EVOLVE 71
October 16, 2016
The Orpheum – Ybor City, Florida

Watch: WWNLive

Non-Title Fight To A Finish

Drew Gulak def. EVOLVE Champion Timothy Thatcher

This match came about after Thatcher choked out Gulak following the former’s successful title defense over the latter at EVOLVE 67. I wasn’t particularly excited for this match going into it, since their aforementioned encounter at EVOLVE 67 was an abomination, but they managed to completely blow away my expectations here. I thought this was a great match. It was very similar to the Drew Galloway & Ethan Carter III vs. Johnny Gargano & TJ Perkins Street Fight from EVOLVE 62, as the two brawled all over the building, and even into the streets of Ybor City. While this match didn’t really utilize a lot of plunder, it was still a super entertaining brawl that featured a lot of intensity and felt like a real grudge match between two guys that absolutely hated each other. This was the best match these two have had with each other by a country mile (their previous matches in EVOLVE, the exemplary examples of “grapplef*ck”, have ranged from relatively good to downright awful). I think it’s incredibly ironic that the best Drew Gulak vs. Timothy Thatcher match was one that was the complete opposite of the kind of wrestling that these two have been heavy proponents of. Additionally, with regards to Timothy Thatcher, I find it really interesting that, in a year where he’s been seen as one of the worst parts of EVOLVE, arguably his best work has been in Anything Goes matches against opponents that he has a real grudge with (first with Matt Riddle at EVOLVE 66, and then with Drew Gulak on this show). Eventually, Gulak won the match after trapping Thatcher with a dragon sleeper in the ropes, which looked really cool. I would assume that this victory puts Gulak in line for another shot at the EVOLVE Title. ****

After the match, Stokely Hathaway comes out, and once again attempts to recruit Timothy Thatcher for The Dream Team. Hathaway says that Thatcher has too much on his plate right now, and adds that, if Thatcher joins The Dream Team, he’ll worry about the talking, contracts, and so on, while Thatcher can just worry about wrestling. Hathaway nervously extends his hand (since he’s probably worried about Thatcher potentially breaking more of his fingers), but to the shock of everyone, Thatcher shakes his hand and accepts the offer, which leads to another hilarious visual of two women throwing money at Thatcher. The pairing does make some sense since Hathaway, as he himself said in his promo, is a much better talker than Thatcher, but it’s still a very odd couple (but hey, maybe that’s the point. Odd couples are fun). It’s pretty much a universal opinion that Timothy Thatcher has been the worst aspect of EVOLVE this year, so hopefully Stokely Hathaway pairing up with the EVOLVE Champion will inject some much needed life into Thatcher’s title run.

Tracy Williams def. Jason Kincaid

Both of these men are looking to bounce back after suffering losses at EVOLVE 70 the night before. I thought this was a great match, making this show two for two right off the bat. There was some really good action throughout this match. Kincaid had more opportunity to showcase his unique offense compared to the night before. I’ve said this a number of times before, but I hope a company like EVOLVE or ROH makes Kincaid a permanent part of their roster ASAP. He has one of the most innovate move sets in all of wrestling right now. Every match he has is exciting (unless it’s against Nathan Cruz). Williams, who scored the victory here over Kincaid, looked very good here as well. As I mentioned in my review of EVOLVE 70, Williams is someone that’s really an unappreciated member of the EVOLVE roster. From an in-ring standpoint, he’s had an awesome year, but he’s just been overshadowed by the likes of Matt Riddle, Chris Hero, Johnny Gargano, Zack Sabre Jr., and many others. For me, he’s definitely one of the unsung heroes of 2016. ****

The Gatekeepers def. Joe Coleman & Eric Locker

The former members of The Devastation Corporation were once again in action, and for the second night in a row, they completely squashed a team of local wrestlers. Much like the night before, there’s really not much else to say, other than The Gatekeepers looked dominant. N/R

After the match, Ethan Page (who is wearing some awesome tights inspired by the recent “Suicide Squad” movie) gets in the ring and, much like the night before, puts over The Gatekeepers. He then mentions that, because he struck two referees the night before during his EVOLVE Title Match, he’s being docked both of his paychecks for this weekend of shows. Page says that although he might not have the EVOLVE Title, he still plans to unleash chaos on EVOLVE, and his actions from the night before were the start of that. He then calls out Sami Callihan for their match. I’m a little unsure as to what Ethan Page does from here (thought I guess we would find out a little later on). I feel like him getting the EVOLVE Title was a good next step for his story, and maybe he’ll still win the title down the line, but right now, it looks like his sole focus is causing chaos in EVOLVE.

“All Ego” Ethan Page def. Sami Callihan

Callihan is making his first appearance in the WWNLive Universe since losing an EVOLVE Title Match to Timothy Thatcher at Mercury Rising 2016 during WrestleMania Weekend in Dallas. This match was actually a rematch from that huge weekend, specifically EVOLVE 58. That match was won by Callihan, and was a (roughly) ten minute sprint that I actually really enjoyed. They managed to better that original effort here in Ybor City, and ended up having a great match. I know Callihan gets a lot of hate from some fans, but I think, as a whole, his EVOLVE run this year has legitimately been pretty good, aside from the aforementioned match with Timothy Thatcher. I feel like Callihan is at his best in matches that are sub-fifteen minute sprints, and for some reason, he has oddly good chemistry with Ethan Page. They went at it right from the opening bell, and never really let up. Page looked very good here as well, and needed a great match like this after the mess that was his match with Timothy Thatcher from the night before. Not only was he able to bounce back from a match quality standpoint, but he ended up getting the win here over Callihan. ****

EVOLVE Tag Team Champion DUSTIN def. Darby Allin

Drew Galloway, who is still out due to injury, joined Lenny Leonard on commentary for this match, which might have been my favorite Darby Allin match in EVOLVE to date. I just really enjoyed this from start to finish. As we all have seen over the last few months, Darby Allin is great in the underdog role, and in this match, I think DUSTIN played a very good bully heel here. In particular, we saw this when DUSTIN was just beating the crap out of Allin with a series of consecutive powerbombs. The big highlight of the match was Allin climbing one of the tall posts on the outside (I believe they’re actually the supports for the building), and hitting the Coffin Drop all the way onto to DUSTIN on the outside. That was a really cool spot, and once again showcases the “never say die” attitude that Darby Allin has. Unfortunately for him, DUSTIN would end up getting the victory after hitting the Awful Waffle. It didn’t reach the level of some of the other matches we got on this card, but still, I very much enjoyed it. ***1/2

Zack Sabre Jr. def. Fred Yehi

This might have been the match that I was looking forward to the most the entire weekend, and in the end, it definitely delivered. Obviously this was a big opportunity for Fred Yehi, and I think he did a really good job here, putting in one of his best performances in EVOLVE this year, right up with his match against Chris Hero during WrestleMania Weekend in Dallas, and his CWCW Qualifier against TJ Perkins at EVOLVE 61. While he generally fits in with the grappling style that has become the identity of EVOLVE in the last two years, Yehi does a lot of unique things in the ring, like his foot stomps, the way he bounces off the ropes (specifically bouncing off the middle rope at a lower angle), and a host of other aspects, that manage to help him stand out from the likes of Gulak and Thatcher. He’s really become one of my favorite performers to watch in EVOLVE for that reason. In many ways, Yehi is a lot like his opponent here, Zack Sabre Jr., in that respect. Both guys generally wrestle that grappling based style, but they tweak it enough so that it’s really unique to them. It really helps matches like this from becoming the kind of boring snooze-fests that Gulak and Thatcher tend to produce when they match up. Anyway, as far as this match goes, it was great. These two seemed to work well together, and we managed to see some different stuff from Zack Sabre Jr., as he attempted to combat Yehi’s unorthodox offense. There was some good intensity here as well, which always helps. While Zack Sabre Jr. would eventually get the win, I think Yehi looked very impressive in defeat. ****





After the match was over, Zack Sabre Jr. took the mic, and congratulated Yehi on his performance. He then starts to talk about how he wants another shot at the EVOLVE Title, but is then attacked by Ethan Page & The Gatekeepers. Darby Allin and a bunch of seminar students try to help, but they are quickly disposed of by The Gatekeepers. Page then took a chair and essentially Pillmanized one of Zack Sabre Jr.’s arms with it. I think they’ve managed to do a solid job of building Page back up after what happened at EVOLVE 70. This obviously sets up a future match between the two which, as we learned this week, will be occurring at one of the EVOLVE shows in November.

Chris Hero def. Matt Riddle

Matt Riddle comes out wearing these new chocolate colored fighting shorts. This is actually a rematch from EVOLVE 57 back in March, where Riddle picked up a huge victory over the self-proclaimed “Greatest of All-Time”. While that match was certainly great, they managed to improve upon that first match in a big way here. I thought this was an amazing match, and for me, easily takes the match of the night honors. Both guys looked awesome, and the action was hard-hitting from start to finish. Hero played a really good bully here (as he always does), just beating the crap out of Riddle over and over again. Hero’s got that role nailed down at this point, with the combination of his size, his usual offense of strikes (via his elbows and his kicks), and the integration of devastating piledrivers. Riddle, of course, was great here as well. He actually played a great underdog here, and made some pretty cool comebacks, including some very nice reversals, and his newest move, the “Bro 2 Sleep”. His offense in general just looks really good. This also didn’t go as long as some of the other matches on the card, which I think helped make it just that much better. Hero would end up scoring the victory after a number of piledrivers and elbows. This was one of the best matches we’ve seen in EVOLVE this year, and we learned this week, EVOLVE has quickly signed the rubber match between these two for the next EVOLVE weekend in November. Both guys are having incredible years, and this was another match that can be added to both of their long lists of great matches. ****1/2

After the match, Tracy Williams comes out to check on Tracy Williams, but then takes the mic and issues a challenge to Chris Hero for a match between the two of them. Williams is then jumped from behind by DUSTIN, as Drew Galloway eventually made his way out. Galloway was still pissed at Riddle for turning down his offer to join his cause, and says they were going to finish Riddle off tonight. He wanted Hero to do, but Hero blew him off and just left (which obviously begs the question of just how dedicated is Chris Hero to Drew Galloway’s cause). Galloway & DUSTIN decide to do it themselves, but are chased off by the rest of Catch Point. Drew Gulak took the mic, and ran down Galloway before saying that this war needed to end. He declared that Catch Point were unified, and they would emerge victorious as the show came to a close. I’m really intrigued to see where this ends up. Obviously Hero isn’t as dedicated to the Galloway’s crusade as we might have thought, and it makes me wonder whether Galloway will bring AR Fox & EC3 back into the fold to even up the sides.

Final Thoughts:

This was easily one of EVOLVE’s best shows of 2016. If we don’t count the squash match involving The Gatekeepers (which I considered to be more of a segment that an actual match), everything on this show was at minimum very good. Even the worst match on this show from a match quality perspective, Darby Allin vs. DUSTIN, was still pretty good, and as I mentioned earlier, might have been my favorite Dary Allin match in EVOLVE to date. Obviously the Chris Hero vs. Matt Riddle match in the main event was the outlier on the high end, but the remaining four matches were all great in their own unique way and, for me at least, at hovered right around ****. I was intrigued to see how EVOLVE was going to do with the loss of Johnny Gargano, the guy who had been the face of WWN for years, and TJ Perkins, a guy who had become a major part of EVOLVE in 2016. While EVOLVE 70 was a little shaky, EVOLVE 71 proved that this company is going to do just fine. This was honestly one of my favorite EVOLVE shows to watch from start to finish, and might be one of the best EVOLVE shows ever. If you haven’t seen this show already, you definitely need to go out of your way and check it out.