EVOLVE’s return to Charlotte proved to be far from memorable – unless you were Catch Point as they left the night a little lighter!

We start with Lenny Leonard’s usual pre-show announcements as he runs down the card – featuring the announcement of Timothy Thatcher’s rematch for the EVOLVE title tonight against Zack Sabre Jr. It’s a no-holds-barred outing, so expect wackiness! There’s no Joanna Rose, so the disembodied voice of Trevin Adams is doing the announcements…

Jason Kincaid vs. Caleb Konley
This was Konley’s first appearance in EVOLVE in over a year, which can partially be put down to him signing with Impact/GFW.

For some reason the hard camera’s moving around quite a lot, so we end up switching to the mobile cameras as Konley and Kincaid work around wristlocks and the like. Kincaid trips Konley as he tried to wear down the hands, before scoring with a springboard armdrag off the top rope and a spinning heel kick. Kincaid connects with a flip-over stomp on the apron before he drags over the ring steps so he can use them for a step-up 619, but he misses and eats an apron powerbomb instead. Still, Kincaid recovers with a tiltawhirl schoolboy for a near-fall, but Konley quickly crushes him with a back senton as the match ebbed and flowed.

After absorbing a series of chops and uppercuts, Konley comes back with a hiptoss into the corner on Kincaid, but the meditator comes back with a scoop slam and a dropkick before springboarding into a Blockbuster as he strung together a series of moves. The pressure keeps up with a sunset bomb into the corner, before a corner-to-corner dropkick picked up a near-fall.

Kincaid heads up top again, leaping off the ringpost for a missed double stomp, but he’s quickly back in it with some uppercuts in the ropes before Konley hit a back suplex and a rather tarnished Shining Wizard for a near-fall. Konley misses a moonsault though and ends up taking a couple of superkicks as the back and forth continued until Kincaid hit a Slingblade as both men were perched on the middle rope.

The assault continues with a tornado DDT and a slingshot Falcon arrow from Kincaid, but it’s still not enough to put away Konley, who then bounced back from a top rope rana into a buckle bomb. In the end though, Kincaid wows the crowd by leaping up to the top rope and grabs the rafters for a big double stomp, before making Konley pass out with the Compassionate Release to end his six-month losing streak in style! A solid opener, but these “established guy versus someone who’s back for a day” outings are usually telegraphed. ***

The next match was meant to be Austin Theory vs. ACH… but ACH refused to wrestle this low down the card. So instead, Theory and his… whatever the hell Priscilla Kelly is to him ends up with a new opponent. Unfortunately as a bad guy, Theory’s not changed his gear… or anything but his music.

Austin Theory vs. Ethan Case
Case appeared at a recent Style Battle tournament, and I’m sure he’ll not thank me for noting that he looks like a full-sized Hornswoggle. He gets some cheap pops for his promo, and then we stall.

Theory easily takes him down with a waistlock, before we get more stalling. Case manages to string together some clotheslines and another waistlock takedown, but Theory pulls him back and lands a standing moonsault to claim his first near-fall. Theory lays into Case with some forearms, before dragging his local opponent to the outside… which allowed Priscilla to fawn over Austin some more.

Back in the ring, Theory rains down some punches on Case then some stomps in the corner. Eventually some trash talking from Austin earns him a cutter from Case, who mounted a comeback with a suplex for a near-fall. A PK misses as they jockey for position, ending with Case just about hitting an OsCutter out of the corner for a near-fall, only for Austin to come straight back with the TKO for the win. It was a decent debut for Theory as a bad guy, but Theory’s look doesn’t scream “heel” to me at all. He’s so fresh-faced, it’s like they’re trying to force a square peg into a round hole here. **

Austin’s nicked the RISE pose, and the only thing remotely heelish about this act… is Priscilla Kelly. Oh, and the Trapt-a-like theme music he’s got.

Ethan Page vs. Keith Lee
“All Ego” is without any Gatekeepers now, as one retired, the other set out on his own… and the replacement got squashed pretty damn quickly. Lee starts by peppering Page with a series of forearms and chops, before hiptossing him out of the corner with relative ease.

Page fights back, but he’s easily slammed by Lee, who then drops an elbow for just a one-count. In response, Ethan yelled “I’m an athlete” as he went for a top rope ‘rana, before delivering a big boot – almost a Tanned Sheamus – for a one-count, as he went on a bit of a tear, keeping Lee down with a double stomp before choking him in the ropes.

Page keeps on top of Lee, throwing shots and coming back just as the monster was starting to shake off the cobwebs, but he mistimed one as Lee was able to squash him in the corner with some avalanches. Chops followed from the “Limitless” one, complete with an ignored plea for mercy, only for him to fall to an RK-Ego for a near-fall.

For some reason Page then decided to distract himself by trash-talking Lee… who promptly got up and smashed him with a Pounce. Period. That’s only good for a two-count though, so Lee tries for a superplex and instead gets knocked down as “All Ego” goes for a flying ‘rana! That succeeds, but Lee gets back up into another forearm battle, which he ends up winning before blasting Page with a discus forearm for the win. This was pretty enjoyable, with Page keeping the match slow-paced, but this was far from a decisive win… which Lee badly needs here in EVOLVE. I’m fully expecting “All Ego” to keep on at Keith Lee ahead of a rematch down the line. **½

After the match Keith Lee cuts a promo, which mentions Tracy Williams. That leads to the EVOLVE trope as Williams heads along with Stokely Hathaway and Timothy Thatcher. They double-team Lee, until Darby Allin comes out for the save. Gee, I wonder if two of these have a match?

Tracy Williams vs. Darby Allin
Indeed we do… and this is quickly becoming a turn-off. Yes, wrestling is staged, but this is an over-used trope. Anyway, this was Darby’s first match in over two months, after having his elbow sliced open by a shovel in that last man standing match with Ethan Page, and Darby’s got the Hideo arm sleeve on to keep that wound covered up.

Williams took down Allin early as he searched for a submission – building up that future collision between “Hot Sauce” and Matt Riddle. Darby comes back with a La Magistral for a near-fall as he showed Williams that he was more than just a stuntman… before hitting a springboard armdrag to take Williams to the outside.

Darby followed outside and was quickly charged into the apron, before returning to the ring where he was finally able to whip Williams into the ropes… but his attempt at a Coffin Drop elbow’s caught and turned into an armbar. The offence continues with a DDT onto the top turnbuckle, then a brainbuster as Williams firmly put himself in the driving seat, but it really feels like there’s something missing. As technically sound as Williams is, there’s times where he’s just colourless.

A single-arm DDT took Allin down on the apron as Williams then whipped him, healed-arm-first, onto the entrance ramp, before going back to the ring as that left arm became a big target. Problem is, this just felt really cold – especially since Allin hasn’t really been established as a major threat, or anything beyond a crash test dummy really. Darby does try to fight back with some back elbows, but he runs into a right hand from Williams as the pace continued at it’s torturous rate.

Out of nowhere, Allin burst out with a Destroyer for a near-fall, before an awkward clothesline knocked him down for a near-fall as Williams went back to the arm. Allin gets another shot in with a tope con hilo as Williams was taken outside, before returning for some near-falls with roll-ups, but he goes for another Coffin Drop that’s turned into a roll-up for a near-fall. From that kick-out, Williams gets a crossface in, then rolls through into an armbar that forces Allin to tap-out. Technically sound, but painfully colour-less. **¼

Fred Yehi’s introduced next, ahead of his EVOLVE title shot on EVOLVE 89. He was meant to be wrestling Trent Baretta here, but a staph infection ruled out Trent… apparently Yehi had an open contract, so he asked for a replacement. Why trot out this crap? Just say Trent was injured and here’s his replacement – this sort of stuff is trying to force a sports-like mentality, but it really insults.

Anyway, ACH comes out as he’s figured out that skipping his match earlier means that he doesn’t get paid. Even though this isn’t the main event, he wants to wrestle, as long as Yehi puts his number one contendership on the line. ACH slips up on his promo, where he tells us that he’s not going to change, so he’s wrestling in… gym gear? (Not that I’d know!)

Fred Yehi vs. ACH
You got the sense that ACH was taking this a bit too lightly, as he tried to out-wrestle Yehi on the ground, only to get pulled to the mat as Yehi was able to connect with stomps before cornering ACH with chops.

Yeah, ACH thought this’d be a walk-over… but he was able to free himself of a stomp and catch Yehi with an enziguiri before starting to work over Yehi with a back breaker and a series of stomps of his own. A back suplex from ACH is followed up with a rear chinlock as ACH looked to slow down the pace, throwing forearms to keep Yehi down inbetween suplexes… but of course, ACH gets too cocky and that becomes his downfall.

Yehi’s able to make a comeback with Mongolian chops and some kicks to the chest, before ACH fell into an awkward chop. An overhead belly-to-belly catches ACH as he runs off the ropes, before a Fisherman’s suplex gets Yehi another near-fall. After hanging onto the ropes, ACH fired back with a baseball slide dropkick to knock down the number one contender, sending him outside for some topes that almost took him to the back of the room!

ACH keeps up the offence with a PK off the apron, before a bridging German suplex in the ring got him a near-fall too. The same again comes after ACH leapt off the top into a Codebreaker, but Yehi again comes back with a back cracker and a Dragon suplex as the pair descended into a striking battle in the middle of the ring. Which may as well have been done in front of crickets.

I’ve said this about the last few EVOLVE shows we’ve covered, but this is one of the worst crowds I can remember. It’s a chicken-and-the-egg thing – a dry product doesn’t inspire the crowd, but if the crowd’s not receptive, then there’s not much you can do…

More stomps from Yehi could have lead to something, but his back gives as he tried to pull up ACH… but he’s able to come back with a German suplex as they give and receive in kind. ACH nearly costs himself the match when a 450’s blocked with some knees, but Yehi quickly grabs a Koji clutch to force the submission. A really good match, badly hampered by a poor crowd. It’s a conundrum, but it’s making these EVOLVE shows a real slog to sit through. ***

EVOLVE Tag Team Championship: James Drake & Anthony Henry vs. Catch Point (Chris Dickinson & Jaka) (c)
This is the North Carolina James Drake… not the one with 93 on his forehead. For some reason EVOLVE chose to call Jaka “ACH”, and I don’t have the faintest clue why that would even be made, let alone make it past quality control.

Anyway, EVOLVE has no tag team division, which is why recent defences have been against “super teams” like Austin Theory and Jason Kincaid. Drake and Henry have made appearances as of late in FIP and Style Battle, and they’re local so they get the shot. Perhaps that was a perk of Henry putting his Style Battle “career” on the line? Jaka and Henry open up, but they aren’t able to get much of a foothold in this as Henry collected some near-falls before Jaka swats away a dropkick and goes to work with chops. Dickinson tags in and is able to use his size to keep Henry on the mat, but they roll into the roped as Dickinson – and his always-hanging drawstring – is forced to break.

A kick to the back riles up Henry, who then returns the favour before bringing in the monstrous Drake – who got the biggest reaction of the night thus far – as Drake and Dickinson took shots at each other with chops and kicks. Henry and Drake string together some good offence as they kept Dickinson cornered,

Dickinson’s able to get a tag as Jaka comes in to aid with a superkick-assisted half-nelson suplex, and now it’s Catch Point’s turn for some isolation as Henry ate a Falcon arrow for a near-fall. The punishment continues as Henry was lifted up top for a superplex, which Dickinson pulled off for a two-count, before straight-up booting him in the head and chest. It’s hard-hitting, slow-paced stuff, and this crowd’s dozing off it seems.

Henry tries to fight back, but he’s trapped in the ropes and falls to an enziguiri for a near-fall. An enziguiri of his own drops Jaka as Drake’s waiting on the corner for a tag in, but Jaka pulls him back for a Choke Bomb, which Henry escapes from and lands a powerslam as we still wait for the hot tag… and finally both men tag out!

Drake works over Dickinson and Jaka with a neckbreaker that led to an accidental DDT, but a series of kicks from the champs leave Drake loopy for a double-team back suplex that almost dumped him on his head. That was scary. Drake continues to take some punishment, at least until the cameraman misses an STO from Henry on Jaka, which somehow leads us to a Tower of Doom spot as Henry takes a superplex so Drake can powerbomb the champions.

Yeah, that Tower of Doom looked scary too.

Another enziguiri from Dickinson rocks Drake, who’s then lifted up for a torture rack then a Burning Hammer as the awkward bumping continues. Henry comes in whilst Drake is down to dropkick Dickinson, who falls into the corner for a Drake cannonball, before an assisted tornado DDT and a standing shooting star press from Drake (?!) earns a two-count. In the end though, a Henry double stomp then a moonsault from Drake gets another near-fall before a spin-out double underhook DDT ensured the shock title change! Well, the crowd were bloody able to make a noise for that, weren’t they? A pretty good match, although the awkward bumps at the end made this hard to watch at times. Easily the best thing on the show so far as the “Work Horsemen” shook up an already fragmented tag division. In what seemed to be their first match together. ***¾

So… what use are those tag belts anymore? Not to demean the Henry/Drake win, but outside of Jaka and Dickinson, EVOLVE have nothing. Given that this change came on the EVOLVE shows after Jaka’s stand-out performance over Zack Sabre Jr, you’d have to wonder whether Catch Point will even be a team for much longer.

No Holds Barred for EVOLVE Championship: Timothy Thatcher vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (c)
Well, they weren’t pissing around here – all the strikes started this one off as the bad blood boiled over pretty much from the initial bell. Uppercuts abound! They switch that up to running big boots, but as ever, this crowd at best clap politely as Sabre traps Thatcher in a knee-bar – which ends with a rope break.

On the outside, Thatcher goes after Sabre’s elbow, but it’s broken up when Zack pushes him into some chairs as the pair trade holds on the floor, with Sabre grabbing a single-leg crab amongst a pile of chairs before taking it to ringside for an Octopus hold right by the side of the ring.

There’s more kicks as we end up going around the venue some more, with Sabre grabbing a heel hook in the aisle, as Thatcher broke it up with a few slaps. The bar comes into play as Sabre gets thrown chest-first into it, but Sabre rebounds with more uppercuts as that ring looked awfully lonely. Sabre uses the apron to stomp Thatcher’s elbow, but he’s caught back inside with a belly-to-belly suplex as the challenger then stomped away on Sabre in the corner.

Just like that though, Zack charges back and mounted Thatcher with a guillotine choke, before switching into an ankle lock. Thatcher gets the same idea, but Sabre boots his way free as we go back to the ground game with Thatcher raining down blows from above. Sabre again escapes with a leg lock, then tweaks the fingers of the challenger as he looked for a decisive finish.

Thatcher gets back into it with a gutwrench suplex that earns him just a one-count, so he goes to a front facelock that was quickly broken up as Sabre slipped out and landed a series of kicks. A PK followed, but he doesn’t go for the cover, and the cameraman wobbles around as Sabre launched into the corner with an uppercut.

Thatcher catches a second and turns it around into a rear-naked choke – but the fact that Thatcher’s on the ropes doesn’t seem to matter as no holds barred means no rope breaks. Except when the referee forgets. A guillotine choke on the top rope’s turned into a triangle armbar as Sabre hangs himself upside down, only to get caught in a single-leg crab as Thatcher tried to force a submission.

Again Sabre escapes and lands a PK to get some separation, before diving in with a cross armbreaker. That’s countered with one from Timmy, and even though Sabre makes the ropes there’s no rope breaks as he ends up having to grab an ankle lock in a bid to force a break. That’s to no avail as the pair fight on the apron, with Sabre slipping free and tying up his challenger with an Octopus in the ropes… which eventually forces the submission as Timmy taps! It started slow, and wasn’t what you’d come to expect from a No Holds Barred match, but this was a hell of a technical brawl – and one that solidified Zack even further as champion. ****¼

After the match, Sabre gets the microphone as he tells Thatcher that he respected him… but that respect went when Thatcher failed to hand the belt over to him after Sabre originally beat him. Zack then declared that this rivalry was over, and gave Timmy the opportunity to right a wrong… which he did as Stokely Hathaway sobbed from ringside.

EVOLVE is a bit of a weird beast – the vast majority of their matches are pretty good, but unfortunately their shows take place in front of crowds that just seem to sit on their hands. I’m not saying that all shows should be loud for the sake of being loud, but having fans whose reactions are barely murmurs just drags down the overall quality of these shows.

Of course, it doesn’t help that these shows are dryer than overdone chicken. Every show feels the same – you have your opener, a match with some afters just so happens to involve two people scheduled for a match anyway, and a lot of wrestlers that at worst, are devoid of characters. Considering that this is currently FloSlam’s flagship, you’d expect something to be included in the product that’d intrigue potential new fans… especially when you consider that Flo seem to have waved farewell to virtually every other promotion that isn’t WWN-based.

I can’t whole-heartedly recommend EVOLVE 88, but cherry-pick the top two matches at least!