Featured image by Scott Lesh

First reviewed here.

The two most famous matches between Bryan Danielson and Zack Sabre Jr. always seem to be more than they first seem. I’ve written before about their first ever match before, one of wrestling’s great charmers as a result of a botched finish. This match exceeds expectation in other ways too. That stems from how this was advertised and built up by both men as a technical dream match, but the action itself offers up so much more layers than these two just riffing holds together for half an hour.

What we end up getting instead is this very intense psychological battle where both men try to lure each other into making mistakes. That’s best seen at two separate points in the match. First early on when Zack Sabre Jr. cedes the battle on the ground to begin engaging strikes. He’s not doing so because he wants to win on his feet though, but rather just to lure Danielson into begin throwing elbows with his surgically repaired right arm, which Sabre can then grab and start to work over down on the mat. Then, in the deeper waters of the match, there’s another similar moment when Zack has Danielson tangled up in a leg hold on the mat. Finding that he can’t escape with leverage or technique, Danielson takes a shortcut: he spits at Zack to piss the man off and have him release the pressure on the hold.

It’s Danielson who ends up winning the psychological battle: forcing Zack out of the focused mat work into something much closer to throwing bombs and trading hands, a fight that Danielson’s far more equipped to win.

Adding to that as well, the nuts and bolts of this just works so beautifully. Danielson focuses Zack’s energies far better than so many other opponents. There’s a sense of struggle here that one doesn’t get from Zack’s other opponents, as so few of them really have the technical mastery that Dragon does on the canvas. One gets the sense too that Sabre understands the significance of the occasion. He’s not going to just flex on Danielson like nothing’s going on here, so there’s a lot less of the floating between holds, and more of Danielson slipping from Sabre’s grasp and truly testing him down on the mat.

There’s a million little neat tricks here. I’m especially fond of Danielson going to the Indian Death Lock and Zack swiping his hands to break the leverage, as he did all the way back in 2008. They put so much physicality behind everything too, not just wrenching on their holds but bumping as well. Perhaps most notably, Zack has some truly beautiful dragon screw leg whip bumps here that make it look like his bones fully snapped.

It’s heartening too just to see this specific kind of match given this space to breathe on such a large stage. Just this celebration of technique and chain wrestling combined with the emotional intensity that Danielson brings like no one else.

It’s not the small room charmer of 2008, it’s something totally different, and that says so much about them both.

Rating: ****1/2

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