EVOLVE 28 probably had the best placing of all the non-WWE events taking place in New Orleans across WrestleMania weekend. While WWE’s supershow would be going on last and providing a climax to a weekend of wrestling EVOLVE 28 was the first broadcast event of the weekend. Going on first meant that fans were still fresh and eager to watch and react to pro wrestling. An active, responsive and enthusiastic crowd never hurts a wrestling show.
It was also in a healthier position than its stablemate Dragon Gate USA’s cards. As I’m sure I’ll mention when I write about them they are suffering from a distinct lack of legitimate Dragon Gate Japan wrestlers. And as Japanese stars flown in from the parent company are part of the appeal of the entire DG USA package that’s a significant problem. EVOLVE is unconcerned with this. Its mandate is to showcase the best talent available, no matter their nationality. That creates less expectancy and grants more freedom.
Avoiding any annoying preamble EVOLVE 28 got underway as soon as the stream went live. The opener saw Biff Busick take on Drew Gulak. I'm not wild about either man and this match did nothing to convince me to change my mind. It was at least a spirited offering that kept us guessing as to the outcome. Busick won after applying a body scissored sleeper, giving him what we were informed was his first singles victory over ‘The Legal Eagle’.
Match two saw Maxwell Chicago, wearing his tuxedo onesie, take on Green Ant. Maxwell's usual comedic antics were curtailed when Green Ant drop kicked him out of the ring as soon as the bell rang. Chicago weathered the storm for several minutes and did eventually manage to begin his regular shenanigans. Here that took the form of asking to apply headlocks and performing overly safe “high risk” moves. Green Ant got the win, a result which most had to expect, with a Michinoku driver and a Texas cloverleaf.
The comedy was followed by the newest member of The Premier Athlete Brand, Caleb Konley, taking on former EVOLVE champion AR Fox. This was the match which brought the show to life, a combination of Fox's popularity, his array of aerial moves, and the genuine heat that the Brand bring with them.
In storyline terms both men needed the win. ‘The Whole Foxin’ Show’ needed to regain the momentum he’d lost along with his title in February. Meanwhile Konley needed to win to start his time in The Premier Athlete Brand off with significance. In practical terms this meant both needed to make the match the best on the show. There were a handful of awkward moments, most notably an overly long pause for Konley and henchman Mr A as they waited for Fox to hit them with a flying move, but for the most part the bout was a rousing effort.
The surprise ending saw Fox roll up Konley with a small package as the clambered back into the ring. Considering both competitors needed to win for storyline purposes the ever reliable small package finish was a smart move. It allowed the more prominent member of the roster to go over without making Konley look weak or easy to defeat.
The result triggered an assault from Konley, A and Su Yung. Nobody made the save for Fox. That surprised me as Chris Hero has also been engaged with the faction and Fox had come to his rescue at the DG USA shows in February. A tag match pitting Hero and Fox against two Brand boys seems likely and linking Fox and Hero here would have been a simple way of leading to it.
The Bravado brothers were next. It was tough to make out what they were saying due to poor audio quality. It was something about The Young Bucks and holding tag ropes. While I don't think EVOLVE and DG USA shows need top of the range production values it would be a nice idea to make it possible for viewers to understand things wrestlers were saying in their promos.
As was the case at Way of the Ronin they had a jobber accompany them to the ring. Moose destroyed him in a squash before the Bravados competed in their scheduled match. That was followed by the first WWN Live tag match of the weekend, Lance and Harlem defending the Open the United Gate tag titles against Orange Cassidy and Chuck Taylor of The Gentlemen's Club. After some ringside brawling (which the brothers have supposedly banned) Cassidy found himself isolated for several minutes. 'The Kentucky Gentleman' eventually came in off a tag and singlehandedly turned the tide in favour of his team.
The Gentleman's Club hit some double team moves, including what we were led to believe should have been a match winning DDT-wheelbarrow combo. The reason it wasn't a match winner was that the referee got yanked from the ring before he could count the three. This caused some brawling at ringside involving Gulak and Moose while back in the ring Taylor rolled up Harlem only to be shoved off and into Cassidy. That Gentlemen's miscue was enough of a distraction for the Bravados to performer their elevated neck breaker finish on Taylor. With his teammates incapacitated he went down for the three.
The loss meant that The Gentlemen's Club would never get another tag title match. Taylor and Gulak looked dejected while Orange Cassidy walked out of the building. Taylor and Gulak stared after him before heading backstage. A big deal was made of this by the commentary team. Cassidy didn't even go to the back and get his gear you know!
After a lengthy intermission (they had technical problems to sort out) Lenny Leonard introduced Larry Dallas. The microphone problems once again meant nothing the pair said could be understood. It seemed to be about the downfall Larry Dallas has experienced over the previous year (but he's got a nice new haircut so that's something). Leonard talked about nobody liking Dallas and then left. Dallas stayed in the ring, ranted, then left. I assume this will lead to something as Dallas’s unpopularity has been a theme on a few recent shows. Unfortunately, not being able to understand what was said made it a frustrating experience.
In the ring the second half began with Anthony Nese versus Ricochet. The story behind the bout was that Nese had been selected as Ricochet's opponent by Johnny Gargano as part of the build for the Ricochet v Gargano bout the following evening. The same backstory would apply to the later Gargano v Swann match and would also be used as an excuse to add Gargano to commentary here.
The match was smooth throughout, as all Ricochet matches are. He dazzled with crisp kicks, textbook flying moves, and rag doll-like selling. Particularly impressive was a dive over the turnbuckle on to Mr A and Nese. This is not to gloss over how good Nese is. He does a very good job mixing flying moves with power moves, and routinely sells more than others on the roster (including Ricochet). Nor is it an attempt to gloss over Ricochet’s shaky relationship with the concept of selling. The idea of a comeback being gradual, as opposed to instantaneous, seems impossible for him to grasp. He’s not the only person on the EVOLVE and Dragon Gate USA rosters to do this but he is among the most prominent.
With 'The King of Flight' going into a title match with Gargano the next night it made sense for him to get the win over Nese, and he did. After failing a springboard attempt Nese fell to Chocolate Rain and a Benadryller. Ricochet talked on the mic after the match. Johnny Gargano turned up provided some words of his own. Once again nothing could be understood but it's safe to assume they were talking up their title match. The talking ended when Gargano clotheslined Ricochet from behind. Rich Swann dashed out to make the save, segueing us into the penultimate match of the evening.
The story of the match was that Gargano was not fully focused on Swann, having to resort to extreme measures, dropping Swann neck first on to the apron for example, and rule breaking to gain the initiative. The match was lively, energetic and enjoyable, a perfect example of why Gargano's been one of the most heavily pushed acts of Dragon Gate USA for years. It was also a great match for fans of super kicks. From around the halfway point the pair were throwing them around like they were The Young Bucks.
The finishing sequence was a highlight of the evening. After Swann missed a frog splash Gargano applied the Gargano Escape. A submission was teased but Swann made it to the ropes. Taking the action to the apron the pair exchanged super kicks before 'The Whole Shebang' sent Swann head first into the mat and lawn darted him into a turnbuckle. Back in the ring Swann kicked out of a second lawn dart before going down to a title belt shot.
After the match the champ blasted the man he claims is his best friend with the title again before being drilled with a Benadryller by a returning Ricochet. Gargano sold unconsciousness in the ring for well over a minute. That was a great decision. It built the move up as something Gargano would need to avoid during his match with Ricochet. A credible threat to Gargano's title was made even more credible.
The main event saw Trent Barreta challenge Chris Hero for the EVOLVE championship. Lenny Leonard was on hand to provide in-ring intros for challenger and champion that could only be understood because we already knew what to expect from him (hashtag mic problems, right?).
After Barreta agreed to send Su Yung and Mr A to the back the pair started their match with some mat wrestling. Hero got the better of that, Baretta eventually turning the tables when he brought his knees up as Hero tried a senton. Minutes later Hero hit a release suplex. Barreta came back with a double stomp before being sent scurrying to the outside by a flurry offence from Hero. At this point Hero went for a fake plancha and wound up choking himself between the second and top ropes, something which could have proven incredibly serious. Thankfully no serious damage appeared to be done and the bout continued as planned. Time for that spot to be dropped from the repertoire though.
Barreta hit an enziguri and a German suplex for two. A tornado DDT also failed to get him the victory he desired. Hero hit a drop kick to the face and a cravat suplex. Barreta got a two count from a backslide. Hero got a two count of his own with a la magistral. Barreta attempted a float over pinning predicament but found it countered into a hangman's clutch by Hero. Barreta made it to the ropes and the two headed outside for a WWN favourite: an exchange of blows on the apron. Barreta got the last word on that with a double stomp.
'Trentylocks' trash talked the champ about being fat and his former tag partner Claudio Castsgnoli (heeeeeey!!) being at WrestleMania, which earned him a punch in the mouth. The pair swapped strikes, 'The Knockout Artist' ultimately getting the upper hand with a big boot. A power bomb attempt was countered into a Dudebuster for a two count. Barreta scored with a hurricanrana but seconds later found himself on the receiving end of a rolling elbow. He kicked out of that at two so Hero went for his Death Blow elbow. Barreta ducked and the referee took it instead.
Barreta snuck in a low blow before The Premier Athlete Brand strolled to the ring to lend a hand to their stablemate. Hero took some flying moves before avoiding a splash from Mr A and sending Nese and Konley packing. A rolling boot to Mr A got a solid reaction from the crowd but allowed Barreta to sneak in a running knee for a convincing false finish. Not done with the cheating Barreta stuck some brass knuckles in his knee pad and tried for another knee but was met with a big boot and a leg drop, providing another convincing false finish.
Giving us one falsie too many Hero managed to survive a blow from the loaded kneepad (a better name for the move would be Murray's Kiss as Barreta has a picture of Bill Murray on his kneepad). Barreta attempted a springboard manoeuvre but was met with kicks and a rolling elbow to finally end the match at just under half an hour. Fittingly, it was the best offering of the night, although it must be said that the show as a whole was far from a must-see affair. The second half of the show was very good but there was nothing that had to be seen on the first half. Still, as the opening card to a weekend filled with wrestling I think EVOLVE 28 was as good as it needed to be.