5-Star Match Reviews: Zack Sabre, Jr. vs. Will Ospreay – RPW High Stakes 2020

will ospreay zack sabre jr rpw 2020

For British pro-wrestling fans, it doesn’t get any bigger than Will Ospreay versus Zack Sabre, Jr.

Those two are among that country’s best wrestlers. Both of them have legions of loyal fans. Both have accomplished a lot. And depending on what your opinion of wrestling is, either one of them could make a legitimate claim as the best wrestler in the world, or at least in Great Britain. They’ve wrestled each other many times, and with there still being the possibility of both of them appearing in North America for AEW Forbidden Door, it’s important to see what they’re both capable of. To that end, let’s look at one of their better matches together.

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.

The story

The simplest way to describe this match is the British wrestling version of Kenny Omega versus Bryan Danielson. This was a dream match between Britain’s best showman-style wrestling performer (Ospreay) and the country’s most revered and feared technical grappling specialist (ZSJ). Both of them had toured the indies and made names for themselves. Both of them won numerous titles, accolades and awards. But only one of them could claim to be the best wrestler in the country.

This was the twelfth singles match between the two of them going back to 2014. They’ve wrestled each other all over the world and going into this match the score between them was eight wins for ZSJ and four for Ospreay. In their most recent encounter prior to this one, ZSJ retained the British Heavyweight Title on a New Japan show two weeks before this one after he made Ospreay pass out to one of his (many) torturous submission holds.

The odds seemed stacked against Ospreay, especially since his right arm was still taped up and ZSJ was too smart to ignore such an obvious weakness. So it was anyone’s guess who would win this match. Would Ospreay somehow overcome nearly every handicap imaginable and win the most coveted wrestling prize in his native country? Or would he lose to the man who was so technically gifted that he beat Bryan Danielson in his own Observer Award seven years in a row?

The match

This match originally took place on February 14, 2020.

will ospreay zack sabre jr rpw 2020

This is for ZSJ’s RevPro Undisputed British Heavyweight Championship. The match starts off quick with some struggling for control against the ropes. Ospreay goes for an arm wringer but ZSJ escapes easily. ZSJ gets an armlock of his own, but before Ospreay can complete his counter, ZSJ has already freed himself. Another technical chain-grappling sequence ends in a stalemate and gets loud applause from the crowd. Ospreay single-legs ZSJ and applies a heel hook but ZSJ escapes and locks in a cravate. Ospreay escapes that and the technical counter grappling continues until ZSJ puts on a heel hook of his own. Ospreay tries a ZSJ-like escape but ZSJ cuts him off mid-counter with a bow-and-arrow hold. Ospreay escapes almost instantly and goes for some kicks but ZSJ dodges, leading to another stalemate.

ZSJ takes Ospreay down with a headlock takeover and traps an arm to make it harder for Ospreay to escape. He blocks a headscissor counter and keeps the headlock applied on an Irish whip attempt. Ospreay manages to fight out and goes for a monkey flip but ZSJ blocks it and goes for a full nelson. He switches into another cravat but Ospreay escapes. Lots of dodging and ducking ensues and then Ospreay lands a headscissor takedown. Ospreay boots ZSJ off the apron and does a charging flipping taunt to show he’s in control.

Ospreay dropkicks ZSJ before he can re-enter the ring and then lands a pescado to the floor. He lands some stinging chops at ringside and goes for a cover in the ring but ZSJ kicks out before the count of one. Ospreay lands more strikes but this time ZSJ fights back with uppercuts, only for Ospreay to cut him off with a stiff middle kick. Ospreay goes for a moonsault splash. ZSJ dodges it, does a headscissor into a neck twist and goes for a combination neck lock/half crab. Ospreay gets a ropebreak so ZSJ starts grinding his elbow and knuckles into various pressure points in Ospreay’s back. He rolls over into a cover but only gets a two-count.

ZSJ foot chokes Ospreay and then applies a cross-arm choke stretch with his knee in Ospreay’s back. Ospreay tries fighting out but ZSJ maintains control with the smallest and simplest of body adjustments. Ospreay tries countering the move with one of his own but ZSJ maintains control, until he sits backsards and Ospreay gets his opportunity to reverse the hold onto ZSJ. ZSJ launches Ospreay off to free himself but Ospreay hits back with a springboard kick and – wait, no, ZSJ catches Ospreay’s leg and locks in a vicious STF. He’s trying to pull Ospreay’s toes to the back of his head but Osprey gets a much-needed ropebreak.

The two trade strikes and then try simultaneous backslides but both remain standing. ZSJ charges to the ropes but Ospreay hits first with a successful springboard kick. ZSJ reverses an Irish whip but Ospreay hits first with a forearm and then a Shibata-style running corner dropkick. ZSJ blocks another move but then Ospreay hits another big elbow. ZSJ ducks a charge and Ospreay ends up on the apron. Ospreay fires back with a springboard clothesline and covers for a two-count. Ospreay goes for an inverted suplex but ZSJ counters with a backpack sleeper hold and then into an abdominal stretch. Ospreay throws him off and hits a shooting star splash for a two-count.

Ospreay lands more strikes and shoots ZSJ off the ropes. ZSJ avoids a dropkick and rolls into an armbar but Ospreay gets an immediate ropebreak. ZSJ gets up while standing on Ospreay’s neck and the two trade counters until ZSJ lands a half-nelson suplex. ZSJ goes for a Michinoku Driver but Ospreay block so ZSJ hits a stiff forearm. ZSJ lands some kicking kicks that serve to fire Ospreay up. Angered, Ospreay hits a huge elbow smash and both men go down.

Ospreay gets up first and taunts ZSJ to hit him. The two wrestlers get in each other’s faces and start hitting each other very hard. Ospreay does the same mocking kicks back to ZSJ and ZSJ retaliates with a big boot. Ospreay hits back with a standing backflip kick. ZSJ tries countering that with a standing guillotine choke. Ospreay counters the counter with a Brainbuster. Awesome sequence. Ospreay teases an Os-Cutter. ZSJ blocks and tries another half-nelson. Ospreay blocks this one and roundhouse kicks the back of ZSJ’s head. Ospreay goes for his Stormbreaker finisher. ZSJ escapes and goes for a European clutch. Ospreay blocks and gets a sunset flip for a two-count. Both guys rollover and counter with various quick roll-ups for more two-counts.

Ospreay dodges another corner charge and tries setting up his Cheeky Nandos through-the-legs kick to the face. But before he can land it, ZSJ jumps onto his back with another sleeper. Ospreay pushes him off and connects with the kick. Ospreay goes to the top rope but ZSJ hits the ropes to cut him off. The two fight on the corner as Ospreay avoids a superplex and ZSJ applies a kimura lock. Ospreay hits back with a forward gourdbuster from the top rope and then hits a diving shotgun dropkick from one side of the ring to the other. One, two, ZSJ kicks out.

Ospreay hits a thrust kick and teases his Hidden Blade finisher. But before he can land it ZSJ locks in a heel hook. Ospreay powers out and lands a hook kick. Hidden Blade…misses. ZSJ goes for another armbar variation. Ospreay rolls out and deadlifts ZSJ into powerbomb position. ZSJ escapes with a kick to the shoulder. That’s followed by a headscissor into a scissored armbar. ZSJ contorts Ospreay’s body and tries to break his fingers, arms, and shoulders all at once. Ospreay tries reaching for the ropes. ZSJ pulls his arm back but the momentum allows Ospreay to get his free foot on the ropes.

ZSJ gets up first and punts Ospreay’s chest. Ospreay sits up Undertaker style and demands another kick. ZSJ obliges and kicks again but Ospreay still wants more. ZSJ charges for a full-power kick. Ospreay ducks, misses an enzuigiri, and catches ZSJ’s leg on another kick. ZSJ frees himself and slaps Ospreay’s face. Ospreay spins around into another spinkick. Ospreay lands an inverted side powerslam followed by a shooting star press. One, two, ZSJ survives. Os-Cutter connects! The momentum sends ZSJ to the apron but Ospreay pulls him back. Ospreay follows with a springboard top-rope Os-Cutter! The referee counts one…two…thr – no, ZSJ kicks out again.

Ospreay tries the Stormbreaker again. ZSJ counters with another European clutch attempt. Ospreay counters that with his own European clutch but only manages a two-count. Ospreay hits a running uppercut but then Ospreay catches him in the Stormbreaker position. ZSJ escapes again and goes for an octopus hold. Ospreay counters back into another Stormbreaker attempt. ZSJ counters back into an octopus hold. Ospreay comes dangerously close to tapping but one slight adjustment from ZSJ allows Ospreay to get another ropebreak.

ZSJ gets up first and punts Ospreay’s chest. Ospreay sits up and this time ZSJ’s ready for him. He charges for another running Penalty Kick. Ospreay ducks it and goes for a roundhouse kick. ZSJ dodges and tries another Michinoku Driver. Ospreay blocks that one but not the one right after as ZSJ lands one of his finishers. One, two, Ospreay kicks out. Triangle choke by ZSJ. Ospreay tries deadlifting ZSJ but ZSJ rolls over and hits elbows. Ospreay starts going limp but then fires up once again. Despite having one arm trapped, Ospreay deadlifts ZSJ up and powerbombs him. Ospreay sits up but ZSJ traps him in the triangle choke once again. ZSJ wraps his neck in his own hands to avoid having his shoulders on the mat for a pin which allows him to apply the hold with full power. Ospreay lifts himself (and ZSJ) up onto the second rope. ZSJ lands some head-butts but Ospreay manages to land a second-rope diving one-shoulder powerbomb. Ospreay lands both the Hidden Blade and the Stormbreaker. One, two, and three! Ospreay wins the title!

Winner and NEW RevPro Undisputed British Heavyweight Champion after 29:14: Will Ospreay


This was exactly what it was hyped up to be and more. It was a fantastic mix of traditional grappling with (post)modern flash and artistry. It was one of those matches that couldn’t be condensed or summarized into a shorter “best of” video because nearly all of it was must-see pro-wrestling. You couldn’t turn away from it because if you did you’d find the entire complexion of the match had already changed thanks to some of the quickest and smoothest exchanges. It was one of the better 2020s big matches you’re likely to see, though it’s not without its faults.

The best part of this match was seeing ZSJ do his thing without restrictions. He is absolutely perfect as this slimy, obnoxious, and imperious d**k that knew exactly how to rile up both Ospreay and the audience without needing a microphone. Not only did he do plenty of small gestures that made it crystal clear what he was about and what his mindset was, but he stumped Ospreay at almost every turn. ZSJ was the perfect heel for today’s wrestlers to study, especially since he, like so many modern wrestlers, are smaller and less animated than their forbearers from decades past. ZSJ did everything he could to stop Ospreay’s push forward.

I know I’ve used that particular phrasing in several reviews now but I do because that’s what a heel is supposed to do. The babyface can only go forward and it’s the heel’s job to stop that progress. ZSJ did everything possible to try and fulfill that objective: target limbs, exploit weaknesses, counter Ospreay’s wrestling with his own, taunt him, rile him up, cut off his hope spots, and generally make it seem like Ospreay was truly doomed. But Ospreay kept going despite the seemingly insurmountable odds. He had fight, heart, and the iron will to keep going. He got some revenge on ZSJ by giving him a taste of his own medicine. After enduring so much of ZSJ’s punishing offense and lightning-quick counters, Ospreay did the same back to the champion with enough force to overcome everything ZSJ threw at him and beat him to win the title. It was a simple story of overcoming the odds told through actions and not words…though some of Ospreay’s actions hampered the storytelling and made it less consistent.

While ZSJ was on point here as the villain this story needed, this match still had a few issues, most of which came from Ospreay and his style. While I appreciate his gradual shift to a more realistic and “level-headed” take on the sport, he still had flaws in this match that made it hard to really believe that what was going on was anything less than performance. ZSJ, an expert grappler feared for his submission skill, applied numerous limb-targeting holds all throughout the match and Ospreay’s selling of those moves was inconsistent at best. ZSJ’s went after Ospreay’s ankles early and Ospreay was doing his flip and fly routine minutes later. ZSJ spent several minutes torturing Ospreay with agonizing holds while digging the point of his elbows into various pressure points and weak spots on Ospreay’s body, only for Ospreay to land his handspring roundhouse kick counter without suffering any ill effects. Ospreay only showed that he was hurt when he was on the mat “recovering” and not when he was on his feet or on offense.

Because of how he wrestles, Ospreay gets compared to a video game character and is often criticized for wrestling in a video game-like style. Well there IS a way to wrestle like a video game character without sacrificing too much realism. Some of the older (read: better) wrestling games actually included selling extensive damage by slowing the player’s wrestler down. If one of your body parts was red, you’d sell the damage by staggering, struggling to stand, clasping your back, hobbling on one leg, and so forth, to sell that, while you were still in control, your opponent had done plenty of damage to you and you weren’t out of the woods yet. If that kind of simplistic but significant detail could be applied to a wrestling video game, why couldn’t wrestlers who are allegedly inspired by video games do the same thing in real life?

Final Rating: ****3/4

This is a great match. This is a fun match. This is a wild and unpredictable match that must be watched in its entirety because so much happens so quickly and out of nowhere. This is one of the best matches to happen since 2020.

But it’s not worthy of that coveted 5-stars/perfect/truly out-of-this world status. There’s still a degree of polish needed for this match to truly reach that elite level, mostly in the selling department. Some of you might be thinking thinking focusing a bit too much on one particular thing, but I don’t want you, dear reader, to think you got swindled or wasted your time watching a match.

To me, a true 5-star match is one that isn’t just great in almost every respect; it’s one that does so well in almost every possible facet of making a match worth watching that you’d be missing out by ignoring it. This match almost reached that level but failed to do so.

That said, it’s still better than most of Ospreay’s other alleged 5-Star matches, especially those from earlier in his career that, in my opinion, got inflated simply because Ospreay knew how to run insanely fast and convinced people gravity really is a theory and not a law.

Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.

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