EVOLVE marked their 100th show in style with a stormer of a show that produced some break-out performances.
The build-up to EVOLVE’s centenary saw AR Fox build up a challenge for the WWN title, while a recent WWE tryout recipient in Austin Theory also took a shot at Zack Sabre Jr’s EVOLVE title. A video package opens us up, going through clips of EVOLVE’s first 100 shows… and then it’s the looping EVOLVE logo? When we go live, we’re in La Boom in Queens, New York, with Lenny Leonard and Ron Niemi in the ring opening the show as usual. Trevin Adams and Timothy Barr are on the call for the pre-show match…
Darby Allin vs. Jarek 1:20 vs. Jason Kincaid
Darby’s “punishment” continues as he’s staying in the prelims, taking on two other folks who have been in and out of those prelims. Allin’s put his spot on the main card tomorrow on the line here… so starting the ten-minute time limited match on the floor is a weird choice at best.
Allin does make it to the ring, charging into Jarek and Jason with back elbows in the corner, before popping up Kincaid into an X-Factor on Jarek for the hell of it. There’s a neat double neckbreaker into the ropes from Kincaid, who leaps from the stage back into the ring with a double dropkick for a couple of one-counts too.
There’s some good sequences when Kincaid disturbs Darby’s “controlled fall”, dropkicking Jarek away and hitting a back senton at the same time, but his spider overhead belly-to-belly to Kincaid came to nought as Jarek flew back in with a Coast to Coast as we’re staying well away from the dreaded three-way formula. Sadly, Jarek’s attempt at a springboard legdrop back into the still-hung-up Allin looked to go wonky as he clipped the top rope and fell back-first into the ring aprons.
Jarek’s back to his feet pretty quick to get that legdrop in, but the crowd were still solidly behind Darby, who comes back with a Coffin Drop as Jarek and Kincaid were draped across the middle rope. Kincaid tries to come back with a snapmare rolling neckbreaker, before rolling through a corkscrew crossbody from Allin… only for Darby to catch him with the Last Supper for the win. Not sure where Jarek was there, but another win for Allin as his prelim win ensures he’s on the EVOLVE 101 card. A nice, brisk three-way – just how these prelims ought to be. ***¼
After the match, Jarek 1:20 resurfaces and called out Allin for being lucky. He claimed that Darby would have lost had this been a singles match… prompting Darby to punch him out.
Dominic Garrini vs. Fred Yehi
Half of this show was labelled “The Future Is Now”, which was basically newer names versus established talent. Yehi in the opener is a weird call, but one that played out in a suitable manner (more after the match).
Yehi tries to out-grapple Garrini early on, which made for a bit of a scrappy start as we eventually settled down into the pair trying to grab a body part and force submissions. Eventually Yehi gets free and starts to stomp away on Garrini’s bare feet, but a waistlock takedown puts Garrini back on top briefly as they returned to the mat.
Yehi manages to surprise Garrini with a low dropkick before chaining together those up-kicks and a half-nelson suplex for a near-fall, but Garrini’s able to fight back, avoiding a clothesline before throwing in a backbreaker and a guillotine choke. A front suplex into a knee-strike nearly does it do for Garrini and his rash guard, before he countered out of a Koji clutch and into an armbar attempt… but instead we’re back with strikes as Yehi worked into a Dragon screw.
Another half-nelson suplex drops Garrini for another near-fall, and we quickly end with a butterfly suplex as Yehi nabbed the win. Huh. Was that even one of Yehi’s regular moves, let alone a finisher? That caught a lot of folks off guard for what’d be Yehi’s penultimate EVOLVE match – as he’d not sign a new deal and would end up leaving the company after this weekend. Decent enough as a match, but it felt massively truncated. ***
Post-match, Yehi took the mic and declared his annoyance at how “2017’s MVP” was in the opener on the main show. Fred calls himself a “Savageweight”, which felt like a shot at Jaka or a bad attempt to copy the Pete Dunne slogan…
Anthony Henry vs. Tracy Williams
I’m not sure why being a former tag team champion puts you in the bracket of “the future”, but we’ll roll with it. Meanwhile, Faye Jackson appeared for a split-second, just because.
The pair lit each other up early with chops and forearms, but it was Williams who took the upper hand early, rolling Henry through into an ankle lock for a submission attempt before a striking series ended with “Hot Sauce” faking out before they reached a stalemate. Regardless, they’re quickly back on the mat trading strikes, with Williams getting swept onto the apron before a Henry PK through the ropes and a stomp off the apron left the Catch Point member flat on the floor.
We’re back to back-and-forth chops, with Henry again scoring with a PK, but WIlliams returns fire with a double stomp to the gut as the pair didn’t pull any punches as things remained exceedingly even. A caught kick from Henry just earns him some more slaps as the pair tee off with kicks until a lariat from Williams brought that phase to an end… still with no clear victor in sight.
There’s more of the same until Williams’ teardrop suplex took Henry into the corner, where he was taken up for a butterfly superplex for a near-fall… but Henry’s straight back with a Northern Lights suplex that he floated over into a back senton to almost collect a win. Henry’s attempt to charge at Williams in the corner earns him a 619-like kick, but he backflips up to the top rope for a missile dropkick… but Henry plays too long to the crowd, and despite landing an enziguiri, he falls to a pumphandle back suplex for a near-fall.
More back-and-forth led to Henry getting met with a piledriver, before he’s rolled into a crossface and an eventual rope break. That annoyed Stokely Hathaway so much he got on the apron, but was knocked down by an errant charge from Williams, who was then upset by a high kick and a roll-up as Henry won out. A beautifully even and competitive match – and unlike the opener, not a match that felt like it ended way too soon. ****
Post-match, Stokely Hathaway was apologising to Williams for the accident… Jaka and Chris Dickinson head out, and they’re quickly followed by The End and their music. Stokely runs away, and we have a venue-wide brawl, complete with The End’s music playing in the background a la New Jack. The bell rings, and this suddenly becomes a tag title match?!
EVOLVE Tag Team Championship: Catch Point (Jaka & Chris Dickinson) (c) vs. The End (Odinson & Parrow)
The bell rang with Odinson stomping away on Dickinson, who was announced as part of Doom Patrol here (which isn’t a name I believe EVOLVE have used much before, if ever).
A belly-to-belly almost gets Odinson a quick win, as he began to target the lower back of Dickinson with uppercuts and a rear chinlock. Dickinson nails a German suplex almost out of desperation, before bringing in Jaka… whose German suplex to Odinson had little effect. The Saito suplex did though, as a running knee almost puts him away, before some double-teaming earned Catch Point a Super Collider instead.
Parrow turfs Dickinson to the outside, as Jaka’s left alone to fight out of a powerbomb off the top rope… it goes a little wonky as Dickinson pulls Odinson outside, as Jaka sent Parrow flying off the top as well. Dickinson throws chairs into the ring… as does Odinson, and the bell rings as a four-way chair fight starts, with the ruling being a no-contest. Well, that was disappointing, as the scheduled match started out of the blue and ended just as quickly. **
Tracey Williams and Drennan return to restore the six-man brawl we opened with, and the chaos continues around the ringside area before Anthony Henry randomly leapt off the top rope into the pile. With everyone down, Stokely Hathaway’s in the ring with a chair, but he’s celebrating too soon as he backed into Drennan, who pulled out a baton from his back pocket… and used it on Williams before Jaka and Dickinson made the save, eventually dropping Drennan with a Death Trap.
No Rope Breaks: James Drake vs. Matt Riddle
Riddle’s charming crusade to abolish rope breaks in wrestling was a late change to this match, the final of those “Future Is Now” outings.
Riddle tries to grab one of Drake’s legs in the ropes, making use of this new stipulation as instead Drake shrugs free and throws a singular chop, as we gave way to the quickly-becoming-ubiquitous chop/forearm battles. Some kicks in that mix get Riddle ahead, as Drake’s forced to elbow away from an Exploder attempt, before he’s hauled down into a German suplex instead.
Drake heads outside and just propels Riddle into the ropes for a rebound forearm on the apron, but Riddle’s more than eager to throw some chops back inside before he’s caught in a capture suplex and a back senton as Drake pulled some pages out of Riddle’s playbook for a near-fall.
Riddle throws some chops as he tried to fight back, but Drake’s forearms were a leveller as somehow Drake had drawn blood on the chest of Riddle from that earlier exchange. More chops exacerbate it, but Riddle of course fires back in kind, shrugging off a German suplex… as does Drake! More strikes are traded before Riddle surprises Drake with a Bro to Sleep… only for Drake to fire off an effective German suplex before finally collapsing to the mat. The pair continue to trade strikes until Riddle ducks a swipe and nails a ripcord knee and a German suplex for a near-fall, following up with cannonballs and sentons as he tries to keep Drake down… but he’s defiant in spite of the onslaught of kicks, which led to him taking more before unleashing a spinning backhanded chop to Riddle’s face.
A leg lariat off the middle rope almost secures a massive upset for Drake, as does a folding lariat, but Riddle continues to offer resistance until a missed head kick led to a pumphandled fallaway slam. A cannonball in the corner follows from Drake, who heads up for a massive moonsault… which connects! Somehow Riddle kicks out, so Drake goes up again, but he misses as Riddle counters straight into an arm triangle with some added palm strikes to the head, before they rolled into the ropes… but there’s no rope breaks, so Riddle slaps Drake’s belly before the hold’s broken with a big kick.
After getting back to his feet, Drake goes for a backslide, but Riddle slips out and nails a powerbomb and a knee strike before getting a two-count on the edge of the apron. From there, a barrage of right hands rain down on Drake as the referee waves it off… and my God, this is as close to a star making performance as you’ll ever see on the indys. Drake went move-for-move with Riddle, but ultimately had no answer for that proverbial switch in a match which made subtle use of the rope break gimmick. Now, the onus is on EVOLVE to use Drake more as a singles guy and actually capitalise off of this performance…. ****¼
WWN Championship: AR Fox vs. Keith Lee (c)
AR Fox’s return boiled down to this – his quest to claim the only WWN title that he’d not held so far. Fox’s hype train looked to have grown in size (most of them wearing their own merch, which was smart for branding)… not that that mattered early as Lee knocked him into the ropes!
Some wacky rope running doesn’t get Fox very far as Lee charges him down, before a double leapfrog dropkick only sent Lee staggering into the corner… where he catches a through-the-ropes clothesline as Fox kept ahead. A springboard into a bulldog finally takes Lee down and out to the floor… but Fox doesn’t go for an instant dive, instead opting to hit a kickflip moonsault off the ringpost before playing a spot of keepaway.
Back inside, some bicycle kicks knock Lee silly, but he charges back out of the corner with a Pounce (period?) to snuff out Fox, as Lee started to regain the lead. A slam and an elbow drop gets a two-count, before Fox takes a Beele throw across the ring, with Lee firmly putting himself in control with a vicious double-handed chop. Another charge into the corner gets blocked by a boot as Fox springs back in with a missile dropkick, before he flipped out of Ground Zero and nailed an Ace crusher for good measure.
Fox’s senton bomb almost causes a title change, but a backbreaker out of Lee stems the tide, as does a one-handed chokeslam as the near-falls keep coming. Somehow Fox low bridges Lee to the outside, joining him there with a plancha and a kickflip moonsault onto Lee, who’d been draped off the apron! Inside the ring again, a 450 splash squashes Lee for another two-count, but it’s still back-and-forth, with Lee hitting harder, only to get rolled up for a near-fall as Lee tried for Ground Zero.
Fox avoids a lariat, but doesn’t get out of the way of the second one, although he does manage to land a Code Red for another close call. He takes too long to follow up though, and gets bounced off the mat with a Spirit Bomb as Lee came achingly close to victory. You sensed Fox’s time was running out, as his desperation strikes were having less-and-less effect, but he was able to wriggle out of an avalanche Ground Zero before a springboard Slingblade and another 450 Splash crushed Lee for… another near-fall!
Lee resists a whip into the ropes, and that’s the end for Fox as he’s pulled into a Ground Zero… finally for the decisive three-count! This was marvellous – a clash of styles at the start, but in the end it boiled down to Fox’s flying against Lee’s strength… with the latter ultimately winning out. Well worth your time and a rewatch! ****¼
EVOLVE Championship: Austin Theory vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (c)
It’s a bit of a weird choice for the main event of EVOLVE 100 – granted, Austin Theory is a guy who has a rocket strapped to him, but this was a challenge issued on the prior show rather than anything that was obviously built to.
Yeah, the US crowd aren’t singing along to Mother like the British crowds do…
We’ve a bit of a tentative start as Theory took Sabre into the corner, but there’s an instant break before Theory goaded Sabre into going after him with shoulder tackles… only for Sabre to throw in a slap to catch him unawares. That aggression forced Theory to take Zack back into the corner almost for some respite, before some more slaps from Sabre led to him sort-of being tripped by Priscilla Kelly on the outside. I don’t think the crowd boos were because of the early interference…
Sabre shrugs it off and looked to go for a ‘rana, but instead dragged Theory down into a triangle armbar as Theory scurried into the ropes, before he rebounded with an old-school pendulum backbreaker. A snap suplex barely gets the challenger a one-count as Theory started to stomp away on Sabre, before he was forced to scurry back to the ropes to escape an ankle lock.
Theory starts to get the upper hand when he whips Sabre into the turnbuckles, using his power game to catch the champion off guard, but a low dropkick eventually neutralises him as Sabre’s Dragon screw puts him right back in control ahead of a mixture of a STF and a cravat as Sabre’s Rolodex of submissions had Theory in big trouble ahead of the eventual rope break. Still, Sabre keeps up with a series of kicks as Theory tried to get back to his feet, before Theory backdropped out of a guillotine choke.
An impressive roll-up into a Blockbuster gets a near-fall for the youngster, but Sabre’s right back in with kicks as we’re back to the strikes… which brought out the bullish Sabre… who slipped out of a TKO and almost nicked a win with the Gedo clutch. After kicking out, the Theory KO gets the challenger a near-fall… but Theory takes too long to follow up and gets caught in an Octopus hold that he broke by wandering into the ropes.
Kelly gets involved with a missile dropkick after Theory had the ref’s attention when Sabre kicked his arm away… man, I hate that kind of interference. It makes the officials look a little dumb, especially when the impact from something like a missile dropkick is loud enough for the referee to tell it apart from, say, a regular bump. That dropkick set-up Theory for the Ataxia cross-legged over-the-knee brainbuster, but Sabre kicks out as someone in the crowd yelled that “cheaters never win!”
Theory keeps up with another TKO attempt, but Sabre slips out and flips off Kelly as he maneuvered his way into another triangle armbar… which Theory powerbombed free off for another near-fall. Yet again, Theory goes for the TKO, but Sabre slips out again and elbows away before grabbing a rear naked choke, before Theory gets free and hits a spin-out rack bomb for another close-call! Despite giving his all, Theory didn’t exactly look perturbed at the kick-outs… and he still had enough in him to kick out from a Euro Clutch and a pair of PKs before grabbing the ropes to escape yet another submission attempt. We’re back into slaps and strikes as the match looked to enter its final furlongs, with Theory replying to a vicious slap with a dropkick to Sabre… only to get caught in another Octopus hold.
Somehow, Theory countered that into the Theory KO as we kept getting near-falls, before Theory gets dragged into another submission, with the grapevined leg-spreader – or the Banana Split, as commentary called it – forced Theory to tap. My word, this was a lot better than I expected, and this wasn’t a total carry job from Sabre either. Austin Theory, when he’s not miscast, is pretty good in the ring, and has a lot more going for him when he’s not slowing things to a crawl. ****¼
Post-match, Sabre gets the mic and… was quickly interrupted by Matt Riddle… who wants a title shot. Zack says he’ll happily give Riddle a title shot, once he works his way to the top of the pile of contenders. Speaking of those, Austin Theory’s back to attack Riddle from behind… except Riddle’s smart to it. Priscilla Kelly tries too, and provides enough of a distraction for Theory to land a TKO before calling Riddle “the face of the past” as he broke into a promo that felt kinda generic. Still, if you’re going to borrow material, at least Rick Rude is a good place to start!
Save for that tag team match, this was a stormer of a show – a fitting way to mark EVOLVE’s first 100 shows. The table was set for two new singles stars, but it’s now down to the booking to see whether James Drake and Anthony Henry are allowed to break away from the tag ranks, or whether that was a flash in the pan for their careers in EVOLVE.