Back in September EVOLVE returned to New York City for its thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth shows. This was necessitated by the lack of available Dragon Gate stars (due to Visa issues, apparently), something which had plagued the company since WrestleMania weekend in April. That’s something that’s still effecting them at time of writing, and judging by the line-up of announced WWN shows over next year’s WrestleMania it’s an issue that doesn’t seem likely to be sorted out any time soon.
Booker Gabe Sapolsky has worked well within these limitations. Across the August weekend of shows (including EVOLVEs 31, 32 and 33) he fleshed out his roster of “home” stars and started to work at building up some new names to replace the imports he can’t access. A logical thing to do and something he continued across these shows.
EVOLVE 34 kicked off with a Johnny Gargano promo in which he officially became a face again. He claimed he’d had a moment of clarity at EVOLVE 32 when Konley said he wasn't the man he once was. He acknowledged he’d gone mental while Open the Freedom Gate champion and said he understood that and regretted it. He’d asked to open every card over the weekend as a penance for his behaviour, because wrestling logic. In fact Gargano being in both openers was a good idea. It ensured a significant name kicking off each card.
Surprisingly Anthony Nese, Su Yung, Mr A and Trent Baretta (on crutches because of his broken leg) didn’t offer an opinion on Gargano’s revived good guy persona. They simply walked out and posed a bit before Nese got ready to wrestle. I was a bit disappointed. I’d hoped one of them would diss Gargano a bit so he could make some generic sexist comments to Su Yung.
The match was the ideal opener. It featured two guys the fans wanted to react to, was worked fast. and included lots of signature spots to keep the crowd rowdy. ‘The Whole Shebang’ won after a blistering series of kicks, rolling through a one arm power bomb to get a schoolboy.
The Brand hit the ring after that. Gargano smacked Konley but then got smacked himself by Mr A. Rich Swann dashed out to return the favour from EVOLVE33 and took out Mr A and Trent Baretta then grabbed Su Yung. Naturally she was saved by Nese. Gargano brawled backstage while Swann lay limp on the floor. He was helped backstage by a referee, selling that he’d been knocked loopy by the Brand’s attack.
Zack Sabre Jr versus Timothy Thatcher was match number two. The crowd gave the pair a "British wrestling!" chant to begin with, even though Thatcher has himself announced from Sacramento before matches. Another British note: Canterbury was referred to as a suburb of London. This is in no way true.
The match was heavy on holds and counter holds. Arm locks were the order if the day. It was a satisfying match that did a good job of showcasing both men. That said it would have been nice to see Sabre Jr perform some of the flying moves he’s capable of, to add some variety and alter the story a little. Sabre Jr won with a particularly vicious armbar and some kicks to the head and shoulders.
The first ever meeting of Roderick Strong and Uhaa Nation was next. The early going was characterised by Roddy bring a prick, taking cheap shots and mocking Uhaa's posing. He was the first to get the advantage for an extended period, shoving Uhaa from the turnbuckle to the floor after using the referee as a distraction. He targeted Uhaa’s arm and neck, peculiar considering his signature submission hold is a high angle Boston crab.
Uhaa caught Strong as he attempted a cross body and gave him a fall away slam to start his comeback. He followed up with a belly-to-belly, rolling Germans, and an Asai moonsault off the apron. Uhaa missed a top rope splash and took a series of forearms in the corner and a jumping knee in the middle of the ring. Strong got a gut buster and tried a hurricanrana but Uhaa turned it into a sitdown power bomb.
Uhaa got the better of a punch exchange so Roddy hit a Sick kick, a Gibson driver and then applied the Stronghold. Uhaa forced a break with the ropes. Roddy might have won there had he softened up Uhaa when he’d had the chance. What a mug! Uhaa performed his ever impressive Uhaa Combination for the three count to win a very good match.
A non-title came next, Open the Freedom Gate champion Ricochet facing Caleb Konley. It was actually one of the match I as most looking forward to seeing. Konley was one of the guys selected to have his standing in the company beefed in the absence of Dragon Gate stars and I think he’s done a great job with everything he’d been given.
The early going got over the fact that Konley had Ricochet scouted, countering his regular moves and getting in more of his own than would have been expected. It didn’t last: Ricochet turned the tide with an axe kick and a springboard clothesline. He tried a Regalplex but Konley fought out and floored him with an enziguri, then countered the running Ace crusher and nailed the champ with a bridging German suplex. Ricochet scored an alarm clock and a running SSP for two. He followed up with a floatover Northern suplex then a release suplex. ‘The Obsession’ countered the kick of the Benadryller and gave Ricochet the Regalplex, one of Ricochet’s own preferred moves. That got him a two count and momentarily riled the audience. Ricochet avoided the double jump moonsault. Konley escaped the Benadryller and got a Death Valley bomb for a convincing near fall.
‘Mr High Fly’ hit a springboard 450 but Konley kicked out again, surprising the audience. Ricochet went for a top rope springboard but Konley sprang to his feet and caught him, giving him a Death Valley bomb from the top rope to earn the clean pinfall victory. Another contributing factor to the elevation of Konley.
After that Heather Lynn introduced AR Fox to the ring. She reminded the audience he had the right to book himself in any match he wanted once he's recovered from injury. He ran down his DG USA and EVOLVE credentials (first ever EVOLVE champ, former Style Battle winner, and a former Open the United Gate champ) and said he wanted the Freedom Gate belt. Fox versus Ricochet would have been great but it wasn’t to be.
What we got instead was the Bravados brothers wandering out. They took exception to Fox saying he was one of the best United Gate champs ever. Subpar mic work followed, ending with the Bravados introducing Moose for an impromptu match with Fox.
Moose hit some power moves. Fox sold the arm and did some flying. It didn't go very long so they were able to string some spots together for a decent match. Unsurprisingly, with it being his comeback match, Fox won. But only by DQ: Lance Bravado interfered just as ‘The Whole Foxin’ Show’ was about to hit Lo Mein Pain. They gave Fox a Gentlemen's agreement before The Colony made the save, taking us into the Open the United Gate match.
It was a standard Bravados match. Lots of cheap heat, particularly in the form of mask-tugging. That actually led to the Bravados win. As Harlem was trapped in the CHIKARA Special Lancelot grabbed Silver Ant's mask, forcing him to break the hold and allowing legal man Harlem to roll Silver Ant up with a schoolboy. The match was decent enough but unspectacular.
That just left the EVOLVE champion Drew Galloway to defend his prize against Rich Swann. The story going in was that Swann was injured from earlier in the night and Galloway didn't want to defend against him at less than one hundred per cent. Swann insisted on the match because it was his first time getting a chance at a singles championship in either EVOLVE or DG USA.
Swann tried to get the match finished early, jumping Drew at the bell and going for a series of flash pins. Drew put a stop to that with a stiff strike and spent several minutes muscling the challenger around. But he did the "I don't want to do this" routine to remind everyone that, hey, he's a babyface!
After several minutes Swann managed to get a hurricanrana, a DDT, and a tope. Galloway turned a cross body into a back breaker but Swann kicked out at two. Galloway attempted his double arm DDT but Swann countered into a pin for a close two then cracked out a super kick for another.
By this point the crowd were going crazy, perhaps believing a title change was on the cards. Galloway avoided a 450 and booted Swann in the face, sending him rolling out of the ring. At which point the PAB wandered out to stand over Swann and gloat. Galloway wiped them out with a tope and then gave Swann a cradle Tombstone piledriver back in the ring. Swann still wouldn't stay down, giving the crowd a surprise by kicking out just before the three count. He went for the Lethal Injection but Galloway countered it into a sleeper, which quickly became a rear naked choke. That proved the final straw for the referee who, tired of seeing Swann suffer, ended the match in Galloway’s favour.
Galloway closed the show with a promo. He said Swann deserved a rematch and then put over the fans and EVOLVE. The standard stuff really. As by-the-numbers as the ending was the show itself was top notch. The opener, Konley Ricochet, and the EVOLVE title match were all terrific and while nothing else stood out as being particularly great nothing was actively bad. It was well put together and well-paced, and everyone gave it their all. You can’t ask for more than that.
Johnny Gargano def Anthony Nese
Zack Sabre Jr def Timothy Thatcher
Uhaa Nation def Roderick Strong
Caleb Konley def Ricochet
AR Fox def Moose via disqualification
The Bravado Brothers def The Colony
Drew Galloway def Rich Swann