EVOLVE returned to Maryland for the start of what’d be an eventful double-header – with PROGRESS Atlas champion WALTER taking centre stage.
Last time around, EVOLVE crowned new tag champions as Chris Dickinson and Jaka fell to the local “super team” of Anthony Henry and James Drake. Who’d never tagged before then. This time around though, the former champs are facing a newly-minted team who have developed quite a friendship based around pissing around.
Hey guess what? FloSlam yet again forgot to edit out the long intro. Or even have the video start at the right spot… for the benefit of those who don’t want to sit through, or just guess, you want to start at 47:34! Anyway, Lenny Leonard is your announcer here in Joppa, and Joanna Rose is back as ring announcer. The PROGRESS Atlas title’s on the line today as WALTER defends against Fred Yehi… who only meets the 205lb weight limit if he puts lead weights in his boots…
Troll Boys (Ethan Page & ACH) vs. Catch Point (Chris Dickinson & Jaka)
After their comedy match last time out, Ethan and ACH are a team, complete with self-sung entrance music to the tune of “Bad Boys”. Suddenly I guess ACH has no issue being in the opener as long as he’s taking the piss? They’re interrupted by the former tag champions, and this is our opener…
Complete with live commentary from Ethan Page, talking about “is it GIF or JIF”, and you can probably guess how this is going to go. ACH remembers he doesn’t like going anywhere but the main event, so he tells us that EVOLVE ignored his request… like Lio Rush going through a table. Topical! Dickinson and Jaka just stomp down the Troll Boys as they’re fed up of the pissing around. Sadly, we’ve lost “All Ego”’s commentary, as the tone shifted to Catch Point wearing down on ACH in search of some near-falls. Ah, nevermind, Page throws in some barbs from the outside, before ACH finally gets in some offence, sweeping the leg and stomping on Jaka’s back for a near-fall.
Page comes in and dumps Jaka on his head with a clothesline for a near-fall, before going for a People’s Elbow. Except he has no elbow pads, so he just takes off his shorts… and misses. Dickinson comes in and makes Ego pay with a knee to the chest, before Ethan summons the power of the G1… and promptly gets more kicks.
ACH’s chops get no-sold, and he’s taken down with a chest kick as Page tries to gee up his partner as only a troll boy can, summoning the spirit of Cena… with a chop to the crotch! Ah, the 16 Carat special! Page comes in and takes a kick to the chest for a near-fall as the former tag champs kept the advantage, with a Jaka DDT getting a two-count before Page finally boots Dickinson to the mat.
Page busts out an inverted slam a la David Starr, as we get ACH busting out some Juice/Moose/Dusty punches to Dickinson and Jaka. Catch Point come back with a shoulder tackle/chop block variation of Total Elimination for a near-fall, before ACH busts out the leap across the corner drill as he then misses badly with a springboard Stunner out of the corner. Intentionally.
A double stomp-assisted Samoan driver gets a near-fall on ACH, and this is one of those matches where the joke’s gone a little too long. Page shoves off Jaka as they went for the Death Trap, allowing ACH to hit the Buster Call spinning brainbuster for the win. A decent match, but there were some weird spots here… I don’t get why Dickinson and Jaka have had such a U-turn, especially when they had a high profile match against the South Pacific Power Trip the next night. 50-50 booking everybody! **½
Apparently we have a “bonus match”. Did nobody learn from how badly those went down in WCW?
Craig Mitchell vs. Darby Allin
Mitchell is somewhat of a veteran of the Illinois indy scene, having wrestled for about six years. Unfortunately here, he’s pretty much being put up as “someone to catch Darby” ahead of his match with Timothy Thatcher tomorrow.
Allin cuts a promo at Thatcher before the bell, claiming that he’s “moved into his car” and is training everywhere so he could be the best he could be. I guess Darby thought people were laughing at him, but in reality it was just murmurs…
Anyway, Mitchell apparently got this spot based on his performance at one of those WWN seminars earlier in the day, and he starts out pretty evenly before Darby busts out some technical stuff, using a La Magistral for a near-fall. Allin goes all lucha with an armdrag to take Mitchell onto the apron, before another armdrag looked to lead to a Coffin Drop… but Mitchell catches him up top and brings him down with a neckbreaker.
Mitchell keeps up with a slam and an impressive standing moonsault for a near-fall as a German suplex followed. It almost looked like Mitchell was going for an F5, but Allin headbuts him and leaps into Mitchell with a crossbody, only to get hoisted into a Samoan driver for a near-fall. Allin instantly comes back with a Code Red, then a leglock-assisted pin… and that’s an out-of-nowhere win. Well, I guess it showed us that Darby was more than a flippy crash test dummy, but again, I’m not sure if a competitive squash was what he needed before a Thatcher match? **
Austin Theory vs. Jason Kincaid
Both these guys were on a losing streak a few months back… but then Theory fell for a woman and became evil. At least, I think that’s the reason behind his heel turn. Theory is definitely a star in the making, just as long as they don’t do anything stupid like rush him into any title pictures anytime soon.
Theory shoves Kincaid into and out of meditation poses early, before he continued to show his mean side by slapping away at Kincaid, who then flips around from a wristlock as the pair went tit-for-tat, ending with Theory taking too long with a standing moonsault… so Kincaid rolls him down and stomps through his chest. Ouch.
Kincaid keeps thwarting Theory, scoring a low dropkick as the rookie tried to roll into the ring, before a springboard forearm to the floor took the kid down for a roll-over stomp on the apron. That’s always been my problem with Kincaid, his offence is a weird mix of impressive stuff which has a habit of coming across as low-impact. Back inside, Theory stuffs a tornado DDT before countering into a wheelbarrow’d, half-nelson backbreaker as Kincaid was left down on the mat. A rear chinlock grounds Kincaid some more, before Theory effortlessly threw Kincaid across the ring with a released gutwrench powerbomb for a near-fall.
Kincaid rebounds with a clothesline as he sprung off the ropes at the same time as Theory… who spits back as he’s tripped by Kincaid ahead of another set of double stomps. Those actually looked like they had some heft to it, ahead of a springboard Blockbuster that almost won it, but Theory comes back with a roll-up into a Blockbuster of his own for another two-count. In the end, a springboarded boot to the chest gets a near-fall, but Kincaid hits back with a reverse springboard into an X-Factor, before he goes up top once more for a stomp off of the ring post… but Kincaid misses and turns around into a superkick as Theory hits the Shoudou neckbreaker to send the pacifist to the floor.
A tope follows, but Theory’s caught and met with a Stunner on the outside. Kincaid rolls him back in and climbs a supporting column for… reasons. Priscilla Kelly has a screaming fit to distract him, and it works as Theory catches his crossbody and dumps him with the Theory’s Knock Out (TKO) for the win. This was decent, but in front of the typically-silent EVOLVE crowd. I really cannot remember the last time EVOLVE performed in a crowd that was anything other than indifferent. ***
There was something weird after the match where Kincaid tried to “intervene”, but Kelly pulls Theory away and to the back. O-kay?
Ahead of the next match, commentary plugs the “New Promoter Initiative” that EVOLVE’s running. Just… wow.
EVOLVE Tag Team Championship: Tracy Williams & Rory Gulak vs. Anthony Henry & James Drake (c)
EVOLVE still doesn’t have a tag team division yet, so we’re getting “superteams”… this time it’s former tag champ Tracy Williams tagging with Rory Gulak. Yes, it’s Drew’s brother. Jaka and Chris Dickinson are out with them too, as I’m wondering if this is the latest iteration of Catch Point? If it is, Dickinson is not happy…
Henry and Drake are sporting matching sunglasses as the “Work Horsemen” came out for their second title defence. That team name comes across so much as a Gabe idea, but at least it’s not the Hangmen 3…
Gulak’s nickname is “The Amazing” – something that’s emblazoned on his singlet… and I’m wondering if that was at all inspired by NGW’s Matt Myers? Rory certainly looks like his brother, but sadly the genes didn’t extend to the hairline. Like I can talk about that!
Henry and Gulak get us going, with Rory trying to trap Henry by the leg, but it doesn’t work as the pair continue to stuff each other’s takedowns. Eventually, Henry manages to get a grounded abdominal stretch in, but an armdrag escapes it as the Joppa crowd remained largely silent. Commentary mentions that Gulak was last involved for EVOLVE in a loss to Joe Coffey… a fact I had to immediately go and check, since I didn’t remember it. And for good reason… it was a dark match in June last year!
Gulak gets dropped with a roundhouse kick from Henry, before getting booted into the opposite corner as Drake comes in to just shrug off some chops from Rory. A beel throw from Drake forces Gulak to tag out, allowing Williams to come in and start cycling through his technical stuff. Drake keeps cutting off Williams with right hands and chops, with “Hot Sauce” giving as good as he gets, before a shotgun dropkick takes Drake down. A swandive forearm out of the corner only gets Williams a one-count as he brings Gulak back in… but Henry sneaks in a blind tag as a Hart Attack Knee almost got the champs their second successful defence.
From there, Gulak gets dismantled as the champs wore him down again, with a Hart Attack clothesline leading to a vicious low dropkick for another two-count, but Gulak’s able to get in a backbreaker as the tide turns yet again. Williams drops Henry into a knee bar, but it’s way too close to the ropes, so Williams gets off a back suplex for a near-fall.
Gulak returns with a springboarded Vader Bomb for another two-count, before a series of armdrags led to a Northern Lights, and a brutal slam into the corner. That looked nasty and dangerous. Again though, we’re in front of a dead crowd that didn’t seem like they could have cared less against random team vs. random team who’ve had three matches together… Williams traps Henry in an ankle lock, but Henry returns with a powerslam and tags out as we go to Drake and Gulak, with a big clothesline getting James a near-fall. Eventually, an Exploder from Drake almost wins it, but his attempt at going airborne’s turned into a German suplex out of the corner, before Henry just about catches Williams with a dropkick.
Williams rebounds with a brainbuster, but Henry’s not legal… that confused “Hot Sauce”, and he turns around into a Double A spinebuster for a near-fall. A blind tag brings in Gulak as Drake covers the wrong man… allowing Gulak to try and get a La Magistral in. That goes pretty awkwardly as the match threatens to fall apart until Gulak engages in chops.
A backcracker from Henry almost draws groans as he follows up with the Chaos Theory rolling German suplex, before a double-arm DDT from Drake gets another near-fall. So much silence. So few damns given. Well, that roundhouse kick from Henry woke up the crowd, and got the win! A solid match, but this was a microcosm of EVOLVE’s issues. ***
Some may disagree, but I think it’s time to put a bullet in this tag division. Or at least, put it under general anaesthetic for now. Take the belts off the show for a while, build up a division and not have this be the “champions vs. random local team” that not even a shock title change built up credibility for. I’m not saying “don’t book Drake or Henry”, but this current situation is doing nobody any favours. It’s a division for the sake of having a division at this point.
After the match, Jaka and Dickinson got in the tag champ’s faces. Tracy Williams cools them down and offers a handshake to Henry and Drake instead, then gets the microphone. Well, everyone in this scene’s already wrestled, so we’re not getting the EVOLVE special… Instead, we get Williams berating Catch Point as a group for being full of weaknesses, rather than exploiting them. So he laid out Gulak (a bad choice of partner, huh?), before Jaka and Dickinson finished him off.
This would have had so much more gravitas had, you know, Gulak and Williams been a regular team!
Timothy Thatcher vs. Keith Lee
More apathy greeted Thatcher, who’s at something of a loose end after losing to Zack Sabre Jr. last time out. What is there left for him to do… at least he’s off to wXw in Germany for the rest of the year, which’ll push that conundrum to the back burner for a while.
Lee charges straight into Thatcher at the bell, but his double-handed chops are shrugged off as the pair just lay into each other. A forearm to the back from Thatcher just awakens Lee… who drops him with a simple forearm, only for the former EVOLVE champ to fire back with more uppercuts before going for a butterfly suplex. That’s powered out of though as Lee whacks Thatcher with a left forearm, then a slam as an elbow forces a solid two-count.
Thatcher replies by taking Lee into the corner as he starts to work over the leg, all whilst Stokely Hathaway talked trash from the floor. That’s made a refreshing change, him not being all over this show with the Catch Point guys, by the way… Lee takes down Thatcher with a suplex to keep the match even, but in truth neither man’s able to keep hold of an advantage.
Still, they’re good at laying into each other, with Lee getting thrown into the apron, as Thatcher tries to work over his legs in a bid to keep the big man grounded. A sleeperhold on the mat only serves to make Lee power back up to his feet, as Thatcher finally lets go and throws a clothesline… but Lee stays on his feet! Some more shots from Thatcher don’t do the trick, so Lee just pounces into the ex-champ, sending him flying into the corner!
Somehow Thatcher’s able to rebound with a belly-to-belly of the ropes for a near-fall, as he then switches down into a Fujiwara armbar, only for Lee to power out again and hit a side slam for good measure. They go back to throwing shots, with Lee’s headbutts letting him take Thatcher up for a Benadryller forearm… and out of nowhere, that’s the win! Completely “out of nowhere”, but perhaps the best thing on the show so far by a country mile. ***½
Darby Allin came out after the match to check on Thatcher – who sold the knock-out extraordinarily well. At least until he realised Darby was there… Thatcher gave Allin such a dirty look as he snapped out of the funk, taking down Allin in an armbar. Shoulda stayed in the back, kid…
PROGRESS Atlas Championship: Fred Yehi vs. WALTER (c)
I’m calling shenanigans on Yehi’s credentials for this title shot – usually listed at 185lbs, there’s no way he’s gained almost two-stone to qualify. Or had a series of vignettes (or email blasts) where he’s been eating competitively… He was announced at 206lbs (yeah, right!), which might be why he’s angry and pissed off. Food comas!
This was actually WALTER’s first defence of the title, which is a bit of a surprise… as was the claim that this was his first appearance in the States in over six years.
Yehi tries to shoot for the legs of WALTER early, but it’s too early for that as the giant Austrian takes down Yehi with ease. Like there was nearly a 10-stone difference between them… Impressively, Yehi lifts WALTER off his feet with a waistlock, before shooting down for some pinning attempts. WALTER easily charges down Yehi with a shoulder tackle, before a slam leads to him missing a seated splash… and Yehi goes to work with those stomps. Some chops from the Austrian are blocked as those foot stomps cause the champion problems, eventually taking him down for some stomps to the hand.
Problem was, Yehi turned his back, which allowed WALTER to get back to his feet… and oh, poor Fred’s chest. All those chops! An O’Connor roll’s blocked as Yehi gets sent to the floor, where the beating continued until Yehi’s morale improved enough for him to mount a comeback. The referee stops the count at 9 and restarts it – I guess because someone forgot that they’re going by PROGRESS’ ten-count, and not EVOLVE’s 20-counts – as WALTER dumped Yehi with a back suplex on the apron. More chops follow, and now it’s time for the power as a gutwrench suplex keeps Yehi on the mat ahead of the Earthquake sit-down splash for another near-fall.
Yehi rebounds with some Mongolian chops before pulling WALTER into some repeated up-kicks… but WALTER stands up and grabs Yehi into a Gojira clutch! A rope break’s slapped away into a German suplex, as a Butterfly suplex gets WALTER a near-fall for his troubles. Another German’s attempted by Yehi, but WALTER slips into another Gojira clutch, before a powerbomb’s escaped and met with a double stomp by Yehi.
Again, Yehi tries for a German suplex, and this time gets it off for a near-fall. He tries to follow up with a Koji clutch, but WALTER shrugs it off and lays in with some more chops, before kicking away Yehi’s legs mid-roaring elbow. A powerbomb dumps Yehi for a near-fall, as another Gojira clutch takes Yehi down briefly. WALTER’s charged into the corner to break it up as Yehi tries for a superplex – of course, WALTER fights free, only for the Austrian to succumb as Yehi clumsily peppered him with up-kicks in the corner. The superplex somehow comes off, as Yehi almost gets the shock win, then slips into a Koji clutch… only for WALTER to roll out of it and dump Yehi with a powerbomb.
A running big boot in the corner ensues, as does a German suplex and a clothesline for a near-fall, as the champ locks on another Gojira clutch, taking Yehi down in the middle of the ring for the submission. Well, that was as good as I expected – but the whole point of the Atlas title is “big lads wrestling”, not the size difference story that they tried to play here. Still, a really good match and one that you ought to cherry pick out of this card. ****¼
That’s another loss in a title match for Yehi, who’s quickly entering the Timothy Thatcher territory of “what do you do with him now”? Nevermind, commentary announces that he’s in the random tag team title match at EVOLVE 91, teaming with Jason Kincaid. I shake my fist.
Lio Rush vs. Matt Riddle
This was made non-title as this was Lio’s final appearance in EVOLVE… so I guess they needed a way to make sure that the result wasn’t too obvious. Then again, if he can survive a sunset bomb through a table, that’d have been enough!
We’ve a cagey opening start as Rush and Riddle avoid each other’s takedowns. Rush escapes an armbar and lands a diving kick for a near-fall as those ropes sound awfully clunky – as if things hadn’t been tightened after that WALTER superplex. Riddle comes back with forearms, but things stay even as Rush flips past him… and gets caught in an ankle lock as the WWN champ forces Rush to crawl into the ropes.
More forearms from Riddle keep Rush in the corner, before he’s taken out of it with an Exploder, then a back senton as Riddle nearly wrapped up a quick win. Some knees to the head follow as Riddle pulls up Lio into a series of rolling gutwrenches for a near-fall. It’s pretty one-sided for a spell, as Lio’s taking a beating.
Eventually Rush signals for a comeback, but he’s instantly caught with a Bro to Sleep and a German suplex as Riddle got in another near-fall, before a charge sends Riddle to the outside as Rush leapt over him. A cartwheel kick knocked Riddle to the floor temporarily, as Rush shocks him with a standing Spanish Fly for a near-fall.
Riddle smashes Rush with a knee strike, before a takedown’s blocked… only for a series of Fisherman’s buster to get Matt some near-falls. A third Fisherman’s suplex looks set to be turned into a tombstone, but it’s countered back and forth before Riddle finally lands it… for a one-count. Because of course Rush would!
Another knee strike lays out Rush, who comes back with a swinging Unprettier that almost beat Riddle… The two descend into chops and strikes, before an attempt at Rush Hour is blocked and turned into a Gotch Tombstone! All that’s left is some Danielson elbows and a Bromission… and Rush has no choice but to tap! A rather swift end to proceedings, but a fun main event nevertheless. ***½
After the match, I thought we’d get a farewell ceremony of sorts for Lio Rush… but instead we get WALTER in a Rammstein shirt (yay) for a head-to-head confrontation with Matt Riddle. Catch Point take the opportunity to sneak attack Riddle from behind, but WALTER just watches on before he tries to make a save. WALTER gets swarmed… but then Keith Lee heads out for the save of the save as Riddle and Williams brawled to the back.
We’re left with the image of WALTER and Keith Lee… and although they’re both in a four-way at EVOLVE 91… I want that singles match so bad! The show ends with Lee asking WALTER to bask in his glory. Instead, WALTER offers a handshake, which is accepted, as everyone goes home happy.
EVOLVE is quickly becoming an annoying conundrum. How can a promotion have so much talent, yet be so humdrum and “blah” that it often performs in front of silence? Don’t get me wrong, EVOLVE does have its highspots, but when so many of its matches are dragged down by apathy, you have to wonder – is it the crowd, or what they’re served? Yes, EVOLVE are “between eras”, and aren’t helped by what does feel like repeated talent raids to NXT… but likewise, it really should have had this much of an effect when the last major departure was Drew Galloway….
There are things that can be done – less reliance on those tropes, and perhaps a hold on the non-existent tag division, but when you consider that the biggest reactions here were for the Troll Boys and the imports, something has to be changed to freshen up EVOLVE… lest it slip further away from people’s consciousness.