Timothy Thatcher (c) vs Zack Sabre Jr
La Boom, Woodside, New York, United States
I’ve got a lot of reservations regarding this match, as I’m concerned at how this mix of grappling styles while mesh. But, these are two guys who are pretty damn talented, and although I have a lot of problems with one, the other has yet to let me down, so this should be good. They start as you’d imagine, with some chaining and grappling. ZSJ is sticking close to Thatcher here, not giving him room to breathe, a far cry from his usual loosey-goosey style. Thatcher tries to take it to the Brit but can never manage to get much going, with ZSJ being much more successful with his attempts at working away at Thatcher’s legs. He continues to wriggle free of most everything Thatcher throws at him, and manages to pepper in some real enjoyable comedy, playing to the crowd well. Lengthy, quality straight jacket spot here. Thatcher takes control with a double knucklelock for a while, stuffing ZSJ’s comebacks, but ZSJ is able to slap on a cross armbreaker out of nowhere and the champ has to scramble to get his foot on the rope and free himself. Great facials from Thatcher here, no nonsense intensity, and that extends into his actions here, as he cranks away at ZSJ’s arm and fingers and gives him a few mean shots to the ribs. After ZSJ backs the both of them into the corner and the ref stands them both up, Thatcher works ZSJ down and goes for a short arm scissors and ZSJ has to slap on a tight headscissors to escape. Instead, Thatcher then turns his attention to ZSJ’s leg and ankle, floating into a kimura when he tries to escape, and ZSJ wriggles his way into a brief double ankle lock of sorts before Thatcher cranks away at ZSJ’s own ankle and he gets to the ropes. Thatcher really turning up the heat here. He catches a leg kick from ZSJ and hits a dragon screw before transitioning into a tight heel hook and then a kneebar. ZSJ floats into a mount and slaps away at the champion before going back to the cross armbreaker. Thatcher muscles his way up, pressing his knee into the Brit’s face and back before going for a cross armbreaker of his own. ZSJ works up to his feet and kicks Thatcher’s arm a number of times before uncharacteristicly going up on the top rope. He tries to double stomp Thatcher’s arm but the champ has it scouted and slaps on a brief kneebar before ZSJ gets to the bottom rope to break it up. Thatcher tries to muscle his way into the Fujiwara armbar but can’t quite get it, with ZSJ kneeing his back to fight it, and Thatcher has to concede to laying in a few knees to ZSJ’s ribs again. He then goes for the butterfly suplex and ZSJ fights his way free with a few Euros before Thatcher floors him with a rough one of his own. A few more put ZSJ into the corner as Thatcher sells his arm, and ZSJ fires back with a Euro and slaps on the cross armbreaker, but again, Thatcher uses his long legs to grab the bottom rope and break it up, but he’s clearly hurting afterward. Seated on the champ’s back, ZSJ cranks away at Thatcher’s arm and fingers before stomping in his elbow. He drops himself on his head with a Northern Lights suplex and transitions into the cross armbreaker, but Thatcher immediately rolls over on top of him for a two count. ZSJ keeps a hold of him, though, looking for the Jim Breaks armbar, but Thatcher again avoids it and muscles the smaller man over for another two count. Right back up to his feet, ZSJ hits a pair of his better PK’s but only manages a two count of his own from it. Again manipulating Thatcher’s wrist, ZSJ tries to follow it up but Thatcher fights his way free with some hard strikes, clutching his arm afterward. He goes for a deadlift German suplex, just yanking poor ZSJ up off the mat, but the Brit slips free and brings the champ down in a prawn hold for a two count. Thatcher doesn’t let up, though, driving a knee into ZSJ’s spine hard and following it up with a series of Euros in the corner. ZSJ fights him off with some fire, though, leaping off the middle rope for a Euro, but Thatcher grabs him on the way in the Fujiwara armbar. ZSJ doesn’t stay in it for long, though, rolling free and leaping onto the champ for a bodyscissors guillotine. Thatcher smartly picks at ZSJ’s ankle and works into ankle lock, and when ZSJ tries to free himself by pushing his knee down with his other foot, Thatcher sees it coming and instead just transitions down into the Fujiwara armbar, a fucking banger of a spot. Sadly this crowd isn’t as into it as me. ZSJ rolls his way free and throws a leg kick, but Thatcher catches it so he slaps away at the big man and uses the leverage to transition into a cross armbreaker. Thatcher’s in it for quite a while, relatively, like a full four seconds before he traps ZSJ’s legs and rolls over, back into the Fujiwara armbar. ZSJ quickly wriggles free but Thatcher is ready, slapping on a deep, mean kneebar, and when ZSJ tries to slap Thatcher in the face to free himself, Thatcher just torques the Brit’s knee back in a truly gruesome way and ZSJ is forced to tap out. Holy hell, what a match. What a bit of grapplefuckery. Far and away my favorite ZSJ I’ve ever seen, and definitely somewhere in the upper echelon of my favorite Thatcher matches. I’m sure I’ll rate this highly in MOTY listing, and I can’t believe I haven’t heard more about this. After the match, Thatcher is immediately on his knees, clutching one arm to his side in pain, and the other extended towards his opponents for a handshake. ZSJ, still feeling the effects of the kneebar, scoots his way over to Thatcher on his ass before shaking the man’s hand. This handshake is really interesting, I feel, in that it really evidently shows off the differences in character between these two, as they shake in such different ways, and I quite like that. Make sure you seek this out, friends, as it’s a hell of a bout.