EVOLVE 51 is a show of the year contender headlined by a fantastic main event between Timothy Thatcher and Johnny Gargano. Thatcher did not have any time to lick his wounds because at EVOLVE 52 he was set to defend against the main he beat for the title, Drew Galloway. The undercard featured Drew Gulak vs. Johnny Gargano and several other promising matchups.

November 7, 2015
Barnett Park Gymnasium – Orlando, Florida
Watch: WWNLive

Ethan Page vs. Lio Rush

The pressure on Ethan Page going into this match was overwhelming due to his three match losing streak and vow to show that he is a changed man. No one could blame Page if he cracked during the match, which he did.

In a promotion like EVOLVE that hangs its hat on workrate, it’s always nice to see a match that blends in character work as well. In fact, the kind of moves that Page used during the match reflected his mood. During the early going when he was calm and collected, Page was content to chain wrestle with Rush to try to gain the advantage. Naturally, the quicker and more technically proficient Rush won those encounters. Faced with a challenge, Page immediately slipped back into his “All Ego” persona. He talked trash and his moveset switched to slams designed to physically punish Rush. A sick Spinning Dwayne led to the pin that ended Page’s losing streak.

Ethan Page’s current storyline reminds me a lot of Alex Shelley’s run as the locker room pariah in 2005 ROH. Where the story differs is that Page is not fully immersed in the light. He still gets frustrated and falls back into old habits. Right now his character work might be the best and most realistic on the indies.

Aside from being a vehicle for Page, this match also exhibited what a bump machine Lio Rush is. The MCW product is not only a tremendous athlete, but he also has the ability to make his opponents look good. That trait will serve him well as he continues to establish a foothold in the business. ***1/2

After the match, Page shook Rush’s hand and praised his effort. Just as he did the night before in Ybor City, Page asked Johnny Gargano to the ring. Gargano obliged and came out to face his former rival. Page again apologized for his actions during the previous six months and asked Gargano to partner with him in the upcoming tag title tournament. Gargano rejected Page’s offer and called him a snake. A dejected Page left the ring.

Gargano was not finished. He called Drew Galloway to the ring and proposed that they team in the tournament. Galloway said he was intrigued by the offer and accepted based on the fact that he respects Gargano.

Anthony Nese vs. Peter Kaasa

Like Ethan Page, Anthony Nese came into his match with a hot prospect, Peter Kassa, after a disappointing defeat to TJ Perkins. Unlike Page, Nese did not rebound well at all. Sure in the early going he and Kassa wrestled to a stalemate, but as the match wore on Kassa kept getting the better of Nese. Even when Nese tried to slow the match down or hit Kaasa with a big move the sensational newcomer found ways to easily reverse the momentum.

At ringside, Nese’s manager, So Cal Val, sensed that her client was about to lose another big match and so sure grabbed Kassa’s leg as he went up top for his 630 senton. The distraction gave Nese enough time to recover and pull Kassa off the top rope. He then rolled Kassa up, pulled his tights and scored the cheap pinfall victory.

This match served its purpose well, to put over the athleticism of Peter Kaasa and to further legitimize him by having him outwrestle an established roster member. I have no real issues with Nese winning or the interference as long as it serves a purpose. At this point in his EVOLVE run Kaasa’s abilities are getting him over with the crowd, but he needs a storyline. A nice little feud with the PAB is a good place to start and I hope that is the direction that he is heading in. ***½

Tracy Williams vs. Matt Riddle

Matt Riddle came into this match on a three fight winning streak, including a victory over Tracy Williams’ mentor Drew Gulak. Riddle had also disrespected Williams and Gulak on two separate occasions, so tension was running high between the two.

As a result, Williams attacked at the bell, immediately announcing he was not going to take a tentative approach on offense. Riddle fought right back and the two proceeded to engage in an intense war of strikes and attempted submissions. The man known as “Hot Sauce”, Tracy Williams, favored trying to submit Riddle with a crossface. Matt Riddle wanted to knock Williams out and came close to doing so via knee strikes. Unfortunately for Williams he went for the crossface one to any times and Riddle managed to reverse it into an armbar leaving Williams little choice but to tap out.

This was a short, intense match that provided a nice change of pace from previous bouts. It also serves as an example of how well Matt Riddle is being brought along in EVOLVE. They are booking him with good workers that he can learn from and are putting him in matches that cater to his strengths. ***¼

Caleb Konley vs. TJ Perkins

Lenny Leonard explained on commentary that Caleb Konley was desperate for a big win. In the past year he’s been so close to getting a shot at the EVOLVE World Championship and always ends behind someone else in line. A win over Perkins would edge him closer to a shot at the gold.

Konley attempted to out wrestle Perkins in the beginning of the match and came out on the losing end. So he literally tried to control the match by controlling Perkins and that strategy almost worked. Perkins spent most of early stages of the match on the mat courtesy of a Konley cravat. Once TJP got out of the hold, Konley was on the run and trying like hell to avoid Perkins’ armbar. Poor Konley busted out every big move in his arsenal, the O-Face submission hold and the Cradle Shock, but neither of them worked. Just when it looked like Perkins was going to finish Konley off with a move from out top, Konley managed to send him crashing to the canvas below. One moonsault and one pinfall later, Konley had his big win.

Simply put, this was a good wrestling match, no jaw dropping spots or distractions from the outside, just two men well versed in their craft telling an enjoyable story. ****

Johnny Gargano vs. Drew Gulak

The previous night in the main event at EVOLVE 51, Johnny Gargano tried and failed to beat Timothy Thatcher on the mat. He attempted to do the same thing with Drew Gulak, this time with a little more success. However, the match really went Gargano’s way once it spilled to the outside and he was able to out brawl Gulak. Content to take some risks, Gargano connected with this Superman spear at the midpoint of the match and promptly grabbed his left arm, the same one that he injured twenty-four hours earlier.

Like a shark drawn to blood in the water, Gulak seized control of the match and proceeded to stretch and beat the hell out of Gargano. Sure he worked over the injured arm, but Gulak also made sure to target the back and ankle of Garano as well. In my humble opinion, this match got Gulak over as a technical killer, especially when he ended the match by floating over from an ankle lock to a chokehold.

This match was just as good as the highly lauded Thatcher/Gargano bout from the previous show. Gargano’s sold his arm injury like it was the real deal. Over the last ten minutes of the match he fought one-armed and was only able to scrape together a handful of moves, and when he was finally able to get Gulak in position for the Garga-No-Escape he couldn’t even clasp his arms together to complete the hold due to the pain. Just sensational stuff from both wrestlers, go out of your way to watch this match. ****¾

EVOLVE World Championship
Drew Galloway vs. Timothy Thatcher ©

A day after he forced Johnny Gargano to wage war by his terms, Timothy Thatcher found himself fighting in Drew Galloway’s world. Galloway refused to let Thatcher take the match to the mat and sent him to the outside. Champion and challenger brawled in the crowd with Galloway coming away with the advantage. Then, with a few glimmers of offense by Thatcher, Galloway completely dominated the match. He punched, piledrove and DDT’d the Thatcher into the ground, but he was not able to put away the champion. The Scotsmen pleaded with the official to end the match to no avail. So Galloway went up top to try to end things. A strategically placed headbutt to an airborne Galloway was enough for Thatcher to put him down for the three count.

I like the idea of Galloway having Thatcher’s number and in their two matches Thatcher has eked out a win. What drug down the quality of this match was Galloway pulverizing EVOLVE’s champion. I thought the match made Thatcher look weak to an extent. Other than that the main event was good but nothing memorable. ***½

Final Thoughts: EVOLVE 52’s lowest rated match was ***¼, that’s all you really need to know about its quality — I highly recommend purchasing the show. This was an excellent cap to a year that’s seen EVOLVE get it’s act together. The company has new stars in Peter Kassa, Tracy Williams and Matt Riddle to build around. Veteran roster members such as Gargano, Thatcher, Galloway and Gulak are having great matches and that trend will hopefully continue in 2016.