This is WWNLive’s sixth year hosting shows during the biggest weekend in wrestling. From 2010-2012, the now-defunct Dragon Gate USA dominated the weekend. In 2013, WWNLive’s “other” brand, EVOLVE, had a chance to make their mark on WrestleMania weekend with EVOLVE 19 – a show that has been torn apart, destroyed, and spit on by nearly every critic and fan alike. Even Gabe Sapolsky has apologized for the numerous issues that plagued that show.
When I started following the product, right around the time of EVOLVE 19, it seemed like the ugly stepchild of independent wrestling. We were supposed to like it, afterall anything with Gabe’s name attached to it is supposed to be good, right? Yet time after time, EVOLVE seemed like a waste of time, energy, and money. iPPV problems caused fans to lose faith in the promotion and a weak roster filled with Jake Manning matches, Larry Dallas promos, and the presence of Masada didn’t appeal to the majority of people in the wrestling bubble.
Things hit a low point at EVOLVE 28, their second appearance at WrestleMania weekend. I have never been so angry after watching a wrestling show than I was after EVOLVE 28. Everything had built up to that show and the disaster that occurred was nearly unforgivable. Between the iPPV problems that made the highly anticipated Biff Busick vs. Drew Gulak match unwatchable, the hour long intermission, and the disappointing main event between Trent Baretta and Chris Hero, I was not only ready to hand-wave the rest of the WWN shows for that weekend (the infamous Dragon Gate USA shows with no Dragon Gate talent), but Dragon Gate USA and EVOLVE all together. That weekend was a microcosm of bad indie wrestling.
The EVOLVE reboot in the summer of 2014 was needed. While it wasn’t a success off the bat, it was the slow beginning of EVOLVE regaining a much needed identity. Three men from that triple-shot came away with momentum and a feeling of belonging in the eyes of booker Gabe Sapolsky – current NXT superstar Biff Busick, the leader of Catch Point, Drew Gulak, and current EVOLVE Champion, Timothy Thatcher.
Not bad for an experimental tournament, right?
EVOLVE turned the corner in California last year at WrestleMania weekend. It was a weekend designed to make one man thee man, and that man was the aforementioned Timothy Thatcher. Thatcher knocked off international star Tommy End at EVOLVE 40 before picking up a monumental victory against one of the best wrestlers on the planet, Chris Hero, at the inaugural WWN Supershow. It was a step in the right direction for the product, and even as one of Thatcher’s biggest critics, he gained my respect that weekend because there was a vision for him. Thatcher was being built up as the next champion and rightfully so. He was the first wrestler since EVOLVE’s inception to be labeled as “EVOLVE’s guy”.
The ever growing and wildly bizarre relationship between EVOLVE and NXT has put more eyes on the EVOLVE product than ever before and the roster, filled with world class talent, has stepped up to the plate. An increase in attendance has added an excitement to the product that has been missing for years. Thatcher, Gulak, Chris Hero, TJP, and Zack Sabre Jr have helped form EVOLVE’s identity as the premier place for hard strikes and intense grappling.
This, of course, leads us to the 2016 WWN Supershow and the traditional Mercury Rising six-man tag match. A former staple of Dragon Gate USA, it’s now the only thing that connects the WWN Universe with their dark, dark days.
This year, the theme is Days of Future Past as Johnny Gargano, TJP, and Japanese sensation Kota Ibushi join forces to take on the three of the hottest prospects on the planet, Will Ospreay, Tommy End, and Marty Scurll.
In a way, this feels like the swan song for an era of independent wrestling. Ricochet, Rich Swann, Uhaa Nation, and Johnny Gargano have all or are moving onto bigger and better things. This is a torch passing. Ospreay, wherever he ends up, is going to be a superstar. End has spent a year in EVOLVE and is getting more and more comfortable with their talent. Scurll has become a cult favorite and it is close to breaking out in a big way.
EVOLVE, for the first time in ages, feels like a can’t-miss product. Their core roster : Thatcher, Gulak, Hero, TJP, and Sabre Jr are hot commodities in the wrestling scene. They have a sense of belonging in this company. In true Gabe Sapolsky fashion, EVOLVE has snatched up some of wrestling’s hottest prospects, whether that be the European trio or Fred Yehi or Lio Rush.
The WWN Supershow signifies all that has gone right for EVOLVE over the past year. The company, for lack of a better word, has evolved, and has become one of the most exciting products on the planet and I expect that trend to continue at the WWN Supershow this year.