- First Time Ever Dream Match – Ricochet vs. PJ Black
- Non-Title – EVOLVE Champion Drew Galloway vs. Uhaa Nation
- DGUSA Champion Johnny Gargano & Rich Swann vs. The Premier Athlete Brand of Caleb Konley & Brian Cage with So Cal Val
- Chris Hero vs. Biff Busick
- Timothy Thatcher vs. Tommy End
- AR Fox vs. Ethan Page
- Pro Wrestling Clinic -Drew Gulak vs. TJ Perkins with So Cal Val
It was around this time last year that this very site spent a majority of our WrestleMania preview podcast lambasting WWNLive booker Gabe Sapolsky for under-delivering on WrestleMania weekend, traditionally his strongest show of the year. For the first time in a number of years, no stars from the Dragon Gate promotion would be coming stateside (this was the result of visa issues) and overall, the cards didn’t have the pizazz of prior years.
While Gabe did his best to fill in the holes (bringing in Low-Ki, Masato Tanaka and others), ultimately the weekend was a huge disappointment. That is, except for one show, the Friday night offering from the WWNLive family DGUSA’s Open the Ultimate Gate 2014. That show, while not a top-to-bottom success featured two matches that received votes in our 2014 Match of the Year countdown: Johnny Gargano vs. Ricochet (finished in the top 50) and Chris Hero vs. Masato Tanaka.
Jump ahead to this year’s WrestleMania week, and Gabe has redeemed himself in a big way with a loaded weekend. Friday night’s WWNLive offering, EVOLVE 40, could once again be the highlight of the weekend.
On paper, it’s hard to name another card with as many intriguing matchups that have the potential to be between good and great.
Drew Gulak vs. TJ Perkins: Even the lowest match on the announced card is a match that could easily garner MOTY buzz if the grappling style delivers. Gulak isn’t my cup of tea, but TJ Perkins is one of my favorites and has shown the ability to integrate a more face-paced style along with the mat wrestling/grappling style Gulak excels at.
AR Fox vs. Ethan Page: AR Fox takes on Canada’s rising independent star Ethan Page in a match I’m really anticipating. Page has been garnering a lot of buzz in Canada and midwest independents, so this weekend will be a great opportunity for him to build on some of the buzz he generated late last year in Ring of Honor. AR Fox, what more can be said? The guy is a WWNLive mainstay and routinely delivers above-average matches on WrestleMania weekend, I expect nothing less here.
Timothy Thatcher vs. Tommy End: Tommy End is a guy I’ve been told to watch for years now and I finally made the leap recently — spoiler: he’s really good. End is fresh off a great showing at wXw’s 16 Carat Gold Tournament (which he won for the second time) and could use this weekend as a launch pad to more American bookings. You know he’ll be bringing his A-game. End will be taking on another grappler/mat-wrestler in the vein of Drew Gulak, Timothy Thatcher. I’ll fully admit that I don’t really get Thatcher and I’ve never enjoyed a match of his. With that said, a bunch of people I trust are really looking forward to this match so I’ll watch it with an open mind. Thatcher generated a lot of buzz in our 2014 Match of the Year countdown, receiving votes for five different matches. I’m okay admitting I’m an outlier on him. Either way, looking forward to seeing how these two blend and how the crowd reacts to Thatcher’s style.
Chris Hero vs. Biff Busick: More grapplers?! These weirdos are taking over. But seriously, of the triad (Thatcher, Gulak and Biff Busick), I’ve always enjoyed Busick the most. I enjoy his ability to adapt the grapple-style to a more physical, faster-paced type match, and I fully expect something like that to occur as he takes on WWNLive’s newest mega-heel Chris Hero. While Hero likely won’t repeat his MOTY contender from last year against Tanaka, this should be a fun contest filled with tons of strikes and a hot crowd.
DGUSA Champion Johnny Gargano & Rich Swann vs. The Premier Athlete Brand of Caleb Konley & Brian Cage: While this match features two of my favorite WWNLive participants, a guy I’ve begun to dig a lot more and one of the more entertaining guys on the indies — I’m still not fully excited. That’s weird huh? DGUSA champion Johnny Gargano teams with his Ronin stable-mate Rich Swann to take on the Premiere Athlete Brand of Caleb Konley and Lucha Underground/PWG star Brian Cage. Hmm, I should be more excited about this match, shouldn’t I? Gargano always delivers on ‘Mania weekend and Swann is one of the more purely entertaining wrestlers on the independent scene. As for the Premiere Athlete side, I’ve never been fully into Konley but he’s improved leaps and bounds even from last year’s event. Brian Cage speaks for himself, no literally, I don’t want to speak for him, he’ll kick my ass. He’s a monster of a man who will occasionally bust out insane flips and dives to the outside that’ll make you re-think everything you know about the human body. I just made myself excited about this match, can’t wait.
EVOLVE Champion Drew Galloway vs. Uhaa Nation (Non-Title): It may have taken longer than anticipated but Drew Galloway has washed the WWE stink off and has been one of the more entertaining wrestlers on the independent scene in addition to being a breath of fresh air in TNA. He’ll take on the soon-to-be-departing for WWE Uhaa Nation in a non-title match (Galloway is the EVOLVE champion). This has styles clash written all over it and while I love both guys on their own, I’m having trouble formulating a scenario where this match is as good as everything else on this card. Hey, I have no doubt they can do it and I hope they do, but this seems like too much of a styles clash to me. Hope I’m wrong!
Ricochet vs. PJ Black: This match is being promoted as a First-Time Ever Dream Match and for good reason, it’s fucking Ricochet versus the former Justin Gabriel, PJ Black. Ricochet (Lucha Underground star Prince Puma) is one of my favorite wrestlers in the world and a guy who can have a Match of the Night with any number of opponents. On this night he draws one of the best pure wrestlers over the last decade in WWE, PJ Black, who’s hungry to prove himself on the independent scene as he looks to kickstart the second half of his career. Black isn’t an unabashed high-flyer so I look for him and Ricochet to work a lot of strikes and ground wrestling into this match and only fly when absolutely necessary. With that said, the flight is going to be the draw here as these are two of the best to do it. You’re all but guaranteed to get a 450 from Black and if we’re lucky a 630 from Ricochet. Can you tell I’m excited for this one?