Saturday, October 31, 2015

Evolve 38 Review

Evolve Champion Drew Galloway goes into battle against Roderick Strong inside a Steel Cage!!

Evolve 38
Deer Park, New York 3/8/15

Now this was a very interesting show. It was only announced three weeks in advance, as was wedged between the January shows in Florida and the big weekend in San Jose during WrestleMania Weekend. I was critical of the fact that it was announced so late, but when the card was announced, it looked pretty good on paper. There were some changes going in, which included Trent Baretta being pulled following his move to New Japan & ROH (as part of Roppongi Vice with Rocky Romero), PJ Black (formerly Justin Gabriel in WWE, recently released) moving his debut up to this show (he was originally scheduled to debut for Evolve in San Jose), and the return of Davey Richards, who’s had an fascinating history with the promotion over the years. Let’s see how things turned out…

1.) Biff Busick vs. Martin Stone: ***

For those of you who aren’t aware, Martin Stone was a former WWE developmental talent in NXT (though he’s recently been brought back to NXT in the last few months as a jobber). He’s from the UK, and he’s wrestled for promotions such as Revolution Pro Wrestling. Here, Stone is wrestling Biff Busick. This was a pretty solid opener. It didn’t go very long (it went just over five minutes), but it was entertaining while it lasted. Busick would end up getting the submission win with the Saka Otoshi.

Afterwords, Busick promised that he would defeat Chris Hero in San Jose.

2.) Team Tremendous vs. Earl Cooter & Jody Kristofferson (with Larry Dallas): **3/4

It’s nice to see Team Tremendous getting a shot in a promotion like involved. They were advertised to take on a “Larry Dallas Mystery Team” (by the way, wasn’t Larry Dallas “fired” in 2014?), who ended up being Earl Cooter & Jody Kristofferson. These guys were actually together during the WWNLive shows in China towards the end of 2014, so the pairing makes sense. The match itself was fine. It was mostly a Team Tremendous showcase, and they definitely looked good in this match. Dan Barry & Bill Carr would pick up the victory, to the surprise of nobody.

3.) AR Fox vs. Matt Cage: ***3/4

This show continued the new concept of members of the Evolve roster endorsing non-roster members. On this show, Matt Cage (who’s made a name for himself in the Mid-West, primarily AAW) would be the recipient of this opportunity, as he was endorsed by Uhaa Nation. Cage is taking on AR Fox, and these two ended up having a really good match! There were a number of exciting moments in this one. Matt Cage looked really impressive here, showing why he deserves a spot on the Evolve roster. Even though AR Fox scored the victory, Cage definitely won a lot of people over. I hope he gets more shots in Evolve.

4.) Drew Gulak vs. Chris Hero: ****

So back in August, Hero made an emphatic statement at the end of the 2014 Style Battle Tournament, going after the participants in the tournament, specifically Biff Busick, Drew Gulak, & Timothy Thatcher. While Busick & Thatcher would have to wait until San Jose to face Hero, Drew Gulak has his shot at this show. I thought this was a great match! Both guys definitely brought it, and we saw a lot of hard-hitting action. These two actually had a match the month before at PWG From Out Of Nowhere, and I would put this encounter slightly above their match in PWG (I think it fits better in the environment of Evolve). In the end, Hero would get the win after a series of hard elbow strikes and a Tombstone Piledriver.

Following the match, Hero taunted Biff Busick, saying he had no right to say his name. Busick came out, and the two started fighting before Hero escaped to the back.

5.) Open The United Gate Champion Caleb Konley (with Anthony Nese) vs. "Darewolf" PJ Black: ***1/4

This is the Evolve debut for PJ Black, formerly Justin Gabriel in the WWE (who had left the company in January). He’s making his debut against Caleb Konley. I thought this was a pretty solid match. At the time, PJ Black was new to the independent scene, so I think the general consensus was that he needed more time to settle in. Still, he had a pretty entertaining match with Konley. The “Darewolf” would pick up the win with his trademark 450 Splash. As a side note, AR Fox joined the commentary team for this match, and he was hilarious! His commentary just needs to be heard. It was something else.

6.) Open The United Gate Champion Anthony Nese (with Caleb Konley) vs. Davey Richards: ***1/2

To say that Davey Richards has had a tumultuous history with Evolve would be an understatement. The last time he was in Evolve, he lost to AR Fox in an Evolve Title, and spit on the title after the match. Now, he’s back, seemingly on better terms, going against Anthony Nese. This was a pretty good match. At this point, you know what you’re going to get with Davey Richards, and he definitely brought in this match. Nese had a good showing as well, definitely holding his own against Richards. In the end, however, “The American Wolf” was too match, as Nese would fall to Richards.

Unfortunately, when this show happened live, there was an HOUR LONG intermission while they set up the Steel Cage. That sucked. To top it all off, the Steel Cage looked….pretty crappy, to say the least. Alas, it’s time for the Main Event.

7.) Non-Title Steel Cage Match - Evolve Champion Drew Galloway vs. Roderick Strong: ***1/2

This is the first Steel Cage Match in the history of Evolve. Once again, Strong is facing Galloway in a non-title match, as he was either not ranked in the Evolve Rankings, and if he was, he wasn’t high enough. These two have really good chemistry, which at this point, is a surprise to nobody. I don’t know what it was, but they just work together really well. The match was pretty good. Both played their roles skillfully, and the action was fun to watch. The only gripe I would have with this was the ending (similar to their match at Evolve 36). At one point, Galloway (who I believe was busted open) got caught between the ropes and the Steel Cage, and Strong took advantage with several running kicks & elbows to a defenseless Galloway. The referee soon stopped the match, and awarded the victory to Strong via KO. I get what they were going for, and it wasn’t a bad idea by any means, though I wasn’t expecting that to be the actual finish. Still this was a pretty good Main Event. Strong getting the win here definitely guarantees him a future Evolve Title Match.

After the match, as Drew Galloway as recovering, PJ Black came out. He challenged Galloway to an Evolve Title Match in San Jose, and Galloway accepted. Then, Galloway made it known that, during the big shows in San Jose, he wants a title unification match against Johnny Gargano.

Overall: 8.0/10

Like I said in the beginning of this review, I was critical of this show being announced as hastily as it was, only a few weeks beforehand. Despite that, Evolve was able to put on a really solid show. You had a lot of different things going on that made this show fun to watch. Chris Hero vs. Drew Gulak was definitely the Match of the Night, while Matt Cage had a breakout performance against AR Fox. Meanwhile, PJ Black made his debut, while Davey Richards made his return, and both made statements by defeating members of The Premiere Athlete Brand. Then there was the Main Event, which was another hard-hitting chapter in the Galloway/Strong feud. This event continues the trend of really solid shows from Evolve.

Evolve 37 Review

Ronin gets back together!!

Evolve 37
Winter Park, Florida 1/10/15

Before the opening match, Anthony Nese takes the mic and announced that he has accepts SoCal Val’s offer, meaning she is now part of The Premiere Athlete Brand. This meant that Su Yung was relegated to the role of being SoCal Val’s assistant.

1.) Open The United Gate Champion Anthony Nese (with The Premiere Athlete Brand) vs. Shane Strickland: ***

Strickland had an impressive showing the night before at Evolve 36 against Johnny Gargano, and while this match wasn’t as good as that match, it was still pretty solid. The action was fine, but most of the attention was focused on SoCal Val’s antics on ringside. Despite that, the match was fine. A totally acceptable opener, which saw Nese get the victory.

2.) Timothy Thatcher vs. Roderick Strong: ***1/2

I was really looking forward to this one going on, and these two definitely delivered a very good match. Both guys are great at what they do, and I thought they worked well together. Some really solid action throughout this match. The match came to an end when Thatcher locked Strong in his Fujiwara Armbar for the submission victory.

I believe, after the match, Thatcher called out Chris Hero for a match in San Jose, California during WrestleMania Weekend.

3.) Trevor Lee vs. AR Fox: N/R

This was another match that I was really looking forward to, but unfortunately, it would get cut short. Early on in the match, AR Fox got hurt via a kick to the face from Trevor Lee (it's that running apron punt kick he always does). I guess it caught AR Fox right in the face because he immediately started bleeding. It seemed like it might have been an eye injury, and I believe it was reported later that he had a concussion. Trevor Lee won by referee stoppage, and a lot of wrestlers came out to check on AR Fox (even the camera cut away at one point). They did say later that he was awake & alert. Because of what happened, I don’t think it’s appropriate to really rate this.

4.) Uhaa Nation vs. Biff Busick: ***3/4

Anyone could have told you that this was going to be, in the words of Jim Ross, a “Slobber Knocker”, and that’s exactly what this was. Really good action from both guys in this one. These two are so good, and it’s no surprise that both would be signed by WWE before the end of the year. Busick would end up getting the win over Uhaa Nation.

Like Thatcher before him, I believe Busick also called out Chris Hero for a match in San Jose, California during WrestleMania Weekend.

5.) Evolve World Title - Drew Galloway vs. Ricochet: ***3/4
Ricochet had declared the night before at Evolve 36 that he’s coming for both the Open The Freedom Gate Title and the Evolve World Title. He has his chance on this show against Drew Galloway, who seems to dwarf Ricochet, in terms of size. As you would expect, this was a really good match. They brawled on the outside, and did some pretty cool things, including Ricochet hitting a beautiful Hurricanrana off of a basketball hoop, and Galloway slamming Ricochet against a wall. It was really a battle of Ricochet’s speed and athleticism facing off with Galloway’s strength, and it produced another very good match on this card. In the end, the Scotsman would pick up the win to retain his title.

6.) Six-Man Tag - Losing Team Must Split Up - Ronin (Open The Freedom Gate Champion Johnny Gargano, FIP World Heavyweight Champion Rich Swann, & Chuck Taylor) vs. The Bravado Brothers & Moose: ***1/4

This match was set up the night before, and the losing side must permanently split up. Ronin came out dancing and Swann was signing their theme song, which was fun. The match itself was pretty solid, though I don’t think it reached the same level as some of the earlier matches on the card. It probably belonged lower on the card, but with Ronin reuniting, I can understand why it was the Main Event. Eventually, Ronin would end up getting the victory, meaning The Bravado Brothers & Moose can no longer team together in Evolve (and this would end up being the last appearance in Evolve for all three of them).

After the match, Gargano took the mic and cut a promo saying that his Open The Freedom Gate Title was the most important title in the WWNLive Universe. Of course, Evolve World Champion Drew Galloway took offense to this, and they had a stare down to close the show.

Overall: 7.5/10

While I would give a slight edge to Evolve 36, I would say that Evolve 37 was still a pretty solid show. Despite the unfortunate accident in the AR Fox/Trevor Lee match, everything else on the card was really good. Strong/Thatcher, Busick/Uhaa Nation, and Galloway/Ricochet were definitely the highlights. Even though the Main Event wasn’t nearly as good as those matches, it was still a cool moment to see Ronin reunited. Add to that the Galloway/Gargano tease, and you have an entertaining show.

Evolve 36 Review

Evolve looks to start off 2015 on the right foot.

Evolve 36
Ybor City, Florida 1/9/15

I should note very briefly that Caleb Konley was supposed to be on these set of shows, but suffered some sort of injury that forced him off the card.

The show kicks off with Open The Freedom Gate Champion Johnny Gargano coming out! After thanking everyone for their support in 2014, he talks about Evolve’s newest concept, where current wrestlers on the roster “endorse” an non-roster member to get a regular spot in the promotion. Gargano then brings out his friend (and former foe) Rich Swann, who talks about the need to give younger wrestlers opportunities. He then endorses “The King of Swerve” Shane Strickland, who comes out to face Gargano. In a surprising move, Gargano then asks for this to be a title match!

1.) Open The Freedom Gate Title - Johnny Gargano vs. Shane Strickland: ***1/2

For those who don’t know, Strickland is a regular in CZW. He’s made some WWNLive appearances before (including teaming with Rich Swann on a Dragon Gate USA show against The Premiere Athlete Brand) so the endorsement makes sense, in that regard. As far as the match itself, I really enjoyed it. Very solid stuff from both guys here. Strickland looked very impressive against Gargano, but in the end, Johnny Wrestling picked up the win to retain his Open The Freedom Gate Title.

After the match, Gargano & Strickland shake hands, but then Moose comes out of nowhere and spears Gargano! The Bravado Brothers make their way out, and say that they’re going to make Gargano’s live a living hell.

2.) Biff Busick vs. Trevor Lee: ***1/2

Now this was a match I was really looking forward to going into this show. This is actually Trevor Lee’s debut in Evolve, after having a breakout year in PWG in 2014. Another entertaining match. Whenever you get these two guys in a match, you know it’s going to be good. Lots of really good stuff from both guys. Eventually, Busick would get the victory with the Saka Otoshi (one of Minoru Suzuki’s submission finishers). A very impressive showing from both.

3.) The Bravado Brothers (with Moose) vs. AR Fox & Uhaa Nation: ***3/4

I might have rated this a little more highly than others, but I really enjoyed this match. A lot of really solid action throughout this match. Seeing the team of AR Fox & Uhaa Nation was really cool. Speaking of which, AR Fox nearly killed himself on a few occasions. At one point, he went to hit his running dive over the turnbuckle to the floor to take out one of The Bravado Brothers, and he nearly took out one of the light stands in the process (I think he actually made contact with it mid-air). That man is insane. Anyway, like I said, I liked this match a lot. In my opinion, it was actually tied for the best match on the show (2nd/3rd best if the Main Event had a finish, but I’ll get to that later). AR Fox & Uhaa Nation would get the win here, but they would be attacked after the fact by Moose.

4.) Ricochet vs. Timothy Thatcher: ***3/4

I was incredibly intrigued to see this match, because it’s an insane clash of styles. Probably the personification of a clash of styles if there ever was one. It started slow, which makes sense, since they’ve never faced each other before. Great stuff from both guys in this one. Ricochet continues to expand his horizons has a wrestlers, and Thatcher was impressive here as well. A really good match here, that sees Ricochet score the victory over Thatcher.

5.) 10-Minute Flash Match - Open The United Gate Champion Anthony Nese (with Caleb Konley & Su Yung) vs. Rich Swann: **3/4

Before this match began, SoCal Val (formerly of TNA) came out and offered her services to The Premiere Athlete Brand. For those who many not be aware, a “10-Minute Flash” Match is essentially a 10-Minute Iron Man Match. Honestly, I’m not a fan of that. Iron Man Matches really don’t work in this short environment, and I think it showed in this match. The match itself was decent, but I think it would have been just as good, maybe a little bit better, if they just had a normal match. Swann would end up winning the match 2-to-1.

Right after the match, The Bravado Brothers come out with Moose and attack Rich Swann. Johnny Gargano then runs out to make the save! What we get out of this is a challenge for Evolve 37 the next night in Orlando: The Bravado Brothers & Moose vs. Ronin!! The challenge is accepted and the match is set!

6.) Non-Title Match - Evolve Champion Drew Galloway vs. Roderick Strong: ***1/2

If you’ll recall, these two had a really great match at Evolve 35, but Strong has been denied an Evolve Title shot due to not being in the Evolve Rankings yet. Strong tried to apologize for his actions at Evolve 35, and then tries to jump Galloway before bell, but Galloway catches him. This match is something else. They went all over the building. We saw them brawling in the crowd, on top of the bar, and even outside the building and onto the streets of Ybor City!! Some pretty insane stuff here. Galloway & Strong had really great chemistry, and they showed it again in this match. Galloway, I think, broke his finger or something, as he had blood coming from his hand. I was really getting into it, but then they threw chairs in the ring and started swinging them at each other, before the referee has enough and calls for a Double DQ (I should note that this was supposed to be a regular match, but you wouldn’t have thought that with all of the brawling). The crowd wasn’t happy, and neither was I. This was going really well until the finish. If it had an actual ending, it probably would have been the Match of the Night without a doubt. The fact that there was no finish hurt this match a good deal in my eyes, but that’s just my opinion.

They continued fighting after the match. Galloway went for a running kick, but Strong pulled Heather Lynn (the ring announcer) in the way, and she takes the brunt of Galloway’s kick! The two are eventually separated, and Galloway cuts a promo to close out the show.

Overall: 7.75/10

This show was chugging along really nicely through those first four matches, but then it fell apart slightly with the last two matches (the stipulation in Nese vs. Swann, which hurt that match, and the finish of the Main Event). Still, I'd say the show was still an enjoyable one. Nothing outstanding, but an entertaining night of wrestling. A good start to 2015 for Evolve.