Orlando, Florida 3/30/17
The show kicked off with Lenny Leonard in the ring, welcoming the fans to the show. However, he was soon interrupted by Drew Galloway. He talked about how these events are the biggest events of the year for EVOLVE, noting that this wasn’t “Mania Week”, but rather “Wrestling Week”. Galloway noted that the year prior in Dallas, he started this war/crusade, and said that he’s overcome every single obstacle put in his way since then except one: Matt Riddle. He says that it takes so much more to be called “The Franchise” of Evolve/WWN, and said that if Riddle is truly their leader, then the company would crumble. This brings out Matt Riddle, and they don’t waste any time, as Galloway goes right after Riddle to kick of our opening contest!
1.) Drew Galloway vs. Matt Riddle: ***1/2
While this was a match that had been initially delayed after Galloway suffered an injury in the latter half of 2016 that kept him on the shelf for a few months, they quickly made up for it with two matches on consecutive Evolve events. At their first encounter at Evolve 79, Riddle managed to beat Galloway via referee stoppage. Even though that match was better (in my personal opinion), this second battle was very entertaining. It was surprisingly short, going about seven minutes or so, but they managed to do a lot with that short amount of time. There was great intensity throughout (as shown by the way the match started), and non-stop action. These two really did a good job of conveying the hatred they had for one another. The highlight of the match by far saw Galloway hit an insane piledriver to Riddle off the apron and through a table!! That was just a crazy spot. Galloway managed to get the win shortly thereafter when he hit a Future Shock DDT, followed by another piledriver. In a way, this was also an extended squash, as Galloway really showed dominance over Riddle here. I think the idea was that this would help build up the Battle Of Champions Elimination Match for the WWN Title at Mercury Rising 2017, where Riddle would meet Galloway again, but as I’ll go into in another review, that’s not exactly how things ended up happening.
After the match, Chris Dickinson & Jaka came out to make the save, preventing Galloway from attacking Riddle further.
2.) Chris Dickinson vs. Timothy Thatcher (with Stokely Hathaway): ***1/4
Thatcher is coming off losing the Evolve Title to Zack Sabre Jr. at Evolve 79 in Queens, New York. Even though I was delighted to see Thatcher finally dethroned, it was still a little weird to see him without that Evolve Title around his waist. I wasn’t looking forward to this one that much, but when the dust settled, it ended up being a pretty solid match. There was good, hard-hitting action throughout, and it didn’t go too long (clocking in at just over nine minutes). That was exactly what this bout should’ve been. My concern going in was that it would end up revolving around Timothy Thatcher’s style, but fortunately, Dickinson wasn’t going to allow that, which resulted in a match that featured more intensity (there’s that word again) and aggression. Thatcher would pick up the win via submission, which served as a good rebound after that aforementioned title loss.
3.) Triple Threat Match - Jaka vs. Jason Kincaid vs. Lio Rush: ***3/4
This was originally scheduled to be a singles contest (Jaka vs. Jason Kincaid), but Lio Rush decided to make his return to Evolve early, and thus, we then had a Triple Threat Match! He still had one or two more dates with ROH, but at this point, Lio Rush was pretty much done with them. As far as this match goes, I actually thought it was really good! You had a very unique mix of styles here, and that combination resulted in exciting action throughout this one. This was another bout on the show that went just under ten minutes, but there was never a noticeable down point. Jaka & Jason Kincaid are so much fun to watch, and they both did a good job here. As for Lio Rush, he certainly seemed to be rejuvenated in this different setting, and could already tell that he was looking to impress. Rush ultimately won after hitting the Dragon’s Call, which is his variation of a Frog Splash. Again, this was an incredibly entertaining Triple Threat Match.
4.) The Gatekeepers (with “All Ego” Ethan Page) vs. Facade & Michael Richard Blaze: N/R
Facade had a valet with him, if I recall correctly. Additionally, I believe this team with Facade & Michael Richard Blaze is called “Black, Blond, & Neon”, but I’m not totally sure. Either way, the team name doesn’t really matter, as The Gatekeepers squashed them in about two minutes. A dominant outing from the former members of The Devastation Corporation.
After the match ended, Ethan Page took the mic. He ran down the crowd and bragged about all the things he did over the last year. Page then demanded to be put into the Evolve Title picture, and called out his opponent, Austin Theory, for their match.
5.) “All Ego” Ethan Page (with The Gatekeepers) vs. Austin Theory: ***1/4
I honestly don’t have much to say about this one. It’s not that it was bad (because it certainly wasn’t), but it didn’t really leave a lasting impression, in the grand scheme of things. This was a perfectly solid midcard matchup that served as a good showcase for both guys. Page looked strong and would end up getting the win, but Theory looked very solid here as well. It’s very obvious that he’s got a ton of potential. He’s good now, and with more experience, who knows how far he’ll go.
After the match, Ethan Page took the mic and told Austin Theory to get on his knees, calling him a “young boy”. He then continued to just verbally assault berate him. Priscilla Kelly then came out to tend to Theory, while Page said that if he wasn’t given a shot at the Evolve Title, he was going to cause more CHAOS.
We then saw a truly bizarre in-ring segment. Smoke started to come out from one of the entrance portals that went under the general admission seating area. Then a bunch of dudes in weird facepaint, dressed in blood-spattered medic outfits, emerged with a body bag. Ethan Page & The Gatekeepers then attacked these dudes, before targeting the body bag itself. Someone was clearly inside, and they ended up hitting a bunch of moves on it before tossing it to the outside onto all the creepy medics. They bring the body bag back into the ring, and when they open it up, Darby Allin pops out with a pipe, and attacked The Gatekeepers with it. Allin took the mic and said that there will never be an “Era of Ego” as long as his heart is still beating. He then demands that his clash with Ethan Page at Evolve 81 be an Anything Goes Match, and Page seemingly accepts this challenge. This was just a very strange segment overall. It went way too long, it was incredibly weird, and the whole concept of the body bag was misleading. The way it was playing out, it seemed like you were led to believe that someone other than Darby Allin was in that body bag, which would lead to Allin jumping out from some other location, but it ended up being Allin anyway. They got to the destination they were going to, with the Anything Goes stipulation, but the route that was taken to get to that point was very convoluted.
6.) Keith Lee vs. Ricochet: ****1/2
On the last set of Evolve events, Keith Lee picked up two massive victories over Zack Sabre Jr. (the new Evolve Champion) and Tracy Williams, but on this night, he faced one of his toughest challenges yet in the form of Ricochet. These two ended up producing a fantastic match!! This featured some incredible action from start to finish, and was truly a blast to watch. While we all knew that Keith Lee was going to have the size and power advantage, there were points where he appeared to keep up with Ricochet when it came to agility. He’s certainly nowhere near as athletic as Ricochet, but Keith Lee has shown time and time again that he can pull off some unbelievable things inside of a wrestling ring. It’s amazing to see him hit moves like dropkicks and moonsaults. In addition to all of the awesome action we saw in this match, it also told a good story. Early on, Keith Lee displayed his dominance over Ricochet, and “The Future of Flight” had to fight back with pretty much every move in his arsenal. In the end, that’s exactly what it took for Ricochet to get the job done, and he eventually emerged victorious. I know there are some who were upset about the fact that Keith Lee lost this match (with the idea that he shouldn’t have been losing at the point), but this loss doesn’t hurt him at all. Lee looked very strong in defeat, and the fact that Ricochet had to bust out every move in his arsenal (as I just mentioned) just to eke out a win makes Lee look even stronger. It’s possible for someone to gain from a loss, and that’s exactly what happened here with Keith Lee. The bottom line is that this match was awesome, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you need to!!
7.) Evolve Tag Team Titles - Catch Point (Tracy Williams & Fred Yehi with Chris Dickinson & Jaka) vs. Donovan Dijak & “Unbreakable” Michael Elgin: ****
Here we have more evidence of the exodus from ROH that’s been taking place over the last year or so. Michael Elgin distanced himself from ROH earlier in the year (though by this point, he’d pretty much established himself as a New Japan talent), while Donovan Dijak finished up with ROH in February. This team of two big dudes certainly presented a unique challenge for the defending champions of Tracy Williams & Fred Yehi (representing Catch Point). When the dust settled, this ended up being a great tag team affair. It wasn’t the smoothest match in the world, and it wasn’t nearly as great as the matches it was bookended by, but honestly, I really enjoyed this title bout. Williams & Yehi are a very good tag team, though they certainly had their work cut out for them here. Dijak & Elgin really gave the champions a beating, delivering a number of devastating moves. Catch Point didn’t give up, however, and the ultimately retained after Williams got Dijak to tap out. Again, I thought this was a great match. There were definitely some noticeable rough patches, but there was plenty of action throughout, and all four guys involved worked pretty hard.
After the match, Larry Dallas comes out, and once again tries to stir the pot with Catch Point, suggesting that Williams & Yehi didn’t come out to Matt Riddle’s aid earlier because they wanted him weakened for the Battle Of Champions Elimination Match at Mercury Rising 2017. Yehi said that he’s focused on his match with Riddle at Evolve 81, and Williams told Dallas to leave, as nobody wants to see him (he’s preaching the choir there). Chris Dickinson then interjected and asked Williams about when he & Jaka would be getting their shot at the Evolve Tag Team Titles. While they all still fight under the Catch Point banner, it was obvious at this point that a rift was forming, as we all knew that clash over the Evolve Tag Team Titles was going to happen sooner rather than later.
8.) Evolve Title - Zack Sabre Jr. vs. ACH: ****1/2
ACH made it very clear, from the moment he came into Evolve, that he had his sights set on the Evolve Title. He initially lost in his debut against Matt Riddle, but from there, he went on a three match winning streak. His opponent, Zack Sabre Jr., finally captured the Evolve Title when he ended the nearly two year title reign of Timothy Thatcher at Evolve 79 in Queens, New York back in February. While the outcome was never really in question (as nobody thought that Zack Sabre Jr. would lose the Evolve Title in his first defense), this was still an awesome main event!! These two had an incredible match that featured some great action throughout. Zack Sabre Jr. came into this on a real high (following his aforementioned title win), and looked as good as ever. Likewise, ACH was a little less jovial than usual, as he appeared to be really focused on this big title bout. He really gave the new champion a run for his money, but Zack Sabre Jr. really took the fight to ACH as well, as he twisted and contorted the challenger’s body with various submission holds. The latter stages of this match were particularly awesome, with a lot of back and forth action, along with plenty of near finishes. It appeared as though ACH had the match, and the Evolve Title, won on a few different occasions. In the end, however, his best efforts just weren’t enough, as Zack Sabre Jr. picked up the submission victory to retain his Evolve Title. Once again, this was simply an amazing match!!
Afterwards, Zack Sabre Jr. took the mic, and thanked the fans for coming out. Michael Elgin then appears, and asked for their match the next day at Evolve 81 to be for the Evolve Title. Zack Sabre Jr. didn’t seem to agree, and this led to Elgin decking him with a few strikes. The show comes to a close with Elgin departing as Zack Sabre Jr. recovers in the ring.
Evolve’s big weekend in Orlando got off to a very strong start with this card. Aside from one squash match, there really wasn’t anything bad (or even average) to speak of. You had two incredible matches in the form of Keith Lee vs. Ricochet & Zack Sabre Jr. vs. ACH for the Evolve Title. Those two bouts really set the bar high, from a match quality standpoint, very early on in the weekend. We also saw a great tag team encounter where Catch Point retained the Evolve Tag Team Titles over Donovan Dijak & Michael Elgin. Even the undercard was filled with good to very good matches. You know you put on a fantastic show when the worst bouts on the entire show are still pretty solid. The only negative spot on this event was the weird angle involving Darby Allin, Ethan Page, and The Gatekeepers. If that segment hadn’t happened (or if it had been handled better), this show would’ve been even better, maybe even near perfect. Alas, even with that questionable segment, Evolve 80 was still an awesome show that’s well worth checking out. It was one of Evolve’s best outing of 2017, without question.