Zack Sabre Jr. discusses Daniel Bryan's influence, says NXT would be 'appealing'

Zack Sabre Jr beat Tyson Dux in the Cruiserweight Classic first round. WWE

The world got a glimpse of just how good Zack Sabre Jr. was going to be when he wrestled future WWE world heavyweight champion Daniel Bryan eight years ago.

Well, not the entire world.

"A big turning point in my career was wrestling him in front of 80 people in a pub in Coventry [England] in 2008," Sabre told ESPN, laughing.

The bout, for independent promotion Triple X Wrestling, was considered a Match of the Year candidate. They wrestled once more in 2009, shortly before Bryan signed with WWE. Now 29, Sabre is one of the hottest free agents in professional wrestling, and he truly introduced himself on the global stage in WWE's Cruiserweight Classic.

"People started to take notice of me more when I wrestled him. But also, when you're in ring with someone so natural who understands professional wrestling so well like Daniel Bryan, you can't help but have some of that rub off on you," Sabre said. "When I was beginning my training, and was starting to absorb and study wrestling, he was someone who really stood out."

The pair reunited at the Cruiserweight Classic. Bryan, now retired due to concussion issues, is part of the commentary team for the 32-man tournament on the WWE Network, which has brought together competitors from all corners of the world.

"I've been picking his brains about some stuff. He's given me some good pointers," Sabre said. "His commentary with Mauro Ranallo is remarkable. I love it.

"To have him involved in the project gives an authenticity to the fans, especially the kind of fans that were already invested in the idea of this tournament. But if you're a fan who isn't familiar with international wrestling, with independent and cruiserweight wrestling, I think having Daniel involved in this project is such a huge benefit."

Sabre certainly stands out more than most of the competitors in the Cruiserweight Classic -- not just for his unique "Escapology" style and technical prowess, which he showcased in a first-round win over Tyson Dux last month -- but also for his physique.

The 29-year-old, from Canterbury, England is 6 feet tall but has a slender build at just 181 pounds -- a far cry from the muscle-bound physiques seen in WWE. Looks can be deceiving, though.

"The fans have every right to question something," Sabre said. "But I feel very confident in the way that I wrestle and the way that I perform, so I think that people will be won over. I'm so passionate about the style. It seems sometimes I'm having fun with it, but my second-round match against Drew Gulak will show a grittier aspect of the way that I wrestle, so I'm really excited."

There have been reports that Sabre has already been offered a contract by WWE, with several of his fellow Cruiserweight Classic competitors slated to debut in Raw's new cruiserweight division on Sept. 19.

But Sabre confirmed to ESPN he still has aspirations on the independent scene.

"I think it's definitely appealing," he said, when asked if he sees his future in the company. "What NXT has become, I could definitely see myself in that environment. I would benefit from it. But I do have a personal journey as a professional wrestler that I want to travel.

"There are a lot of things I want to achieve. There are still some bits and pieces that I've got on coming up. I'm very happy doing what I'm doing now. I have other aspirations, so we'll just see what happens."

He achieved one of his goals when he faced ex-WWE legend Kurt Angle in June at Bethnal Green's famous York Hall in London.

"It was an incredible experience," Sabre said. "Kurt was a childhood hero of mine. I told my mum when the match was announced and she said, 'Oh, you used to have a poster of him on your wall.' When you think about his period in WWE, and the high level he became so quickly, it's insane. As a fan of him first and foremost, I think it would be nice to see him finish out his career there definitely."

For now, Sabre is still part of Revolution Pro Wrestling in the United Kingdom, and he'll be heading into one of the most prestigious independent wrestling tournaments of the year -- Pro Wrestling Guerilla's "Battle of Los Angeles" -- as PWG champion in early September.

"It's been quite surreal, really," Sabre said of his recent exposure. "Friends from university and school have popped out of nowhere, people I presumed wouldn't have a clue. Their support reaffirms the scope WWE has, with all these people coming out of the woodwork. It's been very nice to receive support from people, in and out of the wrestling community.

"It shows WWE is such a global phenomenon. For friends and family that have known I've been on a wrestling journey for such a long period, WWE is kind of validation to them. It's an achievement in itself, by far the biggest platform I've been on."

He has come a long way from that pub in Coventry, and with the path he's on, Sabre looks to have a long ways yet to go.