January 27, 2017 in San Antonio, TX
Evolve starts out 2017 in a big way with the return of their champion and a farewell weekend to Chris Hero, who has been on the roll of his life the last year and a rightful centerpiece in Evolve.
This was my first event on Floslam, and the stream was quite good. No buffering problems and a clear picture.
The new Catch Point comes out in force to start, with all five members (leader Tracy Williams, his tag team championship partner Fred Yehi, Matt Riddle, and the two new members Chris Dickinson & Jaka) present. Good way to start. Williams starts to talk about the Catch Point philosophy, but Jaka interrupts to say he’s ready to go NOW! Out comes Kaasa for the opening contest.
1) Peter Kaasa vs Jaka **3/4
I missed the late 12016 Evolve shows, so this was my first look at some of the newer roster members, including Jaka. He seems on par with Kaasa for power, which made for a nice matchup. The theme was Kaasa showing off agility and quickness in between matching power with Jaka, and the later just trying to steamroll his faster opponent.
This threatened to slow in the middle, but a vicious headbutt out of nowhere from Jaka picked things right back up. He seemed to have really good instincts for when to hit a hard strike to keep the crowd invested. I love it when Catch Point stays out as seconds, as it fits their gimmick really well. It also leads to greta moments like Riddle reacting and cheering for his stablemate’s successes.
Unfortunately just as the match seemed to be building to a crescendo Kaasa went to the second turnbuckle for a moonsault and the rope broke beneath him, leading to a nasty spill right on his head. Thankfully he was able to get up and seemed to mostly shake it off, and the two even finished the match. Jaka wins with the sitout powerbomb and all of Catch Point show respect to Kaasa afterwards. Solid match before the accident, and they recovered nicely. It’s been confirmed that Kaasa’s ok, which is a huge relief considering how bad that fall looked. Had never seen anything like that rope breaking before (until that point…).
After a break for the ring to be fixed Catch Point came back out and Williams praised Jaka for demonstrating their philosophy so well. Chris Dickinson is chomping at the bit to prove himself as well and demands match immediately.
2) Chris Dickison vs Darby Allin **
This was a straight up formulaic power based bully against quicker, daredevil underdog match, and they used the formula fairly well. Allin’s style continues to be too reckless for my tastes, and I wish he would tone it down a bit. Allin gets a quick rollup on the more dominant Dickinson for the win, after which the latter snaps and pounds Allin after the bell. The rest of Catch Point pull him off and try to calm him down. Good booking there, as Allin needed the win and Dickinson’s temper and attitude contrasting with Catch Point’s core approach makes for a good story going forward.
Minor complaint: while Lenny was GREAT on commentary all night and added a lot to the in ring stories, if I never have to hear him say “Dirty Daddy” again it’ll be too soon.
3) DUSTIN vs. Jason Kincaid **1/2
Another first look for me, and Kincaid certain has a unique look and gimmick. He made a good impression here with exciting, innovative offense and I’d like to see more of him. In particular things like him in wheelbarrow position climbing the ropes with his hands into a headscissors were wonderfully inventive. Unfortunately DUSTIN was rather boring on offense here, which he was for most of the match. Outside of an impressive delayed suplex, even the outside the ring brawling was bland. His heel character and the brawling approach isn’t clicking. Later on in the match he got more cocky and mocking, and it was great. That’s the direction he needs to go. I’m glad he’s resisting doing comedy as a heel (which hampered his previous heel run), but he still should be trying to show personality. They put on a very strong finish, and I would have liked the rest of the match to have been in similar vein. Kincaid gets a big win with his “Compassionate Release” submission, which is fantastic both in name and as a move. His zen gimmick goes to show just about anything can work if done properly and with effort and attention to detail.
4) Grudge match: Ethan Page (with The Gatekeepers) vs. Zack Sabre Jr. ***1/2
Zack ambushes Page and company from behind during their entrance, takes out the Gatekeepers, and brawls all over ringside with Page. They really should’ve gone easy on the outside the ring brawling in the previous match given the direction here, where it was more appropriate. I like Zack’s aggressive edge here, carrying himself like someone with something to prove. And it really felt like a grudge match, with suitable intensity and moments of taunting and derision between the combatants. Zack having to really fight for the triangle choke victory was great too, as it played with the idea that past a certain amount of time in a hold the receiver would definitely get out.
Zack held on to the triangle after the match, and Darby Allin neutralized the Gatekeepers with low blows for a bit of revenge and to make sure Page would pass out staring into Darby’s own eyes.
Referee reversed the decision and awarded the match to Page for Sabre refusing to break, which fell flat. No other refs came out to try to make him break, Zack had already broken voluntarily by the time the reversal was announced, and Page has done so many “horrible” things to Zack, Gragano, Allin, etc without repercussions that this just makes the refs seem incompetent/biased. Good, heated match though.
4) ACH vs. Matt Riddle ****
ACH was clearly hyped up to cut loose a bit and show what he could do post-ROH, and he had a great debut against Evolve golden boy. Riddle came to the ring wearing his Progress Atlus Championship belt, which is a nice touch (and would play into his post match interview). ACH shows some nice grappling skills early on, but Riddle’s Riddle so he eventually gets the advantage on the ground. They had a GREAT stalemate sequence shortly thereafter with incredible evasions and counters, and they’d keep that vibe going all match. This was off formula for Riddle, with him getting super serious (which I adored) and just trading hard strikes with ACH in glorious sequences. Bro to Sleep and Cradle Fisherman Buster combo eventually give the Kings of Bros the win. Unsurprisingly ACH is going to fit into Evolve just fine.
Riddle says 2017’s been good so far (referencing his Progress title and other successes), but he’s the only member of Catch Point without a title in WWN (I assume he’s just talking about Yehi & Williams) and pledges to change that by the end of 2017. DUSTIN attacks him from behind with a chair (which he actually grabbed on his way out of his earlier match in a nice bit of continuity) and taunts him to build up their no-DQ match the next day.
This is the drawback of Catch Point’s gimmick – where the hell were they while Riddle’s being attacked with a chair?! It makes them all look bad, although I understand the dramatic necessity of DUSTIN having to get an edge on Riddle here.
5) EVOLVE Tag Team Championship Match: Tracy Williams & Fred Yehi (c) vs. Evolve Champion Timothy Thatcher (w/ Stokely Hathaway) & Jeff Cobb ***1/2
Hathaway wears Thatcher’s belt down to the ring. The pairing still boggles my mind, but it was useful to set up the story with Jeff Cobb and their teaming here in exchange for Cobb getting a shot at Thatcher next show. Great to see Thatcher back in general. He starts with Yehi and weathers the storm for a while as Catch Point make quick tags while Thatcher just strikes at whoever’s within reach. I like what I’ve seen from Cobb as a power wrestler, and he played that up in his limited time in this match.
Honestly Yehi’s style and gimmick still doesn’t work for me. I don’t find it “unorthodox,” I find it odd and unconvincing. But he’s quite over, so something about it is working for the audience in general. I on the other hand enjoyed this match much more when Williams was in. Speaking of Williams, he’s apparently the “Maltese Falcon” now instead of “Hot Sauce.” Can’t decide if that’s an improvement.
Cobb and Thatcher don’t overtly clash, but they don’t team well either and Yehi eventually catches Thatcher while Cobb’s incapacitated outside and makes him tap to the Koji Clutch (an admittedly awesome finisher). Crowd’s thrilled. I honestly wish Williams was getting this push instead. Good story told with both teams though, and Hathaway ridiculously blaming Cobb for the loss after the match add fuel to Evolve 77’s title match.
Main Event: Chris Hero vs. Keith Lee ***
“Bask in my glory” is a fantastic catch phrase for Lee that immediately tells you something about the guy you’re about to watch. There was a lot of anticipation for his debut here, and getting the main event slot against a departing legend of Evolve like Hero just increased everyone’s curiosity. Lee’s is a big man, and this was looking like a monster battle of heavyweights. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite to be.
A bit into the match the top rope broke when Hero went to bounce of the ropes. That’s twice for the night. Unbelievable. Thankfully Hero caught himself and was fine, but he was also visibly pissed. He directed Lee and they took the top rope off completely and continued the match without it. After some tentative work in the ring Hero led them outside and they wrestled on the floor a bit. Hero amusingly told the ref “it’s my weekend -no countouts!” while they were fighting on the floor but then rolled back in and made the ref try to count Lee out. Hero’s delivery made it all work. Massive credit to both Hero and Lee, because while this wasn’t the match they wanted to have they did a great job improvising under difficult circumstances. They had some wicked strike exchanges in the center of the broken ring to keep the crowd fired up.
Unfortunately fate wasn’t done with Evolve’s ring yet. Late in the match Lee went to the second rope (now effectively the top) for a moonsault and IT FREAKIN’ BROKE AGAIN, sending Lee tumbling backward into essentially a senton onto Hero. Hero looked like he had been starting to roll out of the way of the moonsault, so I was actually mostly worried for him being caught in an odd position under Lee on that fall. Thankfully they were both ok (again). Hero hammered on Lee with elbows until finally hitting a (very impressive) Gotch Piledriver on the big man for the win.
Hero praised Lee (and cursed the ring) afterwards, although he said LEe was missing a killer instinct he needed to achieve his potential. At that, Zack Sabre Jr. came out to interrupt and said Hero will see killer instinct tomorrow, and he’s not allowed to leave until Sabre finally beats him . Then “Chris Hero can stay and Kassius Ohno can piss off to Florida.” Great little promo from Zack leading into Hero’s final match.
It’s thankfully amazing that no one was hurt with the ring breaking three times in one night, and the talent did an amazing job of adapting. Add in solid performances throughout the card and an excellent ACH vs Riddle match and this is an easy recommendation despite being one of Evolve’s unluckiest nights. Shortly after the show it was tweeted that they already had a new ring for Evolve 77, so hopefully that aberration is behind them.