Bryan Danielson and Zack Sabre Jr | An American Dragon Meets ZSJ In Coventry

On March 2nd, 2008, in the West Midlands in England, a crowd of around 20 people had the delight to witness the Holy Grail of technical classics between Bryan Danielson and Zack Sabre Jr.


A freelance show in the UK was gifted an appearance from one of the best wrestlers in the world: the American Dragon, Bryan Danielson, however they needed a great opponent. Little did this show had booked a future dream match with Danielson taking on the future wizard, Zack Sabre Jr in a hidden Forbidden Doors matchup.

Bryan Danielson and Zack Sabre Jr –
Path to a Queen’s Country Clash

Bryan Danielson has been seen by many in the wrestling community as the best wrestler of the 21st century, gaining that pedastal from his work in the early 2000s. From 2002 to 2009, the American Dragon was a top star of Ring Of Honor, consistently delivering top-tier performances and matches.

The fans not only respected Danielson’s ability in the ring, but also how he put his body on the line, such as detaching his retina after a strike from Takeshi Morishima

Before his time in ROH was over, the American Dragon explored over multiple independent companies to face the best young competition before he got signed by WWE. On his tour of the indies, Danielson found his way over the pond in England.

There he could test his technical skills against the British wrestling style seen. This was where he made the journey to Coventry for the perfect opponent.

Zack Sabre Jr made his wrestling debut in the UK 2005 at the young age of 18. He was trained by British wrestlers Andre Baker & Japanese legends Naomichi Marufuji and Ogawa. This helped him to create a unique style.

It was a mixture of the technical prowess of the British style, & savage stiffness of the Strong Style seen in NJPW. It became so that his opponents found difficult to work with because of it.

Despite having such a unique style and being a standout across the British independents, he was struggling to make a big name for himself in the wrestling industry. This was until he was given the opportunity of a lifetime when he had the chance to face one of the best wrestling athletes in his home country: Bryan Danielson.

A Brush with Greatness

With Bryan Danielson carving a fantastic legacy in professional wrestling with his list of amazing matches and long ROH title reign and impending deal coming in the WWE, he was seen as one of the best in the community’s eyes.

With this reputation, it was a big deal to have the American Dragon on a UK independent show. Anyone who stepped in the ring with him would truly feel a brush of greatness. With Zack Sabre Jr being the lucky up-comer stepping in the ring with the indie legend, he would be given the opportunity to truly put his name on the map.

 The Beauty Of Pure Wrestling

On the night on the huge battle, both men had big reactions on their entrances. With a split crowd showing support for both Danielson and ZSJ. The match starts with some old-school grappling.

This saw the Dragon getting the early advantage on the ground, until Sabre Jr. consistently found some deadly cross-armbars. It was not only caused some damage to Danielson, but made the man realise that the Englishman was going to be a challenge.

The American Dragon began to bully around his adversary with deadly submissions, which placed ZSJ in an agonising position. But the young star somehow overcame this precariously situation. Despite managing to counter some holds from the Dragon, Sabre was getting beaten down on this night with some savage uppercuts and thudding kicks.

Bryan Danielson was almost making easy work of Zack Sabre Jr, until the Submission Master found an escape with some kicks that had the Dragon reeling to the outside. This showed no respite for Danielson, when ZSJ hit a dive to the outside and after this. It turned into a counter-for-counter affair that gave the up-and-comer a slither of hope for a win.

ZSJ seemed to have the advantage, until Danielson countered with a scissor kick and locked in the Cattle Mutilation. This seemed to signal the end, until ZSJ got to the ropes and proceeded to get beaten down with heavy slaps to the mouth.

Somehow after surviving this, both men countered holds and strikes in a beautiful technical display. This was until both men began repeatedly rolling each other up, which lead to an awkward three count that gave Danielson the win. The result confused both the audience and referee.

Or would it?

WWE's Daniel Bryan thanks Zack Sabre Jr. and the Triple X fans - 02.11.2008 - YouTube
[Photo: YouTube]
Whilst Danielson was celebrating his victory inside the ring, the showrunner came out to address the controversial pin. After some debate and input from the crowd (including a little girl with an American Dragon t-shirt), it was decided that the match would continue.
As soon as the bell rang for a second time, ZSJ was back onto the assault with kicks and punches to Danielson in the corner and almost got the second fall with the Rings of Saturn. Danielson, being the technical wizard he had been, countered into a triangle choke. 

When Danielson didn’t get the tap from Sabre Jr, he placed Sabre on the top rope and hit him with a back suplex. But ZSJ countered into a tight roll up for the second fall.

Now both men were one fall a piece, the conclusion would be to make the match 2-out-of-3 falls to decide the winner. Both men began this final fall throwing out sharp kicks to the legs of their adversary.

This was until Danielson got a hold of ZSJ and threw heavy elbows to the skull of the American Dragon. The Englishman somehow survived the onslaught.

Bryan Danielson and Zack Sabre Jr. At Wrestling In Coventry, 2008. : r/SquaredCircle
[Photo: Reddit]
Both warriors began training strikes and suplexes, until Danielson got the Englishman tied up in the Tree Of Woe and unleashed a barrage of kicks and turned it into a back suplex off the top.Despite this, ZSJ almost got the win with a suprise roll-up once again. But the American Dragon got one of his own for the victory. Zack Sabre Jr. may have walked away with a loss but put himself on the map with a spectacular performance.
Bryan Danielson and Zack Sabre Jr
[Photo: Whatculture]

13 Years Later…

After standing up to and contending with the American Dragon in front of his countrymen, the career of Zack Sabre Jr began to grow. The submission master truly made his name from his time in RevPro during the 2010s, as well as becoming a dominant 4-time RPW Undisputed British Heavyweight Championship. ZSJ has been a perennial champion and a huge threat to anyone that stands across the ring from him.

Bryan Danielson went on to have a well-know storied career, filled with high and low moments such as winning in the main event of WrestleMania, retirement and making a triumphant return to the squared circle.

With an impending dream match against Zack Sabre Jr on October 1st, 2023 many have forgotten some of the American Dragon’s lost classics. This includes an encounter with a younger Zack Sabre Jr in the process.

With Danielson previously defeating ZSJ in Sabre Jr’s native home of the United Kingdom, he looked to even the score against the American Dragon fifteen years later in Seattle, Washington.