August 12, 2017 in Queens, NY
Evolve returned Queens yesterday, but in a new venue at Elmcor Youth and Adult Activities Center, presumably to better handle the large crowd expected for Progress wrestling’s NY debut in the second half of the double header.
I want to spend the majority of this talking about the wrestling, so let me address this upfront: the venue turned out to be a horrible choice for the Progress event. During the Evolve event it was largely fine (although the floor seats and ring being down a giant set of bleachers was not at all disability friendly). But there were plenty of seats open for that event and no standing room fans. For Progress every seat was taken, both reserved and GA bleachers, and there were tons of standing room tickets sold. The arena became a suana, with no air flow at all and an unbearable level of heat. Cramming 1,500+ people into that space was irresponsible and dangerous. Two fans needed help from fainting.
Most disappointing has been the reactions I’ve seen, both from fans not at the venue and people involved with WWNLive. There’re undercurrents that it’s somehow wrong to “complain” about this situation because it could damage the company/business and that this type of things should be expected and just has to be accepted when attending indie events. Both are utter nonsense. People should not have to fear heat exhaustion nor fainting when going to an event they paid money for, nor should everyone have to rush to concessions to literally buy bottles of water in handfuls (which was only available on and off) to try and prevent such things. The venue was improperly ventilated and cooled, and way oversold. As fans we have to stop accepting this as normal, and call out those who dismiss valid concerns as “moaning and complaining.”
I would like to note that Progress has not yet made a statement about this (due to being busy with something else I’ll discuss later), and was extremely apologetic about the heat during the show. Also, the wrestlers (who were clearly suffering from the sweltering conditions themselves) ran to get water for a fainting fan in the front row and stood in front of him fanning him. It seemed they were doing everything they could to deal with the unfortunate circumstances. If they arranged the venue (which is unlikely considering it was a double header with an established company in this country), I hope they accept responsibility and do better in the future. If WWNLive did (which is probable), I hope Progress holds them accountable and takes steps to ensure a safer environment for their fans next time.
Alright, on to the shows themselves.
The “Troll Boys” of Ethan Page and ACH came out together for the opening contest against each other, which was meant as punishment for not taking their last match seriously and goofing around. So they didn’t take this one seriously and goofed around, putting on a parody match poking fun at a lot of the current conventions in well regarded matches. Page is better at the comedy stuff than ACH, so this was uneven. The angle also appears to be backfiring a bit, as most of the crowd is highly amused by the petulant, selfish antics of these two and thus they’re getting over as FACES by being assholes. That’s not really good for any of the stories Evolve’s trying to tell. Hard to rate this. I didn’t like it and again if they’re supposed to be heels it was a failure, but in straight up terms of getting a crowd reaction it definitely succeeded.
As expected, Darby Allin defeated Timothy Thatcher in their rematch by surprising the veteran with some nice grapple based wrestling to further Darby’s quest to be seen as more than a stuntman. Him pulling out the coffin drop to the floor again undercuts that sentiment, but overall the story was solid and Darby is improving in the ring (although I personally don’t care for his style). Thatcher of course played his part to perfection in putting the rookie over on what seemed like his way out of Evolve for a while. Shame, as he’s one of my favorite parts of the promotion.
EVOLVE Tag Team Champions James Drake & Anthony Henry are making quite a strong impression so far and looked very good against a surprisingly fun makeshift team of Fred Yehi & Jason Kincaid. Kincaid continues to really make the most of his gimmick and the slow burn angle of the zen master having trouble controlling his temper is progressing nicely.
The Progress involvement in the latter half of the show was excellent, with a strong match between Mark Haskins and Austin Theory and a hell of a tag match between Chris Dickinson & Jaka and The South Pacific Power Trip (Travis Banks & TK Cooper). All six men involved in those two matches looked quite good.
The main event fatal four way for the WWN Title was as great as expected. There were nice threads running underneath the hard hitting action, such as bitter rivals Matt Riddle and Tracy Williams breifly working together to try to control their much larger opponents (Keith Lee and WALTER) to retain, Williams acting like a vulture constantly trying to take advantage of everyone else’s work to steal a win, and the two behemoths getting interrupted a few times before finally laying into each other. The strikes Riddle, Lee, and Walter hit each other with were unreal. One incredible spot saw Lee German suplex Walter while Walter was trying to do so to Riddle, sending the champ FLYING across the ring. In a somewhat surprising finish Riddle made Williams tap in the center of the ring with the Bromission, seemingly definitively dealing with his former stablemate without a singles match. Excellent stuff overall. Lee and Riddle have another tentative fist bump after the match, and it’s clear at some point Lee’s going to lose patience with coming up short to his friend and snap in spectacular fashion.
Good show from Evolve with a lot of strong action and a good look at some of the Progress talent which got me even more excited for the second show to come.
This was my first experience with Progress, and it certainly lived up to the hype. The atmosphere was INCREDIBLE, with the crowd going nuts right off the bat and launching into a “please come back” chant as soon as the show started. Jimmy Smallman was overwhelmed and extremely gracious and grateful. He addressed the topic on everybody’s mind right away, bringing out Pete Dunne who was scheduled to defend the WWE European Title against Jack Gallagher but was injured the night before and not cleared to wrestle. Dunne, who the crowd was thrilled to see at all, was masterful in getting them to boo him regardless and eventually stomped off when Jack came out to issue a challenge for a later date. Zack Gibson then came out to run down Jack to boos so loud he could barely cut his promo, and we had our replacement match. It was a treat to see Jack live and they held nothing back, putting on a strong opener with absolutely incredible heat.
The other bonus appearance of WWE contracted talent was next as Dakota Kai (the former Evie) teamed with Dahlia Black (who had seconded the South Pacific Power Trip during the Evolve show) against Jinny & Deonna Purazzo. A little rough in parts and Jinny seemed rather limited in the ring, but this was a very good tag match overall that got the crowd involved after energy dropped a little following Jack’s match. Kai’s past was acknowledged with healthy “Team Kick” chants. Good job and excellent effort from all four. Nice Progress debut’s for Kai and Purazzo.
In a contest featuring two of my personal favorites, Timothy Thatcher defeated Donovan Dijak in a number one contendership match for Progress’ Atlas Championship. Dijak is so smooth and fluid (especially for his size) he’s always a pleasure to watch. Really enjoyed this battle of Dijak’s agility against Thatcher’s ground game.
The next match was said to be ending the first half because “there will probably be a lot of clean up needed” following it, and everyone knew it was tim for Jimmy Havoc’s no-DQ match against the debuting Joey Janela. In a crazy match featuring cinder blocks, tables, and Janela being dropped barefoot first onto thumbtacks, the most impressive spot was amusingly Janela being monkey-flipped out of a chair by Havoc, holding onto it, and landing STILL SEATED in the chair. This was great, and Havoc’s everything I’d heard and more.
After intermission, Smallman pointed out a fan in the front row that had travelled to see the show, and it turned into a marriage proposal to his girlfriend next to him. The crowd got into the happy moment and it was a wonderful thing to share in. 🙂 Really awesome of Progress to make time during their show for a special moment for a fan.
Then Mark Haskins and Mark Andrews came out for their previously advertised three-way with Zack Gibson. Smallman said it was advertised as a multi-man match, so that’s what we were getting, and called out a third man in the form of Austin Theory. Great choice, as not only is Theory an extremely capable rising star with good heat behind his current heel gimmick, he had some built in backstory from losing to Haskins on the Evolve show earlier in the day. But before they can start Smallman says it’s an important night so let’s go big and make it a four-way, and out comes Keith Lee (!!!) to a thunderous reaction. Excellent match, with everyone firing on all cylinders and the monstrous Lee once again demonstrating why he’s both incredible and crazy by throwing people around, attempting moonsaults, and taking Canadian Destroyers and reverse ranas. One jaw dropping spot saw a normal looking tower of doom arrangement turned on its head when Lee walked out of the corner carrying Theory in powerbomb position, who was STILL HOLDING Andrews straight up in superplex position. The strength and balance of all three men there is amazing. By a slim margin this may have been my favorite of the night.
The big Progress’ Tag Title match seeing British Strong Style (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) defend against The South Pacific Power Trip (TK Cooper & Travis Banks) was cut short early when Cooper injured his ankle on a corkscrew dive to the floor. Once the ref threw up the “x” and had people coming out to help Smallman explained that TK was injured and asked everyone to please be patient while they figured out what was going on. While this was happening a fan in the front row opposite had medical issues (apparently due to dehydration) and British Strong Style got him water and fanned him while Tk was being checked across the ring. The fan was helped out and TK eventually carried out by wrestlers. It’s been reported that TK dislocated his ankle, and the Progress crew was in the hospital with him last night after the show before heading to Boston for today’s. Smallman thanked the crowd for their patience and respect afterwards during the unexpected, unfortunate situation.
He then said that Banks was insisting on fighting, and while it’d have to be non-title, if we wanted to see it there could be a handicap match between him and the champs. Banks said now it’s “not about titles anymore, it’s about family.” They did a good job adjusting and putting on a decent little underdog match that saw Banks eventually use the champs’ numbers against them and neutralize the interfering Dunne to isolate one member and get a quick three count for the feel good win.
Last up was Progress’ Atlas Champion WALTER defending the title against the man he won it from, Matt Riddle. After seeing the two of them interact during the WWN four-way title match I was hyped up for this, and it was fantastic. They hit the hell out of each other, Riddle bounced around as Walter showed his strength, and Riddle showed his own astounding strength tossing Walter and hitting THREE Bro-to-Sleeps throughout the match. Eventually The King of Bros locked in the Bromission to win the title back and send the crowd into a frenzy.
From the action to the atmosphere to the way they operated in difficult circumstances Progress’ NYC debut was a huge success. The hellish venue was unfortunate, but the show itself was incredible and a wonderful introduction for me to a promotion I’ve heard a ton about.