The Era of Swerve began near Boston as Shane Strickland’s reign started… with him taking the night off!

We’re in the Melrose Memorial Hall, near Boston for the second of the joint PROGRESS shows… and a run time of just over two hours makes me think this is going to be another swift EVOLVE show. Those are almost always the best. Lenny Leonard and Ron Niemi provide the commentary, with Timothy Barr doing the ring announcing…

Jon Davis vs. Anthony Henry
It’s a rather tentative start to proceedings here, as Davis stuffs a monkey flip and hurls Henry across into the corner instead… but the former tag champ rushes back in with a guillotine, only for Davis to try and counter out of that as well.

Henry keeps plugging away though, leaping into a Victory Roll, then into an armbar as he tried to hit and run… but whenever Davis was able to catch him, Henry was forced to think fast to keep himself in the game. Problem was, when Davis actually got a strike in, it took Henry right out of his game, as Henry’s kicks proved to be little more than an annoyance against the larger Davis.

A backbreaker keeps Henry down for two, prompting him to fight back with some chops and forearms, only for a single punch to put Henry down. He’s right back up with kicks, with one to the back of the head finally taking down Davis, but he took too long following up, and gets caught up top with an avalanche Jackhammer for a near-fall. Henry’s right back in with a Dragon screw though, then another after trapping Davis in the corner, as he continued to build momentum en route to a tornado DDT for a near-fall.

Again, Henry goes up top and misses a double stomp, but is able to surprise Davis with a ‘rana for a near-fall. A small package gets a similar result, before Davis strikes back and looked for the Rack Bomb… only for Henry to slip out and struggle into a jack-knife cover for the win. This was a solid opener, and one that perhaps could have gone a little longer. I’m not sure Jon Davis should be trying for a finisher that EVOLVE’s assigned to someone else… but that’s more to do with agenting than the match itself. Any chance of a rematch? ***

Perhaps! Post-match, Davis laid out Anthony Henry. Echoey promo, something about losing the match but winning the fight, and Davis walks away.

Saieve al Sabah vs. Shane Strickland
This was meant to have been a non-title contest, with Sabah having a more positive reaction in Melrose than he did in Philadelphia the prior night. Problem was, the new EVOLVE champion wasn’t in the mood to wrestle, having come out in street clothes, bragging about his title win. Strickland doesn’t think Saieve’s on his level, so he’s taking the night off… much to the displeasure of AR Fox (and his Skulk, who are now wearing the same shirts… so it’s harder to identify them separately. BOO!). Anyway, Fox agrees to take the match in his stead.

Saieve al Sabah vs. AR Fox
So, Saieve offered a handshake from the off, but Fox shoves him away as we start with some Dusty punches and al Sabah’s sweet suplex into a kip-up!

A corkscrew elbow drop’s next for just a one count as al Sabah tried to strike early, catching Fox in the corner for some body charges, but after spending some time on the outside, Sabah took his eye off the ball and returned into some offence from Fox, who nearly won with a big splash.

Fox keeps up with a chinlock as he tried to keep al Sabah grounded, following in with a Three Amigos of rolling neckbreakers, before Saieve countered into a small package for a near-fall. There’s one out of Fox for a two-count too, but Saieve’s back in with a slam before he hits another corkscrew elbow drop as Fox grabbed the rope to stop a pinning attempt.

They roll onto the apron, as Fox looked for something on the edge of the ring… but he ends up being superkicked into the Skulk, who carried him around the ring on a victory lap. Nevermind, Saieve looked for a sky twister press to the outside, only to get hung up in the ropes on the way down.

Back inside, the Lightning Spiral (modified Angle Slam) gets a near-fall, but Fox manages to hit back, fighting out of a superplex attempt before senton bombing into al Sabah’s knees. Ow. With both guys back to their feet, Saive looked to head up top, but he’s caught with a buckle bomb before Fox lifted him back up for Lo Mein Pain… and that’s the easy win. A decent, short outing here – al Sabah’s a little rough around the edges, but with a little character development he could become quite the find for EVOLVE, as long as he doesn’t fall into the trap of eating “proving ground losses”. ***

Post-match, al Sabah gets his handshake as the Skulk partied… he leaves, but The End quickly storm the ring and brawl with the Skulk, and this turns into the EVOLVE/Heyman special as this bleeds into a match!

AR Fox & The Skulk (Adrian Alanis & Leon Ruff) vs. The End (Drennan, Odinson & Parrow)
It’s like a Suzuki-gun special, with Parrow looking to squash the flippy guys while Odinson went toe to toe with Alanis on the outside.

There’s a chokeslam for Fox as Ruff and Alanis flew around to try and catch their foes off guard. There’s a lot of non-plussed faces in the crowd, at least until AR Fox gets back body dropped from the ring to the pile by Parrow. Now THAT’S a good use of a back body drop!

Hell, even Parrow looks to go airborne, but he’s caught by Ruff who looked for a powerbomb out of the corner. He needs help from Fox and Alanis to pull Parrow down, and it finally worked! Something else that worked, was a monster of a Pounce from Odinson to AR Fox, who just bounced into the ropes as the camera work began to make this hard to follow.

Ruff’s dropkicks send Odinson to the outside, but he’s left in there against a downed Parrow… pulling the big man up for some kicks and some rope walking, only to leap into a powerbomb as he’s thrown to the outside. Parrow’s a good lad – you can always rely on him to powerbomb annoyances to the floor! Ruff’s thrown back in but somehow kicks out and gets isolated for some three-on-one offence by The End, including a popped-up fallaway slam… but the random lucha rules meant that the action remained pacey as it descended into a Parade of Moves. Fox’s springboard Ace crusher to Odinson only earns him a fallaway slam from Parrow, before a Meteora from Ruff again took the big guy down.

Eventually there’s some miscommunication as Odinson and Parrow bump into each other, leaving Drennan on his own… and the weak link of The End ends up getting dumped with Alanis’ uranage backbreaker, while Fox and Ruff dove to the outside… with Fox’s 450 finally putting Drennan away. Eh, this was fun, but a little disjointed, and I’m disappointed that The End’s killer streak ended at one show. Better luck next time, eh? Still, the folks involved looked good, if not a little rough around the edges… I’d have preferred this be one long brawl than a match. **¼

JD Drake vs. Dominic Garrini
Given Garrini’s recent run in EVOLVE, I’m fully expecting this to be a momentum-building squash for Drake.

…and when Garrini’s attempt to jump Drake ended with him running into a dropkick, those expectations continued. Drake’s all over Garrini in the early going, throwing him into the corner, before moving as Drake telegraphed a cannonball… but he is able to kick out of a back suplex after a one-count. Garrini tries his MMA game, throwing some crossface punches and a diving knee to the ribs to keep Drake at bay, but Drake’s able to hit back himself, before he’s dragged to the mat in a knee bar. It transitions into an armbar, but Drake’s able to reposition himself… which just keeps him in danger as he’s forced to reach for the ropes to get free.

A guillotine choke from Garrini’s next, and he almost squeezes the life out of Drake… only for the big guy to get free and hit back with an elbow and a Shining Wizard. Garrini ducks a chop as he throws in some more strikes, before he runs into a boot as a diving leg lariat from Drake almost gets the win. Some more desperation knees from Garrini seemed to be a last gasp effort as he gets suplexed into the corner for a cannonball, before Drake Vader bombs into an arm triangle!

They’re right by the ropes though, but Drake just powerbombs his way free before he has to throw away a rear naked choke effort. A guillotine succeeds as Drake again has to roll into the ropes, only for Garrini to keep up the onslaught… but it proves to be his downfall as another guillotine get countered into the Drill Bit butterfly brainbuster, giving JD the win. A perfectly fine match, with Garrini actually getting some offence… but it’s another loss, and something’ll have to give with Dom eventually. ***¼

Post-match, Stokely Hathaway enters the ring and berates Garrini for failing to protect him, and sends him to the back… before bridging to our next two matches, as he wants Chris Dickinson to “see what Jaka does to Josh Briggs.” It’s almost like they’re giving us all the Stokely Hathaway to compensate for something down the line?

Jaka vs. Josh Briggs
Jaka charges at Briggs before the bell, but the big guy happily hits back before he got caught with an Exploder for just a one-count.

Jaka manages to get back into it though, wearing down Briggs with strikes, but it looked like Josh’s stuff had a lot more weight behind it, as he threatened to make light work of Jaka, scoring with a sit-out slam for a near-fall. The clubbering continues as Briggs traps Jaka in a corner for chops and forearms, before the Savage sidesteps a big boot… and superkicks Briggs to the floor.

There’s chops from Jaka as the pair brawl around ringside, then return to the ring as Briggs had to fight out of a wristlock… using some body blows, only to get caught back in an armbar as Briggs had to stand up and stomp his way free. Jaka removes Briggs’ shoulder support and beats him with it, before going back to the cross armbar, which this time ended in the ropes.

Chops keep Briggs at bay, but he begins to fire back in kind before a leaping lariat finally makes a dent in proceedings. The boot in the corner connects as Jaka’s easily scooped up for a sidewalk slam to nearly end the match. Jaka’s able to sneak in a German suplex as he tried to slow down the momentum, but Briggs is up at two and manages to catch Jaka up top, only to get knocked down as he ends up taking a crossbody off the top as Briggs again gets caught in a cross armbar.

Again though, Briggs escapes, this time using a sit-out powerbomb to get free and get himself a near-fall. Jaka’s got to escape a M5 chokebreaker as he throws another flurry of shots, but in the end he runs into a spinning backbreaker, then a M5 for the win. Decent, but this felt way too short – and save for the polite applause, it didn’t feel like it was that much of an event. ***

Chris Dickinson skulked to the back… but just so he could take off his ice hockey jersey as he returns quickly to attack Briggs from behind, laying him out with a clothesline. Tracy Williams makes the save, as EVOLVE’s sound guy is saved from playing more music as we bled into the next match.

No Holds Barred: Chris Dickinson vs. Tracy Williams
The pair begin brawling on the outside, with Dickinson edging ahead early as he chops Williams into a chair before hitting a running knee.

When they hit the ring, Williams managed to return the favour, laying in with chops and elbows in the corner, as he left Dickinson laying on the mat… but the Dirty Daddy’s quickly back as he took down Williams with a kick to the head, before he and Stokely Hathaway went to the back for some plunder… bringing out a bin that Williams quickly dropkicks into Dickinson’s head! Williams keeps using that bin, dropkicking Dickinson into it, then suplexing him into what was left for a near-fall.

Williams tries to go up top, but he’s stopped by Dickinson who throws the bin at him, then again as the sole weapon (so far) continued to be put to use. Hey, Williams even wears the bin as Dickinson kicks it off, in a spot that all wrestling fans love… before Dickinson heads to the back for a new toy: a sheet of plywood?!

He takes so long in getting it though, that Williams is able to recover and use the bin again… but a low blow puts us back at square one, as that wood somehow ended up being used for a platform across the top rope, and we see a piledriver onto it that’s ugly but effective. A buckle bomb into the propped up wood produces a more sickening crack as Stokely Hathaway has more toys… it’s another bit of wood! I’m starting to think of the Simpsons gag about big boards with nails in them…

Hathaway props the board between the ring apron and guard rail, but Williams escapes certain doom and goes to chase after Big Stoke… which led to Dickinson rolling him up for a near-fall as the offence resumed, before the pair headed outside as Williams got his revenge: piledriving Dickinson through the wood bridge. That did not look like a nice landing at all…

Stokely Hathaway pulled away Tracy Williams as he made the pin, which led to the Benny Hill chase… which ended when Stoke pulled out a screwdriver?! His attempt to spike Hot Sauce didn’t work, but it did allow Dickinson to get up and attack Williams from behind, before Williams managed to escape a powerbomb and catch him in a crossface… only for Dickinson to make it to the ropes as Stokely finally uses the screwdriver. Blinded, Williams is now a sitting duck, as Dickinson pulls him into a crossface, with Hathaway coming in with the screwdriver again to force Williams to tap. As part of the Williams/Catch Point feud, this was a nice little brawl to set up the I Quit match later in the month… and put a real seed of doubt in everyone’s minds. If Williams can’t win a No Holds Barred match, what chance has he got when Hathaway’s “legal” in the match? ***¾

Dickinson jumps Williams as he was carried to the back, but Josh Briggs makes the save as the screwdriver was again teased.

Austin Theory vs. Matt Riddle
Theory’s again flying solo, and this time he’s against a mentally and physically wounded Matt Riddle, barely 24 hours on from losing the EVOLVE title.

Riddle’s left pinky is taped up after it was cut open against Shane Strickland, and after getting slapped he instantly went for Theory with a Tiger knee and a series of chops to pin the FIP champion into the corner. A leaping forearm and an Exploder follow as you perhaps sensed that the unseated EVOLVE champion may be looking to make a short night out of this.

Gutwrench suplexes are next for Riddle, but Theory heads outside and suckers him into some strikes… which Riddle gladly returns before lifting Theory onto the apron for some kicks. A trip to the guard rails helps Theory get ahead, as he returns Riddle in for a rolling dropkick for a near-fall, before getting another near-fall out of a standing moonsault as Theory begins to go after Riddle’s wounded hand.

Theory keeps up the pressure, whipping Riddle hard into the corner for a two-count, before going right back to that hand, throwing a dropkick that way. Riddle’s able to respond with an upkick and a Fisherman buster, which nearly did its job as Theory barely kicked out, and quickly ended up taking the Bro To Sleep and a bridging German for a near-fall. Riddle looks for a PK, but Theory ducks it as he began a comeback, caching Riddle in the corner and swinging him into a rack bomb for a near-fall. After avoiding another up-kick, Theory’s in with a roll-through Blockbuster then a powerbomb as he tried to put Riddle away, getting a near-fall with a cross-legged over-the-knee brainbuster to boot. Theory looks for Ataxia, but Riddle escapes and trades some knees before countering another roll through, this time catching Theory in a tombstone for a near-fall.

The main remained finely poised, with a ripcord knee strike from Riddle edging him ahead, before a powerbomb and a Tiger knee left Theory wobbling… there’s repeated knees as Theory eventually goes down, before the referee waves it off as Riddle waffles him with elbows to force the stoppage. An interesting result: on that gets Riddle a win to get him on track, but Theory can still brag that he’s never been pinned or submitted by the only man thus far to have held both EVOLVE and WWN gold. ****

The crowd chanted “thank you Riddle” for knocking out Austin Theory. I popped – but Theory has looked really good as a lone wolf on these last two shows.

WWN Championship: Darby Allin vs. Joey Janela (c)
A weird choice of main event, given that we’ve not had the obligatory “Darby fights from the bottom to claim a title shot”, but then again the WWN title has been positioned firmly as a secondary title lately so… it is what it is.

There’s some history between these two away from EVOLVE, having had four matches against each other in the prior year, sharing two wins apiece.

When the bell goes, Allin offers a handshake… but it’s a ruse as he whips the arm and rolls up Janela for a near-fall, forcing the champion into a rather quick change of plans. Janela manages to shrug it off, taking down Allin with a standing waistlock as he returned the favour, nearly beating Darby with a crucifix pin. From there, the pair go into the ropes, before Darby hit a sweet springboard armdrag en route to an armbar as their feeling out process continued.

There’s a guillotine out of Allin, but he ends up getting taken to the outside after Janela got free, and the Bad Boy meets him there with a tope before throwing some chops his way. Allin’s thrown back in, but he just comes right back out with a low-pe, before the returning to the ring again, crashing into Janela with a springboard crossbody as his aerial game almost brought home the gold early on. With Janela hung across the top rope, Allin leaps into him with a Coffin Drop for a near-fall, before they went back outside… where Darby takes a brutal snap suplex onto the floor.

Janela breaks the count, which is moot in EVOLVE these days, before climbing up top for a senton cannonball into Darby as both men seemed to be hell bent on killing each other. Allin’s thrown back inside, and as the ref tends to him Austin Theory comes out and posts Janela… before Darby leaps into him with a Coffin Drop, insistent that he’s not going to get a tainted win. Allin returns to the ring, and runs into a superkick for a quick two-count, before a package piledriver drew a near-fall – as commentary throws in how that move beat Darby in his debut two years ago when it was Ethan Page dishing it out. Guess he’s, ahem, evolved past that feud with All Ego, eh?

Both men get back to their feet, but it’s Darby who seemed to take the upper hand, hitting a flip over Stunner to take Janela to the outside… but Darby takes too long going up top and he gets caught with an Emerald Fusion off the top and onto the apron. Yeah, these guys do want to kill each other with head drops like that!

Janela tries to underscore that with a death valley driver that bunched up Darby something rotten, leading to an iconic shot of a zombied Allin on the floor… he’s thrown back in as Janela somehow only gets a near-fall, before Allin found his second wind, trapping Joey with a Fujiwara armbar. Darby even tweaks at the fingers as Janela dives to the ropes… so Allin comes right back with a Code Red for a near-fall, then it’s back to the armbar!

Allin pounds on the arm as he loosens, then reapplies the armbar, with Janela crawling so he could bite on the rope to get free, before the pair tee off with back-and-forth strikes. A punch drops Allin in the corner, as Janela lifted him up top once more, clubbering away on his back ahead of a superplex for yet another near-fall, before Janela damn near stomps through Allin’s midsection off the top for the win. Holy crap, nobody held back here, and while some of those bumps were ugly, it was a believable war. This’ll probably not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Janela’s showing he’s “more than a deathmatch guy” here, for those who still had those misconceptions. ****¼

Tidily wrapped in at a shade over two hours, EVOLVE 109 was perhaps the company’s most consistent show in ages. The show felt like a breeze to watch, without necessarily being a throwaway card, as they heated up the Catch Point feud for next weekend’s blow-off… and kept things interesting in both title pictures. EVOLVE may be a promotion that’s flying underneath everyone’s radar’s, but it’s definitely a promotion worth checking out if you’re into the steak more than the sizzle.