EVOLVE hit New York once more with a fully loaded show, featuring Ethan Page taking on his old Gatekeeper, and a collision between Keith Lee and Matt Riddle in the main event.

It’s your usual crew in La Boom, with Lenny Leonard and Joanna Rose handling duties.

ACH vs. Tracy Williams
We open with a rematch from EVOLVE 78 back in February – where ACH picked up the win, and without crying “50-50 booking!”, I’d not be too shocked if Williams gets his win back today.

Williams objects to ACH patting him down, which leads to some shoving and an early chop to the balls after ACH had tried for a handshake. After shaking it off, Williams caught ACH’s slingshot cutter and went for a crossface before the pair headed around ringside, where Williams threw in a few more chops. After working outside, Williams throws ACH back into the ring to start clubbing away on him, before scoring with an an overhead suplex of sorts, throwing ACH down for a near-fall. More forearms keep ACH as far away from his high-flying game as possible, with some of those forearms knocking ACH down as we had a brief tease of a ref stoppage.

Eventually ACH gets back into it, sweeping Williams’ legs and landing a basement dropkick to give himself a breather, hitting another dropkick to take Williams to the outside for a series of topes! The tempo stays high with an apron PK, as ACH hit the ring again to hit a bridging German for a near-fall, but Williams escapes a superplex and goes back to the chops as the match swung back and forth some more.

Another superplex is blocked as Williams dumped ACH on the top turnbuckle with a DDT, before catching a springboard attempt and turning it into a brainbuster for a near-fall. Williams tries to go for a piledriver, but it’s backdropped out of as ACH comes back with a snap German suplex and a clothesline to come close to victory… but ACH’s attempt to hit a blockbuster then a brainbuster went awry as Williams countered the brainbuster into a crossface, and there’s your submission! Pretty decent for an opener – not a show stealer or anything, but really solid work to get the crowd going. Again, there was no Stokely Hathaway here with Williams, so is that an angle or just the norm now? ***¼

Afterwards, ACH cuts a promo claiming that – hurt or not – he deserves better than jerking the curtain… perhaps if he’d won, he’d not be there?

Jason Kincaid vs. Timothy Thatcher
Thatcher’s road to redemption continues here against Kincaid, whose losing streak continues to rumble on. Unlike in Massachusetts, Thatcher was soundly booed here, and he started in a more measured way, coaxing Kincaid into an armbar rather than going out all guns blazing.

Still, Thatcher made a point of going after Kincaid’s right arm, but it didn’t take long for Kincaid to counter with a series of right hands, before Thatcher started throwing Kincaid around with gutwrench suplexes.

A double stomp from Kincaid again puts Thatcher down as he’s then caught in a rear naked choke… but Thatcher’s able to escape, only to get caught in a cross armbreaker as Kincaid surprisingly goes move-for-move with Timmy. Some headscissors sees Kincaid take Thatcher to the outside, with the flip-over double stomp on the apron being the next highlight as Kincaid chose to meditate rather than follow-up.

When Thatcher returned, he was quickly taken down again by Kincaid, who grabs a knee-bar, only for Thatcher to escape with an ankle lock of his own, rolling into a heel hook that Kincaid broke by backing up into the ropes. More suplexes and strikes punctuate Thatcher’s attempts at submissions, but Kincaid manages to break free and deliver a sunset bomb into the turnbuckles, along with a Coast to Coast dropkick and a Vaderbomb-like stomp.

Kincaid again tries for the Compassionate Release submission, but Thatcher powers free and goes back to the arm as a Fujiwara armbar forces Kincaid to tap. Another sudden finish, but a thoroughly good outing with Timmy finding his niche as a hated figure in New York. ***½

Fred Yehi vs. Chris Dickinson
After being Jaka in a slightly botchy outing the prior night, Yehi’s aiming for a clean sweep over the current EVOLVE tag champs. Speaking of Jaka, it’s just him out with Dickinson, with Stokely Hathaway not overexposing himself here… since he apparently doesn’t give a stuff about Yehi.

We start out fairly cagey, with Yehi standing away from Dickinson as he invited some ground and pound, instead with Dickinson using an armdrag as he started to try for an early Kimura… but both men scramble around on the mat trying to grab a body part in the opening stages. A test of strength from Yehi’s reversed as Dickinson then goes back to the arm, before Yehi combined his stomps… with Dickinson’s hamstrings.

Yehi gets a couple of near-falls out of a butterfly suplex, only to get caught in a rear naked choke that he has to Saito suplex his way out of. However, Dickinson makes his size advantage tell though, choking away on Yehi before targeting the arm… but Yehi throws in a dropkick to put the “Dirty Daddy” down… at least until he scores with a headkick and a baseball slide dropkick to the outside.

Yehi’s in trouble as he takes a suplex on the floor, then a series of clotheslines as Dickinson moved to the ground and pound for some near-falls. Fred goes to the Mongolian chops and up-kicks to knock Dickinson back, but the tag champ recovers as he tries to drag Yehi into the corner, before instead settling for a half-nelson into a roll-up for a near-fall. Again Yehi goes to the lower leg of Dickinson, clipping the knee to knock the bigger man down, but Dickinson again recovers with a Falcon arrow for a near-fall.

More back and forth ends with a backcracker from Yehi for a tonne of near-falls, but a half-nelson suplex sends Yehi head-over-heels as the match headed towards a conclusion. A wheelbarrow suplex gets a near-fall, but Yehi quickly snaps back with a Dragon suplex before rolling into a Koji clutch… and that’s enough to force the submission. Another win for Yehi, who’s managed to beat both of the tag team champions by himself… but does that get him a tag title match with a new partner… or does it throw him into the logjam for the world title? ***¼

Jaka consoles Dickinson after the match, and it bleeds into my favourite EVOLVE trope – a promo to cross-fade between matches! Jaka doesn’t get the response he wants when he asks the crowd if they think he can leave as EVOLVE champion tonight. You know what’s next…

EVOLVE Championship: Jaka vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (c)
If you thought Jaka stood no chance of winning, then those odds would have tumbled once you realised that this was in the midcard.

Still, at least Jaka shot out of the blocks, laying into Sabre before Zack could even try to outwrestle him… but once Sabre started to throw shots of his own, it was on! Jaka tries to restrain Sabre with a chinlock, but some joint manipulation gets the champion free, as he takes down Jaka in an armbar before trapping and snapping that arm between his legs.

From there, Sabre traps Jaka’s leg and wrenches away on them, which means that the challenger has a hard time getting back to a vertical base… exacerbating his problems as Sabre continues to pounce with submission attempts until a rope break is forced. Somehow Jaka scores with a release German as he slumped to the mat, only for Sabre to grab an ankle lock.

Jaka again gets the ropes and hits back with an Exploder and a knee to the head… but Sabre kicked out at two, and then offered Jaka some free chops… only to get a headbutt to the chest instead. Just like that though, Sabre floats back in with a Northern Lights as he went back to the arm, before the pair exchange more strikes, with a superkick from Jaka almost causing the shock.

In the end though, Sabre counters a chokeslam attempt and turned it into a triangle choke, before floating into the double armbar as Jaka squirmed to make that bottom rope for another break. From there, Sabre strikes again with a PK for a two-count, only for Jaka to stand back up and trade right hands until he’s caught in a knee-bar… more slaps ring around La Boom, before a rolling kick knocks Sabre down and gets the crowd believing that perhaps, just perhaps, tonight is Jaka’s night.

However from there, Jaka goes for the choke bomb, and Sabre quickly counters into the Prawn hold and that’s all that’s needed for a pin. Jaka was so focused on avoiding a submission, he left himself open for a cover as a hell of a match came to a thrilling conclusion. Anyone not sold on Jaka will have had a heck of an argument there, but now it’s up to uncle Gabe… is Jaka staying a tag team guy, or is this going to translate to something more? ****

For some reason Stokely Hathaway enters the ring and gets to cut a promo, asking Sabre to grant a rematch to Timothy Thatcher. Darby Allin heads in to throw his hat into the ring again, but Thatcher calls the healing-up Darby a disgrace… of course, Allin disagrees, but Thatcher doesn’t care. He addresses Zack again, promising he’ll beat him for the belt in a no-holds-barred match… before headbutting Zack. Darby tries to get involved, but Thatcher strikes again and goes for the injured arm as security and officials only cared about escorting Sabre away as Thatcher trapped Darby in a cross-arm breaker.

That’s very careless of EVOLVE staff, is it not?

Thomas Sharp vs. Ethan Page
Much like the clash of champions at EVOLVE 86, they’ve sped really quickly to the Ethan Page vs. former Gatekeeper match. Sharp’s still wrestling in what looks like dress shoes and trousers, and he’s not that much taller than Ethan… who instantly badmouthes him. Page goes low to avoid a chokeslam, but Sharp throws in a ‘rana and a fallaway slam as Page is left shocked by his former employee… a big boot knocks Page onto the apron, as another knocked him to the floor, where he comes back and catches Sharp with an apron powerbomb instead.

Back in the ring, Ethan runs into a sidewalk slam as Sharp collects a near-fall, but he quickly ends up on the defensive as Page takes him off the top rope with the Vanity Search (Iconoclasm), before an attempt at the Spinning Dwayne is kneed away. Sharp gets a sit-out chokeslam at the second attempt, but it’s good for only a two-count as Sharp goes up top… and misses a frog splash. From there, Page hits the RK-Ego before running into a Bossman slam as both men hit their big stuff…

Page kicked out at two after that, and after some near misses he finishes off Sharp with a Tanned Sheamus and a Spinning Dwayne for the pin. Way too brief, but good while it lasted… now all that remains to be seen is whether this is one weekend and done for Sharp, or whether he heads somewhere else. ***

Austin Theory vs. Trent Baretta
The search for another Theory win continues here – and given that it’s against Trent Baretta, I think the Texan is going to be kept waiting. Remember what I said before about EVOLVE crowds only coming awake for stars? They sang along to Trent’s Roppongi Vice theme, which certainly stands out in the land of chip tunes!

Baretta starts with a headlock as the shove-off led to an easy shoulder tackle, but he manages to a quick comeback, taking down Trent for a double-stomp that gets a two-count, before Trent impresses himself with a push-down stomp… that he doesn’t fall down from! Theory tries to fight back, but Trent keeps going, at least until Austin connects with a somersault dropkick.

Theory strings together some offence, ending when Trent gets his knees up to block a standing moonsault, but an attempt at a tornado DDT from Baretta is blocked and met with a spinning suplex that got the youngster Theory a near-fall. Impressively, a Theory Driver (torture rack powerbomb) follows for another near-fall as the crowd started to believe that maybe, just maybe, Theory would score by far the biggest win of his career tonight.

For some reason Austin asks for – and gets – a chair from the crowd, so he can sit down Trent and lay in some forearms ahead of a Sami Callihan-esque lap of honour… which was rudely stopped by a Baretta clothesline. A piledriver on the floor follows as Trent’s trying to kill the young upstart, and then again with a Gotch piledriver in the ring for a not-at-all-telegraphed two-count.

Theory tries to fight back as he’s dragged onto the apron for another piledriver, and he responds by fighting out and teasing a cross-legged brainbuster on the apron. Trent wriggles into the ring, but is dragged back out as he takes a release suplex onto the apron instead. That looked nasty, to say the least! That’s followed up back inside with a buckle bomb and a cross-legged, over-the-knee brainbuster… but Trent avoids an upset as they start trading slaps with each other.

An enziguiri out of nowhere barely moves Theory, who rebounded with a forearm to Trent, before heading up top… but Baretta catches him up there and slips, before scoring with an overhead belly-to-belly superplex, as a diving knee gets Trent another two-count. From there though, it’s just a matter of time as the Dudebuster polishes off Theory to bring a heck of a back-and-forth contest to an end… and with matches like this, Austin’s going to end up being something here in EVOLVE… ***¾

…of course, we still have that Priscilla Kelly thing dragging on with Theory. She comes out and distracts Trent… who really should know better. That distraction leaves Trent open for a low blow, and I guess Theory’s on the other side now, as he lays out Trent with a TKO. So that’s one losing streak met with the wrestler snapping… so why have we got the same story going twice with Austin Theory and Jason Kincaid? Ah, for the hell of it, Priscilla gives Trent a love bite, and I’m guessing Austin and Priscilla are an item now.

No, I’m not even going to try and circle the square that the Uncle John’s Friends deal in FIP created!

WWN Championship: Keith Lee vs. Matt Riddle (c)
This was the second time in as many days these two wrestled, with Lee having lost to Riddle the prior day at Beyond Wrestling. A week later, these two would face-off again… over at the Cockpit for Rev Pro! Three times in eight days, after never having faced each other before… that’s quite the feat.

Ever since Riddle’s gotten the WWN title, the PROGRESS strap has stopped making appearances in EVOLVE, which was to be expected. After the initial round of duelling chants, the pair fist-bump before bumping those fists… into each other’s faces! Back and forth forearms follow as they take each other into the corners, with Riddle edging ahead with a series of forearms, before kicking away at the man mountain that is Keith Lee.

Lee catches Riddle though, and launches him into the turnbuckles with a belly-to-belly suplex, as the challenger started to lay in with a series of clubbing forearms to the back of Riddle. Matt goes flying again, with a biel throw across the ring, before being taken into a corner for some more clubbering. Riddle tries to fight back, but a knee knocked him back down as he was squashed by an elbow drop from the gargantuan challenger.

Lee makes his first mistake in trying to German suplex Riddle… that doesn’t work, as Riddle comes back with a pop-up forearm before hoisting up Lee into a gutwrench suplex. Good Lord!

A right hand knocks Riddle down after that, but the Bro comes back and impressively lands a Bro to Sleep, then a bridging German for a near-fall as Lenny Leonard really needs to find an alternative to “for the win”! Riddle comes close again with a back senton for a near-fall, but he falls to a Pounce as Riddle has to grab the rope to save his title! Just like that though, Riddle leaps into Lee with a guillotine, before eventually transitioning through into a Fisherman’s buster for another two-count.

Another series of back sentons follow as Riddle crushes Lee for another two-count, and those sentons continue… until Lee catches him and turns it into a Spirit Bomb, bouncing Riddle onto his belly in the process! So impressive! That’s still only good for a near-fall though, as Lee tries to keep up the offence, only to run into another Bro to Sleep… that barely fazes him!

More back and forth strikes follow as Lee lands a pop-up rolling elbow… but Riddle responds with more forearms, before dishing out a bicycle knee. Lee instinctively responds with a headbutt, but he hits the deck out of exhaustion, with Riddle slumping on top of him, and that’s enough for the pin! Not by any means a decisive result, which keeps Lee strong, and leaves us open for a rematch… and based on that, I will never object to that. This lived up to the hype and then some… a fantastic short burst of a match, and easily the best thing from this set of double headers! ****½

Of course, we can’t bask in anything as Ethan Page hits the ring immediately to poop on everything. Page stomps away on the downed pair, frustrated that they’re seen as the golden geese, whereas Ethan’s the problem child. Perhaps if he stopped interfering in stuff like this, he’d be seen in a better light?

Tracy Williams and Stokely Hathaway head out next, because Lord knows one of those two hasn’t been overexposed this weekend. Williams cuts a promo, challenging Riddle for the WWN title on August 12 (Riddle’s off the July shows because he’s in Europe, specifically facing Tomohiro Ishii at Rev Pro’s British J Cup (in a non-tournament match). Hot Sauce holds up Riddle for a swipe from Hathaway, they then powder to the back as Ethan Page is left to face a recovered Riddle and Keith Lee… before he runs for his life. Smart move.

EVOLVE 87 was the better of this latest pair of shows, but the big “issues” surrounding the promotion still exist. Aside from the main events, the crowds are largely tepid… and whilst the bell-to-bell wrestling is solid, when there’s so much good wrestling out there, you need more than just “good matches” to stand out from the pack. I’m not a fan of the current overexposure of Stokely Hathaway and his group (as it feels he’s representing just about every heel in EVOLVE not called Ethan Page), which means we get way too much of that EVOLVE trope… the promo to stitch two matches together!

Still, EVOLVE 87 is worth is just for the two title matches, but if you’re going to overthink stuff, this is a show you’ll probably want to avoid.