This coming weekend, WWNLive presents EVOLVE 68 & EVOLVE 69. There’s a lot of things going on with these shows, from some talents leaving, to fresh faces coming in, returns, grudge matches, and mysterious warnings. It’s all covered as I preview the weekend ahead!
Farewell To An Icon…..and TJ Perkins
The biggest news heading into this weekend of EVOLVE events is that both Johnny Gargano & TJP will be finishing up with promotion, as they will both be part of RAW’s Cruiserweight Division, which is starting in less than two weeks. While we’ve known that Gargano was leaving, the TJP news only became official within the last week or so.
The departure of Johnny Gargano is a huge one for EVOLVE. He’s guy who has been synonymous with Dragon Gate USA & EVOLVE over the past six or seven years. From a guy who started at the absolute bottom (he wrestled in a dark match on the first-ever Dragon Gate USA show), he rose to the very top to become the ace of the promotion for many years.
This included two reigns as Dragon Gate USA Open The Freedom Gate Champion that lasted for a combined total of 1005 days. It’s hard to imagine EVOLVE without Johnny Gargano. To me, he is to WWNLive, specifically Dragon Gate USA & EVOLVE, what Bryan Danielson was to ROH for so many years. When you think of those two WWNLive promotions, you think of Johnny Gargano.
Another person who will be making his final EVOLVE appearances this weekend is TJP. He was someone who was on a number of the early EVOLVE shows, but returned to the promotion full-time in 2015, and has really done great things in this recent run.
You can always count on him to deliver a very good match, no matter where he is on the card or who he’s facing. As we’ve seen, his hard word has paid off spectacularly, with his appearance in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, and now being part of RAW’s Cruiserweight Division. I think it’s fair to say that the last year or so might be the best run of TJP’s career.
I don’t think enough is being made about the recent talent departures from EVOLVE.
Sure, they still have incredible talents like Zack Sabre Jr., Chris Hero, Drew Galloway, and so on, but losing both Johnny Gargano & TJP is still a massive loss for EVOLVE. Couple that with the losses of part-time EVOLVE guys like Cedric Alexander, Tommaso Ciampa & Tommy End (those last two to a much lesser extent), and the EVOLVE roster is in a very interesting place. You’ve got Drew Galloway’s group as the clear top heels, but then there’s EVOLVE Champion Timothy Thatcher & Zack Sabre Jr. who, if you watched EVOLVE 67, appear to be leaning towards heel turns (which is very weird since Sabre Jr. made his intentions known that he’s coming for the EVOLVE Title). That means that the face side of the (full-time) roster is basically Catch Point, Ethan Page, Anthony Nese. I am a little concerned with how they’re going to fill certain spots and roles with these departures, but I think we’ll get a clearer vision of where things are going after this weekend.
The Return Of A King
Another big news story surrounding EVOLVE 68 & EVOLVE 69 is the return of Ricochet. These shows are actually the first time that Ricochet has been on non-WrestleMania Weekend EVOLVE cards since January of 2015. That’s really amazing to think about, when you consider that Ricochet used to be a cornerstone of the WWNLive Family. Not only will he be back for this weekend of shows, but he’s been confirmed for EVOLVE events in November & December. It’s really awesome to see him back in EVOLVE. It’ll be very interesting to see how he fits in, since EVOLVE has changed drastically since the last time that he was a “regular” with the promotion. He certainly has some very cool things coming up on this weekend of shows, as he’ll be involved in a Triple Threat Match with Matt Riddle & Tony Nese at EVOLVE 68, and will also be taking on Zack Sabre Jr. at EVOLVE 69. Look for his matches to be some of the best of the weekend, without question.
New Prospects Take Center Stage
Without the aforementioned departures of regular talents like Johnny Gargano & TJ Perkins, along with other semi-regular talents like Cedric Alexander, Tommaso Ciampa, & Tommy End, EVOLVE is taking the opportunity to feature some fresh faces on these upcoming EVOLVE cards. What I really like about all of the new talent they’re using this weekend is that come from all ends of the spectrum, in terms of where they come from, and their histories with EVOLVE.
There’s Darby Allin, who has made a name for himself on several EVOLVE events this year as a guy with a ton of heart who, despite taking some of the nastiest bumps we’ve seen all year, still fights back with everything he has.
You’ve got someone like Dan Barry who, even though we usually associate as a tag team wrestler, is getting a chance in singles competition. A guy like David Starr has made a name for himself in numerous independent promotions (such as Beyond Wrestling & CZW) across the country, but this is his first major opportunity in EVOLVE.
Then, there’s Chuck O’Neil & Travis Gordon. One (O’Neil) is a MMA Fighter who has been making a transition into pro-wrestling (much like Matt Riddle did), while the other is a real unknown, whose only previous EVOLVE appearance was in a squash match against Ethan Page a few months ago.
I’m sure if any of these talents are going to win their matches (considering who they’re facing), but I think we’ll all be watching intently to see who leaves the biggest impression. We also got the news that Jason Kincaid will be appearing on the October shows, and it was teased that Jeff Cobb could be on some EVOLVE events later this year.
Drew Galloway, Joey Styles, and a new threat?
This weekend sees the continuation of Drew Galloway’s crusade against the company, specifically its relationship with WWE. The previous EVOLVE weekend didn’t exactly end on a high note for Galloway’s group, as not only did Cody Rhodes reject the offer to join Galloway, but they had a horrible Six-Man Tag against Catch Point in the main event of EVOLVE 67. While Ethan Carter III won’t be here this weekend, Galloway will be, along with his EVOLVE Tag Team Title partner DUSTIN, and Chris Hero.
Aside from the bump-in-the-road that was EVOLVE 67, I’ve really enjoyed this whole “Pro-WWE” vs. “Anti-WWE” storyline. What I like about it so much is that, even though the “Anti-WWE” side (led by Galloway) are presented as the heels, their arguments aren’t exactly wrong. Both sides have legitimate arguments for their cause, and I think that’s awesome. It’s not exactly a “battle of good vs. evil”, or even a “shades of grey” situation. This is a battle of philosophies, a battle of ideologies, and I just think that’s really cool.
With regards to Joey Styles, it was announced in a recent WWNLive News Alert that Styles would be working more with EVOLVE in the future. He’s basically given a quasi-GM role, where he’s been given the power to interject himself into, and make decisions on, events that occur on EVOLVE events. I think this is the first time that EVOLVE has had some sort of on-screen authority figure of any kind, so it’ll be intriguing to see how he involves himself in these shows. In his appearance at EVOLVE 67, he did make the main event for EVOLVE 69 (Johnny Gargano & Cody Rhodes vs. Drew Galloway & Chris Hero), and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him making more matches for future.
Another interesting element to this EVOLVE weekend is a potential new threat. A mysterious video was sent to the offices of WWNLive, from an unidentified wrestler who has competed in EVOLVE in 2016, and that video specifically made threats directed towards Johnny Gargano. I’m not sure what to make of this.
If I recall correctly, there was a similar viral threat made before the EVOLVE Tag Team Title Tournament back in January that never came to pass. Whether this is something that actually occurs remains to be seen, but it’s something to keep in mind as we head into this weekend.
The Absence Of A Champion
Someone who won’t be on either of these EVOLVE events is current EVOLVE Champion Timothy Thatcher. The shows back in August during SummerSlam Weekend were very much a rollercoaster for Thatcher. He started off on a high note with a legitimately great No Holds Barred Match against Matt Riddle at EVOLVE 66 (finally having the match that I think we all knew they could have together, after it was initially denied to us due to some strange booking decisions), but then followed it up with an absolute stinker of a match against Drew Gulak at EVOLVE 67 (a match that will probably go down as the worst title match, of any kind, in the history of EVOLVE). After seemingly turning heel following that match with Gulak, Thatcher is nowhere to be seen on these shows, as he’s currently wrestling in Europe.
My main concern with the whole Timothy Thatcher vs. Catch Point storyline was where Thatcher would go after the storyline was finished. Unlike most people, I had a feeling that Thatcher was going to run through all of Catch Point successfully (when you look at how the story started, it made all the sense in the world with the story they were trying to tell). However, once it started to become pretty obvious that crowds were starting to turn on Thatcher, I think EVOLVE needed to change their original direction, but they didn’t. I know Thatcher won’t be on these shows, but I think we still need to ponder the question of where does Thatcher, and more importantly, the EVOLVE Title go from here (especially if Thatcher is indeed a heel). Who is his next challenger? Who is going to be the guy to take the title from him? Can it be someone he’s already beaten? These are questions that we need to be asking, and maybe we’ll get some more answers on who might be next in line for a title shot.
Those are some of the main themes heading into this big weekend for EVOLVE. Now, I’ll move on to the cards themselves, going over all of the matches and giving my predictions.
September 10th, 2016
The NYWC Sportatorium
Deer Park, New York
Johnny Gargano vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
This is the main event of EVOLVE 66, and it’s being billed as the “Battle of the Aces” with Gargano (the longtime ace of not just EVOLVE, but WWNLive as a whole) and Sabre Jr. (seemingly the “new ace” of EVOLVE). This is also Gargano’s last singles match in EVOLVE, before he heads to WWE. These two had a fantastic match at EVOLVE 56 back in March, and I’m sure we’ll get another awesome match. As far as the result goes, since Gargano is the one on his way out, I would think Zack Sabre Jr. wins here, especially if Sabre Jr. has his sights set on the EVOLVE Title (as he proclaimed at EVOLVE 66). I wouldn’t be shocked if Gargano wins, but I’m going with Sabre Jr. as my pick. Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.
EVOLVE Tag Team Champion Drew Galloway vs. Drew Gulak
This singles match was originally scheduled to take place back at EVOLVE 64, but that was before DUSTIN made his return, which led to the match where Drew Galloway & DUSTIN won the titles from Catch Point. I’m honestly not sure how this one is going to go. A win for Gulak here could help set up a future rematch for the titles, but given the fact that Galloway has a much bigger match the next night, plus that Galloway (when you really look at it), doesn’t lose much, I would say Galloway is a sure bet. Additionally, I think DUSTIN helping Galloway win here would help to further build the Drew Gulak/DUSTIN match at EVOLVE 69 the next night. Prediction: Drew Galloway
EVOLVE Tag Team Champion DUSTIN vs. Tracy Williams
Tracy Williams was the one who Drew Galloway & DUSTIN goaded into putting the EVOLVE Tag Team Titles on the line at EVOLVE 64, and in that match, it ended up being DUSTIN who pinned Williams to win the titles. Again, this match could go either way, since a win here for Williams could lead to a future rematch with the titles on the line. However, I think the momentum has been on DUSTIN’s side since he returned, so I’m going to say that he picks up the win over “Hot Sauce”. Prediction: DUSTIN
Ricochet vs. Matt Riddle vs. Tony Nese
This was originally scheduled to be Riddle vs. Nese in a rematch from EVOLVE 60, but Ricochet was just added to the match within the last day or so, now making it a Three-Way Freestyle. Honestly, I think this has a shot to be one of the best matches of the entire weekend. Bodies are going to be flying all over the place during this match. Plus, we’re getting the first-ever (or what I believe is the first-ever) interaction between Matt Riddle & Ricochet. This match should be a ton of fun. As far as the result is concerned, I definitely think Nese is taking the pin here, but the question is, who wins between Matt Riddle & Ricochet? Since he is just returning to the promotion, I would have Ricochet score the win here. Prediction: Ricochet
Jigsaw vs. Fred Yehi
The story behind this one is pretty simple. Jigsaw pinned Fred Yehi in a tag team match at EVOLVE 66, and Yehi wants to pay Jigsaw back. What I really like is that the WWNLive News Alerts have pushed this as a must-win situation for both men, and that’s really truth. Both men could definitely benefit from a win here, but only one of them will get it. I’m actually pretty excited for this one. I’m really happy that Jigsaw is back in EVOLVE, and Fred Yehi has proven to be one of the most unique performers (in terms of his in-ring style) that EVOLVE has utilized in recent memory. I like both guys a lot, but I’m going with Fred Yehi, since he is part of Catch Point, and a more regular member of the roster than Jigsaw. Prediction: Fred Yehi
TJP (with Stokely Hathaway) vs. Darby Allin
I’m very intrigued to see how this one goes. After seeing him over the past few months, I’d think that Darby Allin takes a crazy bump of some kind during the match that he has to fight back from. However, I really can’t see that happening against a guy like TJP. I actually think a match like this could be a great opportunity for Darby Allin to show us more of his wrestling ability. I think TJP is almost certainly winning here, but the important thing to watch for here is to see how well Darby Allin does in this situation. Prediction: TJP
“All Ego” Ethan Page vs. Dan Barry
It’s very odd to see Dan Barry outside of Team Tremendous, but here he is, taking on Ethan Page in singles action. I have a feeling that this will be a pretty solid opener. I’m sure we’ll get some comedy here, but I think Dan Barry will definitely be looking to impress here in a singles environment. Ethan Page is my pick to win the match, but I’m certain that it will be an entertaining contest nonetheless. Prediction: “All Ego” Ethan Page
September 11th, 2016
Woodside, Queens, New York
Johnny Gargano & Cody Rhodes vs. EVOLVE Tag Team Champion Drew Galloway & Chris Hero
This match was put together by Joey Styles at EVOLVE 67, and it’ll be the last match in EVOLVE for Gargano. I’m actually really intrigued to see this one. Galloway & Hero are a very interesting team, since they main-evented the first show of EVOLVE’s “reboot” back in the summer of 2014. I think it will be a pretty good match. It should be very heated between Gargano & Galloway, and I think Cody Rhodes should work well with both Galloway & Hero. As far as the winner goes, it could really go either way. I’m going to go with Gargano & Rhodes, just because I think it would be nice if Gargano got one last hurrah. However, I wouldn’t shock me at all if Galloway & Hero get the win here. Prediction: Johnny Gargano & Cody Rhodes
Ricochet vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
There really isn’t much to say about this match, other than it has a chance to be the best match of the weekend. These two have wrestled on a few occasions, with the most recent (I believe) being BOLA 2015, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time they’ve wrestled a singles match in EVOLVE. I would say that Zack Sabre Jr. gets the win here, since it does seem like they’re building him up for a future shot at the EVOLVE Title. A win over Ricochet would certainly help his cause. Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.
Drew Gulak vs. EVOLVE Tag Team Champion DUSTIN
I would say that, out of all of the matches this weekend, this one has the most history behind it, as DUSTIN was the one who initially brought Gulak into EVOLVE, as part of The Gentlemen’s Club (which feels like a lifetime ago). I think this match has the potential to be really good. Both guys know each other very well, and I think they’ll be working hard to put on the best grudge match they can possibly present. I feel like DUSTIN winning this first encounter makes the most sense, as you can build to a rematch down the line where Gulak can come back and get a win. Prediction: DUSTIN
Matt Riddle vs. TJP
Now this is a very interesting match, from a storyline perspective. Back at EVOLVE 64, Stokely Hathaway called out Matt Riddle for not having Catch Point’s back during their battles with Drew Galloway’s group. He certainly had a very good point to make that accusation, as Matt Riddle’s allegiance has been a fascinating little side story they’ve been telling over the past few months. As far as the match is concerned, I think it has the potential to be great. I can definitely see it being a contender for match of the weekend, if all goes well. As we know, TJP is leaving with Johnny Gargano to be part of RAW’s Cruiserweight Division, so I think Matt Riddle winning here is an easy pick to make. Prediction: Matt Riddle
Tony Nese vs. Darby Allin
This is the first of four “New Talent Test” matches, where a new talent is put up against an established EVOLVE talent. We’ve seen a lot of Darby Allin in the last few months, and he’s really shown a lot of heart in his performances, especially after some of the bumps he’s taken. I’m fairly confident that Tony Nese will win this match, but I think Darby Allin will have a good showing for sure. Out of the four “New Talent Test” matches, I think this one will have the most high-flying. Prediction: Tony Nese
“All Ego” Ethan Page vs. David Starr
David Starr, as I mentioned earlier, has been a mainstay on the independents for the last few years, mainly working in places like Beyond Wrestling & CZW. Similar to Dan Barry, I’m used to seeing Starr as a tag team guy (with JT Dunn as The Juicy Product), but this is a chance for him to prove himself as a singles guy. I think this will be a good match, but it’ll definitely be driven a lot by their personalities as well (how could it not be when one guy is “All Ego” and other is “The King of Taunts”?). Out of the four “New Talent Test” matches, this might be the best chance for one of the new talents to a get a win, but with that being said, I still think Ethan Page gets the win here. Prediction: “All Ego” Ethan Page
Tracy Williams vs. Chuck O’Neil
I really don’t have a lot to say about this one, because I’ve never seen Chuck O’Neil before. I know he’s mainly been working in Beyond Wrestling in the last year or so (where he did have a feud with Matt Riddle that culminated in a Steel Cage Match), but as I just said, I’ve never seen a match of his. Again, I think the established EVOLVE talent (Tracy Williams, in this case), takes the win here, but I’ll be very intrigued to see how Chuck O’Neil does, and whether he follows the same path as Matt Riddle. Prediction: Tracy Williams
Fred Yehi vs. Travis Gordon
The 4th “New Talent Test” match features another person who I’m very unfamiliar with in Travis Gordon. The only time I’ve seen him was EVOLVE 65, where he got squashed by Ethan Page. I think this match will be a better one for Gordon (as in, I’m pretty sure he won’t be squashed her), and he’ll get the chance to show what he has, but again, it’s really hard to bet against the established EVOLVE talent, especially in Fred Yehi’s case (he doesn’t exactly have the best win-loss record in EVOLVE, and he needs to start getting some victories). I’m going with Fred Yehi to win this match. Prediction: Fred Yehi.