EVOLVE’s January double-header finished up in La Boom as Johnny Gargano’s weekend break came to an end.
Unlike last night, we’ve no title matches on the card, with the nearest thing being a number one contender’s match for Austin Theory’s EVOLVE title. Commentary’s from Lenny Leonard and Ron Niemi as a slightly-less-than-packed crowd braved the elements to come out for this. The show opened with the Street Profits interrupting the introductions as Montez Ford held the show hostage, demanding Eddie Kingston head out. Sure enough, we don’t wait long… would it kill someone to do that? Wait when the show’s held hostage, rather than a guy be ready in his gear for a match or whatever…
Montez Ford vs. Eddie Kingston
The match starts out hot with Kingston and Ford exchanging chops, but it’s not long before they’re outside in a rather cramped ringside area.
Kingston’s still feeling the injuries to his hand that he got the prior night against JD Drake, but it doesn’t stop him throwing those chops… and taking them too, as Ford battered him against the guard rails. Back inside, Ford’s thrown into the corner then tossed with a T-bone suplex by the veteran Kingston, before we’re back to the chops as Ford was being taken to the cleaners. Some crossface punches in the ring kept Kingston ahead, as did an avalanche splash into the corner before a sit-out powerbomb got Kingston a near-fall. A DDT flattens Ford for another two-count, as this was starting to resemble the one-way fight that Kingston had with JD Drake the prior night, especially when he threw in a uranage and a lariat for… a one-count?!
Ford slapped Kingston as he scrambled back to his feet, following in with a back elbow after he’d lifted Eddie onto the apron. Eddie’s knocked down for a PK, as Montez rushed back in to land a Famouser and a frog splash for the win. Huh. This felt horribly rushed, with Kingston’s offence seemingly counting for nought as a brief flurry got Montez Ford the win. I’m still not sold on him in EVOLVE… **¼
The Street Profits celebrate in the ring, before Angelo Dawkins took the mic. Seems he wants some action too, and so he calls out Josh Briggs. Who happened to be ready and waiting.
Angelo Dawkins vs. Josh Briggs
When we jumped off of EVOLVE last year, Briggs was in the midst of an unbeaten singles run… and although that came to an end when Darby Allin beat him to get into the WWN championship ladder match in October, it’s the only blot on his one-on-one record…
Montez Ford danced in front of Briggs as he came to the ring, which may not have been a smart move. Dawkins locks up to start the match, but they can’t get any advantage as the lock-up just ends. There’s better luck with a headlock from Dawkins, who gets shoved off and lands a shoulder tackle, to no effect… with Briggs returning the favour. You know, the monstrous size of Briggs kinda fades away when he’s next to someone like Dawkins, who’s considered “normal” height in WWE land… which has always been the problem on the indys, I guess.
Briggs has to elbow out of a waistlock before an attempted back body drop was pushed away with Dawkins landing a dropkick instead. Out of nowhere, Eddie Kingston rushed back out and gets into it with Montez Ford, who’d never left ringside… they brawl to the back, and Angelo Dawkins gets booted off the apron after he’d let himself get distracted by it all. Briggs follows him outside to drop Dawkins on the guardrail, following up with a series of stomps before he tried to capitalise back in the ring. Dawkins fights back, but can’t avoid a back elbow as Briggs gets a two-count right by the ropes, before a simple bodyslam left Dawkins back in trouble. There’s a big boot waiting for Dawkins in the cover as he almost took the loss there and then, as we’re again dealing with extremely one-way traffic here. The Steamboat “three move” theory, this ain’t!
Of course, just as I type that, Dawkins mounts a comeback with some rights, trapping Briggs into the corner for some twisting splashes… but after four of them, Briggs is still standing. Five and six barely make much more difference, as Dawkins changes tactics and almost gets the win with an overhead pumphandle suplex, before Briggs comes back with a pair of backbreakers. Dawkins thought he’d avoided an M5, and after taking a gutbuster he’s right back with a spear for a near-fall…
We’re back to the pair trading rights, with Dawkins’ seemingly having a little more behind them, but he can’t find an answer to some big boots as Briggs stomped away on him. A big forearm from Dawkins almost seemed to be out of desperation, but he’s able to follow up with a Snake Eyes and a facebuster, before a pop-up spinebuster got him yet another two-count. Dawkins calls for the finish by putting on his headband, only to run into another big boot as Briggs finished him off with the M5. This was fine, but the pattern of the match did nothing for me – rather than it being “mostly one way with some hope”, it was “Dawkins has a spell, Briggs has a spell”, back and forth until the finish. **¾
Rather than be annoyed at the loss, Dawkins teases, then puts on his second headband. Montez Ford re-appears so he could put on his crown, and this is so “not my graps”…
Joe Gacy vs. JD Drake
Much like the prior night, Drake’s instantly on the defensive as Gacy liot up the WWN champion from the off, charging in with a dropkick before the match descended into a chop battle.
Gacy comes in with a pratfall trip on Drake before a knee strike earned him a near-fall early on, as the match then spilled outside as Gacy and Drake took shots around ringside. Drake rolled Gacy back inside, but it’s a bad idea as Gacy’s right back out with a tope, before a second one’s aborted, with Drake instead popping Gacy off the ropes on the apron and into a forearm. Drake took control from there, returning to the ring for a back senton that nearly puts Gacy away, before he followed up with a standing frog splash for another two-count. Heck, Drake keeps up with a spinebuster as he almost took the win, before a sit-out side slam left Gacy prone for a Vader bomb for a near-fall. Yeah, that “for the win” is really a tell isn’t it?
Aggrieved, Drake takes Gacy into the corner for chops… but Gacy just wants more of them as he fired back with uppercuts and a reverse STO for a two-count of his own. Drake’s back to the strikes before he countered a handspring from Gacy into a German suplex… only for Drake to take too long to celebrate as Gacy hits the handspring cutter anyway for a near-fall. A third crack’s blocked with a clothesline, before the Drill Bit (butterfly spin-out suplex) and a goddamned moonsault gets the win. This was better than Drake’s outing on the prior show, but I’m not a fan of “non-title matches” that the champions wins anyway… ***¼
Curt Stallion vs. Leon Ruff vs. Orange Cassidy
The addition of Orange Cassidy to this match was a very odd call, and one that La Boom, ahem, went boom for.
Cassidy just watches as Stallion and Ruff went at each other, before Stallion stopped… and German suplexed Ruff to the outside. Curt tries to prompt Cassidy into something, but instead we get Orange nonchalantly avoiding stuff, including a snapmare that he just rolled straight out of. Stallion shoved Orange into the ropes, leading to a hands-free lucha roll, then a hands-free dropkick as Cassidy just ducked to avoid a Leon Ruff dropkick, all while keeping his hands in his pockets. Ruff manages to get Cassidy’s hands out of his pockets with a ‘rana, but Stallion comes back in to stop all that… and punch out Orange on the apron.
A senton from Ruff almost saw him crash into the barricades on the outside, which of course led to Orange doing a flip as he landed in the front row from his corkscrew senton. Back inside, Cassidy nearly steals it with a DDT to Stallion, but Ruff breaks up the cover only to get himself a Michinoku Driver as Cassidy continued to surprise… before he returned to form when he fell off the top rope. Stallion capitalises with an Air Raid Crash before he and Ruff traded German suplexes, which then gave way to a three-way strike battle that ended quickly. After a while, Ruff hits a Flatliner then a backflip into a second one on Cassidy, before a small package from Stallion nearly ends it… only for Curt to try a second Air Raid Crash that Ruff avoids, ahead of a Torpedo Moscau-style diving headbutt off the middle rope to get the win. A decent win for Stallion, who’d batted .500 for the weekend as the crowd seemingly cared more about Orange than either guy. **½
After the match, Trevin Adams came to the ring on behalf of management, and had a piece of paper with him… it’s a WWN contract, and the crowd pops for that. Except Curt had a call from “Court”, which led to a shot at the reported contents of MLW deals. Curt gets another call, this time from “Joe”, and then “Shibata-san” as Trevin kept raising the contract offer. Where’s Cody in this? He’s next, as Trevin demanded Curt hang up as I think those calls tripled his value… and Curt Stallion agrees to the deal. Well, it’s a good move to sign with someone, and if it means he manages to get a higher profile, then who knows?
Anthony Henry vs. AR Fox
The winner of this gets a shot at Austin Theory’s EVOLVE title, but given that Fox has already lost recently to Theory, you’d have to think he’s maybe not winning? Or am I over analyzing again…
Fox had his entire Skulk out with him again, while Henry had his ribs taped up, as the match started with snapmares a-go-go, before Henry tried to capitalise on a brief pause. It didn’t work as Fox instead took him into the ropes for a springboard lucha armdrag ahead of a skin-the-cat dropkick into the corner. That just angered Henry, who swung for a clothesline only for Fox to catch him with an enziguiri. The clothesline lands at the second attempt, as Henry began to mock Fox’s Skulk, before a series of standing switches led to Fox… charging into the ropes to send Henry outside. Fox quickly follows with a hands-free plancha, before he aborted a double stomp back into the ring. He’s back outside after Henry with a moonsault, only to get hiptossed onto the side of the ring as the match went tit-for-tat.
Henry ups the ante with a neckbreaker onto the edge of the ring, eventually getting a two-count from it, before he laid into Fox with some kicks to the back. A cravat followed as Henry looked to grab a submission, only to lose the hold as he has to go for a second neckbreaker to keep the momentum going. Fox evades a charge in the corner as he then turned a leap from Henry into a cutter to give himself a breather, and that’s where his comeback begins, loaded with clotheslines before some back elbows led into a roll-through cutter for a near-fall.
Henry tries for a piledriver, but Fox kicks his knee out and lands… another cutter. There’s another out of the corner as Fox is spamming those things, and just like in video games, he’s punished as Henry kicks out at two. To be fair, Henry spams neckbreakers too, including a draping neckbreaker off the apron to the floor, before he rolled Fox back in as a double stomp off the top drew yet another near-fall. One sheer drop brainbuster later… and Fox is up at one?! Another brainbuster gets a two-count, so Henry unloads with head kicks before an attempt at the hattrick’s reversed, with Fox landing a two-count from that. We’re back down to strikes, with Fox’s pump kicks sending Henry into the corner ahead of a Lo Mein Pain for a near-fall as the Skulk celebrated too soon!
Fox tries to push it over the line with a 450, but Henry’s still not staying down, even from a Foxcatcher… so Fox just puts the boots to him some more as he looked to take it to the top again, this time looking for an avalanche Foxcatcher, then another Lo Mein Pain, only for Henry to catch it and counter with a German suplex off the top before a folding powerbomb… two-count! From there, Henry hits a spinning roundhouse for a near-fall (because Fox’s shoulder popped up) before he pulled the shoulder back down for the win. That finishing sequence was all kinds of wacky, and straddled the line between sublime and ridiculous – but if Henry’s going the distance here, then he ought to be a stiff test for Austin Theory down the line. ***¾
Darby Allin vs. Fabian Aichner
It’s a rematch from the prior night, with Darby demanding one more go at Fabian Aichner – whom it’d turn out would be on his way out of EVOLVE. He doesn’t exactly wait, as he jumped Allin through the curtain as Darby’s beaten down around ringside, echoing Aichner’s assault from the prior night.
They hit the ring, with Aichner going up top… but Allin pushes away a superplex, only for Aichner to pull Darby down by his jacket. Chops ensue as Aichner finally took of Darby’s coat, before a second crack at the superplex ended with Darby being pushed back, as he ended up Coffin Dropping into ring announcer Tim Barr at ringside. Ow.
Aichner picks up the pieces, dumping Darby onto the ring apron with a back suplex for a near-fall as the former EVOLVE champion was having it all his own way. A massive lariat spun Allin for a near-fall, before Darby’s attempt to Coffin Drop his way back into it sorta paid dividends, as Allin was able to escape trouble and shove Aichner into the ring post. Darby uses his body as a weapon again, charging into Aichner’s knee in the guard rails before a Code Red back inside almost stole the win.
A big powerbomb from Aichner turns it back around, before he caught Darby’s leap off the top… but he can’t complete a suplex as Darby slipped into a knee bar, almost forcing the submission. Darby slips out of a second powerbomb and goes for another Coffin Drop… Fabian counters into a German suplex, but Allin’s right back up, taking the Italian outside for a tope before the Coffin Drop off the top gets a near-fall.
Once more, Darby goes for a Coffin Drop, but Aichner rolls through and tried to nick a win with his feet on the bottom rope. The ref doesn’t count, so Aichner goes for a mounted suplex/powerbomb, only for Darby to roll through and trap him in the Last Supper for the win! This was a hell of a sprint, with Darby taking a beating but once again finding a way out and taking a big win, on what was apparently Aichner’s last night in. Darby’s been the one constant throughout all of EVOLVE’s rebrands, I just wish they could find a way to make him the top guy without immediately resorting to a 2006 Rey Mysterio underdog story. ***¾
Austin Theory vs. Johnny Gargano
I bet you can’t guess the reaction Gargano got in La Boom.. but we’d have to wait to get a chance at “original” Gargano, as he came out to his WWE theme here. Still, at least we weren’t getting “conflicted, NXT Gargano”!
I tell you a routine I really don’t dig: Austin Theory’s shtick where he interrupts the ring announcer to get him to announce new nicknames for him. It gets heat, but some of those nicknames are terrible. “The Epitome”. Of what?! Still, at least Gargano apes it.
Gargano fired into Theory, clotheslining him to the outside at the bell as commentary hyped up Gargano’s match at Takeover a week later. Theory’s taken into the crowd for some chops as Gargano sought payback for the post-match attack the prior night, before he outsmarted Theory’s attempt at posting him… only for him to get taken into the ring as a Rolling Thunder Dropkick got Theory barely a one-count. Gargano’s whipped from corner-to-corner, following up with shoulder charges as he looked to attack Gargano’s lower back and kidneys. Theory misses a springboard stomp, but sidesteps a slingshot spear as he again targeted the lower back with a stomp and a standing moonsault for a near-fall, as Theory was almost boxer-like in terms of picking his spots.
A cobra clutch is escaped by Gargano, but Theory is right back with forearms to the back before a backbreaker targeted the part you’d expect. An enziguri from Gargano stopped Theory in his tracks, as the NXT star fought back, scoring with a flying ‘rana, taking Theory outside for a plancha attempt that turned into the slingshot spear for a near-fall. Theory’s right back with a Rolling Thunder Blockbuster for a near-fall as he sure does love those roll-throughs, before he found himself on the deck again, courtesy of a discus lariat. Gargano looked for a lawn dart next, but Theory trips him into the corner before an attempted slingshot spear was just met with a kick as Gargano hit his lawn dart anyway.
Theory retaliates with a bucklebomb, but Gargano responds instantly with a superkick for a near-fall. Boo/yay punches follow, with Gargano edging ahead as THeory sent himself outside ahead of a tope suicida. Back inside, Theory caught a slingshot DDT and caught Gargano with a Blackhart Buster, before a rack bomb nearly scored the upset. That kick-out seemed to frustrate Theory, who looked to finish Gargano with a superkick, only for it to get caught as Theory escaped the Gargano Escape, before Ataxia’s blocked. An errant superkick from Gargano wipes out the referee, and in the meantime we have Gargano edging ahead with that slingshot DDT for the annoying babyface visual pin. You kicked the ref yourself, why are you expecting him to be superhuman?!
A low blow from Theory saw him put Gargano down, as it was time for plunder… a chair! Theory slides it in and looks for Ataxia on a chair, but Priscilla Kelly – Theory’s former manager – comes out and breaks it up. She slaps him silly before Darby Allin came in to land a flip stunner. Josh Briggs continues the run of interference with a Go To Hell on Allin, before Gargano took the M5, and yeah, this is getting silly. Anyone else want to come out? The referee wakes up as Theory tried to steal the win, but Gargano’s up at two as Theory then called for the EVOLVE title… he gets it, and tries for a belt shot, only for Gargano to duck and come back with a La Mistica into a Gargano Escape for the submission! Well this was fun until that parade of interference, but they found a way to tie in other storylines rather than have this be a match in a bubble, so I can’t complain too much. ***½
Commentary signed off as Priscilla Kelly scowled at Theory from ringside, before the show closed with Gargano giving Darby Allin the proverbial rub, praising his heart and telling him to make a name for himself in 2019. That led to the Gargano farewell speech, with the locker room being called out as the future of professional wrestling. Or at least, the babyfaces…
EVOLVE 120 was a step up from 119, and was much the better of the two shows – although I was left a little sore at how this was a bare bones show, with little in the way of title matches, with Gargano being the sole draw. The thing is, while the concept of EVOLVE being a stop-off for the many underused NXT guys was a turn-off, I was wobbling on the promotion because it felt like they were just rebooting far too often for anything to matter. It’s sad that while crowds are up, the buzz from the last shake-up has already worn-off, with these shows seemingly catching many by surprise, save for the “oh hey, that’s the show Johnny Gargano did? Cool” type remarks.