March 30, 2017
Orlando Events Center

Watch: FloSlam.TV

Drew Galloway interrupted Lenny Leonard’s opening stating that this is such a big weekend that even the voice of EVOLVE can’t be trusted to thank the fans enough. Galloway states that while people consider this WrestleMania week, he thinks it’s so much more than that. It’s Wrestling Week.

Galloway then brought things back to the current EVOLVE storylines and says tonight ends a year-long battle between he and Matt Riddle. Galloway insulted Riddle and his nonchalant attitude which brought the former UFC fighter down to the ring. Galloway said why wait until the main event, let’s do it now. Riddle came with a ref and, just like that we were underway!

Drew Galloway def. Matt Riddle

As dominant a performance as you’ll ever see, Galloway decimated Riddle from the opening bell until he finally finished Riddle off with mutliple piledrivers. This, of course, was after Galloway put Riddle through a table with an apron piledriver.

Keep in mind, Riddle is wrestling approximately 75 times this weekend including later this night. That’s a hell of a bump to take to START your weekend.

Some will be disappointed by the length of this match, which hovered around 10 minutes, but the story was told perfectly. Galloway was unglued at the beginning of the match while Riddle was his usual care-free self. Galloway took advantage of that attitude and proved on this night, he wanted it more. ***3/4

Timothy Thatcher def. Chris Dickinson

EVOLVE ring announcer Joanna Rose announced Thatcher as current EVOLVE champion before stopping herself mid sentence. This enraged Thatcher and his manager, the always-entertaining Stokley Hathaway. It was a great touch to start the match and get over the fact that EVOLVE looks and feels so much different now that Thatcher and his 500+ day title reign is over.

The snafu threw Thatcher off his game in the early part of the match and this looked like another short match. Dickinson controlled the pace early hitting Thatcher with a series of hard strikes, vicious moves and submissions.

In the end, Thatcher re-focused on finished Dickinson off with a Saka-otoshi Sleeper.

Often, I’m not a fan of a wrestler taking a majority of the damage, hitting a move or two and coming back to win but this worked here. Thatcher is better than Dickinson, it just took him focusing and building a little momentum. This was the right length as far too often Thatcher matches can get needlessly long. I enjoyed this more than I ever thought I would. ***

Lio Rush def. Jaka, Jason Kincaid

Before the match begun, Rose announced it had been changed to a triple-threat because the Rush couldn’t wait until tomorrow to return to EVOLVE. No complaints here, Rush is a great talent and will be another in a long line of ROH personnel blunders.

This was an ambitious three-way as all three tried to add their own flair to the match. What I really liked was the lack of prolonged one-on-one periods with someone laying on the outside waiting to come back in. The action was intense throughout and while not everything clicked or looked smooth, it was a good effort from all three men. Rush and Kincaid in particular looked great including one sequence that saw Rush hit one of the smoothest reverse hurricanrana you’ll ever see. Rush finally finished it off with a frog splash.  ***1/2

The Gatekeepers def. Facade & Michael Richard Blade

The Gatekeepers, for those who don’t know are members of the former Devastation Corporation in CHIKARA. They are both gigantic and tower over most of their fellow indie wrestlers. This gives them an unbelievable look not often seen on this level. On this night, it was all Gatekeepers as they destroyed their indie-rific opponents in a minute. **½

Post-match, The Gatekeeper ally “All Ego” Ethan Page got on the mic and got one of his usual amazing promos. On this night, he was calling out EVOLVE management and demanding placement in the EVOLVE title picture. First step, defeat his opponent tonight which led to 19-year-old Austin Theory coming down to the ring.

People that say nobody on the indies cuts decent promos have never seen or heard of Ethan Page. Often the in-ring doesn’t quite match the promo but it’s not like he’s laying eggs. Promotions across the country would be wise to use and build their main event division around Page. His promos alone can tell a next-level indie wrestling story, a great skill in an era where that’s so rare.

Ethan Page def. Austin Theory

As expected, Page dominated Theory throughout finishing him off rather quickly. Let’s give credit where it’s due though, Theory, at just 19-years-old, took a hell of a beating and showed that he’s a force to be reckoned with in the future. He’s not quite there yet, but jesus christ, he’s 19 years old, I was still in my 2Pac worship phase at that age. Theory did kick out of an RKEgo which only enraged Page further but gave Theory something to hang his hat on. ***

Things got REAL weird after this match as Priscilla Kelly came down to the ring and toyed with Page while a group of zombie nurse orderly dudes (think Chamber of Horrors Halloween Havoc 1990) brought a black body bag down to the ring. This was presumed to be Darby Allin, I guess. The Gatekeepers and Page did away with the zombie nurse dudes and the body bag. Finally, Page asked The Gatekeepers to unzip the body bag. And guess what… it was Darby Allin. This was played like it would be a surprise though there was literally zero doubt it was Allin.

What a weird segment that felt so totally out of place in EVOLVE. Instead of watching this segment, watch the Chamber of Horrors match from Halloween Havoc 1991. It’s unironically one of my favorite matches ever.

Ricochet def. Keith Lee

Lee, like Rush, was in ROH’s possession and could wind up being ROH’s biggest roster management mistake.

Lee was absolutely amazing in this match, he still has a ways to go in his selling and damage taking, but when you’re a monster like Lee, you won’t be doing that too often. On this night, he went blow-for-blow with Ricochet and as I predicted on this week’s VOW flagship podcast, tried to out-fly Ricochet. The silly thing? He wasn’t far off despite doubling Ricochet’s weight. Lee can throw a dropkick and hit a moonsault with the best of them but what makes him stand out is integrating the aerial offense with a beautiful looking choke slams and other great big man offense.

Credit Ricochet as well, he doesn’t get enough love for his bumping and selling which is elite.

This match was well on its way to four-stars and the closing stretch sealed it. Lee missed a huge moonsault attempt which gave Ricochet the chance to pounce. The King hit his Benadryller but Lee kicked out. No problem, Ricochet hit him with the Springboard 450. Lee kicked out. Alright, fine, Lee then ate a Shooting Star Press for his troubles. Kick out again. How about another? Kick out. Finally, mercifully, Ricochet put away the monster with a 630.

Even though Ricochet’s hand was raised, Lee came away as the undisputed star and probably gained more in loss than he would have with a win. This was masterful. ****¼

Tracy Williams & Fred Yehi def. Michael Elgin & Donovan Dijak

Hey, you aren’t going to hit a homerun every at bat. Or a double. Or even a single. Sometimes you strike out and sometimes you fall over and nearly break your neck while striking out. That was unfortunately how this tag match went for four more-than-capable wrestlers who can all have great matches. There’s no reason these four shouldn’t have put together a ***+ match but, well, they didn’t. It happens.

Something just didn’t click and it was evident from the beginning. None of the men were in synch and it led to a very disjointed, sloppy match that didn’t seem to resonate with viewers at home or in the audience. At multiple points during the match, someone was just an inch off or a step too slow, leading to brutal looking moves, sloppy slams and whatever the hell this was supposed to be:

You gotta swing to hit a homerun and sometimes, it just doesn’t go your way. Walk back to the dugout, forget the K and get ready for the next at-bat. Oh sorry…baseball is coming back in a few days and is definitely top of mind. This wasn’t good. *

EVOLVE Championship
Zack Sabre Jr © def. ACH

Boy did we put that last match in the rearview real fast. This was something else. The tone of this match was set during entrance. The normally jovial ACH was all business. No dancing, no smiles, he was on a mission tonight and that was to take away Sabre’s EVOLVE Championship. Sabre, on the other hand, was cocky and confident but also driven. The fans, who were almost entirely on ACH’s side, made Sabre reach deep down for his sadistic side. The result? A lot of pain and punishment for ACH. Sabre twisted and turned ACH all sorts of ways, toying with his opponent at times while jaw-jacking with the crowd.

At times, the overconfidence gave ACH a chance to make a run of his own, of which there were plenty. This could have been the singular best performance of ACH’s entire career. He was every bit as good as Sabre on this night, maybe even better.

The overarching story of the match was ACH, one of the smoothest high fliers you’ll ever see, getting the momentum then being thwarted by the crafty Sabre. Multiple times throughout the match it looked like ACH had something going but Sabre would cut him down with a perfectly-timed armbar:

Or a sickening slap:

The final stretch saw ACH grab the momentum, hitting a Buster Call for a shockingly close nearfall. Sensing he had Sabre where he wanted, ACH went to the top for a 450 but, of course, as had happened time and time again throughout the match, Sabre countered into an armbar. ACH used his strength to power out but couldn’t avoid a Sabre penalty kick into the Young Boy Killer. ACH was trapped and had to tap out.

Sabre is on another level right now and is doing it on some of the biggest stages in the world. I feel bad for those of you who can’t appreciate just how good this guy is. It’s time to wake up, because he’s not going away anytime soon.

What a way to cap off EVOLVE 80. ****¾

After the match, Sabre’s EVOLVE 81 opponent, Michael Elgin, came down to the ring and gave the champ a vicious back elbow. They’ll face off tomorrow night. You can read our preview (via Warren Taylor) here.

Final Thoughts:

What did you expect? EVOLVE always brings the goods on WrestleMania weekend and EVOLVE 80 was no exception. Other than a disjointed tag match everything on this show was enjoyable. The main event has set the high bar for the weekend.