Ethan Page vs Kobe Durst
Page followed up his lackluster win over DUSTIN at EVOLVE 66 with a tidy squash victory over fellow Ontario area indie wrestler Kobe Durst. Page cut a promo on Johnny Gargano, calling him out for the next EVOLVE weekend, which will be Gargano’s last. *
Peter Kaasa vs Tony Nese
This was a mess. Kaasa was very sloppy. He’s a great athlete with a world of potential, but he’s overly ambitious sometimes and blows too many spots. They never seemed to be on the same page, and to make matters worse, Daniel Bryan, Cesaro, and Tyler Breeze waltzed through the front door during the match, distracting the fans and throwing both guys off of their game for the next couple of minutes. It felt like neither guy was sure where they were taking things, and the match had no flow. There were a couple of nice suicide dives by Nese, and the finish with the dueling missed 450’s was pretty (Nese eventually landed one for the win), but the rest of this was cringe worthy. *1/4
Tommy End vs Matt Riddle
This was very shoot fighty style, with End going after Riddle’s arm after Thatcher nearly ripped it off one night earlier. End was methodical (and I don’t mean that as code for “boring”), which allowed Riddle to sell and sell big, which is always a plus. It wasn’t all grapple either, as End mixed in plenty of high impact pro wrestling style offense. The closing stretch was excellent, with both guys surviving big moves (including End kicking out of the tombstone), but not to excess. Riddle won it with the Bromission, and showed great fire in the closing moments, including a FIGHTING SPIRIT spot that had me all fired up. End symbolically left his wrist tape in the ring, as he’s on his way to WWE. Beating a guy leaving the territory was a good way to get Riddle a win back after being humiliated by Thatcher the night before. Great match. ****
Cedric Alexander vs Zack Sabre Jr
This took a while to get going, but when it finally did, it WENT. When you watch as much wrestling as I do, which is an unhealthy amount, it is rare to see new things. This match had two or three spots that I’d never seen before, including Alexander countering a European uppercut with a backslide.
Like End, Alexander is very likely on his way to WWE imminently, so dropping two matches in a row makes sense. Alexander, who was good during his ROH run, is working on a completely different level these days. It’s easy to knock ROH for not pushing him hard enough, but I’m not so sure that’s fair, as this is not the same wrestler that was under ROH’s employ. An argument could be made that ROH did a poor job positioning him to shine. Either way, Alexander’s best performances in those days were taking place on the Carolina indie scene, and not in ROH. None of that matters now. Alexander has arrived, and he’s undoubtedly in the midst of his breakout year. ****1/4
Sabre cut a tremendous heel promo in the post match, imploring to the crowd “It would be awfully nice if you could shut up for a minute please” in the most condescendingly British way possible. Smug heel Sabre has loads of potential.
Chris Hero vs Cody Rhodes
This is a hard match to analyze. Cody came out showing great fire, taking it right to Hero and dragging him around the building. The rest of the bout was largely Hero dominating, with brief spurts from Cody, including a few near falls that generated almost no reaction. The Cross Rhodes failed to score a pin again, so it looks like Cody has firmly established that move as his own personal Side Effect (and we haven’t even seen the Disaster Kick), which I think is a good idea as he moves forward to establish a fresh identity. As the match moved along, Hero seemed to be toying with Rhodes, like a cat would a dying mouse, until brutally finishing him off with a series of hard elbows in the corner. Last night was the feel good hand raising/rah rah promo, tonight was the brutal reality check and introduction to EVOLVE. ***1/4
I can’t call either Rhodes match this weekend bad, but as I noted in the EVOLVE 66 review, he hardly looked like a guy dead set on bursting out of the gate with killer performances. If he shows up at BOLA and turns in the functional stuff like we’ve seen here, his bouts will surely get lost in the shuffle and his stock will drop as a result. After this weekend, I’m confident he isn’t going to pull a Brian Myers, but with that said, he wanted the big boy bookings, so he’s going to have turn in big boy performances. Being decent isn’t going to cut it.
Drew Galloway taunted the knocked out Rhodes and chastised him for choosing Team EVOLVE last night. Drew Gulak ran him off while Cody had to be helped to the back by young boys.
EVOLVE Championship – Timothy Thatcher (c) vs Drew Gulak
“This match has become a battle of attrition.” – Joey Styles
I don’t even know where to begin. A dreadfully boring exhibition of masturbatory grapplefuck between two men completely devoid of charisma, with seemingly no feel for a completely apathetic crowd that eventually turned on the match.
It was obvious coming into the weekend that something had to be done about Thatcher, who in 2016, thanks to inconsistent performances (to be kind), a complete inability to connect with the crowd, and a non compelling storyline that was doing him no favors, has become one of the least interesting and least over acts in the company. Instead of dropping the title, the decision was made to turn him, which may have worked a few months ago, but it has become very clear now that Thatcher has the wrong kind of heat.
By the end of the match, the crowd knew what they were watching was terrible and entertained themselves by rooting for Thatcher to lose the title (not for Gulak to win it, and I’ll get to him in a minute), in between shouting insults at him. Keep in mind that this was before the post match turn, with Thatcher positioned as sympathetic. By the time they (finally) picked up the pace and turned it into a slugfest, the damage was already done and it was impossible to get the crowd back. A flat finish and miscommunication during the three count was a fitting end to an utter disaster of a match.
It wasn’t just that it was boring. It wasn’t just that it completely lost the crowd. It wasn’t just that the crowd vehemently turned on it. It actually went one step beyond that. By the end of this mess, the crowd ironically got behind the idea of Thatcher losing, almost as a unified shoulder shrug to make something out of nothing as to not ruin their afternoon, not unlike recent Royal Rumbles where fans were willing to get behind anyone as long as Batista or Roman Reigns didn’t win.
I’m not letting Gulak off the hook here. He isn’t exactly The Rock in the charisma department either, but that aside I’m absolutely baffled that two veteran wrestlers with multiple decades of experience between them didn’t understand what was happening enough here to switch gears. It may not have mattered anyway, as Thatcher might have been too far gone as a face (which the company seems to understand, as his turn felt like more of a rushed concession of reality than a well thought out long term plan), and this may have been the wrong match in front of the wrong crowd regardless. But they didn’t even try. They just sunk to the bottom, seemingly content with bombing hard. I fail to accept that they didn’t know any better. I think this was a case of two stubborn men that were going to have their match, and nothing was going to change that. It’s a big reason why Thatcher has fallen out of favor, as the rest of the ultra talented roster has blown right past him, thanks in part to a wider variety of matches in the toolbox. I have no idea if Thatcher has the ability to mix up his style, because he never even tries.
The grapple heavy style was a novelty when EVOLVE transitioned to it some 18-24 months ago. It quickly wore out its welcome, especially as more well rounded and skilled wrestlers who could do more than just grapple like TJP, Chris Hero, Tracy Williams, Fred Yehi, and others joined the company. Thatcher, and to a lesser extent Gulak, seem reluctant to adjust. If these men are so dead set on doing dry grappling that clearly isn’t over, perhaps they should get it out of their systems at a BJJ gym. EVOLVE has evolved. Adapt or die. DUD
Drew Galloway, Ethan Carter III, DUSTIN vs TJP, Fred Yehi, Ethan Page
This was even worse than the previous match.
Tracy Williams was taken out before the match by the heels, so this started three vs two. Ethan Page joined the “match”, a term I use loosely to describe this complete abomination, which felt like something straight out of the dying days of ECW, with Da Baldies beating up Balls Mahoney & Axel Rotten until New Jack shows up to clean house. Ethan Page is certainly no New Jack, and while I can appreciate a great out of control brawl, this was just a bunch of guys taking turns doing disjointed spots in front of a crowd that Thatcher had already destroyed. This just didn’t work, and ultimately was a complete waste of a bunch of great talent. Fittingly, this also ended with a botched pinfall, as either TJP forgot to kick out after a DUSTIN Awful Waffle, or the referee forgot the finish. Absolute garbage. DUD
Final Thoughts: Joey Styles kicked off the show as a major surprise and later called the title match with Lenny Leonard, and unfortunately he may have brought some ghosts of ECW with him, with a main event that channeled the very worst of his original employer. He may be a semi regular (at minimum) moving forward, as he turned down an invite to join Galloway’s stable and essentially (and literally) proclaimed himself commissioner, making matches for the September shows.
This show had the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows, an odd mixed bag of great wrestling, fun surprises, questionable booking, and a comically bad final hour. There was too much great stuff in the middle to call this a bad show, but way to much trash to call it good. Let’s just go with “newsworthy”.
Not a good weekend for EVOLVE.