The year 2018 was a very solid year for pro-wrestling. There were so many great matches from all around the world that it felt like a mini renaissance was going on. Not only did WWE have a plethora of strong matches on their NXT brand, but so too did their biggest rivals (at the time), New Japan. But the match we’re looking at today didn’t take place in either of those companies. Instead, it was hosted by a tiny company in Spain and it was so good that it earned the (relatively) rare 5-star rating from Dave Meltzer. But was it really that good? Read on to find out.
Today we look back at the singles match between A-Kid and Zack Sabre, Jr. from WWW’s Total Rumble 8.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
La Triple W/WWW is a Spanish promotion called White Wolf Wrestling. They’re one of many smaller indy federations that have grown in Europe over the past few years. At the time of this match, A-Kid was their world champion. Some of you might recognize A-Kid because he’s currently signed to WWE as part of the NXT UK brand and won the NXT UK Heritage Cup. For this match, he had to defend his title against Zack Sabre, Jr.
You might recognize ZSJ from his brief appearance in WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic back in 2016. But outside of that, ZSJ is basically known as ‘Daniel Bryan as a d**khead’. He knows he’s small but he makes up for his lack of stature by being a technical wrestling beast and submission master. Few wrestlers, if any, can match ZSJ’s grappling game and he knows it. That’s why he acts like a smug douche in the ring because he knows he can rile his opponents up and trap them in punishing submission holds. That’s the kind of opponent A-Kid would face in this match. The question was, could he somehow beat this technical wrestling whiz-kid?
This match originally took place on April 14th, 2018.
This is for A-Kid’s Triple W Absolute Championship. Kid gets a clean break on the ropes and ZSJ wins some early technical exchanges. Kid wrestles into a cross-arm choke and ZSJ tries to counter it but Kid keeps it applied. They try to out-grapple each other but Kid maintains control. But that doesn’t last long as ZSJ does some crazy technical transition to reverse the hold on him. But Kid flips over and reverses it again. ZSJ gets into a corner and then gets a break on the ropes again. They get into a shoving contest and ZSJ grapples into a single leg crab while standing on Kid’s head. Kid fights out with a heel hold but ZSJ rolls to the ropes. ZSJ applies a double-arm hold and Kid tries to power out but ZSJ keeps countering him. ZSJ transitions to move painful-looking holds and gets a two-count off a pin.
Kid takes ZSJ down by his leg but ZSJ quickly counters into an armlock, but Kid quickly switches into a neck lock. ZSJ escapes easily so Kid tries to take him down amateur style. They have another great technical exchange and both ZSJ applies another neck lock that’s quickly countered by Kid into a leglock. ZSJ gets a ropebreak and the referee makes Kid back off as ZSJ spits on him.
They trade stiff kicks and Kid hits a brutal chop to the chest. ZSJ is stunned for a moment and starts to bully Kid but Kid fires back with more chops and ZSJ answers with uppercuts. They go back and forth once again. ZSJ takes Kid down and applies another leglock. Kid tries to resist but ZSJ traps his arm. both men trap each other’s leg and trade stiff slaps to the jaw. They get to their feet and continue fighting. ZSJ charges into a corner but Kid trop toeholds him into the turnbuckle. Kid goes for a 619. ZSJ counters into a painful-looking ankle lock-type move. Kid reaches the ropes for safety.
Kid hobbles around the ring as ZSJ kicks him hard in his now-weakened leg. ZSJ shows his amazing ground game by landing an arm twister that gets a huge reaction. Kid starts landing head-butts as he clasps his own arm and then lands some desperation chops and forearms. Big mistake. ZSJ catches and stomps on his arm. Kid tries again to make a comeback. ZSJ counters with a guillotine choke. Wait, no, Kid counters into a northern lights suplex. He goes for a moonsault splash. ZSJ counters into a triangle choke. Kid rushes to the ropes. Great sequence.
ZSJ maintains control with stomps, kicks and facewashes. He escapes another leglock and mocks Kid some more, but Kid fires up and lands a dropkick. More strike exchanges and counter-wrestling. ZSJ lands a type of armbreaker. Kid goes from a backslide into another northern lights suplex and then into a cross armbreaker. ZSJ reaches the ropes immediately. Perfectplex by Kid. ZSJ kicks out. Kid fires back with chops and goes for a Pélé kick. ZSJ counters into a single leg crab. Then into a sharpshooter. Followed by a double-arm-neck lock. Kid reaches the ropes. The crowd chants ‘fight forever’ to show their support.
Both men trade stiff slaps some more and ZSJ hits the ropes but Kid lands a lariat. He charges for another one. ZSJ hits a big running uppercut. Kid fires back with a shoulder block. ZSK lands another uppercut and charges, but walks into a standing Spanish Fly. Kid goes for a dive. ZSJ dodges and goes for an uppercut. Kid counters into a backslide. ZSJ kicks out and eats a superkick but kicks out at two. Frog Splash connects. ZSJ kicks out again. Kid goes for Sweet Chin Music. ZSJ counters with a dragon screw leg whip and lands a big soccer kick to Kid’s chest. That’s followed by a running PK. One, two, no, Kid kicks out. ZSJ can’t believe it.
They trade stiff slaps some more, first on their knees and then while standing. ZSJ charges but walks into a huge superkick. Kid goes for a superplex but ZSJ catches him in a guillotine choke and then a kimura in the corner. Kid escapes and lands a corner kneelift, followed by a diving Spanish Fly. Another superkick to the head connects. One, two, three! There’s the match.
Winner and STILL Triple W Absolute Champion after 21:29: A-Kid
If you like technical wrestling and realistic-looking intensity, this is the match for you. Despite being two very small wrestlers, these two put on one hell of a great fight. Not only did the match feature great actual wrestling, but it told a classic story of Kid overcoming a bully in ZSJ that made his win ever so satisfying.
This match had a rare occurrence in that ZSJ was not the smallest wrestler involved. A-Kid was smaller than him which allowed ZSJ to portray a convincing bully that he doesn’t usually get to do. He usually plays the obnoxious smaller d**khead that relies on speed and agility to overcome larger opponents. Here, he did that but also acted as a smug bully that uses his (minimal) size advantage to overpower A-Kid whenever he could.
ZSJ was very much the star here. Despite wrestling like a heel, the crowd liked him way more than A-Kid. He hit Kid with crazy stiff strikes and his body language communicated that he was legitimately angry with his opponent. That brought a great sense of realism to this match, which helped ZSJ connect with the audience as a major threat to the champion. Meanwhile, Kid remained focused on his challenger and didn’t do much playing to the crowd, unlike ZSJ. Kid persevered through ZSJ’s brutal offense and did his best to match ZSJ hold-for-hold and strike-for-strike, which wasn’t an easy feat.
But as great as the technical wrestling and submission grappling were, there were somethings off about this match. The most blatant of these was the slap exchanges. Point blank, it was silly for the scrawny ZSJ and the even-tinier A-Kid to trade strong style strikes like they were guys like Shibata, Suzuki, Kobashi, or Kawada. Neither one was that convincing with their strikes, especially with those flimsy arms. ZSJ fared better with his kicks and uppercuts, but when it came to strikes it was hard to believe them as being as painful as both wrestlers sold them.
Secondly, the match ended long after it peaked. I think ZSJ’s running PK kick should’ve marked the end of the match. Instead, there was another five or so minutes of typical ‘indie-style big move spam’ that made the match drag on longer than it needed to. Sure, it was nice to see A-Kid hit some cool moves. But by extending the match longer than necessary, it brought it into overkill territory and made the finish come across as less impactful.
Lastly, there was a fatal flaw in A-Kid’s offensive strategy. He relied so much on jumps, dives and kicks (especially superkicks). And he spammed these moves despite ZSJ spending a long time destroying his legs with different leg-targeting submission holds. I’m not a fan of wrestlers that ignore limbwork by hitting so many moves relying on those targeted limbs. You don’t go for a superkick seconds after escaping a deep and painful leglock. There wasn’t a sign that he was fighting through the pain or overcoming some kinds of odds; he just started blatantly no-selling ZSJ’s submission holds because he had to get those crazy moves of his in. That approach to wrestling might be some fans’ cup of tea, but not mine.
Final Rating: ****1/2
This was a great match but it could’ve been much better. It featured some genuinely great technical grappling that isn’t seen that much these days because most modern wrestlers prefer to hit big moves a lot instead. Sadly, it was that same logic of ‘movez’ spam that hurt this match a lot. It was on its way to being a truly special match bit then it fell victim to the pitfalls of most modern matches: too much shoehorned into too little time and both wrestlers continuing to fight well after the match has peaked.
The only thing that makes this match stand out in any way from other similar matches around it is ZSJ’s grappling in general. This is a guy that makes realistic amateur-style wrestling exciting, which has become something of a novelty. He basically carried A-Kid to a strong performance here but ultimately not even he could make this into a real wrestling epic. At least the crowd loved it, even though they too fell into the same traps of chanting random things during the match that felt distracting.
So if you like ‘pure’ wrestling, you’ll enjoy this match. It has some unique elements to it thanks to the story and the wrestlers involved. But beyond that, I have no idea why Meltzer would call this a perfect match. Its inherent flaws are too blatant to warrant such high praise.