August 15, 2015 in Queens, NY
In addition to a great looking card, this was the first Evolve show I’ve been able to see live in quite a while, so I was quite excited for it. With the venue not too far into Queens and a two minute walk from the subway it would have been fairly convenient … if not for a combined hour and a half train delays getting into the city and then out to Queens. Sigh. The gamble that is public transportation. Hopefully better luck next time.
So I unfortunately missed the first two contests. On the lucky side I walked in right for the start of one of the matches I was most interested in.
Chris Hero vs “Speedball” Mike Bailey
Hero treating Bailey like a little kid during the handshake gave Bailey cause for a fiery start of brutal kicks that immediately captivated the crowd. Hero responded with equally vicious shots and the two just beat the hell out of each other in glorious fashion for the entire match.
Bailey going strike for strike with Hero (rightfully) impressed the crowd and the in-match story of him fighting back against the mocking veteran was done to perfection and brought the crowd to life in support of him in measure equal to Hero (who is just so good every crowd I’ve seen refuses to boo him).
Fantastic, hard hitting match that was perfectly paced and had a great story. This tied the main event for match of the night for me, which is extremely impressive for my first look at Mike Bailey. Hope to see him return to Evolve regularly.
Anthony Nese & Caleb Konley vs Trent Baretta & Rey Horus
Rey Horus and Trent Baretta came out for their scheduled match, but Baretta’s former comrades came out to enjoy watching them beat on each other. Baretta making mocking hand motions to speed things up and checking his imaginary watch as Val went on and on was highly amusing. Baretta got on the mic when she finished and insulted Val until he successfully goaded Konley into accepting a tag matchof the PAB vs him and his “new best friend” Rey Horus (complete with hug to signify their impromptu partnership and “new best friends” chant from the crowd).
While the PAB is a bit too methodical on offense, to the point of losing the crowd, this started hot and picked back up towards the end. Horus had a couple of awkward spots, but overall looked good in my first exposure to him and I’d actually like to see him team with Baretta again sometime.
Baretta was the highlight inside the ring for me. His mannerisms are fantastic and add a lot to his performances, and his ringwork is high octane and fun to watch. Outside the ring Val stole the show. Her reactions to what her team is doing (or suffering) at any given moment are pitch perfect and significantly help fire up the crowd against them.
Johnny Gargano vs Ethan Page
The latest confrontation in Gargano’s war with his former protege took the form of an anything goes match that spilled all over the venue. They spent very little time in the ring before brawling to the floor and into the crowd. On the one hand it was cool that they essentially did a circle around the ring and went through all areas of fans. On the other that meant I couldn’t see what was happening when there weren’t near me, which was close to three quarters of the match. What I did see was decent and they came up with some unique spots on the outside.
The end sequence was up and down. Gargano came up short on what seemed to be a lawn dart attempt across the ring sending Page into a chair wedged in the opposite corner and dropped him a few feet away. They picked things back up with a chair duel that broke pieces off of the plastic chair they were smashing together. Rich Swann came out to “protect” Gargano from taking anymore chair shots and completely unsurprisingly turned on him and helped Page put him down for the count. This was good, but felt like it was missing something that kept it from being great.
Page and Swann adequately explained the turn (and revealed Swann as Gargano’s mystery opponent for the next show), but the promo ran a bit too long and Swann needed to show more anger and resentment. It was too mocking/gloating for someone supposedly fed up with being in Gargano’s shadow. They’re also going to have to do something special with this going forward, because even with the face/heel dynamic reversed Gargano/Swann really feels “been there, done that.” We’ll see how it goes.
Evolve Title Match: Timothy Thatcher (c) vs Zack Sabre Jr.
This is the match I went to see. Thatcher is my favorite wrestler at the moment and what I’ve seen of Sabre so far has been extremely impressive, so to say I was psyched for this match would be a vast understatement.
I think the term “wrestling clinic” is thrown around too much, but if ever it was appropriate it’s here. Thatcher and Sabre spent the entire match fighting over holds and reversals trying to get an advantage. And that was the key: they FOUGHT for everything. Nothing looked like a “sequence,” it always looked like two guys desperately trying to gain an advantage over one another and win the match.
It’s extremely difficult to keep an entirely grappling based match gripping throughout and never lose the crowd, especially in the main event of a card that featured high flying, strikefests, and no-DQ savagery. It’s an accomplishment that speaks volumes about the skills of both men. I remember a particularly great stretch that featured an exchange of strangleholds for several minutes, and there were tons of innovative reversals and holds that had the fans oohing and aahing.
Sabre added some stiff kicks late in the match and Thatcher some suplexes, but it came back down to the grappling with Sabre focusing on Thatcher’s arm and Thatcher going after Sabre’s legs. In the end Thatcher reversed into a heel hook Sabre couldn’t get out of. Phenomenal match I’m ecstatic I got to see live.
Despite missing the opening I still more than got my money’s worth from Evolve’s latest show. Loved two matches and the other two were very good at worst. The roster is filled with exceptional talent wrestling diverse styles and as a whole things are clicking nicely. Thatcher is a fantastic champion and I hope his reign is a long one.