August 4, 2018
At EVOLVE 107 back in June, Saieve Al Sabah made a big splash in his debut when he pinned Jaka (one-half of the current EVOLVE Tag Team Champions) in a Four-Way Freestyle. That was huge moment for a relative unknown, but on this show, he proved that first victory wasn’t a fluke, as he managed to defeat a former EVOLVE Tag Team Champion in Anthony Henry.
This was a pretty entertaining opening contest, with solid back and forth action throughout. Most of the crowd in Philadelphia didn’t know who Saieve Al Sabah was initially (a couple of people around me made loud comments about the Roman Reigns style chest protector he way wearing), but he did get louder reactions as the match progressed. Unfortunately, those reactions were mostly boos, as Anthony Henry was clearly the crowd favorite in this particular bout (Sabah wasn’t acting heelish at all, so those boos were just the result of the crowd siding with Henry here).
This was the first chance I had to see Saieve Al Sabah in a singles match (of any kind), and even though he has some cool offense, not all of it came off as looking very crisp. From a live perspective, it appeared that a couple of his moves only lightly grazed Henry, and when I watched the show back on VOD, the same issues popped up. Sabah only started wrestling a few years ago (2016, according to cagematch.net), so I’m sure that’s an issue that can easily be worked on now that he’s on a bigger platform, relatively speaking. Again, the action in this one was fun, and both guys put forth good efforts, but the finish seemed to come out of nowhere, and that did impact the match a little bit, at least in my eyes. Sabah getting the win was very surprising to me at the time, but it seems like he’s got a bright future with EVOLVE, since his first two victories came over current and former EVOLVE Tag Team Champions. Of course, the result here did play into the closing segment at the end of the show, but as an opener, this worked out well. ***1/4
Up next, AR Fox & The Skulk came out dancing to Public Enemy’s entrance music, but their fun was quickly ruined by The End. In a very foolish decision, Tommy Maserati decided to stand against them, and that led to a one-on-one bout between him and Parrow.
Parrow (with The End) def. Tommy Maserati (with AR Fox & The Skulk)
There isn’t much to say about this one, as it went exactly how you would’ve expected a Parrow vs. Tommy Maserati singles match to go. Parrow absolutely destroyed him and won in about a minute or so after hitting a powerbomb. After the match, he would go on to powerbomb Maserati over the top rope, and onto the rest of The Skulk. Nothing to really rate here, as it was a quick and dominant squash for Parrow. We then got a promo from Dennen, who ran down Philly for becoming gentrified and sterilized, before calling out the other three competitors in the Four-Way Freestyle. I suppose this was the first step in the “rehabilitation” of The End after they lost their feud with Catch Point. While I believe that both Odinson and Parrow certainly have potential, I’m not exactly sure where The End go from here, as a group. I guess we’ll be seeing Odinson and Parrow more in singles competition, but at this point, what’s their purpose in EVOLVE now?
JD Drake def. Jon Davis, Josh Briggs, & Odinson (with The End)
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this match going into it, but when the dust settled, it turned out to be a super fun hoss battle. This clocked in at just under eight minutes, and it was packed with nonstop action from start to finish. All four guys had opportunities to shine at various point, and the crowd very much enjoyed it. My theory of The End being “rehabilitated” was immediately blown away with the finish, as JD Drake pinned Odinson to pick up the win, but I didn’t mind that, as it was good to see Drake get a victory in his first match since the amicable split of the Work Horsemen. Jon Davis and Josh Briggs took each other out before the finish, and brawled to the back afterwards. I presume those two will be facing off again in the near future. As for this match, it was an entertaining match to see live, and it came off well on the VOD. This was the best possible version of this kind of bout, if that makes any sense. A real joy to watch. ***1/2
Darby Allin def. FIP World Heavyweight Champion Austin Theory
Priscilla Kelly was noticeably absent here, but I’m guessing she was down in Orlando preparing for the Mae Young Classic. This was actually a rematch from EVOLVE 96 last December. On that night, NXT General Manager William Regal gave them both a “pep talk” of sorts, saying that they needed to win championships in order to take the “next step” in their evolution as performers. Now I’m not the first person to bring this point up, but it’s very fascinating to note that while Darby Allin won that match at EVOLVE 96, Austin Theory’s been the one that’s seen the most success when it comes to winning championships. Even though this fell just below that aforementioned encounter at EVOLVE 96, in terms of quality, it was still pretty good. Much like the previous bout, they managed to pack in a fair amount of action into a relatively short period of time (the match went roughly eleven minutes).
Despite being manhandled by Theory at various points, Allin never stopped fighting. Ultimately, his resilience paid off (as it so often does), and he caught Theory in the Last Supper to score the victory. This was Allin’s third singles victory in the row, which officially made this the longest win streak of his EVOLVE career. As a whole, this was a very solid contest that did a fine job in setting up Darby Allin for his WWN Title challenge the next night at EVOLVE 109, while also planting the seeds for another match with Austin Theory for the FIP World Heavyweight Title. ***1/2
AR Fox (with The Skulk) def. WWN Champion Joey Janela (with Penelope Ford)
Something that really caught my attention when I was at the show live was the reaction that Joey Janela came out. When he made his entrance (this was my first time seeing him live, by the way), everyone in the building got on their feet and went crazy for him. It’s pretty obvious that Janela is one of the top stars on the independent scene today, but you have to see him live to truly understand how over this guy is. There’s no doubt that he’s an absolute superstar. AR Fox had a ton of supporters in the crowd as well, but Janela is on another level. As for the match itself, it was pretty great, which wasn’t much of a surprise. The match went just north of fourteen minutes, and it featured strong back and forth action throughout. Both men really worked hard here, as they traded all sorts of crazy moves and big dives (at one point, it looked like Janela landed head first on the floor as he was hitting a dive, but thankfully, he was fine).
Despite getting hit with Janela’s super brainbuster, AR Fox was able to recover and managed to hit the Foxcatcher to pick up the win. That result was a big one for AR Fox, as he gets a shot at the WWN Title on EVOLVE 111 in Livonia, Michigan this coming weekend in a Triple Threat Match with Joey Janela and Austin Theory. This didn’t set the world on fire or anything, but it was definitely one of the best matches on the show, for sure. ****
Afterwards, while AR Fox & The Skulk were celebrating, Austin Theory ran out and attacked Joey Janela. Fox confronted his former protege, but then they both got attacked by Janela. Once everyone else left ringside, Janela took the mic and put over the importance of the ECW Arena, along with the bloodthirsty and passionate wrestling fans of South Philadelphia.
EVOLVE Tag Team Titles
Catch Point (Chris Dickinson & Jaka with Stokely Hathaway) def. Tracy Williams & TK Cooper
So with this match, the countdown towards the end of the Tracy Williams/Catch Point/Stokely Hathaway saga officially began. On the final stop of this EVOLVE/PROGRESS tour in Livonia, Michigan, Tracy Williams will be taking on Chris Dickinson & Stokely Hathaway in an I Quit Handicap Match, with the loser (either Hathaway or Williams) being forced to leave EVOLVE for good. However, Williams would only agree to that bout if he was granted a shot at the EVOLVE Tag Team Titles beforehand. Thus, we have this match, which featured TK Cooper stepping up to be the partner of Tracy Williams. While Cooper does have a history with Chris Dickinson & Jaka (Catch Point had a series of great matches with the South Pacific Power Trip in 2017), the Cooper/Williams pairing was still an odd one. I fully expected them to lose here, and they did just that after Dickinson caught Cooper in a rollup after Cooper blocked a Death Trap attempt.
The finish came off as very strange to me. We all knew that Cooper was going to be taking the fall here, so why not just have Dickinson & Jaka win with their finisher? Aside from that, this was actually a really solid tag team affair that featured good action right from the opening bell. After the opening flurry, Catch Point was able to isolate Williams until he made the hot tag to Cooper, and we got some fun back and forth before the aforementioned finish. Even though Dickinson & Jaka are undoubtedly a great tag team, they’re tag team champions of a company that basically has no tag team division at the moment. The only other team left is The End, and as I mentioned earlier, Catch Point put them firmly in the rear view back in May. Alas, despite the issues with EVOLVE’s tag team division, Dickinson & Jaka had another quality title defense, and at this point, that’s all you can ask for. ***3/4
Afterwards, Chris Dickinson & Jaka gave the EVOLVE Tag Team Titles to Stokely Hathaway, and Catch Point celebrated. However, when Dickinson & Jaka had their backs turned, Tracy Williams ran back into the ring and attacked Hathaway. He also took out Dominic Garrini before making his exit. On this night, Tracy Williams managed to get the upper hand on his former stable.
EVOLVE Title – Hardcore War
Shane Strickland def. Matt Riddle (c)
It’s crazy to think that this feud has seemingly reached its climax so quickly after it started, but when one of the participants suddenly appears to be on his was to NXT, that’s what ends up happening. The previous matches between these two had inconclusive finishes, with Riddle winning the first encounter at EVOLVE 104 by DQ, while the rematch at EVOLVE 106 ended in a controversial No Contest. This was billed as a Hardcore War, and it certainly lived up to that name, as these two just beat the crap out of each other for nearly a half-hour.
They brawled inside of the ring, on the floor, and even on the entrance stage. A couple of tables, a ladder, and multiple chairs were used throughout the bout by both men, in an attempt to inflict as much damage as possible. At some point in the first-half of the match, one of Riddle’s fingers started bleeding profusely, and it was later revealed that he actually lost the tip of that finger. This was a very intense match from start to finish, and you really got the sense that these two despised each other. There was some incredible back and forth action during the first two thirds of the bout, but then it got to a point where Strickland was really dominating. He would hit several double stomps (multiple times with the regular version, once onto a pile of chairs, and once off a ladder and through a table), but Riddle kicked out every single time. The fact that Riddle did kick out so many times after taking so much punishment did hurt the match to a degree, at least in my eyes. It’s not like it wasn’t over with the crowd (because it was), but to me, it felt like that last third of the match just went on forever, despite some of the cool spots.
From my front row perspective, the sheer amount of kickouts from Riddle did come off as a little egregious, but again, the crowd was into it, so I can’t complain too much. While several double stomps couldn’t get the job done, a JML Driver ultimately got Strickland the win. My critiques aside, this was an awesome main event that (if Riddle is indeed NXT bout) served as a great conclusion to the Matt Riddle/Shane Strickland feud. It was certainly a match fitting for the ECW Arena, that’s for sure. ****1/4
Afterwards, Strickland demanded the mic, and brought up the fact that the rest of the locker room is supposed to come out and congratulate the new EVOLVE Champion whenever a title change occurs. He threatened to hold up the PROGRESS event if they didn’t come out, but eventually, most of the babyface locker room did come out. Strickland confronted every single one of them (a lineup which included Saieve Al Sabah, Tracy Williams, Jon Davis, Anthony Henry, Darby Allin, and JD Drake) as he went back up the entranceway. Strickland said this is a time to celebrate, and posed with the EVOLVE Title as the show came to a close. This was a really good closing segment, as it further established Strickland as this absolute asshole, while also setting up a ton of potential challengers down the line.
EVOLVE 108 was a strong show from start to finish, and I’m very happy that I got the chance to see it live in the front row. Even though this card lacked that one truly killer match, every single bout from the opener to the main event ranged from good to great (not counting the one minute squash, of course). Matt Riddle vs. Shane Strickland for the EVOLVE Title was easily the match of the night, with AR Fox vs. Joey Janela not that far behind. With another top star (Matt Riddle, in this case) on his was to NXT, new talent once again took center stage on an EVOLVE event. Joey Janela and Shane Strickland are both great performers, and there’s a lot of potential with the different talents on the undercard, but I’m very curious to see what EVOLVE looks like as we dive into the latter half of 2018.