Royal Rumble Sunday is a day of dreams; a day when a wrestler can earn the right to headline WrestleMania. EVOLVE 55 was a day of dreams too. One man would leave as the winner of the Style Battle. One team would leave with a future tag team title shot. One team would leave as the first ever EVOLVE Tag Team Champions. The only uncertainty, whose dream would come true and whose would die?

EVOLVE 55
January 24, 2016
Orlando Downtown Recreation Complex
Orlando, Florida
Watch: WWNLive / Photos: Bryan Wright Photography

Jason Cade vs. Fred Yehi vs. Tony Nese vs. Ethan Page

The action in the opener was brisk and breathtaking; there were no dead spots and all four men shined. Jason Case and Fred Yehi cemented their places as crowd favorites and Ethan Page’s attempt to be a good man backfired on him. “All Ego” knocked out the referee by mistake during an exchange with Yehi. He attempted to revive the official and fell victim to an opportunistic Anthony Nese, who scored the 1-2-3 after a pump handle driver. I thought the ref bump was a nice way to continue Page’s story and it did not interrupt the flow of the match at all. ***

After the match, Caleb Konley stormed to the ring and demanded some real competition. Of course that brought out…

Tomasso Ciampa vs. Caleb Konley

I’d wager that the purpose of this match was to give Caleb Konley another big victory to put on his resume for a title shot against Timothy Thatcher. Well Konley got his win via moonsault, but it certainly didn’t feel an ascendant moment for him. He and Ciampa tried to create for the big match feel with normally crowd friendly spots and near falls.  The effort was there, but the energy wasn’t; the crowd couldn’t get into the match and neither could I. **½

Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Sami Callihan

The seeds were planted at EVOLVE 54 for Zack Sabre Jr. and Sami Callihan to have an absolute battle and for portions of the match they did. Everything from Callihan’s creepy staredown with ZSJ as he made his entrance to the sickening shots these men threw at each other marked this as a true grudge match. Some of the shots, most of which were taken by Callihan, were a little much and hard for me to stomach, and as the match wore on the battle became a prolonged siege.

Matches such as this don’t need to go on for very long and ZSJ vs. Callihan just went kept going and going to the point of overkill. Don’t get me wrong, they did some fantastic stuff, but as the old saying goes “sometimes less is more.”  The finish made up for some of the matches’ shortcomings. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it yet, but the way Callihan finishes off Sabre Jr. is mind numbingly stiff. ***1/4

Style Battle Final: Matt Riddle vs. Tracy Williams

I’ve been impressed with Matthew Riddle ever since he first set in an EVOLVE ring. My only criticism of him was that he had yet to work a long match. Well folks, he proved me wrong against Tracy Williams.

In the first prolonged contest of Riddle’s brief stay in the promotion, he and Tracy Williams each put on a career-making performance. The sheer brutality Williams demonstrated in this match was unreal. His strikes made me cringe, the torque on his submissions made me gasp and his shoulder breaker/tombstone combination left me speechless. Much like he did all weekend, Riddle fought from underneath and it oddly suited him. Also, I can’t write enough good things about Riddle’s selling during the contest.  His guttural screams while Williams stretched him with hold after hold would have made Stu Hart grin in delight.

The finish saw Riddle use a dragon screw on Williams from the top rope and then locked in his signature heel hook. “Hot Sauce” went down swinging, well stomping in this case with a series of sickening blows to Riddle’s skull, but Riddle manned up and cinched the hold in tighter; Williams tapped out and Riddle’s undefeated record stayed intact. ****½

Awash in a victorious glow, Riddle snatched a microphone and demanded that Timothy Thatcher come out and accept his challenge for an EVOLVE Championship match. The champion came out and accepted. That brought out an enraged Caleb Konely who crowed he deserved a shot. Sami Callihan came out and made his intentions known by attacking Thatcher and Konley before he was subdued by all four members of Catch Point. This was a really hot angle that did a great job of setting up Thatchers’s next series of challengers.

Second Chance Tournament Finals
The Bravados vs. Team Tremendous vs. Drew Gulak & TJ Perkins vs. Roppongi Vice

With all due respect to TJP/Gulak and the Bravado Brothers, because the quartet of them worked hard this weekend, but the finals of the Second Chance Tournament centered around one team, the tremendous team of Dan Berry and Bill Carr, and their quest for redemption.

You see, on Friday Team Tremendous was seconds away from putting away heavily favored Roppongi Vice; it would have been a huge upset. Lady Luck didn’t feel like smiling on the hero cops though, RPV got down and dirty, one nut shot and Strong Zero later and the former IWGP Jr. Tag Team Champions were moving in the main tournament.

Fate intervened and RPV fell to Heroes Eventually Die on Saturday. Barry and Carr would get a shot to make things rights. At first, RPV slithered away from the ring and wanted nothing to do with the detectives. Team Tremendous fought through a heated first fall and sent the Bravado Brothers back to their grandma courtesy of a Book Em’ Dano. Barretta and Romero wormed their way back to the ring and cheated to win the second fall and thus the rematch began.

It was a back and forth final fall. Team Tremendous came so close to winning on several occasions. RPV tried to fight dirty, again, but this time it wasn’t to be; Team Tremendous persevered and finally got the win; one that guaranteed them a future shot at the EVOLVE Tag Team Championships. However, the true prize was that for once, two cops on the straight took on a corrupt system and won. ***½

EVOLVE Tag Team Championship Match
Heroes Eventually Die vs. Johnny Gargano & Drew Galloway

There is a lot to love about this match and a lot to hate at the same time. First, the love; majority of the opening minutes were a crazy brawl through the crowd, which was damn entertaining. Also, there were plenty of pleasing strike combinations from Hero and End, who left the tournament as darlings.

Now, I think it’s fair to say that no one likes a match that overstays its welcome, and, Christ, did this match seem to go on forever. I know all four men were working hard but they did to much and as the minutes went by the juice slowly dripped out of the crowd. So when Gargano made End tap to end the match the corresponding pop felt more like a “finally” than “oh my god, congrats guys.” ***¼

Final Thoughts: Past and present collided at EVOLVE 55. I think that EVOLVE’s present was well demonstrated by the opener and the Style Battle final: smart work and simple storytelling. The tag finals and the several other matches were straight from EVOLVE past: overlong contests and moves being performed for the sake of moves being performed. It’s understandable that several wrestlers wanted to make an impact on one of the biggest weekends in company history and I’ll chalk up the missteps as an aberration and not the beginning of a period of regression, at least for the interim.