January 27th, 2017
Woodlawn Lake Park Gym
San Antonio, Texas

Watch: FloSlam

As 2016 came to close, it became pretty clear that 2017 would be a year of change for EVOLVE. With so many talents moving up to WWE (including Chris Hero), a number of spots on the roster were left wide open, waiting for new talents to fill them. Fortunately, EVOLVE has been very quick to replenish its roster with several fresh faces. While that’s obviously a good thing for the promotion, it makes you wonder how much the promotion is going to change from a stylistic standpoint. EVOLVE has really built an identity over the last two years as being the promotion where the technical, grappling style reigned supreme, but while there are still a number of those kinds of talents in EVOLVE (Timothy Thatcher, Zack Sabre Jr, Tracy Williams, Fred Yehi), many of the new talents they’re bring in don’t exactly fit under that umbrella. As Chris Hero competes for the final time in EVOLVE this weekend, it’ll be interesting to see if these shows will be an indicator of what EVOLVE will look like in 2017.

Oddly enough, the show actually kicked off with an in-ring promo from Catch Point. Tracy Williams speaks first, saying that Catch Point follows a philosophy based on competition, and mentions that even though EVOLVE is going through a lot of changes, their goals remain the same. Jaka then takes the mic and calls out his opponent, Peter Kaasa. This was a fine promo that helped to re-establish Catch Point, with its new leader (Tracy Williams) and new members (Chris Dickinson & Jaka) to the audience.

Jaka def. Peter Kaasa

Peter Kaasa has drastically changed his haircut since the last time we saw him. He went from a flowing, Scott Steiner-esque mullet to a buzz cut with a small rat tail on the back of his head. I’m not one to judge people’s hairstyle choices (usually I don’t really care), but this just looks bad. He honestly looks like Michael Bennett with a rat tail. Anyway, as far as the match goes, it was a fine opener. Both guys looked impressive, and there was some very nice back and forth action throughout. Jaka is someone who I’ve really enjoyed watching over the last few years in places like Beyond Wrestling and the CHIKARAverse, and he has the chance to have a real breakout year now that he’s in EVOLVE. With regards to Peter Kaasa, I would love to see more of him in Evolve if they’re able to book him more frequently. Of course, the big reason why people are talking about this match is because the middle rope broke towards the end when Kaasa tried to go for (I think) a moonsault of the second rope. It looked like he landed right on his head and neck, but fortunately, the match ended shortly thereafter, and Kaasa was able to walk to the back under his own power. ***

Darby Allin def. Chris Dickinson

After the ropes were fixed, Catch Point came back out, and Dickinson called out Darby Allin for their match. These two actually have an interesting history, as it was back at EVOLVE 64 where Dickinson nearly killed Darby Allin with a scary backdrop to the floor that saw Allin clip the ringside guardrail on the way down, causing him to land on his head and neck. This was about as good as the opener. Allin got to showcase some his high flying, while Dickinson got to show off some of his power. One thing you can about Darby Allin is that not only does he play a good underdog, but a good ragdoll as well. The way he sells getting tossed around and mauled by the likes of Brian Cage and Chris Dickinson really gets over their offense as being brutal. While Dickinson seemed to be in control for a good part of the match, his overconfidence let to his downfall, as Allin counted a Pazuzu Bomb attempt into a pin for the upset victory. The match only went about six or seven minutes, but for what it was, it was pretty entertaining. ***

Dickinson, furious at the loss, attacks Allin after the match, and has to be pulled off by his Catch Point stablemates. This might not seem like much, but I think it could be a potential sign of things to come down the line. Chris Dickinson & Jaka joining Catch Point always seemed odd to me, because they don’t necessarily fit with that group’s mentality and philosophy. Dickinson in particular seems out of place in the group, especially since his gimmick is that he’s a hothead who can fly off the handle at times. I’ll be curious to see whether this builds to a split down the line with Dickinson & Jaka breaking away from Catch Point, but time will ultimately tell.

EVOLVE 77: A Hero’s Exit Preview & Predictions

Jason Kincaid def. DUSTIN

Kincaid is one of the many new talents that have appeared in EVOLVE over the last few months, and he’s starting off 2017 by taking a veteran in the form of DUSTIN. I noticed that some people seemed to be down on this match, but honestly, I thought it was really good. A lot of that has to do with Jason Kincaid. He’s someone that instantly grabs my attention every time with his incredibly unique offense that never fails to impress. You just can’t take your eyes off him, because just when you think you’ve seen it all from him, he busts out something that blows you away even more. While Kincaid did a great job in this match, a lot of credit has to go to DUSTIN as well. It seemed like that he was matching Kincaid early on, and really proved to be a good opponent for him. This match was filled with a lot of entertaining action, and it ended up being one of my favorite matches of the night. DUSTIN tried to introduce a chair towards the end, but the referee stopped him from using it. This eventually led to his downfall, as Kincaid hit a double stop from the ring post, and followed up with his new submission hold, Passionate Release, to score the victory. ***1/2

“All Ego” Ethan Page (with The Gatekeepers) def. Zack Sabre Jr. (DQ / Reverse Decision)

These two started having problems last year, when Ethan Page and The Gatekeepers attacked Zack Sabre Jr. at EVOLVE 71. That led to a match between the two at EVOLVE 72 that saw “All Ego” pick up a shockingly clean victory. This was the rematch, and Zack Sabre Jr. didn’t waist any time, as he jumped Ethan Page and The Gatekeepers while they were making their entrance. While their first encounter was a good one, this second match was definitely a step up. That attack at the start really set the tone for this match, and is turned into a heated brawl. This definitely wasn’t the traditional Zack Sabre Jr. match, and that was a good thing. Zack Sabre Jr. really stepped out of his comfort zone here, wrestling a lot more aggressively, and he delivered. That’s not to say that his usual style isn’t enjoyable, but it’s always good to shake things up occasionally, and in this case, it really worked out. Page, to his credit, played his role as the heel very well, and as a whole, this was a strong outing by these two. The finish was very interesting, as Zack Sabre Jr. initially won by submission, but the referee later reversed the decision and awarded the victory to Ethan Page by DQ after Zack Sabre Jr. refused to let go of the hold. Part of the story is that Zack Sabre Jr. said he wouldn’t challenge for the EVOLVE Title until he defeats Ethan Page, and while this was a weird way of continuing the story, it does (presumably) set up a third match down the line. ***½

It should be noted as well that The Gatekeepers tried to save Ethan Page from Zack Sabre Jr.’s submission hold after the match, but were taken out after Darby Allin gave them both low blows. Allin then just stared at Page while he slipped into unconsciousness. It definitely looks like we’ll be getting another match between those two at some point as well.

Matt Riddle def. ACH

Out of all of the new faces appearing for EVOLVE this weekend, ACH might be the most noteworthy. After spending a number of years in ROH (where he wasn’t exactly used to his full potential), he’s now making his EVOLVE debut in his home state of Texas. However, he was immediately being thrown into the deep end, as he took the new PROGRESS Atlas Champion Matt Riddle (it has to be said that it’s awesome to see Riddle finally holding a title of some kind). This was probably my most anticipated match on both EVOLVE shows, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. These two had a great match that was filled with fun action from start to finish. What was interesting about this match is that we didn’t see a ton of high flying from ACH, as he tried to take on Riddle with grappling and striking of his own. The wrestling appeared to be very smooth throughout, and there really weren’t any down periods in the match. The match went about fourteen minutes or so, and did a nice job keeping you engaged for that entire timeframe. It probably won’t be the best match of the weekend, but these two certainly delivered an exciting match. While Riddle ultimately got the win here, I’m excited to see what ACH does in EVOLVE going forward. ****

After the match, Riddle cuts a promo talking about all of things he’s done as of late, including winning the PROGRESS Atlas Title and wrestling Katsuyori Shibata. He says the one thing he’s missing is a championship under the WWN umbrella, and vows to win more gold by the end of 2017. Riddle is then jumped by DUSTIN, who attacks him with a chair. DUSTIN takes the mic and says that unlike the octagon, their match at EVOLVE 77 will have no rules. He then gets in more shots in on Riddle after dedicating that No DQ Match at EVOLVE 77 to Drew Galloway. This was a nice segment that not only set up the DUSTIN/Matt Riddle No DQ Match, but also planted the seed of Matt Riddle winning more titles in 2017 (where that be the EVOLVE Title or the new WWN Title).

Evolve Tag Team Titles
Catch Point (Tracy Williams & Fred Yehi) def. Jeff Cobb & EVOLVE Champion Timothy Thatcher (with Stokely Hathaway)

Stokely Hathaway comes out wearing the EVOLVE Title around his waist. I was intrigued to see how this was going to play out, since the outcome was pretty obvious. To their credit, these two teams managed to have a really good match. I’m not sure if anyone else has similar feelings, but I think Timothy Thatcher is much more tolerable in a tag team setting. I noticed this while watching wXw’s World Tag Team League from last year, when he was teaming with WALTER as part of Team Ringkampf. He’s just so much easier to watch when he’s not the central focus as a singles competitor like he is in EVOLVE. Granted, I think Thatcher spend a little too much time in this match for my liking, but still, my thoughts on him in a tag team setting remain the same. Plus, Thatcher came off a bit more smug here, which I hope leads to him becoming more of a heel (as that would be a nice change of pace).

Back to the match, it wasn’t the best thing on the show, but it was pretty good from start to finish. I would say that this match was the closest thing on the show to the kind of the technical/grappling style that’s become commonplace in EVOLVE. Williams & Yehi are a very good pairing, and the match told a nice story between the Cobb & Thatcher, who will facing off against each other at EVOLVE 77 with the EVOLVE Title on the line. Two or three minutes could’ve been shaved off of this one, but that’s only a minor gripe. After Cobb got taken out on the outside by Williams, Yehi won the match for his team after getting Thatcher to tap out to the Koji Clutch. That was obviously a big moment for Yehi, and it surely sets up a title show down the line. ***1/2

After the match, Larry Dallas comes out in a light purple suit, and asks Stokely Hathaway if Thatcher can rebound at EVOLVE 77 after his loss tonight. Hathaway calls Cobb a “fat slob”, and blames him for the loss, saying that he gave up on the team. Cobb then speaks directly to Thatcher, and talks about their history together in Northern California. He says he’s going to with the EVOLVE Title, and asks Thatcher when he became Stokely Hathaway’s bitch. Dallas seems to take credit for stirring the pot between the two, but is scared off by an angry Thatcher. Again, this was another segment that did a solid job of setting up a match at EVOLVE 77.

Chris Hero def. Keith Lee

Keith Lee spent the last several months in ROH with his regular tag team partner Shane Taylor, but when it became clear that he was a free agent, EVOLVE & WWN were quick to sign him up. He was looking to make an impactful debut against Chris Hero (in one of Hero’s last matches in EVOLVE), but unfortunately, things didn’t exactly go as planned.

About five minutes into the match, the top rope broke after Hero tried to run the ropes. Later on in the match, Keith Lee tried to go for…..something off the second rope (I’m guessing a moonsault, but I don’t know how that would’ve worked), but he caused the second rope to break off, leaving only the bottom rope left. Given what happened in the opener, I wasn’t exactly surprised that this happened, especially considering how big these two guys are. It was really an unfortunate situation, because a lot of people were looking forward to seeing these two go at out, but both guys deserve a ton of credit. Despite all of the issues with the ring, they still managed to have a really good match. I think that just speaks to how good both guys are, particularly Hero, who has actually experienced a similar situations more times than you would think. When something goes horribly wrong (and this goes for any kind of performance art, not just pro-wrestling), you’re tested by how you react and respond in that given situation, and again, I think both Chris Hero & Keith Lee did a very good job with the hand they were dealt. It sucks that we won’t get to see a rematch, since Hero is on his way to NXT, but still, all the credit in the world to both guys. ***1/2

After the match, Hero talks about how he won the match despite all of the issues with the ring, and really puts over Keith Lee. He says that all of the people in the crowd, and everyone who watched at home, who saw Keith Lee for the first time weren’t going to forget this match. Hero talks about how he developed a killer instinct over the last few years on the independents, and mentions that if Keith Lee can find a similar killer instinct, he can do great things. Zack Sabre Jr. then comes out, and says that he’ll show Hero what killer instinct really is at EVOLVE 77. He then adds that when he wins tomorrow, Chris Hero can stay, while Kassius Ohno can “fuck off to Florida”. Hero responds by saying that he’ll beat the crap out of Zack Sabre Jr. tomorrow, and then offers a handshake to Keith Lee, saying that he earned it. The two shake hands and embrace as the show comes to a close.

Again, we had another segment that set up a match at EVOLVE 77, and it was a cool moment to see Hero put over Keith Lee in such a big way. I’m sure the intent was to have the match do most of the talking, but that obviously didn’t happen when the ring broke on them twice.

Final Thoughts

EVOLVE 76 gave us the first taste of what EVOLVE might look like with their recently replenished talent roster. While there were a number of really good matches up and down the card, this show will (unfortunately) be overshadowed by all of the mishaps that occurred with the ring. Peter Kaasa nearly suffered a serious injury in the opening match, and the Chris Hero/Keith Lee match (despite the amazing recovery job by both men) definitely suffered. Despite all of the issues with the ring, the wrestling from top to bottom was very good, with ACH vs. Matt Riddle being the standout. I’ve said this many times before, but EVOLVE delivers consistently good shows nine times out of ten, and this show fell into that ninety percent bracket. It probably won’t be remembered as one of better EVOLVE shows of 2017, but again, there wasn’t a single bad match on the card, and it set up things nicely for EVOLVE 77.