EVOLVE returned to the New York area just two weeks away from their anticipated three show weekend in Dallas. Instead of an entire card full of filler, the fans in attendance at La Boom and watching at home on WWNLive had an entire card of excellent matches to look forward, such as Sami Callihan vs. TJ Perkins and Chris Hero vs. Tracy Williams. The headlining matches—Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Drew Gulak and Timothy Thatcher vs. Matthew Riddle for the EVOLVE Championship—seemed destined to be crowd pleasers, and for the most part the entire show ended up being an enjoyable two hours of wrestling.
March 18, 2016
Queens, New York
TJ Perkins def. Sami Callihan
Call me crazy, but I don’t understand the “meh” response to Sami Callihan’s ring work since his return to the independent scene. Based on what I have sampled Callihan is working hard to become a well-rounded wrestler, and this match with TJP proves it.
During Callihan’s last run with the WWN family, his style was centered around hard strikes and high spots. Against TJP, his work centered around dissecting Perkins’ leg with care. A focused, albeit brutal, technical style suits Callihan’s loose canon character much better in my opinion.
Callihan and Perkins worked seamlessly together and their interactions did not feel awkward. As a result, they worked a nice pace that blended TJP’s athleticism and Callihan’s technical violence. I especially liked the finish. Perkins used his quickness and grappling acumen to wiggle his way out of Callihan’s clutches and then wrapped him up on the matt with a Trailer Hitch/ankle lock combination that resulted in his submission victory. ***½
Perkins made it a point after the match to remind special guest William Regal that he is a free agent.
Ethan Page def. Jack Gallow
Local wrestler Jack Gallow filled in for Ethan Page’s scheduled opponent, Mike Bailey. It was hard to get a read on Gallow’s abilities due to the brevity of the match, but he didn’t get the jobber treatment. Gallow found ways to stonewall Page’s usual offense and made “All Ego” pull out a package piledriver to put him away. **
Drew Gulak def. Fred Yehi
If I have one criticism of grappling in professional wrestling, it is that the competitors well versed in that style often spend whole matches fighting for supremacy over either the ankle or the arm. Gulak verses Yehi took the style to new heights with this match. While it isn’t anything beyond an enjoyable midcard match, it does offer proof that the grappling style isn’t always akin to watching grass grow.
The key to the match was the creativity of the holds both men employed. They weren’t always easily identifiable and I found that to be a nice change of scenery from the monotony I wrote about above. I felt genuine excitement watching Yehi or Gulak contort the other’s body in ways I never thought possible. Gulak won with a “boring” dragon sleeper, but the work he and Yehi put into this match left me with hope that grappling might one day escape its niche cradle. ***½
Yehi wanted Gulak to shake his hand after the match. Gulak asked for a microphone and proceeded to explain that he respects Yehi but doesn’t feel that he has earned the right to shake his hand.
With the business between Yehi and Gulak settled, Tracy Williams took the mic and demanded that Chris Hero come to the ring so that they could fight.
Chris Hero def. Tracy Williams
Sometimes a foregone conclusion—like Chris Hero winning this match—is not a bad thing. At no point did it seem like Tracy Williams would pull off the upset, but strangely enough that made it easier to root for him as the fight progressed.
Hero beat the absolute stuffing out of Silver Ant’s favorite wrestler with short arm punches, big boots and his legendary elbow strikes. Each time Hot Sauce went down it was harder for him to pull himself up off the canvas, but he scowled each time and did so anyways. Even when Williams had Hero staggered, it took every ounce of energy he had to do so. Hell, Hero kicked out of every single one of Williams pinfall attempts with authority; Williams did the same, though, and with each one Hero looked more and more distraught until his expression turned to relief after a Gotch Life Piledriver turned Hot Sauce mild.
This is a classic example of how a loss sometimes helps a wrestler more than a win. Williams display of fighting spirit and absolute grit in this match cemented him, at least in my book, as a major player in EVOLVE going forward. ****½
Hero, perhaps a little punch drunk after his win, got on the mic and proclaimed that he is not the best in the world, he is the greatest of all-time.
The Premiere Athlete Brand def. Team Tremendous
As their run in EVOLVE continues, I’m amazed at how the PAB fails to gain any traction even when they have a good match like they did here against Team Tremendous. Konley and Nese worked their tails off for the first time in what seemed like a decade and proved that when they stop trying to wrestle as an 80s NWA heel duo they can be entertaining. Then, with total disregard for logic and the fact that Team Tremendous had a title match the next night… they won the match after interference from Andrea. I’ve defended the PAB on multiple occasions, but at this point their uneven work and undeserved strong booking has made me decide to finally jump ship on the two. **¾
Zack Sabre Jr. def. Johnny Gargano
During the last slew of EVOLVE shows, ZSJ uncharastically went winless. Later, he released a video where he stated that he felt he hadn’t earned the right to be called the “Best in the World”. The only was he could feel worthy of the title was to compete against and defeat the highest quality competition the promotion could provide. Well, EVOLVE delivered and slated ZSJ to face perhaps the most well rounded wrestler in company history, Johnny Gargano.
From the outset, the match felt more like a race than a fight. Sabre Jr. immediately took the match to the ground and started his customary work on the arm. Gargano found a way to keep him from inflicting heavy damage but the persistent British expatriate slowly chipped away at Mr. Candice LeRae’s wing. To his credit, Gargano kept his composure and hit one high impact move after another with the hope to finish ZSJ quickly. Neither man slowed down with the finish line in site and a photo finish loomed on the horizon. However, when the dust settled, Zack Sabre Jr. took home the victory with a creative variation of the arm bar.
Gargano and ZSJ really have good chemistry. They mixed their vastly different in ring styles perfectly and the result was one of the top matches for the month of March. ****½
The PAB ran down to the ring after the bell to put the boots to Gargano and declare their intent to take the EVOLVE Tag Team Championship. Ethan Page made the save with a steel chair in hand and before he left reminded Gargano that he had his back.
EVOLVE Championship Match
Timothy Thatcher def. Matthew Riddle
The build to this match was tremendous. Thatcher successfully defended his title against all comers and did so with grace and humility. In contrast, Matthew Riddle openly mocked EVOLVE and called it a stepping stone to better things. His arrogance put a blemish on his otherwise sterling time in the promotion. The only thing the feud needed was a good match to pay it off, but what transpired in the main event was uneven at best.
Work wise, this match was fine. Thatcher and Riddle went back and forth with strikes and grappling. Riddle wrestled on par with the champion and it looked like the match was building nicely. Then Thatcher hit a questionable gick to the groin area and blindsided Riddle with a headbutt. Three seconds later the champion retained.
I have no problem with the finish because it fits within the EVOLVE style. My issues is that it came out of nowhere and I felt cheated as a fan because it seemed like they were building to something solid. **¾
As soon as the match was over an irate Drew Gulak hit the ring and said that Thatcher was a cheat and a disgrace to the belt. Before the champion could respond Sami Callihan attacked him from behind. Callihan did not have long to gloat because Tracy Williams immediately choked him out as the show went off the air with chaos descending upon the ring.
Final Thoughts: I’m hard pressed to find any major fault with this show and besides a few minor gripes with the booking, EVOLVE 56 was business as usual for the promotion. The show is full of quality matches worked in almost every style imaginable and the storylines progressed logically and remain toned down in regards to camp, etc. All I can say now is quit reading my review and go order this show if you haven’t already watched it.