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:

Bruno Sammartino vs Stan Hansen
August 7, 1976

Reviewed by Kevin Chiat (@kevinchiat)

Gifted by Griffin Peltier (@Hollywd12)

I came of age as a wrestling fan during the period where Bruno was persona-non-grata in WWE, so I have seen very little in the way of his actual matches. Bruno is a figure that I find pretty fascinating (his support in New York seems special in a way that no other wrestler has been able to match and his life story deserves a proper biopic); but this is one of the first matches I have actually seen him in. Stan Hansen I am more familiar with as a wrestler; however, I’ve never seen him get his ass handed to him in the way he does here.

This is a Cage Match from Madison Square Garden and serves as revenge for Sammartino after Hansen famously broke Bruno’s neck. The crowd is just rabid for Sammartino; in a way that you don’t see in modern wrestling.

In terms of what people look for in a generically ‘good’ match in 2020s wrestling; this is very much not it. There are barely any holds or high-spots (though Bruno does apply a chinlock which Vince McMahon on commentary bafflingly calls a Boston Crab) and the match is made up almost entirely of punching and kicking. Structurally it is pretty bizarre from a modern viewpoint – Bruno is on offense pretty much the entire match. He never looks like he is in real danger and Hansen is mostly trying to escape the Champion’s wrath by climbing out of the cage. Obviously, the backstory plays a part in the crowd’s reaction; but I was fascinated by how they were entirely able to keep the fans on Bruno’s side despite him never taking any heat. Another thing that stood out to me was how great Bruno’s worked punches looked.

This is a traditional WWWF rules steel cage match; with no pins and submissions and the only way to win being via escaping the cage. In this context, when the New York belt actually meant something, it kind of highlights the absurdity of the idea that you could win a championship by running away from your opponent. Hansen (who is basically entirely playing chickenshit heel here rather than his traditional tough-guy persona) is the only person who tries to run away from the fight; each time he tries to climb away he’s caught by Bruno. Eventually, the champ has gotten enough of his righteous vengeance on the young Hansen and walks out the door. Sammartino is maybe the only guy who has been able to make walking out the Cage Door come off as a badass move. Post-match, Hansen does a great job of selling that he’s gotten his arse handed to him.

This is really different from basically everything we see in wrestling now. I’d describe it as an acquired taste for most modern-day wrestling fans, but it is very much worth giving a look at if you are interested in older wrestling (and especially if you are interested in Sammartino’s unique crowd connection).

It’s hard for me to pick who could have been my Secret Santa. I have a sneaking suspicion that Chris Samsa might be an old-school wrestling fan so I’ll take a gamble on him.