Gabe Sapolsky’s run as ROH booker was a special time in independent wrestling and some of that success was thanks to his willingness to bring in international talent — notably the stars of Dragon Gate and the legendary Kenta Kobashi among others. This weekend, Gabe turned back the clock and booked British phenom Zack Sabre Jr.

This being the wrestling business, plans changed. ZSJ’s scheduled opponent Davey Richards sustained an injury at an independent show in West Virginia earlier this week and Biff Busick cancelled his booking. This prompted a complete overhaul of the show.

The planned main event of Drew Galloway & Roderick Strong vs. Anthony Neese & Caleb Konley was aborted. Instead, Galloway was slated to take on Timothy Thatcher. Strong drew the honor of facing Sabre Jr. in a rematch of their acclaimed PWG match from earlier this year. Baretta and Konley were each shuffled back down the card but were booked in quality undercard bouts.

A group of unexpected occurrences would throw many bookers for a loop. Sapolsky has a reputation for rearranging cards on the fly. Did he work his old magic tonight or was the loss of Davey Richards and Busick too hard to overcome?

July 10, 2015
The Orpheum
Ybor City, Florida

So Cal Val led the Premiere Athelte Brand to the ring to open the show. The ravishing red head briefly ran down the paying customers and plugged the present and future success of her stable. Newcomer Gary Jay interrupted Val and demanded that his match with Caleb Konley open the show.

Gary Jay vs. Caleb Konley

I’ve seen Gary Jay wrestle in AIW and St. Louis Anarchy. He is a great comedy character and solid wrestler but I questioned how he would fit into the serious mold of EVOLVE’s creative direction. Jay did his damndest to prove me wrong and started the match like a house of fire with a trio of dives to the outside. His overzealousness played into Konley’s hands and the new FIP Champion took control of the match.

With Konley in control the match settled into a nice flow. He exploited an early match injury to Jay’s arm and worked it over to great effect since the crowd was firmly behind Jay. The fire of in Jay’s heart matched the shade of his beard and he made an exciting comeback. Jay survived Konley’s Death Valley Bomb and fought out of his O-Face submission hold. Konley had to pull out a Moonsault to win a hot opener.

Gary Jay deserves more bookings in EVOLVE because he played a sympathetic babyface perfectly. Just a fantastic first contest. ***1/2

Trent Baretta vs. Rich Swann

A match with one half of Roppongi Vice verses the great Rich Swann. How could it be bad?

Don’t worry, the match was pretty darn good. The members of the PAB work a traditional heel style with a lot of hard slams and rest holds, and that makes some of their matches hit and miss. Tonight it worked twice. The crowd was all kinds of wild for Swann’s comeback and after that the match settled into some solid back and forth. Swann took a really nasty Half Nelson Suplex on the ring apron. He solid appropriately and used most of his finishers in attempt to put Baretta down but victory was not in the cards for Swann. The man formerly known as Trent? Picked up the win with a Dudebuster to put the PAB’s record at 2-0 for the night.

Another excellent match that made both competitors look great. ***1/2

Post-match So Cal Val bragged pretty big about her boys. Andrew Everett hit the ring looking to end the cocky trio’s hot streak.

Anthony Nese vs. Andrew Everett

Going to the well one to many times is a staple of professional wrestling and I think this match illustrates that point perfectly. When Nese was in control of the match the pace was methodical. When Everett was control the pace picked up. Do those descriptions sound familiar? They should since the previous two matches told the exact same story. The only difference was that Everett got the upset with a soaring Shooting Star Press.

I don’t want to harp on Neese or Everett too much. They worked hard and gave a solid effort. The problem is that the show needed some variety and they failed to deliver it.

Good match but it felt a little too familiar. ***

So Cal Val’s reaction to Everett’s win was beyond hilarious. She has been a great addition to the PAB and has come a long way from being pure eye candy in TNA.

Everett threw some shad at Caleb Konley following his win and goaded Konley into putting his FIP belt on the line tomorrow night.

Trevor Lee vs. Chris Hero

The last time these two went to war Trevor Lee fell victim to Chris Hero’s famed strikes and two brutal piledrivers. This time around Lee looked to have learned his lesson, at least in the early going. “The Carolina Caveman” controlled the early pace with his technical acumen and managed to avoid Hero’s early attempts to drop him on his head.

Strangely, Lee decided to abandon his successful strategy and wanted to stand up with Hero. Back to his bread and butter, Hero made Lee pay multiple times with vicious elbows and boots. Lee finally turned the tide with a series of brutal running kick from the apron. More kicks and a nice Power Bomb got Lee as close as he’s ever been to beating Hero.

Still the man from Metropolis has the power of Misawa running through his elbow pad. Just like in the previous match Hero did a number on Lee’s skull including a violent Ripcord Elbow that won him the match.

Hero and Lee put on a fantastic second match in what should be a grand trilogy. The story of Lee almost beating Hero at his own game but still falling short was perfect for this match. We need a feud ender for these two. Book it Gabe! ****1/2

Roderick Strong vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

Before the show I revealed on Twitter this was my first time watching a Zack Sabre Jr. match. Larry Csonka from 411, the famous Rovert (@SoDuTw), and Jen from PWP (@PocketVolcano) all assured me I was in for a treat. All three were spot on.

Mr. Zack Sabre Jr. is a TECHNICAN folks. Maybe the best I’ve seen since 2005 Bryan Danielson. Every move he does has a purpose in working over an injured body part, in this match it was Strong’s arm/hand. That does not happen very often in 2015.

During the opening minutes of the match Roddy tried to take ZSJ to the mat. The British ace stiffed RODERICK STRONG at every turn. He straight up dominated Roddy for most of the match. Strong was a desperate man. His chops, knees and elbows were not working. So he tried to work the legs and go for the Stronghold. ZSJ countered those attempts for a couple of near falls. After escaping a few armbars Roddy finally was trapped in one that ZSJ was fully able to cinch in and he tapped.

This was one of the best performances I’ve seen Roderick Strong put on and it was pure body language. A man one derided as vanilla is now a complete performer.

What I can say about Zack Sabre Jr.? The man is an amazing professional wrestler and I look forward to sampling more of his work.

As for the match it was a technical masterpiece and everything I love about that style of wrestling. It was so good that it is going to earn a very special distinction, the first ***** I’ve ever awarded in a review.

EVOLVE World Championship & DGUSA Open the Freedom Gate Championship: Timothy Thatcher vs. Drew Galloway ©

Before the match Thatcher requested a title match. Galloway gave his usual speech praising EVOVLE and decided to put both belts on the line.

Thatch decided to ditch the grappling and went for the kill very early in the match with knees and european uppercuts. Galloway was the one who played the role of technician. He slowly dissected Thatcher’s arm, including an arm breaker on top of a trash can.

As the match wore on, both wrestlers settled back into their usual roles. Thatcher worked the arm and Galloway started hitting high impact moves. The crowd was clearly gassed so the high drama of the match lacked juice.

The end saw Thatcher lock in his Fujiwara Armbar and get the tap out victory. The referee missed Galloway’s leg under the ropes so I am sure they are going to make an angle of this.

But, yeah in a complete surprise there is a new face of WWNLive. I wish they built to this moment instead of it coming as a complete shock but is me being a long term booking nerd.

Good match and I am curious to see where Thatcher’s reign goes. ***1/2

Final Thoughts: Gabe’s magic worked tonight. A shuffled card produced a new champion, a great undercard and the potential Match of the Year. Easily the best show the promotion has put on all year. Seek this one out it is pretty damn good.