get its message across. By the moment the beloved babyface is threatening to ram a shard of wood into the heel champion’s eye, a weapon introduced by the aforementioned heel, the zenith is reached. The good guy has avenged the evil, not by outwrestling him, but by showing that he can get down and dirty when needed. Even in the moment of defeat, Blanchard is clever – no audible ‘I quit’, just a haunting repeated refrain of ‘yes’ to satisfy the fans in attendance.

This is great professional wrestling and should be watched by anyone who even has a passing interest in the sport as a whole, let alone old-school wrestling. It may not have been what my friends were quite looking for, but ultimately I think you’ll agree that it was their loss.

As always, I have no idea who picked this for me. It suggests to me someone who knows I like old-school stuff, yet perhaps assumed my interest laid away from NWA so I might not have seen this. I’m going to guess…Rich Kraetsch. A lazy selection in some ways but it could literally be anyone.