April 23, 2017
Saint Finbar Catholic Church Gymnasium
Brooklyn, New York

Watch: FloSlam

Eight months after the venue hosted EVOLVE 67 (one of the worst EVOLVE shows in recent memory) EVOLVE returned to Saint Finbar’s in Brooklyn for the second night of their double header in the New York City area. The card featured the final appearance of Drew Galloway, who had been a central figure in EVOLVE since the promotion’s “reboot” in the summer of 2014, while former ROH talents Kyle O’Reilly & Lio Rush were looking to make a big impact in their respective matches. What resulted was a night of consistently good wrestling with some fascinating twists.

“All Ego” Ethan Page def. Austin Theory

This was a rematch from EVOLVE 80, and when the dust settled, this match was on par with their original encounter.

These two have good chemistry and Austin Theory continues to show a ton of potential at such a young age. We did see Priscilla Kelly come down to ringside, as we continue to see that she’s evidently aligned or enamored with both Austin Theory and Darby Allin in some form. While this was certainly a fine opening contest from an in-ring standpoint, I also really like what they’ve done with these two from a storyline perspective as, after being berated by Ethan Page before their aforementioned first match at EVOLVE 80, Theory got himself involved in Page’s battles with Darby Allin. I’m not exactly sure if this feud continues beyond this show, now that Page has beaten Theory twice, but if it does, hopefully Theory (much like Allin) will eventually overcome “All Ego”. ***¼

It should be noted that Ethan Page only came out with one of his Gatekeepers (the former Blaster McMassive). The night before at EVOLVE 82 in Queens, the second Gatekeeper (the former Flex Rumblecrunch) was taken out by Zack Sabre Jr., and we would later find out the reason why, as Rumblecrunch announced on Twitter that stepping away from wrestling. This, of course, left Ethan Page one Gatekeeper short, but as we would find out later in the night, that would soon be rectified.

Up next, Stokely Hathaway & Tracy Williams came down to the ring together. The night before at EVOLVE 82, Larry Dallas had proclaimed that there were rumors of a potential alliance being formed between Catch Point & Stokely Hathaway, and that was confirmed here. Williams started off by saying that they’ve done more talking than fighting as of late, adding that the only thing he wants to be focused on is competition. Managing all of the things that go on outside of the ring, Williams said, wasn’t his job, noting that someone else needed to handle those duties. Hathaway then announced that, as of this moment, he officially represents Catch Point, and talks about how he’ll take them to new heights with branding and marketing opportunities. He said that he represents all of members Catch Point, most of whom are title holders. This bround out the rest of Catch Point (sans Matt Ridde, of course), and what we got from there was sort of a mixed bag. Fred Yehi was disgusted by this move, saying that this wasn’t what he signed up for when he initially joined the group, and proclaimed that he was out of Catch Point. After Yehi left, Chris Dickinson then took the mic, and seemed to be more on board with this new direction, as long as the focus was still on competition. Williams then mentioned that he has some unfinished business with Dickinson, as he and Yehi lost the EVOLVE Tag Team Titles to Dickinson & Jaka in Queens at EVOLVE 82, and a match between the two was made.

Before I go on to discuss that match, I want to break down what just happened here with Catch Point, as they went through a pretty significant change.

Having Catch Point go in a different direction is a fine idea (especially with the changes that EVOLVE has gone through in recent months, with I’ll talk more about later in this review), but the execution was far from perfect. The explanation from Tracy Williams explaining this new alliance with Stokely Hathaway was rather odd. He seems to suggest that Catch Point had lost focus as of late, but when you really look at their situation, it could be argued that the group has never been more successful under the leadership of Tracy Williams, as they held four titles (the EVOLVE Tag Team Titles, the FIP World Heavyweight Title, and the newly created WWN Title) coming out of WrestleMania Weekend in Orlando. Plus, even though Williams & Yehi were just coming off losing the EVOLVE Tag Team Titles the night before at EVOLVE 82, they lost them to their stablemates, Chris Dickinson & Jaka, so that really didn’t change the group’s situations.

Another issue with how this all came about involved the timing. It would make a lot more sense if Catch Point (more specifically Williams) had been on a longer losing streak. If Williams had made this move, say, at the next set of EVOLVE events in May, it might’ve made more sense, but having Williams align Catch Point with Stokely Hathaway so suddenly was very strange. I know that tensions with Catch Point has been persisting for several months (dating back to last summer), but this was a move that seemingly came out of left field. This chance isn’t a total negative, as Matt Riddle & Fred Yehi are capable of thriving on their own, but as a whole, it was easily the most puzzling development of the weekend.

I’m also curious to see what this move means for Timothy Thatcher, now that Stokely Hathaway has clearly moved on from him. The longest-reigning EVOLVE Champion seemingly doesn’t have a place in the company anyone, mere months after losing the title he held for so long. This is even more evident with the current changes the company is going through, from a talent perspective.

Tracy Williams def. Chris Dickinson

Ever since Catch Point formed, it’s been common to see their members square off in singles competition, and this match was no different, as Tracy Williams seemingly got a measure of revenge here with a submission victory over the man who pinned him the night before. This was another match that, while not amazing, ended up being pretty good. There were some good back and forth exchanges between these two, and the crowd in Brooklyn seemed to be into it (I’m guessing that was probably helped out by the fact that both guys are from the area). The finish was actually pretty cool, as a Williams counted a springboard clothesline into the crossface that secured him the victory. ***1/4

After the match, Jaka took the mic and called out ACH, getting our next match underway.

Jaka def. ACH

While we had two solid contests to open up the show, this was the first really good match on this card. There were a number of fun exchanges between these two from start to finish, and as a whole, it was really entertaining to watch. With that being said, the bigger takeaways from this one concern the outcome. Obviously this was a huge victory for Jaka, probably his biggest in EVOLVE, aside from his tag team title victory alongside Chris Dickinson at EVOLVE 82. I know some people have been really impressed by Dickinson as of late, but Jaka deserves a ton of credit as well. He’s been working very hard ever since he came to EVOLVE, and his efforts show. As for ACH, while he had a big winning streak heading into WrestleMania Weekend in Orlando, he’s lost more matches than he’s won in the last thirty days, and the frustration has begun to show in his matches. One has to wonder if a heel turn is in ACH’s future, if he can’t get back fully on the winning track. ***1/2

Keith Lee def. David Starr

Originally, Darby Allin was scheduled to face Keith Lee, but was pulled from the show after suffering a nasty elbow injury after being hit with a shovel by Ethan Page during their Last Man Standing Match the night before at EVOLVE 82. I was really looking forward to that match, just to see the massive Keith Lee toss Darby Allin around the ring (which I’m sure would’ve created some insane moments), but fortunately, we got a suitable replace in the form of David Starr. The “King Of Taunts” has seemingly been everywhere as of late, becoming the Deonna Purrazzo of independent wrestling on the men’s side.

Once again, Keith Lee got the showcase his incredible power and amazing athleticism, even busting out a running head scissors at one point. Not only is he an awesome talent in the ring, but he has some of the best facial expressions in all of wrestling. It was pretty obvious after WrestleMania Weekend in Orlando that he’s going to be a massive star, and he took this opportunity to remind us of that.

At the same time, however, David Starr deserves a ton of credit here as well. He more than held his own here, which isn’t a shock, since he has experience going up against someone much larger than him (his recent match with WALTER during this year’s 16 Carat Gold Tournament in wXw got some rave reviews). Also, Starr deserves credit alone for the fact that this was his third match of the day, as he wrestled twice on the Tier-1 Wrestling event before EVOLVE 83. Keith Lee did dominate a number of points, and ultimately emerged victorious, but David Starr looked very good in defeat. ***1/2

Kyle O’Reilly def. Fred Yehi

Going in, this was easily my most anticipated match of the night, and probably of the whole weekend. I was excited to see how these two would mesh in the ring, since both utilize their own unique technical style. The end result was a very good match, filled with plenty of hard strikes and entertaining submission exchanges, though I wouldn’t call it great.

It was very enjoyable to watch, especially if you’re a fan of either guy or the technical style they use, but it just felt like this was missing something that would’ve gotten it to the point where it was truly great. The length might’ve had something to do with that. In bouts like this that rely heavily on more technical style, you do run the risk of losing your audience (both in the building and on iPPV) if the match goes too long. This match clocked in at around the twenty minute mark, give or take, and while they certainly didn’t lose the crowd in this case, it did start to get a little long in the tooth on the iPPV end. Even with those minor criticisms aside, this was still the second best match of the night without question, and well worth checking out. However, I have a feeling that some might enjoy it just a tad more than I did. ***3/4

EVOLVE Championship
Zack Sabre Jr. (c) def. Lio Rush

In a very odd sight, both men were in wrestling gear that featured a ton of white. I’m the furthest thing from a fashion expert, but these two probably could’ve done a better job with coordinating their colors. Weird tangent aside, this was a great semi-main event, and was definitely my pick for the best match on the show. There were some awesome exchanges from start to finish, and even though Zack Sabre Jr. was firmly in control at a number of points, there were also moments where Lio Rush (who I believe has an amateur wrestling background) held his own against the “technical wizard”. He certainly showed resilience against the aggressive champion, and that led to an incredibly entertaining second half. Even though he managed to fight back, Rush because slightly overconfident, and led to Zack Sabre Jr. catching him in a prawn hold and scoring the three count to retain this title. In the immediate aftermath of the match, the commentary team (which was sans Lenny Leonard this weekend, as he was on assignment) really put over the fact that Zack Sabre Jr. rarely wins matches in EVOLVE by pin, and that he couldn’t get Lio Rush to tap out. Based on that, I’m guessing that we’re going to get a rematch of some kind between these two down the road. If this initial contest was any indication, I would be willing to bet that a rematch could be even better. He’s only had three title defenses thus far, but Zack Sabre Jr.’s reign as EVOLVE Champion is already off to a fantastic start, as all three of those aforementioned title defenses, including this one, have been pretty awesome. ****

After the match ended, Ethan Page came out on the entrance stage with his sole remaining Gatekeeper. He claims that he ended Darby Allin’s career, and brought up how he got rid of his second Gatekeeper (who Zack Sabre Jr. took out the night before) because he was weak. Despite this loss in numbers, Page declared that he wouldn’t have any issues finding another person to fill that spot, and suddenly, Zack Sabre Jr. was attacked by an large, unknown assailant. He was initially able to fight back, but the first Gatekeeper got involved, and the two men assaulted the EVOLVE Champion. Page then got in the ring and raised the EVOLVE Title high. Apparently this new Gatekeeper is Nick Comoroto, a wrestler local to the region who wrestled on the Tier-1 Wrestling event earlier in the day.

WWN Championship – I Quit Match
Matt Riddle (c) def. Drew Galloway

This was originally a non-title match, but was changed to a title match the day of the show. I’m not sure why this wasn’t made a title match as soon it was announced, especially considering that Galloway decisively beat Riddle at EVOLVE 80 in Orlando. While this was a relatively good match, it’s fair to say that it was a disappointing main event. There’s no question that these two worked very hard here, but it was easily the weakest of the three battles they’ve had with each other over the last few months. An I Quit Match is a stipulation that’s seemingly very hard to pull off in wrestling, especially in last decade or so. They can be great, but they can also be pretty bad. A number of them also fall in this middle category, where they’re technically good, but fail to live up to the perceived hype that the stipulation brings. That was the case with this particular contest. There was good action at certain times, but the match was too long, especially for this point in the night. I think people were expecting a similar situation to EVOLVE 80, but with the roles reversed, where Riddle would be the aggressor, and score a dominating and decisive victory over Galloway in the former EVOLVE Champion’s final appearance for the promotion. In reality, it was a more even fight, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it needed to be more of a sprint. Regardless, in the end, the result was the one we all saw coming, as Riddle made Galloway utter the words “I Quit” to retain his WWN Title. ***1/4

After the match ended, Catch Point came out to congratulate Riddle. Hathaway tried to do the Catch Point handshake with Riddle, but the WWN Champion turned him down outright. Galloway then attacked Riddle from behind, and Hathaway yelled at Riddle for turning him down while the rest of Catch Point abandoned their former stablemate. Galloway then got a sledgehammer and attempted to destroy the WWN Title, but Keith Lee came out to make the save. After Galloway bailed, Hathaway was left alone in the ring with the two babyfaces, and the end result was Keith Lee sending Hathaway into a Bro 2 Sleep from Riddle. Then, similar to what happened with Zack Sabre Jr. the night before, Keith Lee took the WWN Title and placed in on the shoulders on Matt Riddle, making it clear that the EVOLVE Title isn’t the only prize he’s after. I’m actually intrigued by the idea of Keith Lee potentially going both the EVOLVE Title and the WWN Title. I doubt he’ll win both, but the important thing is that he’s been clearly established as a top threat to both champions.

Final Thoughts:

EVOLVE 83 was very similar to EVOLVE 82, in that there really wasn’t a bad match to speak of, but nothing on the card was overly fantastic. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Lio Rush for the EVOLVE Title was my match of the night, though I wouldn’t be shocked if people thought Kyle O’Reilly vs. Fred Yehi (which I had right behind the EVOLVE Title bout in terms of match rankings) deserved that honor. The rest of the undercard was very solid, though at the same time, the show did have some low points. The I Quit Match between Matt Riddle & Drew Galloway for the WWN Title was solid but disappointed as a main event, while we saw some strange and puzzling developments with regards to Catch Point’s director.

It certainly appears that EVOLVE is currently at a crossroads. Since the promotions “reboot” in the summer of 2014, they put a heavy emphasis on the grappling/technical style of wrestling, first with guys like Biff Busick, Drew Gulak, Timothy Thatcher, TJ Perkins, and Zack Sabre Jr. (plus Chris Hero, to an extent), and later with guys like Matt Riddle, Tracy Williams, and Fred Yehi. Eventually, that style of wrestling became the identity of the promotion. However, that has really changed over the last several months, to the point where EVOLVE really isn’t a promotion of the grapplers/technical wrestlers anymore. Yes, a number of the guys I just mentioned (Zack Sabre Jr., Matt Riddle, Tracy Williams, Fred Yehi) are still there, but the influx of talent that’s replaced all of those that have departed for WWE in the last two years has really eroded away at that identity.

As it stands now, I would currently classify EVOLVE as a weird Beyond Wrestling/Ring Of Honor hybrid with a small influence of talent from the Southeast Independents (Fred Yehi, Austin Theory, Anthony Henry when he’s booked) and a few outliers (Ethan Page, Darby Allin). Don’t get me wrong, it’s really cool to see guys like Kyle O’Reilly, ACH, Keith Lee, Chris Dickinson, Jaka, Lio Rush, and so on, in EVOLVE (and we’re still getting great wrestling by the way), but as I just mentioned, this influx has changed the identity that helped made EVOLVE a unique independent promotion. It went from clearly having an identity to really not having an identity at all. Every independent wrestling company has something about them that makes them stand out, and for EVOLVE, it was the heavy focus on grappling and technical wrestling. Now, they look more like a so-called “super indie”, and while that’s not a bad thing, what makes EVOLVE different from established independents of that type (AAW, PWG), or newer companies of that type who are on the rise (Wrestle Circus, Wrestling Revolver). There used to be that difference, but that seems to be waning. Again, there are wrestlers of that style who are still there, but as a whole, that style is no longer the central focus on EVOLVE. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens to EVOLVE in the next few months, and if they’ll be able to find a unique identity once again.

EVOLVE still produces consistently fantastic wrestling (that goes without saying), but right now, the promotion without a true identity.