May 19th, 2018
Summit Park District
Summit, Illinois

Watch: WWN Live

The show kicked with Lenny Leonard announcing a significant rule change in EVOLVE. From now on, there will be no more twenty counts on the floor. Competitors can fight on the outside with no time restrictions, but if it’s clear that all the participants involved in a given match refuse to get back in the ring, then the referee can call for a DQ at his discretion.

I believe this change in the rules is actually a throwback of sorts to the golden years of ROH. This does eliminate the potential of a count out as the finish (though when was the last time we saw a match in EVOLVE end that way?), and it does give the wrestlers more freedom to do stuff on the outside. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how this impacts matches in EVOLVE going forward.

AR Fox (with The Skulk) def. Zachary Wentz

These two were on the opposite sides of a Six-Man Tag back at Mercury Rising 2018. AR Fox’s team got the win over Zachary Wentz’s team on that night in New Orleans, and he emerged victorious once again in what ended up being a very entertaining opener. It clocked in just under twelve minutes, and featured very solid back and forth action throughout. Wentz had a pretty strong outing here, as he got the opportunity to show off what he could do.

However, the former EVOLVE Champion would ultimately emerge victorious after hitting the Foxcatcher. AR Fox was a great choice as Wentz’s first opponent in singles competition (their styles mesh pretty well), and in general, he (along with The Skulk) are perfect for this spot on the card. That’s not to say I don’t want AR Fox to move back up the card, but his current act is excellent for getting the crowd hyped up and excited at the start of a show. As for Zachary Wentz, I’m curious to see what he ends up doing in EVOLVE, should he become a regular. While most people probably know him from his tag team work with Dezmond Xavier, he certainly showed in this opener that he can be just as exciting to watch in a singles environment. ***3/4

After the match, AR Fox celebrated his victory with the rest of The Skulk, but one of them actually speaks up. He identifies himself as Tommy Maserati, and said that tonight was about the future of EVOLVE. Maserati called out anyone in the back to face him, and his challenge was quickly answered by Josh Briggs, who Lenny Leonard identified as a standout from Beyond Wrestling.

Josh Briggs def. Tommy Maserati

For those who are curious, Josh Briggs is listed (according to cagematch) as being six feet, eight inches tall, and weighs in at 268 pounds. Aside from a bigger beard, this guy really looks like a larger version of Drew Galloway/McIntyre. The resemblance is particularly striking when it comes to his body and general frame (I’m sure these similarities in appearance to the former EVOLVE Champion played a big role in him getting booked).

The match itself was a quick squash, as Briggs killed this dude from The Skulk in seconds. He finished him off with an absolutely brutal finisher that was basically a fusion between a chokeslam and Cedric Alexander’s Lumbar Check. I’ve never seen or heard of Josh Briggs until I watched this show, but I’m immediately curious to see what he can do in more competitive matches. For now, however, squashes like this are a great way to introduce him. N/R

Tracy Williams def. Dominic Garrini (with Stokely Hathaway)

At Mercury Rising last month in New Orleans, Tracy Williams was officially kicked out of Catch Point (the same group he started with Drew Gulak back in 2015). It was a low blow from behind by Dominic Garrini that signaled the start of Catch Point’s assault on Williams, and thus, we have this match.

Before it could begin, however, we got a Stokely Hathaway promo! He said that while Catch Point once represented the best technical wrestling in the world, it now stands for the EVOLVE Tag Team Champions, Dominic Garrini, and whatever else he thinks it should stand for. Right now, he sees Catch Point as being worth a lot of money, and he’s willing to sell it to anyone other than Tracy Williams. Hathaway even suggested selling Catch Point to WWE, and mentions the fact that Chris Dickinson & Jaka wrestled at WWE WrestleMania Axxess. He then declares that this singles match would now be contested under “Catch Point rules”, which were basically the rules that defined the ROH Pure Title. Each competitor would get three rope breaks, a twenty count on the floor would be enforced, and closed fists to the face would not allowed. If you broke the third rule, you would get penalized to varying degrees (starting with losing a rope break, and ending with potential disqualification if the foul occurs enough times during the bout). What’s old is new, I suppose.

As for this particular bout, it was a relatively good singles encounter that went just over seven minutes or so. Thankfully, they didn’t rely on the grappling too much, and we actually got some pretty solid back and forth action between these two. The “Catch Point Rules” never really came into play that much, aside from Williams using a rope break, and Garrini using a closed fist while Stokely Hathaway had the referee distracted. I’ll be curious to see if these rules will apply to Chris Dickinson & Jaka as well, or if it’s just for Dominic Garrini matches. Anyway, the finish was very clever, as it played off what happened during that aforementioned segment from Mercury Rising. Garrini went for a low blow from behind, but Williams had it scouted, and countered it into the crossface, and secured the submission victory shortly thereafter. ***1/4

As Stokely Hathaway was checking on Dominic Garrini following the loss, it looked like Tracy Williams was going to go after his former manager. However, Chris Dickinson & Jaka pulled Hathaway to safety. Williams then dove onto them from the apron, and challenged them to a fight right then and there, but Catch Point backed off. I imagine this feud will continue with Williams getting singles matches with both Dickinson & Jaka.

Team Freelance (Matt Knicks, Chris Castro, & Isaias Velazquez) def. Team WildKat (Bu Ku Dao, J. Spade, & Johnny Flex with Natalya Markova)

This six-man tag was a battle between two smaller independent groups. Freelance Wrestling is from the Chicago area, while WildKat is a promotion based out of Louisiana. Of course, the team representing Freelance was very over with this crowd.

The match itself was pretty entertaining, for what it was. It clocked in at just under ten minutes, and everyone involved had an opportunity to shine. There was fun action throughout, and in a showcase match like this, that’s all you really need. The idea of doing a promotion vs. promotion bout like this, with two smaller companies, is a good one, and I wouldn’t mind seeing EVOLVE do something like this again in the future. In the end, Team Freelance scored the victory, which wasn’t much of a surprise. ***

Anthony Henry def. Stevie Fierce

Here we have another bout on the card that featured a Freelance Wrestling connection.

These two have been involved in an intense feud in Freelance over the last several months (as explained by Lenny Leonard on commentary). At this point, it was pretty clear that this crowd had a lot of Freelance fans in it, as Anthony Henry received a ton of boos when he came out (he’s the heel in this particular feud). Henry has been firmly established as a babyface in EVOLVE since he became a regular, so the fact that he got booed here showed that a majority of the fans in attendance followed Freelance Wrestling.

This was a very solid match that featured some good action from start to finish. The intensity appeared to high right from the opening bell, and that certainly added to the bout. Additionally, the commentary did a great job in providing context and backstory to this feud, and that definitely helped me get into what (originally) seemed like a random showcase match. Despite the fact that Fierce held a 2-0 record over Henry in singles bouts coming into this event, Henry finally managed got one over on his rival. That result made sense, since Henry is a regular member of the EVOLVE roster, but Stevie Fierce looked good, despite coming up short. This was by no means a match of the night contender, but it was a very enjoyable bout to watch, especially with the added context. ***1/4

Up next, we were supposed to see Leon Ruff vs. Liam Gray in a battle of AR Fox students, but WWN Champion Austin Theory ran out and attacked both men. Priscilla Kelly (who was making her first appearance since EVOLVE 101 back in February) joined in on the attack. AR Fox came out to check on his students. Theory showed off his WWN Title while Kelly hoists up his FIP World Heavyweight Title. After finally getting his mic to work, Theory put down the Chicago crowd, and talked about how great he was. Kelly takes the mic, and she thinks DJ Z won’t even show up. Of course, DZ J is in the house, and it looks like the originally scheduled main event is taking pace now.

WWN Title – Austin Theory (with Priscilla Kelly)  (c) def. DJ Z

DJ Z scored a big win over Austin Theory at EVOLVE 102 in New Orleans. Of course, that was the night before Theory captured the WWN Title at EVOLVE 103. It’s not the first time we’ve seen something like that done in EVOLVE (Zack Sabre Jr. lost to Keith Lee the night before he won the EVOLVE Title from Timothy Thatcher), and in this instance, DJ Z seemed like a good first challenger for Theory. Unfortunately, the match didn’t quite meet my expectations.

It was a very solid bout with some really good action, but it certainly could’ve been better. The shorter length and the constant interference from Priscilla Kelly both played a part in the match not meeting its full potential. With regards to the time, I’m not saying that the WWN Title needs to be in these twenty to thirty minute epics, but a title like this shouldn’t be defended in sub-ten minute matches in the middle of the card (especially when you consider who the previous two title holders were).

As far as the interference is concerned, I can live with it to a point, but in this particular match, it was a little too much. In this instance, Priscilla Kelly tried to interfere numerous times, and eventually succeeded when she nailed DJ Z with a low blow while Theory had the referee distracted. This allowed Theory to hit Ataxia for the win. I get that the story seems to be to going in the “Austin Theory is an undeserving heel champion who will do whatever it takes to win” direction (and the involvement of Priscilla Kelly plays a big role in that, no doubt), but when that story is directing impacting the results of title bouts, it’s going a little too far.

It concerns me that we’re already getting this in Theory’s first defense, because that does not bode well for the rest of his run, which got off to a rough start when he won the title from Keith Lee in a very pedestrian singles match at EVOLVE 103. Once again, the match itself was still relatively good, and both guys seemed to put forth really solid efforts, but it should’ve been so much more, when you consider how incredibly talented they both are. Theory’s reign as WWN Champion has gotten off to a pretty rocky start, to say the least. ***1/4

EVOLVE Tag Team Titles – Anything Goes Match – Catch Point (Chris Dickinson & Jaka) def. The End (Odinson & Parrow)

This was billed as the final meeting between these two teams. Upon their debut, The End immediately targeted Catch Point, and they’ve been feuding ever since. While the match turned out to be a decent undercard hardcore brawl, it was the second straight title bout that fell short of expectations. To be fair, I wasn’t anticipating this to be a show stealer or anything, but since it was the climax of the feud, I felt like we were going to see more than what we got. Dickinson & Jaka went right after Parrow & Odinson before the bell even rang, while Dominic Garrini fought with Drennen to the back.

The first few minutes were spent on the outside, as the two teams brawled through the crowd. Once the action got back in the ring, there some fine action featuring a couple of chairs and a guardrail. Drennen returned in the final few minutes, but he was quickly disposed of. Ultimately, Catch Point managed to finally put away The End to retain their titles and win the feud. Again, the stuff they did was alright, but I was expecting more. The length of the match also played a role in this not totally working. You really can’t have this kind of bout, with two teams that’ve been feuding for months, go only eight or nine minutes. As for the result, I’m very curious to see where The End goes from here.

Coming into 2018, I figured they would at least get a run with the titles (given how they were pushed initially), but that moment just never happened. Since EVOLVE’s tag team division is so shallow, I honestly can’t think of who they would feud with next. To be frank, it wouldn’t shock me if they just disappeared from EVOLVE all together, and went back to FIP. **3/4

Four-Way Freestyle – Darby Allin def. Myron Reed, Snoop Strikes, & Trey Miguel

Darby Allin made his in-ring return to EVOLVE in this match after suffering an injury on one of the PROGRESS shows in New Orleans (I believe he got a concussion). He didn’t waste any time getting back into the mix, as he hit a big dive off the top rope right out of the gate. This was another bout on this card that clocked in at just under ten minutes, but these four guys managed to pack a ton of entertaining action into this one. There was never a dull moment, and everyone involved got a chance to shine. Allin would eventually emerge from the chaos with the victory after catching Myron Reed in the Last Supper.

While the result was pretty predictable with the benefit of hindsight (Allin was returning from an injury plus, out of the four participants, he was the only one that is currently a regular member of the EVOLVE roster), the other three involved in this one all looked impressive. I’m not sure how far they’ll go in EVOLVE, but it’s clear that they all have a ton of potential. Once again, this was a very enjoyable match that served its role perfectly. ***1/4

Afterwards, Candy Cartwright came out and told Darby Allin that Jarek 1:20 was coming. Allin totally blew her off, and she chased him to the back. The other three men that were involved in the Four-Way Freestyle got a standing ovation for their efforts as they made their exits.

Keith Lee def. James Drake

This was the penultimate match in EVOLVE for Keith Lee, who is finishing up on the independents before going to NXT. It’s crazy to think that he was only in EVOLVE for eighteen months (give or take), but it can’t be denied that he made a massive impact. I was really looking forward to this particular bout. James Drake had a breakout performance against Matt Riddle at EVOLVE 100, and I couldn’t wait to see him go up against Keith Lee. When the dust settled, this ended up being a great match that was easily the best on the show, up to this point. The start was a tad slow, but the pace quickly picked up once they wowed the crowd with their incredible athletic ability. From there, they traded hard strikes and big moves back and forth for just over twenty minutes up. It was fairly even contest, and at a number of points, it looked like James Drake was going to get the win. However, that didn’t happen, as Keith Lee finally managed to lift up Drake for Ground Zero, and scored the victory. Initially, I figured that Drake was a lock to win here, but in hindsight, Lee coming out on top made a ton sense, since he was challenging Matt Riddle for the EVOLVE Title the next night in Detroit. Despite the loss, Drake still had a very impressive showing against the former WWN Champion. It wasn’t quite as epic as his aforementioned match with Riddle, but it was another strong performance from Drake, and it’ll be interesting to see what he does from here. As a whole, this was a pretty great match. ****

Afterwards, Keith Lee offered a handshake to James Drake, which was accepted.

Non-Title – EVOLVE Champion Matt Riddle def. Shane Strickland via DQ

Believe it or not, Shane Strickland has actually competed in EVOLVE before. However, it’s been a very long time, as this main event was his first appearance in the promotion since EVOLVE 37 in January 2015. He’s obviously grown tremendously as a performer since then, and he had a big test in front of him in the form of the new EVOLVE Champion Matt Riddle, who was coming off a huge weekend in New Orleans. This was an incredible match that featured some great action coupled with awesome storytelling. The fact that this featured some awesome wrestling isn’t much of a surprise. Both guys are fantastic, and they’ve wrestled each other before (they met in the finals of the MLW World Heavyweight Title Tournament back in April).

While the action was certainly exciting, the story was the big takeaway from this main event. After some good back and forth exchanges in the opening minutes, Strickland started targeting the left arm. From there, he pretty much controlled the rest of the bout. Riddle would get in big spurts of offense as he attempted to fight back with just one arm (he even managed to hit a one arm German Suplex at one point), but every time Riddle started to go back on the offensive, Strickland would go back to attacking the injured arm. Even though Strickland seemed to be firmly in the driver’s seat, Riddle refused to give up, and fought back the best he could. Finally, Strickland trapped Riddle in a key lock, but refused to release the hold when the EVOLVE Champion got to the ropes. Of course, the “No Rope Breaks” rule that Riddle established only applies in matches where the EVOLVE Title is on the line, so in this case (a non-title affair), Strickland was disqualified for refusing to let go of the hold. The finish was an interesting one, to say the least. I probably would’ve gone a bit higher on this one had we gotten a clean finish, but based on what happened in the post-match, this was part of a bigger story involving Shane Strickland. Even with the way it ended, this was still the best match on the entire show. ****1/4

Afterwards, Shane Strickland continued to attack the arm of Matt Riddle. He got in the face of Trevin Adams on the outside, and demanded a shot at the EVOLVE Title before grabbing a steel chair. Strickland then wrapped the chair around the injured arm of Riddle, and absolutely crushed it with a double stomp off the top rope. Referees rushed Riddle to the back as Strickland stood tall to close the show. If you want to make a new top star in your promotion, this is exactly how you do it.

On his first night back, Strickland made an immediate impact with this assault on the EVOLVE Champion, as established himself as a main event player right out of the gate. With Zack Sabre Jr. gone, and Keith Lee on his way out, the company needed to fill the gaps that were being left behind by those two. Well, they certainly filled one of those open spots quickly with Shane Strickland. It sucks to see the main event end in a DQ, but it served a larger purpose in the bigger angle built around Strickland, so in that regard, it worked perfectly. The various writers in WWE who have been responsible for the awful finishes in the AJ Styles/Shinsuke Nakamura feud should watch this match and takes notes on how to do a proper non-finish in a big main event.

Final Thoughts

From an in-ring standpoint, EVOLVE 104 was a very much a mixed bag. There really wasn’t anything bad on the show, but until the final two matches, it was incredibly average. Aside from the opener, nothing else stood out that much on the undercard. The two title bouts (Austin Theory defending the WWN Title against DJ Z, and Catch Point defending the EVOLVE Tag Team Titles against The End) were fine, but relatively disappointing. I wasn’t necessarily expecting either of those matches to steal the show. However, they both could’ve been much better than they ended up being. Thankfully, the last two bouts lifted this show up a lot. Keith Lee vs. James Drake was a great hoss fight, and the main event did a fantastic job in establishing Shane Strickland as the next top star in EVOLVE. I would only check out the undercard stuff if you want to get a glimpse of some of the new talents uses (speaking of which, the wrestlers from Freelance Wrestling all looked impressive). Otherwise, the only bouts from EVOLVE 104 that you need to watch are the opener, and the top two matches.