EVOLVE visited the shadow of Chicago for the first of their latest double-header – with Ethan Page finally getting his shot at Zack Sabre Jr’s title.
You can tell it’s an afternoon show because there’s so much daylight streaming into the venue… and the acoustics here are laughable as I can barely make out Lenny Leonard’s opening spiel. Ditto Joanna Rose’s introductions…
Keith Lee vs. Donovan Dijak
The FloSlam remodelling of WWN sets continue, as the camera focuses on the old EVOLVE stand-up logo before shooting towards a more traditional entrance set-up, with FloSlam logos buffering it. This is going to need some fine tuning to stop folks from moaning about the quick sweeps…
On paper, this should be ridiculously good, as long as this match is at least the sum of its parts.
Dijak tries a cheapshot straight away and gets caught as Lee instantly dumps him with a clothesline before throwing him over in a release German suplex. A pounce knocks Dijak over the top rope and onto the apron as the slow, but hard-hitting offence knocks the Tall Don loopy, but he’s able to block an apron powerbomb and instead connects with a fireman’s carry slam.
Our first jaw-dropping moment comes seconds later, when Dijak tries for a Space Flying Tiger Drop to Lee on the outside, but he’s caught and dumped face-first onto the apron with some Snake Eyes! Back inside, Dijak keeps up with a running elbow into the corner, before he takes a series of clotheslines before Lee just flapjacks Dijak to the mat. A pop-up chokeslam has the same effect for a near-fall as Lee gets confused by the “two… sweet!” bollocks that is infesting wrestling these days.
Dijak kips up to avoid a moonsault, but he crotches himself on the top rope and takes… his own finisher?! Of course, Dijak kicked out of it, then gave Lee his own Spirit Bomb for another near-fall as that entire chapter went over Lenny Leonard’s head. Lee maintains the offence, but ends up getting chokeslammed off the top rope and onto Dijak’s knee for another near-fall…
Dijak misses a moonsault and gets caught with a Destroyer as “hit-one, miss-one” finally ended when Lee was able to land a Spirit Bomb for a near-fall. Since that didn’t work, Lee heads up top, but again Dijak kips up and climbs up for a release German superplex… before spinning into an electric chair… that he turned into a reverse ‘rana for another near-fall! They brawl into the crowd, with Dijak throwing clubbing forearms after putting Lee the other side of the guard rail, before throwing a big boot across the rails too.
The insanity continues as Dijak springboards into a flip senton across the guard rails as I get flashbacks to Rob Van Dam in ECW. Except about seven inches taller and not in a singlet! They return to the ring as Dijak frustratedly shoves Lee into the corner, before losing a springboard on the way in and eventually scoring with a top rope ‘rana.
A corkscrew moonsault misses as Lee picks up a near-fall when Dijak crashed and burned, but Donovan tries to go for a Feast Your Eyes… and sees it turned into a reverse ‘rana as Lee countered again. Okay, this is ridiculous! From there, Lee picks up Dijak in a fireman’s carry and meticulously climbs the ropes for a Spirit Bomb off the top, and that mercifully ends it! This was quite the thing – if you want to throw out a negative, this was like two guys wrestling a cruiserweight-style match at a slower pace, which kind of took away some of the “ooh” factor. Nevertheless, this was a really good match, save for a few slips, as EVOLVE continued to build up Keith Lee. ****
Jason Kincaid vs. Fred Yehi
This was Kincaid’s first match back after suffering a stinger in the weird four-way at the WWN Supershow over WrestleMania weekend – and it was at this point in the show where the venue’s aesthetics genuinely became a negative, with the daylight streaming in through the windows meaning that the contrast on some camera angles was underblown because of those windows.
Yehi tries to keep Kincaid grounded early on, but he was able to flip free as Kincaid was forced to avoid some early stomping attempts from the former tag champ. Still, Yehi was able to stomp Kincaid’s chest whilst he was on the mat to escape a hold, before throwing the spiritual one down with an Exploder. A stump puller sees Yehi try to force a submission – whilst giving me flashbacks to Evil Doink – as Kincaid struggled to avoid his legs from being worked over. Somehow, Kincaid is able to come back with a tiltawhirl into a knee-bar, but it’s rapidly broken before a twisting body press sees Kincaid rebound with yet another knee-bar. Save for the polite applauses, this crowd’s not really backing any horse in this race, which can be a peril of face vs. face matches such as this.
Kincaid too starts to work over the leg, but Yehi’s able to get back into it with a stomp to the thigh of Kincaid, before deadlifting him into a straitjacket German suplex. More kicks to the leg see Kincaid try to get in, but Yehi lands a death valley driver to quickly cut that off and get himself a near-fall, before the pair traded more kicks and knees between each other.
Kincaid springboards in with a tornado DDT, before a Falcon arrow and a knee-bar gets him closer to victory, but again Yehi gets the ropes. Another comeback from Kincaid sees him unload with kicks, but he runs into a dropkick as a final flurry from Yehi was put on hold after a suplex was counted into a stunner over the ropes… Yehi ends things with a cutter out of nowhere, before locking in a Koji Clutch for the submission. Technically fine, but this felt like somewhat lackadaisical with no urgency at all from either man. ***
Austin Theory vs. Lio Rush
It’s the little things, but that “pan on the EVOLVE background, quick shift left to the entranceway” has got to go! Theory’s not won since his debut against Darby Allin back at EVOLVE 78, and with Lio Rush in line for a title shot soon, I’d dare say that second win isn’t coming today.
We start with a nice rope-running series as both men avoided each other before almost kipping up into each other. Rush strings together a series of kicks to send Theory to the outside, but the rookie returned with a slingshot stomp and a suplex to score an early near-fall. Rush sidesteps a charge from Theory as they headed outside for an Asai moonsault, before Theory was thrown back in to take a couple of kicks to the chest.
A dropkick from Theory put a stop to those plans, but Rush slapped his way back into it and delivered a rolling forearm as he then set up Theory for a series of clotheslines. Theory comes back with some German suplexes to bounce Lio around, then boots him square in the chest before Rush responded with an Ace crusher. Yep, from outta nowhere! Rush followed up with a low-pe before a diving clothesline scored him a near-fall, as he then had to fight off a superplex. That worked, as did an enziguiri on the apron as the pair went back and forth, ending with Theory catching a handspring and turning it into a torture rack powerbomb for another near-fall.
The end comes when Theory misses a moonsault and falls into the Rush Hour (standing Spanish Fly) before Rush connected with a Frog Splash for the win. A fun little sprint, as Rush picked up another win whilst the seasoning of Austin Theory continues in earnest. ***
After the match Priscilla Kelly makes an appearance to creepily stalk Theory some more. She grabs the mic as Lio decides he doesn’t want to play gooseberry, but the acoustics from the house mic are so bad we can’t hear what she said, something about “you belong with me”, which confuses everyone.
Tracy Williams vs. Jeff Cobb
Tracy had the remnants of Catch Point out with him – and despite that group veering onto the wrong side of the good/bad divide, the crowd’s still cheering him. With Dickinson and Jaka also out, I’m guessing this match is just going to flow into a tag match after this, as EVOLVE are want to do these days.
We all know what Jeff Cobb’s capable of, and indeed he starts by using his power to easily take down “Hot Sauce”, who persisted with working over the arm of the sometimes-Monster. Cobb catches a cross body, but his stalling suplex is fought out of as Williams chops his way free. Another pop-up German attempt’s countered into an armbar as Williams was neutralising Cobb’s power game with some ease.
Cobb finally got an overhead belly to belly in, as Williams found he couldn’t always hold back Cobb’s power… nor his overhand chops, it seemed! A pumphandle fallaway slam keeps Williams down, but “Hot Sauce” comes back in with a rope hung armbar, then a dropkick as he tried to keep Cobb down, working over the Hawaiian’s left arm even more with armbar variations.
A chop to the throat gets Williams a minor ticking off, but Cobb’s able to rebound by pulling him off the top rope into a spinning back suplex. Williams hit back with a clothesline as he goes back to that armbar in almost a crossface, but again Cobb powered free as he’s forced to block an Angle slam… which Williams ended up switching into almost Shawn Michaels’ old Teardrop Suplex. Finally Cobb’s able to hit the pop-up German suplex, but the Tour of the Islands gets countered into a small package as Williams is able to snatch the win. Another fun sprint, with this one actually having some urgency, as Williams kept fighting away from the power moves and eventually won out. ***¼
Stokely Hathaway gets the microphone after that match, and the echoey acoustics kinda makes this hard to follow. Something about burying Chicago – the nearest city to where EVOLVE were – and putting over New York, I guess. Why do indy shows always have terrible sound systems and persist in doing promos like this? Sure enough, this leads to the next match…
EVOLVE Tag Team Championship: Catch Point (Jaka & Chris Dickinson) (c) vs. Matt Knicks & Isaias Velazquez
These challengers are virtually alien to me – one of them’s carrying a Chicago flag with him to get the crowd onside… unfortunately he’s also wearing a Freelance Wrestling hoodie, which gets a loud chant for that group that also drowned out the ring announcer. I think one of these guys may have been on that ACW show over WrestleMania weekend in that insanely-long tag team gauntlet.
Dickinson started off by working over Knicks arm (and there’s an unfortunate surname for someone on a team that was starting anti-New York chants!), but Knicks is able to edge ahead with a back elbow to Jaka before Velazquez came in… turning a wheelbarrow into a DDT for an early near-fall. A double chokeslam from Jaka’s quickly turned into a double back suplex as Dickinson had blind-tagged in, and the tide turned against the challengers from there.
A Falcon arrow gets Dickinson a near-fall over Knicks, before he wore him down with a rear chinlock that segued into a sleeperhold, before Knicks fought free into a striking battle. Knicks’ deadlift German took down Dickinson, as did a Pele, before we went back to Jaka and Velazquez, with the latter hitting headscissors and knees. Velazquez’s standing Sliced Bread gets him a near-fall, before he dives through the legs of Knicks… who then followed up with an Asai moonsault to the floor!
Back in the ring though, the tide turns once more, with Velazquez set up for a Pazuzu Bomb from Dickinson then a release German from Jaka, who then nearly finished him off with another powerbomb. A reverse ‘rana sees Isaias escape a doomsday chokeslam as Knicks followed up with a frog splash for a near-fall, but Jaka hits back and after he takes a pair of superkicks, Velazquez is left isolated for the doomsday chokeslam as the Death Trap gets the win. Another fun outing, with this version of Catch Point clearly getting the boos – helped by Stokely wiping his brow with the Chicago flag afterwards! ***½
EVOLVE Championship: Ethan Page vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (c)
No Gatekeepers for “All Ego” today – despite what his graphic says – whilst Zack’s only got his EVOLVE title with him today. No cross-promotional love here!
Page came into this with two wins over Sabre, granted one of them was a shady DQ, but that gave him confidence to try and complete the hattrick… and get the title too! They opened up with forearms and uppercuts before Sabre leapt into a guillotine, which is broken as Page charged both of them through the ropes to the floor.
More uppercuts on the floor follow as they brawled around ringside, where Sabre gradually worked over Page before missing a PK… and eventually turning a tiltawhirl into a mounted Kimura by the barriers. Somehow Page escaped and hit a butterflied backbreaker off the apron, before an apron powerbomb saw him hurry into an RK-Ego for a near-fall. Page continued with the strikes, before getting caught with a tornado DDT as Sabre rebounded out of the corner.
From there, Sabre comes back and sweeps the leg of Page to put him down, but a PK’s caught… then slapped out as a German suplex keeps the champion in control. Another tornado DDT’s pushed away from as Page hits a big boot – almost a Tanned Sheamus – for a near-fall as the momentum continued to swing back and forth, further shown by Sabre countering a Spinning Dwayne into a rolling prawn hold for yet another two-count.
Page resumes by taking Zack up top for a superplex, but that’s somehow countered into an Octopus stretch in the turnbuckles. Of course that’s broken, as Page followed up with a slam off the top rope for a near-fall, but his RK-Ego attempt’s turned into a triangle armbar… and Page easily powerbombs free.
Another Spinning Dwayne succeeds for a near-fall, before he snapped into Sabre with a package piledriver for another two-count. A second package piledriver’s slipped out of as Sabre kicks away at Page some more, before Zack’s crossbody turned into a one-handed Dragon sleeper as the end was nigh for All Ego… who then got spammed with PKs as Sabre successfully retained his title. This was a really enjoyable title defence, and although this perhaps wasn’t clear cut, I did get the feeling that perhaps we could have seen a title change – especially given the offence Page was getting in. Alas, it was not to be, and Sabre’s fledgling reign continues! ****
Almost immediately after the match, Darby Allin headed out – with his arm still in a sling. Somehow Allin made the acoustics work as we could just about understand him, and it looked like he wanted to challenge Sabre when his arm was healed. That’ll be an interesting series of matches…
WWN Championship: Kyle O’Reilly vs. Matt Riddle (c)
These two wrestled a fortnight earlier for OTT (on a show we really need to get around to covering!), and also in the first round of last year’s Battle of Los Angeles tournament. So they’re not entirely unfamiliar, and by rights, this should be a good main event.
We open with feinted strikes that quickly gave way to a triangle armbar as Riddle looked to end this early, but O’Reilly was able to stand up and make it to the ropes with some ease. The sunlight plays hell with the contrast as Kyle and Matt trade kicks before one’s caught and turned into an Exploder by Riddle as the champion kept suplexing his way into things.
A back senton gets Riddle a near-fall, as does a gutwrench suplex, but Kyle comes back with kicks and leg sweeps as he started to take over on Riddle’s arm, forcing the champion to dive for the ropes repeatedly to stay in the match. Riddle tries to free himself of a wristlock with some right hands, but O’Reilly ends up taking him down into a knee-bar in the middle of the ring!
Riddle ends up freeing himself by using his free heel to batter O’Reilly, and we’re back to the kick exchanges as Riddle barely registered O’Reilly’s kicks to the chest before throwing a straight right hand. A Bro to Sleep and a German suplex rock O’Reilly and almost end the match, but the challenger leapt back into it with a guillotine choke that eventually took Riddle to the mat in a search for a tap-out.
Somehow Riddle counters out into a Northern Lights, but Kyle rolled back into the hold, only to get blasted with a Fisherman buster to finally break it up. Yet more kicks and knees lead to O’Reilly knocking Riddle down once more, before managing to take down Riddle with a German suplex. Duelling kicks and clotheslines follow as they almost fall apart during an attempt at an upkick, which Riddle eventually hit.
The barrage continued as Riddle’s attempt to block a kick lead to him getting caught in a rear naked choke, before managing to powerbomb Kyle… but that only led to even more trouble as he’s caught in a triangle choke after the kick-out, with O’Reilly raining in some elbows to exacerbate things. Riddle somehow flips out of a front facelock and turns it into the tombstone slam, leaving him free to tie up Kyle with a Bromission – and that does the job as O’Reilly’s forced to tap!
A hell of a main event; yes, there was that awkward spot towards the end, but this was easily the match of the night: hard hitting, technical and a good story too. Whether the WWN title should be headlining over the EVOLVE title… is up for debate though! ****¼
This was a good show, but a weird one too… three really solid matches Lee/Dijak, Sabre/Page and Riddle/O’Reilly make this a show you ought to go out of your way to see. It has to be said, the visuals of a show being held in the afternoon with so much daylight streaming through exposed windows made this feel decidedly low-rent – a comment that has been echoed by several fans. I’m not saying every building has to look the same, but when so little thought is clearly made for the look of the venue, then it’s hard to get too invested in the product.