EVOLVE’s July double-header ended with a trip to Marietta as the fall-out from Charlotte continued with an odd show in Atlanta.
Lenny Leonard is your host today, as he announces a change to the card – with Anthony Henry and James Drake’s tag title win meaning that they’re no longer facing each other; instead, they’re defending against any challengers. Darby Allin hits the ring to interrupt Lenny, and this bleeds into our opener.
Darby Allin vs. Timothy Thatcher
Thatcher started by schooling Allin early, dominating a rather methodical opening stretch which saw him catch a Coffin Drop off the ropes and catch Allin in a sleeperhold.
Stokely Hathaway tells Thatcher that Darby’s out… which prompted Thatcher to let go and start walking away… but of course, Darby didn’t give up, and instead leapt into Thatcher with a dive as the intensity cranked up. Back inside though, Allin tried to dive again and just flew into an uppercut as Thatcher slowed the pace down and kept things on the mat.
A belly-to-belly keeps Allin down for a near-fall, before Thatcher did a WALTER with a rear naked choke into a German suplex… but Darby flipped free and mounted a comeback with some dropkicks to Thatchers’ legs ahead of a Code Red for a two-count. Another Coffin Drop onto the back of Thatcher succeeds for a near-fall, but that just irks the former champ, who immediately goes for Allin’s injured arm, leading to a cluster of a pin – as Thatcher grabbed both arms, then rolled up Allin… but for whatever reason the ref counted two then stopped counting.
Allin’s shoulder clearly wasn’t up, so the ref counts again, and this time we get the three-count. So, a wonky finish to a decent match, which keeps the story up from commentary that Allin’s come back way too soon. As for the match, it was decent, but Allin just doesn’t feel like he’s anywhere near title contention level – which is what he’s aiming for. ***¼
ACH vs. Ethan Page
I’d heard a lot about this match, but hadn’t had the chance to see it… ACH is in the mindset (story-wise) that he’s not wrestling unless it’s the main event, so today he really was half-hearted. Ethan decided to join in with “match number 2 ACH” – which was t-shirt and shorts wrestling – but only so they could get signed, leave, and come back so they could charge double.
Page is trying to help ACH with his promo game, but they skip into their “six and a half stars” classic. Alright.
It starts out as a basic, but hammed-up wrestling match, working over wristlock as they openly talk out their spots. ACH misses with a bunch of pump kicks before they pose-off, and this is perversely entertaining… even if ACH backflipped into the ropes en route to his Ricochet pose.
Those flips actually had Page shower the ring with dollar bills like it were Mexico, before sparking a series of strikes in the ropes as ACH opted to go airborne… then go back to the mat for a “Chocolate Rainmaker”. Thank God nobody sang the song.
They reverse Rainmakers until they both collapse to their knees a la Kenny Omega, as a slugfest gives way to rebounding forearms off the ropes. There’s a Japanese term for comedy match, and for the life of me, I can’t bring myself to look it up.
The finish comes when Page backdrops out of a Destroyer and brags that “I didn’t grab his legs, I’m not an idiot”… but all that just leaves him open for a schoolboy for the win. This was certainly something. It was memorable, and I guess that’s all that matters. I’ve still no idea how to rate this.
Jon Davis vs. Jason Kincaid
Another Jason Kincaid vs. a returning EVOLVE star match here, after facing Caleb Konley the prior night. Kincaid started by flipping around Davis, but he was easily shoved away as he tried to reverse holds, with Davis putting his size advantage to good use.
Davis stuffs headlock takedowns, only to get taken down with some headscissors instead as Kincaid’s offence looked mighty slow… and even more sluggish than ACH’s impression of an uninspired wrestler in the prior match. Kincaid did burst out with a double stomp then a springboard Blockbuster for a near-fall, but a springboard ‘rana’s blocked as Davis eventually hits a chokeslam to take Kincaid to the outside.
On the floor, Davis throws several chops and kicks, before they went back in as Kincaid hit a handspring into a stunner. Davis responds with a big boot, and this match just felt like everyone was holding something back. Some shoulder charges to the gut by Kincaid were quickly stopped, as Davis took to chopping him in the chest, before powering through some receipts.
Kincaid low-bridges Davis onto the apron then hits a springboard uppercut to knock him off, then followed with a flip into a double-stomp… but his attempt at a Sliced Bread is shoved off before his eventual crossbody’s met with a backbreaker and Downward Spiral for a near-fall. More hard shots from Davis eventually lead to a swing and a miss, as Davis gets tripped into the corner for a double-jump tornado DDT then a Falcon arrow for a near-fall.
Kincaid misses a double stomp off of the ring post as Davis blasts him with a forearm, a uranage then a Chaos Theory German suplex, before Kincaid headscissored himself out of a spin-out neckbreaker and followed in with a sunset bomb to take Davis into the corner. Davis rolls to the floor to avoid a Coast to Coast… but Kincaid manages to get it off and hit a dropkick through the ropes anyway.
Davis got back up and put Kincaid on the back foot again as he teased a Torture Rack Drop off the middle rope, but Kincaid fought out and flipped him into a stunner out of the corner. Another double stomp off the post actually connects this time, and that’s the match. I don’t get Jason Kincaid at times – he can be really inconsistent, and this performance, along with a crowd that took a while to get into it, really dragged the match down. He’s so much better than this, so I can only guess that it’s injuries? **
Tracy Williams vs. Keith Lee
We open with some back-and-forth forearms among the two, with Lee easily knocking Williams down to his knees from a chop-come-forearm. Heck, Lee was bodying Williams early, and it wasn’t until “Hot Sauce” gets a boot up that he’s able to get in any offence.
Which was quickly followed by more shots from Lee, who then pulls his way out of a rope-hung armbar. Williams takes Lee down with a dropkick, but he struggles to keep him down, getting just a one-count after a sliding forearm as Williams then stomps on Lee’s gut. That just riles the big lad though, who dumps Williams with a slam and an elbow for another one-count, before Tracy dropkicks back in and throws some more forearms.
Some chops in the rope actually have Lee reeling, but the big guy hits back with a chokeslam as the match just sort-of meandered. A charge in the corner misses for Lee, as the pair then trade chops in the corner – and leads to a ref bump as both men charge at each other, sandwiching the official. They keep throwing forearms anyway, as the rest of Catch Point head out to pull Tracy Williams away, whilst Anthony Henry and James Drake keeps Lee at bay. The pull-apart continues, and the match just sort-of ends. This wasn’t good – the match was way too short, and the lack of any finish was just totally unedifying. Not even a massive tope con hilo from Keith Lee could drag this back up. *½
Oh hey, they found a new way to shoe-horn in that EVOLVE trope… Keith Lee and Timothy Thatcher brawl to the back, and somehow Chris Dickinson and Jaka find themselves in the ring with the pair that beat them last night: Anthony Henry and James Drake. Not arse-face. Stokely Hathaway gets the microphone and demands that they get their tag title rematch… but before the champs can accept, out come a third team: the Ugly Ducklings! It seems they’d found the open contract first and signed it first.
EVOLVE Tag Team Championship: Catch Point (Chris Dickinson & Jaka) vs. Ugly Ducklings (Lance Lude & Rob Killjoy) vs. Anthony Henry & James Drake (c)
We have a jump start as the current and former champs go straight for each other, with Henry and Dickinson knocking each other to the outside with a clothesline early.
Henry tries a diving ‘rana to Dickinson early, but ends up having to block a sunset bomb instead from Lude, who then got powerbombed off the floor, into the bottom rope, before a Drake forearm knocked him out. In the meantime, a Killjoy dive kept the tone up, as did a pescado from Jaka, before a springboard knee from Dickinson to the outside completed the set.
Dickinson and Jaka drop Killjoy with a double-team powerbomb, before Lude nearly suffered a similar fate, only for him to get dropped with a diving knee from Jaka. Henry comes back to get in some offence, only for a Saito suplex to knock him down as the Ducklings used a monkey flip to send Killjoy into a cannonball on the old champs in the corner.
Lude thought he’d done it with a reverse ‘rana on Drake, but he’s knocked outside as Henry hits a Destroyer on Killjoy instead for a near-fall. The Ducklings try to superplex Henry, but they’re both knocked in the same Tree of Woe for a double stomp from Henry, then a Coast to Coast from Drake, before a frog splash almost got the win… only for Dickinson to break up the cover.
An awkward springboard Destroyer from Dickinson leaves Drake down as the former champs target Henry, landing a Pazuzu bomb, a German suplex and a sit-out powerbomb to almost win it. The Ducklings and Catch Point trade chops for a spell, before the Ducklings take a pair of Germans, then a pair of lariats as an avalanche powerbomb and a frog splash nearly got them the win on Lude. In the end, a barely-caught-on-camera moonsault from Drake earned the win as the new champs retained in what was a decent match, but one that I just struggled to get invested in. This match also contained my pet peeve – an “outside team” that commentary seemed to be unaware of. Yes, the Ugly Ducklings were somewhat familiar to the Atlanta crowd, but this was their highest profile outing yet… and so to be wheeled in as a tandem (with a typo, as that EVOLVE trope continued) with little background was just infuriating. ***¼
After the match, the former champs kept attacking the Ducklings, knocking Killjoy into a chair and laying in with some kicks.
Austin Theory vs. Trent Baretta
Theory’s still in his infancy as a bad guy, which I guess started when he fell for Priscilla Kelly. There’s a storyline thread that could be troublesome… Kelly cuts a promo before the match that is barely audible (indy production!), before Trent Baretta heads out in the Roppongi Vice jacket that he’ll probably need to get rid of now that team’s not a thing.
Baretta knocks Theory to the outside early, then flies into him with a pescado as the youngster’s taken for a spot of walk-n-brawling. Theory uses a big bin and throws it into Baretta in the crowd, before that favour’s returned, with Baretta following up by… wiping some garbage juice into Theory.
They brawl up onto the stage, right by commentary, before Trent clotheslines Theory into the commentary table – knocking himself off the stage in the process. Finally they head into the ring, where we get Theory and Kelly on the apron together for some reason, and now Theory lays into Trent with some mounted punches.
Trent takes the old Shawn Michaels bump into the corner as Theory looks to make an impression, repeatedly stomping on Baretta’s taped-up arm in the process. A tornado DDT gets Baretta a near-fall, only for his offence to quickly come to a halt as he misses a shoulder charge in the corner, sending himself arm-first into the ring post.
Theory keeps up with a slingshot double-stomp onto Baretta’s taped-up arm, before eventually grabbing a kimura on the injured arm… but Trent’s too close to the ropes as very few people in the crowd seem to care. A TKO’s slipped out of as Trent his a half-nelson suplex instead, but that arm’s still the weak point as a kick to it sets up for a Theory Driver for a near-fall, before another Kimura in the middle of the ring leads to Trent diving to the ropes for another break.
Baretta tries to chop back, but that left arm’s too easy a target it seemed… although he did get off a belly-to-belly superplex, a Busaiku (diving) knee and a Gotch piledriver… but Theory’s able to kick out at two. Some back-and-forth strikes follow as the pair fought back to their feet, with Theory again going for the arm, before busting out the cross-legged over-the-knee brainbuster from Kenny Omega’s playbook.
Out of nowhere, Trent hits a Dudebuster for a near-fall as he couldn’t trap both arms, and in the end Theory’s able to hit his Theory-KO (TKO) for the win. The crowd did not like that, and whilst the match itself was sound, Theory isn’t established enough yet for fans to accept results like this. The result will help, but Theory’s basically the same he was before the turn, just with a little more aggression… ***
EVOLVE Championship: Fred Yehi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (c)
This was Zack’s last match before heading over to New Japan for the G1… and he wasn’t taking it lightly! Although Yehi tried to out-do Zack at his own game early, but of course Sabre’s easily able to reverse as they go back and forth for early submissions.
Yehi ends a struggle with a snap suplex, but he gets some payback from Sabre by way of a wrenching double armbar that turned into a quasi surfboard stretch. The hold’s reversed, before Sabre rolls out and frees himself as the pair decide to just throw bombs at each other… with Yehi surprisingly dropping Sabre in the corner with chops.
Sabre responds by trying to tie up Yehi… but the challenger’s too close to the ropes, so we go back to the striking game. After an STF ends early, Sabre nonchalantly peppers Yehi with kicks, then uppercuts, before a drop toe hold’s blocked and met with some stomps from the challenger.
Just like that though, Sabre gets back in, getting in a drop toe hold into a modified wishbone leg splitter, but again Yehi gets out and lands some stomps for good effect. Some body scissors keep Sabre grounded, as do a barrage of mounted punches from the guard as the crowd… just seemed to sit on their hands. I don’t get EVOLVE crowds sometimes… it’s like they’re waiting for a cool moment, rather than getting invested to build up to that moment.
Yehi works into a Koji clutch, but they’re way too close to the ropes, and so Yehi’s forced to work away on the shoulder some more before going for a Fisherman’s buster… but Sabre counters into a mounted Kimura! A triangle follows, but again they go into the ropes, and I swear this ring has shrunk given all of these quick rope breaks.
Back to the strikes as Sabre boots Yehi in the face repeatedly, before Fred comes back with a German suplex, only for his offence to be brutally ended once Zack tied him up in an Octopus. Yehi manages to push himself free and drops Sabre with a Dragon screw… only for Sabre to come back… and get tripped into some more stomps and an impressive pull-up into another bridging German for a near-fall.
Some charges into the corner are stopped when the pair start swinging and missing… and all of a sudden Yehi busts out the Mongolian chops and upkicks… only to eat a PK as Sabre had had enough! More kicks on the mat see the pair try to wear each other down some more, followed by chops before Sabre turns a rolling elbow into an armdrag and a Tequila Sunrise variation. But guess what, they were in the sodding ropes!
Yehi boots away a PK and comes back with a stomp and a back cracker as the challenger strung together some moves in a hurry, before a rolling elbow finally put down Sabre for a near-fall. Another rolling elbow just gets Yehi into trouble as he slides into a triangle armbar, but that’s powerbombed out of as Yehi snaps in a Downward Spiral and floats into a Koji Clutch! Sabre quickly escapes it though, and shocks Yehi with the Euro clutch… and that’s another successful defence! This was a technically solid match, but for all the crowd reacted, it may as well have been an empty arena match. Very little response for the back-and-forth, and once the bell rang you could see them flooding for the exits after some polite applause. An example of a good match wrecked by the crowd. ***½
After the match, Sabre tells Yehi that he’ll gladly give him another title shot… but he’s got to earn it. Yehi gets a closing promo (again, barely audible – you can tell where that FloSlam money isn’t going), and that’s your lot! This was a weird show – EVOLVE’s debut in Atlanta has to be painted as a success, but the usual issues continue to dog this promotion. For all of the good wrestling they have, EVOLVE has a massive tendency at times to just be… there.
Having repeated tropes like matches bleeding into each other is irksome – it’s useful every now and then, but these shows quickly feel wear thin. Mostly the same guys, working to the same template, and whilst there’s good matches, the stuff that doesn’t click drags it down big time. Lee/Williams was a match I was kinda looking to enjoy, but the way that finished just soured me for the rest of the show. Add in the opener that was alright with a badly-executed ending, and this is a show that’ll be remembered for all the wrong reasons.