SummerSlam weekend starts early… and in Joppa, Maryland, as EVOLVE brings a Friday night card featuring the indy debut of Cody Rhodes!

#TLDR: Life after WWE started for Cody Rhodes with a bang, as he main evented EVOLVE’s Friday night show, ending a card of thoroughly good, if not spectacular wrestling.

The Full Review: If you tuned in early, WWN played a nice little video package to bring you somewhat up to speed on their current storylines. The EVOLVE graphics are still as unreadable as they were over WrestleMania weekend, and hey, it’s Joanna Rose as ring announcer – she’s not been booted from this gig after losing out in PCW a few weeks ago!

Cedric Alexander vs. TJ Perkins
This is billed as a Cruiserweight Classic Spotlight match, since both guys were involved in it. They repeat the CWC pre-match intros, and we start with Alexander grabbing a wristlock, taking down TJP, and keeps hold of the lock as TJP tries to roll free. Perkins finally frees himself, and then grabs a waistlock, which gets reversed, but Perkins takes down Alexander with some spinning headscissors.

Alexander switched the headscissors, but could only delay when Perkins flipped free and got back to his feet. Another tie-up sees both men caught in the ropes, but Perkins gets rolled back into a series of chops, as a springboard armdrag taks Perkins to the floor as Alexander fakes a dive.

After some stand-offs, Perkins grabs a crucifix submission hold, which sends Alexander into the ropes. Alexander leaps over Perkins in the corner, before taking him down with a dropkick and eventually going for a two-count. Perkins gets chopped again, before he headstands in the corner to stop a charging Alexander, and then rolled back down and dropped Alexander’s leg with a DDT.

A rolling leg lock keeps Alexander down, and Perkins rolls through again, this time sending Alexander into the rope for a break. Perkins drops Alexander with a series of uppercuts, before he goes for a toehold, and then into an Indian deathlock. Alexander’s brief comeback ends with a bridging Indian deathlock in the middle of the ring, but he elbows free.

Perkins missed a slingshot senton into the ring, as Alexander leaps in through the middle rope with an Ace crusher. A series of reversals sees the momentum swing back and forth, but a springboard lariat gets Alexander a near-fall. After taking a springboard enziguiri out of the corner, Perkins grabbed an ankle lock on Alexander, who was again too close to the ropes and got the break easily.

More kicks and uppercuts follow between the two, with Alexander dropping Perkins with a roundhouse kick. Both men beat the count back to their feet, with Perkins dropping Alexander with a back elbow as he blocked a waistlock. A springboard into a DDT takes Alexander down, before a Fireman’s carry into a Pele kick gets Perkins another near-fall.

Alexander scores a near-fall after rolling through a Dodon facebuster attempt, then gets another two from a Michinoku driver. An enziguiri in the corner and a brainbuster gets a similar result for Alexander, before Perkins ducks a series of kicks and grabs Alexander in another ankle lock for an unpopular win. This did well as an opener, but at times it threatened to cram too much stuff in. They’ll not wrestle like this if this happens in a WWE ring in future. ***½

Post-match, Stokely Hathaway cuts a promo for Perkins to say that he’s the best cruiserweight going… and plugs Perkins’ match in the CWC next week. Hathaway mentions how the cruiserweight division’s going to Raw, and demands that Mick Foley call him to “make some money”.

Jigsaw & Peter Kaasa vs. Tracy Williams & Fred Yehi
This is the first time I’ve seen Peter Kaasa… Jigsaw, he must be lost, because this is a rare non-European show for him. Fred Yehi nearly rips down the stage on his entrance, and then has trouble disrobing…

Williams and Jigsaw start us off, with a wristlock from Williams quickly reversed by Jigsaw. That’s turned into a cravat, but Jigsaw again reverses and takes down Williams into a version of the Tequila sunrise, before Williams pops up and gets a waistlock takedown.

Williams crosses Jigsaws legs for an STF, but just pins them down as he keeps Jigsaw to the mat, and after working free, we get Yehi and Kaasa tagged in. A dropkick from Kaasa takes down Yehi, but he chops away at Kaasa in the corner and blocks a knee breaker. Kaasa then catches Yehi with an Angle slam off the ropes, before putting on the brakes to stop himself from diving into thin air.

Jigsaw and Williams return, and we get a shoulder block from Williams, who then catches a Jigsaw leapfrog for a near-fall. Chops from Jigsaw are returned by Williams, and time seemed to stand still as Yehi made a blind tag, waiting for an atomic drop on Jigsaw before he could throw him across with a belly-to-belly suplex.

Yehi gets a one count with a roll-up, before Williams comes in to drill Jigsaw with an uppercut, and then goes for a trapped arm submission, before shoving Kaasa to the apron. Some knees to Jigsaw’s midsection set up for an abdominal stretch, but Jigsaw fights free and ends up landing on his head from a simple knee to the midsection.

Jigsaw takes down Yehi with a missile dropkick as he looks to tag in Kaasa, who comes in with a tiltawhirl slam and a springboard dropkick to Williams, before Yehi misses a dive and goes to the outside. Jigsaw follows him, leaving Kaasa and Williams, but Kaasa shoves Williams to the floor and goes flying with a Sasuke special to the pile! There’s something discombobulating about seeing a guy the size of Kaasa flying like that.

A leaping shoulder tackle into the corner, then a Northern Lights suplex and a brainbuster gets a two-count on Williams, before Kaasa misses a moonsault. Williams capitalises with a rear naked choke, then a clothesline for another two-count. Jigsaw runs in to break up a crossface on Kaasa, before landing a superkick. More spots leave everyone down on the mat, before they step up to tag in Yehi and Jigsaw.

Yehi drops Jigsaw with a release German suplex, then a second for a near-fall, but Yehi misses an O’Connor roll and takes an enziguiri from Jigsaw. The end comes when a Jigsaw double stomp to a bent-over Yehi is followed up with a brainbuster for the win. Not sure what was going on with Kaasa at the end, as he was selling tiredness as Jigsaw entered the final sprint, but suddenly stopped pretty much after the pin was counted. ***

Post-match, Williams slaps Yehi for the loss, but Yehi replies with a roaring elbow to Jigsaw, and then returns the slap to Williams. The Catch Point members shake hands, and they head to the back…

Ethan Page vs. DUSTIN
DUSTIN is the man known everywhere else as Chuck Taylor, and in a nice touch, he’s used electrical tape to X out the “TAYLOR” on his tights. Well, it saves on having a second pair.

My feed died for a moment, but came back as we saw Ethan Page slip on some water outside the ring as he tried to kick DUSTIN. DUSTIN whips Page into the barriers repeatedly, before Page turns the tables with a back body drop onto the floor.

Back in the ring, Page sends DUSTIN flying with a fallaway slam, before he takes a drop toe hold into the bottom turnbuckle. A floatover suplex gets DUSTIN a two-count, but Page hit back with a slap, before DUSTIN raked the eyes. Page is taken into the corner and takes some shots, but a single forearm drops DUSTIN, with Page following up with some more chops.

DUSTIN picks up Page by the nose, and hits a dropkick to the back of the head for a two-count. The pair trade forearms, until Page counters a leapfrog into a sit-out powerbomb. A series of right hands sends DUSTIN into the ropes, and Page drops him with a forearm, then a reverse tiltawhirl slam.

Page catches DUSTIN with a shot on the top rope, before the Iconoclasm gets him a near-fall. DUSTIN drops Page with a piledriver on the floor after he distracted him with the tag title belt and swept him onto the floor (via a leg sweep on the apron). Page barely beat the count-out, but returned into the ring for a superkick for a near-fall.

DUSTIN goes for a piledriver, but Page fights free, only to take the Eat Defeat (or whatever DUSTIN calls it). Page trades right hands from the apron, then leaps into the ring with the RK-Ego (cutter through the ropes), only for a DDT from Dustin to cut him off for a near-fall. Page fights out of a stretch and drops DUSTIN in the middle turnbuckle with a Snake Eyes, only scoring a near-fall from it.

A package piledriver from Page is countered into a backslide for a near-fall, before Page gets it at the second attempt for the win. Well, that was something – technically, a fine match, but the crowd struggled to care about it at all. **¾

Tony Nese vs. Drew Gulak
This is our second Cruiserweight Classic Spotlight match, and we start with a Gulak headlock, but Nese works free and tries for a single-leg crab, forcing Gulak into the ropes. Nese nearly took the fall after a sunset flip-style pin, but he comes back with another single-leg crab attempt.

The two keep grabbing for holds, as Gulak’s caught in a leg grapevine, but he works free and takes Nese into the corner, but a couple of leapfrogs and a Matrix keeps Nese free of trouble, but Gulak finally takes him down after some missed kicks. Gulak tries to whip Nese into the corner, but it’s reversed and Nese replies with a flying forearm, before getting a no-count from a snapmare to Gulak.

A leg sweep gets Nese a two-count, as he then goes to some bodyscissors, but Gulak crosses the leg – like he did in his Cruiserweight Classic match – to force the break. Nese lands a running forearm, before a dropkick takes him down for a two-count. Gulak rolls Nese through into an inverted figure four, but Nese makes it to the ropes to force a break.

A cravat from Gulak eventually takes Nese down for a one-count, and that hold got turned into an armbar before Nese fought back. Nese drills Gulak with a European uppercut, before he picks up Gulak and drives him into the opposite corner with a buckle bomb. A running knee into the corner gets Nese a two-count, and he follows up with a series of Muay Thai knees to drop Gulak back to the mat.

Another leg sweep from Nese sends Gulak to the mat, with a springboard quebrada almost picking up the win for Nese. Gulak lands a chop, but then went flying with a tope to Nese after he’d gone to the floor from a failed baseball slide/leg sweep attempt, earning Gulak a two-count after they’d returned to the ring.

Nese thought he’d countered a guillotine choke, but Gulak blocked the suplex and went back to the hold, before Nese dumped him on the top rope. Another legsweep sees Gulak drop to the floor, and this time a moonsault press over the top rope to the floor just about makes contact with the Catch Point member. Back inside, Nese misses a 450 Splash, but counters a Dragon sleeper into a sit-out piledriver for another two-count.

Gulak grabs the beard of Nese and holds on for a series of slaps, before an Electric Chair drop gets a near-fall. That’s followed up with a superplex, but Nese rolled into a small package on landing to nearly shock Gulak. Drew goes airborne with a diving clothesline, and only gets a two count from it, so the pair trade strikes back and forth once more. Out of nowhere, a pumphandle slam attempt from Nese is reversed, and Gulak snatches the win with a roll-up. That one started real slow, but it built to a heck of a finish. Well worth a second watch ***¾

After the match, Gulak gets the microphone to plug the main event… Gulak says that Timothy Thatcher isn’t deserving to hold the title, and he taunts Thatcher on his threat to “hurt anyone who’s holding the title”. Thatcher’s music plays, but he’s attacked on his way to the ring by Matt Riddle… and we have our match a little early!

No Holds Barred for the EVOLVE Championship: Timothy Thatcher (c) vs. Matt Riddle
Riddle and Thatcher trade strikes outside the ring, before Thatcher slowly gets the advantage with a series of knee strikes on the floor, then a gutwrench pick-up, but Riddle reverses it, only to end up caught in an ankle lock on the floor.

Riddle pushes Thatcher into the apron, and then they go into the ring where they windmill at each other with punches. Slaps from Thatcher daze Riddle, but he comes back with some kicks to the champion, before Thatcher blocks an elbow, only to fall into a cross armbreaker. Thatcher rolls forward into a pinning predicament for a one-count, before switching into a crossface.

Thatcher grabs a heelhook on Riddle, who screams out loud, but eventually lets go of the hold after Riddle lands a couple of elbows. A German suplex from Riddle drops Thatcher, who then gets a deadlift gutwrench suplex, before unloading with elbows to the shoulder of Thatcher, and then grab an armbreaker.

Thatcher makes the ropes, but ends up sliding to the floor as the rules mean there’s no rope breaks. A dive from Riddle’s aborted, and he ends up sliding out to the floor to slap Thatcher, who replies with an uppercut, and then by pulling Riddle’s shoulder into the ringpost. A vertical suplex gets Thatcher a two-count, and he returns the favour with the deadlift gutwrench suplex for another two-count.

Thatcher grabs a crossface, but Riddle’s rope break means nought, so he drags himself up… and takes a forearm to the chest. Riddle makes a comeback by stomping on Thatcher’s chest, then turns it into a triangle choke, but Thatcher powers up and chokes Riddle in the ropes to force a break. That was certainly innovative!

They trade strikes again, with Thatcher getting another gutwrench suplex on the challenger for a two-count. Riddle gets caught on the apron with a sleeperhold, and Thatcher drags him back into the ring, only for Riddle to drop him with a Saito suplex to free the hold. A knee from Riddle drops Thatcher, but that’s a ruse as the champion grabs a knee bar, but Riddle counters, and loses it before kicking free.

A Dragon screw from Thatcher drops Riddle into another knee bar, but Riddle kicks free and gets a knee bar of his own. They roll into the ropes, but of course, no breaks, and Thatcher snaps the knee of Riddle onto the floor as they rolled off the apron. Thatcher rolls Riddle back into the ring and gets a near-fall, but switches it into a Fujiwara armbar from the kickout. Riddle rolls through and lands a kick to the head, then a Fisherman Buster and a tombstone piledriver for a near-fall… as Thatcher goes back to the armbar! Thatcher goes back to the cross armbreaker, but Riddle escaping the ring doesn’t break the hold, and he’s left with no choice but to tap! ****

That was certainly a muted match, with a large contingent of the crowd perhaps expecting Riddle to take the win, but from a wrestling perspective, this was brilliant. Perhaps it’s from Riddle’s MMA background, but he sold like a champ, and made everything believable. It’s just a shame I can’t get invested in Thatcher at all.

Drew Gulak stomped on Thatcher to free the hold. The two go face to face, and a spinning backfist from Gulak drops the champion. Cue a load of fans praying for a Gulak win tomorrow!

Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Cody Rhodes
Well, this is it… Cody Rhodes’ first match since losing to Zack Ryder on WWE Superstars on May 16… and his first match outside of WWE ever. Rhodes gets a loud pop for his appearance, as Lenny Leonard calls out that Cody’s using Downstait for his theme music. Well… he took something else from WWE with him!

They shook hands, and Rhodes started by taking Sabre into the ropes for a clean break, before Sabre broke an attempt at a tie-up. Sabre uses a cravat to send Rhodes into the ropes, again for a clean break, before grabbing an arm into a hammerlock, then switches it into a wristlock. Sabre works a surfboard stretch on Rhodes, and folds him in half, but easily gets out of the hold after Cody reversed it.

Sabre rolls Rhodes with with a hammerlock takeover, then goes for some headscissors, wrenching the neck back and forth as he goes. Rhodes stands up out of the headscissors, but quickly goes back to them as he tried in vain for a side headlock. Rhodes rolls back for a near-fall, but in the kick-out Sabre pushes back to the armbar before eventually releasing the hold.

Rhodes returns the favour with a Gory stretch on Sabre, who eventually flips back to his feet and gets hiptossed into another armbar. A knee to the midsection sets up Rhodes for a front suplex that gets him a near-fall – and at this point, I realise… they haven’t thrown any punches. This has been all wrestling!

Sabre dropkicks Rhodes as he tried for a springboard kick, then sweeps the leg forward to dump Rhodes face-first on the mat. Sabre stomps onto Rhodes’ elbow, before an uppercut sends him down to the mat. More kicks from Sabre target Rhodes’ elbow, and Rhodes ends up being kicked to the floor as he tried to skin the cat.

Sabre joins him on the floor for another European uppercut, then manipulates Rhodes wrist on a tour of the ringside area. Rhodes rolls into the ring to avoid more punishment onto the arm, and catches Sabre on the way back in with a Dragon screw in the ropes. Rhodes drops a knee onto Sabre’s shin, before kicking the Brit in the thigh as he was trapped in the corner.

Another leg trip sees Sabre land on his front, as Sabre falls into a toe-hold, only to free himself and again stomp on Rhodes’ elbow. Sabre twists Rhodes’ arm between his legs, and Sabre continues with a series of arm wringers despite Rhodes’ forearms. A Side Effect from Rhodes leaves both men onto the canvas, leaving the fans to chant “delete” in recognition of a more recognised proponent of that move.

A springboard enziguiri gets Rhodes a near-fall, as short-arm clothesline keeps Sabre down, but he quickly pops up with a half-nelson suplex and a PK for a two-count. Sabre missed a springboard kick off the ropes, and got caught in an airplane spin version of an Air Raid Crash, but Sabre switched it up into a hammerlock with body scissors, before Rhodes fell into the ropes for a break.

Sabre missed a double stomp onto the arm, before a bridging cradle pin got him a two-count. Rhodes fired back with the Cross Rhodes for a near-fall, only to fall into a triangle armbar from Sabre, which Rhodes easily powered out of with a powerbomb. We see another roll through into an inverted figure four from Rhodes, and that forces Sabre to tap… that was not the result I was expecting. A lot of that match seemed to be Rhodes trying to keep up with a guy who had worked this style for many a year, before getting a flash submission at the end. Decent match, nowhere near EVOLVE-level main event quality, but I feel like Cody’s got a ways to go before he fits in with the style people come to expect from the independent scene in 2016. ***

Rhodes took the microphone afterwards, talking about how he’s lived in a shadow and now he’s evolving out of it. I don’t want to say that this was a let-down, but this may have been the victim of simply too much hype. Let’s see how Cody does tomorrow at EVOLVE 67 agaigst Chris Hero…