The timeline of EVOLVE’s history is jarring.
The promotion’s ten-year history is complicated and messy, but ultimately important, because if anything, it lent itself to terminologies and phrases such as “grapple fuck”, FloSlam, and “play the China video”. EVOLVE was sometimes the unfairly designated punching bag of Internet discourse, other times it garnered no discourse whatsoever. The promotion was set forth to move wrestling in a different direction, and although the spirit of EVOLVE 1 had completely faded away by EVOLVE 146, the promotion accomplished its goal as it guided independent wrestling through rough waters in the 2010’s and as a result, helped generate a laundry list of stars currently wrestling on larger platforms.
Booker Gabe Sapolsky and business partner Sal Hamaoui announced the promotion in mid-November 2009, a handful of months after the successful launch of Dragon Gate USA and a full year since Sapolsky had been ousted as Ring of Honor booker. The initial concept was not only a brainchild of Sapolsky’s, but of former WWE Champion Bryan Danielson, who saw the rise of MMA in America, as well as the stagnation of the late 2000s indie scene, and wanted something new in the marketplace. Rumors of what Danielson had wanted the promotion to be have circulated the Internet since the promotion’s inception. Was Danielson really going to train a bunch of wrestlers in a new style for an entire year, similar to Ultimo Dragon’s Toryumon 2000 Project? Was shoot-style finally going to have a stranglehold on the American wrestling landscape? We’ll never know, as before the promotion was even announced, Danielson signed on the dotted line and was shipped off to Florida Championship Wrestling and then WWE’s original version of NXT.
With Danielson out of the picture, Sapolsky and Hamaoui shifted focus to someone who, at the time, was considered to be the heir apparent to Danielson’s independent wrestling throne, Davey Richards. The Ring of Honor standout had become the early focal point for Dragon Gate USA, and Richards’ ruthless, hard-hitting, dumb-jock style was perfect for the direction of EVOVLE. Richards headlined the first EVOLVE show against Kota Ibushi with an undercard that featured names like Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish, Brodie Lee, and Munenori Sawa.
Richards would then leave the promotion, forcing the promotion to live up to its name, or die.
EVOLVE’s first nine shows exist as a hodgepodge of ideas. Every wrestler had the same entrance music, matches were, for the most part, short, and crowds, for the most part, were sparse. The biggest footprint on the industry that the promotion made during their days of existing in the single digits was the implementation of a win-loss record for every wrestler. The promotion went all-in on ranking every wrestler, even if the execution after the third or fourth show felt half-hearted. This was their gimmick. It separated EVOLVE from high-profile indies like Ring of Honor or Chikara and distinguished itself from mid-tier companies like Chicago’s AAW and Cleveland’s AIW. Ranking wrestlers with a win-loss record seems so trivial given how All Elite Wrestling now does it on a weekly basis as a way to legitimize some of their booking decisions, but the win-loss records were EVOLVE.
It took EVOLVE eighteen months to run their first nine shows. The aura created on the first show sustained through Bryan Danielson’s appearances at EVOLVE 4 and 5, but by the time Chuck Taylor and Austin Aries headlined their sixth outing, the promotion, for whatever reason, began to feel less than. It lacked the big-name Japanese stars of Sapolsky’s other project, Dragon Gate USA, and was lacking the match of the year-quality matches that both Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla were putting out at the time. EVOLVE 7: Aries vs. Moxley and the following show’s Style Battle did nothing to change the perception of the promotion. It was a promotion that was trying a lot of things, but those efforts were ultimately failing.
EVOLVE 9, a packed show in front of a hot New York City crowd at BB King’s Blues Club & Grill, was the homerun show they had been looking for, but the promotion would go dormant for the next four months and would not resume action until the start of 2012.
Era Match Recommendations
- Davey Richards vs. Kota Ibushi: EVOLVE 1
- Munenori Sawa vs. TJP: EVOLVE 1
- Chris Hero vs. Ikuto Hidaka: EVOLVE 2
- Chuck Taylor vs. Claudio Castagnoli: EVOLVE 3
- Chris Hero vs. Bobby Fish: EVOLVE 3
- Bryan Danielson vs. Bobby Fish: EVOLVE 4
- Bryan Danielson vs. Munenori Sawa: EVOLVE 5
- Sami Callihan vs. AR Fox: EVOLVE 8
- Johnny Gargano vs. Chuck Taylor: EVOLVE 9
- Sami Callihan vs. Fit Finlay: EVOLVE 9
A press release from Sapolsky in November 2011 noted that Dragon Gate USA and EVOLVE had merged into one universe, creating a situation in which EVOLVE shows now truly represented Dragon Gate USA shows without the same amount of star power. Sapolsky would have been better off acknowledging the shared canon from the start. Acting like the promotions were two separate entities from the start while every fan knew that he was pulling the strings for both of them was confusing. The fact that the merger came so late in the game only hurt the EVOLVE brand. Starting with the disaster that was EVOLVE 10, the promotion felt more like a pet project than an actual indie wrestling entity.
EVOLVE 19: Crowning a Champion made EVOLVE 10 look like the promotion’s magnum opus. Marred by iPPV issues, the show that was supposed to be EVOLVE’s biggest and most important to date, came across like an unprofessional flop. The promotion sputtered through the rest of 2013. Despite a show of the year contender in EVOLVE 22, the promotion felt baron. They did not lack names, as Low Ki joined the fray at EVOLVE 10 as was soon followed by El Generico, the Young Bucks, and the return of Fit Finlay, but the promotion had lost the faith of the public with too many embarrassments, mainly continuously failing to secure quality iPPV streams.
EVOLVE trudged along with a title, but without a sense of purpose in 2013. The WWN brand wilted under the continued rise of PWG and the star power of Ring of Honor champion, Kevin Steen. Dragon Gate USA shows saw fewer talents being flown over and the purple brand shows felt lackluster. EVOLVE 23 and 24 in New York City felt like a low point for the promotion. There’s no record of them happening in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. A brief Google search concluded that not even the late great Larry Csonoka or the 411Mania crew reviewed the shows. It’s as if the shows didn’t exist, and a gimmicky Evolution’s End match between Ricochet and AR Fox wasn’t the spark that the company needed.
Sapolsky, desperate for a new direction and some buzz, turned to the man that burned him and the company in 2010. EVOLVE 25 marked not only the return of Davey Richards, but a new, compressed format that featured five matches on the show. The first show of 2014 marked progress for the promotion. EVOLVE 25 remains a highlight in the illustrious catalog of content that this promotion has created. The remaining two shows of the triple shot were less spectacular and are best known for a flagrant off-screen blowup of epic proportions.
WrestleMania Weekend 2014 saw the WWN brand sink to new lows. The final two Dragon Gate USA shows featured no Dragon Gate talent, but did feature Teddy Hart’s cat, who I can assure you is a trained professional. EVOLVE offered EVOLVE 28: Hero vs. Beretta, which featured the two ex-WWE talents in a horrifically long main event, as well as the third Johnny Gargano vs. Rich Swann match over the last year and a highly anticipated Biff Busick vs. Drew Gulak match that was unwatchable live due to iPPV issues.
The goodwill of EVOLVE 25 was shed quickly. EVOLVE was continuing to embarrass themselves as a brand, and the world-class talent in the ring could not steer the ship in the right direction. There needed to be a creative breakthrough and fast.
Era Match Recommendations
- El Generico vs. Low Ki: EVOLVE 11
- El Generico vs. Samuray Del Sol: EVOLVE 14
- El Generico vs. Samuray Del Sol: EVOLVE 15
- El Generico vs. Samuray Del Sol: EVOLVE 17
- Johnny Gargano vs. Samuray Del Sol: EVOLVE 22
- Young Bucks vs. Tomahawk TT & Eita: EVOLVE 22
- AR Fox vs. Ricochet: EVOLVE 24
- AR Fox vs. Davey Richards: EVOLVE 25
- AR Fox & Uhaa Nation vs. Caleb Konley & Trent Beretta: EVOLVE 29
- Uhaa Nation vs. Trent Beretta: EVOLVE 30
The triple shot that began with EVOLVE 31 saw the promotion take a new direction. The win-loss records were altered and subsequently streamlined, as the rankings now went weekend-to-weekend. The Style Battle tournament was brought back for its third incarnation and another former WWE wrestler was brought into the fold in Drew Galloway. The shows were largely unspectacular, and the legacy of this weekend is split among those that remember Drew Galloway dethroning Chris Hero for the EVOLVE title in his debut match on EVOLVE 31, and those that remember Johnny Gargano and Rich Swann brawling in what looked like someone’s backyard at EVOLVE 33.
The Style Battle tournament produced no great matches, but it did introduce a larger audience to Timothy Thatcher, which proved to be a gift and a curse. Coming out of the weekend, EVOLVE had revamped the promotion’s most well-known gimmick and infused the promotion with new talent that separated themselves from simply being DGUSA-lite.
The promotion ended the year with one more weekend in New York City which saw the return of Zack Sabre Jr, an outstanding Ricochet vs. Uhaa Nation match, and a heavier emphasis on Sapolsky’s newfound love of grappling-based wrestling. The first shows of 2015 continued that direction. Roderick Strong’s feud with Drew Galloway became a logically booked bright spot for the company and the undercard continued to feature bubbling talent like Tommy End, Trevor Lee, and Mike Bailey.
Sapolsky seemed to knock it out of the park every ten shows. After revamping the promotion with EVOLVE 25 and finding a groove with EVOLVE 35, the promotion’s 45th outing remains the promotion’s gold standard. EVOLVE 45 in Ybor City, Florida turned the public image of EVOLVE around. The promotion had been building momentum, but iPPV blunders and a steel cage setup that took nearly an hour continued to hinder the company’s growth. There was no doubting after EVOLVE 45 that they had found their place within the independent wrestling landscape. Beretta vs. Swann, Hero vs. Lee, Sabre vs. Strong, and Galloway vs. Thatcher rounded out what should be looked at as a landmark indie wrestling event.
As Voices of Wrestling’s Warren Taylor put it, “Gabe’s magic worked again”.
The promotion rounded out the back half of 2015 with a string of shows largely built around Johnny Gargano vs. Ethan Page, Chris Hero knocking people’s lights out, and Timothy Thatcher grounding main events to a halt.
Thatcher’s reign didn’t start off as a painful bore. His fourth successful title defense came at EVOLVE 51 against Johnny Gargano, and Thatcher’s victory over the former Open the Freedom Gate champion marked that Gargano was a thing of the past in EVOLVE, and that Thatcher, and what would later be dubbed “grapplefuck”, was clearly positioned on the highest tier of the company. Thatcher vs. Gargano remains a high point in the company for both men. A defense against Caleb Konley, two disappointing matches against Matt Riddle, and the agonizing defense against Sami Callihan at the 2016 WWNLive Supershow was the only beginning of Thatcher’s woes, something that would plague the company as they headed into their peak form.
The most glaring example of a problem starting to mount was the company’s triple shot to kick off 2016, which remains their strongest back-to-back-to-back outing outside of WrestleMania Weekend events. EVOLVE 53, 54, and 55 were stacked with two different tournaments – an all-star tournament to crown the first ever EVOLVE Tag Team Champions and a highly contested incarnation of Style Battle featuring Peter Kaasa, Fred Yehi, Tracy Williams, and Sapolsky’s newest pet project, Matt Riddle. The weekend was a success on every front. EVOLVE 53 featured a legendary tag match in the company’s history, the new faces made their presence felt on the undercard, and there was no Timothy Thatcher anywhere to be seen.
EVOLVE had finally found a groove and it was in no thanks due to their champion, who even at this point in his reign, had become far too divisive.
Era Match Recommendations
- Johnny Gargano vs. Drew Gulak: EVOLVE 35
- Chris Hero vs. Timothy Thatcher: 2015 WWNLive Supershow
- Biff Busick vs. Mike Bailey: EVOLVE 44
- Roderick Strong vs. Zack Sabre Jr: EVOLVE 45
- Chris Hero vs. Trevor Lee: EVOLVE 45
- Chris Hero vs. Mike Bailey: EVOLVE 47
- Timothy Thatcher vs. Johnny Gargano: EVOLVE 51
- Chris Hero & Tommy End vs. Zack Sabre Jr & Sami Callihan: EVOLVE 53
- Matt Riddle vs. Tracy Williams: EVOLVE 55
- Chris Hero vs. Matt Riddle: EVOLVE 57
Eddie Deen’s Ranch in Dallas, Texas hosted the peak of the promotion’s history. EVOLVE 58, 59, and the 2016 incarnation of the WWNLive Supershow are what the promotion should be best remembered for. Attendance was reported at being over 1,000 people for each show. The defined stars of the era like Chris Hero and Zack Sabre Jr were joined by Ricochet, a shiny relic of the promotion’s past, as well as the hottest imports on the indie wrestling marketplace at the time, Marty Scurll and Will Ospreay. The respective Ring of Honor shows that weekend were very good, but the talk of the wrestling landscape coming out of this weekend was EVOLVE, and in particular, the Will Ospreay vs. Zack Sabre Jr match from EVOLVE 58. Despite Ospreay not appearing for the promotion again for another two years by way of signing with Ring of Honor (a move that I thought would derail his career), that match sparked what can be looked at as the golden age of EVOLVE.
The golden era doesn’t last for long. EVOLVE 58 is the definitive starting point, and while not every show leading up to EVOLVE 72 was a surefire thumbs up, the ethos of the promotion and the aura that surrounded it was the strongest it had ever been. EVOLVE’s return to the northwest in early May of that year saw the addition of Cruiserweight Classic Qualifying Matches, but the WWE takeover had not yet begun. The consensus at the time was that it was great that WWE was reaching out to these independent promotions for Network-exclusive content. It felt realistic and was such a drastic change from the way WWE typically conducted their business.
Marty Scurll, along with Cedric Alexander and Darby Allin, both of whom were new to the promotion, began to shift the company’s house style in yet another direction. A year into the existence of grapplefuck, Timothy Thatcher and Drew Gulak, the main combatants of this style, began to feel out of place. The promotion was still using matwork and submissions as its calling card, but the pace was much quicker. TJP, Matt Riddle, and Zack Sabre Jr were doing wonders on the mat while Thatcher could only sit and apply a Fujiwara Armbar. The champion felt stale. He didn’t feel like the best representative of the promotion, especially not with the number of new eyeballs that they had garnered after WrestleMania Weekend. Thatcher’s presence towards the top of the card became a distraction. He wasn’t cutting it and the rest of the roster lapping him in terms of match quality.
EVOLVE 67 marked the point of no return for Thatcher.
On SummerSlam weekend in front of a New York City crowd that included Daniel Bryan, Cesaro, and Tyler Breeze, as well as an enthusiastic live crowd and large iPPV audience, Thatcher bombed. His match with Drew Gulak, compared to everything on the show that preceded it like Cedric Alexander vs. Zack Sabre Jr and Tommy End vs. Matt Riddle, put Thatcher’s reign on notice. He was simply too inconsistent. The night before, he and Matt Riddle tore down the house. Here, he put the house to sleep. There were simply too many variables regarding Thatcher in a promotion that had finally landed the reputation of being consistently good.
The promotion lived a good life in the summer of 2016. Unfortunately for them, the joyride was about to come to a screeching halt.
Era Match Recommendations
- Will Ospreay vs. Zack Sabre Jr: EVOLVE 58
- TJP vs. Ricochet: EVOLVE 58
- Will Ospreay vs. Ricochet: EVOLVE 59
- Chris Hero vs. Fred Yehi: EVOLVE 59
- Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre Jr: EVOLVE 60
- TJP vs. Fred Yehi: EVOLVE 61
- Roderick Strong vs. Matt Riddle: EVOLVE 64
- Matt Riddle vs. Timothy Thatcher: EVOLVE 66
- Cedric Alexander vs. Zack Sabre Jr: EVOLVE 67
- Chris Hero vs. Matt Riddle: EVOLVE 71
October 24, 2016, marked the beginning of what was supposed to be a five-year agreement between FloSports and WWNLive. FloSports couldn’t maneuver New Japan Pro Wrestling away from their own streaming platform, failed to land Ring of Honor content, and was unable to secure PWG away from their DVD-only model. The fate of the deal rested on the morals of the WWNLive brand, who quickly rebooted Florida-based Full Impact Pro with a new, anti-PC mantra and launched a new promotion, Style Battle, at the start of 2017. Quickly, it became apparent that the Flo deal overpromised and under-delivered. The initial launch lacked the robust library that WWN had built, the website was clunky, and the first EVOLVE show on the site received more press for a tasteless comment made by Joey Styles than the innovative Squared Circle of Survival match between Thatcher and Gulak.
The EVOLVE product remained strong heading into WrestleMania Weekend. FloSlam’s second outing in the New York area at the promotion’s new home turf, La Boom, produced EVOLVE 74, which felt chaotic, exciting, and important. There was an aura to EVOLVE that felt like it mattered in the landscape of wrestling, something that years prior the promotion had failed to capture.
January 2017 began an unsettling trend in EVOLVE. After losing Johnny Gargano at the tail end of the prior year, the promotion saw Chris Hero, Drew Galloway, and Cody exit the promotion for better offers elsewhere within the first three months of the year. Peter Kaasa retired due to an injury suffered in an EVOLVE ring as well.
The rest of the Flo entities were in much worse shape. FIP’s reboot, which revolved around the curious case of Uncle John and his friends, was an abysmal creative failure. The Style Battle concept felt like it had run its course after the first show and the venue that hosted the promotion’s debut came across so minor league that it made everyone question where the Flo money was actually going.
In February of 2017, Thatcher’s reign of terror finally ended in an excellent encounter against Zack Sabre Jr. Sabre became the face of the promotion, with Darby Allin, Ethan Page, Keith Lee, and Matt Riddle trailing close behind. Riddle would go onto become the first WWN Champion at WrestleMania Weekend, a title designed to be defended on all WWN-branded shows, but Riddle would only go onto work one FIP show and one Style Battle show as champion. The added title only created clutter on the top of EVOLVE cards.
Despite the influx of strong talent, the promotion failed to gain more traction with FloSlam and an incident during their summer doubleheader with PROGRESS Wrestling let more water pour into the already sinking vessel.
On the afternoon of September 22, 2017, hours before EVOLVE 92 in Michigan, FloSlam announced they would not be airing that weekend’s EVOLVE cards. The business dealings between Flo and WWN are convoluted and poorly constructed. Both Rich Kraetsch of Voices of Wrestling and David Bixenspan of Fightful litigated the deal in great detail. There remains great uncertainty about who lied to who, among other issues, but the fact remains that this once again put EVOLVE back as the laughing stock of indie wrestling. The work the wrestlers were putting in couldn’t overcome the public woes the company was facing. FloSlam was supposed to be a gamechanger. It was supposed to pad the pockets of hardworking, top tier indie wrestlers for the next five years, and instead, it failed to last for more than a year. FloSlam will go down as one of wrestling’s greatest failures.
Era Match Recommendations
- Timothy Thatcher vs. Drew Gulak: EVOLVE 72
- Ricochet & Peter Kaasa vs. Fred Yehi & Tracy Williams: EVOLVE 74
- Matt Riddle vs. DUSTIN: EVOLVE 77
- Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre Jr: EVOLVE 77
- Timothy Thatcher vs. Zack Sabre Jr: EVOLVE 79
- Ricochet vs. Keith Lee: EVOLVE 80
- Darby Allin vs. Ethan Page: EVOLVE 81
- Kyle O’Reilly vs. Matt Riddle: EVOLVE 84
- Zack Sabre Jr vs. Lio Rush: EVOLVE 85
- Fred Yehi vs. WALTER: EVOLVE 90
If you’ve followed Gabe Sapolsky for long enough, whether through his time in ROH, DGUSA, or EVOLVE, you likely are to become fluent in “Gabe Speak”. Almost every match is a dream match or a special challenge. Simple undercard matches are billed as main events anywhere else in the world. Sapolsky is a promoter and he’s unapologetic about having to pay the bills. There are times when Sapolsky’s passion and excitement for the product bleed through his words in his news updates. Starting with EVOLVE 45 and then lasting through all of 2016, anyone fluent in Gabe Speak could tell that he loved his product. He was thrilled with most of the outcomes. FloSlam promised to be something so huge and so massive that Sapolsky was positioned behind the eight ball and was forced to create more than he ever had before. He was put in a position to fail. When the inevitable became a reality, Sapolsky seemed to lose his spirit. The news updates became hollow. While the product was better than it was in 2013 and 2014, it became void of passion once more and plagued the product, just as it did in prior iterations.
The FloSlam-less midwest doubleshot and the next twelve shows that followed were directionless. Sapolsky’s passion was gone.
The luster of 2016 was gone. The names of Hero, Strong, and Gargano were a thing of the past and soon, Keith Lee, WALTER, and Zack Sabre Jr, all of whom had carried them through the FloSlam days, would join them in exiting the company for better offers elsewhere. Sapolsky pivoted to high-flyers once more, importing Shane Strickland, Joey Janela, and DJ Z and pushing them to the top of the card, but Strickland was yanked away by WWE before he had a chance to develop, Janela was injured, and DJ Z battled injuries en route to a WWE deal.
EVOLVE was gasping for air in a crowded indie landscape. Any talent they pushed was lured away by WWE’s bells and whistles. They once again left WrestleMania Weekend with a healthy buzz, but the buzz fizzled out quickly. Live attendance fell, iPPV buys bottomed out, and they began struggling to rebuild a roster that was constantly being pulled away from them. They, once again, for lack of a better term, had to evolve.
Era Match Recommendations
- Zack Sabre Jr vs. Jaka: EVOLVE 94
- Zack Sabre Jr vs. DJ Z: EVOLVE 96
- Keith Lee vs. WALTER: EVOLVE 96
- Zack Sabre Jr vs. Jaka: EVOLVE 97
- Zack Sabre Jr vs. Darby Allin: EVOLVE 98
- Matt Riddle vs. James Drake: EVOLVE 100
- Zack Sabre Jr vs. Austin Theory: EVOLVE 100
- Daisuke Sekimoto & Munenori Sawa vs. Timothy Thatcher & WALTER: EVOLVE 102
- Matt Riddle vs. Will Ospreay: 2018 WWNLive Supershow
- WALTER vs. Darby Allin: EVOLVE 106
Sapolsky adopted the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality and brought in NXT North American Champion, Adam Cole to wrestle WALTER in a dark main event. The WWE partnership that formed during the Cruiserweight Classic Qualifying Matches was severed after FloSlam came into the picture, but with that debacle behind them, WWE once again began grooming the promotion. First, sending only one wrestler at a time with Cole going first, then Velveteen Dream on the next double shot. Sapolsky, no matter what company he was booking, always failed to garner a strong live gate. His ROH attendance records were quickly smashed once he was fired. DGUSA, after its first three shows, failed to produce profitable live crowds. EVOLVE had never been a hot ticket outside of WrestleMania Weekend. The NXT stars being brought into the fold, however, changed the game. EVOLVE began drawing some of its biggest crowds in history.
Sapolsky turned his back on the niche, albeit vocal fanbase that had supported him through broken rings, frozen streams, and cage match mishaps. It’s hard to blame him for wanting to take his business down a different avenue, but the aggression in which Sapolsky conducted himself through Twitter while making these changes was troublesome. It was as if he had finally gotten his wrestling booker varsity jacket and he was ready to shove nerds into lockers, despite the fact that for Sapolksy’s entire career he had been the figurehead of the nerd brigade.
His demeanor diminished the last remaining buzz EVOLVE had in the hardcore stratosphere. EVOLVE was something different now. It was a pipeline to a bigger paycheck, which isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it no longer represented an alternative to corporate wrestling. It was a big label punk band. An oxymoron, if you will. Sure, it projected an ethos of “sticking it to the man”, but it was being backed by a larger corporate entity. It had lost its heart. It had become something else. EVOLVE, the promotion inspired by Bryan Danielson, built by Davey Richards, revived by Drew Galloway, and thrived thanks to Zack Sabre Jr, Matt Riddle, and Chris Hero died when Adam Cole took his piece of NXT gold and defended it in an EVOLVE ring.
Era Match Recommendations
Match Recommendations Provided by Joe Lanza
- Anthony Henry vs. AR Fox: EVOLVE 120
- Austin Theory vs. Darby Allin: EVOLVE 121
- Shane Strickland vs. AR Fox: EVOLVE 122
- AR Fox & Leon Ruff vs. Eddie Kingston & Joe Gacy: EVOLVE 131
- Matt Riddle vs. Drew Gulak: EVOLVE 131
- Austin Theory vs. JD Drake: EVOLVE 131
- AR Fox & Leon Ruff vs. Adrian Alanis & Liam Gracy: EVOLVE 145
- Mansoor vs. Curt Stallion: EVOLVE 145
- Curt Stallion vs. JD Drake vs. Jake Atlas: EVOLVE 146
EVOLVE’s loss to the wrestling landscape will be an impactful one.
Even in its final incarnation, it represented an important step along the way for young, hungry wrestlers who were desperate to take the next step. At its core, EVOLVE was a finishing school. Sapolsky used the knowledge he had amassed in ECW and ROH and used it to launch the careers of wrestlers like Johnny Gargano, Matt Riddle, and Austin Theory. Since the NXT revolution and the indie signing boom that began around 2015, it has felt as if WWE only poaches wrestlers from Ring of Honor when they represent competition. The talents that come from Sapolsky’s promotions, however, are heralded as the future of the business. From Zack Sabre Jr in New Japan to Darby Allin in All Elite Wrestling to a disgusting amount of the NXT and WWE main roster talent, their roots can be traced back to EVOLVE Wrestling.
The defining legacy of EVOLVE should be that of a promotion who lived up to its name. EVOLVE lasted a decade, and within those ten years, successfully reinvented itself multiple times. It became a proving ground for independent wrestlers. If PWG was the all-star game, EVOLVE represented the grit and grind of the playoffs. Not everyone made it to that level.
The promotion should be remembered as an indie with perhaps the most vast and intriguing archive out there, but instead, the public cries for attention by its owner and booker have detracted from the effort of the men and women that put their bodies on the line for the promotion. As more information continues to trickle out about the fate of the promotion, Sapolsky’s only public comments are smarmy, self-righteous, and idiotic.
Ultimately, EVOLVE died because it failed to do what it had done so many times before. It fed into a system that ate up its own talent, derailed its own storylines, and sucked away any interest that longtime fans of the promotion had. There became a tremendous talent glut because of the signing practices WWE implemented, which is largely due to not only EVOLVE’s success, but their willingness to let them invade their own space, and as COVID-19 continues to ravage America, there’s no rational timeline that features “normal” live events anywhere in the immediate future. As a result, EVOLVE died with a whimper, not with a fight. A truly disappointing conclusion to one of wrestling’s most resilient companies of all-time.