The start of a busy August for EVOLVE saw them hit the former ECW Arena – and they wrote a little more of their own history as a new champion was crowned.

We’re inside what’s now known as the 2300 Arena as EVOLVE hosted a matinee show as part of the PROGRESS tour of the US. Lenny Leonard and Ron Niemi are on commentary, after Trevin Adams opened the show to just pitch to them… while Tim Barr is in the ring with a very WALTER-like trim.

Saieve al Sabah vs. Anthony Henry
A curious choice of opener as al Sabah only just debuted on the last show… and he’s up against a guy who’s been thrown into the singles ranks having spent what feels like the last year off-and-on in and around the tag title picture.

After initially grounding Henry, al Sabah’s quickly met with a kick to the gutas the former tag champion tried to put his foot through the ACW Combat champion. Chops follow as Henry was all over al Sabah, suplexing him into the corner before charging in and suplexing him back out for a near-fall. There’s more kicks as Henry switches up his game plan, catching Saive with a guillotine after he’d telegraphed a back body drop, only to hit back with a suplex… and an insane kip-up from the landing. Henry heads out… and gets met with an Asai moonsault before being taken back into the ring for Saieve’s continued comeback. A shoulder block traps him in the corner, but Henry’s able to chop his way back in, only to get dumped with a snap side suplex for an eventual two-count. The back-and-forth continued as Henry worked back up into a tornado DDT, but there’s no cover and Henry ends up having to stomp his way free as Sabah’s baseball slide looked to lead to a powerbomb on the floor.

Back in the ring, Saieve almost snatches a win with a take on the Angle Slam, before the pair burst into an indy’riffic series of pins, which ended when Henry just punched out al Sabah for a near-fall. They continue to trade shots, with Henry seemingly being the more popular of the two in the exchange, before a dropkick from Henry swatted away a flying Saieve. A powerbomb from Henry nearly does it, before he just nails al Sabah with a brainbuster for another near-fall… and the crowd’s booing this.

Henry tries to go up top to finish off al Sabah, but the newcomer manages to avoid a double stomp before hitting Whisper in the Wind for the wind. Oh my, the crowd did NOT like that… a huge win for Saieve al Sabah in his second match in… in what was a spirited contest that the crowd dug until the finish. ***¼

Since we’re in the old ECW Arena, how about AR Fox and his Skulk coming out to the old Public Enemy theme? They’re interrupted by The End, who I thought were gone… but they’re back. There’s a referee too, and it looks like we’re going to have ourselves a match.

Tommy Maserati vs. Parrow
Oh dear. Maserati tries to leap into Parrow from the off, but his springboard kick out of the corner doesn’t even reach Parrow… who then catches him with a chokeslam then a back senton as Maserati already looks crushed. He’s about to get flattened as he’s Snake Eye’d into the corner, before a sit-out powerbomb mercifully ends it.

Well, if the End are going back to squashes, then I’m here for it. Just don’t have them losing to every Tom, Dick and Harry around. After powerbombing Maserati into the Skulk, AR and crew, erm, skulk away as The End take the mic. Drennan takes a shot at Philadelphia for being “sterilised” and we bleed into our next match: a four-way.

Odinson vs. Josh Briggs vs. Jon Davis vs. JD Drake
Drake has undergone a slight name change to avoid confusion with the WWE-contracted James Drake… and they didn’t even do a match for the rights to the name. Boo!

Drake does manage to nearly knock over the referee as he rolled into the ring… hey ref, watch where you’re going! We start off hot as Odinson gives Drake a belly-to-belly, before he catches a leapfrog by Briggs and turns it into a slam. Everyone then focuses on Odinson as the match broke down, with Davis saving Drake from Briggs’ M5 choke-breaker as there’s barely any time to breathe here. Drake and Davis exchange chops as Odinson tries to sneak back in… but he gets a chop for his efforts as the strikes continued until Drake decided to dive to the outside.

They stay outside too when Drennan ends up getting chokeslammed onto the pile by Davis… and Briggs is ominously left behind in the ring… but not for long as he dives across the turnbuckles and into everyone else on the outside. Back in the ring, Odinson and Briggs exchange shots before Odinson flips out of a M5 and Pounces him into the ropes. Drake tries to capitalise, but he too is picked up and F5’d only for Davis to break up the count with a deadlift German to end that exchange of near-falls.

Briggs comes back in, taking Davis up top, only for Odinson to break that up as he instead stacked up Briggs and Davis… only for Davis to slip out and give a German suplex to the pair for a near-fall. Now that’s impressive! Drake breaks up the cover and cannonballs Davis, before a spinebuster to Odinson barely gets a one-count… we continue the Parade of Moves for a little while longer, before Odinson ran into a spin-out backbreaker by Briggs. Davis has to fight out of a M5 attempt as he again trades off with Briggs, before those two spilled to the floor with that Bad Bones suplex bump. It leaves Drake and Odinson in the ring… with Drake’s attempt at a moonsault being stopped as he has to ‘rana out of a powerbomb, before hitting the Drill Bit double-underhook brainbuster for the win. This was an enjoyable four-way – a little stop-start at points, but a nice, brisk brawl between four big guys. More please. ***½

Austin Theory vs. Darby Allin
Theory’s out on his own today, wearing only the FIP title… and he ends up getting dived onto by Darby at the bell as this one also started out hot. Darby takes Theory back out with a step-up armdrag before meeting him outside with a lowpe as the crowd remained hot!

They brawl around the ringside area, then up on the top rope… which led to Theory crotching Allin and then dropkicking him back to the floor, where Darby becomes a little too familiar with the apron as he’s powerbombed into it, then swung into the side of the ring as Theory was trying to end this violently. Returning to the ring, Allin’s again ragdolled by Theory, but Darby scrappily tries to get back into it, going after Theory like a yappy Yorkshire terrier. Unlike a dog though (I’d hope), Theory just turfs Allin shoulder-first into the turnbuckles for a nasty landing… but he’s able to edge a way back into it though, with a shotgun dropkick and a stunner for a quick near-fall.

Allin’s able to keep up that momentum, trading strikes with Theory before flipping around into a guillotine choke… but Theory’s able to stand up… so he ends up taking a monkey flip and a crucifix as Darby goes right back to the arm. Theory’s able to get to the ropes to save himself, but Allin remained resolute, landing a Code Red before another dive gets swatted away in mid-air. They’re back outside as Theory goes for another powerbomb, but Allin grabs the ropes before he’s just thrown into the ring post, then back into the ring for a roll-up into a dropkick. A Blue Thunder Bomb nearly gets the win for a resurging Theory, before Allin slipped out of a TKO and went up for a Coffin Drop… but that too is caught. Theory instead goes up with Allin, looking for an avalanche rack bomb, and lands it off the middle rope for a near-fall!

Theory looked to be getting desperate after that kick-out, going again for the TKO… but Allin again escapes and goes for some pinning attempts, collecting near-falls, before that TKO finally lands for a near-fall. Looking for the win, Theory looked to nail Ataxia, but Darby countered into the Last Supper and gets the victory with the bridging pin. A hell of a contest here – Theory just couldn’t put away Darby despite hitting him with his best shot – a match that showcased both men really, really well. ***¾

AR Fox vs. Joey Janela
It is odd seeing the WWN title in the mid card, not being defended… especially when AR Fox’s whole comeback story earlier in the year was all about him wanting to claim the only major WWN belt he’d not held!

The early feeling out process features a lot of evasion as the crowd seemed to be split right down the middle. Fox perhaps drew first blood when he handstanded out of a cutter, then hit a leg drop to Janela on the mat, only for the Bad Boy to return by whipping him into the corner. Fox indulges in a little rope walking, but his ‘rana’s countered into a Liger bomb as Janela tried to close this one out… then again with a tope to the outside.

An attempt to throw Fox back inside backfires as he 619’s on the apron into a kick on Janela, before throwing Joey back in… and the Bad Boy’s right back out with a nasty tope suicida! We stay on the outside as Fox hits a lucha armdrag off the apron, then a tope con giro, before rolling into a Slingblade as AR looked to put away Janela. The Twister followed for another two-count as Fox was finding the time to play to the crowd… but Janela used that time to recover as he catches Fox with a STO on the apron, taking both men to the floor. Back in the ring, Janela tries to get the pin but Fox somehow gets a shoulder up… so we move onto some chops as Fox was taken up for a superplex, except he fought free and instead takes Janela down for a 450 splash. Fox has to abort it in mid-air as enziguiri finds its mark, only for Janela to hit right back with a Stunner.

Fox uses the ropes to trip Janela, before another slingshot into the ring goes wrong for him, with Joey countering into a brainbuster. The pair trade forearms for a spell, before a springboard cutter from Fox segued into a Dragon sleeper, which Janela eventually got free of as he made it to the ropes. An attempt at the Foxcatcher’s met with a superkick as Janela was trying to find any way back into it, prompting Fox to roll to the outside to avoid a pin… a smart move in the end, as Fox was able to trip Janela onto the apron ahead of a nasty draping neckbreaker to the floor!

Instead of going for the pin, Fox throws Janela back in for a 450 splash, but it’s still not enough… and somehow Janela’s back to his feet to stop Fox from doing anything else off the top rope, this time bringing him down with an avalanche brainbuster for a lackadaisical near-fall – with a similar reaction as the crowd perhaps bought that neckbreaker as the finish. If only for how Janela landed head-first on the outside.

Janela tries to go up top himself, but he’s caught as he has to boot away Lo Mein Pain… but Fox still capitalises as Janela had his back turned on the top rope, which led to a nice springboard spider German suplex, then a Foxcatcher for the win. This was a hell of a match that just went that little bit too long, while throwing in some crazy bumps. You got the feeling the occasion of being in the former ECW arena was a little special for these folks. ***¾

Post-match Austin Theory hits the ring and boots Janela in the corner… AR Fox confronts his student, only for Janela to cheapshot him from behind then throw Fox into Theory ahead of a Meteora, which sure looked like it was meant to have triggered off a DDT as well. Ayla Fox gets in Janela’s face… but ends up turning around into a pump kick from Penelope Ford, as the WWN champ stood tall at the end of this.

EVOLVE Tag Team Championship: Tracy Williams & TK Cooper vs. Catch Point (Chris Dickinson & Jaka) (c)
Well, isn’t this a delightfully random team? TK got a good reaction for his America return – his first match there since the fateful evening in New York almost a year ago.

The champions jump their challengers at the bell, but TK looked to have the better of it as he was just stomping a mudhole through Jaka in the corner… but it’s not long before it settles down as Dickinson’s in, choking on Williams in the ropes as “Hot Sauce” was in trouble. An elbow from Jaka’s good for a near-fall as TK was just watching on from the apron as Williams flipped out of a submission attempt, before he chopped his way to freedom.

There’s a nasty Saito suplex from Williams, who still couldn’t get to a tag as Jaka managed to bring in Chris Dickinson just in time, allowing the “Dirty Daddy” to continue the beatdown. Williams manages to escape a Death Trap attempt, shoving Dickinson into Jaka in the corner before again finding his path to a tag delayed… but he finally brings in TK to a good pop from the crowd. TK’s clearing house with forearms and boots in the corner to Jaka and Dickinson, before a springboard corkscrew guillotine legdrop put Jaka down and out. Chops back-and-forth between TK and Dickinson are stopped when Jaka trips TK in the ropes, as there’s more double-teaming with a chokeslam/back suplex combo almost ending the match.

Dickinson and Jaka keep up with the double-teaming, as they look for a double-team superplex, but Williams breaks it up without triggering a Tower of Doom, then picks up Jaka for a fireman’s carry shinbreaker and a frog splash, sandwiching an axe kick from TK as we almost saw a changing of the guard. The challengers again throw Dickinson to the outside as they looked to isolate Jaka… who mounts a comeback, only for it to backfire as Williams DDTs him on the top turnbuckle before handing him over to TK for a clothesline-assisted Tiger suplex for a near-fall. Things descend into a Parade of Moves for a spell as referee Brandon Tolle lost control, or perhaps he just wanted to see Tracy Williams chop and be chopped? A lariat from Williams puts the champions down again, but Stokely Hathaway gets involved as he grabs Williams’ ankle, which allowed the champions to throw Williams to the outside… just as TK goes flying again.

Running uppercuts from TK trap the champions in the corner, as do big boots, before Dickinson hits a ripcord enziguiri, feeding TK into a Jaka choke bomb for a near-fall… and while TK is able to escape another crack at the Death Trap, he’s thrown into a Jaka superkick then rolled up for the win. A heck of a match, but it was hard to get past the mindset of “there’s no way an outsider’s winning the title, not this early in Tracy Williams’ feud.” I guess that’s the issue when you run double-headers – especially with line-ups that don’t exactly scream for an obvious result. ****

Post match, Tracy Williams laid out Stokely Hathaway and Dominic Garrini with clotheslines, as he seemed to get the last laugh. For now, as later in the month there’s going to be an I Quit match with Williams facing Chris Dickinson and Stokely Hathaway, with Williams and Stokely’s careers on the line there.

Hardcore Rules for EVOLVE Championship: Shane Strickland vs. Matt Riddle (c)
This was the third meeting between these two in recent months, and after a DQ win for Riddle and a hokey no-contest, this time the gold’s on the line.

They went almost half an hour apparently, so let’s settle in… this is under hardcore rules, because ECW Arena. From the bell, Riddle charges into Strickland with strikes, chopping Strickand into the corner before giving him an Exploder out of it… before Strickland hit back just as hard and just as fast, chaining together knees and a back suplex, which Riddle instantly popped up out of before folding his challenger in half with a German suplex.

Riddle sits Strickland on the apron as he peppers him with kicks to the chest, before Strickland grabs a chair and makes good use of it, smashing it on Riddle’s back. There’s a second chair by the railings that Riddle crawls to, but it just gave the challenger an easier target as he kicked Riddle in the chair before throwing him into the apron. The pair head up the apron, where Riddle’s Snake Eyes’d onto a barricade before putting him in another chair as he rained down blows right in front of Riddle’s wife and kids, knocking him out of the chair with a running double stomp.

Strickland returns to the ring as he tried to make a cover – so I guess it’s not WWE “hardcore” rules, with no falls count anyway rule? A backbreaker folds up Riddle for a near-fall as commentary pointed out that Riddle had picked up a cut on his left pinky finger… which of course Strickland wrenches away on in a double armbar.

After getting to the ropes, there’s some rather desperate swings from Riddle, who managed to corner Strickland for some more shots using his good hand… but Strickland was able to shrug those off and go back to the ground and pound, renewing focus on that bloodied hand, before Riddle manages to surprise Strickland with a mounted rear naked choke… but again, that left hand proved to be Strickland’s key to escape. Somehow, Riddle’s able to grab a Kimura, but Strickland has to stand up and counter out, suplexing Riddle into the turnbuckles for a nasty landing.

Strickland goes back outside for chairs, stacking them up in the ring as Swerve looked to do a mini Terry Funk/ECW Arena tribute… before instead opting to set up some chairs for a landing area… but he takes too long and Riddle counters back, hitting a running leaping tombstone into the chairs, which did not give way! They spill outside again as a PK off the apron has Strickland resting on a table… but not for long as a back senton off the apron puts the challenger through the wood!

Riddle grabs some chairs next, but instead opts to start a chop battle as the VOD goes all pixellated. It recovers as a leg kick to Riddle’s instantly responded to with a German suplex, only for Strickland to pop back up and… take a Bro to Sleep! A folding powerbomb and a Tiger knee’s only good for a near-fall after that as the pair’s breathless exchange failed to decide a winner. The chair’s then used by Riddle as he cashed in some receipts, including a chop to the chest, which felled Strickland into some chairs before Riddle looked to leap onto him…

Except Strickland gets up and catches Riddle up top, then reverses a superplex as the champion takes a bad landing into the chairs. Strickland keeps up with a flying stomp off the middle rope, then off the top as he tried to squash the champion like a Goomba, but it’s only enough for a two-count as Riddle isn’t done! Strickland snaps the arm again, in a throw back to their first meeting, before wandering under the ring for a ladder and a table as he had the champion pretty much helpless at this point. Strickland sets up the table by the ladder, and after placing Riddle face down on the table he looks to scale the ladder… but Riddle beats him to the punch, only to get stomped off of the ladder and through the table anyway! STILL it isn’t enough as Riddle’s kicking out, so Strickland goes to Riddle’s playbook, throwing some knees… and that angers the champion, who tries to tap into his second wind… only to see his wheelbarrow turned into the JML Driver… and we have a new champion!

They made good use of the hardcore stipulation without it turning into every other “ECW/hardcore rules” match that just overdoes the plunder – and threw in some nice callbacks to their prior matches. If you have Club WWN, you owe it to yourself to go back and watch this – if only for the historical value of the shortest EVOLVE title reign in history coming to an end. ****½

Afterwards, Shane Strickland demanded the locker room come out and congratulate the new champion, as is tradition. A handful of folks emerge from the back, looking like they were done so at gun point, as Strickland addressed each of them individually, including Saive al Sabah, Darby Allin, Jon Davis and JD Drake, before heading to the back, leaving the roster to watch on in bemusement to end the show.

A brisk show at under two and a half hours (without intermission, but with some skippable promo segments), EVOLVE 108 was a joy to watch. Every match delivered to some extent, without shutting the door on storylines to the point where you were left wondering “why should I come back next time?” Matt Riddle’s title reign ending raised some eyebrows, particularly as it came amid a sea of rumours over his future – but it does at least open the doors for a more even platform in the promotion, given that Riddle had been promoted almost at a “God level” above pretty much everyone else.

EVOLVE have three more shows in August, all in tandem with PROGRESS, and we’ll look to get those up on here before the backlog grows too big!