As I write this, it was one week ago that I got on an airplane for the very first time and made my way to Orlando, Florida for WrestleMania weekend. While the majority of wrestling fans in the area found themselves at the Camping World Stadium or the Amway Center, my friends and I spent a rather large amount of time at the Orlando Live Events Center and the Wyndham Hotel for seven different shows in three days.
I arrived in Orlando around three o’clock on Thursday and met up with my friend Lee. He and I stayed with our friends Jason and Mary this weekend, meaning that not only was this a wrestling filled vacation, it was also a four day long slumber party. Out of any day of this trip, I think I was most anticipating the first day of the road of insanity.
Before Lee, Jason, and I could go to the OLE for EVOLVE 80, we had to wait for an air conditioner repairman over at Jason’s condo. This would eventually make us late to the show, but the trade off was more than worth it for meeting Melvin, the shifty repairman with a heart of gold. Melvin became a running impression for us throughout the weekend. The bit would evolve from Melvin hating any lights, to smart mark Melvin, to innocent prankster Stone Cold Steve Austin, and, finally, to Stone Cold as the host of Punk’d with unnecessarily mean pranks. If you were in line at Kaiju Big Battle on Friday with a group of jackasses that kept doing the Stone Cold voice, that was us! I’m very sorry. Shout out to the WWN employee who would give us a “What?” every time he walked past.
I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s stick to Thursday and the first show of the weekend.
As far as the shows that we saw go, this may have been the most straightforward (for lack of a better term) that we went to. When we arrived at the OLE, the opening match was already in progress and Drew Galloway was beating the hell out of Matt Riddle. This was one match I was really looking forward to and I was quite disappointed to see that it was essentially a squash, but I understand why they did it for the story they were building. Drew picked up with win after killing Riddle with piledrivers, including one off the ring apron through a table on the floor.
The first great match of the weekend came when what was initially a one-on-one match between Jaka and Kincaid became a triple threat match when Lio Rush made his surprise early return to EVOLVE. This was a super fast paced, action packed match. All three men really brought it and impressed. Jason Kincaid continues to look better in every match I see him in, having one of the most unique offensive arsenals in wrestling today. I said that to one of my friends and a kid sitting in front of us turned around to agree with me. He really seemed to know his stuff and would laugh at our jokes, so he was obviously my favorite.
The next two matches were the Ethan Page and friends segment of the show. First up, the Gatekeepers did what they’re great at and squashed some little flippy boys. I missed the introduction of the smaller team and for a brief bit of time I thought that HAYATA and YO-HEY flew in for the weekend. Let’s get a Dove Pro show in New Orleans next year! Ethan Page and Austin Theory had a fine match, but I really don’t remember much about it. Prior to the match starting, I had told my friends, who don’t follow EVOLVE, that at some point in this match Darby Allin would probably return and it would be a big moment. What we got was something weird.
While Page and the Gatekeepers were in the ring, a plume of smoke came from the entranceway (for the fans, not for the wrestlers). When the smoke passed, a group of men wearing blue hospital scrubs and skull facepaint emerged, carrying a body bag. They eventually carried the bag into the ring, where they all got the crap beaten out of them by the bad guys. Allin, who was in the body bag the entire time, took quite a beating as well, even being thrown out of the ring and onto his helpers. Allin eventually escapes the bag and shows no fatigue from what he went through. I guess body bags are really padded? This went on for way too long. Like, an absurdly long time. And the payoff wasn’t worth it. For a feud that I’ve really enjoyed, this was the first misstep.
That questionable angle was then followed by the first truly amazing match of Mania weekend. Keith Lee and Ricochet are two of the very best on the indies and they clashed here. Ricochet isn’t a very small guy, but even he found himself in a big man vs. small man match against Keith Lee. What made this match work so well what how they were able to subvert the typical tropes from those types of matches. The strength of Ricochet and the speed of Lee are two of the biggest factors that went into making this match as great as it was. Ricochet may have walked out with the victory, but Keith Lee lost nothing in this defeat, taking every bit of offense that Ricochet could muster. Ricochet was forced to break out the 630 to put Lee away in a contest that is an easy match of the year contender.
Ricochet vs Keith Lee was incredible. ****3/4 pic.twitter.com/dd4tFmwC5z
— Kelly Harrass (@comicgeekelly) March 31, 2017
Ricochet and Lee’s match was the highlight of the show, but it was followed by two more pretty great matches. I feel like I might be the high man on the semi-main because the live reaction that I saw on Twitter was not very positive. Catch Point had to do everything in their power to survive the onslaught of Elgin and Dijak. While I enjoyed the story of these two having to out wrestle and out maneuver the giants, the Dijak/Elgin offensive period may have gone on too long. This might not hold up as well on rewatch, but I enjoyed myself quite a bit.
And finally, the main event was an amazing mesh of styles. Both men are deceptively hard strikers and they BROUGHT IT here. ZSJ and ACH went to town on each other with the stiff shots. We also got to see a lot of grappling, a very underrated aspect of ACH’s offensive arsenal. While I wouldn’t have initially called this a dream match, the content of the contest showed me just how wrong I was. While ACH came out of this looking awesome, we saw an incredibly strong title defense for Sabre. This was just shy of being MOTYC levels.
EVOLVE 80 results and ratings
- Drew Galloway def. Matt Riddle ***
- Timothy Thatcher with Stokely Hathaway def. Chris Dickinson ***½
- Lio Rush def. Jaka and Jason Kincaid ****
- Gatekeepers def. Facade and Michael Richard Blais **
- Ethan Page with The Gatekeepers def. Austin Theory **¼
- Ricochet def. Keith Lee ****¾
- EVOLVE Tag Team champions Tracy Williams & Fred Yehi def. Michael Elgin & Donovan Dijak ****
- EVOLVE Champion Zack Sabre Jr. def. ACH ****½
Virgil is left alone at his table even at wrestling shows.
— Kelly Harrass (@comicgeekelly) March 31, 2017
Joey Janela’s Spring Break
Spring Break was easily my most anticipated show of the entire weekend and it delivered everything I wanted and more. This was very much the American equivalent of something like a Tenryu Project show. We got insane matches with a roster of wrestlers old and new. In true Spring Break fashion, people wore Hawaiian shirts and carried pool noodles while a beach ball was being batted around the arena. Suck it, Raw crowd, we did it before you and better than you! The show kicked off hot with Sami Callihan taking on the relatively unknown Kyle the Beast. This was a super fun brawl that started with the wrestlers trading off dives to the outside. Sami won, but KTB managed to stand out. I hope to see more of him in the future.
Going into the next match, I had predicted that it would be the worst match of the weekend. Man, was I wrong. Penelope Ford and Andy Williams beat Braxton Sutter and Allie in a pretty great match. Allie really came off like a star here and Ford showed that she is willing to take some crazy bumps, something that we would see again later in the weekend. I had never seen Ford wrestle prior to this show, but she really impressed me here. Another person that impressed was Andy Williams, the lead singer of Everytime I Die. I don’t know if he’s ever wrestled before, but he came off as a natural.
It was in that tag match that I saw a door used in a match for the first time. After Mania weekend, I am all for getting rid of tables in wrestling and replacing them with doors. When someone goes through a door, there’s a very satisfying crunch noise that accompanies the explosion of wood. Joey, thank you for bringing doors into my life.
The third match of the night was for the GCW Championship and was a bloody brawl between Eddie Kingston and Matt Tremont. You either enjoy a match like this or you don’t, there’s really no in between. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but the fact that they were brawling in the row of seats behind us probably helped with that. Meanwhile, as they were fighting behind us and a loud group of people converged on our seats, a man was sleeping in the row in front of us. How he slept through that, I’ll never know. The other highlight of the match came early on when Eddie was stabbing Tremont in the head with a fork and may have gotten a bit overzealous because goddamn did one of the stabs make a gross noise. Regardless of the holes in his head, Tremont went on to retain his title.
The next match was was pure magic. Yes, the time has come for the Spring Break Clusterfuck. The rules weren’t entirely clear from the offset. We knew that you could be eliminated by pin, submission, or death, and the last man standing would be the winner. The Clusterfuck saw the likes of Glacier and Dink the Clown enter the arena. Let me tell you something, Dink is looking haggard. Glacier looked pretty good, but the true star of the match was the Invisible Man. Wrestlers took turns bumping like crazy and making the Invisible Man look amazing. Perhaps the loudest crowd reaction of the entire night came when he was finally eliminated by Ethan Page. The hopes of the breakout star were trounced and Page continued his villainous streak by eliminating Glacier after a pretty amazing Mortal Kombat standoff between the two. When it looked like all hope was lost, one unexpected hero stood up to take down Page. Jimmy Lloyd took an unbelievable beating from Page and the Gatekeepers. He was put through door after door after door, but he somehow found the inner strength to fight back and eventually win the match. The Clusterfuck was a good encapsulation of the entire night, it had a little bit of everything and was a ton of fun.
The oddest crowd moment of the night came during the Clusterfuck when I saw a fan throw a chair at another fan. There were several fans standing up on a barrier to watch that match when they really shouldn’t have. Another fan was rightfully angry about having his view blocked, but he responded in poor fashion by grabbing a steel chair off of a table and throwing it at the legs of one of the standing fans. This is really a situation where everyone was the jackass and I give the dude that got hit with the chair a ton of credit for not jumping off the ledge and opening a can of whoop ass. What we learned today was to not obstruct the vision of other fans and to not throw chairs when we’re upset. That being said, this felt like a properly Spring Break moment.
It feels weird to say that I don’t have many thoughts on Keith Lee vs. Lio Rush, but I really don’t. A match of this quality almost felt out of place on this card, but was also very important for giving the fans a little bit of everything. This was very similar to the Ricochet/Lee match, but it wasn’t as good. On it’s own, I’m sure this was awesome, but in the context of this night, it didn’t blow me away.
What did blow me away was seeing Marty Jannetty hit a Canadian Destroyer on Joey Janela. This match had one of the greatest promo videos I’ve ever seen as a lead in, so these two men had a lot to live up to. Honestly, it delivered in a way that I never expected. Marty knew what his body was capable of and benefitted the match by never trying to exceed his limitations. Janela more than made up for this by bumping like a madman with no regard for his own health. What could have been a train wreck was more like a beautiful painting, with every spot artfully crafted to maximize impact, whether that be serious or comedic in tone. The several referee bumps leading into the Earl Hebner run-in were hilarious and Joey’s Crescent Kick to finish the match was picture perfect. The more I think about this match, the more I love it.
Finally, the night was capped off with, once again, something completely different. MMA legend, Dan Severn took on Matt Riddle. The match was a very convincingly worked shoot with excellent grappling and some hard strikes. I’m not the biggest fan of this style of match, but these two made it work very well. Riddle eventually won the match, angering the man sitting in front of me that had been sleeping earlier in the night. Something tells me that he only came to see Severn. I’m thankful that he handled his rage responsibly and didn’t throw a chair at anyone. Matt Riddle thanked us all for coming to the show and especially thanked Severn for the match. We then all went off into the night to get some rest.
Joey Janela’s Spring Break results and ratings
- Sami Callihan def. Kyle The Beast ***1/2
- Intergender Tag Match: Andy Williams (From “Everytime I Die”) and “The Bad Girl” Penelope Ford def. Braxton Sutter and Allie ***1/4
- Matt Tremont def. Eddie Kingston ***1/2
- The Spring Break Clusterf**k: Jimmy Lloyd wins after eliminating Ethan Page. ***1/2
- Lio Rush def. Keith Lee ***3/4
- Janela’s Dream Match: Joey Janela def. Marty Jannetty ****
- MMA SuperFight: Matt Riddle def. Dan “The Beast” Severn ***1/2
On any other week, this would have been more than enough wrestling to satisfy my friends and I. But this wasn’t just any other weekend. This was Mania weekend and we had five shows and two days left ahead of us.
To be continued…..