EVOLVE 96
DECEMBER 9, 2017
ELMCOR YOUTH & ADULT ACTIVITIES CENTER
CORONA, NEW YORK

Watch: WWNLIVE.com

PRELIMINARY MATCH
DOMINIC GARRINI DEF. JOEY LYNCH

These preliminary matches have a strict 10 minute time limit.  

This was a strong way to start off the show. Although he’s been working in the hardcore indie bubble for over a year at this point, this was my first time seeing Garrini in action. I don’t think his body type is going to allow him to come across like a BJJ master to most crowds; he’s a little thicker than I expected. I could be wrong, however, because the way he was able to flip Lynch, who I’ve seen numerous times, into any submission he wanted to was rather impressive. Garrini finished Lynch off with a Falling Armbar – similar to what Mighty Mouse did in the UFC a few months ago. This was quite enjoyable for its role on the card. **3/4

PRELIMINARY MATCH
KYLE THE BEAST & SHANE MERCER DEF. MATT KNICKS & STEVIE FIERCE

I’ve been expecting Kyle The Beast to break out since he showed up at Joey Janela’s Spring Break and wrestled Sami Callihan. After seeing him here tonight, I certainly hope that happens sooner than later. Both he and Shane Mercer picked apart the Freelance Wrestling stalwarts with relative ease. I thought it was interesting that Knicks and Fierce heeled it up, despite being noticeably smaller than KTB and Mercer. They were pesky, but their cleverness was no much for the sheer size and strength that KTB and Mercer brought to the table. All four of these men would fit in well if they were brought in as regulars, but after seeing this match, and especially after seeing Shane Mercer pick up the victory with a backflip Fallaway Slam off the top, the victors need to be brought back as soon as possible. Another strong prelim bout. ***

PRELIMINARY MATCH
JAREK 1:20 DEF. STEPHEN WOLFE

I can’t believe Jarek is as good as he is. I’m used to seeing Wolfe tear it up in AAW, but this was only the second or third time I had seen Jarek 1:20 grace my screen. I don’t quite know if I’d call it magic (get it, because he’s a magician?) but this was a serviceable bout at worst. Both men are quite agile, and they used that to their advantage. Even I can admit that Jarek impressed me by holding himself up on the side of the ring post, before dropping an elbow to the chest of Wolfe, who was lying prone on the outside. Neither man jumped off the screen, but they held things together. I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to seeing either man in a similar situation again. **3/4

ZACK SABRE JR DEF. DJ Z

Simply put, one of the best Zack Sabre Jr matches of the year.

This match alone sold me on buying this show (WALTER vs. Keith Lee was an added bonus). DJ Z has been a great wrestler for years, but has finally caught fire this year, especially since coming back from a fractured colon in the spring. These two were so painfully smooth. This match featured matwork a level above the working standard set by most grapplers on the independent scene. This was two masters applying their craft.

DJ Z’s act is terrific. The upside down camera during his entrance rules, the light up bodysuit he wears as he walks to the ring was a tremendous investment, and I am ALL ABOUT the airhorn gimmick. During the early stages of this match, he’d either out-grapple Zack, or just barely escape his clutches, and each time he came to, he signaled the sound guy to blast the air horn. Five. Stars.

Right when it looked like DJ Z was about to outsmart Zack and pick up the victory, Zack countered his efforts and trapped him in a bridging pin for the victory.

I would put this match in the conversation with Keith Lee vs. Donovan Dijak and Keith Lee vs. Ricochet for EVOLVE MOTY. It was one of the best Zack Sabre Jr matches of the year. This is the kind of grappling that I can eat up. Highly recommended. ****1/2

AR FOX DEF. JASON KINCAID

AR Fox has a posse, and it is a glorious thing. As someone that has stood next to AR Fox for an extended period of time, I can tell you that he smells like no other man. The stench of weed and Icy Hot hits you as soon as you’re in his radius. His posse is the living embodiment of weed and Icy Hot.

It also just so happens that AR Fox has turned into one of the most consistent wrestlers going today. I praised him month after month when I reviewed AAW, and this performance was no different. I had soured greatly on Jason Kincaid. I was all for him being signed by EVOLVE, but since he’s been under contract, he hasn’t done much for me. That changed with this match. He and Fox had outstanding chemistry. Their high-flying, innovative offense meshed even better than expected. Fox won with the Lo Mein Pain, giving him momentum he would capitalize on later on in the night. This was, perhaps, the first great match of Jason Kincaid’s EVOLVE career. ***3/4

DARBY ALLIN DEF. AUSTIN THEORY

These two wrestled at the last EVOLVE show I reviewed, EVOLVE 78.

Much like that bout, I was delighted to see the chemistry these two youngsters have with one another. I’m amazed that Darby Allin isn’t the hottest commodity on the indie scene. He is unlike anything else going today, and it is oh so refreshing to see. Everything Allin does in the ring is captivating, and quite frankly, I’m amazed that he and Theory hit it off so well because they are two guys that can be a little rough around the edges.

I enjoyed the finish for this, as Priscilla Kelly, Theory’s main squeeze, pressured him into not just hitting Allin with a TKO, but hitting him with a TKO from the top rope. Theory went up to the top, and Allin countered the attempt with a devastating Crucifix Bomb off the top. Theory recovered, and right when it looked like he was about to gain control again, Allin rolled him up in a confusing and impressive pinning combination for the victory. ***1/2





EVOLVE TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP
JAKA & TRACY WILLIAMS (c)  VS. JAMES DRAKE & ANTHONY HENRY

Tracy Williams filled in for the suspended half of the EVOLVE tag team champions, Chris Dickinson. Dickinson was suspended for his “outburst” at EVOLVE 95 in the triple threat tag match. Dickinson, for lack of a better word, “shot” on one of the members in the match after they failed to catch Jaka on a dive. I’m cool with suspending him behind the scenes, but I wish EVOLVE would have come up with a kayfabe reason for his absence.

Right as this match was getting going, The End came out to break things up which signaled a No Contest. Normally, I would not be a fan of this, especially in EVOLVE, but the post-match brawl, which featured the aforementioned Chris Dickinson coming in to clear house, was so excellent that I can’t be mad. The End, Catch Point, and the Workhorsemen (which is an outstanding name for a team) brawled all around the Elmcor Center. In the end, The End came out on top. I’m sure they’ll have tag gold strapped around their waist soon enough. All things considered, this segment was worthwhile. NR

NO ROPE BREAKS MATCH
MATT RIDDLE DEF. FRED YEHI

This did nothing for me. I was intrigued by the situation because I though it might inject life into Riddle’s performances, and for whatever reason, Riddle challenging Yehi early on in the match to take his shoes off (which Yehi proceeded to do) had me fired up, but this match ended up boring me. In reality, they worked the match as they should have. They focused on holds, worked the sides of the ring to get over that rope breaks would not be a factor, and in the end, Riddle tapped Yehi out, despite Yehi being in the ropes. The blueprint was there, but this match was far too dry for me to get invested into.

I praised Fred Yehi for being one of the best wrestlers in the world the last time I reviewed EVOLVE, but since Wrestemania Weekend, which featured what I considered to be a highly disappointing match between Yehi and Riddle at EVOLVE 81, both Yehi and Riddle have done nothing for me. Riddle is stale, and Yehi hasn’t been able to put it together in the ring. Even his match over the summer with WALTER, which you can watch here, was a great bout that, to me, was almost all thanks to WALTER. Both of these men have an exuberant amount of talent, but it was certainly not on display tonight. ***

WWN CHAMPIONSHIP
KEITH LEE (C) DEF. WALTER

This is exactly what I was hoping for. The slower pace might not have been for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing two of the biggest men in the sport chop, kick, and slam the life out of each other. I thought this was a much better version of the match that these two had at PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles a few months ago.

Neither giant seemed to be able to gain the upper hand during this match. Lee would land chops, then WALTER would answer right back. WALTER would kick Lee, and Lee would answer right back. This continued up until the finish, which actually came off as a little flat to me, as seemingly out of nowhere, Lee hit his patented Ground Zero to pin the challenger. I think both Lee and WALTER work better as bases, or when they can throw around and belittle their opponents, but this was some excellent big man vs. big man work. I highly recommend turning up the volume to hear the sheer brutality of some of their strikes. Not the greatest match, but a great main event to cap off a great show. ****

AR Fox came out and challenged Keith Lee afterwards. His posse was beaten down, but managed to escape before one member suffered a Spirit Bomb. I am fully on board for Lee vs. Fox.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

EVOLVE 96 has to be in the running for best EVOLVE show of the year. The preliminary matches served a purpose, ZSJ vs. DJ Z is one of the best EVOLVE matches of the year, and everything else falls in the good-great category. Riddle vs. Yehi, to me, was the worst match on the show, but even then, I could see people liking it. EVOLVE is not dead, far from it, in fact. Hopefully the backstage drama will come to a close shortly, because EVOLVE has a roster full of blue chip prospects and wrestlers nearing their peak. Two thumbs up for EVOLVE 96. Buy the VOD of this show as soon as you can.