RJ Brewer has captured the attention of the New Zealand pro-wrestling scene, especially Paul Sayers.
When Brewer issued an open challenge on August 3, Sayers responded with a video of his own.
The 23-year-old is now one of 12 contenders vying to face Brewer at Sakura Events On the Mat this November.
“I was a little perplexed that everyone in New Zealand wrestling didn’t put their name forward,” Sayers told NZPWI. “How could this not be a positive thing? There are no negatives that come out of this.”
Responding to Brewer has been more than just a publicity grab for Sayers. Being part of the card for On the Mat would be the icing on the cake of a spectacular 2016.
That Young Warrior has wrestled up and down the country, in main events from Christchurch to Auckland. He currently holds the PWE Tag Team Championship, and the Maniacs United Jackson Shield.
The matches he’s had in the last six months have been the best he’s had since he started wrestling, he said. Sayers will wrestle more times before the end of this year than he did in his first five years as a wrestler.
But just a year prior, Sayers was at his worst. After suffering a broken neck from a non-wrestling-related injury in December 2014, days before Christmas, things went downhill. His weight went up, his level of fitness decreased, and at the start of 2015 he tipped the scales at 102kg.
These days, Sayers is at his leanest, 82kg, lifting as much as he ever has, and in the best cardiovascular shape of his life.
For the Sayers of 2015, being part of the biggest independent wrestling event in modern New Zealand history would have seemed impossible. But inspiration in the form of his peers—Johnny Idol, Henare, The South Pacific Power Trip—has led Sayers to see a match with Brewer, should he get it, as the start of his journey.
“Seeing these guys overseas… Johnny Idol is a full-time wrestler. The person I grew up with in wrestling—the person who had his first match against me in wrestling—is now a full-time wrestler for the longest-running wrestling company in the world. That gives me that bit of hope.
“When I put the first video out I though this will be the end goal, this will be the peak of what That Young Warrior can be. But then through conversations with Johnny Idol, through conversations with TK Cooper, through conversations with Elliot Sexton, I was like, ‘Y’know what? This will be the kick-start now.’
“These guys have honestly given me hope that there might be a chance that I could get one shot at the WWE Performance Center. In my mind I’ve got four steps that I want to look at taking. It’s this Sakura Events show, then it’ll be my trip to Mexico I have planned to learn some lucha and get some international matches under my belt. Then it’s hopefully a trip to Japan, and then it’s the Performance Center.”
Until recently, Sayers worked as a social and behavioural coach at Windley School in Cannons Creek, Porirua. (He’s now a youth education tutor for the Greater Wellington YMCA.) By drawing attention to his goals, and pursuing them publicly, he hopes to inspire children like those he worked with at Windley to chase their dreams too, he said.
The encouragement Sayers gives the children he works with has come right back. Many students have recorded messages of support for Sayers on social media, or posted comments to the Sakura Events Facebook page.
“Paul has always been someone that has encouraged me to follow my dreams,” wrote Ash, a former student of Sayers’. “Not just me but so many young people, he always puts his life to the side to help ours, this is awesome to see Paul going hard for Paul for once!”
Competition to be Brewer’s opponent has been fierce on the Facebook page where Ash posted. The pressure will be high for whoever is selected – on a card with Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and the Bullet Club, among others, Brewer and his opponent certainly have the most buzz.
Sayers doesn’t take anything away from the 11 others vying to face the brash American, but for That Young Warrior, it’s been 10 years of treading water, and he’s ready to step up.
“A year ago, me vs. RJ Brewer would have been the drizzling shits,” he said. “It would have been the worst. I would have been so flustered, I wouldn’t have known what I was doing, who I am, what I want out of this … but now, at the peak of my wrestling career, at the peak of my physical abilities, at the peak of my mental state, me vs. RJ Brewer is going to be the best match out of everyone that’s put their name forward.”