Jonathan Gresham vs Sage Philips
Annandale Volunteer Fire Department, Annandale, Virginia, United States
(reviewed 10/09/2018) I never liked Walt Whitman much. Struck me as real fucking conceited, this supposed everyman brazenly taking the whole of America—not to mention the rest of the world—as his own. As much as the allegorical “Song of Myself” exhausts me there is a particular passage that I quite like, one that does well to sum up the meandering transcendentalism of the piece: “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
In a sense this match contains multitudes. It is simultaneously the best performance I’ve yet seen from one very underwhelming young man and also some of his least interesting work. Likewise it is some of the best hands-on teaching I’ve seen from one of wrestling’s finest elder statesmen today but also a frustrating reduction by that same man’s hand.
This is a near-30 minute main event match wherein a more experienced name gives a younger guy a big win/showing and because of that it has certain familiar features. Gresham’s real confident, not giving his young opponent’s offense any credence. Sage exhibits that he can keep up with the veteran but quickly gets cut down when his leg is targeted. Despite Gresham’s unyielding torture, Sage fights through it all with heart and determination, eventually making good use of a reversal to tap out the world’s greatest technical wrestler. Easy, textbook stuff. Where this match lives and dies, then, is in Gresham’s performance. There are points here that strike me as the Octopus’ best work, especially as he’s selling Sage’s skills early on, clearly being frustrated by this young dork but trying not to show it. In a more general sense he also manages to craft a slow-moving, one note 30 minute match that manages to stay interesting the whole way through, with little help from his opponent. I think Sage’s fire is better here than in his other matches that I’ve seen but it’s not quite enough to influence this match either way or overcome his Garganocito shtick. Despite the lack of anything I’d describe as meaningful contributions, Sage looks pretty good for stretches of time here because Gresham bumps and sells his ass off for the kid, getting launched out of the ring when he gets booted in the ass or acting like his ribs were crushed after a 450 reversal.
That last spot is an important one, as it’s one of my complaints about the match. I suppose you could call me a stickler about selling, especially in regards to legwork, and this match is no different. To his credit Sage puts a fair amount of work into his in-the-moment selling, making the application of certain holds feels like a big deal. When the shoe’s on the other foot, though, he falters. Whenever he does a move of his own that requires the impactful use of his busted knee (450 reversal, shiranui, etc.) it’s suddenly not a factor. It’s mostly a small complaint here in comparison to what I’m about to bring up, but it’s an example of having the perfect moment to do something interesting or meaningful with a spot and choosing not to do that for the sake of an unemphatic kickout or plain old laziness. Of greater concern, though, are Gresham’s worst habits. I love the guy to death but he’s prone to using a few specific moves or sequences that really annoy me. One in particular feels real bad here, that being his propensity to get into lengthy strike exchanges, often punctuated with a goofy kip up enzuigiri. Usually he employs this spot in matches with larger people, as a lot of Gresham’s matches are based around the idea that he can hang with the big dogs, but here it feels so much lamer with a similarly-sized opponent who is light as a feather. Along with that there are a few unconvincing moments of selling, such as the aforementioned 450 reversal and the eventual finish, in which Sage is able to reverse a figure four leglock that forces Gresham to tap out despite never going after the veteran’s leg. It’s not an immediate thing and they play at least a little into the idea that a well-placed submission hold can beat anyone at any time, but it again feels so lame and unearned. The same goes for the commentary, which breathlessly describes Sage as this stunning up-and-comer despite, y’know, everything about him.
I’m not trying to say this is a bad match, as I think it’ll still probably make my top 100 matches of the year, but it’s a frustrating match due to how uneven it is. Sage shows some of his best stuff yet but still comes up short in just about every way that I’d want him to deliver. Gresham is sort of incredible in making this kid look good but the closer and closer he gets to the end result his efforts become less and less effective, culminating in one of the most unsatisfying finishes of the year. I guess that’s 2018 for ya.