December 15th, 2018
Woodside, Queens, New York
Harlem Bravado def. Joe Bailey
When the talent lineups for these EVOLVE events were first announced, I had no idea who Joe Bailey was. The only person who came up under that name after a quick Google search was a death match wrestler who died in 2010. However, I later found out that he’s apparently the son of William Regal, and after seeing him in action for the first time on this show, I definitely see the resemblance. If you take away the wacky hair, the similarities would probably be even more striking. Bailey’s only been wrestling for about a year (per what was said on commentary), and he had a pretty solid outing here against Harlem Bravado in the opener. It clocked in at just under ten minutes, and there was decent action throughout. Bailey’s style was a good mix of technical wrestling (including a very solid nearfall towards the end with a Zack Sabre Jr. style pin attempt) and some Cesaro-style offense (a ton of uppercuts with a gutwrench suplex or two). Even though Bravado ultimately won the match after hitting his Angel’s Wing style finisher (Straight Cash Homie), this was a fine showcase for Joe Bailey. The crowd didn’t know who he was when he first came out, but by the end of the bout, they were firmly behind him. I have a feeling that Bailey might get rushed into the WWE system, especially given who his father is, but I hope he actually gets to spend a few years on the outside. He’s a guy who could really benefit from working in different places across the globe. ***
Before the next match, it was announced that Johnny Gargano would be making his return to EVOLVE for their next two shows in January.
BSHP KNG def. Joe Gacy
Both of these men have made EVOLVE appearances over the last few months, and a victory for either in this particular bout would help them get closer to earning a permanent roster spot. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one, but it ended up being pretty good. They went right after each other as soon as the bell rang, and we got some hard-hitting back and forth action between these two. There’s not much else to say about this one, to be honest. It was wrestled at a quick pace, and there was almost no downtime to speak of. For a nearly nine-minute undercard match, it’s exactly what it should’ve been. BSHP KNG got the win after hitting a swanton bomb. ***1/4
Josh Briggs def. Leon Ruff (with AR Fox & The Skulk)
It’s crazy to think that we’ve now reached the one-year anniversary of The Skulk’s debut in EVOLVE. I honestly wasn’t sure to make of them at the time, but over the past year, they’ve become the most over act in the entire company by a country mile. We eventually saw what some of them could do in the ring, and Leon Ruff quickly established himself as the breakout star from The Skulk. He already had a number of impressive outing, but this bout was his toughest opponent to date, as he took on the much larger Josh Briggs. This was another fun sub-ten minute contest. Ruff used his speed to his advantage in the opening moments, and managed to gain the edge over Briggs. However, once Briggs took control, he dished out a lot of punishment. To his credit, Ruff managed to fight back, but it just wasn’t enough. Briggs hit the M5 on Ruff, but when he went for the pin, he pulled Ruff up at two, and stared at AR Fox. He then hit another M5 on Ruff to secure the win, while also sending a message to Fox. A very solid matchup, and it looks like Briggs will be having a singles match with AR Fox at some point in the future. ***1/4
Afterward, Adrian Alanis called out Josh Briggs, and tried to go after him. Briggs back off, and that little confrontation served as a setup of sorts for their singles match at EVOLVE 118. AR Fox then took the mic, and said that since he’s already out here, Curt Stallion should come out for their match right now.
AR Fox (with The Skulk) def. Curt Stallion
Curt Stallion has certainly made a name for himself on the independent scene over the last couple of years, but he hasn’t gotten a ton of opportunities in higher profile places (AAW is probably the biggest promotion he’s consistently worked for). I was looking forward to his match here with AR Fox, and when the dust settled, it ended up being very good. Stallion got off to a quick start, and actually had the edge over AR Fox early. From there, we got some really solid back and forth action. Fox hit all of his usual offense, but Stallion wasn’t going down easily. He managed to kick out of a 450 Splash, but Fox would ultimately finish him off a short time later after hitting Lo Mein Pain, followed by the Foxcatcher. The result was never in question, but this was a strong outing from Stallion against an established member of the EVOLVE roster. I hope that he gets more bookings in the future, because he’s got a lot of talent. If what happened the following night at EVOLVE 118 is any indication, it looks like he will be back. ***1/2
Kassius Ohno def. Darby Allin
After going up against Mustafa Ali at EVOLVE 116, Darby Allin continued his unofficial NXT trial series on this show, as he took on Kassius Ohno. While this was definitely a mismatch on paper (given the size discrepancy), Allin always thrives when he’s the underdog. Plus, given how awesome his match with WALTER was earlier in the year (a similar situation to this one where Allin was facing a much larger opponent), I had high expectations for this one. While this didn’t equal that aforementioned encounter with WALTER, it was still a great bout. As expected, Allin (who wore a cutout of Ohno’s face during his entrance) took a ton of punishment from Ohno, but he refused to stay down. That defiance was particularly notable during pin attempts. Allin kicked out at one on most of the covers that Ohno went for. He wanted to make it clear that Ohno was going to have to do a lot of damage if he wanted to put him away. Allin also got in his fair share of offense throughout. At one point, Allin managed to hit a massive dive from the top rope, onto Ohno, who was on the other side of the barricade on the floor. However, Ohno was in control for most of this match. Not only was the punishment from Ohno physical (with the usual offense of hard strikes), but it was verbal as well. He taunted Allin at various points, and generally acted like a dick, as he bullied his much smaller opponent. While Allin did his best, it just wasn’t enough. He could only take so many elbows from Ohno, and he eventually got pinned after a Ripcord Elbow. Allin wasn’t able to get the massive upset like he did earlier in the year against WALTER, but he still excelled in his role as the underdog here, and as a whole, this was a pretty great match. Even though it’s cool to see Allin get those big wins against much larger opponents, he shouldn’t be doing that all the time. In most cases, matches against the likes of Kassius Ohno and WALTER should turn out just like this one. He puts up an incredible effort, before coming up short in the end. Ultimately, I would say that was definitely the best bout on this card. ****
Afterward, Kassius Ohno offered a handshake to Darby Allin, but instead of accepting it, Allin just rolled out of the ring. Ohno was then immediately attacked from behind by Anthony Henry, who was Ohno’s opponent the next night at EVOLVE 118. JD Drake then came out and tried to calm him down. Since The Work Horsemen were already in the ring at this point, The Street Profits made their entrance, and we went right into the next match.
EVOLVE Tag Team Titles – The Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins & Montez Ford) vs. The Work Horsemen (Anthony Henry & WWN Champion JD Drake) – No Contest
So this match had a weird stipulation attached to it. Not only were the EVOLVE Tag Team Titles on the line, but JD Drake’s WWN Title was also on the line. If either Angelo Dawkins or Montez Ford pinned Drake, they would become the new WWN Champion. Despite having that strange stipulation, I was still confident that this match would deliver, since these two teams had an awesome encounter at EVOLVE 115 back in November. While this second bout wasn’t nearly as great, it was still a pretty good match from start to finish. After some solid action between the two teams early, The Work Horsemen were able to isolate Dawkins, and they went to work on his knee. Both Drake and Henry utilized the figure four in an attempt to get Dawkins to tap out, but it didn’t work, and he eventually made the hot tag to Ford. The final few minutes of the bout were actually very strong, and it would’ve gotten closer to equaling their first meeting (in terms of quality) if it had an actual finish. Unfortunately, this match ended in a No Contest when Eddie Kingston (yes, you read that correctly) ran out and attacked both members of The Street Profits as well as the referee. JD Drake then tackled Kingston, and the two of them brawled all the way to the back. Believe it or not, this is the first time that Eddie Kingston (to my knowledge) has showed up on an EVOLVE show in any capacity. What’s even more interesting is that we have a guy who’s been part of a major storyline in Impact Wrestling for most of this year showing up in a WWE affiliated promotion (wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen Impact guys in EVOLVE since the WWE relationship began). As for the match, it sucks that it ended the way it did, but it was still pretty good while it lasted. ***1/2
After The Street Profits recovered, Montez Ford took the mic and called out Eddie Kingston, challenging him to a match at EVOLVE 120 on January 19th. That’ll be a very fascinating singles bout, should it take place.
EVOLVE Title – Triple Threat Match – Austin Theory (with Priscilla Kelly) def. Fabian Aichner (c) & NXT Tag Team Champion Roderick Strong
Roderick Strong got a big reaction from the crowd when he came out. While this ended up being a pretty good main event, it was far from the best match on this show. The action from start to finish was very solid, with all three guys getting big opportunities to shine. At the same time, however, nothing they did blew me away that much either. It was the kind of match that was fairly entertaining in the moment, but easily forgettable. Everyone involved worked hard, but as a main event, it didn’t have a ton of memorable moments within the body of the match itself. In fact, the only moment that really stood out was the finish. With Roderick Strong out of the ring, Fabian Aichner managed to hit Austin Theory with his spinning powerbomb finisher (Hasta La Vista), but Priscilla Kelly broke up the pin. Given that there aren’t any DQ’s in a Triple Threat Match, that was totally legal (though why did Priscilla Kelly wait until now to interfere?). Then, Theory managed to hit Aichner with Ataxia, and that was it.
The reign of Fabian Aichner ended as quickly as it began, and Austin Theory is your new EVOLVE Champion. I wasn’t totally shocked that Theory won the title (given how much they like him, he was probably going to win it eventually), but it was interesting that they decided to take the title off Aichner this soon (we all know how Gabe felt about putting the belt on Aichner in hindsight, based on the recent interview he did on the VOW Flagship Podcast).
Obviously, the aftermath of this match is a pretty big clue as to where they’re going in 2019 with the EVOLVE Title, and those plans clearly don’t involve Fabian Aichner. I’ll be curious to see how people will remember the Aichner experiment in the future. Will it become one of those obscure trivia questions that nobody will ever get correct because they don’t believe it actually happened? Time will tell, but for now, this was the third singles title that Theory has won in WWN in the last year. Again, the match was actually pretty good, but as a main event, it was easily forgettable. ***1/2
Afterward, Austin Theory took the mic and immediately fired Priscilla Kelly as his manager, despite the fact that she was the only reason why Theory won the EVOLVE Title in the first place. She quickly went from being ecstatic about the title victory to being completed shocked and distraught. Kelly made her way to the back as Theory proclaimed that EVOLVE was his company now, and that he would be a future WWE Champion. This brought out Darby Allin, and after some shoving from Theory, Allin went on the attack. Theory quickly ran to the back as Allin stood tall to close the show. My guess is that we’re building towards Darby Allin beating Austin Theory for the title on WrestleMania Weekend, and it wouldn’t shock me if Priscilla Kelly joins up with Allin at some point along the way.
EVOLVE 117 was a pretty solid show from start to finish. There was one great match (Darby Allin vs. Kassius Ohno), while the rest of the card ranged from good to really good. It wasn’t exactly a super memorable show, but when you get a wrestling event that has a bunch of quality matches and a runtime that’s under two-and-a-half hours, you know you’re in for a very easy watch. There are a couple of notable angles as well (Eddie Kingston showing up, the aftermath of the main event), so if you want to keep up on important events going on in the promotion, I would also check those out.