EVOLVE 49 featured a well-advertised card headlined by a main event I Quit Match between Ethan Page and Johnny Gargano as well as an all-star tag match pitting Roppongi Vice verses TJ Perkins and Timothy Thatcher. The undercard featured a number of fresh faces such as Matt Riddle, Peter Kassa and Jonathan Gresham. All this on the heels of EVOLVE/WWNLive’s announced partnership with WWE.
Peter Kassa vs Matt Cage vs Anthony Nese vs. Andrew Everett
The opener moved quickly and all four men wrestled with a high amount of energy. Each competitor got an opportunity to shine by busting out their flashiest movies. Andrew Everett picked up the victory with a shooting star press. ***¼
Matt Riddle vs. Jonathan Gresham
Matt Riddle came into this match as something of an unknown. According to some pre-show research he was a very promising UFC fighter whose love affair with Mary Jane eventually caused him to leave the company. After that he started training to become a professional wrestler and has demonstrated quite a bit of potential during his run with Monster Factory Wrestling. With that said Riddle is still green and needs to be carried to a certain extent. Enter Jonathan Gresham.
For some reason Gresham has never taken hold in mainstream indie promotions which baffles me because the man is a good professional wrestler. So, it was nice to see him get a chance to show up and show off in EVOLVE.
The match was short and sweet. Riddle and Gresham traded holds with neither man being able to gain the advantage until Riddle locked in a heel hook for the submission victory. Credit to Gresham for leading Riddle to good match and to Riddle for not trying to hard to make a good impression. **¾
Indie standout Chris Dickinson came down to the ring after the match to talk shit at Riddle. The rookie stood his ground and blew off Dickinson like a total “bro”.
Tracy Williams vs. Chris Dickinson
Williams was originally supposed to face Willie Mack but travel issues necessitated a change of opponent to Chris Dickinson.
From the opening bell Dickinson surprisingly outwrestled Williams and went straight to work on his legs. Williams tried to fight from underneath but anytime he would get any traction Dickinson found a way to cut him off. Eventually the “Dirty Daddy” grined out a submission victory via a reverse figure four. ***¼
Williams’s mentor, Drew Gulak, chastised his protegé after the match for losing.
Trevor Lee vs. Drew Gulak
The winner of this match received a title shot against Timothy Thatcher on Sunday night in Long Island.
Drew Gulak is a polarizing figure in hardcore circles. He is derided for the slow paces of his matches and simultaneously praised for being a solid worker. And, to be honest, that is a very fair assessment of Gulak as a wrestler. He is not very good at making the faux grappling style believable and when he tries his hand at it the quality of matches sink below an acceptable level. Now, as a technician Gulak is fantastic and when works an opponent’s limbs the vicious nature of his assault is guaranteed to make any spectator cringe.
Gulak and Lee started the contest by exchanging holds and rolling around on the mat. The result was an agonizing long opening portion of the match. When Gulak started to assault Trevor Lee’s legs the in ring work ratcheted up in quality. Lee’s selling was Oscar worthy. Each step he took was a limp and after any high impact moves he made sure to grimace in pain.
The leg work did not play into the finish though. Lee surged to victory following a flurry of kicks, suplexes and a small package driver. I usually fall into the school of thinking that there is no point in working a body part if it does not play into the finish. Honestly, that did not bother me in this match. Gulak’s leg work neutralized Lee for most of the bout and made it so much more compelling. Also, it is believable for a rush of adrenaline to temporarily numb any pain a human being will feel so Lee’s offense at the end was plausible despite his worked injury. ***½
After the match Tracy Williams got on the mic and gave Gulak guff for losing. Things looked tense between the two but in the end both agreed that they need to get better.
The Premiere Athlete Brand vs. Milk Chocolate
Prior to the match the PAB’s Caleb Konley got on the horn and moaned that he deserved a title shot because of his six-month unbeaten streak. Brandon Watts & Randy Summers of Milk Chocolate interrupted Konley’s promo and that led into the next match.
If you go back and watch any PAB tag matches from previous months then you will find a series of contests beleaguered by rest holds and outside interference. Tony Nese and Caleb Konley are too talented to wrestle that way. That is why their performance against Milk Chocolate gave me hope that they rounding the corner as a team.
The PAB made quick work of the young upstarts via a series of flashy, high impact moves, including an avalanched Samoan bomb/450 splash combination for the win. Just because Konley and Nese are heels doesn’t mean they have to wrestle like it’s 1980’s Mid-South. A crowd pleasing moveset coupled with an arrogant attitude is a perfect for the PAB and that must be their MO going forward. **½
Earl Cooter vs. Willie Mack
Willie Mack was originally scheduled to face Tracey Williams but travel issues forced a change in plans. Cooter and Mack had zero chemistry and this match just felt it was tacked onto the card to justify the expense of flying Mack in from California. At least the twisting senton Mack used to get the win was nifty. *¼
Roppongi Vice vs. TJ Perkins and Timothy Thatcher
Trent Barretta brought in Rocky Romero to even the odds in his feud against the PAB, but before the grudge match Roppongi Vice faced a stiff test against the patchwork duo of Perkins and Thatcher.
The match was competitive but TJP and Thatcher were never able to get on the same page. Perkins willingness to horse around with Romero ruffled the feathers of the straight-laced EVOLVE World Champion and RPG Vice exploited their opponent’s dissension whenever the opportunity presented itself. The end result was a pinfall victory for Romero & Barretta courtesy of a double stomp/ reverse piledriver combination. ***¼
I Quit Match – Johnny Gargano vs. Ethan Page
In the hands of any other man this match would have been a collection of plunder spots, but in the hands of Ethan Page it became a compelling story.
“All Ego” was in rare form from the outset of his entrance to Triple H’s iconic theme music and his replica of the tracksuit the Rock wore in early 1999. His performance on the mic during this match was spectacular, especially late in the match. As he struggled to put Gargano away, Page became unhinged and screamed himself hoarse trying to get Gargano to quit. With little choice left Page turned to a trusted friend of Gargano’s, a piece of rope.
During the second half of Gargano’s Dragon Gate USA Open the Freedom Gate title run, Gargano used a piece of rope as his signature weapon and used it to rob numerous opponents of victory. Throughout their feud Page used the rope on several occasions to not only beat Gargano but to also remind him of his foul deeds. So, with the bottom ring rope in hand, Ethan Page was poised to complete his evisceration of “Johnny Wrestling”. Until, Gargano countered him and proceeded to choke Page out until he quit.
I thought the finish was masterful way to end the feud because Page kept goading Gargano to fall back to the dark side. When that finally did happen it cost Page a signature victory against his archrival. ****¼
In his post-match victory speech Gargano declared his intent to win the EVOLVE World Championship.
Final Thoughts: This wasn’t the best show EVOLVE has put on all year but it was certainly one of the most entertaining. The influx of new talent provided a bevy of fresh matchups for a promotion whose shallow roster previously yielded shows filled with rematches. Gargano vs. Page was a nice change of pace in the main event because it told an excellent story and was not centered around being a mat classic. By no means is EVOLVE a struggling promotion in regards to entertainment but its forty-ninth chapter provided a preemptive inoculation of new direction before the product became stale.