SOMERVILLE–The next time Zack Sabre Jr. brags or boasts will be the first. The 28-year-old British superstar prides himself on the simple dignity of a quiet life, albeit in his case, the life of a person who is widely considered the best technical wrestler in the world.
“My only goal is to have matches I can be proud of,” said Sabre. “I’m really proud to be a British wrestler and have the influence of the traditional style apparent. I want to travel to as many places as possible. I wrestled in Orono, Maine last [week], and I used some things that [longtime British wrestler] Johnny Saint made famous, so, for me, that’s a novel experience.”
Sabre, who has wrestled professionally for twelve years, has naturally been linked to the WWE. The “Technical Wizard” even connected with the WWE’s Paul “Triple H” Levesque the night before the Royal Rumble.
“He’s huge,” said a smiling Sabre, who holds his own at 6’0” and 180 pounds. “I felt like a child in comparison, but he was very approachable, very friendly, and it’s so inspiring how much he loves the business. For someone who has had such a long and decorated career, and he’s coming down to an indie Evolve show in Orlando the night before the Royal Rumble–where he obviously had such an important night ahead of him–and he was there talking to everyone. When someone like that, who is at the top of the business with so many responsibilities, comes down with that type of attitude, it sets such a great example.
“I introduced myself and spoke briefly to him. I’m good friends with [WWE talent scout/NXT trainer] Robbie Brookside, so I had a good catch-up chat with him, and I also met [William] Regal for the first time.”
Despite the mutual admiration, Sabre has no plans to join the wrestling conglomerate known as the WWE. He has already made plans for 2016, and the early itinerary involves wrestling in as many places as possible, particularly in the United States.
“People pay attention to wrestling in the U.S. so much,” said Sabre. “It’s the largest territory for wrestling, and it dictates a lot for pro wrestling.
“The WWE is fantastic, but you have to go in with the right mindset. If I went there, then I would be aware that I would be working for a company that is predominantly television-minded. You can’t be naive when you enter there and expect to be doing what you’re doing on a live show in front of a few hundred people who are all real passionate wrestling fans. But their product is great, and it’s an incredible weekly television show. If you want to succeed, you can if you have the right mindset. I also feel there is so much more to achieve and learn, on a personal level as well, for me in Japan. With my style, I really think I can go anyway.”
Sabre is one of the rare wrestlers who refuses to allow the WWE to define his success. While he is extremely respectful toward the company, he also remains confident in his ability to succeed anywhere in the world with or without the marketing machine of the WWE behind him. He explained he does not need to conquer the WWE to prove to himself that he is the best.
“I don’t have to be stubborn and say, ‘I’ll never go to WWE,’ but I certainly don’t have to main event WrestleMania to feel like I’ve been successful,” said Sabre. “I have to wrestle to the level that I want to wrestle, and that’s continuously on an upward slope.
“I enjoyed watching WWF as a kid, but once I begun training with wrestling, I just wanted to take small steps. At first I wanted to get on the trainee shows, and then I wanted to get into the main shows and wrestle all over in England. Then there was a really good buzz in Germany, and I really wanted to wrestle in Germany, so I had to get better to get invited to Germany. Then I was wrestling all over Europe, and I wanted to some indie stuff in the States, so I did that. But in the back of my mind it was always Japan.”
Sabre relishes the team aspect of wrestling in Japan, where he starred with Pro Wrestling Noah.
“I’ve been wrestling, on and off, in Japan for four years but full-time for two years. Living in Japan, it’s such a wonderful country. That schedule and the tour life, you’re all on a tour bus together, working as a team, and that team atmosphere really appeals to me. But on an in-ring aspect, the crowds I’m wrestling in front of on independent shows in America and Europe are sold-out in advance. The fans are traveling to specifically see these shows and the atmosphere is so motivating and fun, so I just have to test myself.”
While he respects Roman Reigns for headlining WrestleMania, Sabre takes a great deal of pride in capturing Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s Battle of Los Angeles this past summer.
“I take so much pride in that,” said Sabre. “The year before [in 2014], I was just over the moon to be involved in it–I hadn’t wrestled in the States in three years since I’d been wrestling and training in Japan. So for me to go to one of the most exciting wrestling companies in the entire world, where the level of wrestling is so high, and to be given the confidence to win that kind of tournament, and wrestle that many matches in one weekend in front of the same crowd, is reassuring that I’m doing the right thing.”
Sabre offers a very unique in-ring style, flourishing on the mat with a gritty, realistic style while also offering a skillset of moves designed to keep people interested in his compelling and logical matches.
“A lot of wrestling is intellectual, as well, so it took me a few years to get ready, but I was influenced by a mix of everything,” said Sabre. “The WWF in England was really popular, and it had a big presence, but I was lucky to go to a lot of local British shows. WCW was on television as well, and I remember vividly seeing Jushin Liger and the cruiserweights and that really resonated with me.
“Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko and Bret Hart were also influences–there was a big mix, but Jushin Liger especially. When you look at his longevity, he’s been wrestling for three decades at such a high level, and that’s really important. There are a lot of wrestlers who can wrestle for a long period of time, but not at that level. Also, a lot of my inspirations from England are Johnny Kidd, Steve Grey and Johnny Saint. I wrestled Johnny Kidd a few weeks before this past Christmas, and he’s been wrestling for three decades. Their personality, their passion and their attitudes for wrestling is so positive. No one is forcing us to be pro wrestlers. It can be tiring, but we’re always lucky to be involved with this.”
Wrestling is a cut-throat business, but Sabre is cut from a different cloth. His humility only enhances his appeal, and when asked if he was one of the greatest in the world, paused for a moment.
“I’m not so sure about that,” Sabre offered. He certainly remains grateful that his work has generated such tremendous respect from his peers, as he is regarded as one of–if not the–best wrestler in the world.
“It’s incredibly flattering, but you can’t think about it too much,” explained Sabre. “I’m still at the beginning of my journey, and it’s great to receive compliments, but I’m only thinking onward and upward. It’s reassuring, because at the beginning you’re left out in the dark on your own and you’re not really sure how well you’re doing, so that praise is really important. But, at the same time, you can't think about it too much.”
Sabre did not hesitate when asked who he believes is the best wrestling talent in the world.
“I’m one-hundred percent biased, but it’s Finn Balor,” said Sabre. “I met him when I was fourteen, and he’s just been a continuous inspiration for me both in and out of the ring. He’s like a big brother to me, and such a huge influence on how to conduct yourself. If you talk about training, the guy never has a day off and puts so much effort into every small detail.
“He hasn’t changed in the fourteen years I’ve known him. He’s the same humble person who is always having fun, and he always has such a positive attitude. He’s another person who just loves wrestling so much. I met him in our gym in Sittingbourne, which is like the middle of nowhere in southern England, and there we were [Royal Rumble weekend], sitting in Orlando, Fla., drinking a cup of coffee saying, ‘This is ridiculous. What are we doing with our lives?’ That kind of attitude is really important.”
Sabre and Levesque must share a similar philosophy for the qualities that comprise a great wrestler, as Sabre’s top four wrestlers in the world include Balor, AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura and Daisuke Sekimoto.
“AJ Styles is one of the best, and so is Shinsuke Nakamura,” confirmed Sabre. “For me, as someone who’s been involved in Japanese wrestling, Daisuke Sekimoto from Big Japan Pro Wrestling is phenomenal. I think he’d really appeal to a western audience. He has a classic heavyweight style. I could list so many wrestlers. We’re in such a fantastic period of pro wrestling where you don’t have to be in WWE to be regarded as one of the best. People are passionate about all pro wrestling. Social media has helped a lot. Before, you did all these amazing matches but all of these incredible wrestlers were completely off the radar, but now the internet has made the world so much smaller.”
Wrestling fans still rave about Sabre’s work in Triple X Wrestling eight years ago with Daniel Bryan. With news of his impending retirement trending on Twitter, Sabre feels even more of a connection to Bryan.
“All artistic passions completely consume you, but it’s especially that way for wrestling,” explained Sabre. “It’s a specific passion for us, since it’s off from the mainstream. When you love wrestling, you’re completely obsessed with it. I haven’t spoken to him for a good few years, but I bumped into him when he was in the indies. We were so lucky to have him there. He was such a good influence to have on a show. And it’s such a good period of wrestling now, so I can’t imagine how difficult it is for Bryan to be away from it.”
Sabre can relate to Bryan, as he is also consumed by the art of pro wrestling.
“When you’re so passionate about something, you just daydream about being involved yourself,” said Sabre. “We always say that pro wrestlers are the biggest wrestling fans, because we’re spending all of our times doing it. I started training when I was fourteen. I’d never really thought about the logistics of how to become a pro wrestler. The first time I heard about pro wrestling school, I jumped right in and I haven’t looked back.
“The glitz of American wrestling seems very far away in the UK, but I was aware of the heritage of the sport and that was more working class and less glamorous. I learned quickly that it’s a struggle, but I didn’t have any preconceptions about what I wanted. It’s just like if you love football, you just want to go to the field and kick around. I just love wrestling so much, so when I found out I could go and train to do it, I wasn’t thinking further than that. There was a chance to train, so I just had to go and train.”
Sabre’s evolution as a professional continued in Japan, where he learned the hard-hitting puroresu style of wrestling.
“Puroresu was a big influence,” said Sabre. “Watching WCW allowed me to see a lot of Japanese wrestlers, then I started pursuing that myself. I was watching Japanese wrestling by the time I was 13, and that really resonated with me. I was such a huge sports fan, and I thought Japanese pro wrestling just seemed like wrestling as a sport amplified. I modeled myself on the Japanese junior wrestling, and I started training kickboxing and things like that because of Koji Kanemoto and those kind of New Japan juniors.”
A major reason why Sabre’s wrestling is so compelling is because his matches are extremely realistic, a guiding principle of Japanese wrestling.
“I definitely wear my influences on my sleeve, but really, I just wrestle the way I’m most passionate about watching,” explained Sabre. “I wrestle in a way that I really enjoy watching. I always liked a more realistic style. Also a lot of the British style is quite flamboyant and almost a little camp and silly at times. I’m conscious that pro wrestling should be entertainment, but the presentation should be very sports-based and the most eccentric, extravagant form of sport.”
While Sabre takes a great deal of pride in representing British wrestling, he also believes his wrestling portfolio is so well-diversified that he can have great matches in the United States, Europe, or anywhere else in the world through his ability to adjust and adapt.
“Maybe my style stands out as a little bit different, but I try not to alienate an audience too much by coming in and just trying to do a British-style match,” said Sabre. “There is a context for everything, and especially with the European style, it really only works best against someone else with that style, really depending on countering and countering. So I try to give the audience a taste of that style, and mix-and-match with everyone. I don’t want people to wrestle me and have to only conform to one style. I try to take what I love about Japanese pro wrestling and British wrestling and try to Americanize it, to a degree. Independent wrestling is such a blurred mix of everything, and when I first started training, I had to save up my pocket money to import a VHS tape from Japan. I’d watch it ten times because that one was all I could afford. Now, for modern wrestlers, there are so many opportunities to study wrestling from all over the world.”
Sabre is grateful for the people who continue to support his work.
“I’m just the biggest pro wrestling fan in the world, so thank you to anyone who supports me,” he said. “I’m so lucky to be able to travel around the world and do this–the support is unfathomable to me. They are the only way that I’m able to make this my job, so thank you so much.”
Sabre was asked about the potential of working for Ring of Honor, TNA or Lucha Underground, but his sole focus is to improve through working as many independent shows as possible.
“This year, 2016, is about independent wrestling,” confirmed Sabre. “After I started training, it was all about getting to Japan. And I’ve been so lucky to work for such a fantastic company with Pro Wrestling Noah, and I’ve learned so much. I left there in early December after living there for a whole year, but I want to take a year to concentrate and put myself under pressure. I love wrestling under pressure, so I want to make the most of these new matches I’ve been given. I want to travel to new places, places I’ve never even heard of, and test myself. This year is all about reaching a new level to become the best wrestler I can.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.