EVOLVE hit Detroit for their debut… on a show that featured a rare women’s match and plenty of others that could have done being a little shorter.
Lenny Leonard is our host and commentator here, but again the audio’s badly distorted. Acoustics… check ‘em! He announces right off the gate that EVOLVE’ll be back in Detroit before the end of the year as he then runs down part of the card.
Dominic Garrini vs. Alex Daniels
This was apparently a try-out match between two locals – with Daniels having a bit of an infatuation with Ben Affleck, as he wears several vests with his photo on, finishing with a collage of Affleck headshots. It’s a gimmick, I guess!
Garrini seems to have a MMA-ish gimmick, wrestling barefoot in shorts, and he starts off by trying to catch Daniels with an ankle lock, then an armbar as he looked to end things with an early submission. Both these men were apparently trained by Johnny Gargano, with Daniels claiming the last indy win over Gargano last year.
Garrini runs in with some knees to take Daniels into the corner, but a knee from Daniels, then a superkick got himself back into it, before a clothesline flipped Daniels inside out. A guillotine from Garrini’s broken up by a Daniels spinebuster, before he’s caught in a triangle choke with elbows, and the referee instantly stops it. A dominant win, but I’m not sure we need a second MMA guy on the go in a promotion that has Matt Riddle as one of its centrepieces? The match was way too short to get a decent handle on either guy (bell to bell was under five minutes), but out of what I’ve seen here, Daniels would probably have better milage in EVOLVE. **½
As soon as the match finished, Stokely Hathaway and Catch Point hit the ring to “congratulate” Garrini. Hathaway quickly cuts off Tracey Williams’ praise and labels Garrini as “not marketable”, before turning his sights onto Keith Lee and Matt Riddle. This then segues into an EVOLVE habit – of bleeding into the next match as Jason Kincaid comes out with Austin Theory. This was originally non-title, but Kincaid talks Stokely into making it for the belts.
EVOLVE Tag Team Championship: Catch Point (Jaka & Chris Dickinson) (c) vs. Jason Kincaid & Austin Theory
Theory started out on the defence against Jaka as the pair went headlock-for-headlock in the opening stages, before almost falling to an O’Connor roll from Dickinson.
The pair also go move-for-move before Jason Kincaid comes in as Jaka tried to get any sort of reaction with his “ye-ow” calls, but ended up face-first on the mat after a Kincaid trip. A lucha-style springboard armdrag took Jaka down for a near-fall, before a double stomp earned a similar result from the meditator.
Things continued in a similar vein as Dickinson had no trouble working over Theory with a toe-hold as the “Dirty Daddy” made his experience show. Somehow, Theory shakes off some interference from Jaka to land a slingshot double stomp to Dickinson, then a roll-through into a dropkick as Dickinson then caught another roll-up and planted Theory with a Falcon Arrow for a near-fall. Jaka continues the offence with a brainbuster for a near-fall, but this is starting to feel very drawn out, with Theory having long since broken the Ricky Steamboat “hope” rule – of going more than three moves before hitting something that could have given him a way back in.
A bridging German suplex gets Dickinson another two-count as the onslaught continued, with Theory finally fighting back out of a rear chinlock, only to take some kicks to the chest and then score with a kick as he finally took down the bigger guy. Kincaid and Jaka tagged back in, with Dickinson accidentally flipping Kincaid into a DDT on Jaka as Kincaid ended up flipping over into a stomp on Jaka on the apron.
We get some dives as Theory throws himself onto Dickinson on the outside, as Kincaid took down Jaka with a slingshot stunner… but of course that’s not the finish as all four men hit the ring, with Dickinson taking down Kincaid with a sort-of-F5 before a Pazuzu Bomb and a German suplex followed. Kincaid chained a leg sweep into a facebuster as the parade continued, before a superkick-assisted half nelson suplex earned Jaka another near-fall.
Theory broke up a cover at one after a Burning Hammer from Dickinson onto Kincaid, but Austin’s thrown to the outside as the champs looked to hit their Doomsday Chokeslam. A double stomp from Kincaid almost won it after Theory came back in… the champs hit back with a pair of shoulder tackles to Kincaid, which set up for the Death Trap (Doomsday Chokeslam) as the champs retained. This felt LONG – which wouldn’t have been so bad had Theory and Kincaid been an established team, but as a pair of randomers, they shouldn’t have run this long in my mind. **¾
After the match, Kincaid lashed out at Theory… and the crowd barriers, in frustration of yet another defeat.
Priscilla Kelly vs. Allysin Kay
Billed as a SHINE showcase, this was pretty short, barely going five minutes. Detroit’s own Allysin Kay got a decent reception for EVOLVE’s first women’s match in almost seven years. Kay was all over Priscilla early, but Kelly hit back with a big boot and a tornado DDT as she opted to taunt Allysin than keep up any offence. A crossbody from Kelly’s caught and turned into a fallaway slam as Kay laid in some chops before missing a corner charge. Kelly comes back with a kick on the apron, then a crossbody off the top for a near-fall, before stringing together some punches and kicks en route to being caught by an Alabama Slam.
Kay gets a near-fall out of that, before a discus lariat is blocked and countered with a Code Red for a near-fall. She does the same sort of trick from a Gory Bomb, but Kay sits down and turned it into a belly-to-back piledriver for another two-count, only for Kelly to hit a back suplex to almost win it for herself. In the end though, Kelly pops up from a German suplex, before running into a discus lariat as the hometown girl got the win. Decent enough, but way way too short… could they have not shaved time off the tag match and given these more minutes? **¾
Donovan Dijak vs. Ethan Page
Ethan’s out solo, as his Gatekeeper(s) aren’t in town. Well, one’s retired and the newest one hasn’t made the trip to Detroit it seems. He starts out alright without them, taking Dijak into the corner before catching a boot and flipping the Tall Don over.
Dijak seamlessly blends power and fips, landing a backbreaker before a couple of flips got a two-count on Page, who rolled to the outside straight away. Dijak played fast and loose with a chandelier in the venue, almost headbutting it during those flips, as he ended up whipping Page into the guard railings.
The Tall Don busts out a cyclone kill, booting Page as he was hung up in the ropes, before grabbing a fan’s phone and doing a spot of mid-match vanity searching on Twitter. Well, that’s unusual… as was Ethan booting Dijak and grabbing the fan’s phone so he could do a search of his own. Someone tweeting “Donovan Dijak is making Ethan Page look like a good wrestler” pushed him over the edge… and sent that fan’s phone into Ethan’s trunks.
Page, who apparently’ll get control of FloSlam for a while if he wins this, sends Dijak into the crowd with an Irish whip, then takes him to the back of the arena in a bid to win by count-out. It didn’t work, so Page goes back after Dijak with body blows before whipping him back to the floor, where Dijak laid into Page with elbows as a non-plussed fan watched on. Dijak hits back harder with a chokeslam off the floor and onto the apron, before Page got his revenge with an apron powerbomb. Ouch. Regardless, Dijak countered an RK-Ego with a superkick for a near-fall, only to get shoved off the top turnbuckle as he looked to go flying. Don hits back again with a savate kick off the apron, before he’s slapped out of the air and met with a butterfly backbreaker off the ropes.
A Tanned Sheamus follows for another near-fall for Page, whose attempts at a Spinning Dwayne are elbowed out of, only for Ethan to land a superkick and leap over into a chokeslam backbreaker. Dijak flies again with a springboard moonsault for a near-fall, before lifting up Page for the Feast Your Eyes… but Dijak’s back gives out, before the pair trade forearms between each other.
Page tries for another Tanned Sheamus, but Dijak grabs the throat to stop it, before trying again with Feast Your Eyes. They roll through, and finally Dijak gets him up, but Page avoids the knee and hits a Spinning Dwayne instead for the win. That was a really good outing, with Page working over Dijak’s back and eventually getting the rewards. I feel sorry for that poor fan whose phone came too close to Ethan’s crotch… ***½
Tracy Williams vs. Kyle O’Reilly
Curiously, there’s no Stokely Hathaway here – are they already teasing a split despite Williams only just hiring him??
As you’d expect, these two focused on the ground game, with Williams taking down O’Reilly into a modified kneebar which Kyle successfully fought out of before grabbing an arm… but they were too close to the ropes so we have an instant rope break as the pair exchanged a pretty seamless series of holds, leading to Williams having a brief crossface in on Kyle.
O’Reilly targeted William’ left arm – as opposed to the one that was taped up – utilising all manner of wacky submissions, including a variation between an armbar and a stump puller before opting to just kick and chop away on “Hot Sauce”. Williams rebounded with an Octopus hold that O’Reilly easily slipped out of, only to get caught with a side Russian leg sweep as the Octopus was reapplied on the mat as Williams looked to keep a foothold in this one.
Kyle hits back with a back suplex and switches it into a kneebar on impact, before rolling through into a Sharpshooter as Williams tried to get a heel hook to free himself. There’s another rope break as Williams comes back with a DDT onto the top turnbuckle and a brainbuster as he tried to force the issue, before quickly rolling an armbar into a pinning attempt as Kyle kept hunting. A front facelook looks to drain Williams, but he knees out of a suplex… and falls back into the headlock before gutwrenching his way into a Doctor Bomb – with some Matt Riddle-esque switcharounds. More kicks from Kyle leave Tracy down, as he once again went back to the cross armbreaker, forcing Williams to again scoot to the bottom rope. That repeated sequence is draining this crowd, especially since the rope breaks were pretty nonchalant as opposed to panic-stricken.
The pair reel off right hands on each other to wake up the crowd, before Williams countered a brainbuster into a crossface… and just like that, O’Reilly taps! In front of a different crowd, this could have been a show stealer, but this just felt like an exhibition rather than any kind of a contest. The out-of-nowhere finish didn’t help matters either, making it feel like it was scripted rather than built to. ***¼
Keith Lee vs. Fred Yehi
Another long match, which could have felt like a slog in a promotion that can be quite dry… such as EVOLVE! At least the crowd were into it from the start, and got some of Keith Lee’s dancing pecs for their trouble.
Yehi uses his speed and lack of size to evade Lee in the opening moments, before punching Lee as he was told to bask in his glory. All of a sudden the crowd roars as the FloSlam banner that’s been opposite the hard camera fell onto the crowd…in the middle of Yehi trying to whip Lee into the ropes, before Yehi tried for a mounded Koji clutch as they fixed the banner situation.
Some stomps rocked Lee, but he’s able to leapfrog over Fred and hit a dropkick – such impressive agility for such a big guy. Some overhanded chops left Yehi reeling, as Lee cranked away at his neck… but somehow Fred powered up and went back to the stomps. Which didn’t have much effect this time as Lee just ragdolled him with an overhead belly-to-belly suplex. There’s much more of the same as Lee keeps chopping him, before a hopeful stomp opened a door for Yehi to throw in some chops to Lee’s back… which led into a pop-up back elbow of sorts.
Yehi comes back with more strikes, forcing Lee to stagger into the corner before some rolling elbows knock Lee to his knees before another rolling elbow finally gets him a two-count. A Koji clutch comes next, but Yehi has trouble getting the hold in all the way, and Lee fights free into a backbreaker and a pop-up chokeslam. Next up is a pounce! Then a powerslam!
Lee teased a moonsault, but Yehi moved away and dropkicked him in the corner as he successfully pulled off a German suplex off the middle ropes for a near-fall, but Lee headbutts his way back into it once again, at least until Yehi repeatedly kicked him in the chest… but that just delayed a powerbomb and the Ground Zero death valley driver that ended up getting Lee the win. Another match that on paper was decent, but it just felt like it dragged on too long at a pace slower than what both men could go. ***½
After the match, Keith Lee took the microphone and asked the crowd what title he should challenge for, since he’s got an undetermined number one contender’s shot to cash in. That remains… to be decided!
WWN Championship: Jeff Cobb vs. Matt Riddle (c)
A week later, these two would steal the show in Camden during PROGRESS’ Super Strong Style 16… here though, it was a much different story, with a fraction of the time being given to them. Given that we’d just sat through two good, but overly-long matches, that’s a crying shame.
Cobb instantly shoots for a waistlock as he takes Riddle to the mat, before toying Riddle with multiple gutwrenches ahead of the suplex. From there, Riddle rebounds with a triangle choke, but Cobb powers up into a powerbomb to free himself, before scoring a leg-capture into a fallaway slam as this looked like child’s play. That is, until Riddle comes back in with an Exploder and a back senton for a near-fall, as Cobb then tried some German suplexes. Nobody ever learns, eh? Riddle flips out of those and rushes back in with a knee, then a Fisherman buster to leave both men laying, as some strikes then led to Cobb blocking a Pele kick and delivering the pop-up German suplex.
A Tour of the Islands is avoided as Riddle busts out a freaking Destroyer?! From there, a tombstone slam gets just a count of one, but Riddle responds by locking Cobb in the Bromission, and there’s the submission. Pretty good for the time they had, but my God this was not a patch on what they did with more time a week later. You’d think they’d been hobbled going in… ***½
EVOLVE Championship: Lio Rush vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (c)
For some reason Lio got a rematch barely a month on from his loss to ZSJ in New York… because he asked Zack for one. I guess that’s good enough a reason, especially as Sabre looked to target Lio’s taped-up arm.
Darby Allin joined “commentary” as he was scouting Sabre ahead of his hopeful title shot. What Allin saw was Sabre unloading on Rush with uppercuts, before he was forced to kick out of a surprise small package as the momentum rapidly swung back and forth, with Sabre pulling Lio’s arm so far back he ended up inadvertently rolling him into the ropes.
Zack joins Rush at ringside, throwing him into the guard railings then back into the ring… where Lio unwisely tried to kick Sabre through the ropes… which earned him a knee bar in the ropes as Sabre started to pick apart at his challenger’s limbs. Some snapping wristlocks and joint manipulation kept Rush on the defensive end, as did a missed kick as Lio charged himself into the turnbuckles.
From there, Sabre goes after Rush’s arm again, but Lio’s able to force his way back in, kicking at Sabre… but that left arm remained a massive target, especially to someone with the acumen of Sabre, who planted Rush with a Northern Lights suplex that floated over into a Kimura as Rush quickly reached for a rope break.
A missed PK leads to Rush connecting with an enziguiri as Sabre again came back with some uppercuts, only for Rush to catch him with a reverse ‘rana for his first near-fall. Just like that though, Sabre catches Rush’s attempt at a kick from the apron, then drags him back into the ring by the injured arm and turns an enziguiri into an ankle lock. Somehow, Rush is able to get back in by rolling through the ankle lock and taking Sabre to the floor for an Asai moonsault, but a frog splash gets nothing but Zack’s knees as a resulting PK got the champ a near-fall.
Sabre keeps up with a Dragon suplex for a near-fall, before Sabre just lays into Rush with slaps… only to get caught with a standing Spanish Fly and another one off the top rope… but he took too long to get the cover as Sabre kicked out at two! Another flurry of offence from Rush just ends up pissing off Zack again, but he’s caught in a rear naked choke as Rush tripped him to the mat.
Rush mounts Sabre to keep the choke in after the champion stood up, but just like that Sabre frees himself and goes into a trapped-arm armbar, ripping off Rush’s KT tape before booting Lio into submission! This was a fine example of Sabre at his best – targeting Lio’s arm from the get go, and working on it throughout. At a little under 20 minutes long, it was just about the perfect length as it was starting to wear thin… but a fine main event to end a show that had been good but a little off at points too. ****
After the match, Sabre gets the microphone, but you know how this goes with the excellent acoustics. He’s quickly interrupted by Keith Lee (with music), who’s still thinking about what title to go after… Matt Riddle comes out with his WWN title to remind Keith he’s got another option, and this leads to a staredown between Riddle and Sabre. Catch Point hit the ring, just because, and Ethan Page slips in to low blow Keith Lee. RIddle takes a Spinning Dwayne, before Sabre and Page brawl to the back, leaving Riddle alone in the ring for Catch Point to restrain him as Stokely Hathaway went to slap Matt… only for Jason Kincaid to make the save and send Catch Point packing.
Keith Lee throws in a tope con hilo just to remind us how impressive he is, before throwing Hot Sauce to the wolf that was Matt Riddle, who gave him a Bro To Sleep… and the last image we get is of Riddle and Lee facing off… and that’s the main event for one of the EVOLVE shows in June!
Brevity would have been this show’s friend. So many matches that went on for so long that they dragged and became a detriment… and some matches that could have done with more time. It’s one of the nitpicks of EVOLVE, that they can be a really dry product to watch, and this show only served to highlight that. This was a solid card with good in-ring action, but if you’re looking for anything more flashy than “just matches”, you’re in the wrong place with this show. Still, at least the show wasn’t ruined by daylight streaming through the windows!