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.
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.