Editor’s Note – “The Young Boy” Case Lowe reviewed the opener, TJ Perkins vs Cedric Alexander. Joe Lanza missed the match due to technical issues. 

TJ Perkins def. Cedric Alexander

I’m sure if these two were positioned later on in the card, they would’ve tore the house down. Both men are currently having tremendous years in wrestling and are finally picking up notoriety on a bigger level. Part of that obviously comes from the Cruiserweight Classic, but it should be noted that TJP has finally found a home promotion in EVOLVE and Alexander has broken free of ROH restrictions and is now killing it all over the country. This wasn’t their best work, as mentioned, but it was an opener in front of a hot crowd. They traded dabs and strikes, some of which were disgustingly stiff, and in the end, the forefront of Stokely Hathaway’s Dream Team was able to submit Alexander. This felt like something you’d see on the WWE Network. They kept it fairly short and basic, but the crowd responded well to everything that they did. ***1/4Case Lowe

Tracy Williams & Fred Yehi def. Jigsaw & Peter Kaasa

Jigsaw, who was an EVOLVE semi-regular over the first four years of the promotion, returned last month following a layoff of over two years. He teaming here with the returning Peter Kaasa, fresh off of his successful first tour with Dragon Gate. Jigsaw’s mat wrestling is underrated, as shown against Zack Sabre Jr last month, and showing it off again here, going toe to toe on the mat with noted grappler Williams. Aside from a couple of trademark Kaasa dives, this was paint by numbers, with Catch Point dominating Jigsaw to set up a Kaasa hot tags. Jigsaw putting away Yehi with a brainbuster was a surprise, but Catch Point quickly got their heat back in the post match by clearing the ring with some hard slaps after briefly teasing dissension. Jigsaw looked good and should probably be a regular moving forward. Kaasa, while a little less seasoned than most of this roster, is an incredible athlete with unlimited potential. ***

Ethan Page def. DUSTIN

Aside from a teased count out spot following a DUSTIN piledriver on the floor, this was a bore. This was not Page’s night in particular, as he looked a bit sluggish. For his part, DUSTIN worked with some spark, but the match was dull and simply fell flat. Page won it with the package piledriver. **

Drew Gulak def. Tony Nese

This took some time to get going and was probably about five minutes longer than it needed to be, but when they got rolling it was very good. Nese is underrated. He’s obviously known for his athletic, crisp looking offense, but an overlooked part of his game is his bumping. Nese takes unique, dangerous looking bumps, and his outstanding athletic ability lends itself to creative finishes like we saw here, where Gulak caught Nese mid leapfrog and rolled him up seamlessly to pick up the victory. Good match. ***1/2

Gulak called out Thatcher, who he faces tomorrow for the title. Thatcher tried to hit the ring, but was attacked from behind by that sneaky, dastardly bro Matt Riddle.

EVOLVE Championship – No Holds Barred
Timothy Thatcher (c) def. Matt Riddle 

This is a big weekend for Thatcher, who has seen his stock drop this year with some bad performances while the rest of the roster has thrived, and in many cases, blown right past him the eyes of the fans. Matt Riddle is Exhibit A of the latter point. Riddle will run away with any credible Rookie of the Year award, and will earn plenty votes for Wrestler of the Year. His performance here was a good example why. The story was Thatcher, the veteran shooter, finally putting the cocky rookie in his place, battering and stretching him with Riddle having no place to go, unable to break holds with rope breaks or escape to the floor due to the No Holds Barred stipulation. In a match like this, with very little give and take and Riddle barely showing any offense, selling is vital and Riddle’s selling was elite level, whether screaming in pain as Thatcher punished him, collapsing in a heap, or struggling to pull himself up to his feet. This was a dominant win for Thatcher, who came off like a vicious killer with no mercy, enhanced greatly by Riddle who put in one of the best performances of his short career. Rarely if ever do you see rookies who are this good at the nuances of selling, let alone with the ability to get their character over and connect with crowds the way Riddle does. There are veteran wrestlers who I think are excellent performers who lag behind Riddle in both of those areas, which are two of the trickiest skills to grasp in wrestling. Riddle is an absolute prodigy, and this is one of his must see performances.

Thatcher won this with an armbar while Riddle dangled helplessly from the apron, tangled in the ropes and tapping furiously. This was the match Thatcher needed to get back on track, and it told the perfect story to get the running storyline of Thatcher going through Catch Point one by one back onto the forefront of the promotion. It’s pretty hard to not be excited for Thatcher vs Gulak after the events from tonight. Best match on the show. ****1/4

Cody Rhodes def. Zack Sabre Jr

A simple story, with Rhodes working Sabre’s leg, and Sabre working Cody’s arm. While well worked, this was far from anything flashy, never hit a second gear, and didn’t have the oomph you would have liked to have seen in Cody’s indie debut. A key moment was Sabre kicking out of the Cross Rhodes, which combined with Rhodes finishing Sabre with his new leg lock submission (called “American Nightmare”), was symbolic in Rhodes moving forward and putting the past behind him. I can’t call this a bad match, as it was well worked and everything was logical, but the finish was sudden and flat, and it was hardly a “busting through the gate” type performance for Rhodes.

As we’ve seen with Trent Beretta and Drew Galloway, breaking away from the WWE style and acclimating yourself to the high level indies does take some time. Big room and small room wrestling are very different animals, from the pacing and psychology right down to the small things like facial expressions and mannerisms. Rhodes performance here was not unlike what we’ve seen from other high profile ex-WWE stars when they first hit the indies. He was technically sound, and the match was decent enough, but it was lacking that extra something. The Joppa crowd was excited to see him and reacted well to the match, but crowds won’t be as easy the second time through when the novelty wears off as they were tonight. Time will tell if he can fully adjust. He appears to be confident and motivated, which is a vital first step. ***1/4

Final Thoughts

This was the worst EVOLVE show I’ve seen this year. This is not to say the show was bad, because it wasn’t. EVOLVE has set themselves a high bar, earned with incredible show after incredible show, many of which were Show of the Year caliber. The double edged sword of setting that bar, is that you aren’t going to continuously clear it. With that said, this was a decent show top to bottom, with one must see match, and a newsworthy main event that is also worth a watch for that reason alone. This would be a solid show for most promotions. For EVOLVE, it was a letdown.