Zack Sabre Jr has long been heralded as one of the best, if not the best, technical wrestlers in the world. Despite this, he has often been a polarizing figure within the world of professional wrestling. His supporters will champion his innovative offence, mixing unique submission moves with stiff kicks and strikes, and the aforementioned technical skills when arguing in favour of him. On the other hand, his detractors claim that he lacks charisma, and that his matches come across as unbelievable and boring. Although I could appreciate his talent in the past, and I definitely did not class myself as a “hater” of his, I often couldn’t help but wonder whether there was something with this guy that other people saw, that I simply could not see.
It was not until 2017 came around that I myself truly came around to just how great Zack Sabre Jr really is. In my eyes, it was his heel runs in NJPW and PWG that really made me turn the corner on him. His charisma started to come out more with his “Zacky Three Belts” persona, his submission moves started to make more sense to me within the context of the match, and he became much more of a vicious killer in the ring. In general, he finally started to feel like a massive deal to me. By the time 2018 had come around, I was totally sold on ZSJ, and as the months have passed he has built hugely on that goodwill. His winning run in the New Japan Cup was nothing short of phenomenal, and was a made star in the world’s second biggest promotion within the space of 4 matches. Even his post-match interviews were brilliant, which was never one of his strongest points.
His second cup win of the year came in early May in the form of Super Strong Style 16, Progress Wrestling’s annual spring tournament in which the winner earns a guaranteed shot at the PROGRESS World Championship, the promotion’s main title. Although he is one of the highest profile wrestlers to have been in the promotion, and has been there since their very first show way back in March 2012, he has never been able to capture the PROGRESS world title. Despite this, with his shot at the gold coming in September at their big Wembley Arena show, it feels like his time on top could very well be upon us.
There are a few months left till September, however, and in the meantime it looks like Zack will be subjected to a number of tune-up preparation matches to build his momentum towards the big show. The first of these matches pitted him against Mark Andrews, a former PROGRESS World Champion himself (although he does hold the unfortunate distinction of having the shortest title reign of only a few minutes) and an excellent wrestler in his own right. Not only would it be a great challenge for ZSJ coming out of his SSS16 win, it was also greatly anticipated by the fans of the promotion.
By way of disclaimer before I review the match itself – although the match did technically take place on the 20th of May, it was uploaded to PROGRESS’ on demand service on the 25th, thereby qualifying it for this week. The match got underway with the two men grappling, with Andrews surprisingly managing to hold his own, even managing to reverse a wristlock by ZSJ into one of his own. ZSJ eventually did gain control in the match, however, grabbing onto his opponent’s ankle and distorting it before switching to an armbar (stepping on Andrews’ head in the process) and a headlock. After Andrews slipped out of the hold and attempted a monkey flip on his opponent, ZSJ pivoted to lock in a full nelson.
Andrews eventually fought out of the hold, hitting multiple armdrags before connecting with a hurricanrana on his opponent. After attempting a dive to the outside, however, Andrews was cut off by ZSJ, who promptly locked in an octopus hold, using the ropes as leverage. He then proceeded to bully Andrews around, kicking him and pushing him around. Andrews wasn’t going to take it lying down though, and managed to pull off another armdrag, before hitting a dropkick to send ZSJ scrambling to the outside. He quickly followed up with a rolling senton, tumbling into his opponent. Shoving ZSJ back into the ring, Andrews promptly hit a crossbody for the 2 count.
After some further offence by Andrews, ZSJ swung momentum back in his favour with a rolling neck wrench to his opponent. He followed this up with a brutal Hypernormalisation, stretching Andrews’ arms all the way back behind his head. After ZSJ let go of the hold, Andrews continued trying to fight his way back into the match, only to be met be a hard slap across the face, followed by a number of devastating kicks and elbows. Andrews finally managed to get his own kicks in, but a brief lapse in judgement meant that a leaping kick was caught by ZSJ, who promptly distorted his opponent’s leg into an STF, from which Andrews just about managed to get to the ropes.
ZSJ continued to antagonise and bully his opponent, kicking Andrews whilst he was down, before inviting Andrews to return the favour with chops. Nonetheless, ZSJ kicked his opponent right back down, before locking in a Japanese stranglehold. Andrews, however, managed to wriggle his way out, hitting a double foot stomp to give him the distance from his opponent that he needed. He followed this up with a huge hurricanrana from the top rope, and a springboard moonsault from which he got another 2 count.
He went to the well one time too often, however, as he went to the top rope and attempted a 450 splash, which ZSJ rolled out of the way from, before hitting an uppercut, followed by a second rope satellite DDT. Andrews tried to sneak a Stundog Millionaire from out of nowhere, but ZSJ quickly countered to lock in a dragon sleeper, only for Andrews to once again get to the ropes. ZSJ again continued to antagonise his opponent, literally kicking him whilst he was down. Andrews was not taking this lightly however, and once he got to his feet, the 2 men began to exchange vicious strikes.
Andrews actually got out of this exchange with the upper hand, which allowed him to hit a crucifix, dropping ZSJ on the back of his head. Andrews was relentless, continuing the strikes; ZSJ had other ideas however, flipping his opponent over and hitting a swift penalty kick to Andrews’ chest. ZSJ continued kicking his opponent, and set up for a running knee. Andrews moved out of the way, however, and hit an overhead kick followed by a Stundog Millionaire and a reverse ‘rana DDT, once again spiking ZSJ on the back of his head.
Sensing victory, Andrews went to the top rope to finish off his opponent with a Shooting Star Press. ZSJ had other ideas, however, and incredibly managed to wrap his long legs around the head of the descending Andrews, locking in a triangle hold. Andrews managed to roll over onto his front, almost sneaking a victory before ZSJ kicked out at 2. ZSJ promptly began striking his opponent, only for Andrews to get in Zack’s face and implore him to hit him even harder. ZSJ was thrown by this, allowing Andrews to backslide his opponent into yet another 2 count. He followed this up with a hurricanrana/pin combo, only for ZSJ to reverse it into another Hypernormalisation to pick up the victory.
A great back-and-forth between 2 of the best Britain has to offer, with Andrews showcasing his incredible believability as an underdog that can get the job done, but ZSJ getting the job done in the end as has become the norm for him lately. If ZSJ does win the title in September, I would love to see a rematch between these two, except with the title on the line this time.