The first half of EVOLVE’s WrestleMania double-header saw Matt Riddle cash in his title shot against Zack Sabre Jr. in New Orleans.

We’ve a new spinny EVOLVE logo, which brings back memories of the old SmackDown captions from the mid 00s… yeah, I’ve got a weird memory for details like that. Anyway, we’re back to the regular EVOLVE crew, with Lenny Leonard and Ron Niemi hosting in the ring, as we’re still in the Ponchartrain Center near New Orleans.

There’s no pre-show tonight, so let’s go right to the main card.

Austin Theory vs. DJ Z
Theory’s without Priscilla Kelly, who’s wrestling in Japan… so it’s a good thing his FIP title isn’t on the line here. Commentary tries to paint it as her being barred from ringside.

Theory tried to keep DJ Z on the down low early, but he gets mad at DJ Z’s air horn and attacks him after some early defence. That air horn seemed to be a bone of contention, as Theory’s offence stuttered in the initial stages as he got settled into things. Hard Irish whips send DJ Z rebounding into the corner, but after a quick refresh to sort out a frozen stream, DJ Z is right back with an air horn and a neckbreaker.

A dive to the outside’s aborted as Theory ran away, but DJ Z gets his tope con giro in regardless as I’m beginning to get fed up of that damned horn. Theory’s back with a roll through into a Blockbuster as the match looked to get even, at least until DJ Z leapt out of the corner into a rack bomb for a near-fall.

Another feed issue means we’re back as Theory clocks DJ Z with forearms and lariats, before DJ Z replied with a snap German suplex to leave him laying. Theory’s right back though with a Blackheart Buster as DJ Z charged at him, before he took DJ Z up top… but whatever he was doing was countered into a super sunset flip bomb, followed by a DDT as DJ Z picked up what has to be considered an upset with that sudden finish. A fun opener, despite the stream issues – and you have to wonder, if that’ll be used to paint Theory as someone who can’t get it done on his own? ***

Post-match, Theory stayed in the ring with the sort-of boo boo face, as he demanded the mic. Yep, it’s Crybaby Theory. Except we can’t hear it because the EVOLVE mics are usually awful when it comes to promos. Theory, who claims EVOLVE’ll be his stepping stone to the WWE, is facing Keith Lee tomorrow, and he tries to coax Lee into a WWN title defence – and we have an impromptu title unification (I guess) as Theory says his FIP title’ll be up too, in the opener on Facebook. O-kay?

AR Fox vs. Will Ospreay
After that hideous Spanish Fly bump last Sunday, somehow Will Ospreay has made it to New Orleans and is here wrestling. Fox’s crew mocks ring announcer Timothy Barr and the referee for their choice of footwear. I sense a cliche about the pot here… still, at least they get Barr to dance a little.

This was Ospreay’s first appearance in EVOLVE since ‘Mania weekend two years ago in Dallas – after which he was offered an EVOLVE deal, only to opt for the ROH/New Japan route instead.

Ospreay’s got a hell of a cupping bruise on his shoulder blade, and seems to have his head taped onto his body as the effects of that Marty Scurll match last week were in plain sight. Still, Ospreay starts on with his usual offence, which Fox avoids as the pair went on a rather acrobatic feeling out process, teasing springboard cutters before squaring off.

Will fires up with a ‘rana and a dropkick, taking Fox to the outside as he just about gets off the handspring into a pose… but his neck is clearly a pain point here. Fox’s “hype train” surrounds the ring, but quickly gets booted down as Fox captialised on the distraction with a sliding Ace crusher, before taking Will into the ropes as Fox leaps into him on his way out of the ring.

Fox targets the head and neck of Ospreay, as you’d expect, scoring with the Twister (spinning brainbuster) for a near-fall, before Ospreay gets a shot back in with an overhead kick, ahead of a Shibata dropkick… but Fox avoids it and gets taken into the ropes for an over-the-top 619.

Ospreay heads outside again to deal with Fox’s hype train, but that’s a distraction as a kickflip off the turnbuckles saw Fox crash into Will before a springboard Ace crusher turned Code Breaker nearly got the win. Will shoves away Sliced Bread, then dropkicks Fox to the outside as he tried a leapover, and we know what’s next…


The Space Flying Tiger drop was just the start of it, as Fox goes right back to the neck with a springboard neckbreaker as Will was draped across the ropes. Fox crashes and burns with a senton bomb, but Ospreay’s neck meant he couldn’t instantly capitalise as he teases a Dragon suplex, before Fox evades a lariat and ends up nailing a release German instead. Right onto the neck.

Ospreay instantly replies with a Spanish Fly – far away from an apron, thank God – before the pair fought back to their feet. Will dishes out a nasty sit-out powerbomb for a near-fall, then drapes Fox across the top rope for a shooting star press… but Fox frees himself and nails a gamengiri after Ayla Fox distracts the ref, leading to the Lo Mein Pain and a 450 splash as Fox came within a hair of the win!

A Stundog Millionaire got Ospreay right back in it, as he took out Fox’s Hype Train with a High Fly Flow to the floor… then rushed in for the corkscrew kick and an OsCutter, spiking Fox on his head for the win. Massively toned down, as you’d expect, but this was bloody good stuff. I can’t see Will lasting the weekend if every one of his matches is like this though. Ow, my speakers. ****

EVOLVE Tag Team Championship (of sorts): The End (Odinson & Parrow) vs. James Drake & Anthony Henry vs. Catch Point (Tracy Williams & Dom Garrini) vs. Catch Point (Chris Dickinson & Jaka) (c)
We’re working under lucha/Dragon Gate rules here, with one fall to a finish… but the tag titles can only change if Jaka and Dickinson eat the fall, so expect a LOT of bodies flying. Especially ring announcer Barr, who did a horrible job explaining the convoluted mess of rules here. The End tried to stare down some podcast guys who just got a shout-out – and I’m sure the crowd might have popped had Drennan used his baton on them.

Yeah, I popped at Stokely running to the back between entrances so he could accompany both halves of Catch Point to the ring.

Everyone targets The End early, with Dickinson and Jaka wiping out Parrow with a Total Elimination, while the other half of Catch Point spiked Odinson with a brainbuster. We’ve got sometimes Doom Patrol against Drake and Henry as the rest of Catch Point kept The End on the floor. Williams comes in to get rid of Drake with a teardrop suplex, as Catch Point ended up squaring off against themselves, leading to Hathaway ordering Garrini to lay down… but Tracy Williams wants no part of this, and slaps Garrini for following orders.

Yup, Catch Point is going boom here!

Williams and Jaka hit hard, before Dickinson kicked Garrini so hard he nearly fell out of the ring as this tag mess was notable for the bloody hard hits and not much else. Drake falls on his head from an overhead belly-to-belly as Henry eats a superplex/splash combo for a near-fall… and Drake looks to be in trouble.

The End quickly come back in and drop the champs with a Super Collider for a near-fall, but Henry and Drake drag themselves in to make the save. Drake does NOT look to be in good shape. Eh, forget that, he manages to dump Parrow with a spinebuster before a spinning backfist and a Drill Bit butterfly driver set up Odinson for a splash from Henry that nearly ended the match. Kayfabe here, why would you go for a pin on anyone but Dickinson or Jaka if it meant you didn’t get the tag titles?

Henry’s in with a tornado DDT to Garrini, but Dickinson rushes in to blast him with a knee as he set up for the Death Trap doomsday chokeslam… but Drake makes the save with another Drill Bit to Jaka, before a Henry double stomp and a moonsault from Drake would have gotten the win… except Odinson F5’d Henry onto the cover to break it up.

Drennan tries to use the baton, but he’s outsmarted and killed with a Henry PK, only for Parrow to murderise Henry with a German suplex before a doomsday uppercut, called Hell on Earth got the win. Except The End are dumb because they didn’t go for the tag champions, so there’s no title change. It was a bloody stupid stipulation anyway – this would have been better off as a three-way tag without the champions. A so-so match if you can look past that though… ***

That match seemed to kill the crowd, as single claps could be heard ringing around the venue. Not a good sign…

Darby Allin vs. Keith Lee
It’s non-title because of the Lee/Theory match tomorrow, by the way… and because Lee had already successfully defended the title earlier in the day, against Kassius Ohno at WrestleMania Axxess.

Allin, who had already signed his own death warrant ahead of tomorrow’s match with WALTER, was flung around the ring with ease from the opening tie-up, before nearly falling to his doom from a back body drop to the floor. Darby saves himself, only for his tope to Lee to get caught as he fought free and connected with a tope, then a tope con giro, right into the head of the WWN champ.

Back inside, Lee pounces away a Coffin Drop, leading to a nice visual as Darby once again flew like a crash test dummy. Chops followed from Lee, but Darby’s able to slip in a guillotine choke, before hanging Lee across the top rope… only to get dragged back in the ring by the seat of his trousers. YUP. Keith Lee’s back to manhandling folk!

The double-handed chop makes Darby wilt in the corner, before he’s hurled out of it as Lee was all over him… before he’s tripped into the ropes himself ahead of a Coffin Drop. Darby keeps up with a springboard into a Code Red for a near-fall, but Lee’s right back with an effortless toss and a diving cross body as he looked to put away his diminutive foe.

A big forearm from Lee decks Darby, as does a rolling elbow before the Spirit Bomb bounced Darby so much he ended up landing on his front! Allin tries to fight back, pulling himself to his feet, so Lee wrecks him with more shots and a double-handed chop, before Ground Zero put Darby away. Pretty much an extended squash, which is what this should have been as Darby continues to struggle to rebuild his form after that failed EVOLVE title shot. ***¼

Post-match, Lee addresses Austin Theory’s challenge via the medium of reverb. Long story short, Lee accepts the challenge, just so he can add another title to his collection… but his basking’s cut short as Darby pulled himself back up and asked for more… only for Lee to walk away.

Even more post-match, Candy Cartwright totters down to the ring, pasties and all… and it’s a distraction as Jarek 1:20 in a mask attacks Darby from behind, and leaves him laying with a sit-out dominator. Hey, it’s the guy from the pre-show! He gets the mic, there’s more reverb, and apparently he’s sick of Darby taking “his spot”. Okay?

Pop for the guy in the crowd who sarcastically asked the magician “where’s he gone?!” after Jarek had gone to the back.

RINGKAMPF (Timothy Thatcher & WALTER) vs. Daisuke Sekimoto & Munenori Sawa
Here we go, the first half of our main event, and if you are into your big lads wrestling… has Gabe got a match for you?!

Yet again, America doesn’t appreciate Timothy Thatcher, which makes me want to see him emigrate to Europe. We start with Sawa and Thatcher, as the latter tried to cheapshot WALTER off the apron before they tied-up. There’s plenty of ground grappling, better than a lot of what we saw at Bloodsports, as the pair had an early stalemate, while commentary tried to tell us that Sawa was coming out of retirement for this match.


Sawa forces Thatcher into the ropes with a leg grapevine, before we tagged out to the real big lads. WALTER. Sekimoto. Let’s roll back the clock to wXw 2011 and the greatness these guys had… as I know Alan4L in the crowd for this was surely doing. Oh yeah, CHOP! by the way…

WALTER took the advantage with a slam as Thatcher came in to barge some knees into Sekimoto’s back, before another tag got us back to WALTER throwing chops. There’s some boos as Thatcher’s back in, applying a single-leg crab that Sawa tried to break up, all while RINGKAMPF continued to make use of those frequent tags. Sekimoto tries to fire back, but CHOP! He’s down again, and it’s clear that they’re building up to the monster Sawa comeback.

Thatcher gets off a gutwrench suplex on Sekimoto for a near-fall, before WALTER almost tripped on his way back in… and he misses a charge into the corner as Sekimoto hauls up the big Austrian… only to lose the slam and eat another chop. Finally Sawa gets the tag in, as does Thatcher, and this crowd is coming unglued for Sawa trading shots against the former EVOLVE champ! Sawa’s flurry pinned Thatcher into the corner, before he’s thrown into the ropes for a dropkick as he’s forced to take down both halves of RINGKAMPF with a pair of Dragon screws! Sekimoto’s back in to give Timmy a couple of backbreakers, prompting the crowd to chant for the Muscle Monster, right as he folds Thatcher into a Boston crab. Eventually WALTER wanders in to break it up with a chop, but Sawa’s able to keep Timmy grounded with a knee bar as the hard shots started to come back into the match.

Chops from Sekimoto and Thatcher ring around the venue, but we work up to a hot tag to WALTER, who’s back in with those goddamned chops, before Sawa saves Sekimoto from a German suplex. Lariats from WALTER put him back ahead, as he took Sawa down with the RINGKAMPF butterfly suplex. Sekimoto’s able to drop WALTER with a slam, then with a missile dropkick as the near-falls were racking up… as were the German suplexes, as Sekimoto got off a kick-assisted German. More chops though, as WALTER tries to get back into it, aiming for the throat, and it’s full-on chop warfare as Sekimoto and WALTER reeled off those strikes!

Tags take us back out to Sawa and Thatcher, with Timmy still throwing bombs, but Sawa is more than happy to reply in kind with a flurry of kicks, only to get caught in a Fujiwara armbar as a rope break was needed to keep the match alive. Sawa sneaks in a right hand as he traps Thatcher in an Octopus hold, as Sekimoto racks WALTER to stop him from making the save… but RINGKAMPF escape, only to get thrown into each other as duelling punches knocked WALTER to the outside.

A stacked-up German Duplex on Thatcher put the Japanese pair back in front, but Sawa takes way too long to make a cover, and Thatcher tagged out to WALTER, who nearly got the win with a wicked lariat. From there, it’s the small matter of a Gojira clutch, with Thatcher restraining Sekimoto, as the tap eventually comes to bring this masterclass to an end. It may have been lacking in crowd reactions, but this was a fantastic slab of “big lads’ wrestling”. We’re only one night in, and already WALTER’s had a hand in two cracking matches… ****½

Post-match, Stokely Hathaway wanders out, mic-in-hand, to berate Thatcher for leaving the “Dream Team” all those months ago. RINGKAMPF have a tag title shot at the WWN Supershow tomorrow… but first, WALTER has an annoyance called Darby Allin to deal with. Darby took the mic, and of course we couldn’t hear what he said, but WALTER instantly dumps him to the outside before murdering him with a powerbomb.

Their match tomorrow is going to be FUN. Unless they over-do it with Catch Point run ins…

EVOLVE Championship: Matt Riddle vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (c)
After coming up short to Sabre’s Suzuki-gun leader a little earlier, can Riddle get the job done when there’s gold to be won?

I really miss “Zacky Three Belts”, but I guess Gabe isn’t a fan of him parading with two belts from another promotion…

This one was built up fairly hurriedly over EVOLVE’s last double-header in February, and we start with Riddle trying to grab an early rear naked choke on the champion, but of course Sabre’s able to get free as the pair go back and forth with submission attempts, before Riddle scored with a gutwrench suplex and a back senton for a near-fall. Riddle’s strikes put him firmly ahead, as he rocked Sabre with running forearms into the corner, before Zack caught him with a brief heel hook as Riddle was forced to grab the ropes. Irony. Sabre takes over from there, wrenching with a modified single crab, then into a STF as he bent Riddle’s bones, before thanking one guy in the crowd for an anti-Tory chant.

More bone-bending followed from Sabre, who played “this little piggy” with Riddle’s toes, eventually forcing the challenger into a comeback that was quickly ended with a legsweep. A tornado DDT out of the corner morphs into Orienteering with Napalm Death (or something close to it), but Riddle again gets to the ropes. Whatever happened to wanting to do away with those, Matthew?

Sabre’s all about the counters and transitions, switching Riddle’s German into a guillotine, but Riddle’s wise to it and nails a Fisherman buster… before a second one is countered into a mounted keylock. Bloody hell, this is slick stuff, almost ending with another Fisherman buster as Riddle followed it with a cradle on impact for a near-fall. We’re back with counters to counters as Riddle worked into an armbar, but Sabre’s out into a knee bar. Some running European uppercuts keep Riddle on the back foot, but instead he counters into a Bromission that Sabre slipped out of and into a pinning attempt for a near-fall. A powerbomb keeps Sabre on the back foot, this time with Riddle getting a two-count, and it’s not long before Riddle’s rear naked choke gets countered into a Euro clutch for a near-fall.

Sabre keeps up with some PKs, getting more two-counts, before he decides to trap Riddle in a knee bar, scissoring the body for extra effect as Riddle tried to crawl to the ropes. Man, so much irony here. Zack drills Riddle’s knee into the mat as he started to adjust his plans, knocking down his challenger before kicking away at those knees some more. Except Riddle gets back up and throws some strikes ahead of a ripcord knee, following up with a Bro to Sleep and a bridging German to almost win the title.

Riddle looked to go up top for the exclamation mark, but he leapt into a cross armbreaker from Sabre… a move that almost had Zack pinning himself! The Octopus hold quickly followed though, as Sabre seemingly segued into the Hyper Normality double armbar, before Riddle switched into a Gotch tombstone for yet another two-count. Zack escapes another Bromission and goes back to the submissions, using a Banana split, but Riddle slips free and gets the Bromission back on and Zack taps! Riddle is your new EVOLVE champion! ****½

A hell of a match for Sabre to lose the title on, and of course, we’ve got the customary passing of the torch, before Riddle bumped fists with Sabre to end the show.

EVOLVE’s first show of the weekend was a muted affair – thanks to the audience seemingly voting with their feet and picking the WrestleCon Supershow over this. With any luck, tomorrow’s EVOLVE 103 and the subsequent WWN Supershow will do better at the gate. Those who did come were treated to a fantastic show, with the only sour point being that confusing as all hell stipulation tag match. If you can fast-forward or overlook that, you’ve got a great show, and a tag match with RINGKAMPF, Daisuke Sekimoto and Munenori Sawa… a match that’s well worth anyone’s time.