Zack Sabre Jr vs Chris Hero
Jim Lynam Memorial Tournament Finals
10/08/2016, Berwyn Eagles Club, Berwyn, Illinois, United States
(reviewed 12/07/2016) Hopefully this match can live up to some of the awesome earlier matches in the tournament. As he makes his typical entrance bumping elbows with everyone at ringside, Hero makes sure to pat Papa Hales on the head. Adorable. At this point, I’d like to draw attention to this image here.
It’s a simple image, and one that I’m sure wasn’t planned in any way, but I think it’s really representative of this series of matches in 2016 between Hero and ZSJ. To date, this is the final match of that series in that year, their fifth singles match of the year, their seventh match of any kind. The score, at this point, is 3-2-1 in Hero’s favor. In this image, he sits proudly, clad in gold, on the middle rope of the ring. His ring, if you believe what he says. He’s the best in the world, the greatest of all time, and I’m inclined to believe him in at least one regard. Chris Hero is the resident lord of all that is independent wrestling. Across the ring from him is Zack Sabre Jr, crouched with his head down, a banner draped across his back. Aside from my misgivings about the man, he’s a great wrestler, one of the best in the world. But despite all his skill and all his accomplishments, he’s not the best in the world, he’s not the greatest of all time. To be that, he has to soundly beat Chris Hero in a major singles match. He has to dethrone the king, and some part of him knows that he can’t, not yet, maybe not ever. I’m reading far into things, of course, adding an ultra-poetic narrative to a story that doesn’t really require it, but I can’t help but feel that narrative in this matches, and in this image.
The crowd chants for both men, and Hero derides them. He’ll have no dissension in his kingdom. Fed up with the feeling-out process, he simply unloads with a chop to Zack’s chest before Hero again jaws with a fan in the crowd who says that his chop was weak. ZSJ, happy to take a stronger one, flips the fan off after doing so. A bit too tongue-in-cheek, but a fun opening here. They trade strikes back and forth, Hero asking for more and sitting down for penalty kicks, both men teeing off. Taking control, Hero fakes his man out and puts him down with a short jab, following it up with a rough boot to the face and a big elbow in the corner. He continues his attack with some vicious armwork, cranking ZSJ’s elbow over his shoulder before flattening him with a Big Boy Senton® for two. Hero takes his time, torturing Zack’s arm in myriad ways, stomping him down when he has to in order to prevent comebacks, doing everything he can to keep the man down. After escaping a hell of a submission, Zack catches Hero on the way down from a senton for a cross armbreaker, turning into the Jim Breaks armbar as Hero rolls his way to the ropes and then to the floor. At ringside, ZSJ uses his environment (namely, the guardrails) to go after the big man’s wrist and elbow, though he stills eats a bunch of knees and elbows in the process. At one point, ZSJ hops up onto the guardrail to stand on Hero’s wrist and hand, crushing it against the steel, and Hero simply shoves him into the crowd to escape. Back in the ring, ZSJ briefly retains control and goes after the man’s arm, but as soon as Hero gets room to run he puts an elbow in Zack’s face and lands on him recklessly with a big senton. Zack kicks out of the subsequent pin attempt with a lot of fire, shoving the big man off him before kneeling face-down against the mat in pain. It’s a great show of emotion and frustration from a man who usually struggles to show much of either. When Hero bounces off the ropes for a strike, ZSJ meets him with an uppercut. Sadly, as he sits back down on the mat to recover from this big burst of energy, he turns and mouths off to the crowd, flexing his non-existent muscles. Fucking hell, man, try to pretend you’re in the middle of a match for once and sell something. Trying to show said non-existent muscles, he struggles to suplex the big man and is finally able to. He follows it up with a penalty kick and cross armbreaker that Hero escapes by rolling over on top of him for a pin attempt, putting a boot in the man’s mouth afterward. A suplex attempt from Hero is briefly reversed into a bodyscissors kimura, with ZSJ cranking at the man’s wrist, but Hero muscles his way free and hits a release crash suplex, but he’s not able to find the three count, being unable to really hook Zack’s legs in deeply because of his wrist. Feeling the damage to his arm, Hero removes one of his knee pads and puts it over his elbow, burying said protected elbow into his opponent’s jaw time and again a few moments later. Turning Zack’s fingers inside out, Hero traps the man’s bent wrist underneath him and sentons the man’s back, with his whole weight coming down on ZSJ’s wrist and elbow in a gruesome spot. Toying with his man, Hero yells at Zack, “you love to do this shit to my arm” before trapping him in a cobra clutch. He tries to follow it up with a rolling elbow, but ZSJ sees it coming and leaps into a triangle armbar to avoid it, and Hero has to muscle him up into an awkward piledriver position. Utilizing the awkwardness of the hold, ZSJ flips the man over in a jackknife pin, but Hero kicks out and buries a huge knee in the man’s head for a two count of his own. Stacking Zack up, he puts a rolling elbow in his neck for another nearfall. Searching for something, anything that will end this match, Hero drops a few knees on Zack’s head, looking at the top rope. Desperately, he climbs the ropes and comes flying off the top with a massive moonsault, but his slow ascent gives ZSJ time to recover and catch him in the Jim Breaks armbar on the way down. Brutally, he cranks back on it again and again and again, transitioning into a cross armbreaker when Hero tries to escape, and eventually Hero’s able to make it to the ropes to break it up. Seizing his opportunity, ZSJ stomps down on his arm, bouncing off the ropes for a big move, and Hero leaps to his feet and catches him with a vicious rolling elbow. Seeing the momentum with which ZSJ comes crashing into Hero’s elbow, only to immediately be stopped and sent down to the mat, is pretty ghastly. As Zack struggles to his feet, Hero meets him with another elbow, looking to follow it up with a Tombstone Piledriver. ZSJ slips free, catching him in a European Clutch, but Hero kicks out and snaps him down on his neck with a short piledriver. Looking for the kill, Hero follows it with the Gotch-style piledriver, and somehow Zack kicks out. Pissed off, Hero hoists him up for a gross snap Tombstone, and again Zack miraculously kicks out. Finally, without a care for the man’s safety, Hero comes off the second rope with an inhuman avalanche piledriver for the win. Afterward, Zack is twisted and mangled, twitching feebly, unable to move at first. He’s a broken man, inside and out.
In a lot of ways, this match is too much. As much as I like it, the Chris Hero Formula is real repetitive and forcefully epic. Heavy is the hand of the creator in these matches. Much more often than not, I end up loving his matches, though I recognize that they are imperfect, not without fault. Still, in this situation, I feel that it’s almost appropriate. The ZSJ/Hero series is a series of matches that have spread across half a dozen different promotions across the world, with the young Brit valiantly trying to chase the legacy of one of the best independent wrestlers ever. It’s a story of struggle, of constant defeat, of rare, short-term victories, of brutality and begrudging respect. In wrestling, those sorts of stories usually fly off the rails toward the end, and this story is no different. But goddamn if I don’t have a great time watching it crash and burn.