The theme of 2014 for Gabe Sapolsky’s EVOLVE and Dragon Gate USA seems to be unfortunate last minute changes. They were scheduled to have CIMA appear at Open the Ultimate Gate and Mercury Rising in New Orleans (the two shows held over WrestleMania weekend, likely the biggest cards the promotions will put on all year) but he was pulled due to an injury. A couple of months earlier Roderick Strong’s debut had to be postponed after a neck scare he suffered on an ROH show kept him from competing. The trend continued here with Johnny Gargano being forced onto the sidelines after suffering a jaw injury at EVOLVE 29.
He’d originally been announced to face Rich Swann in an I Quit match. Frankly that match didn’t hold much appeal for me as I’m not at all invested in the Swann character. I don’t care about him gaining retribution on Gargano, the man who selfishly turned his back on him. The line-up rejig was not the negative that it could have been, for me at least. While I was disappointed Gargano had been pulled (for completely understandable reasons) it’s not like I was missing out on a match I’d specifically been desperate to see. In fact I think the main event that replaced it, a six man tag, was probably better than the I Quit offering would’ve been.
But I’m not EVOLVE’s sole audience. As such they’re probably going to reschedule the Gargano-Swann meeting. When they do I hope a stronger undercard is put together than the one that would have supported the match here. Swann and Gargano both have their followings but I don’t think they’re big enough names to attract a sizeable audience without strong support from the rest of the roster.
This ties in to what I wrote in the EVOLVE 29 write-up (read that here). Sapolsky should be expanding the roster and aggressively building new top line acts. If he’s left with his current batch of guys for much longer the company’s fan base can only shrink.
EVOLVE 30 kicked off with Caleb Konley v AR Fox. You could be forgiven for thinking that Fox being in the opener means a packed show. He's one of the promotion's top talents and seeing him wrestle outside of the top two or three matches on a show is noteworthy. Sadly it just meant Sapolsky wanted to kick the show off on a strong note. You can't blame him, but it did mean an opener that was better than much of the card that followed. That’s never an ideal situation.
Fox got in his usual spots. The crowd was mostly in his corner, although one very vocal Caleb Konley fan was in attendance. There was a snug dive over the top rope from Fox and an impressive double stomp from Konley on the apron. In the ring Fox got plenty of hang time on a Swanton and later performed a textbook 450 splash. The latter was met with knees, which gave Konley an opening to perform a small package for the win.
That marked the Premier boy's second singles victory in a row over 'The Whole Foxin' Show'. The first win was at EVOLVE 28. It was not, as Lenny Leonard pointed out on commentary, a decisive win but it was clean. If this is Gabe’s way of elevating Konley I’m all for it: he’s a good wrestler with and interesting look but lacking the proportions that make a move to WWE or TNA likely in the near future. That’s exactly the sort of guy EVOLVE needs: a talented dude unlikely to move on.
Match two pitted Ryan Rush (me neither...) against Blake Edward Belakus. During the course of the match we were told that Rush was from the New York area and had come up with Curt Hawkins (which means he's a contemporary of EVOLVE regulars Trent Baretta and Anthony Nese too, although that wasn’t acknowledged). That might endear him to you or it might put you off him. The choice is yours.
The match was wrestled at a steady pace and didn't last long. Belakus won with his Bad Wolf slam but Rush got time to work in a bit of offence before he lost, including a tasty Doctor bomb. I reiterate my desire from the EVOLVE 29 review for BEB to be a guy Gabe has plans for.
Josh Alexander v Tim Donst followed that. They were a little uncertain in places but got a good stretch of time to play with and produced a fine match. Alexander won with the most devalued move in independent wrestling, the Tombstone piledriver.
After that Lenny Leonard clambered into the ring for an interview with Ivelisse Velez. Instead of the SHINE champion he got Larry Dallas. As he had the night before Dallas said he'd been there since day one (maybe he should change his name to Larry Briscoe) and said that the fans wanted him to get his job back. They were close to evenly split in their response. These Dallas interruptions will continue for a while yet. He strikes me as a cheap hire and the payoff to it, whatever it is, can be held off pretty much indefinitely. It’s almost a case of the longer the better. Almost.
Ivelisse came out and talked about Christina Von Eerie. Specifically she called her a bitch for jumping her from behind the night before. C Von E answered a challenge to go to the ring and the two had a brawl. After several attempted they were separated by two referees.
Next up was Ethan Page (here's as good a place as any to say he puts me in mind of Bobby Roode, for no reason I can put my finger on). He was facing Jigsaw and Chuck Taylor in a three-way match. It was short and never really seemed to get going going. The three men didn't really mesh and there was no story behind the match. Triple threat matches, more than any other multi-man matches, benefit from having a reason to exist. That's my view anyway. Jigsaw won with a double stomp on Chucky T, with Page being trapped in a tree of woe and unable to make the save.
The show got back on track with an appearance from The Colony, challenging the Bravado brothers for the Open the United Gate championship. The audience was into The Colony in a big way. There were some Bravado bandwagoners in the audience too. At this point that's to be expected. The Bravados are a solid act.
Within a few minutes of the opening bell Fire Ant had been shoved into a ring post by Moose. Referee Brandon Toley sent the former footballer backstage, saying he'd strip the champs of the titles if he didn't leave. That still didn't create a completely fair environment as the Bravados spent several minutes trying to yank off Green Ant's mask (a DQ in CHIKARA, fact fans). After finding himself isolated for a few minutes Green Ant managed to make a tag.
Fire Ant took a Chaos Theory German suplex. Green Ant and Lancelot traded blows. Green Ant got the better of that and followed up with a strange version of the Michinoku driver for two. Harlem came in with a Superman punch (not that this should need saying but it was not as impressive as when performed by Roman Reigns). A double team attempt from the challengers backfired when Harlem gave Fire Ant an exploder suplex onto Green Ant.
A blockbuster to Fire Ant was followed by the buckle bomb-enziguri combo from the Bravados. A second attempt at that was reversed into a pin by Fire Ant but only got two. A double super kick sent the champions out of the ring, setting up a suicide dive and a top rope body block. Seconds later Fire Ant dove again as Green Ant hit a top rope splash. He applied the CHIKARA Special but Lance escaped by tinkering with his mask. A jackknife pin didn't put Green Ant down but a Gentlemen's Agreement did. It was a very good match but didn't exactly establish the champions as a team that can win fairly when they choose to. It could have done without Moose at ringside, and that would have been a good decision: the Bravados could be switched babyface fairly easily and would have a programme with The Premier Athlete Brand waiting for them.
Speaking of the Brand the second half opened with Anthony Nese, Mr A and Su Yung walking to the ring. Nese berated Mr A for his recent blunders. Not just happy with dishing out a telling off Nese called Moose up the ring and set up a big man match between the two bodyguards.
They punched and slapped each other. A got the better of that and shoved Moose around the ring for a while. He even busted out his spinning heel kick. I think he's proud of it, he uses it at every opportunity. Moose regained control by dodging a charge into the corner. He followed up with splashes and a shoulder tackle then got flattened with a spinebuster. Moments later they were back on their feet and Mr A fell to a spear. The match was better than I expected. It was pleasing to see the fans get behind Moose. He's yet another guy they could turn into something.
After that loss Konley and Baretta strolled to the ring. Then Su Yung ordered Mr A back to the locker room. He looked upset. Nese took a turn on the mic, telling Rich Swann to get his "stupid black ass" to the ring. The fans got on Nese for that as Lenny Leonard issued an apology. I’ve no idea why Nese said it, beyond a desire to get some cheap heat. Whatever his reasoning it wasn’t cool. And if he did desire some cheap heat it was a stupid move: there weren’t enough people in attendance to whip into a frenzy no matter what he said or did.
Swann had AR Fox and Uhaa Nation in his corner, for what that’s worth. It took an age for the match to get going. The pair were more interested in working the crowd than locking up. In fairness they were good at it and the audience enjoyed it.
When they did start they set a fast pace. Nese performed a stalling suplex, cartwheeled off the apron and dropped Swann head first on the apron. Seconds later he hit a double rotation back drop. Swann came back with a tumbling frog splash. A phoenix splash missed, and a kick attempt got turned into a pump handle power bomb by Nese. Swann hit a DDT into a dragon sleeper. Nese powered out and dropped Swann with an emerald Flowsion variant. Nese went for his one arm buckle bomb but Swann slipped out, kicked him in the head and gave him a frog splash. Seconds later he got in the one arm buckle bomb after catching Swann during a handspring attempt. A knee in the corner and a 450 splash later and Nese got the one-two-three.
Up next was the third and final Premier Athlete Brand challenge. What that was hadn't actually been elaborated on, although it had been referenced during each Premier Athlete Brand match. The lack of information strikes me as a bit of an oversight from Lenny Leonard. Anyway, it was the final PAB member Trent Baretta facing Uhaa Nation.
Baretta took a drop kick from Uhaa and went for a breather outside. Back in the ring Baretta gave Uhaa a hip toss and slapped on an arm bar. Uhaa powered up and gave the PAB member an electric chair drop. He followed that with a distinctly un-face-like water bottle shot. 'Trentylocks' regained control with drop kicks. Uhaa nailed a German suplex trio then moonsaulted onto Baretta at ringside. Back in the ring he got a two count from a top rope splash. Baretta snuck in a tornado DDT for a two count of his own.
Uhaa used the deadlift suplex from the apron that Michael Elgin frequently (as in, every match frequently) uses. Baretta rocked Uhaa with a dragon suplex. Trent’s running knee was countered into a triple power bomb, with the kick out deserving a stronger reaction than it got: it was a good near fall. There was another seconds later, Baretta slipping out of a military press to perform a reverse hurricanrana. Uhaa then belly-to-bellied Baretta on the apron.
‘The One Man Nation’ tried a top rope move of some sort but got caught with a German suplex. A Dudebuster seemed like it was going to finish Nation off but Uhaa escaped. Another running knee was avoided and then Trent was flattened with the Uhaa Combination, finally ending a very good match.
Konley and Nese immediately slid into the ring to give Uhaa a kicking. They wanted an advantage before the six man tag main event, pitting the Brand against Fox, Nation and Swann. It was fought under anything goes rules and started with the faces bringing ladders out to the ring. It got wild in a hurry, everyone using the ladders to great effect. Swann hit a tumbling splash onto a ladder. Uhaa electric chair dropped Fox onto a ladder propped in the corner. Fox leapfrogged (sort of) a ladder on the outside to hit a high senton. It all looked very painful. It probably was.
Getting more furniture involved, Fox drop kicked a chair into Konley’s face from the top rope. Uhaa tried his Combination but ended up moonsaulting onto a ladder after Baretta moved. Konley baseball slid a ladder into Fox's personal area. Swann bent a ladder by hip tossing Nese onto it. Perhaps the spot of the match was Fox going for a springboard and being met with a drop kick that sent him flying onto a ladder perched between the ring and the guardrail. Neglecting to sell it, he was back seconds later to give Konley a Van Daminator.
Nese was flapjacked onto a pile of chairs by Uhaa. The faces stuck a ladder between two chairs, with Nese taking a power bomb onto it. After that a standing 450 from Rich Swann was enough to put him down for three, ending an entertaining stunt brawl.
The challenge was tied at two a piece, ultimately rendering it pointless, surely? The faces posed themselves off air and the fans seemed happy enough. But as I’ve written several times across these two EVOLVE reviews, that’s not going to be the case indefinitely. Reasons to keep coming back need to be given. That means elevating new stars and coming up with some compelling long term storylines. Good luck with that Gabe. You’re going to need it running the light schedule you do!