The stars were aligned for a big night when EVOLVE returned to their signature venue in the Big Apple with a card chock full of intriguing matchups. The company’s 82nd installment would be headlined by a Last Man Standing Match between bitter rivals Darby Allin and Ethan Page. Matt Riddle was set to defend his newly won WWN Championship against the proverbial thorn in his side, Timothy Thatcher. EVOLVE Champion Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Drew Galloway and Keith Lee vs. Kyle O’Reilly headlined the fights scheduled for the undercard.
April 22, 2017
Queens, New York
The newly crowned WWN Champion Matt Riddle opened the show and vowed to defend his belt against everyone in the WWN family of companies. He said that the perfect way to kick off his reign was to beat the one man who seemingly had his number–Trashy Tim Thatcher.
WWN Championship Match: Matt Riddle (c) def. Timothy Thatcher
During the latter days of his reign as EVOLVE Champion, Timothy Thatcher was insufferably boring in the ring. More than likely he is never going to set the world on fire, but Thatcher proved here that he will function just fine as an undercard heel in Gabeland. Thatcher’s performance in this match was solid. He spent more time laying into Riddle’s body with knees and slaps than loosely twisting the arm for most of the contest like he normally does. His sneer and tweaking of Riddle’s nose evoked memories of the heel territory champions of old, and that’s how this match played out. Thatcher dominated for the majority of the contest with Riddle having brief moments of brilliance before pulling a desperation victory with the Bromission. The moment didn’t feel as special as it should have, but that’s just me being picky because a good opening match is nothing to turn your nose up at. ***1/4
Stokley Hathaway berated Riddle after the fight for hanging out with fans after shows. Hathaway said Riddle needs to be more like Thatcher and focus on wrestling. Riddle replied, bro, that he does it because it is fun and that he will do what he wants.
ACH def. Austin Theory
The frantic pace ACH was known for in ROH disappeared the moment he arrived in EVOLVE. While trying to improve as a wrestler is commendable, the result was two snoozers against Timothy Thatcher and Tracy Williams. Against Theory, though, the deliberate pace finally paid off for wrestling’s best-known anime fan; mainly because ACH decided to subtly fight as a heel.
Theory had an answer for most of ACH’s signature offense in the early going. Of course, that and vocal crowd support for the nineteen-year-old visibly miffed ACH. In response, he tapped Theory with a few out of character slaps to the face and one to the groin area. The disses fired Theory up, and he hit a few high impact moves for close two counts, but that wasn’t enough and ACH dropped him with a Buster Call out of nowhere to pick up the win. The change in direction by ACH took the bout to another level and helped offset some sloppiness from Theory, and in the end, he came off looking like a big deal in defeat. ***1/2
Before his scheduled match with EVOLVE Champion, Zack Sabre Jr., Drew Galloway came out and regaled the crowd with a list of injustices done to him by EVOLVE. Because of them, Galloway claimed that is why he is leaving the company. However, an object of his ire, referee DA Brewer, happened to be in the ring. Galloway obliterated the poor official for “costing” him his first match with Matt Riddle.
That was enough to bring out ZSJ. For six minutes the former and current EVOLVE Champions took turns knocking one another back to next week. Sabre Jr., looked like he had Galloway dead to rights before the dastardly Ethan Page (more on him later) joined the fray. Page took care of ZSJ while Galloway retreated backstage and emerged with a sledgehammer. With the champion restrained and helpless, Galloway raised the hammer to destroy what he claimed to have created.
Then the clouds parted and the messiah himself, Keith Lee, arrived in a cloak of awesome. He bowled over the Gatekeepers at ringside and chased off the Page & Galloway before returning ZSJ’s belt to him in a cheeky manner that hinted a rematch between the two is forthcoming.
Kyle O’Reilly def. Keith Lee
Pride and sportsmanship took center stage when Keith Lee and Kyle O’Reilly finally locked horns in one of the most anticipated matches of the weekend. Early on, both men let their pride get the best of them. Lee backed off in critical moments to ask O’Reilly to bask in his glory, and his rewards on multiple occasions were quick trips to the canvas locked in a submission.
During his times of duress, Lee’s facial expressions were hilarious and conveyed genuine shock. O’Reilly had major success turning Lee into a human pretzel, but he seemed determined to either knockout or drop the big guy on his head; for which he was rewarded with the larger man cleaning his clock on multiple occasions.
Sportsmanship re-entered the mix after the fight stopped due to an inadvertent low blow to what Lee referred to as “the people’s anaconda”. Lee did not want to be the finish of the contest because of the competitive spirit he felt coming from O’Reilly. The former ROH World Champion agreed to the restart and then proceeded to jump right on top of Lee, not giving him a moment to recover. From there they traded bombs and near falls until O’Reilly finally drilled Lee with a brainbuster for the 1-2-3.
I’m not keen on the restart finish, but I cannot argue with how well it jived with the characters of both performers. O’Reilly came off as a killer and a bit of a prick. Lee’s rise as a badass babyface continued; he displayed the best of fighting virtue coupled with his earlier deed in saving Sabre Jr. This was a fantastic and fun match that needs a second chapter as soon as possible. ****1/4
EVOLVE Tag Team Championship Match: Jaka & Chris Dickinson def. Tracy Williams & Fred Yehi (c)
Going into this match, I think many EVOLVE fans hoped for a title change. The Team Pazuzu cohorts will bring a degree of fresh air to the division, mainly hard-hitting, don’t blink or you will miss action; which I felt there was plenty of in this contest. Unlike many, I did not think that Williams and Yehi were mediocre champions. They were steady hands when the division centered around story instead of the in-ring product and kept up well in a contest that was not their usual pace as a team. ***3/4
After the match, Larry Dallas came out to stir shit by claiming he had inside information that Tracy Williams signed Stokley Hathaway to be the official agent for Catch Point. However, instead of denying the rumors outright, Williams left his partners in the ring and slinked to the back.
Last Man Standing Match: Ethan Page def. Darby Allin
The hype and logic for why this contest happened after Allin seemingly got revenge in Orlando is well deserved. As is the critique of the level of violence performed during the main event. Seeing Darby Allin placed in a body bag with thumbtacks or have his arm slashed to the meat by a shovel is not my idea of a quality brawl. Nor is a prolonged demolition of him, Priscilla Kelly, and Austin Theory. With that said, from a narrative perspective, the vivisection of Allin by Page made “All Ego” look like the devil in the flesh going into an assumed title match against Zack Sabre Jr. For his part, Allin still looked tremendous in defeat and when he returns from injury the crowd will still be on the second coming of Spike Dudley’s side. **3/4
EVOLVE 82 did not match the hype generated around it when the card was announced, mainly due to the disappointing main event. However, that should not be a reason to discount the event. A crisp opener and a fantastic tag title match put the show on a quality level. The absolutely outstanding war between Keith Lee and Kyle O’Reilly puts it in the must see category.