Thursday, December 31, 2015

Evolve 46 Review

Timothy Thatcher puts his newly won titles on the line against Chris Hero!

Evolve 46
Orlando, Florida 7/11/15

As I mentioned in my Evolve 45 review, this weekend of shows from Evolve was drastically altered because of injuries to Biff Busick & Davey Richards. This show ended up having only four actual matches, but for this review, I included the FIP World Heavyweight Title Match between Caleb Konley & Andrew Everett, which was on the FIP Pre-Show (and is included in the VOD of this show).

1.) FIP World Heavyweight Title – Caleb Konley (with The Premiere Athlete Brand) vs. Andrew Everett: ***1/4

This match was set up on Evolve 45, when Everett, after defeating Anthony Nese, goaded Caleb Konley into putting his FIP World Heavyweight Title on the line against him. I thought this was a pretty solid match. Even though it was technically the pre-show show, these two still put forth a really good effort, and had an enjoyable match. Konley would end up getting the win to retain his title (after interference from The Premiere Athlete Brand, if I recall correctly).

2.) Anthony Nese (with The Premiere Athlete Brand) vs. Trevor Lee: ***

The show properly kicks off of with Trevor Lee, who’s coming off an impressive losing effort to Chris Hero, taking on Anthony Nese. The story here is that, if Lee won, he would get an FIP World Title shot against Caleb Konley. This was a good opener. I actually think the Konley/Everett match from earlier in the show was slightly better than this. Still, this was totally fine for what it was. Lee would pick up the win with a rollup on Nese, so I guess he has an FIP World Title shot against Caleb Konley in his future.

3.) Zack Sabre Jr. vs. TJ Perkins: ****

Now this is a match that should be a ton of fun. Both of these men utilize a very fluid technical style, and they ended up having an extremely entertaining match. Both guys worked so well together, and we saw a lot of cool things here. Zack Sabre Jr. would end up getting the win. An awesome match!

4.) Drew Galloway vs. Trent Barreta: ***1/2

So this was originally going to be for the Evolve World Title, but of course, Thatcher won the title from Galloway the night before at Evolve 45. Even though there was no title at steak here, these two still managed to have a really good match. It’s actually a pretty interesting matchup, considering both guys used to be in the WWE. Both guys looked good here in this back & forth match. Galloway scored the victory here, gaining back some momentum after losing his two titles the night before.

After the match, The Premiere Athlete Brand came out and tried to attack Galloway, but Galloway fought of both Anthony Nese & Caleb Konley, and even took a shot at Andrea! He then corned SoCal Val in one of the turnbuckles and started streaming at her, and then ended up taking out an Evolve referee!! These events would lead to Galloway getting suspended from Evolve, and while he would miss the next few shows, he would return before the end of the year.

5.) Evolve World Title & Open The Freedom Gate Title – Timothy Thatcher vs. Chris Hero: ****1/4

This became a title match after Thatcher won both the Evolve World Title & the Open The Freedom Gate Title from Drew Galloway the night before. These two had an incredible encounter back at Mercury Rising 2015, so this is the rematch. While it wasn’t quite as good as their first match, this was still great, and definitely the best match on the show. Hero continues to have a sneaky good year, and Thatcher looked really good here as well. The new champion needed a strong start to this title reign, and he got that with a successful defense against Chris Hero.

Afterwords, Zack Sabre Jr. came out and challenged Timothy Thatcher to an Evolve World Title Match during the next set of Evolve shows in August.

Overall: 8.0/10

This was a very interesting show to watch, as it only had four matches (five if you count the Konley/Everett FIP World Title Match from the FIP Pre-Show, which again, is included in the VOD). Despite being a relatively small card, every match on there was, at the very least, good. Not a single match went under ***. Thatcher vs. Hero and Zack Sabre Jr. vs. TJ Perkins were two great matches, and are definitely worth checking out. Once again, even though the original cards were changed due to a number of injuries. Evolve still pulled out an enjoyable show.

Evolve 45 Review

Despite some key injuries, Evolve manages to put together one of their best shows of the year!!

Evolve 45
Ybor City, Florida 7/10/15

The big story surrounding this particular weekend is that a number of injuries caused some significant alterations to the cards for both shows. Biff Busick was originally announced, but had to pull out after suffering some sort of hand injury (if I recall correctly). Then, Davey Richards suffered a concussion wrestling on an independent show in West Virginia the day before this show, forcing him to pull out. In light of these major injuries, let’s see how Evolve was able to react…

1.) FIP World Heavyweight Champion Caleb Konley (with The Premiere Athlete Brand) vs. Gary Jay: ***1/4

Gary Jay may be known by most independent wrestling fans as a member of The Submission Squad from CHIKARA, but he’s branched out in recent years and has done some more serious work in other promotions. Konley comes into this match as the FIP World Heavyweight Champion, winning it from Rich Swann the week before on a FIP show. As far as this match goes, I thought it was a very solid opener. Konley is quickly becoming one of my favorites, as far as his singles work goes, and Gary Jay looked very impressive in his Evolve debut. While Konley would get the win in this match, Gary Jay showed that he deserves more chances in Evolve.

2.) Trent Baretta (with The Premiere Athlete Brand) vs. Rich Swann: ***1/2

Our next match features Trent Baretta’s return to Evolve! He was seemingly done with the promotion after becoming part of New Japan’s roster (and subsequently a semi-regular in Ring of Honor), but now he’s back, and he’s taking on Rich Swann. I remember really liking the matches these two have had in the past, and this was another very good chapter in their rivalry. Some really good action throughout this match, and both guys looked great. In the end, Baretta would pick up the win with The Dudebuster. This makes The Premiere Athlete Brand undefeated on the night thus far.

After the match, SoCal Val is bragging about The Premiere Athlete Brand’s success so far tonight, but Andrew Everett interrupts her, and it looks like our next match is ready to go!

3.) Anthony Nese (with The Premiere Athlete Brand) vs. Andrew Everett: ***1/2

Andrew Everett made his return to Evolve back at Evolve 42. Another really good singles match. I may be a little bit higher on this match than most, but I really enjoyed it. Everett is such an entertaining high-flyer, and I think he worked well with Nese here. The Premiere Athlete Brand’s winning streak would come to an end in this match, as Everett would get the win over Nese, much to the dismay of SoCal Val.

After the match, Everett taunted The Premiere Athlete Brand, and convinced Caleb Konley to put his FIP World Heavyweight Title on the line in their match the next night.

4.) Chris Hero vs. Trevor Lee: ****1/4

These two have had a number of matches with each other, including PWG, and most recently, at Evolve 43. In all honestly, I thought this was their best matchup yet! Some really exciting stuff throughout this match. Great back & forth action. These two are just incredibly fun to watch. There were a number of points in this match where Lee almost had Hero beat, but he just couldn’t keep Hero down. In the end, Hero would score the win with his Ripcord Elbow. Awesome match! Like I said, I think this is easily their best match together (whether that be in Evolve or PWG). These two just work together really well, and we’ve gotten great matches every time.

5.) Roderick Strong vs. Zack Sabre Jr.: ****3/4

In all the chaos of the various injuries, we were able to get this gem of a match. These two squared off in an amazing match for the PWG World Title at Don’t Sweat The Technique back in April. I came into this wondering whether they could equal their efforts from that PWG encounter, an boy did they ever! This match was AMAZING!!!! Easily one of the best matches, anywhere, in 2015!! I haven’t seen as much Zack Sabre Jr. as some others may have, but he wows me with he technical prowess. You can’t turn away when a Zack Sabre Jr. match pops up. You just have to watch it. It has to be said also that, ever since he started working more in North America, Roderick Strong is EASILY his best opponent. They just mesh so well together. It was technical wrestling vs. strikes and strength, and it played out so well. After an absolute war, Zack Sabre Jr. finally gets Strong to tap out for the victory. This was simply an incredible match.

Interestingly enough, this would be Roderick Strong’s last match for Evolve, as he would go on to sign an exclusive contract with ROH shortly after this show.

6.) Evolve World Title & Open The Freedom Gate Title - Drew Galloway vs. Timothy Thatcher: ***3/4

So originally, this show as going to feature a Main Event of Drew Galloway & Roderick Strong vs. The Premiere Athlete Brand, but of course, the injuries to Biff Busick & Davey Richards caused a number of changes to the card, and this was the Main Event. This was supposed to be a non-title match, but Thatcher requests a shot at the title, and Galloway, being the fighting champion that he is, agreed to it. I thought these two had a really good match. It didn’t match the quality of the previous two matches, but it was still very solid. We saw the usual submission game from Thatcher, and Galloway fought back with his explosive offense. Eventually, Galloway got caught by Thatcher and tapped out to a Fujiwara Armbar!! Timothy Thatcher is the new Evolve World Champion & Open The Freedom Gate Champion!! This was a really big moment. With Thatcher as the new face of WWNLive, it shows that they’re going full-steam ahead with this new grappling-based style. Some might criticize not building this up more, but I think it actually works better that way, since Galloway won the Evolve Title in a similar manner. Thatcher celebrates with his two titles to close the show.

Overall: 9.0/10

Despite all of the issues with the injuries and the card needing to be reshuffled multiple times, Evolve somehow pulled off one of their best shows of the year. Roderick Strong vs. Zack Sabre Jr. was a legitimate Match of the Year Candidate and their 2nd instant classic of 2015. Chris Hero vs. Trevor Lee was, in my opinion, the best of their three matches thus far (they seem to keep getting better with each match). The Premiere Athlete Brand wasn't as annoying as they usually are, and all of their matches were good. The title change in the Main Event was a big surprise, and while it may have come a bit early, it was understandable given they were backed into a corner with injuries to Biff Busick & Davey Richards. Easily one of the best independent shows of 2015.

Evolve 44 Review

Drew Galloway & Roderick Strong go to war for the final time!

Evolve 44
Ronkonkoma, New York 5/31/15

Now this has to be one of the most interesting venues that Evolve has used in its history. The show is essentially taking place in a local fire station.

The show kicks off with Johnny Gargano! He talks out how he & Rich Swann retired the Open The United Gate Titles the previous night at Evolve 43, and then talks about his opponent tonight, Ethan Page. Gargano says that he will send Ethan Page packing.

1.) Johnny Gargano vs. "All Ego" Ethan Page: ****

The stipulations here are that if Johnny Gargano wins, then Ethan Page must leave Evolve, but it Page wins, then Gargano must shake Page’s hand. I was actually surprised that this opened the show. Given the fact that this was their first encounter since Page turned on Gargano, I think it was pretty obvious that Page was winning here. Still, this was a great opening match! These two have had really good matches in other promotions (such as AIW), and they continued that trend here in Evolve. The end of the match came when Page kicked Gargano low, and then used a rope to choke him out (much like Gargano did on many occasions during his heel run) for the win. Page, being the cocky heel that he is, shook hands with the unconscious Gargano. A great match with a great ending to keep the feud going.

2.) Trevor Lee vs. Rich Swann: ***

Lee is coming off an incredible effort in a loss to Chris Hero the night before, while Swann retained, and retired, the Open The United Gate Titles. This was a good match, but I was expecting a bit more than we ended up getting here. There were also a number of botched, which definitely hurt the match a good deal. Trevor Lee would pick up the surprise win here over Swann, a veteran of Evolve.

3.) Rey Horus vs. Tracy Williams (with Drew Gulak): **1/4

This was an ok match, but it was very short. Horus would get the win with a flash pin, but got attacked by The Premiere Athlete Brand almost immediately afterword. TJ Perkins came out to make the save, and I guess we have a tag team match on our hands.

4.) The Premiere Athlete Brand (Anthony Nese & Caleb Konley with SoCal Val) vs. TJ Perkins & Rey Horus: **3/4

I thought this match was fine, but it wasn’t anything special. After there was some apparent friction the night before, The Premiere Athlete Brand were able to get their act together and put away Horus & Perkins for the win.

5.) Biff Busick vs. "Speedball" Mike Bailey: ****1/4

These two men are coming off losses at Evolve 43. However, these two men are no strangers to each other, as they have faced off in many other promotions. With that being said, it should come as no surprise that these two had an fantastic match! There was some great back & forth action throughout this match, and both men put forth incredible efforts. After an awesome closing stretch, Busick would score the victory over Mike Bailey. This is definitely a must-see match.

6.) Davey Richards vs. Drew Gulak: ****

I was actually really looking forward to this match coming into this show. This was a great match. Richards showed here that he has the technical skills to hang with the likes of Drew Gulak. There was some really solid action in this match, and both guys looked very good. Eventually, Richards would pick up the win over Gulak, continuing his win streak in Evolve in 2015.

7.) Evolve World Title - Drew Galloway vs. Roderick Strong: ***3/4

These two have had several brutal battles in the months prior, from their first encounter at Evolve 35, to their wild brawl at Evolve 37, to their Steel Cage Match at Evolve 38. Now they’re finally facing off with Evolve World Title on the line. I thought this was a really good Main Event. In terms of quality, I would say this is the 2nd best match of their series. It wasn’t quite as good as their original encounter, but it wasn’t that far off. This just further proves the great chemistry that these two have. In the end, it would take five Future Shock DDT’s for Galloway to finally put Strong away to retain his Evolve World Title.

After the match, Galloway cut a promo praising Strong as one of the best wrestlers in the world. The Premiere Athlete Brand would then interrupt him, with SoCal Val announcing that Trent Baretta would be returning to Evolve in July to face Galloway for the Evolve World Title. They then attacked Galloway, until Roderick Strong made the save! Even though he made the save, Strong said he didn’t fully respect Galloway yet.

Overall: 8.25/10

Evolve closes out the weekend with another really good show. You had three matches reaching **** or better, which included great storyline advancement with Ethan Page vs. Johnny Gargano, as well as a Biff Busick vs. “Speedball” Mike Bailey encounter that was particularly great and is definitely worth checking out. You also had another really good chapter in the Galloway/Strong rivalry. Unfortunately, this show suffered from a lackluster portion of the undercard, which dragged the show down a little bit. Despite those issues, the positives of this show definitely outweigh the negatives, and the end result was another really solid Evolve show in 2015.

Evolve 43 Review

Drew Galloway defends the Open The Freedom Gate Title against Biff Busick!

Evolve 43
Woodside, New York 5/30/15

I should quickly note here at the beginning that this venue, La Boom, is a new venue for Evolve, and would quickly become a regular stop for them in 2015.

1.) Anthony Nese (with The Premiere Athlete Brand) vs. Rey Horus: ***1/4

Before this match begins, SoCal Val cuts a promo expressing her displeasure over Anthony Nese & Caleb Konley losing the Open The United Gate Titles to Ronin at Evolve 42, but says they plan on redeeming themselves. She also adds that she wants to “talk business” with Roderick Strong in her hotel room later. As far as this match goes, Anthony Nese is taking on Rey Horus. I actually thought this was a pretty enjoyable opener. Some very solid action throughout, and both of these guys looked good. In the end, Horus would score an upset victory over Nese!

After the match, Konley attacked Horus, and Nese just left in frustration. Konley didn’t want to wait any longer for his match, and calls out Davey Richards! Looks like that match is next!

2.) Davey Richards vs. Caleb Konley: ***3/4

Richards defeated Konley’s tag team partner Anthony Nese at Evolve 38. As far as this match is concerned, I really liked it. Konley has grown so much since he left The Scene a few years ago. He had a very good showing here against Davey Richards, who you can always count on to have, at least, a good match. Eventually, Richards would pick up the win over Konley, meaning that The Premiere Athlete went 0-2 on this show.

Afterwords, Richards requested a future shot at the Evolve World Title.

3.) "Speedball" Mike Bailey vs. TJ Perkins: ****

This is the Evolve debut for Mike Bailey, who has been making a name for himself all over the independent scene, most recently in PWG. Here, he’s taking on TJ Perkins. This was a great match! Perkins is just an incredibly entertaining performer, and I think he really meshed well here with Mike Bailey. A very unique match, to say the least. Perkins would get the win in one of the best matches of the night.

4.) Chris Hero vs. Trevor Lee: ****

Lee’s made a few appearances in Evolve this year, but this is arguably his biggest challenge yet. These two actually had a really good match in PWG a couple of months prior, so it should be no surprise that this match was great as well! Hero is having a sneaky good 2015, and Lee is always an entertaining person to watch in this ring. These two work very well together, and it produced another great match on the other side of the country. Hero would eventually score the victory over Lee, but the Carolina Caveman put up a spirited effort.

5.) Open The United Gate Titles - Ronin (Johnny Gargano & Rich Swann) vs. Drew Gulak & Tracy Williams: ***1/2

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Tracy Williams in Evolve, as he had a match against Timothy Thatcher back at Evolve 35. Here, he’s returned as the protégé of Drew Gulak, as they challenge Ronin for the Open The United Gate Titles. This was a pretty solid match. It wasn’t an incredible match by any stretch, but all four of these guys are very capable performers, so it was almost impossible for them to have a bad match. In the end, Gargano & Swann would get the win to retain their titles.

After the match, Gargano & Swann announced that they were retiring the Open The United Gate Titles, since the Dragon Gate USA brand is essentially defunct. They do, however, advocate for the creation of an Evolve Tag Team Championship.

6.) Open The Freedom Gate Title - Drew Galloway vs. Biff Busick: ***1/2

I would assume that Busick’s victory over Roderick Strong at Evolve 42 earned him this title shot. I was intrigued to see how these two would work together, and they ended up having a pretty good match. It was a hard-hitting affair, as you would expect, given who was involved. I could have done with a little less brawling on the outside, but that’s just a minor drawback. While it wasn’t quite as great as some of the other matches on this card, it was still a very solid Main Event. Galloway would eventually pick up the win to retain his Open The Freedom Gate Title.

Afterwords, Busick refused to shake hands with Galloway. Then Johnny Gargano came out while Galloway was hyping up his Evolve World Title Match with Roderick Strong. Gargano asked Galloway to retire the Open The Freedom Gate Title. Galloway refused, but he did offer to give Gargano a rematch before leaving. Gargano then closed the show by hyping up his match the next night against Ethan Page.

Overall: 8.25/10

I thought this was a pretty good show from Evolve. Mike Bailey vs. TJ Perkins & Chris Hero vs. Trevor Lee were easily the best matches on the show, with Davey Richards vs. Caleb Konley not that far behind. The two title matches were also pretty solid, and we saw a big moment with the Open The United Gate Titles being officially retired. With this show, Evolve continues it’s run of consistently good shows in 2015.