The third and final show of EVOLVE’s August reboot weekend, subtitled Evolution’s End as a nod to the company’s new direction, was held in an open area behind a bar. Murals of various pop culture characters (including Ren and Stimpy, George Jetson, and the Koopa Kids) from yesteryear, a wasp, and Ganesha were daubed on the walls, and instead of the concrete of a rec centre or small arena the ground was dirt and stones. I say this not to belittle EVOLVE 33 but to try and paint the most accurate picture possible. It looked like the archetypal indy show.
That’s not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, and certainly not to say that it reflected the quality of the wrestling. What the show made up for in production values it made up for in solid wrestling. And as nobody watches these shows for their excellent production I think that’s fair enough.
Following a pair of short opening matches that saw Trevor Lee and Zane Riley defeat Jason Cade and Aaron Epic and The Juicy Product retain the FIP tag team titles against Dos Ben Dejoes the show proper got underway with Anthony Nese facing Lince Dorado. It was not especially substantial, Nese muscled Dorado around and got the quick win with single leg crab.
After the match Konley told everyone Su Yung was no longer with the Brand (he described her as “an incompetent slut”). Then he called out Chris Hero because he wanted to get their scheduled match out of the way so he and Nese could go partying. That’s how the Premier Athlete Brand rolls.
Hero controlled the match for a few minutes until a Nese distraction allowed Konley to take over with a drop kick. He targeted Hero's arm and gave him some jabs to the face, presumably to look like the disrespectful punk kid. Hero came back with some Misawa styled chops, his release suplex and some boots to the face on the apron. Because Hero loves a boot to the face.
Another Nese distraction allowed Konley to get a spinebuster and a Death Valley bomb. Hero kicked out. He kicked out again following Caleb’s double jump moonsault finisher. Hero then scored with a rolling boot, a rolling elbow, and two Death Blow elbows for the three. Changing things up form the previous two nights Hero headed backstage through the curtain instead of wandering out through the front door. That was presumably because he'd won.
After that the Style Battle Tournament wrapped up with the final two matches. The first was James Raideen and his power moves against Timothy Thatcher and his modern-flavoured British style. There were plenty of elbows on offer too. Raideen got his impressive lariat but couldn't manage the follow up power bomb because of the damage done throughout the bout to his arm. Thatcher countered a second lariat attempt into the Fujiwara armbar for the quick submission win. It was a good way of blending the styles together which, as noted in a previous review, was part of the point of the tournament.
The final round robin match was Biff Busick v Drew Gulak. The story going into the match was that if Gulak could win he’d draw level with Thatcher on points but win the tournament overall due to his victory over Thatcher at EVOLVE 31. Busick, having lost to Thatcher, could win the match but not the tournament, effectively casting him as the spoiler of the tourney for Gulak.
The pair put on a slow, “real fight” type match based around submission attempts and working over joints. It was very good and benefited from good placing on the show, the crowd having been warmed up enough to appreciate a more technical, less flashy contest. Busick won after a backslide after around twenty minutes.
That left Heather Lynn to announce that Busick had won the match but Thatcher had won overall because he'd beaten Busick head-to-head. Thatcher, who had watched from the entrance, celebrated. Busick looked annoyed. Luckily interviewer extraordinaire Joanna Rose was around to delve into the controversy. She told Thatcher he'd put in some tough battles and earned a style battle win. The crowd turned ugly, demanding a deciding match between Thatcher and Busick, which Busick was fully on board with.
Thatcher took measures to calm the crowd, telling them he’d happily have a deciding match at some point but that he wanted to thank people first. That was his opportunity to talk about the stars of EVOLVE’s past, as planned. Among the names he mentioned was Chris Hero. ‘The Knockout Artist’ took exception to this and stormed to the ring, where he told Thatcher he didn’t deserve to say his name because he hadn’t been around long enough. He then handed Thatcher a mic and booted him in the face. Then he shoved a referee and Death Blowed Gulak. Busick stood his crowd and, realising he couldn’t get the jump on him as he had with the other lads, Hero left. This time he walked out through a steel door in the wall that wasn’t shown before or after. The walking out through the front gimmick is excellent and something Hero should do all the time, especially if he can magically summon doors as he seemed to here.
I thought it was a good way of ending the tournament. It got over Thatcher and set up a number of matches for the future for him. It also further the Hero plot. Although he’s not been back to EVOLVE since it seems reasonable to assume he’ll return eventually. When he does he’ll have matches with Gulak and Thatcher waiting for him. Hero versus Thatcher could be particularly good.
EVOLVE champion Drew Galloway versus Open the Freedom Gate champion Ricochet was the semi-main event. They kicked things off with a variety of pinfall attempts and Galloway trying for his double arm DDT. Ricochet escaped that and worked the Scot’s injured leg, going so far as to bust out Jamie Noble’s old Trailer Hitch submission.
Galloway turned things around when he halted a headscissors attempt, slung Ricochet into the corner with a buckle bomb, and then hit a superplex. Ricochet came back with a 360 enziguri. His attempt to dive onto Galloway as Galloway recovered at ringside when he was caught and slung into a wall. Back in the ring ‘The Future of Flight’ slipped out of a supelx and blasted the EVOLVE champ with a Pele kick, a jab to the thigh, a weak-looking Superman punch, a Benadryller and a running Shooting Star press, a combo which only earned him a two count but would have worked as a credible finishing sequence.
Ricochet went for a springboard 450 to a standing Galloway (perhaps he wanted a 450 axe handle smash?) but got clotheslined. Outside the ring Galloway kicked ‘chet in the face and then threw him into a wall. Teasing a heelish attitude Galloway cleared punters out of their chairs and set Ricochet up for a power bomb from the apron. Naturally Ricochet fought out of that because there was no way he was taking a bump onto chairs piled on dirt and gravel. After kicking Drew back into the ring Ricochet connected with a 630 splash for the victory.
After the match Drew put Ricochet and the company over, thanking him for showing him how good he needs to be. Because Drew Galloway is a suck-up promo. That’s what we learned with this weekend of shows.
Then it was time for the Swann v Gargano grudge match. The story behind the feud: both Swann and Gargano were turned away by the DGUSA Japanese competitors when they asked about joining stables. So they, along with Chuck Taylor, formed Ronin and beat a lot of people. Gargano won the Open the Freedom Gate title and went mad during his reign, perceiving Swann as a weakness and turning on him.
The rules were… peculiar. Inside the ring they had to adhere to usual EVOLVE rules, releasing holds on rope breaks, not using weapons, and so. But outside the ring anything was legal. Which meant they could get disqualified for using a weapon in the ring but usually completely legally outside it. While these rules didn’t detract from the quality of the match they didn’t enhance it either. A regular street fight stipulation would have been far less confusing.
Even with the awkward rules it was a satisfying match. There were plenty of outside the ring spots to enjoy: a lawn dart into the wall; Gargano taking a ladder to the groin; Swann hitting Gargano with a bottle (which wasn’t a stunt bottle and came close to overstepping the mark for me, because Gargano could have been badly hurt); Swann lobbing chairs at Gargano; and ‘The Whole Shebang’ hitting a Tombstone piledriver off the commentary stage onto a chair.
In the ring the pair hit their signature spots and wrestled at a breakneck pace. But they were never in there for too long. The story they told was a good story. Gargano wasn't bothered about winning, he wanted to hurt Swann. Swann wanted to overcome Gargano to show he was the better man all along. It was simple and effective and played into their history with one another. Lenny Leonard deserves credit for doing a sterling job of explaining it all on commentary.
There was also a strong finishing sequence. Gargano grabbed a cinder block (this show took place around the time Seth Rollins developed a fondness for caving people’s heads in with crumbly cinder blocks in WWE) and tried to crush Swann’s skull on it with a chair. Swann escaped that and blasted Gargano with a Van Daminator and a piledriver on to the chair. Gargano was propped up on a ladder and Swann dove off the apron with a double stomp, then threw him into the ring and smashed him with a frog splash for the victory.
Su Yung, who had made her way to ringside during the second half of the fight, celebrated with Swann. They shared a kiss and then she swerved on him with a low blow! Yes, it was a setup all along! What a jezebel Su Yung is, bah gawd! The PAB ran out to the ring to beat Swann down. Gargano stood in the entrance, torn as to what to do, but ultimately decided to make the save. He helped send the PAB lads packing and then left.
Joanna Rose got in the ring and asked Swann his thoughts. Which was probably the highlight of her stupidity across the weekend. The man had just been through a tough fight with a man he’d once been friends with and then betrayed by a woman he seemingly had feelings for. Obviously he wasn’t going to feel great after that. I know it’s not Rose’s fault that she was booked to interact with Swann at this point, but she could have found a better way of phrasing the question. Maybe by acknowledging everything he’d just been through?
Anyway, Swann said some stuff about Gargano I couldn't really make out before asking the audience if they thought he deserved an EVOLVE title shot. The crowd chanted “Swann!”, which I’d like to point out wasn’t technically a yes. Then he plugged the next show and left.
Minor niggles aside EVOLVE’s 31 to 33 weekend was top notch. There were a host of highlight matches across the shows and, pleasingly, the three main events were amongst them. It was nice to see newcomers being introduced in a strong fashion and matches being set up for the future too. Overall the weekend can be deemed nothing but a success. Good work on the relaunch, gang.
Trevor Lee and Zane Riley def Jason Cade and Aaron Epic
The Juicy Product def Dos Ben Dejoes
Anthony Nese def Lince Dorado
Chris Hero def Caleb Konley
Timothy Thatcher def James Raideen
Biff Busick def Drew Gulak
Ricochet def Drew Galloway
Rich Swann def Johnny Gargano