September 11, 2016 in Queens, NY
Evolve was back at La Boom in Queens for Johnny Gargano’s farewell as he heads to the WWE. Before the show the National Anthem was sung in remembrance of 9/11.
One of the themes for the night was a series of “New Talent Showcases,” where newer wrestlers got opportunities against established roster members. The show opened with one of these is the form of Darby Allin vs Tony Nese. Darby has been on the last few Evolve shows but has been unsuccessful, and was given a “win or leave” ultimatum for the weekend. So after Darby’s loss to TJP at Evolve 68 this had the added wrinkle of Darby being gone from Evolve if he couldn’t beat Nese. Telegraphed the finish somewhat, but it did get the crowd seriously behind Darby and there was some doubt cast by Nese’s big win over Riddle the previous night, making it less likely he’d lose to Darby after such a high profile victory.
This was a hot opener. Although Darby’s style still makes me nervous, the spots here seemed better planned and thankfully there was nothing like the scare last time he was in Queens for Evolve 64 (when he came down on his neck after hitting his legs on the guardrail during a summersault to the outside). Nese’s CWC experience has done him well, as he looks sharper than ever. Allin survives long enough to surprise Nese with a rollup for the pin, making the crowd EXPLODE. My personal reservations aside, this was set up perfectly for Darby’s big moment.
Joey Styles comes out to offer Darby a contract due to his win, which Nese grabs away in a nice little tease. He then welcomes Allin to Evolve and hands him back the contract. On his way out however, Nese cryptically warns “this is the last time you’ll face this version of me.” Intriguing.
Fred Yehi was out next for the second of the four new talent tests. Yehi’s “TROUBLE!” gimmick really annoys me, and honestly I’m not a big fan of his ring style in the first place, but Travis “Flip” Gordon was the best of the newcomers and this ended up a fun, energetic contest.
Yehi wins with the koji clutch, which I’ll admit makes me happy since the move looks vicious and I’ve been waiting forever for someone to make it a feared finisher instead of the wear down hold it’s always been for Christopher Daniels. Definitely want to see Flip return.
Tracy Williams was the next mainstay to be challenged, in this case by Chuck O’Neil. Chuck looks to be another wrestler in Williams’ own vein, working the grapple heavy / quasi-MMA style Williams, Gulak, Thatcher, etc have popularized. This was good, and started and ended strong, but was held back just a little by dragging in the middle. O’Neil needs a bit more “something” to consistently hook the crowd, but he has potential and I’d like to see him back.
As Williams celebrated his win, DUSTIN attacked him from behind with a chair. DUSTIN and Drew Galloway stick his leg in the chair and stomp on it before Drew Gulak and Yehi can make the save. Williams is writhing in pain and Gulak is FUMING. After Galloway and DUSTIN run off he demands the latter come back out for their match.
Gulak is all over him to start, finally showing some real emotion and fire and looking like the valiant fighter he’s been trying to portray. This was all about putting heat on DUSTIN (and Galloway), and worked well in that regard. The finish with Galloway distracting the ref and slipping a chair in the ring for DUSTIN to DDT Gulak onto would be important later.
After Gulak is helped to the back David Starr comes out, and the crowd is quite excited to see him. He’s a bit spotty for my personal tastes, but had a fun contest here with Ethan Page that was half comedy, riffing on CM Punk’s UFC debut, then kicked into hard hitting mode for the remainder.
Highlights included a sick suplex neckbreaker across the knee by Starr, a slick RKEGO, and a finish which saw them fight on the turnbuckle until Ego knocked Starr down and jumped into perfect position for the cradle piledriver. Page helps Starr to the back, so his quest for Gargano’s forgiveness before the latter leaves would apparently unfold before or after Gargano’s match in the main event.
TJP’s last match in Evolve is up next against Matt Riddle, as a result of a challenge by TJP’s manager Stokely Hathaway last time Evolve was in Queens. Before the bell Drew Gulak storms out and asks where the hell TJP and Riddle were when Tracy was being attacked and Gulak was laid out with a chair. Hathaway says sorry but with TJP on his way to WWE RAW he has no time or interest for a war with Galloway and company. Riddle simply says he’s here to wrestle.
This was a bit odd, as Gulak is 100% right to be livid with his supposed teammates for not coming to his aid, but the crowd likes TJP and Riddle FAR more than Gulak so no one was on his side here.
Gulak leaves peacefully and the match begins. I find TJP hit or miss, but when “on” and with the right opponent he can make magic, and wrestling’s biggest rising star Matt Riddle was certainly game, so this ended up being the best TJP match I’ve ever seen.
They traded holds, strikes, and suplexes with a lot of flair and precision. I am constantly amazed with how incredible Riddle’s become in so little time in the sport. Selling from both was a bit lax down the stretch, but overall this was fantastic and was neck and neck with the next match for best of the night.
I was pleasantly surprised with Riddle’s victory, as with his loss to Nese on Evolve 68 I wondered if he was being protected as much anymore, and with TJP still a part of the CWC I wasn’t sure he’d be “able” to drop the fall. It was the right move, and kudos for TJP making Riddle look like a million bucks on his way out.
Hathaway said some words, brought out a couple of women, and showered TJP with play money as a goodbye celebration. Stokely’s attempted quotation was awkward and there was nothing to this, but as a moment for the departing TJP it was fine.
Great to see Ricochet back in Evolve, and he and Zack Sabre Jr. had a hell of a semi-main event. Ricochet really shouldn’t have been able to do most of his late match stuff given the way Sabre destroyed his arm all match, but outside of that bit of dodgy selling this was phenomenal. Zack’s precision in everything he does is a sight to behold.
I was mildly surprised at Ricochet’s win here, as Zack had been building momentum, but Zack’s temper tantrum after losing plays towards his increasing heel tendencies and a huge win like this could vault Ricochet right back into title contention.
The reaction for Johnny Gargano as he came out for his final Evolve match was as loud as expected, and deserved. Cody Rhodes got a good ovation too coming out to team with Johnny against Drew Galloway and Chris Hero. Chris is always cheered in NYC, but did his best to reenforce his heel character throughout the match. Galloway and DUSTIN (in the corner with his stablemates) have become fantastic heels, agitating the crowd at every turn and providing some of the clear cut villains Evolve needs.
Cody started against Hero and got some additional cheers early on due to his treating the fans to pizza before the show, and played into it a little to really fire everyone up. Once they got serious this was a hard hitting affair.
Highlights included Cody hitting the delayed vertical on Hero, Gargano eating a hard shot as soon as he came in for the first time for a super close 2 that nearly caused a riot, a virtual “superkick party” on Galloway by both opponents, and an intense sequence where Galloway hit a tombstone and held the position for Hero to grab Gargano for a piledriver.
End comes with double submission on Hero, then Cody breaks the leglock to chase off Galloway, and Hero taps to the Gargano escape. Afterwards Rhodes puts over Gargano and leaves him to have his goodbye moment with the crowd.
Gargano teases walking out a few times, but then grabs the mic… and here’s Ethan Page from behind to pick his spot for the big heel turn. Page DESTROYS Gargano and cuts a scathing promo saying even though Gargano was smart enough not to forgive him when he had fooled everyone else, Ethan Page will always be the smartest man in the room. He then brings out two huge guys in shirts and ties to keep anyone from interfering his “goodbye” to Gargano.
Darby Allin of all people attempts the save, and sure enough it’s so he can be thrown over the top to the outside by the goons onto a gaggle of refs. Where the hell is Gargano’s partner from FIVE MINUTES AGO?! I understand the dramatic necessity of giving Page some time alone with Johnny, and not having his goons easily dispatch of a top face, but this doesn’t portray Rhodes in a good light.
Page has the goons pic up Gargano for the farewell speech everyone wanted and speaks for Gargano in a great dick move that elevates his already molten heat higher. When he’s done he says his goodbye gift is to the locker room, having served up Gargano for anyone with a grudge. He leaves with his muscle and Galloway and DUSTIN are out, storming the stage for the Evolve banner and draping it over Johnny like a burial shroud. Riddle comes out with a big smile and Galloway offers the handshake to finally have Matt join his crusade. Riddle accepts the hand… then uses the grip to kick Galloway in the head. TREMENDOUS. Riddle clears the ring, helps Johnny up, shakes hands, and is endorsed by Gargano as the one to carry his torch. Evolve is Bro.
Page turning again and revealing this long redemption thing was all a trick was what I was a little worried about when watching the long simmering angle unfold on past shows. It seemed much more likely to me than Gargano forgiving him and passing the torch, which honestly would have been a bit more refreshing. But in retrospect it wouldn’t have been as impactful as they used the big reveal here to make TWO giant stars and Page plays the evil mastermind extremely well.
I just hope they don’t ever plan to turn him face again, as no one will buy it.
Excellent show with an incredible atmosphere that was a perfect farewell to the lynchpin of Evolve. Riddle is FINALLY the top face the crowd’s been clamoring for, and even though we’ve gone from a lack of believable heels to a glut of them at the top in just a few shows, Page’s turn was exquisitely done. I do wonder what he and DUSTIN going 2-0 for the weekend (the only ones besides Yehi to do so) does for the top contendership, because having Thatcher defend against one of them so soon after his own turn would be disastrous. There’s also the Catch Point situation to clear up, as with Riddle’s full turn the crowd will boo Gulak and co if they continue to butt heads with the Bro. But whatever is in store for the future of Evolve it’ll be interesting.
Phenomenal show in both storytelling and action, with a powerful, emotional end. Definitely catch the replay.