Evolve 100 Live Review

February 17, 2018 in Queens, NY

Big milestone for Evolve as they had their 100th show last month in their recent home base of La Boom. Here’s a rundown of my impressions from seeing it live.

 

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The stipulation of the opening 3-way specifying Darby Allin would lose his spot in the next day’s major 4-way if he lost to either Jarek 120 or Jason Kincaid was likely meant to add intrigue, but instead it made it made Allin’s win feel like a forgone conclusion. The whole “prelim” (pre-show) concept with wrestlers who don’t win enough having to earn their way back to the “main card” also isn’t really working because it’s regulars stuck there and with it also being broadcast as part of the ippv it’s actually just the opener. Also, by calling it preliminary a lot of people were still filing in during the match instead of being in their seats paying attention. Action was decent. I really like Kincaid and have been impressed with Jarek the couple times I’ve seen him, and both deserve better opportunities. Allin’s not a favorite of mine, so him being a centerpiece always seems to end up with the match capping out at decent for me. He’s over in general though, so I certainly can’t blame Evolve for pushing him.

 

Fred Yehi reigned in his normal mannerisms and “unusual” offense a bit against Dominic Garrini, which was a big plus for me. But unfortunately I thought these two didn’t mesh well and this was my least favorite match of the night. Making matters worse, Yehi’s after match promo was honestly awful, with him rambling about being better than a second match wrestler (which is a direct rehash of ACH’s angle last year, who did it better) before somehow spinning that into calling himself a “savage-weight.” I have no idea what that was supposed to accomplish, but Yehi apparently leaving Evolve shortly after this due to stalled contract negotiations I suppose I don’t need to.

 

Things picked up with Anthony Henry vs Tracy Williams, who put on a solid match that really played to the strengths of each to good effect. The angle of Williams struggling as Catch Point’s leader continues to build here too with Henry’s upset victory.

 

The End (Odinson & Parrow w/ Drennen) then came out to brawl with Williams’ stablemates Chris Dickinson & Jaka, and the tag title match was on. This went about five minutes before being thrown out and was an absolutely crazy brawl. Live this was totally satisfying, with neither the short length nor inconclusive finish mattering because of the intensity and atmosphere. But I imagine watching through a screen it could have been disappointing for such an anticipated title match. Still, no complaints from me and was one of the highlights of the night.

 

Amazingly though, the match that had to follow all that chaos was actually the best of the show, as Matt Riddle and James Drake beat the HELL out of each other in a star making performance for Drake. His chops drew blood from Riddle’s chest early, and Riddle turned Drake’s bright red in turn, and they just kept upping the ante as things went. Also, most importantly, there was a logical, well executed structure underlying the match and all the impressive violence. Riddle also continued his angle of asking for no rope break matches (which Drake agreed to), and they used it well without belaboring the point. Just fantastic stuff all around.

 

Two huge singles title matches ended the show in a double main event, starting with Keith Lee defending his WWN LIve title against the first Evolve champion AR Fox. The latter had his “crew” with him who ran interference several times to give the larger champion some additional problems to solve and also added a fair amount of energy to things with their vocal support of Fox. Impressive size vs speed battle that escalated nicely and provided opportunities for Lee to show his own agility as well. Although while I understand how impressive it is for someone Lee’s size to take a Canadian Destroyer, really he shouldn’t unless it’s going to be the finish. Or at the very least do the leg on the rope thing to break it instead of a full kickout. That minor gripe aside, this was great.

 

Finally the Evolve title was on the line as Austin Theory challenged Zack Sabre Jr. Theory’s fully embraced heel character, and was a credible threat to Sabre in another great match until the champion just tied him up one time too many and forced him to tap.

The after match stuff got kind of odd. Riddle came out during Sabre’s post show speech to challenge him, and was essentially told “sure if you become the #1 contender.” The lack of logic behind when Sabre just accepts random challenges and when he tells the hottest star of the promotion “not yet” is lazy booking. Riddle’s happy response of “so you’re saying there’s a chance” was awesome though.

After Sabre leaves Theory jumps Riddle (after a distraction from Priscilla Kelly) and leaves him lying. He then calls himself the future of Evolve, and was really left out to dry by the progression because the crowd just drowns him out with a “you just lost” chant. Theory wasn’t able to react well to crowd’s heckling, leaving him in awkward spot as he tried to continue with the script and the crowd was having none of it. Not his fault. They really should have switched him and Fox or something if they needed him to give this kind of promo after jumping Riddle, instead of having him act confident and like a killer and calling himself a legend literal seconds after tapping out in a title match.

As Theory leaves Riddle picks himself up really none the worse for wear and gives the usual thanks for coming speech. I appreciate the thought and adore Riddle but could have done without this if it meant actually selling the effects of Theory’s beating.

 

Although I did have some issues with the logic and booking, overall this was an extremely enjoyable show with strong action and an incredible atmosphere.

Evolve 91 and Progress NYC Live Review

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.

 

Evolve 91

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

Progress

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

Evolve 87 Live Review

June 25, 2017 in Queens, NY

Evolve returned to La Boom last weekend with a big card headlined by two of their most popular stars colliding for the WWN Championship.

Here’s a quick rundown of my thoughts from attending live.

 

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During the opening announcements Lenny Leonard shares that this will be the last time both the Evolve and WWN titles are defended on the same show. Silly to make that an actual policy instead of just moving that direction quietly, as the option to have both defended so when appropriate is now limited. Also considering what the WWN title is supposed to be this comes across as inconsistent and unnecessary if it’s still going to be defended on FIP shows when there’s a FIP title defense, etc.

 

1) Tracy Williams vs ACH 

Decent opener, continuing both Williams winning streak and ascension as a threat as well as ACH’s parallel losing efforts and rising frustration. ACH hit a pair of insane topes to Williams that broke the guardrail and wiped out several members of the front row. Given everyone seemed ok, the dives were pretty awesome. Something about Williams’ current style isn’t drawing me into his matches the way he used to, but this was still solid.

After the match ACH’s impending heel turn took another step as he snapped at the ref when asked if he was ok. “Are you serious?” Of course I’m not ok. This is the first match, and I’m better than the first match.”

 

2) Timothy Thatcher vs Jason Kincaid

I was extremely excited for this one, as Kinclaid’s gimmick is a fresh and interesting one and Thatcher is a personal favorite of mine. The advertised clash of styles led to a fantastic encounter, with Kincaid befuddling the vet just a little and trying to adapt to stay alive but eventually getting too much into Thatcher’s grappling game and falling short. Kincaid’s showing cracks in his zen outlook, which should be interesting.

 

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Thatcher’s relentless grinding down of his opponents is a treat to watch, and he’s downright despised as a heel in NYC so the heat was off the charts (overall the crowd was nicely loud and engaged all night). And the best part is he wasn’t done yet…

 

3) Fred Yehi vs Chris Dickinson 

This was a pretty by the books Yehi match. The crowd’s generally behind him so it was well received. I personally don’t enjoy his gimmick or ring style, so this was my least favorite of the night. Not knocking the effort of either though, and Dickinson looked great.

Yehi has now torn through both tag champs. It seemed to be setting up for a match with Catch Point’s leader (and Yehi’s ex-partner) rather than some sort of tag title match, but in fact it’s been since announced that the wins have led him to an upcoming Evolve title shot.

Jaka consoled his partner after the loss and says there’s no shame in the performance Dickinson turned in. He then polled the crowd about his chances of winning the Evolve title, takes exception to the lack of support, and calls out Sabre immediately. GREAT promo from Jaka to add bite to the match and reenforce his role as the heel despite some hometown support. NYC loves Zack, so this was exactly what was needed to get Jaka booed.

 

4) Evolve Championship Match: Zack Sabre Jr (c) vs Jaka

This was a nice spotlight opportunity for Jaka, and he made the most of it. This was not the typical Sabre match (as good as they are), as Sabre responded to Jaka’s aggression with a fierce edge of his own and it added an extra level of wonderful intensity to everything as they beat the hell out of each other. Jaka was also made to seem every bit a threat to Sabre (before losing clean to keep the champ looking like a world beater), which was a well deserved spotlight on a wrestler who’s been extremely impressive during his time in Evolve. If anyone was in fact “sleeping on Jaka,” they aren’t now. Excellent match.

 

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After the match, Stokely and Thatcher came out to confront Sabre, but were interrupted by Darby. Thatcher lays into Allin with an incredible, scathing promo about how Darby’s an idiot who risks his health for a crowd of people who won’t care about him once he injures himself to the point where he can’t perform anymore. Man’s not wrong. He then turned to Sabre and challenged him to a No Holds Barred rematch for the Evolve Title.

 

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As Zack ponders it, Thatcher dropped him with a surprise headbutt, then DESTROYED Darby, ripping the cast right off his arm and applying an armbar as the crowd went CRAZY booing, eventually “re-breaking” the arm! This entire segment was Thatcher’s to carry, and he absolutely knocked it out of the park. EVERYTHING he did was pitch perfect. I really wanted the teased title match to happen at the next NYC show after this…

 

5) Ethan Page vs Thomas Sharp

Sharp is one of the former Gatekeepers, now with a name and an issue with his former employer. He looked good, winning the over crowd in short order with his athleticism and some good fire as he looked for revenge against everyone’s (second) favorite man to hate. Short and intense. I’d like to see more of Sharp going forward. Page got the better of him, which I’ve seen some complaints about but I think was the right outcome for the beginning of such a feud if Sharp’s sticking around.

 

6) Trent Baretta vs Austin Theory

Nice to see Baretta back, and he received a strong reception. This being in the semi-main spot was an interesting choice and provided a chance for the relative rookie Theory to shine. And indeed this was a great spotlight for him, as he pushed the veteran to the limit before falling prey to the Dudebuster. There were a couple of awkward moments as the two lost their balance during complicated spots, but in both cases they adjusted extremely well, kept things from turning disastrously dangerous, and kept the match going with little loss of momentum. Both looked really good overall, the match got better and better as it went, and like Jaka earlier Theory really capitalized on the opportunity he had here.

After a showing of mutual respect, Priscilla Kelly came out and distracted Trent for a Theory low blow. Apparently finally receptive to Kelly’s message and advances, Theory laid out Baretta to loud boos and Kelly followed with a gloating/taunting bite to Trent’s neck (ok then…). Evolve’s getting heel overloaded again, but this was really well done and should provide a good story for the newcomer.

 

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7) WWN Championship Match: Matthew Riddle (c) vs Keith Lee

Anticipation for this was of the charts, and it turned out as awesome as expected. Lee was presented as the champ’s equal, and these two just beat and beat on each other until they both literally fell over. Highlights included a huge pounce from Lee, a Fisherman’s buster on Lee (?!) by Riddle followed by a barrage of sentons, and an incredible nearfall where Riddle just gets his shoulder up by centimeters after a huge Spirit Bomb.  In a beautifully timed and executed finish, both collapse after a vicious Lee headbutt, and Riddle happens to fall on top of Lee for the pin and retains his title. A less than definitive win for the King of Bros, which maintains the tension between him and Lee and keeps the latter strong without having to take belt off Riddle. Incredible match with a extremely well done, appropriate finish.

 

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After the match Ethan Page took advantage of the situation to attack the already downed Lee and Riddle, rambling in wonderful fashion about hating the two “golden geese” of Evolve and vowing to destroy them. Stokely Hathaway and Tracey Williams joined the fun to berate Riddle as Page continued to choke Lee in the corner. Williams then announced he’ll be challenging Riddle for the WWN title at the next Queens show in August. The feud’s been building well and the match’ll be decent, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t rather have gotten Thatcher vs Sabre. Williams let Stokely slap Riddle to big boos, then they left. As Page continued to gloat the faces recovered and cornered him between them, but he managed to slink away to safety. Left alone, Lee was reluctant to fist bump Riddle, but eventually gave in and all is fine between Evolve’s heroes for now.

 

Overall

On par with the excellent Evolve 79 in February, which was one of the best live shows I’ve seen. Commitment and effort was apparent from everyone here, and even the things that weren’t to my personal tastes were solid and well received. Jaka and Theory had potentially star making performances, and I continue to adore pretty much everything Thatcher, Riddle, Sabre, and Lee do. Check this out on Floslam sooner rather than later.

Evolve 79 Live Review

February 25, 2017 in Queens, NY

Here’s a quick rundown of a phenomenal show from Evolve I had the privilege of enjoying live this past weekend.

 

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1) Jason Kincaid vs ACH 

Jason Kincaid is killing it with his new gimmick, and ACH has been on a tear since leaving ROH and entering Evolve with something to prove. They put on exactly the strong, high energy opener I was hoping for here. The outcome was never in doubt given the story of ACH’s quest for a shot at the Evolve title, but they still managed to keep things exciting. ACH’s bemusement at Kincaid’s unusual offense made a great backbone story for the action.

 

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2) 4-Way Freestyle: Fred Yehi vs Chris Dickinson vs Austin Theory vs Anthony Henry

Yehi was in this as a result of failing to unseat Thatcher the night before. Strong dynamic here with Dickinson and Yehi alternately working together and trying to win on each’s own with the newcomers Theory and Henry taking advantage of every opening  to try to swing things their way. I like both Henry and Theory from what I saw here (and the previous night on ippv), although Henry needs just a touch more polish as his impressive offense lost some impact both nights by not being hit cleanly enough so wasn’t quite getting the reactions it should have. Still a very good debut weekend though.

 

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Great finish with Dickinson, who was exactly the right choice for a strong win here, getting a pin on Theory to kind of steal the victory from Yehi who looked to have Henry finished with the Koji Clutch. More tension between the Catch Point members that look destined to face for the tag titles, but Dickinson offers the CP handshake and things seem fine for now. Nice slow build on that angle.

 

3) Jeff Cobb vs Jaka

Behind the double main, this was the match I was most looking forward to, and man did it deliver big time. Cobb is just so smooth in application of his phenomenal power, and Jaka’s hard hitting style made him the perfect opponent leading to an excellent match that had the crowd going nuts.

 

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Highlights included a delay vertical superplex that just barely missed the ceiling lights and an absolutely jaw-dropping toss-and-catch German suplex by Cobb. Tour of the Islands finally puts down the tenacious Jaka to reestablish some momentum for Cobb after losing to Galloway the previous night. Jaka and Dickinson are very quickly becoming integral parts of Evolve, and both had breakout performances on this show. As for Cobb, the crowd simply adores him.

 

4) Tracy Williams vs Keith Lee

While Lee’s new to Evolve, he’s a 10+ year veteran of the sport, and it shows. His mannerisms, body language, and just the general way he carries himself all speak to knowing the nuances of his craft extremely well.  He also moves in ways unexpected for someone his size, and it all comes together in such an impressive way that he was immediately loved by the crowd.

 

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They worked a brilliant match here, with Williams starting hot and doing everything and then some to sell the idea of having a legit chance against the monster. Really this had foregone conclusion written all over it after Lee defeated Sabre at Evolve 78, but he and Williams built things beautifully to a fantastic nearfall after an avalanche angle slam on Lee(?!) that the crowd totally bit on.

Just excellent stuff from both. Lee came off like an absolute star and the crowd’s chomping at the bit to see him against more of Evolve’s top tier talent.

 

5) Ethan Page vs Darby Allin

First of two big grudge matches for the night. This wasn’t announced or listed as no-DQ, which was an unfortunate oversight given the angle of the match. Page dominated this and eventually handcuffed Allin (with help from the Gatekeepers). Allin gets up and tells the ref he’ll continue, and fights off Page with all his might until the bitter end. Page eventually puts him away though, and he and the Gatekeepers then put Allin in a body bag as Page cuts a scathing, derisive promo saying he’s killed his first career and will now refocus on the Evolve title to nuclear heat. The Gatekeepers then carried the sealed bag with Darby inside right out of the arena.

 

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I ended up torn on this whole thing. I still feel Allin really needs to scale things back before he kills himself, and WHERE THE HELL WAS EVERYONE ELSE DURING THE POSTMATCH?! Sorry, but the company’s top faces really look like assholes staying in the back while Page is literally STUFFING SOMEONE INTO A BODYBAG. Particularly with Yehi getting righteous about something else later and everyone coming to ringside after the main event. You can come out to congratulate the champ but not to save Darby’s life? Seriously?

On the other hand, it’s hard to criticize the angle here despite not liking the logic given the incredible reaction it got. The audience was RABID in support of Allin and hatred of Page, and the two of them played their parts to an absolute T. Incredible stuff, despite my personal reservations.

Given the way it played out I kind of hope it leads to Darby becoming Page’s protege when he returns, taking issue with the exact thing I pointed out above and embracing an “if you can’t beat ’em join ’em” philosophy.

 

6) Matt Riddle vs Drew Galloway

I’m a certifiable member of the Bro bandwagon, so was chomping at the bit to see Riddle and Galloway go to war. And that’s exactly what I got. Between Page and Galloway Evolve has two of the best heels in the sport, and the latter was perfect here trying to put down the upstart who spurned his invitation. As I’ve gone on about extensively, Riddle is insanely impressive for his experience and can work any kind of match deftly.

 

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Both really dug in on the appropriate level of tension and resentment for the story, resulting in a fantastic atmosphere and huge crowd reactions. The beat the hell out of each other to the crowd’s delight.

 

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I was (pleasantly) surprised with result, as I thought Galloway would win to build momentum going into the WWNLive title match and put the babyface behind the 8-ball in the first encounter of the feud. But Riddle pounding Galloway into defeat then being sneak attacked again worked just as well to keep things going.

 

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Williams and Yehi came out to save Riddle from being piledriven on his own Progress Atlas title belt, then Larry Dallas (with new bodyguard Earl Cooter) broke the news that all three members of Catch Point were in the WWNLive title match. Ending makes more sense now, as it didn’t occur to me that they’d use Riddle’s Style Battle win to sneak him into that match. Yehi offers the Catch Point handshake, but the group dynamics continue to be an issue as Riddle declares he’ll win and walks off.

Yehi calls him out as not being a team player, but the angle is suffering the same problem as when Gulak did the same a while back: Yehi has a point as Riddle hasn’t been there when his teammates need him but he’s far more loved in the crowd’s eyes so is immune to criticism. For example, Yehi’s accusing “it’s not your show Matt”  was met with a “YES IT IS!” chant from the fans. We’ll see how it all goes.

The title match will be quite interesting.

 

 

7) Evolve Championship Match: Timothy Thatcher (c) vs Zack Sabre Jr

The previous title match between these two at La Boom was one of my favorites of 2015, and I was beyond thrilled when this rematch was confirmed. I’m pleased to say this turned out just as good.

 

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The support for Zack and heat for Thatcher was incredible. Thatcher finally seemed comfortable in his heel role, hitting all the right notes to whip the crowd into a frenzy. I’m a huge fan of both, and while a lot of fans have (understandably) cooled on Thatcher’s work during the last year he’s provided a solid core from Evolve to build around during his reign. And when he’s on, he’s one of the absolute best around. Sabre’s one of his greatest opponents, and this was a fitting crescendo for Thatcher’s dominance.

 

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Zack eventually tied Thatcher into knots , and after a few perfect moments of building anticipation Thatcher submitted and the crowd ERUPTED at the crowning of a new champion.

Thatcher teased respecting Zack and handing him the belt, but when All Ego jumped Zack to make a point Thatcher decided to drop the belt and just leave instead. Nice way to keep him a heel. ACH saved Zack and talked Zack up while making it clear he was also coming for Zack’s title, then most of the roster came out to surround the ring in respect to the new champion. Zack gave short, heartfelt comments about inclusiveness in wrestling. Classy move that if possible makes me adore the man even more.

 

Overall

Simply one of the best overall shows I’ve ever attended (despite a few logic issues which may go away as things unfold in the future). Kudos to all involved.

Evolve is Bro: Matt Riddle’s Ascension

“I was looking for someone to carry Evolve once I left. I guess I found him. She’s all yours, Bro!”

 

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The crowd roared in response to the above words from Johnny Gargano to close Evolve 69 in support of their chosen hero, Matthew Riddle.

It was a moment that, if not unthinkable, would have at the very least been extremely hard to predict when Riddle debuted in Evolve on 10/17/15. I was unfamiliar with him before Evolve, so at the time actually thought he had even less experience than the eight months he’d been in professional wrestling (although he’d only wrestled a dozen matches in that time, all for Arena Monster Factory).

Two main discussions/rumors were surrounding Riddle going into his first weekend with the promotion: his MMA background and his participation in Evolve possibly being part of getting him ready for a WWE contract.

So “Deep Waters” did not get a particularly warm welcome from the Evolve crowd right away. “You can’t wrestle” chants would follow him for a bit, perhaps at least partially rising from worry of someone undeserving coming in and plowing through more established talent. Thing was, even from his first matches against Jonathan Grisham and Chris Dickinson a couple of extremely interesting things were noticeable for those paying attention: Matt Riddle wasn’t trying to do MMA in a wrestling ring, and he was far from undeserving.

From the start he was committed to learning and excelling at the specifics of pro wrestling as it’s own art form. His MMA background certainly influenced his style (to great effect I might add), but he was in Evolve to WRESTLE. He embraced the nuances inherent in his new sport, and he was good. Very good. Better yet, Riddle improved every single time he got in the ring. As I mentioned in a spotlight piece on rising stars back in July, I’ve never seen ANYONE develop as fast.

Equally adept at mat wrestling as he is with vicious, brutal looking strikes, Riddle’s able to work a variety of styles based on his opponent and always turn in a compelling, engaging performance.

 

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This is where I’d say he won the fans over little by little, but objectively it didn’t take much time at all. By the time I first saw him wrestle live at Evolve 67 on 3/19/16, a mere five months and seven matches after his debut, Riddle was already incredibly over as a heel and it was clear his skills were respected. The “you can’t wrestle” chants were gone and the audience was booing him because of his character while still clearly showing respect for his skills. The boos wouldn’t last much longer either, as Riddle was just too good for the crowd to resist cheering, and the controversial finish in the main event that very night where Timothy Thatcher ended Riddle’s undefeated streak would actually be the first step towards a double turn for the participants.

 

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Said undefeated streak could have been everything the pre-debut doubts about Riddle were concerned with. A new, unproven talent unfairly plowing through established stars and crowd favorites. Instead his devotion to his new craft was apparent from the first second he stepped into an Evolve ring, and Riddle enthralled the fans through angles including joining Catch Point, feuding with Thatcher, etc. The undefeated streak served its intended purpose of establishing Riddle as a prominent threat, and any win over him in Evolve is still a huge deal capable of instantly putting his victorious opponent in line for a title match.

And again, most importantly he just kept getting better and better every single time he got into the ring. He was comfortable and confident against world traveled opponents with tons more experience, and had particularly incredible matches against stars like Chris Hero, Zach Sabre Jr., and many others.

Going into Evolve 69 tension had been teased between Riddle and his Catch Point teammates, with Drew Galloway making overtures to have Riddle join his unit and help him destroy Evolve from within. When Riddle came out as DUSTIN and Galloway attacked a defenseless Johnny Gargano, crowd apprehension turned to delight as he attacked the duo and rescued the Icon. His full face turn and crowning as Evolve’s new centerpiece was complete, and the cheering was deafening.

The adulation has only increased since, and Riddle has continued to consistently knock it out of the park against the likes of Chris Hero, Jeff Cobb, DUSTIN, etc. This coming weekend he’ll face the debuting Anthony Henry in Joppa, MD, then the following day I’ll have the privilege of seeing him again in Queens as the issues with Galloway come to a boil in a big grudge match.

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Matt’s extremely friendly and approachable, and I’ve talked to him numerous times at Evolve shows in Queens at La Boom. His enthusiasm about wrestling is genuine and contagious, and it’s been a delight seeing his excitement as the crowd came around and the “Bro!” chants grew in number and volume with each subsequent appearance.

Perhaps the most impressive thing is how much further Riddle could conceivably go. He performs at a downright extraordinary level for his experience, which has just passed a mere two years in the business. He has all the tools and commitment to be a huge success wherever he goes, be it the multitude of other indie promotions he’s steadily collecting championships in, or an eventual WWE/NXT run. Forgive the cliche, but the sky’s the limit for the “King of Bros” no matter what the future has in store for him.

But for now Evolve is definitely “Bro,” and I couldn’t be happier.

Evolve 77 ippv Review (Live Thoughts)

January 28, 2017 in San Antonio, TX

To open Chris Hero’s goodbye weekend Evolve 76 was a strong show despite unfortunate problems with the ring ropes. For his final show with the promotion Hero was set to main event against his most persistent rival.

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1) Barrett Brown vs Darby Allin

This never gets started as Ethan Page immediately interrupts, but it proves a distraction so the Gatekeepers can lay Allin out from behind. Brown takes exception to Page screwing with his shot, so Page levels him too. Page then cuts a scathing promo calling Allin worthless and the dirt on Page’s foot. He teases a match against Allin, but instead says the Gatekeepers will take on him and Brown.

Darby defiantly says Page is afraid of him and counters with an offer of 3 on 2.

Strong work all around, but this is kind of ridiculous given last night. Zack Sabre Jr gets a reversal DQ for not releasing a hold on Page after the match, but Page and company can attack these two (and everyone else) and be rewarded with a match.

1) Barrett Brown vs Darby Allin

1) Darby Allin & Barrett Brown vs Ethan Page & The Gatekeepers

So there’s no one in the back with an issue with Page to make this even odds? I understand Zack’s in the main, but Page’s rampage hasn’t pissed off ANYONE else?

The Gatekeepers still have no individual names for some reason, with Lenny referring to either as the/that Gatekeeper whenever one does something. I’ll use their Chikara names (Blaster McMassive & Flex Rumblecrunch) to tell them apart here.

Good action to start, with Allin and Brown trying to overcome the odds with high risk. The Gatekeepers are surprisingly game for that, with Blaster performing a great summersault dive to the outside (although he pretty much completely missed Allin and Brown).

Brown’s eventually dispatched on the outside, making the match 3 on 1 for a while. The Gatekeepers keep beating Allin down, then Page comes in, loses the advantage to a fired up Allin, and tags out. Repeat. Good formula/story and Allin plays the fiery underdog well.

Wait, Zack’s out!!! That’s better. Ref’s allowing him to join.

1) Darby Allin & Barrett Brown vs Ethan Page & The Gatekeepers

1) Darby Allin, Barrett Brown, & Zack Sabre Jr vs Ethan Page & The Gatekeepers

Zack’s in workout clothes instead of his gear too, which makes sense since he’s supposed to wrestle in main and explains why he wasn’t our sooner. Still wish something was said earlier to help with the logic, but this is awesome so I retract my most of previous gripes about the setup.

Zack takes over on the  Gatekeepers until a big spear from Blaster. Brown then missile dropkicks both Gatekeepers but Page Border Tosses him onto the pile outside.

All six men brawl all over crowd, where Allin climbs a pillar and does the Coffin Drop (trust fall) from the rafters onto the pile below. It’s jaw dropping, but also insane. The crowd love it gets will only make it worse, and I’m seriously worried for his long term well being.

Back in the ring a triangle choke by Zack on Page is teased (nice nod to the finish of their match on Evolve 76). Blaster takes over on Zack, leading to an incredible finish where Blaster tries to counter Zack’s triangle choke with a one arm powerbomb, but Zack converts to an octopus hammerlock instead for the win.

This turned into something really fun and well told. It keeps Allin/Page simmering, while giving the faces a needed victory. ***3/4 for the whole thing. Brown was largely in background, but got to show some of what he can do and looked good. Hope he comes back. Still don’t like the inconsistency of logic with Page running rampant, but the story’s compelling otherwise.

 

2) Loredo Kid vs Tracy Williams **1/2

This is the Evolve debut for Kid. Apparently we’re back to “Hot Sauce” tonight, as there was no mention of “Maltese Falcon.”

Mat wrestling early, with Williams logically getting the better of those exchanges in the end. But the as pace quickens Kid takes over. A simple, solid story. During this Kid hit a beautiful summersault to Williams on outside using ringpost as stepping stone.

Williams is at his best when going back and forth. Long periods of ground and pound offense from him and things get slow. This match was a mix. Williams picks up a emphatic win when Kid misses a Phoenix splash and Williams IMMEDIATELY hits diving forearm into the crossface for the tapout. Great finish. Ok match.

 

 3) Chris Dickinson & Jaka vs. Jason Kincaid & Sammy Guevara ***1/2

I don’t know Sammy, but the crowd certainly does. Lenny continuing his excellent job this weekend filling us in nicely on Sammy’s hometown status and how he appeared on other WWN umbrella shows. This tag should be fun given what I saw from the other three on Evolve 76.

Kincaid starts out opposite Jaka, and he’s so smooth in everything he does as he employs hit and run tactics against his larger opponent. I’m still loving his zen gimmick, which he really executes well and keeps it from becoming campy.

Wholesale switches allows Sammy to show impressive agility against Dickinson. Character notes too, as Sammy gloats too long and Chris sneaks behind him and hits a nasty dragon suplex to take control. Catch Point then just grinds Sammy down for a while with pounding offense. The contrast in these teams is meshing well.

Highlights of the match include a neat stalling suplex by Jaka into a doubleteam suplex when Dickinson joins him, a sunset bomb to outside by Kincaid on Jaka, and a shooting star press by Sammy onto Catch Point on floor from the top rope. Towards the end Kincaid wows the crowd when he walks the ropes for a Van Terminator style missile dropkick after Jaka rolls into the far corner to try to avoid Kincaid.

Special mention to the ref doing a fantastic job of keeping track of who was legal during the chaos, as the wrestlers were losing track and covering the wrong people. That’s not a criticism of the wrestlers either – it fits the high speed action well and “in character” it makes sense that everyone would be going for a cover whenever they see a chance. Having the ref properly enforce the rules though adds credibility and aids suspension of disbelief.

Catch Point eventually win this competitive contest with a swank chokeslam Doomsday Device variation. Williams comes out to congratulate his teammates and praises the aerial wrestlers, but pushes the Catch Point style as superior over it.

Then “journalist” Larry Dallas makes an appearance (noting he’s outside talent now and threatening lawsuits if touched). To stir the pot he asks Williams if Jaka and Dickinson are going to get a tag title shot. Kincaid interrupts and cuts a zen promo that’s just the right side on incomprehensible, praising his opponents but poking at Dickinson’s ego. Catch Point needing to him down prevents Dallas from getting an answer, but he declares his involvement a success anyway and calls himself “the straw that stirs the drink.” This storyline direction makes sense and will be interesting to follow.

 

4) Fred Yehi vs ACH ***

Interesting matchup in the wake of ACH’s debut against Riddle, although after Yehi made Thatcher tap it feels like there’s no drama here.

Posturing early on and I’ll admit for me seeing ACH throwing Yehi’s stupid “you’re in trouble” cry back at him was great. On commentary Lenny recounts discussions he’s had with ACH about joining Evolve, which in effect ends up relating a lot of criticism of ROH without mentioning them by name. In a great little touch ACH also put over the opportunity to face Riddle and learning from the experience despite the loss.

Back to the action and Yehi applies a stump puller and says he’s going to make ACH kiss his knee, starting a “kiss your knee” chant. I can’t even. This is a standard Yehi match whenever he’s on offense: technically competent, but dull overall and silly in parts. I particularly can’t stand the stomp based offense. Crowd’s loud for both men though, and when ACH is on offense things are great. And towards the end Yehi gets serious and things in general pick up a lot, including a fantastic slap exchange.

In a bit of a shocker to me, ACH eventually hits the brainbuster and picks up the win! In retrospect Yehi still made the champ tap, so despite this loss he could leverage that into a title shot regardless. Doesn’t make him look like a strong challenger though. Regardless, what this DOES do is immediately establish ACH in Evolve. Hopefully they make a big deal of it, with perhaps a FIP title shot or him and a partner going after Catch Point’s Evolve tag titles. Yehi looks pissed afterwards, but offers a handshake. Good, consistent character work from Yehi.

Predictable when done right is fine (as we’ll see later) and surprises for surprises sake can get illogical, but unexpected results like this that still make sense add a lot to the product. Great call here.

 

4) No DQ: DUSTIN vs. Matt Riddle ****

The “Bro” chants start as soon as no-DQ match mentioned during Joanna’s introduction. DUSTIN’s out first with a chair as a nod to last night, and the crowd boos him mercilessly.

To open DUSTIN swings for fences with chair, but Riddle ducks and takes over with mat wrestling. His advantage continues until DUSTIN eventually connects with the chair. From there they have a crazy brawl that takes place mostly outside the ring. DUSTIN whips Riddle into fans’ chairs repeatedly, wiping out several rows, but Riddle reverses the third attempt to the crowd’s delight. He then has fans hold a chair up to DUSTIN’s head and hits a running kick to an even more gigantic ovation.

Later DUSTIN rushes Riddle to knock onto stack of chairs but gets caught with an exploder onto stack leading to a “Bro-ly Shit” chant. Amusing.

They fight on fighting on a merch table, Riddle misses a senton and splats onto a pile of chairs, etc. It’s pandemonium in the best way.

DUSTIN hits a summersault senton onto Riddle through a table on outside and rolls him in for a doublestomp from top as followup… and Riddle kicks out at ONE! Crowd goes INSANE. Beautifully done. DUSTIN follows with a superkick and a DDT on a chair for 2. He then builds a tower of chairs, but Riddle catches him up top and hits a superplex through said chair tower. Bro’s done with this, and he just viciously slams his fists into DUSTIN’s head a few times in a ground and pound then cradles for the win.

Like last night, this was something different from Riddle and it really worked. Great, great brawl from these two. I want to see more of this DUSTIN going forward, and Riddle’s continuing to prove he can do it all.

 

5) EVOLVE Championship Match:  Timothy Thatcher (w/ Stokely Hathaway) (c) vs Jeff Cobb **3/4

Thatcher’s heel turn is taking full hold, as the crowd’s firmly behind Cobb here. Before the bell Cobb again talks to “Timmy” instead of Hathaway and dedicates match to their trainer Oliver John. Lenny’s really playing up Thatcher’s reign, listing who’s who list of names he’s beaten.

The story is Cobb’s power and perseverance against Thatcher’s surgical assault on Cobb’s arm. I’m more of a fan of Thatcher’s style than most nowadays, but as a heel Thatcher’s slowed things down too much and is too deliberate in pace. This was also much more one sided than I expected for most of the match (in Thatcher’s favor).

There were nice little touches though, like when he was fighting for the gutwrench on the bigger man and Cobb’s excellent selling of the arm (until the end when he forgot it to through suplexes). Cobb did a standing shooting star late that would have been awesome, but he landed nowhere near where Thatcher was laying even before Thatcher moved. Glaring error that broke immersion a bit.

Thatcher kept fighting for an arm bar, but then switched it up and leveraged into a pin for the win in a nice finish. The champ gave Cobb a fake clap afterwards and Hathaway taunted him with the belt. The audience gave an ovation for Cobb after Thatcher left.

 

Main Event: Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre Jr. ****1/2

The atmosphere is incredible. Hero soaks it in and sings his song on the way to the ring. Despite the earlier love for Zack in the opener, the crowd’s all hero here and serenades Zack with “Hero’s gonna kill you”chants.

Small criticism of Lenny here (in an otherwise outstanding performance all night) as he way oversells the feud: “the one thing Zack Sabre Jr hasn’t done in this company: beat Hero.” Uhm, how about the fact that he hasn’t won ANY title in Evolve? This feud and Sabre’s quest to finally get a win against Hero is a big deal, but that statement was a bit ridiculous.

Hero somewhat hilariously (considering the buildup last night) offers a handshake to open, but Sabre lands a running headscissors into an arm bar attempt and Hero just barely escapes. Good fire and intensity from Zack showing what this means to him.

This was exactly the hard hitting, back and forth war that was expected and needed. Late match in what’s become the standard going to WWE tease, Hero hits a Pedegree and Zack kicks out at one to huge a reaction. Hero looked to destroy Zack and be done with with a short piledriver followed by a regular  piledriver followed by a Gotch version, but Zack reverses the Gotch piledriver into a hurricanrana, ties up Hero’s arms, adds a stretch muffler, then kicks the hell out of Hero’s head with him tied up like a pretzel and ZSJ finally beats Hero. Exactly what I expected from the result, but the journey here was the important part and it was a hell of a journey.

Afterwards Hero gives a classy goodbye speech putting over Zack, Evolve, and the fans. Someone shouts “I love you Hero!”and he responds with “pretty sure I love you too.” This was a long segment, with Hero talking about coming back to the indies, having a second chance in NXT, and about his friendship with Zack and thinking the latter should be champ. In the middle ACH comes out to thank Hero but also claim he should be mentioned alongside Zach in discussion of title contenders. Hathaway comes out, talks to Thatcher’s belt (yes, really. sigh.), and says “his baby” doesn’t think either of them are deserving. As he leaves though Thatcher comes out and simply points at Zack with a chuckle. Zack tells ACH after he beats Thatcher ACH can have the first shot at him.

 

Overall

Fantastic farewell for the “Greatest of All Time.” The main was incredible, there was great effort up and down the card, and Hero’s speech was genuine and emotional. Shame Keith Lee wasn’t on the show after the ring ropes hampering his debut at Evolve 76, but otherwise this delivered in spades and both shows from Evolve this weekend are well worth checking out.

Evolve 76 ippv Live Thoughts

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.

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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.

 

 

Overall

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.