Matt Riddle’s first outing as EVOLVE champion was a doozy – main eventing against Daisuke Sekimoto – as EVOLVE took on the World in an underwhelming show.

Yeah, it’s another wacky “theme” show from EVOLVE, as the later WWN Supershow took priority it seemed. We had some injury changes too, as Travis Banks and Darby Allin picked up knocks in the PROGRESS show that precedes this, so they were taken off the show with Mark Haskins added to the line-up.

Just like yesterday, we’ve got Lenny Leonard and Ron Niemi hosting from the ring in the Ponchartrain Centre. Joanna Rose is still around, but just on behind-the-scenes videos, which is a weird way to use someone you’re flying in. The crowd looks worse than yesterday, with nobody sitting in the entry-way when the show started. Yeah, it might be because of Rev Pro going head-to-head with them, but this is sub-5*, I’m afraid…

Jarek 1:20 and Candy Cartwright wander down to the ring to start the show, because why not? Jarek claims he injured Darby, and he wants the spot… but he’s turned down. Candy Cartwright seemed inordinately happy for someone whose guy was knocked back.

WWN x FIP Championship: Austin Theory (FIP) vs. Keith Lee (WWN)
If it’s title vs. title, I guess this is a unification bout?

Theory jumped Lee from behind as he was distracted by Alan4L basking in his glory, before connecting with a series of elbows… and then get forced to backflip away as Lee started to impose himself. Lee mocked Theory for “being a world champion that hasn’t been to another country” as he rained down some clubbering forearms, but the pace of this is so slow I’m already smelling a rat.

Theory fought back with forearms, but they were no match for Lee’s, as the WWN champ effortlessly launched Theory across the ring with a Beele. The ref gets involved as Theory tried to use him as a human shield, and it helped the FIP champion at least get a foot in the door as he took down Lee and put the boots to him.

A series of forearms only served to anger Lee, who smashed his way back in with elbows and that massive double-hand chop, before Theory flipped out of Ground Zero. That turns the tables briefly, before Theory leapt into a big chokeslam, almost costing him the match. Still, Theory keeps up, rolling through into a dropkick, then another roll-up into a Blockbuster as he almost took the W… while the crowd just watched on.

Lee’s strikes again knocked Theory down, but the relative rookie hits back, only to get caught with a pop-up spinning back elbow. A moonsault from Lee is stopped as Theory tried for a powerbomb, before he instead pulled down Lee for an attempted rack bomb… and it just about comes off for a near-fall. Theory runs his mouth, and gets caught with a Spirit Bomb for a near-fall before Ground Zero is escaped.

We get a ref bump and a low blow, as the Theory KO connects, and we have a new WWN champion! Well, so much for “Theory can’t win without Priscilla”, but my God, Theory is so not ready for the WWN strap in my eyes. It seemed the bragging point was Theory won so he could go to WWE Axxess with the belt, which is… very strange. As for the match, I cannot connect with Theory as a heel, so a lot of this just felt lacklustre. **½

The crowd chanted “Thank You, Keith” after… is there a “Keith Lee to WWE” story I missed?

Oh God, the new EVOLVE slogan is “Get Ready or Get Out Of The Way”. That’s not a good tagline, Gabe…

Dominic Garrini vs. Timothy Thatcher
Hey, an EVOLVE crowd didn’t boo Thatcher?! Oh, nevermind, that one guy shouted “You suck, Thatcher”. Moron.

They start with grappling, as Thatcher took Garrini down to the mat, looking for a spare leg, but Garrini succeeds, grabbing a knee bar as the mat-based stuff continued. This probably would have fared better at Bloodsport last night… Thatcher gets on top though, throwing some fists to the midsection, before he’s forced to grab the ropes as Garrini snatched a keylock.

Garrini never felt more than a move away from putting Thatcher in trouble, and of course just as I say that, they start throwing strikes, with a leaping knee rocking Timmy for a series of German suplexes, the latter ending in a cross armbreaker as Garrini looked for something like a Kirifuda driver… but out of nowhere Thatcher gets a win with a butterfly suplex after he looked to bust open his lip. A rushed finish, and a match that never really got going. This crowd is killing me. **¼

Jason Kincaid vs. DJ Z vs. AR Fox vs. Chris Brookes
Since I last saw Jason Kincaid, he’s shaved off his hair and beard… he now looks like Scottish comedian Limmy with a skull tattoo, and I don’t like it. What happened to the meditator?!

Jarek 1:20 rushed the ring as DJ Z’s music hit… then did a runner when Kincaid fought back. Candy Cartwright hadn’t even left the curtain! AR Fox had his usual posse, and as much as I like that his guys mostly wear their own merch, it doesn’t really make me care any more. Chris Brookes took the fourth spot in the match, making his debut as he filled the spot lost when Tracy Williams was moved up the card.

Hey, the crowd made noise for Brookes!

Fox’s crew got thrown out before the bell, and we started with… the ref getting in the way of Brookes. A cracking start! Brookes does take down DJ Z, and instantly goes for the wet willie, before turning around into a leap from Fox as they did some lucha-style stuff, eventually heading to the outside. The new-look Kincaid’s in with a clothesline, then a handspring kneedrop off the ropes for a near-fall, before DJ Z dropkicked Kincaid to the floor. That bloody airhorn.

Brookes gets a smattering of boos as he tripped DJ Z, then again when he pulls Kincaid out of the ring as we built up to some dives, first from Fox, then DJ Z, and finally from Kincaid as he fell back off the ring post with a trust fall. We’re not done though, as Fox does the Ryan Smile tope over the turnbuckles, crashing into everyone on the floor! There’s more flips back inside as Fox cracks Kincaid with an enziguiri, before a spin-out Fisherman buster almost ended things. Brookes looked for a Praying Mantis Bomb, but it’s kicked away by DJ Z, who pulls his way into a neckbreaker/accidental DDT on Brookes and Fox as the feed goes again. It recovers as Brookes is in with superkicks, only to get taken down with a facebuster as we’re in a Parade of Moves!

Brookes tries to powerbomb Kincaid in a Tower of Doom, but he instead turns him into a Lykos… except Kincaid doesn’t know the spot. He gets kicked in the head for that, before DJ Z crushes Brookes with a stomp, as Kincaid shrugs everything off and flattened DJ Z with a slingshot Falcon arrow for a near-fall.

We’re getting a lot of MOVES here, but the crowd doesn’t seem to care too much… Brookes tries for a DJ Lykos, and this time it works, before planting DJ Z with the spinning neckbreaker. Brookes goes up top, but gets caught with the Lo Mein Pain, before Fox finishes him off with the Foxcatcher for the win. This was fun, even if a lot of it didn’t seem to register, or mesh too well. **¾

I’ll be honest, the crowd (or lack thereof) is really hurting this show. Perhaps it wasn’t such an idea to run four “A-level” shows in the same venue the same day, with the competition on offer, as it’s really showing the difference between perceptions and reality?

Chris Dickinson vs. Mark Haskins
Haskins was one of the late replacements, replacing Travis Banks as the original plan to rematch one half of the hottest tag matches from last year’s shows fell through.

Haskins tried to take Dickinson down, but the Dirty Daddy is even to it as we have some rather aggressive grappling to start us off. A headlock takedown keeps us on the mat, as the pinning attempts keep going, before Haskins teased his armbar… but we’re back in Bloodsport territory folks.

A stomp from Haskins freezes the feed, as things look to crap out a little… it returns as Haskins takes a powerslam from Dickinson, who stalked over him in the aisle, whipping the former PROGRESS champion into the ring steps, cutting Haskins’ shoulder in the process. More hard whips follow in the ring, with Haskins having to kick out as his shoulder clearly was causing discomfort. Eventually Haskins fires back, drilling a knee to Dickinson’s gut, following up with a chop before he ran into some boots. Haskins counters a counter as he escapes a cradle and grabs a crossface, turning it into a Rings of Saturn before Dickinson got to the ropes. We’re back into Haskin’s usual routine, rolling off the ropes into a death valley driver on the Dirty Daddy for a near-fall.

Dickinson scores a roll-up and switches into a Trailer Hitch, but Haskins is able to make it to the ropes for freedom, before a Falcon arrow gets a near-fall as it almost looked like Haskins was being broken down in front of our eyes, hobbling into the corner before scoring a double stomp for a near-fall. Haskins keeps up, rolling Dickinson into the Sharpshooter, but it’s escaped and neatly switched into a pinning attempt before Dickinson goes back to the Trailer Hitch for the submission. That… was long and not exactly entertaining. The Timothy Thatcher Special – continuing EVOLVE’s tradition of making excitable characters somehow come across as vanilla. ***

Tracy Williams vs. WALTER
If this doesn’t wake up the crowd, this show is doomed.

Yep, we’re getting chants of “WALTER’s gonna kill you”, which may be accurate; and although I’m sad we’re not getting the originally scheduled match with Darby Allin, this ought to be more competitive. WALTER scores a takedown, but Williams slips out and throws in a cheeky kick… which just earns him a slam and a big elbow from an annoyed Ringgeneral.

Chops sent Williams into the corner, before another one hit so hard it broke the stream! We’re back as those chops had Williams rocked, as a butterfly suplex gets WALTER a near-fall. A superplex effort from WALTER’s blocked, but he just slams Williams to the mat instead… which prompts “Hot Sauce” to try throwing some fists, but WALTER just slaps him before the RINGKAMPF German’s avoided.

For some reason Williams kept going for a Teardrop suplex, eventually landing it, before catching another superplex effort and DDTing WALTER onto the top turnbuckle. A flying DDT follows as Williams sensed blood, scoring with a big splash for a near-fall, then rolling the Austrian into a crossface… but WALTER’s easily up to his feet, only to get caught in a rear naked choke.

Ah, WALTER snaps that down too. CHOP. LARIAT. OUCH. Williams surprises WALTER with another crossface, only for a rope break to be called as he starts to keep WALTER down with kicks. One’s caught and turned into a German suplex before a huge lariat almost led to the win, as the Gojira clutch finished off the former EVOLVE tag champion. Easily the best thing on this card, but that’s not saying much. Good ol’ reliable WALTER, here to save your show! ***½

Jaka vs. Munenori Sawa
We start with more grappling, because why have variety? Okay, that’s a little unfair, but this is almost EVOLVE: Bloodsport!

They end up outside pretty quick, as Jaka’s happy to slap Sawa… who fires back promptly as they brawled around the ringside area, giving the front row a closer look. A headbutt from Jaka rocked Sawa, but there’s receipts as Jaka’s taken into the guard rails for more of the same, before Sawa’s crushed in the guard rails with a running knee. Back inside, Sawa’s rocked with some more knees, before an uppercut and a lariat put him down. Jaka’s way ahead as a chokebomb almost ended the match, before he put Sawa in a Sharpshooter… prompting the veteran to tap… but only to get the crowd on-side. Thank God the ref didn’t call it as a submission!

Following a rope break, Jaka switches into a STF, then keeps up with some axehandle blows, only to get cornered with a flurry of strikes and a leaping kick by Sawa. My stream stutters again as we return to Jaka hauling Sawa across the ring, before the pair resume their scrap, trading headbutts from their knees. This is getting real good now, even if there’s no roaring crowd to boost this along… and there’s not long left, as Sawa locks Jaka in an Octopus hold for the submission. Not even a subdued crowd could wreck this one – a hell of a scrap between these two, as Jaka once again showed his value in the singles ranks. ***½

Oh, I forgot about this lot. The End hit the ring to beat down Jaka three on one, but Dickinson makes the save, clearing house with German suplexes before Parrow clobbered him. Dominic Garrini tries to help, but he too is stomped down, before Stokely Hathaway gets cornered, only for Tracy Williams to hit the ring as finally Catch Point get the advantage, sending The End scurrying to the back.

EVOLVE Championship: Daisuke Sekimoto vs. Matt Riddle (c)
No, it’s not Jordynne Grace, they just share the same theme… this should be the match of the night, especially because of the relatively low bar on hand.

This was made a title match after Riddle beat Zack Sabre Jr. the prior night, and Sekimoto opts to wrestle barefoot as well, so as not to have an advantage. Riddle drops in the stipulation that all of his title matches will now be under no rope-break rules, which is funny given how many of those buggers he needed to win last night!

Sekimoto tries to play mind games by sucking Riddle into a sumo-style charge, before they head down to the mat, where Riddle works a waistlock, before he surprised Sekimoto with a triangle armbar of sorts. That’s countered out of with a powerbomb, as Sekimoto ends up walking into a chop, asking for more before sending Riddle to his knees with a chop of his own. A Boston crab follows as Sekimoto effortlessly pulled Riddle up, only for Riddle to get free and lay in with some clubbing shots as Riddle went for a pin – with Sekimoto trying in vain to break free with a rope break. I can see that new wrinkle causing some issues with new-to-EVOLVE guys…

A gutwrench suplex from Sekimoto drew a near-fall, as he followed in with some charging shoulder blocks, before a German suplex was countered with Riddle grabbing an ankle, attempting for a heel hook as Sekimoto clubbed his way to freedom again. Riddle flipped out of the German, but eats a wicked lariat as he tried to charge at his challenger. Second time was the charm for the knee and a Fisherman buster, but Sekimoto’s up at two, only to get squashed with back sentons as Riddle eased into the lead.

Sekimoto manages to rack Riddle, but Riddle escaped and gets a trapped-head armbar, a la Suzuki, utilising that no rope-break rule, before Sekimoto just dumped him down to the floor for some respite. God, I love the faces Daisuke makes when he’s firing up!

More chops leave both men reeling, but Riddle’s back with an up-kick and a Bro to Sleep that rocked Sekimoto, ahead of a bridging German for another near-fall. Kicks follow from Riddle as he tested Sekimoto’s heart some more, leading to more chops and kicks between the pair, then headbutts… but Daisuke gets too eager and eats some bicycle knees, before Riddle rained down hammer fists for an abrupt stoppage. O-kay… that wasn’t built to, but whatever. Definitely the best thing on the card, but I feel that the no rope-break rule is going to hurt a lot of Riddle’s defences as a lot of the drama is being taken away. ****

EVOLVE 103 has to go down as a disappointment. With a lot of the potential audience seemingly preferring Rev Pro’s show over this, we had a smaller, quiet crowd that was met with a rather bland set of matches. Injuries did force changes, but in the end this show will likely go down in history as a rather forgettable, flaccid card that felt like it was there just to kill time before the WWN Supershow. Perhaps More Than Mania 2019 ought to change the pace so that their regular brand doesn’t get put in these “death slots”?