The main attraction of EVOLVE’s heavily hyped joint production with PROGRESS Wrestling was off in the distance as the promotion rolled into the Baltimore suburbs Friday night. In an attempt to keep the 89th show in company history, EVOLVE gave the Maryland fans a real treat: the first defense of WALTER’s Atlas Championship against Fred Yehi. The title bout was the Austrian ring general’s debut in the company. Washington D.C. product Lio Rush faced WWN Champion Matt Riddle in the main event, his final match with EVOLVE. A tag team title contest and a Tim Thatcher/Keith Lee grudge match headlined the undercard.
August 11, 2017
Ethan Page & ACH def. Chris Dickinson & Jaka
The newly minted Troll Boys are a lot of fun, and their outright subversion of the competitive spirit in EVOLVE is interesting. Now with that said, an uneven and overly long contest with the former tag team champions made their debut a rough one. Comedy and serious matches never work well together, as evidenced in the opener. On top of that, Dickinson and Jaka needed to be kept strong with a high profile bout less than 24 hours away. A jobber tag team should have taken the Buster Call that ended the fight after a few minutes, but oh well. *3/4
Darby Allin def. Craig Mitchell
The night’s second match was a simple affair designed to get Allin over as a scrapper, which it did well. Craig Mitchell, in his EVOLVE debut, did his part as an imposing powerhouse. Allin had to reach into the technical side of his arsenal to pick up the win with a Gibson Lock pin. **
Austin Theory def. Jason Kincaid
In front of another crowd (Joppa was dead for most of the show), this contest would have gotten over. The proceedings started well with neither man able to get the advantage. Theory used his natural strength to try and slam Kincaid into kindling. The New Age grappler used speed and aerial maneuvers to force Theory to cede the momentum. Maybe with a juiced audience, this would have been a breakout moment for two wrestlers the company is enamored with currently. The silent fans pale in comparison to the idiotic finish of Priscilla Kelly screaming to distract Kincaid so her boy could steal the pin. While it obviously was a creative approach to inference this was the wrong time to try it. It added a layer of unnecessary silliness. Also, Theory needs a better finisher than his flipping Samoan drop gimmick. **3/4
Kincaid tried to stage an impromptu intervention after the match, Theory blew him off and walked through the curtain.
EVOLVE Tag Team Championship Match
James Drake & Anthony Henry (c) def. Tracy Williams & Rory Gulak
The new tag team champions, Drake and Henry, pass the eye test. They are a classic combination of size and speed. Drake’s chops are wicked and stunted the flow of William’s usual intensity. The drawback to the fact that both teams worked hard was again the lack of investment from the Maryland fans. The numerous near falls near the end yielded nothing but tomb-like silence. So when Henry dropped Gulak with a roundhouse kick that led to the final fall, it felt like a much-needed mercy killing. **3/4
Williams lamented the fall of Catch Point into malaise, and subsequently decimated Gulak along with Jaka and Dickinson in symbolic end to the honorable original intent of the faction.
Keith Lee def. Timothy Thatcher
Timothy Thatcher will always be a wildcard in the minds of EVOLVE fans. His inconsistency and near total apathy in the final year of his reign as champion left a justifiable sour taste in their mouths. However, since his alliance with Stokely Hathaway, Thatcher has demonstrated a mean streak and blatant arrogance perfectly tailored for his surly demeanor. Both were on full display versus the promotion’s resident titan, Keith Lee.
Thatcher unwisely tried to throw Lee off his feet several times in the early going only for Lee to shrug him off like a pesky fly. When Thatcher finally did ground Lee, he never let him breathe. With a snarl plastered to his face, Thatcher stretched Lee with a Fujiwara armbar and then a sleeper choke. Neither was able to put the big man, but Lee was obviously staggered. A frustrated Thatcher went back to his strikes only to fall to a pop-up punch that put him down for the three count.
After a complete grind through the early part of the card, a short, simple contest was in order to reinvigorate the viewing audience. Both Thatcher and Lee put their best effort forward in a fight with a nice old-school feel. ***1/2
During the post match, Thatcher sold the knockout as if Lee bopped him all the way back to the Stone Age. Darby Allin made the foolish mistake of coming out to try and help Thatcher to the back. Thatcher did not take this kindly and promptly attacked Allin before security separated the two.
Progress Atlas Championship Match
WALTER (c) def. Fred Yehi
Despite being an ocean apart regarding size and location, WALTER and Fredy Yehi share a common distinction: they are among the steadiest workers going in wrestling today. The two of them put their combined talents to good use and produced the best match of the night. The key to its quality lay in its shirking of wrestling convention.
In the past, Yehi had tremendous “David vs. Goliath” matchups with the likes of Chris Hero. A similar contest against Walter would have worked well, but instead, the two worked an even match. Yehi did not labor long to get the big man off his feet. In the same vein, WALTER did not use his size to bully Yehi but focused on demonstrating superior skill. WALTER’s inner monster only showed when Yehi had him trapped on the mat and later hit him with a ring-shaking superplex. Only then did big strikes, powerbomb, and a rear naked choke widen the gap in Walter’s favor for a submission victory.
The even nature of the contest is a reflection on how far Yehi’s stock in the company has risen over the past year. He no longer must fight underneath as a rookie; now he is primed for success at the top of the card in EVOLVE. ****
Matt Riddle def. Lio Rush
Lio Rush’s EVOLVE farewell turned out to an odd bird, but to be honest, his entire EVOLVE run this year was the same. Rush came in during Mania’ Weekend and scored huge wins. He entered into a fantastic feud with Zack Sabre Jr. and built enough buzz to attract the WWE’s attention. No one will fault Rush for his decision, but it did leave a lot of potential stories and matches on the table.
As stated above, the main event mirrored Rush journey. It started strong with Rush using his speed to confound Riddle, settled into a nice segment of Bro domination, and then crested there. Rush got a few nice near falls, but never felt like a serious threat to Riddle. Now seeing Riddle toss the smaller Rush around was great fun, but the fight could have been so much more. At the same time, I understand why, Rush wasn’t around long enough to mean much to EVOLVE, Riddle has, and at the end of the day that is why he won in relatively easy fashion. ***1/2
Riddle did not get much time to bask in the glow of his victory. WALTER strode to the ring and silently announced his intention to take the WWN Championship from Riddle. In the midst of their staredown, Tracy Williams and Catch Point attacked. Keith Lee made the save, had a tense moment with WALTER, and then cut a promo stating he would see his fellow big man the next night. Lee left the ring after that and let WALTER pose with his title to end the show.
Despite an apathetic crowd and a slightly below average undercard, the headlining matches of EVOLVE 90 make the show worth a fan’s time. The Atlas Championship match was a technical marvel. The main event was a fun sprint, and Thatcher/Lee was a pleasant surprise. Skip the undercard and focus on the top three matches to save time during a congested wrestling weekend.