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NOV.3.2023

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Mighty Power Struggle: Zack Sabre Jr Interviewed

Zack Sabre Jr. talks NEVER 6 Mans and much more

Zack Sabre Jr. has had a busy month in a busy year. From wrestling Bryan Danielson in Seattle, to Will Ospreay in London, more defences of the NJPW World TV Championship and now in Power Struggle, going for NEVER 6 Man gold, it’s a hectic time for the Frontman. We spoke to Zack about his year to date and what’s to come. 

Watch Power Struggle LIVE in English on NJPW World!

We have to run me and Bryan back when the time is right

 

—So Zack, it’s been a while since we interviewed you.

Zack: I think since before Suzuki-Gun ended at least. It’s been a busy year.

—It’s been a busy month- I’d like to start by thinking back to your match with Bryan Danielson at AEW’s Wrestle Dream. I know you’re not one to reflect much on past results…

Zack: Definitely not.

—But was there a moment of reflection for you, having wrestled Bryan in front of 50 people in a pub in Coventry and then thousands at an arena in Seattle?

Zack: People often ask me about self reflection at different points of my career, and it’s hard to do in the moment. But I did allow myself a bit of time to think before the bell went in Seattle. We had wrestled in Germany in WxW as well, but the match that had a real influence on my career was that Triple X Wrestling match in Coventry. The Tam O’ Shanter pub (laughs)

—There must be a record for the same match in front of such different sized audiences.

Zack: But it was a good crowd for that promotion and those days. I’ve definitely wrestled in front of smaller.

—Pandemic empty buildings aside, what’s the smallest crowd you’ve wrestled for?

Zack: There was a NWA UK Hammerlock show that only had a family of five show up. And they left at intermission (laughs).

—Haha! So did the show go on?

Zack: There was a meeting about whether the younger wrestlers there should get in there and have practice matches but in the end we just packed up and went home. So any crowd bigger than zero is a win for me (laughs).

—And that match with Bryan went on to get traction online and get you noticed.

Zack: I’m still grateful to Triple X for giving me an opportunity I was nowhere near ready for at that time. And for Bryan as well- he could easily have phoned it in, gone through the motions, but he treated me as someone deserving of all his energy. I bought the first Ring of Honor tape back in the day, so I don’t think there’s another American wrestler who’s had such an influence on me, directly and indirectly.

—Fans still quote your line from 2019 in Dallas that ‘technical wrestling in America is like reading Shakespeare to a dog’

Zack: Oh yeah (laughs)

—Obviously it being Bryan’s hometown helped, but that crowd was so loud and hot for everything- do you think the perception of technical wrestling has changed?

Zack: That line was after I lost to SANADA, and I remember the crowd being loud for it- and me losing, so I think that was a sore loser and shit talker there (laughs). But I was curious to see how the crowd would have reacted. I like a hostile crowd, and if they didn’t like what I was doing that would just make me double down, but it was satisfying to have an American crowd react that much to Bryan wrestling a British guy and it predominantly being two guys exchanging holds.

—So it was a positive experience, result aside.

Zack: Results are everything though. I can acknowledging Bryan Danielson somewhat graciously, but I’m still furious that our bout in Seattle did nothing to settle the matter of who is the best technical wrestler in the world is. Only that he’s a scoundrel that resorted to a strike because he knew he couldn’t match the tekkers. So there’s no doubt we have to run it back when the time is right.

Royal Quest 3 was the culmination of mine and Will’s careers

—You went from there to wrestling Will Ospreay at Royal Quest 3, and the event was very much centered on the two of you.

Zack: It was very much the culmination of our careers to this point, I think. We were bound to push one another harder this time because we were in the main event in the Copper Box, and even though I’ve been condescending to him over the years I’ve never questioned his ability.

—When was the first time you met Will?

Zack: Early on, I want to say 2013 for Southside Wrestling. I remember telling the promoter then ‘this guy’s unreal’. He’s someone that is so naturally gifted, he can see something once and instantly be a master of it. For a lot of people that makes them complacent but Will kept working, had that dedication on top of the skills.

—The two of you have come to represent British wrestling to the world effectively.

Zack: I’m proud of the fact that we had that main event in the Copper Box- and having the IWGP UK Championship helped- that the main event was two British guys not just because we’re the local boys but because it was the biggest match and the match that made the most sense. If that is the last time we get to do it, then I’m happy that’s the way it ended, despite the result.

—We often talk about Ospreay’s schedule over the last few months, but you’ve bounced between a lot of places recently, and you’ve had that versatility tested.

Zack: My motivation, especially with the (NJPW World TV) title as well has been to do that. My goal has always been to be full time New Japan, but when the pandemic got put behind us I wanted to travel as much as I could.

—You didn’t want to get too comfortable.

Zack: It’s one thing to roll out of your own bed, hop on a train and wrestle to a high level in Korakuen. It’s different to be on a 15 hour international flight, drive to an arena and wrestle a championship match. I wanted to stop myself being complacent. So yeah, I’ve been eager to do AEW, ROH and RevPro this year.

—Is there anywhere else you want to dip your toe in?

Zack: IMPACT. I think IMPACT is the one major promotion I haven’t wrestled in yet. Alex Shelley is their world champion, we’ve never wrestled, Chris Sabin, I don’t think we’ve wrestled. Josh Alexander as well, that would be a great matchup for me. But definitely Mike Bailey- we’ve faced each other a few times but I think we should do it on a major scale. And we both lost to Ospreay so this would be a chance to redeem ourselves.

This was the first time I’ve won a weapon

—Australia has been another destination for you. You won PWA’s Colosseum tournament this past week.

Zack: Three matches in two days, yeah. It was something I’d wanted to do since I joined TMDK. We’ve diversified now, but when the group started with Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste, the goal was to shine a spotlight on Australian wrestling and I wanted to help with that. I was very impressed with PWA and it was a great chance to see Robbie’s home company and you can really see the influence he’s had on the professionalism and attitudes of the students there.

—Tournament winners usually get a trophy, but the Colosseum prize was a sword?

Zack: I’ve won a lot of tournaments and trophies in my career but certainly the first time I’ve won a weapon. I was planning on having the Colosseum sword me at Korakuen for my title match vs Oleg but quite rationally you can’t check a sword in as luggage. That and the last thing Japan needs is another white bloke with a sword (laughs).

—Did you feel a little wary taking the lead of this Australian faction?

Zack: No, because of our past in NOAH. I think if we had all stayed in NOAH, I would have joined TMDK in the end. We had lived together all those years in the Dojo and teamed before already so. Anyway, (Bad Dude) Tito took the thunder of being the first non Australian member, so.

—You were on safe ground.

Zack: Well having spent time with him, Tito is pretty much as Australian a Californian can be.

—Kosei Fujita is an honorary Australian as well (laughs).

Zack: Fujita is mentally Australian. It’s like he was supposed to be born there and fate intervened.

I’ve wrestled a broader set of challengers than any other champion

 

—Now he’s in Super Junior Tag League, it feels like he has more of a confidence and an understanding, more of a wrestling sense than any 21 year old I’ve seen.

Zack: More than most wrestlers ten years older if I’m honest. I know they (Fujita and Ryohei Oiwa) debuted right in the middle of the pandemic, but I watched them debut and was blown away. Both of them have that amateur background, but they had pro-wrestling positioning and timing that usually takes guys years to pick up. They motivated me, to see that drive as they were coming up.

—Being World TV Champion has let you experience a diversity of opponents, from Satoshi Kojima to Boltin Oleg just recently. Is that another motivator?

Zack: 100%. When they announced the title I know there was this talk of it being for young wrestlers. In practice it’s been a more diverse age range, I do think the nature of the title will mean it benefits younger guys in time, but I’ve gotten to wrestle a broader set of challengers than any other champion in NJPW certainly.

—You’re statistically the winningest champion in the modern, (post IWGP introduction), era. You’d have to go back to Tatsumi Fujinami with the WWF Junior Heavyweight title, or Inoki with the NWF for reigns with more defences.

Zack: I grew up as a fan when there were only just four championships- I remember when the IWGP Junior Tag titles were fairly new. I’ve been dubious about new titles being introduced over time, and in the time I’ve been here, but I thought with the World TV title that at least this is a championship with a completely unique purpose and character. I’ve said I want to get to 20 defences this year and doing that would really make myself stand out as the best champion in New Japan history.

—How did you feel about getting in there with Boltin Oleg?

Zack: I think being able to have a title match with someone like Oleg shows the versatility of this championship as he might only have 40 or so matches under his belt but he’s a terrifyingly dangerous amateur wrestler so I feel this title match could only have happened with the World TV belt.

—Diversity of challenges is something I think a lot of people appreciate about the NEVER Openweight 6 man titles. Okada, Tanahashi and Ishii have gone from Moxley, Castagnoli and Umino to Tiger Mask, Makabe and Tenzan, then Shelley, Sabin and Alexander. But it feels like you Mikey and Shane are more of a dedicated team than the champions have faced so far.

Zack: I’ve been so close with Mikey and Shane for 10, 12 years now. There were so many factors for us to finally come together, Suzuki Gun breaking up, Shane and Mikey being back together, all of that aligning and now the NEVER 6 man titles are at their highest profile ever as well. So the stars have aligned, and we have a huge advantage because we’re truly a team and have a chemistry they don’t.

—Tanahashi has said there’s a different protagonist on their team with every match. Umino wanted to get revenge on Okada, then Tanahashi wanted to face IMPACT. In this match it feels like Ishii is picking the fight here. Is that something you’re conscious of?

Zack: That’s the intrigue that comes from a team of three singles wrestlers. Our dynamic is different in that it’s a singles wrestler with the best tag team in the world, and I have a lot of history with the other three as well.

—Shane and Mikey have come close to the IWGP Tag titles but not quite there.

Zack: I think the most satisfactory way to end the year would be to make sure Mikey and Shane have championships. And I was hoping for three belts but I’ll settle for Zacky Two Belts, that’ll be fine. And 20 defences of the World TV title.

I’m more than happy wrestling twice at Wrestle Kingdom

—One of the interesting points this year has been how the different members of Suzuki-gun have performed, between you, Just Five Guys, Hontai as well. Is there friendly competition there?

Zack: It’s not competition so much, I’m just happy that each member has found their place and purpose. It’s rare in pro-wrestling for a group to be around so long and for it to end amicably, and for the benefit of the company as well. Suzuki Gun gave me my purpose and identity as a wrestler, and I’ll always be grateful for that time there.

—As we turn our sights past Power Struggle to Wrestle Kingdom, is there something specific that you want to do at the Tokyo Dome that perhaps you haven’t done yet?

Zack: Every time I’ve wrestled in the Tokyo Dome it’s been in a title match, so I want to keep that going, and hopefully after Power Struggle I’ll have the choice of two titles. It’s be great for TMDK for me Mikey and Shane to walk down the aisle and defend the six mans. But I’m more than happy wrestling twice on one night and putting the TV title up as well. I’d happily do that.

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