February 25, 2016 in Queens, NY
Here’s a quick rundown of a phenomenal show from Evolve I had the privilege of enjoying live this past weekend.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Zach 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.
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.
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.
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.