EVOLVE’s return to Massachusetts saw them headline with a “Battle of the Champions” – as the WWN and EVOLVE champs squared off in non-title action.

It’s your usual duo of Lenny Leonard hosting and commentating the show, with Joanna Rose as ring announcer. Sadly we’re still fighting a lot of echo as the acoustics on these EVOLVE shows leave a lot to be desired. EVOLVE’s busted out the red-white-and-blue ropes, which may be because these are their last shows before the 4th of July. Either that or I’m missing something glaringly obvious…

Austin Theory vs. Timothy Thatcher
Oh poor Austin, still in search of a big win… and I doubt it’ll come here as he’s against a man who’s looking to start from the bottom as he tries to reclaim the EVOLVE title he held for oh-so-long.

The actually-legible graphic shows Thatcher (or “Thathcer” as someone did a boo boo) as being accompanied by the rest of Catch Point, and he actually gets a decent cheer. Thatcher instantly takes down Theory and mounts him for some vicious ground and pound as he tries to end things early, but Theory survives… by which I mean he just has to fight out of a single-leg crab attempt.

Theory manages to grab a front facelock, but Thatcher quickly escapes as Priscilla Kelly wanders around ringside. Not sure how the rest of Stokely Hathaway’s crew managed to let her get by, but there we go! It’s pretty much all Thatcher here, with Theory getting in a brief spell of offence, yanking down Thatcher for a double stomp that earned him a near-fall. A slingshot into a rolling uppercut brutally ends as Thatcher uppercuts Theory, before catching the youngster in an armbar.

After getting a rope break, Thatcher just drags Theory onto the apron where he throws him chest-first, as more uppercuts keep this match one-sided. At least Theory succeeded with a slingshot into a somersault dropkick as he picked up a rare near-fall, but he took too long looking for a standing moonsault, as he crashed and burned as Thatcher trapped him in a rear naked choke for a moment. Some more clubbing slaps and forearms follow as Thatcher goes back to the arm breaker, then the ankle lock before swatting away a dropkick attempt as Austin tried to get back into it.

An enziguiri rocks Thatcher, but he shrugs off some forearms and a bicycle kick to slap Theory some more, before a butterfly suplex put Thatcher on his way to the eventual rear naked choke as the referee waved off the match with Theory passing out. A fun extended squash of sorts, and exactly the sort of display that fans were criticising Thatcher for not putting in when he was champ! ***

After the match, Stokely Hathaway cuts a promo, promising that the “Dream Team” or Catch Point will regain the EVOLVE title for him sooner rather than later. Chris Dickinson gets the mic next, and this leads to my least favourite trope of EVOLVE… promos that bleed into matches. Every once in a while, I can buy the whole “I’m here, I can’t wait, let’s have our match now”, but on every show it feels like a tired and worn out to avoid repeated entrances from the same group.

Chris Dickinson vs. ACH
The rest of Stokely’s crew are still at ringside, and Dickinson charges at ACH in the early going, only to force a rope break. From there, ACH takes Dickinson to the ropes to escape a headlock, but there’s a while the break as we remained at a stalemate.

Things pick up when ACH delivers a chop to the balls of Dickinson, which angers “Dirty Daddy”, who goes straight after him with some punches and chops to the chest, before dropping the Best of Super Junior contender with a back suplex for a near-fall. Dickinson’s dominating ACH here, keeping him grounded with a camel clutch, before the pair trade shots after ACH’d made the ropes.

ACH manages to sweep the legs though to knock down Dickinson, following up with a double stomp and a low dropkick as ACH then went flying with a pair of topes before finishing the set with a PK off the apron to knock the tag champion down to the floor… and ACH managed to maintain some offence from there, going for a back suplex that Dickinson flipped out of, before landing a scoop slam for a near-fall.

Dickinson surges back from there with mounted punches in the corner, but he’s caught as ACH tries for a belly-to-back superplex, but a clothesline succeeds for a near-fall. A second clothesline succeeds, but Dickinson pops back up with an enziguiri and a Samoan driver as ACH kept on fighting, avoiding a Pazuzu Bomb and coming back with a clothesline. ACH followed up with a brainbuster before going up top for a 450 Splash, and that’s the tag champion polished off! This took far too long to get going, but once they found their groove it was a pretty decent David vs. Goliath story. **¾

I’ve probably been ignoring this, but Lenny Leonard throwing in “for the win” is such a blatant marker that it’s not the finish. Again, once in a while is fine, but multiple times a match?

Up next, Joanna Rose introduces “one of the Gatekeepers”. The name-plate identifies him as Thomas Sharp, and it’s the bald Gatekeeper who’s dressed in a shirt and tie. He swears off the name of “the other Gatekeeper”, declaring that Ethan Page gave him that name… then tells us how horrible a boss Page was, firing his friend (the other, other Gatekeeper) after he broke his arm.

The Gatekeeper is dead… Thomas Sharp is alive and well it seems, and he wants All Ego! Page comes out, revealing what we all knew, he cares about nobody but himself. He still has “some dummy who’ll follow his lead” though, and out comes the newest Gatekeeper to attack Sharp. We have a match, but no name… so we’ll go with what Cagematch labels this mystery man (which seems to be yet another aggravating EVOLVE trope).

Thomas Sharp vs. Nick Comoroto
The “Dirty Gatekeeper” throws Sharp to the outside, where he’s caught with some clubbing blows before Sharp’s firmly on the receiving end of a standard ringside brawl. A back suplex dumps Sharp on the apron, who’s then rolled into the ring… but Dirty Gatekeeper takes too long to get back in and is booted as he went for a somersault clothesline before Sharp finished him off with a Bossman slam. Way too short for my tastes, but if this means they’re killing off all vestiges of the Gatekeeper monikers, then so be it!

Fred Yehi vs. Jaka
Jaka’ll be looking to go one better than his tag partner, and actually win tonight… whilst also “punishing” Yehi for leaving Catch Point. They start by screaming their catchphrase/sounds at each other, before Yehi starts to light up Jaka with a series of chips.

It’s all pretty fast-paced, hard-hitting fare, with Yehi coming out on top in the opening moments, before Jaka’s attempt to steal a pin with a small package earned him a slap and some stomps. Jaka gets back into it with a superkick for just a count of one, as a rear chinlock grounds the FIP champion Yehi, who elbowed free and ran into the corner… trying to leap over Jaka who badly mistimed his charge, and ended up almost becoming the second part of Yehi’s human centipede.

Yep, I joke, but as Yehi crashed down on Jaka it could have been a really serious injury, and it slows the match to a crawl as the referee checks on whether Jaka’s able to move. Fortunately he is, as Yehi pulls him up only to take some chops and palm strikes, then a series of rapid-fire up-kicks as Yehi tried to end things.

Jaka tries to break a waistlock, before Yehi decides to just give him a German… which didn’t quite go to plan. It’s not been a good day at the office for Jaka… Still, at least Jaka keeps on trying, but he just angers Yehi into a series of strikes before superkicking him off the apron. A slingshot plancha followed from Jaka, who tried a waistlock that turned into an Exploder for a near-fall.

Yehi’s taken to the corner as Jaka chokes on him some more, but Yehi manages to come back with some chop blocks to the knee as he dropkicked Jaka down again. Mongolian and regular chops follow as Jaka gets some more stomps, then a fisherman’s buster for a near-fall, only to run into a rolling elbow. More back and forth ensues, with Jaka almost winning with a rolling elbow of his own, before Jaka countered a full nelson into a roll-up for another two-count.

More half- and full-nelson struggles ensue until a Dragon suplex gets Yehi a near-fall, before Jaka hit back with a spinning heel kick, only for Yehi to ‘rana his way out of a tree slam and then follow up with the Koji clutch for the submission. A bad day at the office for Jaka, unfortunately, and it left both men perhaps trying too hard to try and recover from that bad start. They’re capable of so much better, but today just wasn’t their day. **½

Jason Kincaid vs. Tracy Williams
Kincaid’s come so close in his last few matches, but repeatedly picking up losses has led to him to lose his temper… he starts by rolling into Williams to force a trip, but “Hot Sauce” overcomes that as the pair grapple on the mat in the opening stages.

Williams makes a point of targeting Kincaid’s left arm, taking him down with an armbar as the pair worked through a series of wristlocks and escapes. Some perhaps a little too nonchalantly… Williams switches things up into strikes as he chopped and decked Kincaid with a forearm, only for Kincaid to springboard back into it, taking down Williams with an armdrag and then a springboard forearm to the floor.

Kincaid flips over the ropes into a double stomp as he then propelled himself off the ring steps to hit a 619 to knock Williams to the floor… but the call to roll Williams back inside proved to be a bad one as he turned a DDT into a suplex into the corner, as Williams started to take control once more. A back suplex dumps Kincaid as Williams heads up top for a back senton that earned him a near-fall, before subduing Kincaid with a strait-jacket hold.

Somehow, the meditator comes back and rolls up Williams for a two-count, before a two-handed chop flipped Kincaid to the mat as the crowd… sort of watches on in silence. It’s one of the more unnerving things about EVOLVE, that their fans seem to sit in Japanese-style silence until the really big stars come out.

Kincaid rebounds again with a double stomp and a springboard Blockbuster, then scores a near-fall out of a springboard Stunner that sent Williams far too close to the ropes. They head up top as Kincaid slaps away at Williams some more as a tease of a superplex ends with Kincaid taking a DDT onto the turnbuckle instead. More back and forth sees Williams elbowing out of a headlock before catching a springboard DDT and turning it into a brainbuster to almost win the match.

A charge from Kincaid sees him flipped onto the apron, but he returns with a tornado DDT and a slingshot Falcon arrow for another near-fall, as he looked to finish off Williams with the Compassionate Release… but Williams slips out and lifts up Kincaid for a death valley driver for another two-count.

Williams tries to suplex Kincaid in off the apron, but it’s turned into a Stundog Millionaire using the top rope to hotshot Williams… who then avoids a double stomp and rolls Kincaid into a crossface for the quick submission. This was a really good match, hampered by the lack of a crowd response – the EVOLVE undercard trademark! ***½

Ethan Page vs. Keith Lee
Page opens up by mocking the Keith Lee chants… which makes Lee’s initial burst of offence all the more enjoyable. After taking some forearms, Page takes a pounce (period?) as Lee just steamrolled through the Canadian.

Page impressively comes back by sending Lee to the apron as he charged at him in the corner, before scoring with a rope-hung double underhook backbreaker as he dragged the monstrous Lee back into the ring. That gave “All Ego” a target to work on, charging Lee into the corner, but Lee just threw a series of forearms before headbutting Page to the mat.

Lee resists, then falls to an Iconoclasm – which he humorously calls the Vanity Search – before reeling away with some punches as Lee laid on the mat. More shots to Lee’s lower back keep the big guy on the back foot… at least until Lee avoids an avalanche and pops up Page into a facebuster.

Lee keeps up the pressure with a fireman’s carry into a rolling elbow for a near-fall, but Ethan rebounds again with a ‘rana and a Tanned Sheamus for another two-count as he tried to knock off EVOLVE’s “golden goose”. In his eyes, anyway. Page sets up Lee for an RK-Ego, but it’s pushed off as Lee then blocked a Spinning Dwayne and hit back with a Spirit Bomb for another two-count.

Page counters Lee as he goes up top and powerbombs the big man out of the corner, almost sending the ring flying into the air as another near-fall was recovered, but it was only a matter of time before Lee hit Ethan with the Ground Zero death valley driver to score the win. An entertaining outing, which had me believing at several points that Page could win… which is what a good match should do! Two of the best in this company, even if you don’t want to believe it. ***¾

After the match Keith Lee vows to take down Matt Riddle on the next show, and hangs around to ring announce for the main event.

Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Matt Riddle
Given that the WWN title’s barely been around for three months, this is way too early to be even teasing a champion vs. champion match, let alone deliver it in any capacity. But hey, I guess they needed this to pop a gate or something. Anyway, this was the third time these two have met: the first was over WrestleMania weekend last year for EVOLVE, and the other was just before Christmas last year, on an IPW:UK show, with Riddle being 2-0 up so far.

They started with a lot of grappling, as you’d expect, with both men going for the other’s legs before rolling up in a stalemate. Riddle tries to go for Sabre’s arm early, but it’s blocked as the pair rolled into the ropes as the crowd was receptive of their clean break. There’s a lot of this – grapple, grab a hold, break via the ropes – as both men continued to look for an opening, before Riddle just lifted up Sabre into a series of rolling gutwrenches… it’s hard to grab a submission when you’re being thrown in the air!

Riddle tries to land a back senton, but Sabre adjusts and catches him in an armbreaker, only for Riddle to roll through as the pair tried the same move, until a prawn hold almost earned Sabre the win. The response from Riddle came in the form of a series of blows in the corner, before Sabre hit back with a PK and a tornado DDT… which he rolled through into a guillotine and a Dragon suplex for a near-fall.

The rapid-fire back and forth continued as Riddle countered a guillotine into a pair of Fisherman busters for a near-fall. Another prawn hold gets Sabre back in it, but Riddle again comes back with a Bro To Sleep, only for Sabre to rebound with another European uppercut and a PK as Riddle gets rolled to the mat in a cross arm-breaker, which gets turned into a powerbomb by Riddle for just a one-count.

An Octopus hold follows from Sabre, who gets flipped out by Riddle into a tombstone slam as a series of elbows set up Riddle for a Bromission… but Zack floats out into another wacky submission, almost like a contorted Tequila Sunrise, and that’s enough to force Riddle to tap! A hell of a fun main event, but at a little over 12 minutes it felt like they had so much more to give. Please, Gabe, give us a longer version of this than some of the other long main events you’ve delivered… ****

Stokely Hathaway hit the ring pretty much immediately afterwards, to trash talk ahead of the Jaka/Sabre title match tomorrow. Darby Allin wanders out too to put in his two cents, saying he’ll be the best wrestler he can be and will win the title eventually. Sabre, in his typical fashion, blows them off and heads to the back.

EVOLVE 86 was a good show, but not a great one. As is usually the way with these double-headers, a lot of the stuff from the first half felt pared back, at least until the main event. Perhaps that’s why the crowds are relatively silent until the main event… but it is a chicken-and-egg situation. Still, at a hair over two hours this show was at least moved along well, as EVOLVE continue their run of shows which are good, but rarely break out of the pack.