Keith Lee bade farewell to EVOLVE in Michigan – and had a chance to leave with the title?

Billed as the Last War, Keith Lee’s final match would see him up against Matt Riddle in a no rope breaks match. Lenny Leonard and Ron Niemi are your hosts and commentators again today.

N8 Mattson & Orlando Christopher vs. The End (Drennan & Parrow)
Mattson’s a name that’s been around forever, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him. There was a slight change from The End as Drennan wanted a fight, so he was in for what was his EVOLVE debut.

Drennan started off on the back foot as Christopher took him down with an armdrag, then a dropkick after a decent series. Parrow’s in and shrugs off attacks from Christopher before cornering him with a chop as a hiptoss took him back out. Tags brings Drennan back in, and eventually Mattson, with the latter scoring a nice flapjack to take Drennan into the corner for a Stinger splash. Parrow sneaks back in with a bucklebomb to Mattson as the veteran’s kept isolated, not helped with an avalanche in the corner from Parrow as he set up N8 for a superplex from Drennan. The End are all over Mattson, with Parrow’s chokeslam getting an easy two-count, before Drennan set up for an elbow drop off the middle rope. A torture rack from Parrow keeps the pressure up, before he released Mattson by throwing him into the turnbuckles… a whip into the buckles finally led to a comeback as Mattson gets his feet up to stop a charge, as both men tag out.

Christopher turns up the pace with some headscissors, before he rolled out of a roll-up and dumped Drennan with a death valley driver for a near-fall. A leap into the corner goes awry for Drennan as he’s pulled down into a Tree of Woe, allowing Christopher to dive Coast to Coast with an elbow drop… and that just prompts Drennan to get his baton out of the corner and start beating them with it for the DQ. This was a TV-style squash with a crap ending. That seems to be the theme of these guys – and you have to wonder, are they just there to look imposing while being unable to get the job done? If they are, their already shortened shelf-life is going to be even shorter, I fear. **

Tracy Williams made a save as The End threatened to continue the beating with their baton… and this is a Gabe special as Odinson, who conveniently had been subbed out of the opener, is thrust into action.

Tracy Williams vs. Odinson
Odinson’s early attacks on Williams were quickly neutralised as he was caught in the ropes with a hanging armbar.

Williams breaks the hold and tries to fly, but leaps into an uppercut as Odinson resumed control, taking Williams into the ropes for some choking. Drennan seems to try and rake Williams eyes from the floor, but Williams didn’t register it, before he’s forced to knee his way out of a suplex as Odinson just wiped him out with a dropkick instead. A release gutwrench suplex gets another cover for Odinson, but his attempt to take Williams up top backfires as he was almost dropped with a DDT into the turnbuckles.

Instead, Williams tries for a guillotine, but gets suplexed anyway, as his attempts to restrain the much bigger Odinson eventually paid off when he nails a teardrop suplex. Odinson tries to catch Williams up top again, but gets shoved off ahead of a missile dropkick, then a flying DDT as Odinson barely kicked out in time. The momentum swings back as Odinson catches Williams with an enziguiri and a powerslam for a near-fall, before an airplane spin was countered into a crossface… and just like that, Odinson’s tapping! This was probably the best anyone from The End’s looked thus far in EVOLVE, and after another emphatic loss, you have to wonder… where next? **¾

Post-match, Catch Point rushes the ring and lays out Williams. Yes, even Dom Garrini’s able to do something! James Drake and Anthony Henry make the belated save, ahead of their tag title shot at Dickinson and Jaka later in the show.

Cyrus Satin comes out for a match, having last been seen in EVOLVE six months ago getting squashed by Dominic Garrini. He doesn’t even get a match this time as Bryan Idol – the former Earl Cooter – laid him out with the Cross Rhodes. Idol moans about having to create opportunities for himself… before issuing a challenge for the FIP show later in the week as he wants to stand out from the dozens of names “ambiguously scattered on the flyer”. He wants to face Fred Yehi – despite him being excommunicated from WWN these days. Spoiler: the match didn’t happen. Neither Yehi or Idol were on that show.

Myron Reed vs. AR Fox
AR had his Skulk out with him, so expect distractions and shenanigans.

Reed tries to work the arm early on, but Fox headscissors his way free before he offered a handshake… which was a ruse as Fox tried to finish the match early. Reed’s smart to it as we’re in with some nice sequences that saw Reed more than match Fox until we somehow get duelling cutters! Reed gets a crossbody in for a near-fall after that, before he kipped up and got hung in the ropes as Fox just blasted him with a kick from the floor. A slingshot rolling neckbreaker’s next as Fox was looking supremely fluid here, following up with a Twister suplex for a near-fall.

In response, Reed nearly snatches a win with a backslide, but another neckbreaker snuffs him out, before the pair struggle over a suplex, wriggling back and forth before Fox gets met with the Stundog Millionaire. Reed keeps up with a kip-up dropkick back inside, but he ends up running into a Flatliner as Fox turned it right back around for a near-fall. Lo Mein Pain followed for another two-count, as Fox just heads up top… and whiffs on a 450 splash as we’re right back to square one! As they fought back to their feet, Fox and Reed traded forearms, then superkicks and enziguiris, before Fox’s springboard stunner and wacky Dragon sleeper variation almost forced Reed to tap. Somehow Reed’s able to crawl into the ropes, and mount another comeback as he decked Fox with a forearm before diving into the Skulk with a tope con giro… Fox does the same too, as the EVOLVE entryway gets wiped out!

Fox tries to follow-up, but he gets hung in the ropes with a cutter before Reed hits a second one as the pair crashed into the Skulk. My God, that looked insane… but then Reed is hit with the Foxcatcher back in the ring, as the cross-armed suplex was enough for the win. A hell of a showing for Reed, who’s establishing himself in EVOLVE… in spite of the loss, this did Reed a world of good. ***½

J Spade vs. Matt Delray vs. Bu Ku Dao vs. Snoop Strikes vs. Johnny Flex vs. AC Mack vs. Dominic Garrini vs. Josh Briggs
Yay, a fray. You can always tell when EVOLVE have hit reset because these keep popping up… except this is more of a Royal Rumble style, with two men starting and entrances every minute.

We start with J Spade (who’s out with SHINE’s Natalia Markova for… reasons) and Matt Delray, who seems to be wearing a t-shirt that shrunk massively in the wash. It doesn’t make him look like the badass his tights proclaim him to be. Delray starts out hot, chopping Spade in the corner before the Wildkat champion Spade hit back with a dropkick. The camera misses Spade whiffing on a springboard dropkick, as we’re watching the aisle for Bu Ku Dao to enter.

Dao’s dropkicks have no effect on Delray, who drops a little too soon from a bulldog for a near-fall, before we focus on the aisle again for Snoop Strikes to make his entrance. In the middle of that, we hear that Delray’s gone, but because they can’t produce these frantic frays well, we didn’t see what put Delray away. Snoop hits a missile dropkick to Dao and Spade as he gets a chance to shine, dropping Dao with Sliced Bread as Johnny Flex appears… to J Spade’s entrance graphic. For crying out loud, WWN… Flex drops Strikes with some clotheslines as he shows why he’s Wildkat’s Revolution champ, eventually dropping Spade with a Rocker Dropper. Dao tries a dropkick, but gets wiped out with a Samoan driver as AC Mack hits the ring. Hey, he’s the guy with the caution tape-inspired gear a la Jason Sensation’s spoofing of Owen Hart! Mack goes out with dropkicks and superkicks before he runs into an elbow from Spade.

Mack’s leaping double knees put Spade down, before he and Snoop have a spell, ending with an enziguiri as Dominic Garrini heads out. Yep, he’s been reduced to these. Garrini’s taken outside with a Strikes dropkick, before Dao catches Mack with some headscissors into a crossface for the submission. Dao instantly gets beaten on by Garrini, who hoists him into a cross armbreaker for a submission, just as Josh Briggs completes the line-up. Briggs stands out like a sore thumb here, in a good way, swatting away Strikes before dishing out a chokebreaker to Spade for an elimination. Flex is like the proverbial boy against a man, and he goes too after a chokebreaker, before Garrini low-bridges Briggs to the outside.

A tope from Snoop keeps Josh on the outside, before he returned to slingshot himself into an armbar as Garrini made him tap. Briggs goes back to the ring to slug it out with Garrini, who blocks the chokebreaker and returns fire with a knee. Garrini locks in a sleeper, but Briggs throws him down and gets the awkward chokebreaker anyway for the win. Massively, massively rushed – it got Briggs over as a monster, but this could have done with more time, unless the aim was to make the other seven guys look like nobodies. *¾

Zachary Wentz vs. DJ Z
Another new name in EVOLVE, Wentz is coming into this having lost to AR Fox the prior night… but I don’t expect him to pick up a W over DJZ here.

DJZ starts out by taking Wentz down in a wristlock before playing his airhorns… yes, they never get annoying. Wentz tries to get in with a headlock, but DJZ escapes and comes back with some headscissors… that Wentz flipped out of before mocking DJZ’s airhorn. Some more flippy goodness followed, including a springboard corkscrew plancha from Wentz as DJZ went to the outside… and ends up clocking Zachary with a forearm before pulling him down onto the apron.

Wentz tries to springboard off the guard rails, but gets shoved into the crowd as DJZ decides to leap over the barrier with a tope into him anyway. Another dive from Wentz helps him recover as they go back into the ring with a reverse DDT from DJZ keeping him on top, as the pair trade chops and elbows in a bid to get ahead. A handspring knee from Wentz sees him edge ahead, but a bulldozer-like lariat dumps him down as the pace of the match began to slow down a little. DJZ hangs Wentz over the top rope before springboarding in with a Quebrada… Wentz gets his knees up, sending DJZ to the outside for a crossbody/plancha, following up with a PK back inside, before he almost fell to a cheeky roll-up. The back-and-forth continues as a wheelbarrow attempt’s countered into a half-and-half suplex from Wentz, before it was his time to land into some knees as a senton fell short, allowing DJZ to come right back… into a knee! A massive springboard cutter nearly gets the upset for Wentz, who looked to finish off off the top rope, only to get met with a ‘rana from DJZ, who followed that up with a rolling DDT for the win. This was a nice, brisk outing – a surprise loss for Wentz, but another one of those outings that’ll do him good in the long run in EVOLVE. ***

Shane Strickland vs. Darby Allin
The prior night, Strickland came close to beating Matt Riddle – only to get himself disqualified as another side of Strickland came to the fore. Before the match, Strickland derided WWN for not signing him years ago, before promising to break his opponent’s arm today.

Their early tussles are shrugged off as Allin was the early aggressor, almost snatching a win with a roll-up as Strickland powdered to the outside. Back inside though, Strickland countered out of a victory roll and catches Darby in an armbar, forcing Allin to scurry into the ropes as Strickland almost caused another DQ loss. Allin rebounds with a lucha armdrag and an O’Connor roll, but he’s still unable to put away Strickland, who starts to make a comeback with some headscissors and a big lariat that flipped Darby around.

Strickland looked to keep up the pressure as he lifted Allin up to the top rope… but instead he drops the arm across the turnbuckles as he worked on the arm once more and eventually sending Darby falling off the apron to the floor. The targeting continues as Strickland traps the arm in the guard rails, following up with an armbar in the ring… but Darby escaped and tried to return the favour, except they were too close to the ropes. A punch from Strickland sinks Darby to his knees as you could say he was looking for his killshot, but that just fired up Darby once more. Another knee from Strickland puts a stop to that, but Darby’s Code Red almost brought it to a surprise end, as Darby showed an edge himself, choking Strickland against the bottom rope. A big knee from Strickland stops that though, as the match entered a rather more deliberate phase… Allin hits a nice back body drop off the top to Strickland, only to Coffin Drop into a cross armbreaker, and after Strickland “snapped” the arm, he goes back in with a Kimura as the referee waves off the match. So, Shane Strickland’ll snap your arm, and that’s two pretty dominant performances in one weekend for the newly-aggressive King of Swerve. I like. ***½

After the match, Candy Cartwright makes an appearance again to tell Darby that “Jarek’s coming.” I didn’t need to have my ears bleed again, thanks.

Austin Theory vs. Trey Miguel
We’re back after intermission with a non-title contest, just because. Still, at least we get to hear Trey Miguel’s awesomely bad sound-alike theme.

Theory wrestles Miguel down to the mat from the off, but Trey’s back in with an armdrag before he caught out Theory with headscissors and a neck twist. Trey takes him outside with more headscissors, but Austin ducks a lariat, only to get kicked off the apron as Miguel went for a step-up senton, not entirely catching Theory on the way down. Back inside, a slingshot, split-legged moonsault gets nothing but Theory’s knees as the WWN champion slowly hit back, as the crowd started to get on his back. A slingshot, roll-through dropkick’s good for a near-fall, with Theory keeping Miguel on the mat with a chinlock, before an attempt at a powerbomb gets countered with headscissors as Miguel hit back again with a neckbreaker. Trey keeps in with some kicks before aborting a double stomp off the top, instead scoring with a running Meteora for another near-fall.

Another trip up top almost backfires as Miguel has to club away on Theory before going for a sunset bomb… Theory ends up blocking that and gets caught in the ropes for a cheeky 619 in the corner ahead of a Meteora for another two-count as the upset loomed large… only for Theory to come straight back in with a cross-legged over-the-knee brainbuster. After he rolled out from a backslide, Theory throws Miguel into the ringpost before catching him with Ataxia for the win. This was fine, but it didn’t really stand out in any way for me. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it until it changes or (huh) evolves, but Austin Theory as a bad guy is doing nothing for me. ***

Post-match, AR Fox comes out with his Skulk. That got a bigger reaction than the prior match. Fox, who trained Theory, called him “one of us”, before Priscilla and Ayla Fox got into a brief shoving match only for Ayla to be dragged away by her husband and the Skulk.

EVOLVE Tag Team Championships: Work Horsemen (James Drake & Anthony Henry) vs. Catch Point (Jaka & Chris Dickinson) (c)
A rematch from EVOLVE 88 almost a year ago, where Drake and Henry won the titles in their first match together as a team. Could lightning strike twice?

Dickinson started out by putting the boots to Henry in the corner for an early pinning attempt, as the champions were all over their opponents… but Henry was more than fine with hitting back like-for-like, catching Dickinson a few times before tagging out to Drake. Yep, those two hosses throw kicks, before a back suplex forced Dickinson to tag out to Jaka, who keeps the motif going.

Another tag brings Henry back in for a barrage of body blows to Jaka, who just hits back harder, only to get caught with a dropkick to the gut for a near-fall. Dickinson gets involved from the floor as he tries to trip Henry, and it works as Jaka capitalises with a spinebuster for a near-fall, before taking Henry back into the corner for some more stomping. The champions started to cut the ring in half, with Henry getting choked in the corner, then suplexed as Catch Point rarely let him get anywhere close to his own corner.

A head kick from Dickinson dumps Henry for a near-fall, as Tracy Williams appears to try and get the crowd going. Or to get under the skins of his former Catch Point colleagues. Whichever works. It seemed to have an instant effect as Henry hits Dickinson with an enziguiri to bring a barrage of strikes to an end, but for some reason James Drake and Tracy Williams went for Stokely Hathaway… which led to Stokely, Williams and Dominic Garrini fleeing through the crowd. That incident gave Henry a chance to fight back, and after scoring with a missile dropkick he’s able to bring in Drake, who was the proverbial house on fire as he squashes Jaka with a back senton for a near-fall. A double-team leads to Dickinson getting pulled in for a double stomp, before an assisted TKO and a Shining Wizard laid out Jaka for another close call. The champions quickly hit back with an avalanche Falcon arrow for a near-fall, then a superkick-assisted half nelson suplex.

Henry capitalises on some stalling from the champions as he used a Victory Roll to escape the Death Trap, but that seemed to be the last hurrah as a knee and a double neckbreaker put Henry down… although he was up first to bring Drake back in for some more clubbering as the challengers found their second wind. A Drake cannonball in the corner and a moonsault almost gets the win, with a flying Jaka making the save, before he held up Henry on the ropes for a guillotine legdrop to the outside. That looked nasty!

Back in the ring, Drake eats a snap German suplex from Jaka, before taking the Challa spinning heel kick and rebounding with a wrist clutch Exploder! Jaka fights back, only to get rocked with a gamengiri in the corner, as Drake takes too long to follow up… allowing Dickinson to return as the champs hit Death Trap for the win. This was an enjoyable war, although rather than building to a crescendo it just seemed to stop as Henry narrowly failed to break up a pin at the death. Both teams could have won, but today it was Catch Point who came in – and left – with the gold. Bloody good stuff. ****¼

“How do you follow that?!” Oh, you bring out Austin Theory. Of course you do. He grabs the mic from Trevin Adams and offers Fox a WWN title match. It seems a brief shoving match is enough to trigger young, thin-skinned Austin!

No Rope Breaks for EVOLVE Championship: Keith Lee vs. Matt Riddle (c)
Keith Lee’s final hurrah for EVOLVE was the “Final War” – their sixth one-on-one match, but this time it’d be under Riddle’s preferred rules as he’d put his EVOLVE strap on the line.

A suitably-hot reaction greeted Lee, and after an opening handshake, we’re underway as Lee had to shrug off an early sleeperhold attempt from Riddle, who then gets caught in an armbar and goes to the ropes… and Lee relents, despite the rules as he doesn’t want to capitalise on the damage that Shane Strickland had done the prior night. The match breaks down into a chop battle for a spell, with Riddle taking Lee into the corner before launching in with some forearms, before Lee gets hold of the injured arm as a way to restrain Riddle for a forearm shot of his own.

Lee keeps up with knees to the gut, but Riddle tried to escape with a springboard, only to get pounced out of the sky! From there, Lee looked to go for the injured left arm, headbutting and wringing it, but Riddle slaps back… and gets another elbow. Goodnight! A Beel throw takes Riddle out of the corner as Lee was making this look easy, striking down Riddle with a double-hand chop and another toss out of the corner. Riddle finally looked to get back into it with a hanging armbar in the ropes, but Lee curls him up like an oversized human dumbbell, only for Riddle to get free and take Lee into the corner for a (good) forearm smash.

Riddle nearly ends things with a bridging German as he ducked a lariat, before sending himself into Lee – and the ropes – with a back senton for a near-fall. Some Bryan Danielson elbows from Riddle softened up Lee for the Bromission, but he’s unable to keep the hold in, so he has to swap to a rear naked choke instead… which lets Lee fight back to his feet and work free by grabbing the bad arm. With one arm, Riddle tries for a tombstone, but Lee easily reversed and hits a tombstone of his own for a near-fall. More elbows rock Riddle as Lee looked to be coasting, but the EVOLVE champion eagerly hit back and escapes a Spirit Bomb, only to get wrecked with elbows and a lariat as Riddle almost lost his belt.

Lee tries to leap over the charge of Riddle in the corner, but instead he’s caught and dumped with the tombstone slam as Riddle turned a negative into a huge positive. Clearly stunned, Lee’s still able to block a knee and throw another elbow, as Riddle’s injured arm was again targeted… except Riddle’s able to steal a move of his own with a Ground Zero?!

Lee’s up at two from that as he has to absorb a barrage of kicks… turning one into a Spirit Bomb for barely a one-count, as Riddle keeps on hitting back. Headbutts follow, with Lee winning out and landing Ground Zero for a near-fall. Bro To Sleep leaves Riddle down, but a ripcord knee ends seeing both men flat on the mat, before a top rope back senton crushed Lee. Riddle didn’t go for the cover, and instead has to waffle Lee with more knees, with one final strike to the back of the head being the death blow as Riddle won the war! A decisive victory in the “final war” as Keith Lee bade farewell to EVOLVE in the time honoured fashion… I wasn’t too keen on the arm injury piece, as it could be seen to have weakened Lee, but as a match, this was tremendous. Go out of your way to find this one! ****¼

Post-match, Riddle calls out Shane Strickland… who duly appears with a chair in hand. They tease a confrontation, but Shane heads to the back, so we get the Keith Lee farewell speeches to close out the show.

EVOLVE 105 was the continuation of the latest round of the promotion’s roster refresh – and save for the final two matches, it led to a show that was fine, but did little to stand out. It’s not a waste though – the building blocks were put in place with good showings from newcomers Miguel, Wentz and Reed, but the start of the show led to a bit of an uphill struggle for this card.