At several points during this show Lenny Leonard described EVOLVEs 29 and 30 as big events. This is a problem. EVOLVE champion Chris Hero was absent. There was no sign of Low Ki or Teddy Hart, both of whom had appeared at the company’s previous shows over WrestleMania weekend. There was also no sign of the Young Bucks making a reappearance to wrap up their rivalry with the Bravado Brothers. Basically the cards were distinctly lacking in star power and presenting them as significant could hurt the promotion’s credibility.
I know EVOLVE is built around the old Ring of Honor credo of quality wrestling over name talents but you can only take that sort of thing so far without looking like a fading concern. EVOLVE should be ensuring all of its top tier talents are on every show, using them to elevate fresh names, and making deals with non-regulars. Low Ki was a good name to bring in but it looks as though that was just a short term thing and that he won’t be coming back. The same goes for Roderick Strong. And the Bucks may never be back. Even if they are it’s likely it’ll just be for one match before clearing off for good.
The venue used here didn’t really help either. It’s not that Elk’s Lodge in fashionable Queens, New York is a bad venue for wrestling. It isn’t. A number of promotions run shows there. But it looks like what it is, and that’s a recreation centre. A promotion broadcasting a show and trying to present itself as notable really should be going for something better.
Basically EVOLVE does not look like a thriving promotion. It looks like it’s struggling and on the verge of collapse (not helped by the infrequency of Dragon Gate USA shows featuring genuine big name Dragon Gate wrestlers). That’s going to affect people’s willingness to support them, no matter how good the wrestling on their shows is. And for the record the wrestling on offer here did reach very high standards.
The show was held on May 9 and kicked off with JT Dunn entering alongside Shelley Martinez. Blake Edward Belakus was his opponent. I'd enjoyed his work at DG USA’s Way of the Ronin and I enjoyed it here. Belakus is someone that could become a name of import for EVOLVE and DG USA with the right treatment. Hopefully Gabe Sapolsky realises that too.
They had a tidy, if unspectacular, match. BEB controlled the first half before 'The Juice' (perhaps Dunn's a Juvi fan) made a comeback. He didn't have enough to get the victory though. Belakus cut him off with a move called the Bad Wolf slam. Doctor Who fans may be interested to know Belakus had also had "Bad Wolf" written on his trunks. Rose Tyler strikes again!
Match two saw Ethan Page and Josh Alexander tangle with Open the United Gate champions the Bravado brothers in a non-title bout. Harlem and Lancelot got a split reaction. Some people seemed really excited to see them while others got into the spirit of things and booed them as one of the company's top heel acts.
The match took a little bit to get going, I suspect because Page and Alexander are not big names, but when it did it was good. The Bravados controlled the pace until Alexander tagged in. He quickly double suplexed both brothers then blasted Harlem with a back breaker on the apron and dropped Lance with an enziguri. He looked like he was being presented as a potential star, proving a match for the champions, being given plenty of offence, and getting a multitude of near falls for his team. Of course his team lost, Page falling to the Gentlemen's Agreement.
Worth noting is that the Bravados stole various moves and poses from the Young Bucks to keep that rivalry alive. I’ve already pessimistically noted that I wouldn't be surprised if the Jackson boys never returned to blow that programme off.
That was followed by Su Yung heading to the ring with Caleb Konley and Mr A and telling Uhaa Nation that he belonged with The Premier Athlete Brand. That's the next big feud, presumably. It could be an enjoyable one, considering how good the matches all involved had over this weekend were.
The Brand stayed at ringside for Konley's match with Rich Swann. They swapped the initiative for a while before Swann started selling. That lasted for several minutes and ended when he made a comeback with a dive and a frog body block. Channelling Booker T he performed an axe kick, which got him two. Konley halted him with a drop kick and a fireman bomb. They exchanged a close to ridiculous number of strikes with neither going down. Konley eventually toppled to a Swann spinning instep kick. The prerequisite apron foray resulted in Swann getting dropped head first and rolling to the outside. That only got a two count (natch, nobody goes down to apron offence in EVOLVE).
Swann avoided a moonsault and hit a modified Canadian Destroyer for a two. As Konley was still laying down Swann opted for a second rope phoenix splash, which earned him a three count. The match really came to life in its second half (the stuff I've noted, basically). That said I could have done without the “This is awesome!” chants. They seem to get deployed in any matches which rises above average these days, which robs the it of all meaning.
After the match Swann took a mic and told the PAB Uhaa Nation wouldn't associate with the likes of them. He also said the acronym should stand for "pussy ass bitches". The audience took that up as a chant then Swann did some singing and made some unsavoury comments about Su Yung. His mic broke as he was talking about Johnny Gargano so he shouted something at a camera (about Gargano) then bowled backstage.
Funnily enough Gargano was out next. That must have made for an awk moment when Swann walked back through the curtain. He was facing Biff Busick. The early going was built around counter wrestling and Gargano stalling. In due course they progressed to ringside brawling. There 'The Whole Shebang' gained control with a suplex on the floor. The pace was slowed back in the ring. This included Gargano's ever popular attempt to break a digit (which always fails, strangely) as well as his suicide dive and a Gargano Escape. Busick worked in various moves but never got an extended period of offence. He did no sell some super kicks though. That was something.
The finish was a surprise. After more counter wrestling Gargano was placed in a rear naked choke. He held out for a while but when it got turned into a combination of a choke and a camel clutch he tapped out. It was not only not the result I expected it wasn't the finish I would have predicted had I known Busick was going over. A submission is a big thing under Gabe Sapolsky booking. It's a good call though: it indicates that Busick has been selected for a promotion. Beating Gargano is a big thing here.
Jigsaw and Tim Donst v Fire Ant and Green Ant (of The Colony fame) was match five. It was an energetic showing with a good number of near falls, probably my second favourite thing on the show after the main event. Green Ant won with the CHIKARA Special, which was counted as a pin as Jigsaw tapped out. In case you're wondering, and you may be, it is a submission hold. My guess would be that the referee was unfamiliar with it.
After the match Green Ant shouted into a mic. I've no idea what he said but I assume it was something about facing the Bravados because they wandered out. Harlem distracted the ants, allowing Moose to sneak into the ring and job them out. They finished up by promising they'd be the Open the United Gate champions forever.
The evening's penultimate match was a meeting between Drew Gulak and Chuck Taylor. It had come about because of the actions of Gulak over WrestleMania weekend. He turned on Taylor and disbanded The Gentlemen's Club. Considering that it was a surprisingly technical match. They did go to the outside (which most other matches did too) and get rough but it was not as wild and uncontrollable as seemed reasonable to expect. This could have worked if Taylor had been reluctant to fight his friend or give the match his all but that wasn't the case. It just didn't seen as though the two wrestlers hadn’t been given much direction, as though they'd been split to fill up the summer season of cards with no follow up thought being put into how the feud will progress.
As I say, it wasn't bad. It was just confusing under the circumstances. Taken simply as a match between a heel and a face it was good. Both men did everything right with regards to selling, wrestling and interacting with the crowd. Things came to an end when Taylor tapped out to the Gu-Lock.
Before the main event we were treated to an appearance from Larry Dallas. He said EVOLVE was part of his heart and soul and no show was complete without him. Rich Swann turned up to walk him to the back. The purpose of these Dallas appearances, which have been going on for months, eludes me. The longer it goes the more memorable the payoff will need to be when it comes, and I’m concerned that nobody knows what it will even be yet.
The main event was Anthony Nese and Trent Baretta versus AR Fox and Uhaa Nation. The Brand had Yung and A at ringside. The faces were accompanied by Ivelisse and entered to Fox's music. The former was great, because Ivelisse being on a show is never a bad thing. The latter was a poor call, because Uhaa's music is great.
Before the bell rang Su Yung asked Uhaa for his answer about joining them. He said he'd join The PAB if he and Fox lost but that if they won he and Fox would get the rights to book themselves in any match they liked (a reward The Brand won at Mercury Rising by winning a six man tournament). That was agreed to. And then Christina Von Eerie rocked up and randomly attacked Ivelisse. This was the beginning of a new SHINE programme.
This was, as has already been said, the best match on the card. Nese and Baretta are a very skilled unit who carry themselves like stars. That counts for a great deal. I'm not wild about 'The Whole Foxin' Show' but he flies high and always looks crisp doing so. Uhaa Nation is tremendous. He's a big man (at least in width) who blends the power moves you'd expect with some flying moves you wouldn't. He's got personality and he knows how to put an exciting match together. On top of that the star power of the four ensured the audience were loud throughout (and it's worth noting they'd been good during the rest of the show). There was lots of double teaming, which is what's needed in a match like this, and there were plenty of near falls.
The finishing sequence was nicely put together. The PAB went for a Doomsday Device but Uhaa took out Baretta with a kick to the face. Nese then took a military press from Nation, a 450 from Fox and an Uhaa Combination for the loss. That granted the faces the booking clause and ensured Uhaa remained free of Su Yung’s clutches. Depending on your point of view that's not necessarily a good thing.
If the show had come close to the level of the headliner more often it would have made a huge difference. It wasn't bad, it's just that it felt like a filler show in places.