August 20, 2016 in Brooklyn, NY
Evolve was at St. Finbar Church’s Gymnasium in Brooklyn for the first time as opposed to their usual La Boom location in Queens to provide easier travel to those (like me) making a double header out of this afternoon show and NXT Takeover at the Barclay’s Center later that night. Decent venue size and setup-wise, but there was no AC so it was BRUTAL in the heat department being mid-August in NYC and all. I felt bad for the poor wrestlers.
Ethan Page continued his role as “gatekeeper” of sorts for the roster facing new talent out of their seminars. Here he squashed Kobe Durst handily and cut another promo begging the absent Johnny Gargano to forgive him before Gargano departs the indies in Sept.
Tony Nese has been looking better and better every time he wrestles and I had been impressed with Peter Kaasa in Evolve before his injury and tour of Japan, so the next match seemed like a potential show stealer. Sadly they never quite got on the same page and while fine, this match didn’t live up to its potential. Kaasa seemed uncharacteristically sloppy, especially when on “defense.” Still had nice moments (these two are great in the air and wowed the crowd at times) and was good overall, but odd flow and the previous mentioned things held this back.
The two matches I was most looking forward to were next, and both Matt Riddle vs Tommy End and Zach Sabre Jr. vs Cedric Alexander delivered big time. Riddle is INSANELY good for his level of experience and in particular showed how far his selling has come during this match. His full commitment to the intricacies of pro-wrestling and his dedication to improve are on constant display. He and End beat the high holy hell out of each other and if this was in fact End’s goodbye to Evolve it was a perfectly fitting one. Would love to see a rematch later in these two men’s careers.
Apologies for the cliche, but Sabre and Alexander put on a clinic, and just edged out Riddle vs End for best match of the show. Sabre showing signs of a cocky bastard personality (which is new for him in Evolve) was amusing and excellently integrated into the flow of the match. Zach’s really taken it up to another level recently and is the most consistently near-flawless performer in the business. Everything he does has precision and meaning, and the crowd was enthralled both by the excruciating looking pretzels he kept tying Cedric up in as well as the vicious strikes he delivered once he turned it up late match.
Alexander has also been on the roll of his life since debuting in Evolve and working in the CWC. He looks faster and crisper than ever, and more than held up his part of the bargain in there with the greatest technician in the world. Just incredible work from these two, and this and Riddle vs End are easily worth the price of the replay alone if you haven’t seen them. Sabre cuts an arrogant promo after the match further shows signs of heel tendencies. Should be an interesting direction for him going forward.
Cody Rhodes made his indie debut the previous night at Evolve 66, and continued the transition to his post-WWE career here against Chris Hero. Leading up to the event Drew Galloway had made overtures that Rhodes would be joining his crusade alongside Hero, ECIII and DUSTIN (the former Chuck Taylor) against Evolve and its heroes. Rhodes emphatically turned him down going into this match against Hero. They wisely decided to go for an intense brawl template for the match to keep things reasonable as Cody adjusts to Evolve’s style. He looked good from what I saw, although they fought all over the arena so there were chunks I missed. Cute sequence saw Hero grabbing a sign from a fan with an image of Dusty and trying to hit Cody from the top with it, only to have Cody block, take it, give his dad a kiss and then put the sign down and continue attacking Hero. Galloway eventually ran out to blast Cody in the head with a cowbell behind the refs back, setting up a deathblow from Hero for the pin. Hero worked HARD here to make the NYC crowd, who worship the ground he walks on, boo him and cheer Cody. Good match, which set Cody up as a solid face and built a feud with him and Galloway’s faction.
Galloway and Hero cut promos calling Rhodes an idiot for shunning them, then Drew Gulak runs out to save and calls out Timothy Thatcher (c) for their Evolve title match. I’m a big fan of Thatcher and haven’t soured on him as much as other fans this year and while Gulak isn’t a favorite of mine he’s more than capable of great contests, but this was the epitome of the wrong match at the wrong time in front of the wrong crowd and bombed miserably.
The basics of the match weren’t bad, but they had a planned template and stubbornly stuck to it despite losing the crowd early, never even TRYING to vary their formula and get the fans back into it. It hurts to say it but I expected better from both given their experience and talent. Thatcher’s methodical domination did fit with his post match heel turn, but with that kind of story Gulak needed to be doing much more to make the crowd buy into him, including things like more expressive selling, more exciting and impressive comeback spots, and just generally trying to raise the crowd energy in the face of the plodding monster Thatcher was playing. Bad night for a couple of pros.
I’m torn on Thatcher’s victory. The crowd was more than ready for him to drop the title, but Gulak is not a good enough face to carry the company after slaying the monster. I worry about that with all of Catch Point actually, as the only member of the group that are now the defacto top faces of the company that is legitimately, consistently cheered is the one actively trying to stay heel. As for Thatcher, while I feel the match story building to the heel turn was extremely counterproductive to the redemption angle that’s been running all summer as well as to the excitement fans should have had about him finally beating Gulak in Evolve, it was responsive to the fans changing attitude to him and gives a different course to pursue as his reign continues.
The turn was emphatic though, as Thatcher just lays waste to Gulak after the match in response to Gulak finally showing a little respect and offering Thatcher a handshake. Tracy Williams tries to save (why just him?!), but ECIII and DUSTIN (c) attack and destroy his knee while Thatcher leaves Gulak in a heap for Drew Galloway’s (c) crew of vultures to pick at. Galloway grabs a mic and tries to lure Joey Styles to join them as their mouthpiece.
Fred Yehi and TJP FINALLY run out and the no-DQ six man for the Evolve Tag Team titles starts. Williams is brought to the back though, leaving it 3-on-2 for a bit. There had to be a better way to do this, as Yehi and TJP looked liked idiots not coming out to help their stablemates earlier. Don’t know if Williams was written out due to injury here. If not, he was the wrong person to remove as he’s the most interesting member of Catch Point save for Matt Riddle. Speaking of Riddle, where the hell was he during all of this? He needs to be called out be EVERY other member of Catch Point at the next show to have this make any sense whatsoever.
Various combinations of members traded moves in the ring while DUSTIN painstakingly set up a crash pad of chairs for himself to be sent into later in the match. Ethan Page came out after a little while to make the teams even. The crowd was excited throughout this, which helped a lot and is a credit to the charisma and instincts of the wrestlers involved, but objectively the action wasn’t great and I don’t think this will come across as well on “tape” as it did live. A botched finish really cooled things down too, as the ref stopped counting before 3 with no kickout by TJP after an Awful Waffle from DUSTIN. The Waffle has been treated like flaming death as a finish, so I’m going to guess it was the ref screwing up and not TJP forgetting to kick out. I can’t imagine him kicking out of the Waffle only to eat an immediate piledriver for 3 was the planned finish.
Rhodes ran out to save and clear the heels, then Joey Styles came down to respond to Galloway’s offer by insulting every member of Galloway’s alliance and setting up Galloway and Hero vs Gargano and Rhodes as Johnny’s farewell to Evolve on Sept 11 in Queens. Styles comedy was meh and his part wasn’t needed. Rhodes gives a solid end of show promo to wrap things up and reinforce him as a potential cornerstone face of Evolve going forward.
Let’s be honest: the two main events weren’t remotely what they should have been. But I still appreciate Evolve trying to give a wide variety of match types and trying a little too hard and trying to shake things up resulting in having a couple aspects fall apart is INFINITELY better than federations that phone it in or play it so safe everything’s boring. As I mentioned above there are still two matches I think are worth the replay on their own, along with a fun brawl from Hero and Rhodes. While not up to their usual standards overall, even on an off night there’s plenty to enjoy at an Evolve show.
Mild recommendation, and fingers crossed for things to get back to normal and come together better both in the ring and storyline-wise going forward in the wake of Thatcher’s turn and Rhodes introduction as a top face.