EVOLVE 77 – A Hero’s Exit
January 28th, 2017
Woodlawn Lake Park Gym
San Antonio, Texas

Watch: FloSlam / Photo: @JJWilliamsWON

After being plagued by multiple problems with the ring the night before, EVOLVE looked to make a much better impression with their second show of this Royal Rumble weekend, and a brand new ring. Once again, new talents were to be showcased up and down the card, while Chris Hero wrestled his final match in EVOLVE before returning to WWE.

The opening match was scheduled to be Darby Allin vs. Barrett Brown (a local talent), but they were soon interrupted by Ethan Page, who served as a distraction so The Gatekeepers could jump Darby Allin. Page took the mic and said that Allin made a mistake by sticking his nose in his business the night before. He takes a cheap shot at Barrett Brown, and continues by degrading Allin, calling him “worthless”, saying he’ll always be less than him, and that he’ll always be nothing more than dirt on the bottom of his boot. He doesn’t want to give Allin any more time in the spotlight by wrestling him, so he offers him and Barrett Brown a tag team match against The Gatekeepers. Allin takes mic back and, crawling towards Page on the mat, calls Page a coward, adding that deep down, Page knows it’s true. Allin says it doesn’t matter how many men he faces, so Page responds by adding himself to the mix, making it (for the time being) a three on two handicap match. It’s incredible that they turned what was essentially a squash match during WrestleMania Weekend last year into a storyline that’s lasted for several months. Page is great in his role as the bully heel, and Darby Allin plays such a great underdog. This was one of the best segments of the weekend, and it actually has me really excited for when Ethan Page & Darby Allin square off again in singles action.

Darby Allin, Barrett Brown, & Zack Sabre Jr. def. “All Ego” Ethan Page & The Gatekeepers

It’s so odd to see a handicap match in EVOLVE, but that’s what we got for the first few minutes of this match. Both Darby Allin & Barrett Brown had a couple of moments to shine early on, doing their best to fight against these seemingly insurmountable odds. However, the numbers game did catch up with them, as Ethan Page & The Gatekeepers took control (this included an incredible dive by the former Blaster McMassive). About halfway through the match, Zack Sabre Jr. came out and, despite not being dressed to compete, interjected himself into the match, making it a Six-Man Tag. From there, the match turned into a wild brawl that included Darby Allin hitting a huge coffin drop after climbing one of the supports holding up the building. Eventually, Zack Sabre Jr. got one of The Gatekeepers to score the win for this unorthodox trio. This match was an absolute blast to watch from start to finish. There was a lot of fun action, but they also managed to continue both of the feuds that Ethan Page is involved in. There are cases where a wrestler adding himself to the match midway through doesn’t work so well (like in ROH a few months ago), but here, Zack Sabre Jr.’s inclusion not only made a ton of sense, but ended up working in a big way. Ethan Page and Darby Allin both played their character roles to perfection in this match, and this was probably the best outing from The Gatekeepers (the former Blaster McMassive in particular) we’ve seen yet. Plus, Barrett Brown did a good job as well. I had never heard of him before watching this show, but after seeing him here, I hope he gets more bookings in EVOLVE (or WWN in general) moving forward. I’d love to see more of him. This was a wild and entertaining match, that also managed to further Ethan Page’s storylines with Zack Sabre Jr. and Darby Allin. It delivered on all fronts. ***1/2

EVOLVE Tag Team Champion Tracy Williams def. Laredo Kid

Laredo Kid was another talent making his EVOLVE debut this weekend. Before this match, I had heard of him before (I believe he made a couple of appearances recently with AIW), but this was my first time seeing him in action. He ended up making a good first impression as he took on Tracy Williams. This was an entertaining undercard match that served as a good showcase for Laredo Kid, especially for people like me, who are seeing him for the first time. I saw someone mention on Twitter that Tracy Williams was a great pick as Laredo Kid’s first opponent, and they were absolutely right. Williams does have a background in the lucha libre style of wrestling, and he worked very well here with Laredo Kid. The match featured entertaining action throughout, and Laredo Kid really got a chance to shine here. However, his high flying ability ended up being his undoing, as Williams took advantage of a missed Phoenix Splash from Laredo Kid, and won the match via a crossface submission shortly thereafter. ***1/4

Chris Dickinson & Jaka def. Jason Kincaid & Sammy Guevara

The newest members of Catch Point are coming off a night of mixed results at EVOLVE 77, as Jaka scored a victory over Peter Kaasa, while Chris Dickinson lost to Darby Allin in an upset. Here, they’re in tag team action against two of WWN’s newest talents in the form of Jason Kincaid & Sammy Guevara. It was really a clash of styles, as you had a team of two high flyers going up against a team of two unhinged brawlers. When the dust settled, this ended up being a really fun tag team match. Both sides got the chance to show what they do best, and the end result that featured a lot of entertaining action. I’ve seen a lot of Dickinson & Jaka as a team in Beyond Wrestling, and they make a solid addition to EVOLVE’s tag team division. On the other side, even though they aren’t a regular team, Jason Kincaid & Sammy Guevara both impressed here. EVOLVE has introduced so many new talents on these last few shows, but the interjection of some high flyers has really added a lot of variety to EVOLVE. After that style was the primary focus of Dragon Gate USA, EVOLVE needed to find it’s own identity, and seemed to move away from that style, but as the scene has changed in recent months, high flyers are a welcomed addition to the EVOLVE roster. In an odd way, it sort of reminds me of comments made by the famous American architect Louis Sullivan on ornamentation in architecture (but that’s just my inner architectural historian coming out). Back to the performers, I know that WWN recently signed Kincaid, as well as Austin Theory, but if they haven’t done so already, they should really sign Sammy Guevara. He’s got so much potential, and he could be a big star in EVOLVE down the road, if all sides play their cards right. While both Kincaid & Guevara were impressive here, it was Catch Point that ultimately got the win. Also, kudos to the referee for actually being about to keep track of who was the legal man. ***1/2

After the match, Tracy Williams came out to congratulate Chris Dickinson & Jaka on their victory. He says that high flyers like Jason Kincaid & Sammy Guevara are great, but while they take the risks, Catch Point reaps the rewards. Larry Dallas then comes out, and asks Tracy Williams if Dickinson & Jaka deserve a shot at the EVOLVE Tag Team Titles. Kincaid then takes the mic and gives a very weird speech that came off (to me, at least) as a tad heelish. Dallas then takes credit as “the guy that stirs the drink” in EVOLVE. I mentioned in my review of EVOLVE 76 that I could see Dickinson & Jaka potentially breaking away from Catch Point in the future, just because it seemed like both guys weren’t exactly the best fit for the group. This could be another step in that direction, but time will tell. Kincaid’s words were very interesting, and I’m curious to see if that leads to anything, or if it was just odd ramblings.

ACH def. EVOLVE Tag Team Champion Fred Yehi

Fred Yehi picked up arguably the biggest win of his career at EVOLVE 76 when he made Timothy Thatcher, the current EVOLVE Champion, tap out during Catch Point’s EVOLVE Tag Team Title defense. Meanwhile, ACH is looking to make sure he doesn’t go 0-2 on the weekend. While I was anticipating ACH’s match with Matt Riddle a little more, I was still looking forward to seeing this match. Even though it wasn’t quite as good as ACH/Matt Riddle from the night before, this was a still a very strong outing from both guys. Once again, we saw a little less high flying from ACH, as he had to combat the unique technical style that Yehi has used so well. The match featured good back and forth action from start to finish, and they both had a lot of chances to shine. One of the reasons I was so excited to see ACH in EVOLVE was that he going to be facing a fresh roster of opponent, and right out of the gate, we got two of those matches. As far as Yehi is concerned, he always impresses every time out, whether it be in singles of tag team action. He’s already a double champion in the larger WWN family (one-half of the EVOLVE Tag Team Champions as well as the FIP World Heavyweight Champion), but I feel like 2017 could be an even bigger year for him. Eventually, ACH just edged out Yehi to score the victory. It seemed like the finish came out of nowhere, but in an odd way, I think it worked. ***3/4

No DQ Match – Matt Riddle def. DUSTIN

DUSTIN had fired an early warning shot the night before at EVOLVE 76 when he attacked Matt Riddle with a chair. Even though this wasn’t a match that necessarily stood out when you looked at both cards on paper, I still had a feeling that this had the chance to be good. In the end, it completely blew away my expectations, and turned out to be a great hardcore brawl. Both guys worked very hard, and put their bodies on the line at various points. Matt Riddle proved (once again) that he can excel in almost any environment, in any kind of match, regardless of the opponent. DUSTIN deserves a lot of credit as well for his performance. I feel like he’s incredibly underrated when it comes to these types of matches, as he always manages to make them entertaining, even if you’re someone who usually doesn’t enjoy these kinds of matches. A large chunk of this match was spent on the outside, and while I get why people dislike this type of match (especially if you’re watching it live), it came across really well on the iPPV feed. The fact that the live crowd was so into match added a lot to it. The two big highlights of the match saw DUSTIN put Riddle through a table with dive, and Riddle hitting DUSTIN with a massive superplex onto a castle of chairs, which led to Riddle getting the win shortly thereafter. This was one of the better hardcore brawls you’re going to see, and it proved to be one of the best matches of the night. ****

Timothy Thatcher (with Stokely Hathaway) def. Jeff Cobb

If you want to talk about a match that was completely different from the kind of match that Matt Riddle & DUSTIN had, this was certainly it. Beforehand, Cobb dedicated his match to Oliver John, who helped train both him and Thatcher. In my view, this was the most intriguing match on either card, just to see how it was going to play out. Unfortunately, it ended up being a return to the boring matches that have led to Thatcher being one of the worst parts of any EVOLVE show. Granted, it was nowhere near as bad as the title matches he had last year with Sami Callihan (Mercury Rising 2016) & Drew Gulak (EVOLVE 67), but still, it was nothing more than an average match. What’s so weird is that there really wasn’t anything technically wrong with the match itself. The wrestling was perfectly competent, and they told a solid story with a mistake by Cobb early on eventually leading to his downfall. Thatcher has become such an enigma at this point. It’s not even the fact that all of his title defenses are bad, because he had a ton of good ones last year. When he’s wrestling someone like Chris Hero, or when he’s in an anything goes situation (like he was against Matt Riddle & Drew Gulak), Thatcher does a good job, and produced enjoyable matches. When he’s wrestling technical, grappling style matches like this one, he immediately becomes boring and uninteresting. The dead silence from the crowd during that match speaks volumes, and comes across horribly on the iPPV feed. I never thought that anyone could have a boring match with Jeff Cobb, but Timothy Thatcher somehow managed to do look. I don’t hate Thatcher, but he needs to lose the EVOLVE Title soon, because if EVOLVE wants to continue their growth, they can’t present title matches like this. **1/2

Zack Sabre Jr. def. Chris Hero

If there’s a bright side to the incredibly average match we just saw for the EVOLVE Title, it’s that it served as a good cool down period between the No DQ Match and the main event. These two have had a pretty big rivalry in EVOLVE over the last two years, but what’s notable is that, as great as the matches have been, the results have been totally one-sided. Hero had scored victories over Zack Sabre Jr. on four separate occasions (three singles match and one tag team match), coming into EVOLVE 77, and Zack Sabre Jr. was looking to finally conquer Hero before his return to WWE. When the dust settled, this ended up being a fantastic match, which was a shock to absolutely nobody. There was incredible action from start to finish, along with a number of callbacks to their previous encounters. The fans in San Antonio were hot for this match every step of the way, and there were so many amazing moments throughout. In a way, I find the rivalry between Chris Hero & Zack Sabre Jr. (specifically their rivalry in EVOLVE, because they’ve wrestled each other in so many promotions, as Hero would mention later) to be very similar to the rivalry between Kazuchika Okada & Hiroshi Tanahashi, in the sense that they’ve had so many fantastic and memorable matches that it can be hard for some to pick one match over the other. Honestly, I don’t know which match between these two I like the most, because they’ve all been so awesome. The action was phenomenal, and the story ended in an appropriate manner with Zack Sabre Jr. finally getting a win over Chris Hero. It’ll be hard for anything else this weekend to top this match. If you haven’t seen this already, go out of your way to check it out. ****½

The show concluded with a long post-match speech from Chris Hero. I won’t go over it point by point (because my recap can’t do it justice), but I will mention some of the highlights. He talked about how great Zack Sabre Jr. is, mentioning their earlier meetings in the (now defunct) 1PW promotion in the UK, as well as Pro-Wrestling NOAH. Hero did bring KENTA, aka Hideo Itami, and mentioned how he couldn’t wait to “kick that asshole in the face”, which got a nice reaction. He really put over Zack Sabre Jr. as one of the best in the world, and wants him to win the EVOLVE Title. This led to ACH coming out, and he threw his hat in the ring, saying he wants a title shot. Stokely Hathaway then came out, and said that if anyone wants a title shot, they need to go through him. After consulting with his “babe” (the EVOLVE Title) he said that neither ACH nor Zack Sabre Jr. deserved a title shot. This brought out Thatcher, who seemingly contradicted Hathaway’s statements, and without saying a word, point at Zack Sabre Jr., with suggest that those two will meet in the near future. Zack Sabre Jr. tells ACH that he’ll get the first title shot after he beats Thatcher. He then turned his attention to Chris Hero, thanking him for all of the help he’s given him throughout his career. Hero then gave some final parting words before he made his exit. Again, this was a pretty long post-match segment, but it came across very well, and is definitely worth listening to. Hero is an incredible speaker, and he seems like one of the nicest guys in all of wrestling.

Final Thoughts

After the various debacles they have with the ring the night before, EVOLVE came back with a vengeance, producing a great show that (for the most part) delivered from top to bottom. One of the reasons why this show worked so well is that it had a ton of variety. You had a fast-paced opener that was packed with action and continued a number of storylines with some of the competitors involved, a lucha showcase, a couple of matches that featured a clash of styles, an entertaining hardcore brawl, an EVOLVE Title match that focused heavily on the grappling style, and an epic main event clash. Many were wondering what EVOLVE will be like in 2017, and if this show was any indication, the key word to remember is variety. Even though EVOLVE made the technical/grappling style as part of its identity over the last two years, that is clearly going to change in 2017. Aside from Timothy Thatcher having another boring title defense, this was an incredibly entertaining show that featured an incredible final chapter for quite possibly the greatest independent wrestler of all time.