A.J. Styles © vs. Zack Sabre Jr. for the British Heavyweight Championship
Revolution Pro Wrestling
January 16, 2016
It is a romantic notion to think that all wrestler debuts or exits carry some greaterinsight into how the next stage of their career is going to play out or serve a summation of the stage they are leaving behind. The truth is that most of the time these are just matches and most of the time, the first impressions or last impressions are far from permanent.
The most poignant statement I can make about A.J. Styles’ final match as an independent before entering WWE is that this was another high level showing in a two year run chalk full of high level A.J. Style performances. Styles entered the independent scene in early 2014 as the best independent wrestler in the U.S. or Europe and he left the same way. I wrote back in January 2014 that Styles had perfected the circa-2004 U.S. indie style match. Two years later, I am sticking by that. Styles and Sabre Jr. wrestled a match in London in 2016 that contained many of the positive elements of good 2000’s-era US indie matches while not succumbing to many of the modern US indie wrestling pit falls.
If you have seen an A.J. Styles match in the past two years, then you have more-or-less seen this match as well. Styles and Sabre Jr. did A.J.’s go-to brand of mat work that consists of some fast amateur style riding and go behinds. The match was reversal heavy both while in the working-holds stage and later on as the action took on a higher impact approach. There was almost no down time and the performances by both wrestlers were impressive from a purely athletic standpoint.
If someone was on the lookout for a headliner grabber, he or she could claim that Styles – with his WWE debut imminent at this point – held back a bit. He certainly did not take any crazy bumps and he left his riskier offense at home. However, that claim would be a stretch in my opinion. Styles has wrestled many matches over the past two years without truly high risk moves or dangerous bumps. He bumped hard for all of Sabre Jr.’s offense and went about the match at his usual brisk pace. The only evidence that he was holding back in any significant way is the negative evidence of not taking big risks, but that is not an essential part of his game anyway these days.
Styles is a good opponent for Sabre Jr. The way he took and sold Sabre’s usual arm-based offense lent credibility to it. One of my more significant issues with ZSJ is that he will sometimes venture out of his sweet spot (hold/counter hold wrestling) into Japanese-influenced striking or US indie influenced high impact offense, none of which he is all that adept at. To the credit of both wrestler’s they largely worked to Sabre Jr.’s strengths and the match was better off for it.
The ending was the highlight for me. With Styles on his way out, the British Heavyweight championship had to come off of him which most in the building probably assumed. Rather than get cute with the ending or do some sort of swerve where A.J. temporarily retains the title, Sabre Jr. went over clean as can be via submission. They built drama for the finish the standard A.J. way with a lengthy (more than a minute) struggle before Sabre Jr. fully locked on the hold that would win him the title. The finish was both visually appealing and dramatic without having to resort to gimmicks.
With that, Styles moves onto WWE where I suspect we will get much of the same for him even if it takes a little adjustment period. He is one of those guys – like a Daniel Bryan – who has rose to the top no matter where he has worked. WWE has been in desperate need for a workhorse since Bryan went out and that only intensified when his replacement in that role (Seth Rollins) also went down. It would surprise me if Styles is not wrestling the same type of matches he has wrestled on the indies the past two years in short order as soon as WWE recognizes the value he can provide by doing so.