April 1, 2016
Eddie Deen’s Ranch
The standard bearer for independent wrestling on WrestleMania weekend, Gabe Sapolsky’s EVOLVE brand, kicked things off in grand style with EVOLVE 58. On paper one of the deepest cards of the weekend, EVOLVE 58 featured a disastrous first half, made worse by iPPV technical issues. Thankfully, the show was saved by the latter half, which may have featured the best and most important match of the weekend.
We kicked off festivities with EVOLVE commentators Lenny Leonard and Roy Naylor introducing us to the show and kicked immediately to our first match — shockingly, the EVOLVE Tag Team Championship.
Before we get to the match, a few words about the venue (Eddie Deen’s Ranch). The Ranch will be the hub of WWNLive’s offerings this weekend, starting with EVOLVE and including CZW, Kaiju Big Battel, SHIMMER and the WWN Mercury Rising Supershow. It’s a running joke to laugh at some of the venues EVOLVE runs from but this wasn’t a laughable venue by any means. It looked great. The lighting was better than most independent venues and the almost unlimited capacity made the crowd (purported to be the largest in EVOLVE history) look great. Sure, there were a few oddities, notably the abundance of Christmas lights everywhere and the wild west kids town facade, complete with a General Store. But hey, it’s Eddie Deen’s Ranch in Dallas, Texas, what do you expect? Too long, didn’t read version: thumbs up on the venue.
Back to the match, well, sort of… Things started off fine as EVOLVE Tag Team Champions Johnny Gargano and Drew Galloway made their way down the ring. Galloway and Gargano took time to acknowledge the large crowd and how far EVOLVE and WWNLive had come in their years touring WrestleMania weekend. Gargano announced a special cornerman for the team, making his return to EVOLVE, Kota Ibushi!
EVOLVE Tag Team Championship
Johnny Gargano & Drew Galloway (c) def. Premiere Athlete Brand (Caleb Konley & Anthony Nese)
That’s when the problems started. Early buffering of the video gave way to a complete shutdown of the match (literally, they stopped wrestling in the ring to wait for the issues to be resolved). At one point, the feed went completely black. Live reports were all iPPV viewers had. During the stream shutdown, the match came to a very confusing end. iPPV and live attendees were equally confused at the time. One half saw only a blank screen while those live at Eddie Deen’s Ranch saw Caleb Konley tap to the Gargano Escape submission hold. Well, sort of. Konley tapped, Gargano let go of the hold but no bell rang. Why did no bell ring? Well… there was no bell to ring! Yes, someone forgot the bell. No, I’m not kidding.
Not only were iPPV viewers left literally in the dark, the live audience finish was flat and confusing. To make matters worse, this match actually meant a ton to the future of EVOLVE. Gargano & Galloway retained their titles but the Premiere Athlete Brand, as stipulated in the match, can no longer tag together. Whether the no bell finish plays a part in that stipulation being upheld, we’ll have to see. Either way, this was not a great start to EVOLVE 58. NR
EVOLVE Championship Match
Timothy Thatcher vs. Matt Riddle – No Contest
The stream returned just in time for us to see Matt Riddle in the ring grabbing the mic from WWN ring announcer Joanna Rose. Riddle called out Thatcher and shockingly we have our EVOLVE Championship match as the second match of the night.
Riddle was by himself to start the match as none of his Catch Point stablemates joined him at ringside. EVOLVE set this match up with a fantastic mini-doc, that even though the match has passed, you should still watch. Videos like these are super effective and more promotions should take advantage of the medium.
The first act of the match featured primarily back and forth grapple work between the two. Riddle grabbed the momentum every so often but Thatcher cut him off at every turn and showed himself to be the clear veteran of the match. The match really got going in the final few minutes as Thatcher/Riddle traded arm bars and various arm holds. The finish erased any good will they were building up with a very confusing, deflating wet fart of a finish. Riddle had Thatcher locked in the ropes, wrenched back on the arm and Thatcher immediately screamed in pain. Thatcher rolled to the outside, the ref threw up the dreaded X sign and rang the bell. The live audience wasn’t sure what exactly happened and Riddle immediately grabbed the EVOLVE championship. The ref yanked the title from Riddle and deemed the match a no contest because Riddle didn’t break the hold in the ropes. Ugh.
The build to this match was spectacular and built well off both their EVOVLE 56 title match and Riddle’s background. This finish did the amtch no favors, though I’m sure this won’t be the last we see of the two but on the biggest weekend of the year a confusing, flat finish used simply to build a rematch down the line seems out of place. **½
Post match, Thatcher continued to sell his elbow while commentators Rob Naylor and Lenny Leonard honed in on Thatcher’s “injured” elbow. The two questioned his status throughout the weekend and reported a potential dislocated elbow. Stay tuned, this will be a big story of the weekend for Thatcher and EVOLVE.
Marty Scurll def. Fred Yehi
Like a gift from the gods, a charisma bomb went off for the next match. Yehi, one of the best young wrestlers in the world, oozes in-ring charisma but poor Fred was so overmatched in that department by the “The Villain” Marty Scrull.
Unfortunately for Yehi, this would be the theme of the match too as it wasn’t the Georgians night. Yehi controlled the match early but the clear focus throughout was Scrull. The commentary team focused heavily on the 27-year-old’s journey to the states. The two teased many of their signature spots throughout but in the end it was Scurll focusing on Yehi’s fingers that gave way to the finish. Scurll focused on the hands of Yehi before hitting a Falcon Arrow into a chicken wing submission to get the win.
After the deflating tone of the first two matches, this match was just what the doctor ordered. It didn’t overstay its welcome and brought the fans back into the show. ***
Sami Callihan def. Ethan Page
Page is among my favorite wrestlers in the world right now, not because of his in-ring work (which I’d describe as …solid?) but rather because of his tremendous character work. Nowhere is this on better dispaly than EVOLVE where Page is looking to “win back” the fans. Page was brought in via endorsement from Gargano a year ago and made himself a mainstay within the company eventually turning on Johnny and setting up a monster feud. Since Gargano dispatched of Page, he’s been trying to make things right. He’s shook every hand, kissed every baby and waved his little hand off until people start to like him again.
Tonight, he was doing battle with the Callihan Death Machine, Sami Callihan, who’s still finding his footing post-NXT. While a good match, the dynamics and structured seemed… off. Callihan played mega heel here while Page teetered the line without going too far in any direction. Page appeared to have the match one hitting his finisher (The Spinning Dwayne) but Callihan kicked out rather easily. Page went for the package piledriver — a move he’s been effectively using as of late—but Callihan reversed it and hit a sliding forearm for the victory. **½
TJ Perkins def. Ricochet
Leonard and Naylor lamented the fact that the WWNLive family took Ricochet for granted in his younger years and how lucky there were to have him on many of their early shows. I like that nod as it immediately gave a special feel to this match. Seizing the moment, Ricochet and Perkins decided to have a great match. Thanks, guys! The beginning saw Ricochet with the advantage thanks to some of his patented high-flying offense. Eventually, the youngest veteran in wrestling (seriously, Perkins is 31 and has wrestled for 18 years), was sick of Ricochet’s shit and slowed the match to a crawl and I mean that in the best way possible. Perkins began working over the legs of Ricochet — a very effective strategy against a high-flyer. After a long control period, Ricochet fired back up and the two exchanged a beautiful sequence of reversals.
Letting his cockiness get the better of him, Ricochet flew to the top rope, went for a splash but landed awkwardly on his feet, his knee buckling in the process. Perkins immediately attacked and put Ricochet in a heel hook for the win. The story here was fantastic and the work is as clean as you’ll see despite the speed at points. This had Match of the Night written all over it… for a few minutes at least. ****
Post match, Ring of Honor manager Stokley Hathaway entered the ring with a contract. He handed it to Perkins who signed immediately. Hathaway got on the mic to tell us Perkins had signed onto the Dream Team. He then called out Triple H and told him to sign Perkins for the Global Cruiserweight Series. Leonard and Naylor elluded to the fact that this could be it for Perkins in Catch Point (more on that later).
Best In The World Challenge Series – The Flyer
Zack Sabre Jr. def. Will Ospreay
Sabre is out to prove himself as “The Best in the World” thus, he’s going through a series of matches named, fittingly enough, the Best in the World Challenge Series. His third stop on the tour sees him battle fellow United Kingdom-er Will Ospreay. For those unfamiliar, Ospreay is one of the premier high-fliers in wrestling. The word prodigy gets thrown around often but Ospreay is absolutely that. At 22-years-old, his star seems to shine brighter each and everytime he gets in the ring, no matter the country. However, EVOLVE 58 may be the brightest yet. This match was nothing short of spectacular and is an early favorite for best match of WrestleMania weekend.
More than just a fantastic match filled with fast-paced but smartly worked offense, counters to counters, reversals of reversals and an unglued crowd — this match was profoundly important. We see great matches all the time, every month, every week, wrestling has never had more unbelievable matches readily accessible than right now. Rarely, though, do we see important matches in the flesh. Like Do Fixer vs. Blood Generation Dragon Gate six-man from Ring of Honor’s Supercard of Honor 2006 (for all intends and purposes, the match that put “WrestleMania Weekend” on the match), Ospreay vs. Sabre Jr was an important point in pro wrestling history. The European wrestling scene, which has seen tremendous growth in the last year, officially staked their claim with this match. They are here and they aren’t going anywhere. Do Fixer/Blood Generation gave way to a new appreciation of both Dragon Gate but also the formation of Dragon Gate USA which evolved fittingly enough into EVOLVE. It opened people’s eyes to a faster brand of pro wrestling than we had ever seen stateside.
Now, nearly 10 years later, we’ve seen yet another transformative match. How transformative remains to be seen. We’ll know that some years down the line but the feeling is much the same as when Do Fixer/Blood Generation reached its climactic ending. The crowd erupted into a standing ovation, so loud Leonard and Naylor could barely be heard. Relative unknowns to the wrestling fandom at large, Sabre and Ospreay not only showed their tremendous ability, they showed the world what’s been festering in Europe for years now.
It was hard to grasp what was happening in the moment of this match but the closing stretch was among the best I’ve ever seen. Ospreay channeled his inner Kazuchika Okada, teasing a Rainmaker which didn’t phase the technical wizard Sabre Jr., who countered easily. Ospreay went for a standing Shooting Star Press but, again, Sabre was the smarter wrestler and caught the 22-year-old in a triangle submission. Ospreay worked his way back into the match hitting a spectacular looking Spanish Fly but Sabre immediately counted with a series of knees and a soccer kick. Sabre lifted Ospreay up, hit him with a beautiful Liger Bomb and a sickening double-armed submission for the tap out.
My write-up doesn’t do this match justice. Hell, I’m not even sure if watching this after the fact is going to do it justice. This wasn’t just a great match, it was an important match. The European wrestling scene made a statement at the Eddie Deen’s Ranch, one that will be heard loud and clear. *****
— Drew Galloway (@GallowaySpeaks) April 1, 2016
Catch Point (Drew Gulak & Tracy Williams) def Heros. Eventually. Die. of Chris Hero & Tommy End)
These teams had the almost impossible task of following up Ospreay/Sabre. Not knowing what was ahead of them, the teams worked a methodical and solid match. Unfortunately, solid has a tough time following spectacular. Hero & End controlled much of the early part of the match with their hard-nosed offense. End in particular is one of the best strikers in wrestling and a man who legitimately terrifies me. After eating elbows and kicks for what seemed like an eternity, Catch Point rallied back (almost Muhammad Ali-like) using their technical wizardry to stifle their tired opponents. Submission after submission wore out End and Hero who had given Catch Point their best shots early in the match and now were hoping to land just one more.
The last act of the match was all about teamwork. End and Hero hit a piledriver and brain buster tandem. They even went for stereo pins, very cute. Not to be outdone, Catch Point went for tandem crossfaces, even switching opponents at a point. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Gulak locked End in a Dragon Sleeper for the victory. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this match but the flash finish seemed out of place, particularly after so many failed submissions earlier in the match. It never seemed like THIS submission and THIS time should’ve done in Hero & End. Either way, it did and EVOLVE 58 closed with Catch Point on top. ***1/4
Notably, TJ Perkins was ringside rooting on his Catch Point brethren. Not seen was Riddle. It was never explained why he wasn’t ringside or what his status in the Catch Point stable is. After discussing the match with his current (former?) stablemates, Perkins was shooed away by Hathaway as EVOLVE 58 went off the air.
Technical issues and bizarre finishes marred the first half but two spectacular matches, including a MOTY contender make EVOLVE 58 a must watch.