Reviewing this on special request by Quentin Moody.
This match comes from one of the early Ambitions and features Zack Sabre Jr. and Drew Gulak, still somewhat in their developing stages. Both already have many years of performing under their belt at this point but they’re far from the fully formed wrestlers they’d yet to become later on. Still, these two still get the chance to show off their technically minded approaches to wrestling in this match.
There was always going to be good stuff in this given who was involved. All the chain work looks real clean and they get across the struggle behind each hold real well. There’s also a decent sense of structuring here. The early mat work steadily builds it’s way up to more action on their feet. I especially love one of the first transitions being Gulak using repeated throws to knock Zack down to the ground. That leads nicely into a little sequence where Zack finally gets to counter on the third attempt.
I like the finishing stretch being built around Gulak’s repeated body slams on Zack. The way he tosses Zack into the ropes for the slam always looks so devastating, it transforms one of the staple moves of wrestling into a viable killing blow.
That being said, this is far from a perfect match. There’s a lot that holds this back from greatness. For one, there’s the crowd that doesn’t really quite know what to make of this shoot style-adjacent action. Gulak and Zack try to play off the crowd by giving the opening stretch a bit more of a friendly, competitive tone but in turn, that does mean there’s not much of a ruthless or fast-paced edge to things to later in the match.
The second issue is the runtime. At 16 minutes, this is just a little too long for what they were doing here. Deeper into the match, you can sense the mat work losing some of its urgency and it’s only when these two start throwing strikes that they really get the crowd back on their side.
I also don’t quite love the finish. I get that Zack endured past the big throws and finally got his submission in for the victory but at some point a few minutes before, they’d already lost me a bit. The finish came across a little too sudden for me, which feels at odds with the extended runtime these two used as well.
Still, there’s a lot of good in this match. These two just riffing on the mat is better than what many can do actually putting in their best effort. Couldn’t recommend going out of your way for it, but it’s a fun watch if you do.