EVOLVE 111
August 12, 2018
Monaghan Knights Of Columbus Hall
Livonia, Michigan

Watch: WWNLive

Saieve Al Sabah def. EVOLVE Tag Team Champion Jaka (with Stokely Hathaway & Dominic Garrini)

Back at EVOLVE 107 in June, Saieve Al Sabah made a big statement in his debut when he pinned Jaka in a Four-Way Freestyle, so it was only a matter of time before we got a singles encounter between the two. Unfortunately, this wasn’t nearly as good as I was anticipating. The match was relatively decent, but there were a number of botches and sloppy moments, mostly from Sabah. There’s certainly potential with Sabah, as I mentioned in some of my previous EVOLVE reviews, but this was easily his worst outing since joining the promotions. Whether it was his crazy offense (once again) not really connecting that well (he either just grazes his opponent or appears to miss completely), or him just not being in the right position (there were a couple of noticeably blown spots), this was not a good night for Saieve Al Sabah. He did manage to get the win over Jaka here, but it’s clear that he’s still a work in progress. Matches like this make me question why he’s getting such a hard push right out the gate, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. Hopefully he improves. **1/4

Afterwards, Stokely Hathaway takes the mic, and verbally runs down Jaka for losing. The crowd taunted Hathaway as he went to the back. As we’ve gotten closer to this Handicap I Quit Match, it’s clear that dissension has been growing with Catch Point (primarily between Hathaway and the rest of the group).

Darby Allin def. Bryan Idol

There’s not a ton to say about this one, because it was pretty quick. Bryan Idol jumped Darby Allin before the bell, and dominated most of the match until Allin won after catching Idol in the Last Supper following a Coffin Drop. It was only about three minutes or so, but it was fine for what it was. Obviously the short length and quick victory for Darby Allin would play a big role later on in the night, so in that regard, it served as a good setup for that. **1/4

Jon Davis vs. Josh Briggs – No Contest (Double DQ)

These two have been really going after each other on the last couple of shows. Those previous encounters were in multi-person bouts (a Four-Way Freestyle at EVOLVE 108 and a Three-Way Freestyle the night before at EVOLVE 110), but this was their first one-on-one encounter. For the most part, it was pretty solid. It went just under ten minutes, and there was entertaining action right from the opening bell. It’s clear that they have good chemistry with each other, and I would’ve like this bout even more if it had an actual finish. Instead, the two started brawling on the floor, and the match ended in a Double DQ after they refused to get back in the ring. I get that the intent is to continue to feud (and I have no issues with that), but the finish came off as incredibly lame. It didn’t seem like they were brawling on the floor any longer than some of the other guys on this same card. Plus, I know they were in a tightly confined space, but there were better ways to do a Double DQ.

Anyway, my gripes with the finish aside, I’m cool with this feud continuing, as I previously mentioned. I wasn’t sure about Josh Briggs when he first came in, but he’s slowly won me over. As for Jon Davis, it clear that he’s being used in EVOLVE in the same manner as Kassius Ohno in NXT (the veteran that’s working with younger talents to help get them over), and right now, that’s a good role for him. ***

WALTER def. Anthony Henry

Anthony Henry scored a huge win over Timothy Thatcher back at EVOLVE 107 in June, but it was spoiled when WALTER (Thatcher’s Ringkampf teammate) attacked him afterwards. I was really looked forward to this one, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. These two had a great match, and while it ultimately wasn’t the best bout of the night, it might’ve been my favorite. There was hard-hitting action (as you would’ve expected), but they told a very good story as well. For the most part, WALTER dominated this match. He beat the crap out of Henry for several minutes, and even taunted him at points, in a very Tomohiro Ishii-esque manner (he was lightly kicking Henry in the head like Ishii often does, particularly in his G1 matches). Despite taking all of that damage, Henry kept fighting, as he hit a big double stop on the apron before going after the legs of WALTER with Dragons Screws (straight out of the Hiroshi Tanahashi playbook) and a Figure Four. Henry started to really take the fight to WALTER in the closing stages, and we saw a great nearfall after a Code Red that brought the crowd to their feet.

Then, just as it looked like Henry was potentially on the path to victory, WALTER countered another Figure Four attempt into a small package for the win. I loved that finish. It was almost as if WALTER could sense the momentum shifting in Henry’s favor, and busted out that small package in desperation, just so that he could escape with the win before Henry had the chance to finish him. The fact that Henry got over in defeat, despite the fact that he was dominated by WALTER for 75% of the match (at least), just speaks volumes about how good both guys are. Again, this wasn’t the best bout on this show (in my view), but I loved every second of it. ****

Afterwards, WALTER shook Anthony Henry’s hand, but then immediately turned on him and started choking him out. JD Drake then came out and made the save with a big clothesline on WALTER. Drake took the mic called out WALTER for attacking people from behind (makes you wonder if we’re getting a Work Horsemen coming back together to fight Ringkampf in a tag team match). He then called out Riddle for their bout, and that’s indeed what we got next.

Matt Riddle def. JD Drake

If this was indeed Matt Riddle’s last night in EVOLVE before heading to NXT, it’s a little odd that his final match was in the middle of the card. Ultimately though, it really doesn’t matter where on the card they were, because they had an awesome match anyway! While their original encounter back at EVOLVE 100 was slightly better, this was still fantastic. The opening chop exchange was a lot of fun, and from there, these two beat the crap out of each other for close to fifteen minutes. Drake took to Riddle late with a great flurry of offense that included a Canadian Destroyer, two moonsaults, and a Styles Clash (the crowd was already into the bout, but these final few minutes got them invested even more).

However, Riddle managed to survive all of that, and quickly locked in the Bromission, which led to Drake’s second straight loss due to referee stoppage. I would’ve had Drake win this match, with Riddle on his way out, but he still looked strong in defeat, so I can live with that. While it’s good to see Drake being protected on these last two shows (passing out in submissions instead of tapping out), I wasn’t a big fan of the way this particular finish came about. Drake was destroying Riddle in the last two or three minutes of the bout, and then Riddle just won out of nowhere. It would’ve been better if Riddle at least made a comeback of some kind which led to the Bromission. The way this ended made Riddle feel like an undeserving winner, if that makes sense. Aside from that critique, this was a fantastic bout from start to finish, and gets my vote for match of the night. ****1/4

We didn’t get a big goodbye speech from Matt Riddle here, as he allowed JD Drake to have the spotlight following another strong performance.

EVOLVE Title
Shane Strickland (c) def. DJ Z

This was originally scheduled to be a non-title bout, but that changed after DJ Z picked up a huge victory over AR Fox the night before at EVOLVE 110. Interestingly enough, we didn’t hear any complaining from Strickland about this being changed into a title defense. This ended up being a great match, but at the same time, I have mixed feelings on it. In terms of length, it was the longest bout on the entire show, clocking in at around twenty minutes or so. However, these two are both so good that they managed to, for the most part, keep me invested throughout with exciting exchanges and cool offensive attacks (it did get off to a bit of a slow start but that’s a very minor critique). They also managed to tell a pretty solid story, with DJ Z dominating the cocky champion in the first several minutes, before Strickland finally managed to mount a comeback. I really enjoyed this match, but with that being said, it just felt like it was missing something that would’ve elevated it from great to absolutely fantastic. That’s just how I felt after watching it. Anyway, DJ Z definitely took the fight to Strickland, but the champion regained the momentum late, and the challenger never recovered. After a series of double stomps (one of which was to the floor), Stickland went after the arm, and got the submission victory. As a whole, this was an awesome bout and a strong first title defense from Strickland, but again, it could’ve been even better. ****

WWN Title – Four-Way Scramble Match
AR Fox (with The Skulk) def. Austin Theory (with Priscilla Kelly), Joey Janela (with Penelope Ford), & Darby Allin

There’s been some confusion with regards to the title situation in this match, so I’ll clear things up right out of the gate. The only way the title could’ve changed hands here was if Joey Janela got pinned or submitted. If a fall occurred between any of the other competitors (and that’s exactly what happened here), there would be no title change. Now as a rule, I don’t have a ton of issues with it. The fact that a title could change hands in multi-person matches without the champion being involved in the decision is a little silly, so this does protect the champion in some way. The problem is that we, as wrestling fans, have been conditioned for decades to know that a title could change hands in a multi-person match if the champion doesn’t get pinned. Even though the ring announcer made that stipulation very clear to the audience in Livonia both before and after the match (the commentary team put that stipulation over as well), I honestly don’t blame anyone if they thought the WWN Title changed hands here. It would take a ton of effort from multiple promotions to break that conditioning, but that’s likely never going to happen.

As for the match itself, it was originally a Three-Way Freestyle, but then Darby Allin asked Joey Janela to add him to the match. Janela agreed to it, saying that Allin earned his respect after their meeting in the main event of EVOLVE 109 the previous week. Neither AR Fox nor Austin Theory were happy about it, but it went forward as a Four-Way Freestyle. This was an excellent spotfest that featured nonstop, balls-to-the-walls action from start to finish. The match clocked in at just under ten minutes, and they did every move under the sun. We got nothing but dives in the first minute or so, and the action only intensified from there. Even Ayla Fox got the chance to hit a dive, as she went after Penelope Ford and Priscilla Kelly. Everyone involved in this match had moments to shine, and the fans were really into it, so from a match quality standpoint, I’ve got nothing to complain about here. We did get some storyline elements towards the end, however, in the form of the AR Fox/Austin Theory story. At first, Fox was hesitant to fight his former student (over the past few months, Fox has seemingly been trying to get Theory to “turn back to the light side”, as it were), but later on, Fox finally had enough, and went after Theory before pinning him after hitting the Foxcatcher. Of course, because Fox pinned Theory, that meant Joey Janela kept the WWN Title. This match was nothing short of awesome. ****

Afterwards, Austin Theory attacked AR Fox on the outside, sending him into the ring post. He also took out Tommy Maserati while (I believe) Priscilla Kelly got a shot in on Ayla Fox.

Career vs. Career Two-On-One Handicap I Quit Match
Tracy Williams def. Catch Point (EVOLVE Tag Team Champion Chris Dickinson & Stokely Hathaway)

I never thought that we would see a match like this headlining an EVOLVE show, yet here we are. In terms of the Career vs. Career stipulation, that only applied to Stokely Hathaway and Tracy Williams. Chris Dickinson’s career was not on the line, as he was mainly serving as a proxy for Hathaway. While I enjoyed the No Holds Barred Match from EVOLVE 109 more, this was still a pretty fun hardcore brawl. Stokely Hathaway played his role as the chickenshit heel manager brilliantly in this one. He stayed on the outside for the majority of the bout, and only attacked Williams when Dickinson had clearly taken him out.

Then, whenever Williams started to fight back, Hathaway immediately bailed like his life depended on it. The brawling between Dickinson and Williams was very solid, with various weapons (tables, a ladder, and chairs) getting involved. Dominic Garrini and Jaka would both get involved, but Williams was able to take them both out (Garrini went sent off the second rope through a table on the floor, while Jaka got suplexed onto a couple of chairs). I have to say that I was very impressed by the fact that they were able to do so much in such a confined space. The venue isn’t that big to begin with, and they packed as many people in there as they could. I also have to compliment Williams on doing a better job with the bandages wrapped around his head. Some of them came off, and we got to see some other bandages underneath, soaked in red (my original complaint from my EVOLVE 110 review was that the screwdriver angle from EVOLVE 109 didn’t warrant all of those bandages, since there was barely any blood at all). Towards the end, Williams took out Dickinson with a piledriver through a table, and then brought out thumbtacks. He hopped on Stokely Hathaway’s back and started to choke him out. Hathaway responded by dropping Williams back first onto the thumbtacks, but Williams fought through that initial pain and locked the choke on again. Hathaway didn’t last very long after that, as he finally said “I Quit”. The crowd erupted at the finish, and we got a massive “Hot Sauce” chant. That’s probably the most over Tracy Williams has been in ages.

Anyway, for what this was, it worked very well. I’ve never really watched anything from the territory days of wrestling, but this felt like something I’ve would seen back then (aside from all the weapons, of course), with the heel manager getting run out of the territory while the babyface got his revenge. Dickinson and Williams worked hard, and Hathaway played his role perfectly. ***3/4

Afterwards, Chris Dickinson shoved Stokely Hathaway before going to the back. We then got a face turn of sorts for Hathaway as he thanked EVOLVE/WWN for giving him this opportunity, noting that it’s difficult for male managers to find good spots in wrestling. He said that the last two-and-a-half years were the best of his life, and closed by saying that he loved the fans. I’m not sure if Stokely Hathaway is going to NXT or not (I presume that’s where he’s going but I don’t know for certain), but he’ll be awesome no matter where he ends up.

Final Thoughts

EVOLVE 111 was the final stop on a big joint tour with PROGRESS Wrestling that saw four shows in the span of nine days from WWN’s flagship promotion, and when the dust settled, they closed their portion of the tour on a high note. I was a little concerned after watching the first two or three matches, but once we got to Anthony Henry vs. WALTER, this show really kicked into high gear. Nothing on this show was absolutely outstanding, but I had four of the last five bouts in the ****-****1/4 range, with Matt Riddle vs. JD Drake being the best of the bunch.

Even though the main event didn’t quite reach that level, it was still very good for what it was, and served its purpose to perfection. We also had another great crowd in Livonia which, for me, has become the second best venue for EVOLVE behind La Boom. The fans are always into the shows, and this particular event was no exception.

For comparison’s sake, I would put EVOLVE 111 above the two shows from the week prior, but about on par with EVOLVE 110 from the night before. You can’t go wrong with the last five matches on this show, as they were all great in their own unique ways.