Sunday 7 April 2013

EVOLVE 19 review

Before this I'd watched only one EVOLVE event. I can't remember many details although I do recall Chuck Taylor wrestling barefoot and Johnny Gargano being a heel. He possibly wrestled Ricochet but I could be wrong. Arik Cannon was on the card too. I'm not overly familiar with the promotion's current storylines but I know the main players. Be aware of this as you read this review.

Taking place during the biggest wrestling weekend of the year and hosting a tournament to crown an inaugural champion EVOLVE 19 struck me as a pretty good jumping on point. I wasn't wrong. There were various references to past shows and events but they were easy enough to follow. For the most part the wrestlers all did a good job of getting over their characters, which always helps make a show more enjoyable.

The tournament was set up using a seeding system. The top eight competitors in the company were determined by looking at win-loss records. The top two guys were given byes to the semi-finals on opposite sides of the bracket. Seeds three and four tangled in a singles match with the winner progressing to face the favourite. Seeds five to eight wrestled in a four-way match, the winner of which met seed two in the semi-finals. Sound complicated? It wasn't. It was a refreshing approach for a pro wrestling championship tournament.

I didn't watch the show live. If I had I'd have been one of a large number of people unable to view the beginning of the opening contest. Purchasing it as a VOD from the WWN website sadly means you miss this too, although I was aware of that before purchasing. The same can't be said for anyone who watched (or, more accurately, tried to) on Friday.

I'm not going to criticise the people in charge of EVOLVE for this. They've apologised and offered free access to any past event for anyone affected by the streaming failure. I was irritated by the similar problem ROH had during their Friday show but they're a bigger outfit which should make such occurrences less likely. Plus they've got a history of flogging iffy iPPV streams. As this is the first time EVOLVE have failed in this area (that I'm aware of at any rate) they deserve a bit of leeway.

Neither of these two would leave with the new belt

The match already in progress as the show started was a one fall four-way affair. The competitors were Sami Callihan (seed seven), Rich Swann (seed five), Samuray Del Sol (seed six) and Jigsaw (seed eight). The action got a little sloppy in places and for the most part the psychology was awful. Guys would sell during sequences they weren't required for and make a superhuman comeback the moment they were up for a spot. The sequences were pretty good but these flaws detracted from the match.

Sami Callihan was the star. For the most part he avoided those psychology failings and paced himself well. He advanced in the tournament when he got Del Sol to submit to his Stretch Muffler hold.

One man announce team Lenny Leonard entered the ring next. He was there to introduce new signing 'The Premiere Athlete' Anthony Nese. Yep, that guy who used to work for TNA. He cut a heel promo saying that wrestling is no longer about wrestling. It's become about trying to out-brand others. He told us he's going to introduce a support team that will take him to the top... whether we like it or not. I don't know about anyone else but I'm okay with this. His support team have my blessing.

Lenny Leonard was joined by Colt Cabana when he got backstage. This was a blessing: Leonard is awful doing commentary alone. Sadly, Colt didn't stick around for the rest of the show. He did a couple of stints, neither of which took in the main event. That really would have benefited from his input.

Match two was the battle between seeds three and four, AR Fox and Jon Davis respectively. Davis got some boos before the match, though not many. Disappointing for someone who’s meant to be one of EVOLVE's lead antagonists.

'The Whole Foxin' Show' controlled the earliest portion of the match but Davis eventually gained control after turning an attempted springboard attack into a spinebuster. They went outside the ring and AR took a hip toss onto the apron. After some further ringside scuffling they headed back into the ring and AR took further punishment from a Davis Buckle Bomb.

Back on the apron (yeah, they were all over the place in this one) the former Dark City Fight Club member went for a choke slam to the concrete floor. AR countered with a spike DDT onto the apron, following up with a springboard Whisper in the Wind. That was a very impressive move that took a great deal of skill to pull off and was a great risk for Fox. Sadly the audience barely reacted. So many wrestlers perform similar but less risky feats on a regular basis that genuinely impressive moves like this don't get the reactions they deserve. It's the law of diminishing returns.

Back in the ring (again) Fox went for a Swanton but was met with knees. Davis leapt up and kneed his opponent in the face for a close two count. A lively sequence of big move attempts and counters followed that, culminating in Three Seconds Around the World from Davis. Fox kicked out.

A frustrated Davis slipped under the bottom rope and yanked a table out from under the ring. He set it up in the aisle as Lenny Leonard reminded us (or told newcomers like me) about him hitting an Awesome Bomb on someone at a recent show. AR Fox was hoisted into position for the move but the referee made the save.

Yes, the referee made the save. That annoyed the crowd and triggered a "Kill the ref!" chant. Davis was understandably irked and went to take his frustration out with a stiff clothesline on Fox who ducked, Matrix style, and also avoided the second attempt that whistled his way seconds later.

The referee was not so lucky. The ref bump got a massive cheer from the fans who were annoyed that the official had denied them the chance to witness an Awesome Bomb. The bell rung, signalling a David loss, although we were left in the dark as to who had ruled the match over. The timekeeper maybe?

A second ref arrived on the scene to tell Davis he'd be suspended if he continued his angry ways. Davis took a microphone and asked the audience if he should Awesome Bomb the ref and skip the rest of the weekend. They wanted to see that. Davis said they were stupid but he wasn't ,then left to mild heat. Someone needs some sessions with Dr Shelby.

Up next was (The) Brian Kendrick and Dragon Gate USA Open the Freedom Gate champion Johnny Gargano against Gentlemen's Club members Orange Cassidy and Drew Gulak. I liked the Gentlemen's Club. They've been gifted with the always entertaining entourage gimmick. At ringside they had The Swamp Monster (who received one of the loudest cheers of the night) and the Colonel. The former was dressed a monster from a swamp (obvs) while the Colonel was wheelchair-bound and had a US flag draped across his lap. All of this is probably standard stuff for a lot of people reading this but it was a first for me and I thought it was great. I love this sort of stuff in wrestling.

The match started out as a comedy affair but got serious after Kendrick grew tired of the Club's silliness and shouted at them to take a shot at him. They did and the match transitioned into a more serious contest (although they were still some odd moments involving Cassidy and the entourage). Kendrick and Gargano won when Kendrick pinned Gulak off a Sliced Bread Number Two.

The EVOLVE roster has less use for this guy's belt now they have their own

We were back with the tournament next. 'Kentucky Gentleman' Chuck Taylor (seed one) took on Sami Callihan. 'The New Horror' tweaked his knee leaping over the top rope into the ring. It seemed genuine but was revealed to be a work when Chuck Taylor targeted the leg as soon as the bell rung.

The story of the match was that Callihan was disadvantaged because of his tweaked knee and ankle. Taylor targeted the leg on the outside, wrapping it in the crowd barrier and wrenching and kicking on it before throwing Sami back into the ring.
Taylor slapped on a figure four. Sami didn’t quit. Taylor went for a moonsault only for Sami to roll out from under it and come back with four belly-to-belly suplexes. Taylor slapped on a single leg Boston crab, one of his finishing moves, but Sami didn’t tap out.

It struck me that this would have been a good finishing point had Chucky T been booked to win. Sami could’ve tried to hang on through the pain, inched his way to the ropes only to get dragged back to the centre of the ring and be forced to tap out to a reapplied hold. Sami would’ve been kept strong in defeat and Taylor’s single leg crab would’ve been given a boost.

But that wasn’t to be. Callihan got the win out of nowhere when he reversed a pin attempt into the Stretch Muffler. Taylor gave up incredibly quickly considering Callihan was injured and he was the number one seed. It made him look pretty weak when, especially when Callihan had endured so much pain with his “injury”. Another case of questionable psychology.

AR Fox v Ricochet (seed two) was up next. We were told they are the top two high fliers in wrestling today. You wouldn’t have guessed from the first half of the bout. Ricochet slapped on a few submission holds and the pace was, for the most part, pretty sedate. Perhaps this was a part of their ongoing dispute but if that was the case Leonard did a lousy job of making new viewers like myself aware of it.

Things picked up considerably in the latter half of the match as the two started diving about all over the place. Eventually Christina Von Eerie showed up at ringside, presumably to continue or start another ongoing story. In the ring Ricochet went for his 630 senton off the top rope. He missed, which allowed AR to roll him up for the match-winning pin.

Ricochet and Eerie exchanged some words in the aisle afterwards, with Eerie turning her back on Ricochet and getting a shove for doing so. Trouble’s brewing there. Mark my words.

Next was another non-tourney bout. Scott Reed entered first, accompanied by fellow members of The Scene Larry Dallas, Trina Michaels and Caleb Konley. His opponent was Arik Cannon. He was a heel on the only other EVOLVE show I've watched but now seems to be a pretty popular face. They had a no DQ match which became a handicap match after a few minutes  thanks to interference from Konley.

Dallas and Michaels got involved after a bit too, prompting the return of Uhaa Nation to. Leonard informed us Uhaa had been out for a year with a neck injury and we would also learn that he doesn’t much care for Arik Cannon. Which sort of begs the question of why he came out to make the save. Strange guy.

Trina Michaels tried to work her charms on Uhaa which prompted Marti Belle (a female wrestler or valet I’ve never heard) to come to the ring for a random catfight. Leonard tried a Joey Styles impersonation. It failed.

Cannon won with a brainbuster. Officially it was a one-on-one match but it was actually the most packed segment on the show. Following the match Cannon had a beer and offered Uhaa a sip (or perhaps the whole can, it wasn’t clear). Uhaa slapped it into the crowd and dropped Cannon with a belly-to-belly suplex. This was the evidence of them not getting along that I mentioned above.

The penultimate match was the best of the night. A fast, spot-heavy exchange between The Young Bucks and The Super Smash Bros. The crowd, who had been quiet for a lot of the show, came alive during this match. Perhaps they’d been holding out for wrestlers who like to play air guitar all the time. If so they were spoiled rotten by Nick and Matt Jackson.

The SSB won with a Gory Bomb-Blockbuster combo. Afterwards Players Uno and Dos offered handshakes. The Bucks teased that they’d accept (it’s something they never do, apparently) but ended up super kicking the winners instead. They then shouted at the crowd and sneered their way backstage. What heels!

Lenny Leonard neglectfully abandoned his booth again moments before the main event. He was on aisle interview duty. Sami Callihan said he always gives everything in the ring but it’s never enough for the fans. He said he'll be the first EVOLVE champ whether people like it or not. Same sentiment as Anthony Nese earlier in the show really. Deliberate? Probably not.

AR Fox told Leonard that he may not look one hundred per cent but he feels it. He then started screaming and shouting so much that his words became indecipherable because of the shoddy audio. I think the gist was that he, not Mr Callihan, that would be the first EVOLVE champ.

The new belt was held up before the bell was rung. It’s far nicer than WWE’s new championship. Leonard was blown up when he got back to commentary. Yep, a play-by-play guy who gets blown up walking and talking. Extraordinary. That’s the level of quality available to EVOLVE and Dragon Gate.
A good-looking slice of belt
The audience was split throughout the match. ‘The New Horror’ was on offence early, targeting the damaged neck of AR Fox. Yes, it was his neck that was the worse for wear, even though Jon Davis had been focusing on his back for most of their first round contest.

Fox eventually got some offence in after hitting a cannonball and two running boots into the corner, followed up with an Ace Crusher and a Swanton for two. Callihan went back on offence, undoing his knee pad to cause greater pain to his opponent despite it supposedly being injured. Yeah, there were psychology problems in this match too.

The crowd, who had died down after the excitement of the Bucks v SSB bout, returned to life after Callihan hit a German suplex and a power bomb on ‘The Whole Foxin’ Show’ for two. That was immediately followed up with a Stretch Muffler. As that had taken him to his first two victories of the evening it made for a believable potential finishing sequence.

Ultimately the hold was ineffective. Fox got the win out of nowhere after he hit a Side Effect type move off the top rope to a seated Callihan. The crowd popped like The Swamp Monster had returned. Callihan grabbed the belt from the ref to boos, but redeemed himself by being the one to hand it over to the new champion. That got him a cheer. The two competitors shook hands and hugged. Callihan then left to let the new champ enjoy his moment, but not before he gave some hug action to Lenny Leonard.

Fox told Leonard that he dedicated his win to the “number two high flyer” Ricochet. He put over EVOLVE, saying it’s a company for wrestlers of all styles as long as they work hard. He’s looking forward to meeting guys of all styles, apparently. He also told us the EVOLVE roster shuts up and wrestles. As victory speeches go it was subdued. But that’s fair enough, considering the message it had to get across.

The Young Bucks came out to congratulate Fox and tell him he was going to lose the Open the United Gate championship he held with CIMA. There was no cheap shot, no intense rebuttal from the newly crowned EVOLVE champ, and no run-in from the other United Gate champ CIMA. It was simply an angle tacked on to remind everyone that there was a Dragon Gate USA show scheduled for the following evening. The highlight of the Bucks’ appearances was a fan shouting "Haters gon' hate!" as they left.

AR Fox then went back on the mic to shill for the Dragon Gate show. Personally I think that’s a fairly peculiar thing to have your new champion do. But what do I know? I’m just a member of the paying public.

I’m more familiar with Gabe Sapolsky’s Ring of Honor work so his approach here came as something of a surprise. It still has more in common with the average ROH show than it does with WWE or TNA with the emphasis more on the in-ring action rather than skits and angles. That said he takes a different route to get there, channelling the WWF’s Attitude Era and elements of ECW. Large entourages, random run-ins, ringside brawling and ref bumps anyone?

I thought it was a very enjoyable show and excellent value for money (ten quid for us Brits, fifteen dollars for Americans). Based on this I’ll be tuning in to EVOLVE 20.

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