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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

2018 Ongoing MOTY List: Sabre vs. Okada

64. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kazuchika Okada NJPW 4/1

ER: Jim Ross mentions Negro Navarro early, as Sabre's MMA trainer, and I have to rewind to make sure I heard that right. It's weird to me to think that JR might have watched a Negro Navarro match at some recent point. And I really liked this match, it was a brisk 35 minutes with a super strong Sabre showing, and Okada stepping it up nicely for their first singles together. I don't know if this was as good as any of the Tanahashi/Sabre series, but this was real good. Okada is a guy with usually bad execution on simple strikes and transitions, a guy who is mentally focused on the "big move" of a sequence so glosses over the stomach kicks and offense that's meant to missed, going on autopilot at times. Here he's really present, really facially sells that Sabre is tearing him apart, and really laces in some strikes like isn't always guaranteed. And I really liked the build to this, with them stressing that Okada had only tapped once (to Nakamura) and here you have Sabre who's been a submission spider monkey for the last 6 months. It's a classic, simple story: X is tough to beat a certain way, Y is the best at doing that certain way. And Sabre was awesome, really vicious with leg submissions. At one point he had his weight leaned so far back on a half crab that it looked like he was trying to rip Okada's leg out from the hip joint. I love when he works these nasty leg grapevines and we got some cool ones, and in one of the more vicious things I've ever seen him do, he does a standing twist with Okada's leg wedged between his legs. It looked really swift and violent. He even turned a dropkick into an STF in a pretty cool moment. Okada worked meaner than usual, throwing his forearms like he was Laettner coming down from a layup. They had a good brawl on the floor, with Sabre taking a couple great hard bumps on his hip, really making Okada's offense seem more dangerous than it felt, falling hard into the front row, really feigning a good asskicking. I still can't decide how I feel about the back half of the fight. Sabre wisely switched up his attack to Okada's arm, which is some more classic "weaken the champ's biggest weapon" stuff, but by the end it felt like he did so much nasty stuff to the arm, and it didn't once stop Okada from attempting to still use that arm. If Okada wins every match with the Rainmaker, and a submission guy who has been tapping everyone works on that Rainmaker arm for 10 minutes, and it doesn't weaken it one bit? That essentially makes Okada out to be the Terminator, which makes things a lot less fun. Okada hasn't lost in 2 years, and I think Sabre would have been an awesome mega asshole to break that streak. I thought the arm submissions were great, some arm scissors, armbar caught from an elbow drop, dodging that Rainmaker into more armbars, and a tight triangle that really felt like the finish. But then Okada started dropping clotheslines anyway and it felt like it didn't matter. I did think Sabre kicking out of them felt big, and the tombstone dropped Sabre right on his dome, so I can't deny the brutality of that finish...But I also kind of resented that finish. This match review has taken me all evening to finish because I can't decide whether this was really damn good or really good but flawed.

PAS: Sabre is a fun guy to watch, he works a pretty unique style and does it well. He is a guy I turned around pretty big over the last couple of years, and I think he stepped up and really performed well in the biggest match of his career. Okada really doesn't it do it for me though, and I though for the most part his performance was pretty bad here. Okada was originally a T2P guy and he was fine if a bit tentative in the early llave style first part of this match. I especially loved all of Sabre's octopus variations, he was climbing all over Okada like a jungle gym, and seemed to be inventing new twists and turns on the fly.  When Okada started breaking out his regular offense this fell apart a bit, his basic stuff looks so bad, there was a point in this match where he threw two comically bad back elbows and a no contact kick to the stomach to set up a DDT, he looked like one of those semi-trained fitness models that Johnny Ace used to hire to try to fuck. When Sabre was in control it was fine, when Okada took over it looked bad (selling isn't really Sabre's forte anyway, he does a bit of the OTT arm shaking and fish flopping which is de rigueur with the Davey Richards indy generation) Not only did Okada shrug off the arm work to keep hitting clotheslines, that clothesline that finished the match looked terrible, not a ton of impact and he hit him in the chest. Cool performance by Sabre marred by Okada being on his bullshit.


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