EVOLVE 53 did a good job setting the table for the semi-finals of the tournament to crown the first EVOLVE Tag Team Champions. Those matchups headlined a show that featured the beginning of the Second Chance Tournament and the next round of the Style Battle. Sandwiched in between the three competitions, was the debut of Tomasso Ciampa, who would battle Ethan Page early in the card.

January 23, 2016
Orlando Downtown Recreation Center
Orlando, Florida
Watch: WWNLive / Photos: Bryan Wright Photography

Team Tremendous vs. The Premiere Athlete Brand

The opening match was a solid opener and it was obvious who the better team was. The Orlando crowd showed Team Tremendous a lot of love and the match had juice when they were in control. The match drug when the PAB was in control but thankfully Berry and Carr put them away with Book Em’ Dano. ***

Fred Yehi vs. Matthew Riddle

From the outset, was clear Yehi and Riddle have good chemistry. After an initial stalemate on the ground Yehi lost his mind during a sequence of impressive German suplexes. Riddle sold well had to fight from underneath for the second night in a row, but he persevered  and won with a heel hook.***¼

Ethan Page vs. Tomasso Ciampa

The first half of the match told a good story. Page tried to break Ciampa with a series of hard slams. The “Psycho Killer” countered with hard knee strikes. If they’d kept up with that, I think the match would’ve been better. Instead the second half was spot heavy and brought the flow of the match to a trickle. However, the closing stretch saved the match; some grown man bombs were thrown and Ciampa’s consecutive knockout knees were enough to put Page down for the count. ***¼

Zack Sabre Jr. & Sami Callihan vs. TJ Perkins & Drew Gulak

The second match in the loser’s bracket proved to be another excellent match. With TJP, ZSJ and Gulak in the contest one would be safe to assume there would be spurts of technical wizardry and the trio did not disappoint as there was lots of great chain wrestling in the opening stages of the fight. The wild card in the match was Sami Callihan, but he too brought the goods albeit in a different way.

Sami Callihan is in his element when his matches are filled with hate driven exchanges and the hostility between Callihan and Gulak was apparent from the moment the bell rang. The two laid into each with everything they had in several fisticuffs; a real departure for Gulak since he prefers submissions over strikes. The time these two spent in the ring together gave the match a different feel in spots which I thought kept the match fresh.

Gulak turned out to be the least of Callihan’s troubles. His own partner turned out to be his worst enemy and three instances of miscommunication kept the pair out of the winner’s circle. Perkins forced Callihan to submit with an armbar to end a match that perfectly blended a simple and a layered approach. ***3/4

After the match the latent hostility between ZSJ and Callihan exploded. Callihan challenged ZSJ to a match and ZSJ accepted. The two came to blows with ZSJ walking away with the advantage.

Tracey Williams vs. Peter Kaasa

I’m going to cut to the chase: this match was not good or bad, it was an average match between two men who did not mesh well in the ring. Tracey Williams won via crossface and advanced to the finals of the Style Battle to face his stablemate Matthew Riddle. **

After the match, Williams cut a short promo where he vowed to end Riddle’s undefeated streak.

Johnny Gargano & Drew Galloway vs. The Bravados

A funny thing happened on the way to crowning EVOLVE Tag Team Champions: Harlem and Lancelot Bravado got over huge with the fans in Florida. A year ago the Bravados left EVOLVE as despised heels who worked a dreadful gimmick. They returned with a revamped in-ring style and with a new attitude as hard working, never say die babyfaces. Also, they excelled in taking a tremendous beating during this match. Harlem sold Drew Galloway’s chops as if scalding oil was being poured on his chest. Galloway and Gargano looked great in the match too. Their chemistry was improved from night one and they finally gave the audience a taste of their double team arsenal. The superkick into a reverse Alabama Slam into a Gargano-Escape was a beautiful end to a fun match. ***1/2

Roppongi Vice vs. Heroes Eventually Die

How do you stop a two-man wrecking crew? Well, if you are in an organized fight then taking them down to the ground is your best bet, and against the hard-hitting team of Chris Hero and Tommy End, Roppongi Vice did that in the opening. I like a little strategy in my wrestling and while I was disheartened when they abandoned that approach later in the match, the main event was still an enjoyable round of faux fighting. A few minutes shaved off the running time would have helped the match but the last few minutes of strike exchange and near submissions more than made up for any shortcomings. End and Hero moved onto the finals after a rolling elbow, jumping knee strike combination put Rocky Romero down for the 1-2-3. ***¾

Final Thoughts: EVOLVE 54 was a show aided by parity in match quality and a contrast in styles. That is the formula that the promotion has used in its resurgence over the last year and the one it will hopefully stick with for quite a while. I feel good recommending fans to spend their hard earned money on this show because it is an easy watch that feels like a cold drink of water.