Before I talk about the show, I just want to quickly run down the formats of the three different tournaments (yes, you read that right) going on during this weekend. The primary tournament, of course, is to crown the first-ever Evolve Tag Team Champions. That tournament is an eight team, single elimination tournament, with the Quarter-Finals/First Round on this show, the Semi-Finals on Evolve 54, and the Finals at Evolve 55. There’s also a second chance tournament, which will determine the #1 Contender’s to the new Evolve Tag Team Champions. The losers of the Quarter-Finals/First Round Matches will meet in two separate tag team matches on Evolve 54. The winners of those two matches will join the losers of the two Semi-Final Matches on Evolve 54 in a Four-Way Elimination Match at Evolve 55, to determine who will get the first title shot. Finally, there’s the Style Battle Tournament, which has become a tradition in Evolve. It’s basically a four-person Round Robin Tournament, and the winner will emerge the 2016 Style Battle Champion
Ybor City, Florida 1/22/16
We actually start the show off with an in-ring promo with Evolve Champion Timothy Thatcher, who was originally scheduled to be part of the Evolve Tag Team Title Tournament (partnering with Zack Sabre Jr.), but was ruled unable to compete due to a staph infection. Thatcher explains his predicament, and appears to be very disappointed that he can’t compete. He then runs down some of his goals in Evolve this year, which include matches with Davey Richards, Chris Hero (again), and all of Catch Point. The Premiere Athlete Brand then interrupts Thatcher, and Caleb Konley specifically calls him out for “ducking” his challenge for the Evolve Title (as Konley had been highly ranked in the Evolve Rankings, but had yet to receive a title match). Nese then interjects, reminding Konley that they need to be focused on the Evolve Tag Team Title Tournament. Thatcher says a few more words before leaving the ring, and our first match is about to get underway.
1.) Evolve Tag Team Title Tournament - First Round - The Premiere Athlete Brand (Anthony Nese & Caleb Konley with SoCal Val & Andrea) vs. The Bravado Brothers: ***1/4
The first match of Evolve Tag Team Title Tournament features the return of Harlem & Lancelot, The Bravado Brothers! They were seemingly kicked out of Evolve after the events of Evolve 37 about a year prior (early 2015), but now they’re back for this tournament. Interesting enough, The Bravado Brothers were the longest reigning Dragon Gate USA Open The United Gate Tag Team Champions (a long reign, but not exactly a great one, to be honest). As far as this match goes, I thought it was a solid opener. It started a little slow, but I do think it got a lot better in the second half. The Bravados would score the win here to advance to the Semi-Finals, while The Premiere Athlete Brand would be forced into the #1 Contender’s Bracket.
2.) Jason Cade vs. Joe Coleman: **
This match features two guys who impressed at an Evolve/WWNLive Seminar. While I really knew nothing about Joe Coleman, I had heard of Jason Cade before (I think he had done work in Florida with FIP prior to this appearance). I thought this was a fine match. Both guys seemed to get a chance to shine here, which was good. Nothing much else to say here. It was a three/four minute showcase match that saw Jason Cade get the win.
3.) 2016 Style Battle Tournament - Peter Kaasa vs. Matt Riddle: **3/4
In addition to all of the tag team insanity, the Style Battle Tournament is making its return! The first match in this tournament features two men who made their debuts with Evolve in late 2015. This was decent match, but honestly, I was expecting a little bit more here. I’m not saying that I was expecting this to be this super great match, but I just thought it was going to be better than it ended up being. The first part of the match was pretty entertaining, but the finish hurt the match for me, as Kaasa tried….some kind of twisting move off the top rope that just looked weird. Riddle soon got a submission victory shortly thereafter. I wonder if this match could have been better if it had gotten a little more time, because it was actually pretty short (it went just under five minutes). A fine match, but that weird miss by Kaasa towards the end took away from the match a little bit.
4.) "All Ego" Ethan Page vs. "Darewolf" PJ Black: ***1/4
So PJ Black did a couple of shows with Evolve in the Spring of 2015, which included WrestleMania Weekend in San Jose. Since then, he’s wrestled for Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling, TNA (as part of the TNA vs. GFW feud), and at the time this show took place, Black has just started with Lucha Underground. Strangely, Black only worked this show, and not the two in Orlando that would follow in the coming days. Ethan Page, meanwhile, has started his “road to redemption” after losing his feud with Johnny Gargano, and has requested a series of matches to prove himself. This was another pretty solid match. There was some good action between these two here, but the storyline elements here were the important takeaways. Page seemingly had beaten Black, but one of Black’s feet was under the rope, and when Page noticed this, he didn’t want the cheap victory, and demanded that the match continue. Of course, Black almost immediately got the win over Page, but I think this was some good storyline progression for Page’s character.
5.) Evolve Tag Team Title Tournament - First Round - Roppongi Vice vs. Team Tremendous: ***3/4
Rocky Romero & Trent Baretta brought their NJPW/ROH team to Evolve towards the end of 2015, and they’re taking on Team Tremendous, who are a very popular tag team from the independent scene. I thought this was a really good match, and it was easily the best match on the card, up to this point. The action, of course, was very good. What was interesting about this match was that, after the initial stalemate, Roppongi Vice seemed to be working more as heels in this match (and’s that odd because everywhere else, they’re not really “heels”). It actually worked really well in terms of the story, as Roppongi Vice didn’t seem to be taking Team Tremendous very seriously. Then, when Team Tremendous took the fight to Roppongi Vice, and almost had the match won, Rocky Romero & Trent Baretta had to resort to cheating to score the victory here. This was a very good match that actually had some good storytelling. While Roppongi Vice won, I think that Team Tremendous looked good in the loss.
6.) 2016 Style Battle Tournament - Fred Yehi vs. Tracy Williams: ****
Here, we have the second match in the Style Battle Tournament, as Fred Yehi, who made an appearance or two for Evolve late in 2015, takes on Tracy Williams, a member of Catch Point. A few people were down on this match, but honestly, I thought this was great. They went at each other right from the opening bell, and the match quickly turned into a striking & submission battle. These two just worked really well together, and they ended up producing a great match, which ended up being much better than the earlier Style Battle Tournament Match on this show. In the end, Tracy Williams would get the win here.
After the match, the two men shook hands.
Drew Galloway & Johnny Gargano vs. Catch Point’s Drew Gulak & TJ Perkins was originally scheduled to be next, but Drew Galloway came out by himself, and said that Gargano was not at the building yet (Gargano had wrestled a match against Baron Corbin at the NXT TV Tapings that were taking place in Orlando). Galloway actually tried to call Gargano’s cell phone, but it went right to voicemail. Galloway urged Gargano to get to Ybor City as fast as he could, without breaking the law. He then gets approval from Trevin Adams (the “WWNLive Ambassador”) to switch the final two matches on the show, so Gargano could make it.
7.) Evolve Tag Team Title Tournament - First Round - Heroes Eventually Die (Chris Hero & Tommy End) vs. Sami Callihan & Zack Sabre Jr.: *****
As I mentioned earlier, Evolve Champion Timothy Thatcher was originally scheduled to team with Zack Sabre Jr. here, but due to his staph infection, he was unable to complete. Sami Callihan (who had been released from WWE in late 2015) made his return to Evolve here, and stepped up to the plate here by taking Thatcher’s place in this match. I really wasn’t sure how this match was going to turn out initially, as Sami Callihan & Zack Sabre Jr. just felt like an odd pairing, plus the fact that some people really don’t like Sami Callihan. This match ended up blowing away any and all expectations I had beforehand. I thought this match was AMAZING!!!! While the match was very long (going around twenty-eight minutes or so), it never felt like it was that long, and they really managed to fill that time with a lot of awesome stuff. They had a nice start, and it eventually build to where there two teams just beat the crap out of each other for the last two thirds of the match. In particular, Zack Sabre Jr. took most of the punishment from Chris Hero & Tommy End. This was a violently entertaining match, if that makes sense, and it was incredible to watch. Hero & End just kept trying and trying to finish Zack Sabre Jr. off, but every time he & Sami Callihan fought back, the match got even better. This was just pure insanity by the end of it. Nothing else I can really say will do this match justice. It needs to be seen. Chris Hero & Tommy End would eventually score the victory to advance to the Semi-Finals. This is one of the best tag team matches I’ve ever witnessed, and will definitely be finishing inside my Top 10 Matches for 2016.
Drew Galloway comes out before the Main Event and says that Johnny Gargano hasn’t arrived yet, which meant that he would have to either go into battle alone, or forfeit the match. This leads to Ethan Page coming out. He suggests that Galloway allow him to take Gargano’s place. While Galloway gave credit to Page for having guts, he reminded Page that he screwed over Gargano last year with their feud, and tells Page to leave (which he does). Catch Point then attacks Galloway, and the match gets started….
8.) Evolve Tag Team Title Tournament - First Round - Catch Point (Drew Gulak & TJ Perkins) vs. Drew Galloway & Johnny Gargano: ***1/2
So the first portion of this match was spent as a two-on-one handicap match with Drew Gulak & TJ Perkins against Drew Galloway. However, about midway through the match, Johnny Gargano (who finally made it to the building) ran out to join Galloway, and in the end, the team of Galloway & Gargano would get the victory over Catch Point to advance to the Semi-Finals. This was a pretty good match, though it had no chance of meeting the quality of the two matches that came before it. The action was very good throughout, and all four guys seemed to work pretty hard. Nothing much else to say about this match. A relatively good Main Event, but again, the two matches that came before it completely overshadowed it.
Evolve really got off to a good start on this first show of their big tournament weekend. With regards to the Evolve Tag Team Title Tournament, Chris Hero & Tommy End vs. Sami Callihan & Zack Sabre Jr. was a legitimate Match of the Year Contender that absolutely needs to be seen. The rest of the tag team tournament matches varied, as Roppongi Vice vs. Team Tremendous was really good, Galloway & Gargano vs. Catch Point was pretty solid (even with Gargano being late to the match), and The Bravado Brothers vs. The Premiere Athlete Brand, while being the weakest of the four tag team tournament matches, was still a fine opening match. The matches involving the Style Battle Tournament also saw some variety, with Tracy Willams vs. Fred Yehi turning out much better than Matt Riddle vs. Peter Kaasa. We also got some storyline advancement with Ethan Page. As a whole, I would say Evolve got off to a very good start with this triple shot of shows, and continue their streak of having consistently good to great shows.