Bryan Danielson vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka) Match Review


In October, Bryan Danielson and Zack Sabre Jr. brought their much anticipated dream match to life, producing one of 2023’s finest bouts. The all-star grappling clash was a rematch well over a decade in the making, as the pairing had wrestled twice in the late 2000s. That time apart certainly didn’t show inside the ropes though, making up for lost time with a mat classic, the modern best of that particular genre. Four months later, they meet again.

It’s a different match however, even with the inevitable overlap in content and style. Some of that is the setting, as Danielson returns to Japan, taking his dynamic with ZSJ to Osaka. The contrasting atmosphere allows them to alter their pacing, working a more gritty version of the fluid WrestleDream encounter. It’s a noticeable shift, even in the opening exchanges, staggering grappling sequences that are more restrained in their rhythm.

They are less seamless and far more stern, arriving with an intensity that emerged over time in October. It’s not only a logical progression but also highlights Danielson’s strengths in particular, taking a sizeable chunk of this sequel. That suits the aforementioned setting, as Sabre Jr. is the home wrestler here, portraying the in-ring babyface in opposition to an especially spiteful Danielson. From the bell, there’s a palpable edge to this occasion, an animosity accompanying the showcase of skill.

It should be noted that the WrestleDream was no exhibition bout either, particularly late. Naturally though, it felt less personal than this, as it had been so long and they were very much wrestling those lofty, specific “dream match” expectations. Clearly, they emphatically delivered on those dreams, producing a match befitting the forecasted mat wrestling masterclass. In addition, Seattle wasn’t the place for Danielson to get truly nasty, whereas he’s fully unlocked here in that regard.

Every step of the way, there is such visible struggle to Danielson’s work, using that shift in pace for a more clinical, deliberate approach. Sabre Jr. matches that wonderfully well, producing a noticeably scrappy showing yet maintaining some flash for contrast. That’s perhaps my favourite piece of this pairing, very much representing differing takes on the ‘technical wrestling’ category. Sabre Jr. is more extravagant while Danielson is direct, an unforgiving machine with less artistic flair.

That’s especially on display in this sequel, as a more tense atmosphere still doesn’t entirely halt the flamboyance in ZSJ’s game. There certainly is a caution regardless, even with those bursts of personality. It very much feels as though after grappling in October, both Danielson and Sabre Jr. are aware of the danger that comes with each and every exchange. In addition, with the formalities of their reunion now erased, it feels far more about winning than it initially did at WrestleDream.

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It’s a matter of pride, becoming built on ego just as much as their obvious technical skill. Sabre Jr. needs this in particular, desperate to cement himself as the owner of a title that in truth, Danielson never lost. While WWE wasn’t exactly the place for him to be working the mat with regularity, it took him just weeks to reclaim the technical crown upon leaving. As a result, Sabre Jr. is suddenly wrestling to legitimize his own years on the throne.

That subtly shortens his route to the babyface role, as this match is quite quickly about ZSJ more than anything else. Even as he flirts with an attack on Danielson’s previously injured arm, it’s ever so slightly restrained, not undercutting his connection with the crowd. By contrast, Danielson is ferocious as Sabre Jr. sustains a fortuitous knee injury, landing hard on the bottom rope. Just seconds later, Danielson is dissecting that weakness with every trick imaginable, chopping away violently.

As the momentum trends further and further in Danielson’s direction, a familiar smugness accompanies his efforts. Combined with his relentless aggression, that only makes Sabre Jr.’s night as a protagonist easier, with sheer defiance leading him to a career-best babyface showing. Along the way, Danielson dares ZSJ to grab the bottom rope, reiterating the prideful nature of this pairing. Speaking of such, Danielson hardly throws a strike for the first act and change of this match, only doing so at the first sign of trouble.

Sabre Jr. earns those blows by finding an answer to Danielson’s limb work, making inroads on the neck. Danielson’s striking advantage was notable in the WrestleDream match, with the Busaiku Knee ultimately leading him home. Suddenly sporting a substantial chink in his own armour, Danielson clobbers Sabre Jr., shifting the match by doing so. From there, it’s the most complete version of this pairing yet, effortlessly flowing from one genre to the next.

The length helps them in that regard, actually clocking in at almost ten minutes longer than their WrestleDream match. It’s hard to notice that extended runtime though, as the pace actually increases throughout. Suddenly being outgrappled to the point of requiring a rope break, Danielson successfully lures Sabre Jr. into a more bruising affair, taking advantage of his ego with brash taunts. By forcing a firefight, Danielson is able to charge back ahead, even timing a knockout blow via right hand.

His own ego costs him however, threatening a stoppage via strikes only to chase a submission instead. You get the sense that as Danielson stomps away at ZSJ’s virtually lifeless skull, those pre-match words are suddenly echoing through his head. After all, Danielson won at WrestleDream, but not in a way that truly silenced Sabre Jr.’s claims. The decision opens the door for Sabre Jr’s miraculous rally, matching Danielson’s intensity for some of his career’s most aggressive flurries.

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Incredibly, they actually close the match with a sequence that would’ve belonged at the opening bell in October. This match works backwards in that way, with the more smooth sequences only arriving once fatigue has set in. It truly feels like a race to the finish, countering each counter and flowing from one pinfall to the next. Ironically, they go at such a pace that the conclusive pin almost struggles to match the rest, but it’s hard to dwell upon while trying to catch your breath.

Until those final moments, there are only a few near falls in this entire match, yet it’s grappled in a manner that makes a finish feasible throughout. It’s such a distinct rhythm in that regard, wrestled at a cadence that entirely erases your usual expectations in terms of escalation and length. This very much marches to the beat of its own drum, boasting a more personal edge than its predecessor. While WrestleDream was the quintessential technical duel, this feels more complete to me.

Either way, they are both extraordinary bouts, delivering on the anticipation that emerged in the decade following their initial meetings. It’s a credit to both wrestlers that these latest two outings can comfortably stand apart too, sporting definitive identities that quite significantly differ from one another. This sequel feels very much centered around Zack Sabre Jr., getting the seal of approval in a match where he’s the hero, defending homecourt by overcoming the cunning and cagey veteran that he’s been chasing.

Superb match, an epic that operates in complete contrast to that term’s increasingly common conventions. Once again, an instant classic between Bryan Danielson and Zack Sabre Jr., somehow climbing even higher than their WrestleDream masterpiece.

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