A September of Sabin is a month-long miniseries that looks back on five Chris Sabin matches from over the course of his career. Some of these matches will be singles matches, others will be MotoFhr City Machine Guns tags, but the goal will be the same no matter what: To remind people that Chris Sabin is an awesome wrestler who deserves his due.
Chris Sabin vs. Samoa Joe
TNA No Surrender 2005
July 17, 2005
TNA Impact! Zone
If you only know Samoa Joe from his time in WWE, then you don’t know Samoa Joe. Long before injuries and wear and tear took its toll on his body, Samoa Joe was a physical dynamo. He combined the power and body type of a hoss, the submission and striking game of a shoot fighter, and the agility of a much lighter man into one incredible package. Joe’s ass-kicker charisma and tremendous match resume made him a star and one of the lynchpins of the American indie wrestling scene during the boom of the 2000s. This was particularly true in Ring of Honor, where his 645-day reign as ROH World Champion (a record he holds to this day) imbued the title with the prestige it needed during its first few years. Peak Samoa Joe was a titan, hence why ROH booked him to be Kenta Kobashi’s opponent when Kobashi made his first and only trip to wrestle in the United States in October 2005; when another titan appears at the gates, you send yours out to fight it.
Joe made his debut in TNA at Slammiversary 2005 in June as part of the X-Division. Putting Joe in that division was a smart move for a number of reasons: It accentuated the division’s “It’s not about weight limits, it’s about no limits” credo; Joe’s size and fighting style created a fun in-ring dynamic with the smaller, faster wrestlers in the division, while simultaneously making him stand out amongst the pack; and there was now a big mean brute who would go unpinned and unsubmitted for a long, long time, building up the drama of when someone could finally take him down. (We would see an example of the latter years later in New Japan when Shingo Takagi became the unbeatable brute of their junior heavyweight division.)
Joe steamrolled through Sonjay Dutt in a little over six minutes at Slammiversary; thanks to Sonjay’s bumping and Mike Tenay and Don West screaming in horror at the sight of the STJoe, Muscle Buster, and Coquina Clutch, he looked like an absolute killer. That trend continued over the next few weeks on Impact when he beat Delirious, then Elix Skipper and Shark Boy in a three-way dance. Now we come to the next pay-per-view No Surrender, where Joe will have his biggest test in the company yet in Chris Sabin.
Sabin at this point is now 23 years old and already a two-time X-Division Champion, but he hasn’t held the title in about 15 months. You could call him a gatekeeper of the division because he’s the established guy who typically loses to the newly pushed wrestler to give them credibility, such as Christopher Daniels and Petey Williams. That said, Sabin would go on to win the X-Division Championship six more times in his career—including a lengthy reign that encompassed half of 2007—so calling him a gatekeeper feels a bit odd in hindsight. Mike Tenay puts over Sabin regardless during his entrance as Samoa Joe’s “toughest competition to date,” which feels like a true statement. This is not the rookie from a few years ago trying to make a name for himself against Juventud Guerrera; this is an accomplished former two-time champion who—on paper anyway—could believably hand Samoa Joe his first loss in TNA.
The match begins with a tête-à-tête. Sabin chops Joe in his chest, Joe no-sells it and fires one back, forcing Sabin to a knee as he winces in pain. Sabin gets back up and delivers a kick to Joe’s hip, but Joe no-sells that too and delivers a sharp kick to Sabin’s hip that sends Sabin back down to a knee. Like with the Juventud Guerrera match, the opening minute sets the tone for how this match will play out. Sabin will come at Joe with no trepidation and get some shots in, but that won’t matter much because it’s Samoa Joe; whatever you do to him, he’ll do to you with a lot more force behind it.
Sabin tries to go the grappling route with Joe and gets no results. He switches over to a power strategy and tries to knock Joe off his feet with running shoulder blocks, which goes about as well as Mars Needs Moms at the box office. Sabin finally gets the big man off his feet with a dropkick, then follows it up with a running elbow smash in the corner. Mike wonders if Sabin can get someone as heavy as Samoa Joe (280 lbs. at the time) up for his Cradle Shock finisher, and right on cue Sabin attempts to pick Joe up into the fireman’s carry. Joe doesn’t budge, grabs Sabin by the hair, and SLAMS him down to the mat.
Joe plays matchmaker and introduces his legs to Sabin’s face… repeatedly. First he whips Sabin into the ropes and charges at him with a jumping leg lariat. Then he sends Sabin into the corner and hits a scintillating jumping knee strike. Sabin slumps down, his eyes glazed over like fresh donuts on a Sunday morning. Joe shows no quarter though, RAKING Sabin’s face over and over with the boot wash and then hitting him with the running Olé kick. (Shoutout to the three people in the crowd who did the “Olé” chants as he did it.) Joe brings Sabin back to the center of the ring, snapmares him down to the mat, chops him in the back of the neck, kicks him the chest, and then completes the pain circuit by dropping a Big Ol’ Knee on Sabin’s sternum. He covers Sabin, but only gets a two.
Joe locks Sabin in a neck crank, but Sabin rises to his feet. The crowd are cheering him on, come on Chris, get up! Fight back! Sabin elbows Joe in the gut once, twice, thrice, frice and runs off the ropes, but LOL Joe sends him back down with a simple shoulder tackle. He puts Sabin back in the neck crank and Sabin again rises to his feet, but this time can only hit three elbows to the gut before Joe slams him down to the mat again. A meat and potatoes suplex from Joe leads to a cover and another two-count.
So far this match is a noticeable departure from the Super X Cup final covered in part one, but that’s the point. In that match, both guys are dazzling the crowd with their various counters and exchanges because they’re on a fairly even playing field. Here, this is predator vs. prey. This is Samoa Joe asserting himself as the new dominant force in the division. This guy Chris Sabin, this standard bearer of the X-Division? Joe’s gonna punish him on his terms. That means heavy strikes and a methodical pace. You want fun flips and high velocities? Go somewhere else. And it’s not like Sabin looks like a complete geek, he does manage to get little scraps of offense in here and there, but guess what? Those little scraps are not gonna register on a guy like Samoa Joe. Sabin needs to break out the big guns if he wants to do some actual damage.
Case in point: Joe punks Sabin with slaps to the head and straight punches to the face. Sabin fires back with strikes to Joe’s gut, but they’re not very effective. Sabin whips Joe into the ropes, Joe hangs on, then elevates a running Sabin over his head to the apron. Sabin elbows Joe, who gets a very mean look on his face and attempts some sort of running attack, but Sabin counters that with a HUGE springboard dropkick to the crowd’s delight! As Joe frantically scrambles to the apron to collect himself, Sabin hops over to the top rope and nails Joe with another sharp dropkick to the head. Joe stumbles on the outside and barely has time to breathe before Sabin runs off the apron and drills him with a third consecutive dropkick that sends Joe into the barricade with a thunderous clatter. That’s what I’m talking about, baby! You’re fighting a monster, swing for the goddamn fences! Don West agrees: “That’s the best offense I’ve seen against Samoa Joe since he’s been here. That’s what you gotta do, you gotta use the elements, you gotta use the rails, you gotta use the ring posts.” Adrenaline rushes through Sabin’s body as he slams his hands on the mat and apron and screams.
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Sabin keeps the momentum going with a running double stomp to a hunched-over Joe, then a springboard leg drop that gets a close two-count. Sabin tries a second time for the Cradle Shock and manages to pick Joe up… for a split second; Joe drops behind Sabin and crushes him with a bridging German suplex that Sabin barely manages to kick out of. Joe whips Sabin into the ropes and nails a Samoa Joe staple, a powerslam with more whiplash than a Miles Teller marathon, but that also only gets two. Joe throws a brief “You kidding me?” gesture and smacks his own head a few times to wipe away any remaining effect from those earlier dropkicks. Sabin though is not gonna let the momentum slip back through his fingers. He fights back with two staples of his own, first the sole butt kick to Joe’s midsection (otherwise known as the TNA kick) and then a HUGE springboard tornado DDT. Sabin makes the cover and Joe just gets the shoulder up before the three-count.
As described earlier, the match has now fallen into a particular pattern: Sabin finds a way to take Joe down with increasingly greater offense, but Joe always manages to quickly pull the handbrake and grind Sabin’s engine to a screeching halt. After the tornado DDT, Joe reverses Sabin’s whip into the corner. Sabin hurriedly climbs to the top rope and soars back towards Joe with a Flying Nothing (he’s gotta stop doing those) that results in Sabin’s crotch meeting Joe’s knee. Ouch. Joe stacks Sabin up with a powerbomb and hangs on to his legs, so when Sabin kicks out, Joe instantly transitions it into an STF. There’s no need for Stone Cold Steve Austin to tell Joe to “tighten the sumbitch up” because he’s got this bad boy locked in deep. Sabin though has HEART and GUTS and will not quit, not even when Joe transitions into a crossface and WRENCHES back on it. Sabin scratches and claws his way towards the ropes as Mike and Don praise his tenacity and courageousness. He reaches his free hand out to the ropes, he’s so close! But Samoa Joe is the “Samoan Submission Machine,” so he just casually grabs Sabin’s arm, pulls it back, and locks Sabin in a modified Rings of Saturn that has Sabin’s head smooshed under Joe’s redwood tree leg. Sabin still won’t quit, and with every fiber of his being he rotates his body just enough to get a foot on the ropes to break the hold. No surrender indeed.
The crowd erupts, as do Mike and Don. Samoa Joe rolls back to the center of the ring and the camera gets a nice closeup shot of his face. It’s not a happy face. It’s a “This guy won’t stay down” face. God dammit, he’s Samoa Joe. He tore through Sonjay Dutt in six minutes, he turned Shark Boy into chum and sent Elix Skipper back to 2000 WCW in four minutes. But with all due respect to Sonjay, Shark Boy, and Skipper, they are not Chris Sabin. Sabin is a two-time X-Division Champion and a Super X Cup winner. He’s made of much stronger stuff.
Joe hoists up Sabin onto the top rope. It’s Muscle Buster time. Sabin tries fighting back, but Joe slaps him in the face and starts climbing up the turnbuckle. An avalanche Muscle Buster perhaps? We’ll never know because Sabin slips underneath Joe, grabs two fistfuls of Joe’s trunks, and hits the mother of all running powerbombs!!! The ring shakes, the crowd “OHHHs,” and Don West practically creams in his pants. It’s Sabin’s biggest move of the match yet and the biggest move Joe has taken since joining the company. Please for the love of God, let that be it: 1… 2… 2.9!!!
The camera zooms in on Sabin’s face as he groans in disappointment. So close, yet so far away. A fired-up Sabin pounds the mat. “Come on Joe!” he yells to his opponent. “Come on!” Sabin lifts Joe up for the Cradle Shock for the third try and this time he’s able to hold him up! But Joe is fighting him all the way and he slips out yet again. Sabin goes for a kick, Joe catches it and spins Sabin around, but Sabin retaliates with an enzuigiri. A woozy Joe falls to his knees and Sabin climbs to the top rope. Joe gets back up, dazed, his legs wobbly, it looks like the beast is wounded, but *puts on Admiral Ackbar mask* it’s a trap! Joe kicks Sabin’s legs out from beneath him and Sabin crotches on the top rope. Oh look at that, Joe thinks, Sabin’s in perfect position to receive a Muscle Buster. Don’t mind if I do! The Muscle Buster connects and Sabin is dead as disco. With a murderous look in his eyes, Joe does the throat slash and locks Sabin in the Coquina Clutch center of the ring. Any final energy Sabin had is now gone as he passes out and the ref calls for the bell. Your winner and still undefeated: Samoa Joe.
For a Chris Sabin retrospective series, this is probably one of the less obvious matches to pick because the main focus of it is on Samoa Joe. He dominates the majority of the match while Sabin gets only a few minutes of hope cumulatively. However, those few minutes are so important. Those big moves that Sabin hit over the course of the match—the dropkicks, the tornado DDT, the powerbomb—all did enough damage to make Joe look vulnerable, easily the most vulnerable he looked since coming to TNA. When Sabin picked Joe up for the Cradle Shock on the third attempt, Joe’s frantic wriggling showed a desperation that at that point had also been unseen. And of course, there’s the fact that Sabin lasted way longer than any of Joe’s other opponents in the company so far. So even when he’s getting his ass kicked, Sabin still manages to come off looking strong. All in all this match is the perfect bridge between Joe’s lower card squashes and the higher-end epics that he would go on to have in the X-Division with AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels, and Sabin was the perfect guy—both in terms of talent and positioning—to be that bridge.
Next time on A September of Sabin
We travel to Sumo Hall in Tokyo as Sabin challenges for the AJPW World Junior Heavyweight Championship against reigning champion Katsuhiko Nakajima.