November 10th, 2018
Oak Lawn Pavilion
Oak Lawn, Illinois

Watch: Club WWN

ZERO1 USA World Junior Heavyweight Title #1 Contender’s Match – Jake Lander def. Joey O’Riley

The last time EVOLVE was in Chicago (EVOLVE 110 in August), ZERO1 USA got the chance to have a showcase match on the undercard. That event featured a defense of the promotion’s World Junior Heavyweight Title. This time around, we got a bout that would determine the #1 Contender to that very title. I had no idea who either of these guys were, but I must admit that they put together a relatively decent contest. There was one big botch right before the finish, as Jake Lander fell off of the shoulders of Joey O’Riley before he could deliver a reverse rana. They quickly repeated the spot, and it connected on the second try. Lander got the win and secured himself a future title shot. This wasn’t the smoothest match in the world, but for what it was, I thought it was fine. **1/2

Adrian Alanis def. Barrett Brown

Barrett Brown came into this looking to go 2-0 in the preliminaries after defeating BSHP KNG at EVOLVE 115. Unfortunately for Brown, he came up short here against Adrian Alanis in what ended up being a pretty solid match. It only went about seven minutes or so, but it featured some entertaining action throughout, and a second half that was particularly good. I’ve already shared my thoughts on Barrett Brown in my most recent EVOLVE reviews, so I’m not going to repeat myself on that topic (he should be a regular roster member). As for Adrian Alanis, it’s obvious that he’s got a lot of potential (AR Fox students having a ton of talent? What a shocker.), and I like the fact that he got an opportunity in singles competition. Now that Leof Ruff has seemingly been elevated a bit, the promotion’s already working on getting another Skulk member over as an in-ring performer. What’s great is that Alanis brings something totally different to the table (in terms of his in-ring style) compared to Ruff. He got show off what he could do here against Barrett Brown, and got the win after hitting his finisher, called the Hard Knock. It’s essentially a codebreaker out of a torture rack position. It sounds, but it looks really cool. ***

Josh Briggs def. Jason Kincaid

This was a matchup that had some potential on paper, and when the dust settled, it ultimately delivered. These two put together a very fun match that featured exciting and (in a few instances) innovative action. It was similar in length to the two bouts that came before it, but they made the best of the time they were given. Kincaid really to the fight to Briggs, and appeared to be close to victory on a few occasions. However, Briggs proved to be too much for Kincaid, and he got the win in spectacular fashion. It appeared that Kincaid was about to hit a big springboard move off the top rope, but Briggs (who was sitting on the top turnbuckle) caught him, and hit the M5 (a chokeslam into a lumbar check) off the second rope!! That finish looked incredible, and it proved to be a great end to what was an enjoyable undercard bout. Briggs went 2-0 on the weekend, and it’ll be interesting to see what he does from here. ***1/4

Freelance Wrestling Title – Isaias Velazquez (c) def. GPA

While showcases matches featuring ZERO1 USA are relatively new to EVOLVE’s Chicago cards, Freelance Wrestling has been a constant (in some form or fashion) on every single EVOLVE event that’s taken place in Windy City. Back at EVOLVE 110, Isaias Velazquez successfully defended his Freelance Wrestling Title against Matt Knicks, and he returned on this card with another successful defense, this time against GPA. I’ve heard about GPA previously, but this was my first time seeing him in action. He played his role as a heel well, frustrating Velazquez at a few points early on before taking control in the middle portion of the bout. GPA actually managed to bust open Velazquez, as he started bleeding from the mouth (wasn’t sure if he busted a lip, bit his tongue, or something else), but the champion was able to fight back. In the end, Velazquez retained after hitting a nasty DDT on GPA. Like most of the matches that came before it, this lasted about seven minutes or so, and was relatively sold from start to finish. ***

Non-Title – EVOLVE Champion Fabian Aichner def. Anthony Henry via DQ

Despite the fact that both competitors wanted this match to be for the EVOLVE Title, EVOLVE officials decided against it. The night before at EVOLVE 115, Anthony Henry confronted both Fabian Aichner and Kassius Ohno, and complained about the fact that he was getting overlooked while this influx of NXT talent was getting started. Those feelings spilled over into this match, as we first had Henry going right after Aichner as soon as the bell rang. Then, later on, we did get some of the “yelling your story in the middle of the match” stuff that we’ve seen recently in big NXT TakeOver matchups (Henry proclaimed that he earned his spot, as opposed to Aichner). Aside from that bit, this was really good bout that was easily the best on the card, at this point. There was very solid back and forth action during the fifteen minutes or so that it got, and if it had an actual finish, it had a good change of equaling Aichner’s previous outing in EVOLVE (in terms of match quality). Unfortunately, the match ended in a DQ after a frustrated Henry shoved senior referee Brandon Tolle. That occured after Tolle waved off his three count after a double stomp from Henry when he noticed Aichner’s foot on the bottom rope. It wasn’t the finish I wanted to see, but I suppose it served as the continuation of the Anthony Henry story. As for Fabian Aichner, he’s had some strong performances thus far, but in my view, he’s yet to have that one truly great match. He’s gotten close, but he just hasn’t quite broken that threshold yet. ***1/2

As soon as Brandon Tolle called for the DQ, Anthony Henry continued arguing with him. This led to WWN Champion JD Drake coming out, as he tried to calm his Work Horsemen tag team partner. Then, as Fabian Aichner was making his exit, Austin Theory and Priscilla Kelly made their way out (Theory had a long look at Aichner’s EVOLVE Title as he crossed paths with the “Italian Roughneck”). Theory took the mic and said that he’s embarrassed by the fact that JD Drake as the WWN Champion, since he doesn’t look the part like he does. JD Drake responded by saying that he’s not an embarrassment, just because he doesn’t look a certain way. Drake then calls Theory an entitled millennial which, unlike the Becky Lynch/Ronda Ronda example (where Ronda was calling somebody two days older than her a millennial), is an instance where a person actually used the term appropriately. The WWN Champion threw some more verbal shots at Austin Theory and Priscilla Kelly before calling out Harlem Bravado for their Triple Threat Match.

WWN Title – Triple Threat Match – JD Drake (c) def. Austin Theory (with Priscilla Kelly) & Harlem Bravado

To be completely honest, I wasn’t looking forward to see this particular bout. That’s not to say I thought it would be terrible, but it just wasn’t that excited for it. Well, I would be lying if I said that this wasn’t a pleasant surprise. These three put together a very entertaining match that had nonstop action right from the opening ball. It might’ve clocked in at just under ten minutes, but they made the most of the time they were given. All three men had moments to shine, and even though the result was never in doubt (Drake wasn’t losing his title only a few weeks after he won it), this was still fairly exciting. Priscilla Kelly did get involved at one point, and got some shots in on both JD Drake and Harlem Bravado while the referee was distracted. This allowed Austin Theory to capitalize, and even though he came close to winning, he ultimately wasn’t even involved in the final decision. JD Drake scored the win to retain his title after hitting Harlem Bravado with the Drill Bit, followed by a moonsault. I assume that result leaves the door open for Drake to have a title defense against Theory (since he wasn’t pinned), but we’ll see what happens. ***1/2

Four-Way Freestyle – Matt Knicks def. BSHP KNG, Cyrus Satin, & Mike Fierro

Not a big of following one multi-man match with another multi-man match. Anyway, this was a late addition to the card, and it ended up being the worst match of the night. It was a relatively short bout (only lasting about four or five minutes), and while there was some decent action, there were also a couple of sloppy moments as well. Matt Knicks won after hitting a Michinoku Driver on Cyrus Satin (who is apparently out of the WWN Training Academy). Not much to this one. Easily skippable. **

Kassius Ohno def. Shane Strickland

Shane Strickland was making his first appearance in EVOLVE since losing the EVOLVE Title to Fabian Aichner back at EVOLVE 114. This bout (which was a first-time-ever meeting) was the one that I was looking forward to the most out of all the matches on this weekend. Even though it wasn’t the truly awesome match that I was expecting, it was still pretty great. It took a minute or two to get going (as they were playing to the crowd), but once it did, there was very strong action throughout. Ohno utilized his usual offense of elbows, knees, as kicks, while Strickland switched up his normal strategy. Instead of going after the arm of his opponent (which he’s done for most of this run), he decided to target the leg. This did come into play later on, as there were moments when Ohno was unable to go back on the offensive due to the damage done to his leg. There was some great back and forth between these two in the final few minutes, but in the end, Ohno got the win after hitting a running elbow strike to the back of Strickland’s head. Nineteen minutes might’ve been a tad too long (a minute or two could’ve been shaved off), but this was still an incredible match that was the show’s best bout. ****

Afterward, Anthony Henry came out and explained himself to Kassius Ohno. He said he’s been working his butt off for fifteen years, but (in Henry’s mind) he believed that opportunities kept getting taken from him when he was close to making that next step as a wrestler. Henry hoped that Ohno would forgive him for what he said the night before, and suggested that they could have a match together before the end of the year. Ohno responded by saying that he didn’t hear an actual apology from Henry, and he finally got him to say that he was sorry. Ohno continued by saying that Henry reminded him a lot of himself about six or seven years ago. He said that he can relate to what Henry’s feeling at the moment, but noted that there’s at a time and a place to vent those frustrations. Ohno concluded by saying that he’ll talk to “some people”, and perhaps that match will take place in the future. It hasn’t been announced yet, but I assume we’re going to get Anthony Henry vs. Kassius Ohno at some point.

EVOLVE Tag Team Titles – The Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins & Montez Ford) (c) def. AR Fox & Leon Ruff (with The Skulk)

While Kassius Ohno vs. Shane Strickland was my most anticipated match on this set of events, this bout (on paper) had the chance to be the most entertaining bout across these two shows. Here we had two teams that are so much fun to watch (either as personalities, as wrestlers, or both), and they ended up having an entertaining tag team encounter. Of course, we got dancing from both sides before the match started, but things got more serious when it came time to fight. Fox and Ruff seemed to have the edge in the first few minutes, as they took out Ford and Dawkins with some cool tandem offense. That advantage didn’t last long, however, as The Street Profits soon regained the upper hand. They maintained control for a bit, beating down Leon Ruff, until the hot tag was made to AR Fox. From there, we got some more fun back and forth action down the stretch until Ford hit his Frog Splash on Ruff to retain. Much like the Ohno/Strickland bout, this might’ve been a little too long for my liking, but it was a very entertaining contest. When you get two fun babyface teams like this in a match together, you’re guaranteed to have a good time. Dawkins and Ford looked really good once again (though this wasn’t quite as strong as the match from the night prior with The Work Horsemen), while Fox and Ruff worked very well together as a team. ***3/4

Following the match, we got a promo from Montez Ford, who talked about coming home to Chicago with championship gold. The Street Profits then had a brief dance party with The Skulk before Ford hugged some family members at ringside.

Mustafa Ali def. Darby Allin

Ali was coming off a victory over DJ Z the night prior at EVOLVE 115. I was very intrigued to see how this one would play out, since this was one of the rare occasions where Ali wrestled someone who was smaller and a little bit quicker than him. When the dust settled, these two ended up having a very good main event. In terms of quality, I’d say it was slightly better than the EVOLVE Tag Team Title bout that came before it, but just below Kassius Ohno vs. Shane Strickland. These two mirrored each other in the opening minutes, as they went back and forth on a series of exchanges. The pace then picked up from there, as both men worked very hard. At points, Darby Allin really took the fight to Ali. He even managed to hit a big Coffin Drop from the top rope to the floor. However, after that big moment, things swung in the favor of Ali in a major way. He hit a number of big moves on Allin in the final two minutes or so, but Allin refused to say down. Ali eventually locked in the Koji Clutch, and the referee stopped the bout after Allin passed out. Again, this was a really good choice for a main event, but it fell just shy of being a great match. Mustafa Ali was great (no surprise there) and he did a very nice job making Darby Allin look strong. ***3/4

Afterward, Mustafa Ali took the mic and said that even though he doesn’t like Darby Allin, he respects him. Ali said that he earned the right to be called the “Heart of 205 Live”, before noting that Allin had earned the right to be called the “Heart of EVOLVE”. Allin left disappointed with the loss, but then Ali turned his attention to Survivor Series. He promised to not only bring the WWE Cruiserweight Title home to Chicago, but he also declared that he would give Allin a shot at the title (of course, Buddy Murphy retained his Cruiserweight Title against Ali, so that won’t be happening). The show closed with Ali asking his wife to bring his daughter into the ring, and he celebrated with his family in a touching moment.

Final Thoughts

EVOLVE 116 was another very solid outing from EVOLVE. I would say that this show was a little more consistent compared to EVOLVE 115, and a lot of that had to do with what we saw on the undercard. There were a lot of shorter matches on the first half of the show, but pretty much all of them ranged from decent to pretty good. Then, after an uninspiring Four-Way Freestyle, things really picked up in the second half. Those final three bouts didn’t set the world on fire, but were all entertaining to watch in their own unique ways. I still think ten matches (that’s including the prelims) is a little too much for an EVOLVE show, but as a whole, this was an enjoyable show from start to finish.