Johnny Saint vs. Steve Grey (World of Sport 2/2/80)

Match Reviews

This review was commissioned by The Big Louer over on my Ko-fi account. As of this writing commissions are still open, they’re going for $10 a pop. If you want to seek out my specific thoughts on a match that I haven’t gone into yet, this is the way to do it.

I’m a real sucker for matches constructed in this way. Take the regional rules set out of the picture (eight rounds, five minutes each, first to two pinfalls or to get a submission wins), and what remains is pretty much the story of a young spitfire trying to overcome a more seasoned maestro. Since this plays out between two babyfaces too, what we get is just pure science. No dirty tricks or heel/face dynamic here, just a narrative built around problem solving.

More specifically, it’s about Steve Grey chipping away at Saint here. Grey’s the one coming in with momentum against the champion as he’s recently gotten a victory over Saint in December. Saint doesn’t let this rattle him, however, and approaches the match with a real steadfast sense of caution. This gets established immediately in the first round where Saint grabs hold of a courting hold that becomes the central focus of the entire round. Grey expends a lot of energy looking for creative ways to escape the hold, but Saint remains cool in the face of it, just clutching to the arm tight and grounding the younger man. It’s a great visual depiction of where they are. Grey’s flying about the ring whereas Saint remains far more stern.

The succeeding rounds do a great job of having Grey make incremental progress against the champion. It starts with becoming a little slipperier. There’s an emphasis on quick escapes to prevent Saint from grounding him. As the match progresses though, Grey’s breakthroughs become more exhilarating. Perhaps his best success comes from being able to use a quick arm wrench to knock Saint on his ass repeatedly. It’s a major enough thing that commentary mentions it’s a rarity to see Saint be knocked down and unable to land on his feet, making the small victory feel big.

The deeper the match goes, the more the two learn from each other and the dynamic shifts. For example, where at the beginning, it was more about Saint being the dogged and persistent one, it’s Grey that eventually becomes a real thorn in Saint’s side down the stretch. In the latter rounds, he turns to clinging to Saint’s arm and working it over with knee drops as his strategy. He also repeatedly goes back to the arm wrench that’s able to bump Saint down to the mat. It’s fascinating because as he grows more steadfast, Saint seemingly grows more versatile. It’s always Saint improvising to cut off Grey’s momentum when the latter goes to the well one time too many, and it’s Saint to who finds new ways to attack Grey’s body, creating new and interesting strategies on the fly.

It’s interesting to think that forcing Saint off his game might just be what Grey needed though. Saint is able to adapt, yes, but by cutting off his more persistent strategies, Grey’s able to push the pace of the match further and further. It’s when things get moving and the two start trading pinfalls back and forth that the young man’s really able to find his footing and catch the champ unawares.

Real great match here that kept me on my toes for the whole way. All the action is mechanically wonderful, filled with the kind of escapes and struggles and light comedy that sort of defines what most people expect from World of Sport. All the broad strokes storytelling works incredibly well, and it’s never entirely clear just where the match is about to take the viewer. And that’s not counting the abundance of cool, clever tricks just littered all throughout the match. Things like Saint using the leverage of a hammerlock to flip Grey like a pancake on the mat, or Grey pinwheeling his legs into Saint’s chin to try and escape a double arm stretch.

An absolute treat all around.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *