Independent group EVOLVE had the honour of hosting the first wrestling show on WrestleMania weekend, with a Friday evening event at Eddie Deen’s Ranch – a venue that the WWNlive promotions took over for the weekend.

Fortunately, I’d ordered the live show plus the “on demand” offering for all of WWNlive’s events this weekend; as we’ll cover in another article, the group had a lot of issues streaming, leading to the group offering freebies as a make-good. So unless you were present at the ranch, the best way to catch this would have been on-demand, unless you like buffering…

The show kicked off with commentators Lenny Leonard and Rob Naylor in the ring, and they quickly led us into the opening match, a tag title defence as champions Johnny Gargano (in a sweet NXT-inspired short) and TNA champion Drew Galloway, minus his TNA belt.

EVOLVE Tag Team Titles: Drew Galloway & Johnny Gargano (w/Kota Ibushi) (c) vs. Anthony Nese & Caleb Konley (w/Andrea & SoCal Val)

Pre-match, Gargano introduced Japanese star Kota Ibushi as a surprise to corner the champions – you’ll have seen Ibushi’s name mentioned a lot this weekend, as he prepares for his WWE run. The stipulations here were that if Nese and Konley – known as the “Premier Athlete Brand” – didn’t win, they’d have to split as a team. Nese looks very similar (facially, at least) to Damien Sandow – a massive change from Nese’s brief TNA run.

Fast paced action to start with, as Konley tries to hit a tope on Galloway… except he’s caught, and Galloway dumps him on the floor as Gargano gets more success with a tope onto Nese. The PAB get back into things, and Nese comes close after a version of Dash & Dawson’s Shatter Machine on Gargano. The heels rely on the help of their (many) seconds to cut off a move that starts as an assisted Vertebreaker, before Gargano’s attempt at a slingshot spear into Konley is caught, as the heels come crashing down with a draping rope DDT and springboard moonsault combo.

After having a Tower of Doom spot thwarted, Galloway popped up from a tree of woe to give Konley a German suplex off the top (before dropping back down to take a Coast to Coast dropkick from Nese, who then ate a DDT from Gargano for a near fall). The match gets a little spotty from there, with too many moves to mention (or sink in!), as Gargano is left two-on-one against Nese and Konley, who take down Gargano with a pumphandle neckbreaker combo for a near-fall.

Nese tries to use his wrist tape to choke out Gargano, but Ethan Page runs out from the back to make the save, before Konley flattens Galloway with a deadlift powerbomb into the buckles, as he then dumps Gargano belly first onto the selling Galloway. In the aftermath, Konley accidentally knocks Nese off the ropes, and turns into two big boots, and Konley is forced to tap to the Gargano Escape crossface. There’s no bell, because apparently someone forgot it, as the crowd is chanting “what the ****” whilst ring announcer Joanna Rose is forced to announce the result to end the confusion, whilst Drew Galloway re-enacts the finish to the match for the benefit of Botchamania!

Johnny Gargano shrugs at the lack-of-ringbell. Screencap from WWN Live

Screencap from WWN Live

Yes. WTF exactly. How hard is it to remember to bring a ring bell to a wrestling show?! They were in Dallas, there was probably at least a cowbell nearby to use instead… we’re then left to see the ring crew checking underneath the ring for said ring bell and fix the streaming issues that plagued this show. The crowd pops big time when the bell makes its delayed appearance… just in time for this:

EVOLVE Championship: Timothy Thatcher (c) vs. Matt Riddle

This is the first time I’ve seen either guy, and in the case of Riddle that counts his former UFC career. Riddle comes out before the start of the match, and by God, he sounds like the crew of Jersey Shore times Zack Ryder.

They eschew intros, and Riddle takes down Thatcher. As a side note, Riddle’s barefoot and in his MMA gear, Thatcher’s wearing boots. Just stamp on his toes “dude”. This is more of a grapple-fest than anything you’d usually associate with this group. Think of a “worked UFC” and you’re getting close; and the crowd are silent, as there’s nothing to react to, save for the odd hard shots. Thatcher grabs an ankle lock, but Riddle grabs the ropes. Riddle grabs a Stretch Muffler/Brock Lock, but yet again, this crowd is freaking silent.

Thatcher grabs a North-South choke whilst ramming knees into Riddle’s shoulders, which then segued into a Dragon Sleeper as Riddle powered up, and Thatcher tries a reverse suplex into the ropes which goes a little wonky as Riddle lands awkwardly.

Riddle then hits a move the fans can recognise – a Fisherman’s buster, keeping the leg locked for a two-count – before blasting Thatcher in the side with a running knee. Thatcher retaliates with a rolling gutwrench suplexes, before going to a Fujiwara armbar, which was reversed several times. The finish came out of the blue when Riddle had Thatcher in an armbar; Thatcher made the ropes, but Riddle didn’t immediately let go, instead yanking back on the lock before releasing the hold. Thatcher rolled to the outside, and was followed by the referee who immediately called for the bell. Riddle thinks he’s won the title, but instead it’s thrown out and called a no-contest due to Riddle not relinquishing the hold (so why not a DQ?). A really flat finish to a match that struggled to get the crowd going, and that the referee was immediately able to throw the match out to a “dislocated elbow” didn’t help.

Fred Yehi vs. Marty Scurll

Yehi’s gotten a bit of buzz for his work as of late; and he’s against a guy who’s come a hell of a long way since he was a contestant on the British dating gameshow “Take Me Out”: Marty Scurll. Hell, he’s come a long way since he was in TNA and dived head-first into a barrier.

Scurll’s out without his PROGRESS title (which he’d go on to defend at another show this weekend in Dallas), and he just about edged Yehi in the early going. Yehi did the “kneel behind a guy” preparation for a Scurll pratfall that set-up a calf-stomp, following up with a Fisherman’s suplex for a near fall. Scurll goes for a chicken-wing, but Yehi escapes, only to be taken down by a Divorce Court hammerlock drop.

Scurll sets up Yehi for a surfboard, but then hooks the nose, followed by the ears, as he heels it up. Yehi pulls off a series of quickfire stomps after Scurll grabbed one of his legs, but the move doesn’t keep Scurll down, as he goes for another chicken wing. A third chicken wing attempt is blocked by forearms to the ear, and Scurll’s attempts to tweak Yehi’s fingers are cut off by a low kick that doesn’t get called.

Scurll snatches the win in the end with a sitout suplex that he immediately transitions onto a chicken wing for the tapout. Good match – nothing too dramatic, and perfect for it’s place on the card.

Ethan Page vs. Sami Callihan

Sami Callihan looks in a lot better shape than when he was in NXT – and they go for a furious start, with the third move of the match being a back suplex on the floor, with Page dumping Callihan on the ring apron. Callihan responds with a tope between the bottom two ropes to take out Page on the floor, and then whips him into the barrier, before spitting in his hand and chopping said loogie into Page’s chest. Page retaliates with a butterfly, almost a double-arm DDT start whilst draping Callihan from the barricade, before spinning him into an across-the-knee backbreaker on the way down.

Some nice back-and-forth here, with Page avoiding a face-wash before trading bicycle kicks with the former NXT guy. Double bicycle kicks sends the two men down. They just about beat the ten-count, and Callihan turns an Ethan Page leapfrog into a Death Valley Driver for a near fall. Page flips Callihan onto his belly with a tiltawhirl, before hitting a powerbomb for a near fall. Callihan responds with a Ligerbomb out of the corner for a near-fall, then switches it to a Stretch Muffler as soon as Page kicked out, only for a rope break to be quickly called for.

Page hits the Spinning Dwayne (Rock Bottom) for a near-fall as my on-demand feed starts to buffer. Callihan counters a package piledriver into a Stretch Muffler, before stomping away at Page’s head, as a diving forearm off the ropes to the kneeling Page secures the win.

A good match, but it never really got going – perhaps the fact that the third move was an apron spot should have given it away?

TJ Perkins vs Ricochet

It’s the former Manik against the current (?) Prince Puma in the battle of masked wrestlers who are now (sometimes) mask-free. Unfortunately, I see a lot of the buffering wheel, but this one’s starting out pretty good, with a faked dive and Ricochet doing his best Stone Cold impression, before following up with the People’s Standing Moonsault to complete the aping.

TJP set up Ricochet in the Tree of Woe, but then proceeded to distract the referee so he could plant his boot in Ricochet’s nether reason, before trapping him in a Sharpshooter, then a STF. Perkins worked a neck-tie as if he were Mil Mascaras or El Hijo del Santo, before a kneebar saw Ricochet roll it through into a pinning attempt. Ricochet gets a near fall from a Northern Lights suplex that he rolled through into a standard suplex.

Ricochet goes for a 450 Splash, but as Perkins rolls away, Perkins lands on his feet, tweaking his knee in the process. No contest, right? No, they keep going as Perkins hits a dropkick to the knee, then wraps in a heel hook for the shocking tap-out victory. A really good match, in spite of the buffering issues, as they told the story of two men at the start of a stacked weekend.

…and now is the match I’ve been waiting to see!

Will Ospreay vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

Or “the battle of the future New Japan star and the guy getting into the WWE Global Cruiserweight Series”. Ospreay gets the “Ole Ole Ole” chants as he points to the heavens in memory of Kris Travis (a lot of that tonight from the British guys on the card), whilst ZSJ is wearing a pink wristband. My feed started buffering like nobody’s business, so I took a break and thankfully all was well an hour later.

They work off a knuckle-lock to begin with, but Sabre Jr. gets the first pinfall attempt with a crucifix-like move. Ospreay works a hammerlock, but they remain even. A tonne of wristlocks and reversals, as Ospreay hits a backflip huracanrana before taking a hiptoss into the ropes and taking down Sabre Jr, who replies with a Kravat on Ospreay. Sabre Jr. catches Ospreay’s leapfrog, and uses a roll-up for a near fall before eating an Ospreay back elbow, and a Dragon suplex for a near fall.

Sabre Jr. showcased some awe-inspiring submissions, including a hands-free Octopus lock on Ospreay, and a standing Indian deathlock, including a bridge, then a kip-up before locking Ospreay in a butterfly. This is insane!  Sabre Jr. combined a bow-and-arrow hold with a Japanese stranglehold, but Ospreay reversed out and rebounded off the ropes with a kick to floor ZSJ. Ospreay followed up with a sequence of moves that were ultra crisp – combo of ramming the head into the turnbuckle and a kick, followed by a dive to the floor, and a fallaway Diamond Cutter whilst diving off the top rope – a move that looked better than any of John Cena’s Springboard Stunners ever did.

Sabre Jr. rolls out of a 630 splash and connects with a Tiger Suplex before locking Ospreay in a variant of a Dragon Sleeper, but Ospreay rolls through and follows up with a standing Shooting Star Press and a Phoenix splash for a near-fall. Ospreay misses on a Rainmaker attempt, and we have some more near fall exchanges. Ospreay no-sells a tornado DDT out of the corner, but ends up doing a standing Shooting Star Press… only to be caught straight in a Triangle choke. Ospreay faded, but fought back after his arm dropped twice, and deadlifted Sabre into turnbuckle bomb from the choke position.

Ospreay leapfrogged Sabre onto the top rope, who responded by kicking him into the Tree of Woe, but after fighting up, Ospreay had to fight out of a Dragon Superplex, before hitting the Essex Destroyer (Spanish Fly/C4), before hitting Sabre’s knees with a Phoenix Splash. Sabre responds with a stiff kick, then a Liger Bomb, and finally a double-arm bar for the win by tap-out.

An absolutely amazing match – well built, with none of the spotty nonsense that you could have expected. As for whether this or Zayn/Nakamura was better, it’s a case of apples and oranges. The former was well promoted and had a hot crowd throughout, whilst Sabre/Ospreay was white hot from start to finish. I’m going to call this a dead heat.

By the way. this was the first time in what feels like forever where the “that was awesome” chant actually meant something; and let me tell you now, this match alone is well worth the VOD money from EVOLVE. From the independent scene, this is definitely a match that is replacing the first Dragon Gate six-man as the standard bearer of WrestleMania Weekend Great Matches™.

Heroes. Eventually. Die. (Chris Hero & Tommy End) vs. Drew Gulak & Tracy Williams

Good luck topping this, guys! TJ Perkins accompanpied his Catch Point stable mates of Gulak and Williams, for whatever it’s worth.

They start evenly, with Williams trying an armbar on End, before Hero and Gulak come into the fray. Hammerlock reversals end with Gulak taking down Hero, but Hero’s response is to lay into him with a series of stiff chops. Gulak log-rolls out of a powerbomb attempt, and catches Hero in a leg-hold before bringing in Williams.

Hero bicycle kicks Williams off the apron and onto the shoulders of Tommy End on the floor, with another boot taking Williams out of the electric chair position and onto the floor. End and Hero work over Williams, making use of rapid tags, as Hero flattens Williams with a senton for a two count. Williams takes a load of bicycle kicks from End, but responds every time by chopping Hero as he’s caught in the apron, before Hero gets tagged in and elbows Williams in the face for a two count.

Hero blocks a suplex attempt, but can’t do anything to avoid Williams’ German suplex, as Hero rolls to the floor… but Hero’s made it to the other corner as he yanks Drew Gulak off the apron before a tag can be made. Hero and End again trap Williams in the wrong corner with strikes, but he eventually fires up, even if his chops force Hero to declare “you can’t hurt me!”

Williams hits a high angle back suplex on Hero, and eventually makes the tag to Drew Gulak… who staggers into a kick from End, but he recovers and get a near-fall on an assisted belly-to-back suplex.  Gulak gets a near-fall from a bodyslam followed by a senton splash, before going into some joint manipulation on the Dutch native End.

End fights out of a two-on-one, and knees Gulak in the face before flooring Williams with a spinning back elbow and a knee to the face. Hero tags in and boots Gulak off the apron, before flooring Williams with two elbows. Drew Gulak comes in to save Williams from a neckbreaker, as the Catch Point team chop Hero, but end up being flattened by End as they try a double-team attack. A release suplex/knee-strike combo from Heroes Eventually Die gets another two-count, but the Catch Point team manage a spot of double teaming, which sees a Wheelbarrow Suplex turned into a Rear Naked Choke by Williams on End… although Chris Hero’s suplex of Gulak onto the choke-pile breaks that up.

A big boot from Chris Hero cuts off another Catch Point double team, before they all exchange elbows and chops. A brainbuster/piledriver combo gets Heroes Eventually Die a pair of two-counts, before the Catch Point team counter two Gotch-style piledrivers into Crossfaces and armbars, then transitioning into crucifix-like pins for more near falls. Williams counters a Roaring Elbow with a lariat, but Hero gets the Roaring Elbow at the second try.  Williams gets wiped out with a Gotch-style piledriver and double stomp combo, before Hero and End go to work on Gulak with strikes.

Gulak suplexes his way out of it, but takes another high knee to the face by End for a near fall…. and out of nowhere, End goes for a big boot, only to be caught by Gulak for a dragon sleeper with body scissors, and we have a flash tapout win for the Catch Point team!

A nice main event, and whilst NXT on Friday showed that the excuse of “the crowd was flat because of the prior match” isn’t entirely valid, in hindsight the show should have ended with the Ospreay/Sabre Jr. match. On a side note, having only seen one Tommy End match before (from six years ago), this man’s striking makes me not want to cross him in a darkened alleyway. Or a well lit one, for that manner.

Overall, EVOLVE 58 has to be considered in two categories. From a live perspective, it looked to have been an unbeatable experience – a match that’s almost certainly to be in the top three for Match of the Year, several good matches, some questionable booking… oh, and a forgotten ring bell. For those at home however, the live experience was reportedly nothing short of shoddy, with endless buffering making the early part of the show unwatchable, and ruining fan’s goodwill for the remainder. At least the problems were remedied for the (Indy?) Match of the Weekend, but the issues on Friday and Saturday raise a lot of questions for the very future of live iPPV.

That being said, if you haven’t seen the show… make sure you do; you shan’t regret it!