WALTER (c) vs Zack Sabre Jr
PROGRESS World Championship
Electric Ballroom, Camden, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
(reviewed 12/02/2018) I’ve seen these guys wrestle quite a lot over the years. They first locked horns in wXw and have had a number of matches there since that initial encounter in 2008. I liked all those matches to various degrees, describing one of them as being better than one of the most beloved matches of all time. In October 2017 this matchup started traveling around the world, starting with a PWG match I quite liked and continuing on with a whole load of matches all over the place this year. With each new entrant into the series I found myself liking the matches less and less, though it was hard to put a finger on exactly why.
Recently I think I’ve figured it out. My problem with this match—and so many other matches this year, especially from WALTER—is that it fails to feel special.
Part of what made the early matches between these two feel so important was how eye-opening they were. That means a few different things here. First and foremost those matches were drawing new eyes to the scene, to both wXw and those two young men in particular. What’s more those matches were outright shocking, these wild slobberknockers full of glancing blows and slams through benches and the like. It helped that these two men only met up in singles competition about once a year, a relative rarity that made these meetings feel like titanic clashes. They felt momentous as these matches that not only pushed these guys further into the mainstream eye but also helped form what they would be in their prime. The same is true for European wrestling as a whole.
Today these matches have settled into the norm. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you. Routine rivalry can be great, as evidenced by so many of my favorite matches and feuds. An ever-evolving series of matches can build upon a core of animosity or begrudging respect or whatever as long as it manages to improve, to escalate, and to innovate over time. The thing is, I find it hard to argue that WALTER and ZSJ have done that.
This match certainly is an escalation in aggression, in some ways, and that is its greatest strength. Zack busts out some of his meanest ankle picks ever in this match, doing everything he can to bring the giant down to his level. Likewise this thing is chock full of gruesome striking, with plenty of slaps and kicks and clotheslines that boom through the ever-raucous Electric Ballroom. Even if the rest of this match was utter trash (which isn’t quite the case), these awesome moments alone would probably still be enough to land this on my MOTY list.
The problem is that for every one of those heart-stopping chops there’s two or three blows that don’t land quite right or wiff entirely. That’s to be expected, sure, and it’s certainly always been a factor in this matchup. At this point, though, ten years into a rivalry, it feels like such a step back for so much of this match to be sloppy and limp-wristed. That extends all the way to the finish being WALTER’s fire thunder driver, which is barely better than Riddle’s leaping tombstone on the list of awful piledrivers. The fact that this is the same old approach we’ve seen a half dozen times from these two already in 2018 feels like a step back as well, a fact made all the worse by a lethargic pacing. Whereas every other meeting between these two in recent memory has been 20 minutes long or well under that, this gets a full 30 and feels every minute of it. To make a glib comparison, this wouldn’t be the 10th best match in BattlARTS in 2008 despite brief moments of this thing feeling like great examples of that style and it’s all because so much of this match is unremarkable.
Despite what the name of this blog might suggest, I don’t take any pleasure in this match falling short. It stinks when my favorite things in wrestling or things I’ve watched and enjoyed for years fail to engage me time and again. In so many ways that’s been the story of 2018. My favorite promotions of the last few years all imploded, with no sign of imminent recovery. The feud that produced my MOTY took an immediate nosedive thereafter, resulting in the most embarrassing storyline wrestling’s seen in years. The guy I voted as the best wrestler in the world less than twelve months ago slowly became someone I have no desire to watch ever again. I guess it’s no surprise when that same man put together a match this lifeless with what is supposed to be his career best opponent.