March 31, 2017
Orlando Live Events Center
Orlando, Florida

Watch: WWE Network

Non-Title Match – EVOLVE Champion Zack Sabre Jr. def. “Unbreakable” Michael Elgin

Zack Sabre Jr. was already in the ring as the show came on the air, and proclaimed that, after what happened the night before at EVOLVE 80 (Elgin attacked him after his successful title defense against ACH), he wanted his match with Michael Elgin right now. This was the opener because both guys had to made it over to the RevPro event, which was going on at the exact same time. I noticed that some people were pretty down on this match, but honestly, this was a really good opening contest. It certainly could’ve been better, considering who was involved, but under these unique circumstances, both guys did a very solid job here. The crowd wasn’t exactly on fire for this one, and that did take away from it somewhat, though the wrestling itself was perfectly fine. I’ve said this before in other reviews, but personally, I can’t knock a match that’s technically sound, even if the atmosphere was a little lifeless at times. With all of that being said, it says a lot about both of these guys that a really good match is considered a disappointment. It should also be noted that Zack Sabre Jr. got busted open above his right eye during the match. Apparently he had gotten busted open earlier in the day in a bout against Jimmy Havoc on the PROGRESS show, and that cut got reopened here. Fortunately, Zack Sabre Jr. was able to continue, and he managed to get the win after reversing a Spinning Elgin Bomb into a pinning combination. ***1/2

As Michael Elgin was making his exit, Lio Rush made his way to ringside. Rush took the mic, and introduced himself to the EVOLVE Champion. He then said that he wanted their match in a couple of weeks during the next set of events in the New York City area to be for the EVOLVE Title. Zack Sabre Jr. accepted this challenge, which was a little odd, since he flatout denied a similar request made by Michael Elgin the night before. This brought out Drew Galloway. He ridiculed Zack Sabre Jr. for just giving out title matches, and told him not to disrespect the main title of the promotion that he helped build. Galloway then turned his attention to Lio Rush, and called him out for being too concerned with the EVOLVE Title when he still has to get through him. Zack Sabre Jr. took the mic back, and said that while he respected what Galloway had done with the EVOLVE Title, nobody would care about his title reign once he builds a legacy with it. He then tells Lio Rush to kick Galloway’s ass, as our next match is about to get going.

Drew Galloway def. Lio Rush

Lenny Leonard said that the winner of this match would receive a future shot at the EVOLVE Title, which is odd, since Zack Sabre Jr. just promised Lio Rush a title shot. Out of all the matches on this particular EVOLVE card, I was particularly intrigued by this one, just to see the sheer size difference between these two. This was a very good back and forth encounter that featured solid action throughout. While some might see Lio Rush’s small stature as a disadvantage, I feel that it’s a big advantage in matches like this, when he’s going up against a much bigger opponent. Galloway looked like a monster tossing Lio Rush around the ring, and Rush really sold well for him. He was a great underdog, but despite his best efforts, Galloway would ultimately score the victory after an awesome Spinning Future Shock DDT, followed by a piledriver. Obviously, with the news of Drew Galloway going back to WWE as part of NXT, he won’t be receiving that title shot. ***1/2

Keith Lee def. Donovan Dijak

On paper, this was probably the most intriguing matchup on the entire card. Both guys are very similar, in that they’re big, but they can do some incredible things for their size. They’ve actually met before in Beyond Wrestling, but this time, they went to war on a much bigger stage. When the dust settled, this ended up being a fantastic match!! These two guys went all out, busting out all of the crazy moves in their respective arsenals. We saw some amazing feats of athleticism from both competitors from start to finish, and the crowd absolutely loved it. It still amazes me that these two big guys can pull off all of these insane moves inside of a wrestling ring. They’re practically superhuman. If you’re someone who watches Beyond Wrestling regularly, then you know what Donovan Dijak & Keith Lee can do in a ring together, but for most people, this was the first time they saw these two in a singles match. They really knocked it out of the park here, and while Keith Lee would emerge victorious, it was a breakout moment for both guys, which is huge on big weekend like this. ****1/2

ACH def. Timothy Thatcher (with Stokely Hathaway)

Stokely Hathaway interrupted ACH during his entrance. He took the mic and called out Joanna Rose for messing up Thatcher’s introduction the night before (Rose accidentally announced him as the EVOLVE Champion). Hathaway talked about how this weekend marked his one year anniversary in EVOLVE, and brought up how he called out Triple H and launched TJ Perkins into the Cruiserweight Classic. He said that he came to EVOLVE because it was a promotion that presented many opportunities. Hathaway then called out Kyle O’Reilly, and said that he needed to join The Dream Team. He then introduced Timothy Thatcher for the match.

Unfortunately, the storyline stuff here was a lot more interesting. This was pretty boring. ACH essentially wrestled Timothy Thatcher’s style of match, which was a big mistake. Granted, the match only went about nine minutes or so, and the wrestling itself was fine, but it was just not interesting in any way. It’s fair to say that this was ACH’s worst outing in EVOLVE to date, and it should be no surprise that it came against Timothy Thatcher. Fortunately, ACH got the win after hitting his Buster Call Brainbuster. Again, this was a very dull match that wasn’t interesting in any way. **¼

After the match, Stokely Hathaway took the mic and tried to motivate Thatcher after his loss, but he snatched the mic from his hand. Thatcher then proclaimed that if Hathaway doesn’t get him in the WWN Title match the next night at Mercury Rising, he would need to find a new client.

Six-Man Tag – Catch Point (EVOLVE Tag Team Champion Tracy Williams, Chris Dickinson, & Jaka) def. Jason Kincaid, Sammy Guevara, & Austin Theory

This was billed as a clash between Catch Point and High Flyers. I was really looking forward to this one, as it had the potential to be a very strong match, but unfortunately, it ended being a little underwhelming. That’s not to say that this Six-Man Tag was bad, because it wasn’t, but it easily could’ve been better. The action throughout was pretty good, but there were two main issues with the match. Firstly, as was the case with the opening contest, the crowd wasn’t fully invested. The other issue was that this went a lot longer than it needed to go. Seventeen minutes was way too long for this match. They really needed to shave five minutes off this. It would’ve been much better. Even with those issues, this was still very solid. We saw some cool spots from both Catch Point and the high flyers. There was one spot where Sammy Guevara hit a shooting star press to the outside onto Catch Point, but nobody wanted to catch him, which meant that Guevara just landed chest first on the floor. That was brutal. The finish here was pretty interesting, as Dickinson & Jaka pinned Guevara while Kincaid had Williams in a submission hold. Again, this was relatively good, but it could’ve been better. ***1/4

After the match, Jaka took the mic and asks when he & Chris Dickinson would be getting their shot at the EVOLVE Tag Team Titles. Tracy Williams said that they needed to focus on their match at Mercury Rising against The South Pacific Power Trip, but Yehi then took the mic and just accepted the challenge. Everyone did the Catch Point handshake, but they were soon interrupted by Larry Dallas & Earl Cooter. With the crowd drowning him out with boos, Dallas announced that Chris Dickinson & Jaka would be getting their title match on the next EVOLVE event in Queens, New York. He then turned his attention to Matt Riddle, asking if he was injured, or if he was afraid of Fred Yehi’s Koji Clutch. Jason Kincaid was praying in the corner while all this was going on, and when Dallas & Cooter tried to interrupt Kincaid, he chased them off. Matt Riddle then made his way through the crowd, and told Yehi that he’s ready for a fight.

EVOLVE Tag Team Champion Fred Yehi def. Matt Riddle

This match came about after Yehi questioned Riddle’s loyalty to Catch Point on the last set of shows back in February. It’s the second time in the span of a year that they’ve done this particular storyline (last time it was Drew Gulak who was questioning Riddle). These two had a great singles encounter here. There was a ton of really good grappling and cool exchanges throughout. The style of wrestling that these two utilize is way more interesting that whatever Timothy Thatcher does. Riddle was, of course, awesome, while Yehi showed a lot as well. He’s an incredibly unique performer, and he even busted out one or two new tricks that I had never seen before. The closing stretch of this match was particularly good, and in the end, Yehi countered a Bromission attempt into the Koji Clutch, and got the win after Riddle passed out. It wasn’t the best match on this particular show, but it was still great. Obviously there’s the story of Matt Riddle losing his second straight match, and that would play into the WWN Title Match the next night at Mercury Rising. Riddle & Yehi did the Catch Point handshake after the fact. ****

Anything Goes Match – Darby Allin def. “All Ego” Ethan Page (with The Gatekeepers)

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again. It’s amazing that this whole thing started with a nothing squash match last year during WrestleMania Weekend in Dallas. Now it’s come full circle, and they’re in the main event of major EVOLVE event during WrestleMania Weekend one year later. I mentioned in my review of ROH’s Supercard of Honor XI that the Ladder Match between The Hardys & The Young Bucks was probably the craziest match of this whole weekend. Well, this insane encounter between Ethan Page & Darby Allin certainly wasn’t that far behind.

Allin (who came out wearing paint on half of his body with “Ethan” written all over that side) took an insane amount of punishment from Page in this one, and got busted open pretty bad. He got thrown from the ring to the outside into rows of chairs, thrown into walls, hit with chairs and ladders, got gorilla pressed from the top rope through a stack of two tables, took a package piledriver onto two chairs, and still kept fighting. Despite all of the punishment he took in this match, Darby Allin just didn’t quit. Ethan Page (who always does a really good job in hardcore matches like this) obviously had The Gatekeepers with him, but fortunately, Austin Theory & Priscilla Kelly both came to the aid of Darby Allin. The Gatekeepers got taken out after Allin jumped off a balcony, while wearing a trash can, onto them. Eventually, the match finally came to an end after Darby Allin did an insane splash (which he got A LOT of height on) off the top of Ladder, putting Page through a table. This was just an incredible match that wrapped up a year long story between these two. Ethan Page played his role as a heel very well, while Darby Allin bumped like a madman. He finally got a victory over his tormentor, Ethan Page, and came out of this one looking like a star. ****1/2

Final Thoughts:

EVOLVE 81 was actually very similar to ROH’s Supercard of Honor XI. There was lull in the middle of the show, with some less-than-stellar matches, but there were plenty of awesome high points scattered throughout the card. Donovan Dijak vs. Keith Lee and Ethan Page vs. Darby Allin were both fantastic in their own unique way, and are definitely worth checking out if you’re want to watch the best matches from this loaded WrestleMania Weekend. You also had a great match between Matt Riddle & Fred Yehi, along with some other solid matches on the undercard. It was by no means a perfect show, but it was another strong outing from EVOLVE.