EVOLVE were back at La Boom in New York for their first show of the year, featuring the actual in-ring debut of The End, and a shot at the big one for Darby Allin!

We open with Timothy Barr in the ring, so I’m guessing that that may be a sign that Joanna Rose is done with EVOLVE for now? There’s four bodies in the ring with him (and a ref), so we’re down to just the one prelim match.

Snoop Strikes vs. Brody King vs. Jarek 1:20 vs. Jason Kincaid
Snoop has done some WWN stuff before, largely with the ACW promotion in Florida, and he also appeared in *that* underattended Style Battle. You know, the one before the Flo collapse? Barr botches “Casey Cartwright”, which I’m sure will have gotten him at the very least a stern look from some, while Kincaid was busted down to the pre-show to prove that wins and losses do indeed matter.

Mash together a four-way and the ten minute time limit, and you’ve got a match that went at quite a clip, with Strikes standing out early as he threw himself around the ring, going into Jarek with a dropkick before decking Brody King with a back cracker… before Kincaid pulled off a triple ‘rana. As in he took down Strikes, Kind and Jarek with a rana at the same time.

Snoop’s held in a Gory special by Kincaid, but it’s quickly escaped as we hit our dive series with Strikes’ tope con giro waking up the crowd. Okay, nevermind, Brody King’s version got them even louder… that big guy can fly! Back inside, King lit up Snoop with, erm, strikes, but things built up to an awkward spot where Jarek leapt over in the corner to take over a superplex spot… before Brody returned to spark a messy Tower of Doom.

Snoop thought he’d done it with an Asai DDT, but Brody gets up at one and catches a flying lungblower, turning it into a powerbomb for a near-fall. Jarek helps flip Kincaid out of a sit-out tombstone and into a Stundog Millionaire as the moves keep coming… and things quickly come to an end when Jarek’s Gory special is turned into a sunset flip by Snoop… only for a double stomp off the top from Kincaid to break that up and get him the win. Perfectly fine, high-paced stuff to get us going. ***

We return from a quick interval as Chris Dickinson is in the ring calling out The End. Stokely Hathaway and Jaka are quickly out to calm him down, and this becomes the show opening “here’s what’s happening” promo. For the first time in what feels like forever, the “First Lady of the Dream Team” Faye Jackson is out, but only to assist Dickinson to the back, as Stokely announces that RINGKAMPF are part of Stokely’s team. Yeah… about that….

Hathway invites RINGKAMPF to the ring, so he can give WALTER the deal to bring RINGKAMPF to the Hathaway group. WALTER rips it up, and this bleeds into the opening match.

RINGKAMPF (WALTER & Timothy Thatcher) vs. Catch Point (Dominic Garrini & Tracy Williams)
From the off, Garrini gets into Thatcher’s face like a bulldog, and it’s those two whos tart off on the mat, with Thatcher fighting for and against a leg grapevine. The pair stay on the mat, with Thatcher finally grabbing a single-leg crab before it’s countered into a sit-down slap fight.

Thatcher wins out there and starts to rain down forearms as the pair continue to batter each other, before WALTER comes in to turn things up a notch, keeping the grappling going as he’s eventually taken down with a drop toe-hold… but WALTER’s chops are a terrific equaliser, as Tracy Williams quickly finds out.

That led to a series where Williams was isolated… and an exceedingly brief attempt to make a comeback, which WALTER quickly smashed away. A blind tag helps Catch Point edge ahead, with Garrini blindsiding Thatcher with a dropkick, and that’s where Hathaway’s crew took over, with Garrini driving knees into Thatcher on the mat.

A Northern Lights suplex looked to have Thatcher back in it, but Williams counters on impact into a Kimura as “Hot Sauce” went for the wrist… and there’s a noticeable amount of discontent from the Queens crowd, who really didn’t want to see Thatcher in the ring! Timmy kicks out from the barrage of Catch Point offence, and we’re building to the glorious WALTER hot tag, especially as there’s constant moments where WALTER’s knocked off of the apron.

We don’t have to wait too much longer as WALTER throws those massive chops before teasing a German suplex to Garrini, only to come back with boots and clothesline as the Austrian formerly known as Big Daddy’s here to murder Catch Point! I think that’s how the chant went…

Williams eats the RINGKAMPF German suplex, then a butterfly suplex that almost gets the win, before Garrini held the Austrian in an arm triangle. Their attempt to suplex WALTER ends with WALTER suplexing both Williams and Garrini taking the move as everyone goes flying… Williams recovers to land a brainbuster to Thatcher before a crossface is eventually broken with Thatcher rolls away, before duelling rear naked chokes looked to get RINGKAMPF the win.

Except Catch Point rolled out of them and hit cross armbreakers and crossfaces… which WALTER broke up with a powerbomb on Garrini. Thatcher eventually gets the tag out to WALTER as Williams gets double-teamed, and with no Garrini around to make a save, it’s the matter of a WALTER powerbomb that gets the job done. A fine opening match for the main show – because who doesn’t love the RINGKAMPF lads? Queens, sort-of… ***¾

RINGKAMPF exit stage left, just as The End’s music hit. I wonder if they said hi in passing? Drennan, Odinson and Parrow return to La Boom and lay out Catch Point with chairs… but Catch Point fight back for once, with Drennan taking a DDT from Williams as they’re almost sent packing, with Dickinson and Parrow left in the ring.

Dickinson swings a chair and keeps the brawl going… a referee appears, and this is suddenly a no-DQ match. Gabe Sapolsky specials everyone!

No-Disqualification: Parrow vs. Chris Dickinson
Once the bell rings, Parrow’s taken into the ropes as Dickinson makes use of that chair again, only for a uranage from Parrow to put the brakes on all that.

On the outside, Dickinson’s back with the chair, before he wandered to the back for a new bit of plunder… a broom?! Well, at least it’s something you expect to see laying around the venue…the broom’s whacked against Parrow, smashing the head into the crowd… caught by a fan in an El Generico mask (I guess, since we never saw it).

Parrow comes back by powerbombing Dickinson from the floor and onto the stage, before threatening to throw him off it… a grab to the testicles stops things as Dickinson hits a suplex instead. More chairs from Dickinson led to a Rob Van Dam-esque spinning heel kick, only for Parrow to powerbomb him through a landing area that Dickinson’d set up with chairs moments earlier.

Parrow calls for more chairs, and he gets them, a la ECW back in the day, before he heads up top… only to get caught with the Pazuzu bomb into the chairs, and that’s enough for the win. A brief enough brawl, but this felt a little dragging to me… and I’m not too thrilled on The End eating a loss so soon, even if they got their heat back at the end with a wacky Made in Japan on the chairs afterwards from Odinson. **

AR Fox vs. Matt Riddle
Fox is back with his “hype train” as Matt Riddle was trying to find his feet after losing the WWN title at the back end of 2017. Still, at least he got chants of “happy birthday”, and by the look of it, some more SPLX merch as gifts.

Fox tries to mock Riddle’s grappling game, although with that furry wristband, I’m not sure what grounds he had to do anything… Riddle quickly takes him down and yes, Fox scurries into the ropes. The Riddle tactic seemed to be “end this early”, but Fox keeps rolling into the ropes as he was forced to come up with a plan B.

That plan B was to just grab a hold, as a headlock temporarily had Riddle flummoxed, until he figured out… “hey, dump him on his head!” Fox quickly replies with a leg lariat as Riddle’s left laying, before the Twister (spinning suplex) only gets a two-count for the WWN veteran. From the ground, Riddle tries to fight back as commentary runs through Fox’s WWN resume, claiming that he’s got his eyes set on the belt Riddle used to hold, although a ripcord knee probably didn’t help AR’s run.

Riddle rebounds with some corner forearms, but the Exploder’s snuffed out briefly as Fox ends up leaping into the suplex before taking a back senton for a near-fall. Rolling gutwrenches keep things in Riddle’s favour, but Fox counters and sends him to the outside for a tope into the guard rails. More topes follow as Fox seemed hell-bent on putting himself into the crowd, before he goofs around and ends up landing a neat DDT onto the apron.

Fox’s crew on the outside play a part, holding Riddle in place for a springboard imploding senton to the floor… but Riddle escapes as Fox’s crew take the brunt of it. Inside, a Bro to Sleep gets a near-fall, as Fox is able to turn it back around, absorbing some strikes before landing a springboard Ace crusher and a senton bomb… but Riddle counters the senton on impact into a rear naked choke, before turning it into a tombstone slam. A powerbomb follows from Riddle, as does a knee strike, but they’re too close to the ropes – adding to Riddle’s “crusade to ban rope breaks”.

In the end though, Fox is forced to fight out of a superplex as he instead counters with a Destroyer off the middle rope, before catching Riddle with Lo Mein Pain and a 450 Splash as Fox picked up the win! Enjoyable stuff, with Riddle continuing to stutter… but man, that “I want rid of rope breaks” gimmick is going to have a short shelf life. It’d be like me saying “I could win a wrestling match, if only you were banned from doing moves”… ***¾

After the match, Riddle’s carted to the back as Fox cuts a promo, declaring he wants a shot at the WWN champion at EVOLVE 100. Christ, they’re almost into triple-digits…

Anything Goes Match for FIP World Heavyweight Championship: Fred Yehi vs. Austin Theory (c)
It’s an instant rematch for Yehi, as he gets his FIP title shot against Austin Theory… this time under FIP’s regular “anything goes” rules. I’m guessing someone forgot the FIP gimmick when they were in a rush to switch the title in December? At least they didn’t have Timothy Barr throw in a swear or two for authenticity’s sake.

Yehi sidesteps from Priscilla Kelly’s “touch”, so he could march over to Theory and mock it, and we get going with Priscilla Kelly in the ring for… reasons. She tries to interfere as this threatens to be a handicap match, but instead Theory just throws Yehi to the outside… where he ends up eating a senton off the apron that the camera crew misses. After Theory goes to hug Kelly, Yehi goes back out with a dive, before throwing Theory into the guard railings at short range. Back inside, a snap suplex nearly gets Yehi his title back as the challenger took control, dropkicking Theory back to the outside, where Kelly again gets involved, jumping on Yehi’s back to “bite” him, before she’s dumped into the crowd.

Inside again, Yehi explodes into a lungblower before trapping Theory in a Koji clutch… but despite Theory getting to the ropes, commentary seems to forget that FIP rules means “no rope breaks”. Perhaps Matt Riddle should just go to FIP? Jason Kincaid heads out for… reasons, as Priscilla tried to pull Theory out of the ring to break the hold, and now the Kincaid intervention of Theory has escalated to doing it mid-match.

A roll-through into a dropkick gets Theory back in it, but like with most guys in EVOLVE, there’s no urgency as Theory plays to the crowd… and it led to him getting dragged outside. Still, at least Theory quickly drops Yehi with a forearm as he threatened to use his title belt, before instead opting to throw Yehi into the ring apron. After returning to the ring, a rack bomb nearly gets Theory the win, before Kincaid got involved again as he disarmed a chair from Priscilla’s hands.

Theory knocks Kincaid off the apron before anything more can happen, but that distraction nearly costs them as Yehi charges in with a shotgun dropkick. Kelly grabs the ankle of Yehi to try and stop him, but she eventually took a stomp to the hand before being rolled outside, as Theory takes some more of those stomps, rolling to his back and front every time. That looked dumb…

Yehi continues with a back cracker and a Dragon suplex for another near-fall, before setting up for a powerbomb… but Theory puts the brakes on and instead eats some Mongolian chops and upkicks. The powerbomb eventually follows, as does a Destroyer, but it’s not enough, so he looks to follow up with a… top rope piledriver? Instead he’s shoved away as Yehi counters with upkicks out of the corner, but Kelly’s back in with a diving chair shot before Theory lands the Ataxia (cradle flatliner) for the win. This was good, if not a little overbooked… I could have handled just the Kelly interferences, but the Kincaid stuff could have waited until after the match. Still, at least they’re giving Theory a bit of a push, even if it’s at the expense of the shunted-away Yehi. ***½

Kincaid’s back after the match, as he shows his frustration before calming himself and heading to the back.

Jaka vs. Keith Lee
This is non-title because Chris Dickinson’s got the shot at Keith Lee tomorrow. Not bad going for someone coming off of suspension… Jaka’s got a good record in these non-title matches, so don’t count him out just yet.

There’s a cagey opening spell as Jaka picks his spots, sneaking in a few low kicks early as he tried to get under Lee’s skin. Lee keeps it basic though, as they work over wristlocks before Jaka powdered… and had a pop at the crowd for good measure. Next time around, Jaka takes Lee into the corner for some elbows and right hands, before Lee charges straight out and charges Jaka to the outside.

Lee threatens to dive, which has Jaka scrambling away and into the crowd for a chair. He thinks better of it, as he instead chops Lee into the corner, before a reversed Irish whip led to Jaka getting squashed ahead of one of those double-handed chops of doom. A crossbody’s easily caught as Lee leaps over him, barges through a clothesline, and pulls off a ‘rana. I cannot repeat what went through my mind there, but safe to say, there were a lot of expletives.

Jaka’s fighting straight back though, and he’s able to fly off the top rope with another crossbody, this time sending Lee to the mat, before scoring with a flying tornado DDT for another near-fall. With Lee on the mat, Jaka tries to go for a leg grapevine, but Lee’s able to escape and take down Jaka with a short-arm lariat.

Jaka fights back… but runs into a double-handed choke and a pop-up chokeslam, before slipping out of a Spirit Bomb. A leg sweep knocks Lee down for a Shining Wizard, then some spinning heel kicks in the corner as Jaka tried to set up for the kill… but a third one of those kicks misses and Jaka eventually gets pounced right into the ropes as Keith Lee sent the savage flying. That’s the cue for AR Fox and his crew to appear on the stage for… reasons. The distraction kinda worked, but Jaka ends up eating a release belly-to-belly throw, before Lee gets absorbed by Fox’s crew’s trash talking, meaning he talked himself out of doing a moonsault, before Jaka elbows his way out of a Spirit Bomb.

More offence from Jaka leads to him blocking a pop-up elbow before he headbutts Lee and lands a kick to the head for the win! That’s another non-title win for Jaka, but this was decidedly less of a thing than the Zack Sabre Jr. win, as this time he needed/enjoyed the help of a distraction from AR Fox and co. It’s just a shame Keith Lee’s next few title shots are already booked up, because you’d think that Jaka would have jumped the queue with this! ***

After the match Chris Dickinson stood over Lee and vowed to take his WWN title… before promising Fox a title shot at EVOLVE 100. Jaka… just stood by and looked happy at it all.

EVOLVE Championship: Darby Allin vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (c)
Darby’s got new music as I guess he finally ran out of places? Right in time for the biggest match of his career… while Zack Sabre Jr’s using IDLES’ “Mother” – the same song he’s been using in PROGRESS and the like as of late. I wonder if the New York crowd understood the line “the best way to scare the Tories is to read and get rich”?

The crowd is actually buzzing for this one, with duelling chants before the bell… can Darby actually do it?

A series of roll-ups saw Darby try his luck, as he tries to out-pace Sabre’s submission attempts, before dropkicking the champion to the outside. When they return to the ring, Allin falls into Sabre’s usual submission game, but he’s surprisingly even to that too, in that he’s at least offering some resistance in the early stages.

Sabre grounds Allin with a version of a Tequila Sunrise before rolling him for a one-count, but it’s almost like men against boys as Sabre’s finding things exceedingly easy, grounding Allin for several goes around that proverbial Rolodex of holds. Darby’s finally able to enter his own game, using a lucha-ish armdrag before trying a guillotine on Sabre… and of course it’s escaped and turned into a double armbar.

We’re back to the gulf in class here as Sabre easily knocks Allin down with some European uppercuts, as commentary notes that Sabre’s showing a more disrespectful side. Ooh, is this the emergence of the “dickhead hunter”? There’s a clear focus to Darby’s left arm, which is the one that Ethan Page smashed with a shovel during that wacky storyline last spring, but Allin almost snatches a win with a crucifix bomb out of nowhere.

They go back to back-and-forth strikes, before Allin surprises Sabre with a spiking DDT, but he can’t capitalise and Sabre’s actually back to his feet first, taking his chances to kick a Darby when he’s down. Allin tries to rebound, using a jack-knife cradle for a near-fall, before Sabre countered the Last Supper into a heel hook, before throwing in some heel kicks as he tried to force Darby to quit. Instead, Darby grabs the ropes as he survived yet again!

Allin tries a comeback with some elbows in the corner, but a third one’s caught and turned into a Euro Clutch for a near-fall as Darby still kept kicking. A PK from Sabre yields the same result, but while Darby was robust, he wasn’t exactly offering much offence to suggest that the upset was on… but his responses to getting slapped by Sabre was… to slap himself? That actually worked as he launched into some brief offence, but a leapfrog’s caught and dragged down before he countered a Euro Clutch into the Last Supper for a near-fall!

More strikes lead to a Code Red, but Sabre’s up at two, before a Coffin Drop’s caught and turned into a cross armbreaker by Sabre, who flicks between some more submissions, ending with a double armbar with kicks to the head as referee Brandon Tolle eventually waved off the match. Yikes! That was a cracker of a main event, albeit unpopular with the New York crowd, as Sabre showed that heart really can only take you so far. An early banger for your match of the year cards for 2018! ****¼

After the match, Austin Theory’s out – undetected by commentary – and lays out Sabre with a Theory KO. What the hell? Jason Kincaid’s quickly out to try and calm things, and that finally leads to a brawl, which started pretty lacklustre with Kincaid throwing in some double stomps. I don’t think the crowd wanted to see Theory out, and that’s apparently setting up a match between Sabre and Theory for EVOLVE 100. With all due respect to Theory, this is way too soon for him. Do. Not. Want.

EVOLVE 98 was a fine show bell-to-bell, opening and closing with some terrific matches. Sure, you can point fingers at certain items – like The End already picking up a loss, or how Austin Theory’s suddenly been propelled to EVOLVE title contention, but on the whole this was a show that’s worth your time, as the company looks to hit the ground running in 2018.