After a surprising title change in Michigan, EVOLVE’s weekender rolled into Illinois as every title was put up for grabs.

We join the show with Lenny Leonard and Ron Niemi in the ring to set the stage. Fred Yehi is there in the ring, alongside a guy called Cyrus Satin… the bell rings, and we have an opener!

Fred Yehi vs. Cyrus Satin
Apparently Satin was another seminar standout… not that you’d know as he was bounced around the ring as the crowd watched in virtual silence. There’s no commentary because the team takes so long to get to their positions, and the match ends via ref stoppage after some repeated up-kicks to Satin. SQUASH!

Jason Kincaid vs. Anthony Henry
Before the match, Joanna Rose told the live crowd that Anthony Henry and James Drake had lost their tag titles the prior night… and since EVOLVE doesn’t tend to do instant rematches, they’re… in singles matches. So the Work Horsemen experiment was a failure, as a team?

The match starts smoothly enough, with both men countering the other’s holds, but it was Kincaid who got the first pinning attempt, by way of a stomp. A sunset bomb to the floor from Kincaid’s blocked as Henry counters with a stomp and an apron powerbomb, and we’ve already got a wrecked ring apron!

Back inside, Henry keeps up the offence with a barrage of body blows, before he’s tripped and taken outside again as Kincaid scored with a springboard forearm to the floor. A Falcon arrow inside follows, but Kincaid tries to go for the stomp and gets caught instantly… then returns the favour as he press slams Henry off the top into another Falcon arrow as Kincaid somehow bust his nose in the middle of this.

Kincaid slips out of a German suplex of on the apron, but ends up taking an enziguiri before catching a slingshot cutter and turning it into a neckbreaker for another two-count as the momentum continues to swing. Henry’s Air Raid Crash and a double stomp gets him a pair of near-falls, as Kincaid lands a springboard Slingblade to Henry, before a pop-up powerbomb and a single-leg crab nearly forces the result.

Henry switches that half crab into an Indian deathlock, but somehow Kincaid’s able to drag himself to the rope… and to the outside, where he lulls Henry into a dive, but he counters that into an Ace crusher in the ropes! The double stomp off the ringpost follows, before Kincaid completes the snap win with the Compassionate Release for a submission… and if you thought the former tag champions were going to rebound… well, not tonight! A good showing for Drake, but he’s now in that Yehi bucket of “nothing to do” it seems… ***

James Drake instantly comes out to check on his tag partner, and I guess it’s time for that WWN staple? Yep, Austin Theory’s music hits, and our next match bleeds in. To silence from the crowd, unfortunately…

James Drake vs. Austin Theory
Commentary’s still playing up the “psycho-sexual” nature of the Theory/Kelly relationship, but it’s Drake who fires into life, charging at Theory before taking him down for barely a one-count.

Drake’s making the most of his size, charging Theory down with a shoulder block, before tossing him across the ring with ease. A scream from Priscilla Kelly pierces the ears and acts as a distraction as Drake’s sent to the outside, with the ringside guard rails coming into play as Drake’s sent into those barriers.

Back inside, Drake’s worn down with a chinlock, before his attempt at a comeback quickly dies with a missed cannonball, but Theory’s straight back in it with a dropkick. A Theory-KO is blocked and a diving boot from Drake almost gets him the upset… as does a ripcord spinning backfist.

Drake nearly gets the win with a head kick, before he decides to go airborne… but Priscilla Kelly gets up on the apron and for some reason dives onto Anthony Henry awkwardly. That confusion gave Theory enough time to recover and avoid the moonsault, before planting Drake with a TKO. Much better than yesterday’s “not a squash”, but Theory has a LONG way to go to be a convincing bad guy… ***

Jason Kincaid meets Theory in the aisle, but his attempt at intervention doesn’t work.

Freelance Wrestling Championship: Bryce Benjamin vs. Matt Knicks vs. GPA vs. Stevie Fierce (c)
Since EVOLVE are running here with a little help from the local promotion, Freelance Wrestling, their title gets to be on the iPPV. There’s some wacky characters, like a recast Mordecai (Bryce Benjamin) and a modern day “Model” Rick Martel (Stevie Fierce). He even came complete with his version of 1992’s Sensational Sherri, but he took the nickname…

The crowd finally makes some noise as they chant “Freelance”, and we start with a battle between Fierce and the former champion GPA, with the latter coming down hard with a tope on the champion. Everyone’s going to their playbooks for impressive stuff, and Knicks almost paid for it as he came down head-first as he went for a springboard senton to the outside.

Knicks rebounds to book Fierce in the chest with a PK, before going up top once more… but Fierce cuts off that flip and instead superplexes him into the pile on the floor. Where’s old Gabe to scream “dangerous!” on commentary?

The ring fills as Knicks almost dies again as a swinging side slam from Benjamin saw him land awkwardly, before GPA’s stunner to Bryce, then a snapmare driver ends with a near-fall. Fierce tries to get rid of GPA with a side Russian legsweep into the turnbuckles, before going for an Unprettier on Knicks… instead having to do with a DDT as Bryce returns to take a backbreaker. Fierce quickly follows with an Unprettier as Bryce eats the pin. Some good stuff, but a lot of high risk stuff backfired here too… **

Darby Allin vs. DJZ
Now this is the kind of match that DJZ should have returned to… there’ll be no clash of styles here, surely?

Nope, both guys bring the flips early, and unlike the prior match, there’s nothing getting blown despite the high pace, as DJZ and Allin end up squaring off after a lengthy series. More flips on the outside end when DJZ yanks Darby out of a springboard, sending him crashing onto the apron

DJZ keeps up the pressure inside, charging into Allin with an avalanche clothesline before grounding Darby with a chinlock. An over-the-knee Awful Waffle keeps Darby down, but a Coffin Drop back elbow turns things around, sending DJZ outside… only to be dragged there as any prospect of a dive is halted. Momentarily, anyway, as DJZ’s draped across the guard rail and crashed into with a gorgeous high-speed tope suicida!

After putting DJZ in a chair, Allin heads up top again, crushing him with a senton off the top rope that barely budged the chair – which miraculously stayed in one piece! Eventually dragging him back inside, Allin gets a near-fall out of that, before a kickout propelled him into the ropes for a crossbody.

DJZ tries another comeback, but it’s stopped early as Allin ends up going for a moonsault stomp… it’s blocked as DJZ responds with a rolling DDT. Another high risk move from DJZ misses as an attempted springboard Code Red goes awry, still getting a near-fall before Darby gets the win with the rebadged Gibson Lock, as the Last Supper gets the three count. This was a joy to watch – and another win keeps the Darby train going… go out of your way to watch this one, especially if you’re going back to those old EVOLVE shows. ****

Shrunken Chris Hero appears in the aisle again, as Jarek 1:20 is out to give Darby his bonus. For crying out loud Gabe, do it in the locker room! This time he’s wearing a suit at least, but it’s the same “higher/lower” audience participation tripe we saw at EVOLVE 92. Down to the “five hundred pennies” punchline. At least the crowd play along, but this whole “WWN representative” deal had better be going somewhere.

Had the lawsuit not been a thing, do you think Jarek might have been an “internet streaming company” executive, a la Cyrus?

EVOLVE Tag Team Championship: Catch Point (Chris Dickinson & Jaka) vs. Troll Boyz (Ethan Page & ACH) (c)
So, four shows after losing their tag titles, Dickinson and Jaka get another shot at the newly-crowned Troll Boyz… and a rematch from about six weeks earlier when the Troll Boyz picked up the win.

Yeah, there’s plenty of dicking around here, with Page again not taking things seriously as Jaka grabbed a wristlock. Hey, at least “All Ego” surprised himself as he cartwheeled out of that hold…Lucha Ego takes hold as he tries to go up top for some ropewalking, and with the helping hand from ACH he… actually went Old School. Chris Dickinson gets the tag in, but he’d rather face ACH – and that feeling wasn’t mutual! ACH is quickly flailing into the ropes for instant breaks, before bouncing around in the corners to try and annoy Dickinson.

It worked. If the plan was for ACH to get kicked in the chest.

ACH is able to hit a couple of low dropkicks to Dickinson, but Jaka rushes in to knock him down as the match turned in the favour of the challengers. A double axehandle off the top from Jaka leaves ACH down as some double-teaming nearly ends the match, and he’s left in there as he absorbs more double-team punishment.

There’s a mis-cue as Dickinson accidentally boots Jaka, which allows ACH to make a brief comeback, before landing a German suplex and eventually dragging himself into the corner for a tag out. Page gets in an accidental superkick/DDT to Dickinson and Jaka, before a powerslam to Jaka nearly led to the finish.

Jaka quickly responds with a German suplex for a near-fall, before Page fights out of the Death Trap (doomsday chokeslam). ACH is tagged back in and bursts into life, but he’s quickly running on fumes as he charges into the boot of Jaka. Or is he? ACH does the stacked up Samoan drop spot again, and dumps Dickinson onto Jaka, before unleashing some corner-to-corner lariats. They don’t quite go on forever, as a Total Elimination sent him crashing to the mat for another near-fall.

A top rope splash from Jaka’s good for a near-fall thanks to Page breaking it up, it the result almost feels inevitable… or does it? A double ‘rana from ACH buys him some time as Page comes in with a RK-Ego to Dickinson, before a senton bomb from Page led to ACH going up top… ACH is crotched, and that left Page vulnerable as All Ego eats the Death Trap… With ACH left winded on the turnbuckles, there’s no prospect of a save, and for the second time in two shows, we have new champions! Another solid tag team match, and it feels like we’ve just pressed a giant rewind button on the tag division! ***¾

The former-former champions, Anthony Henry and James Drake, are instantly out to demand a rematch… but Stokely Hathaway calms down his charges and shoots down the Work Horsemen’s request. All of a sudden, Dominic Garrini hits the ring and takes down Henry and Drake… Catch Point has a new member, and it’s the Bone Collector!

Garrini goes straight for Henry’s arm as the former-former champions are left laying… and the Troll Boyz vanished on the back of a one-day title run – easily the shortest in EVOLVE history. That was it for Ethan Page in EVOLVE. Heck, it was the last of ACH as well, which made sense since Troll Boyz was the culmination of both guys’ storyline frustrations, and there wasn’t much else you could do.

EVOLVE Championship: Keith Lee vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (c)
There’s a lot of audio distortion here as the EVOLVE sound guy forgot to monitor his levels. They really did peak… Originally this match was meant to be Davey Richards vs. Sabre, but a knee injury forced a reshuffle.

Sabre was forced to circle Lee early in search of any way in, but every time he found a way in, Lee made the most of the vulnerability Sabre’d given himself. A kick to the chest is just barged through as Lee pounces on the champion, before throwing some rights that left Sabre laying in the corner. Lee tries to go for a suplex, but Sabre climbs around him and switches between some submissions, eventually settling for a rear naked choke, pulling Lee to the ground for some extra leverage… but Lee stands back up and charges back into the corner to force a break, before decking Zack with a vicious forearm smash.

Sabre’s back with a kick to the chest as the champion was being forced to pick his shots, stomping on the forearm of Lee as he tried to get back to his feet. The knee was next as Sabre tried to keep Lee on the mat… that didn’t work though, and the monstrous Lee was quickly in with a double-handed chop to leave Sabre down.

Still, Sabre keeps trying to chop away on Lee’s legs, and eventually pulls him down into a heel hook, but Keith’s too close to the ropes and it’s instantly broken. Keith’s back in control with a forearm to the back of the head, but those submissions of Sabre left the door open… and almost caused it to be shut once more as a guillotine was swiftly turned into a suplex for a near-fall.

This crowd really want to see a title change, but when Sabre got in a triangle armbar they nearly didn’t see it. Then Lee just pushes away and waffles the champ with another double chop as Zack continued to struggle for a submission… which again cost him as another triangle armbar was turned with ease into a Spirit Bomb. The big problem throughout though was that Lee never seemed to follow-up – and left himself open for the expected Sabre comebacks. Lee did handle them well, but the lack of any killer instinct meant that he took too long, and crashed and burned with a moonsault as Sabre again took advantage of the opening. Then got propelled high into the sky from a kick-out.

Yup. It’s one of those nights…

An Octopus hold ends with a Lee backbreaker, but in the end it’s more time wasting that costs the challenger as Lee went for Ground Zero, only for Sabre to roll him up for the win. Keith Lee isn’t the finished product yet, going by this story, but this was a hell of a match to establish him as someone who’s painfully close. All he needs is to drop the stalling and we have a monster on our hands in EVOLVE. ****

Anything Goes – WWN Championship: Tracy Williams vs. Matt Riddle (c)
No holds barred under a different name, this gave Tracy Williams an opportunity to claim singles gold – especially since the Catch Point leader had new member Dominic Garrini out with him.

Riddle goes straight for Williams with a takedown as the former Catch Point allies exploded, with “Hot Sauce” finding out early that rope breaks weren’t going to be a thing here as they swapped arm-based submission attempts. That run ends when Riddle chains together some gutwrench suplexes, but the tit-for-tat battle leads to Williams landing a high backdrop suplex for a near-fall.

After escaping a Kimura, Riddle popped back up from a German suplex… but Williams takes him straight to the outside before his plancha’s stopped in mid air with a knee strike. Oof. Riddle keeps up with some chops, but it’s back-and-forth, with Riddle lifting Williams onto the apron for some more kicks. Williams goes to the shortcuts, using a chair to choke Riddle with before taking the WWN champion into the crowd, using a butterfly suplex to send Riddle into the second row. In the ring, Williams keeps up the beatdown, dropping a knee to the back of Riddle’s head for a close near-fall, before catching some attempted upkicks and turning it into an ankle lock on Riddle.

Riddle manages to free himself, and grabs a chair that Williams had brought in earlier… throwing it, then his knee, into the challenger as the match almost ended. Williams is able to counterback, throwing in a DDT off the top rope onto an open chair, but that and a clothesline doesn’t get it done, so “Hot Sauce” goes back to the chair… but narrowly takes a powerbomb away from it as Riddle proves he can work around weapons.

German suplexes from Riddle keep the near-falls coming, but after a kick-out, Williams quickly grabs a crossface and almost forces a submission… but instead Riddle stands up and throws himself – and Williams – to the outside. Riddle tries to throw in a Bro to Sleep from the apron, but Williams comes back with some knees before taking a Fisherman buster onto the side of the apron!

Altogether now – it’s the hardest part of the ring!

Williams quickly replies, dropping Riddle with an apron piledriver as he starts to grab some plunder in the form of… a guard railing? The railing’s bridging between the ring and the rest of the guard rails, and of course, Williams gets placed on it as Riddle crashes onto it with a back senton. That had to suck for Williams… We’re back inside as a tombstone slam puts Williams through a chair, but still he kicks out! From there it’s pretty academic, but Jaka and Chris Dickinson rush in to make the save as the elbows looked to set up for a Bromission… as Riddle ends up taking the Death Trap doomsday chokeslam instead.

Finally more bodies make the save as Anthony Henry and James Drake rush out to brawl with the tag champions to the back. In the midst of that, Riddle hits a big lariat for a near-fall, but the tit-for-tat continues as Williams catches him up top for a monstrous DDT… that Riddle somehow kicked out of!

Another attempt at the crossface ended with Riddle pulling himself up in the ropes, before nailing an up kick and a Fisherman’s buster for a two-count… chaining it together for a trio of ‘busters and a Gotch tombstone! Instead of going for the pin, Riddle goes back to the elbows before he wraps up Williams in the Bromission for the instant tap! Holy hell that was sublime. The WWN title is a bit unnecessary in the post-Flo world, but as long as there’s matches like this – and the belt doesn’t become a mid-card filler – then it’ll have a reason to be. ****¼

After the match, Riddle invites the locker room out for a pep talk – but it eventually segued into Keith Lee staring him down, calling out Riddle for being almost a fake locker room leader. This turned into a challenge for the WWN title, as Lee wanted a Last Man Standing match… and I guess their little pull apart was code for “challenge accepted”!

The top three title matches were are all bouts you should make time for – and given how badly this weekend could have gone, EVOLVE dodged a hell of a bullet here. They found themselves able to build off it. The promotion were in for some stormy waters, but this isn’t EVOLVE booker Gabe Sapolsky’s first dance… and the “rebuild” back to their old ways would prove to take EVOLVE back towards their better days, as we’ll see in the coming reviews!