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31 Days of Wrestling (12/25/15): Zack Sabre, Jr. vs. Roderick Strong

Merry Christmas! This Christmas edition of the 31 Days of Wrestling gives you the gift of some really, really good indy wrestling from two stars poised to have a huge 2016, one way or the other.


#25: Zack Sabre, Jr. vs. Roderick Strong, EVOLVE 45

These men shouldn't need an introduction, but since they don't work for any of the Big Two companies, it's necessary that we give them the proper billing anyway.

Zack Sabre, Jr. might very well be the best technical wrestler in the world today, and that's no surprise considering he's from the UK, where young wrestlers learn how to catch the same time they're learning their arithmetic. Roderick Strong is a veteran workhorse of the American independent scene, and whatever he lacks in promo skills, he more than makes up for with his look and lights-out wrestling ability.


(If the video box doesn't show up, the link is here. It might take a lot of time to load, though—but it's worth it.)

Traveling pretty much the same indy scenes (Sabre has been working more American circuits recently, after being more of a mainstay in the UK and Japan) makes it a little inevitable that they run into each other in the ring. It's already happened more than once; this and a match for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and both were true Match of the Year contenders. (You can also catch highlights of the PWG match here.)

EVOLVE Wrestling had been quietly making a name for itself this year as what seems to be the American version of British-style catch wrestling, and this match is but one representative of this new hard-hitting philosophy. It originally started out as your typical indy fed with typical indy action, just placing an emphasis on win-loss records and the spirit of competition. It had abandoned that direction since then, but as a promotion that's always on the lookout for a way to stand out among the rest, Gabe Sapolsky decided to have his wrestlers take a more gritty and a more mat-based, technical approach to wrestling instead.

And you know what—it really works. The result is EVOLVE feels like a completely different wrestling promotion, even though it shares many wrestlers with equally- or more-popular indy companies.

The best part is that not only did EVOLVE just decide to go that way and have its wrestlers try to work technically, but they did actually get wrestlers who know how to wrestle on the mat. This is what guys like Sabre and Strong are here for. Strong, especially, is a revelation; he's usually more known for lightning-fast indy wrestling, an erstwhile disciple of the rotten Davey Richards zero-psychology style of wrestling, but here he shows his grappling chops.

And (almost) everything is good. The majority of the match is a well-paced human chess game, as all technical battles should be, and even though Roddy dips his toes back into his ROH tendencies in the finish, that is at least kept to a bearable minimum. ZSJ ends up winning the match, a pleasantly-surprising decision considering Roddy is the bigger star.

If the point hasn't been beaten into you already, you need to go and watch this before the year ends, because it truly does deserve to be called a contender for the Match of the Year. These two were flying a little under the radar this year (Strong not so much, as he's already become a champion in ROH again) but expect them to have an even better 2016 after everything they've been up to.

*****

31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2015.

Read our previous entries:

#1: Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank briefcase at WrestleMania
#2: Kazuchika Okada faces Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 9
#3: Sasha Banks vs. Bayley at NXT TakeOver: Respect
#4: Fenix vs. Mil Muertes, Grave Consequences
#5: The Rise of Kevin Owens
#6: Johnny Mundo vs. Prince Puma, All Night Long
#7: Jake de Leon vs. Bombay Suarez for the PWR Championship, Wrevolution X
#8: Kurt Angle vs. Bobby Lashley for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship on Impact Wrestling
#9: Jay Briscoe vs. Jay Lethal in the Battle of the Belts, Best in the World
#10: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, Wrestle Kingdom 9
#11 Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins for the WWE World Title at Royal Rumble
#12: Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn for the NXT Championship, NXT TakeOver: Rival
#13: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tomoaki Honma, The New Beginning in Sendai
#14: Seth Rollins vs. John Cena, Champion vs. Champion, SummerSlam
#15: Vampiro vs. Pentagon, Jr., Cero Miedo
#16: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, G1 Climax 25 Finals
#17: Finn Balor vs. Kevin Owens for the NXT Championship, Beast in the East
#18: Peter Versoza vs. Ralph Imabayashi Quarterfinal Match for the PHX Championship, PWR Live
#19: John Cena vs. Cesaro for the United States Championship, RAW July 6, 2015

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