It’s tough coming up with introductory paragraphs sometimes. This is one of those times. So let’s just go with the facts. EVOLVE 35 took place at the hub of culture that is the Brooklyn Lyceum on September 14. It took place the night after EVOLVE 34. It featured an unbroadcast (“dark” for those of us who love our “insider jargon”) in which Jesus De Leon beat Donovan Dijak and Shynron. And I’ve only heard of one of those three men before writing that sentence.
Phew! That’s the opening sorted. Let’s get on with the recap.
For the second night in a row babyface Johnny Gargano kicked things off. Also babyface (even though he heelishly attacked Chuck Taylor to break up The Gentlemen's Club) but slightly less popular Drew Gulak was his opponent. The match was a bit of a slow starter, mostly due to the pair's decision to do more mat wrestling than features in the average Gargano match, but it was an interesting change. Once they got going it was a rewarding watch and showed 'The Whole Shebang's' versatility (not that seeing that a wrestler can do things you didn’t know they could necessarily makes a match worth watching). Gargano got the submission win with the Regal stretch.
Su Yung and Mr A rocked up after that to tell Gargano his win over Anthony Nese the previous evening was a fluke. Oh, and that there would be consequences if Gargano helped Rich Swann out again. Gargano tapped out Mr A with the Gargano Escape before retreating as Konley and Nese appeared.
Newcomer Tracy Williams faced Timothy Thatcher in match number two. They matched up nicely, Williams seeming happy to go with Thatcher's blend of joint work and striking. Thatcher was clearly the more popular of the two but Williams made a good first impression. If the roster were to be further fleshed out with guys working the submission style he'd be a fine fit. Thatcher won with a butterfly suplex followed by a Fujiwara armbar.
Match three saw Roderick Strong take on EVOLVE champion Drew Galloway. Despite his promise to be a fighting champion Drew did not put the title on the line. He acknowledged this before the match (after being introduced as Drew McIntyre by Heather Lynn), saying that he respected Strong and wanted to defend the title against him. The referee told him he wasn't allowed to defend the title because it would mess with EVOLVE's new rankings system. It seemed pretty clear this was designed to irritate the crowd, and it worked.
The match started when Roddy jumped Drew to try and get an early win (which, for the record, is how Galloway’s bout the previous evening began). It didn't work, obvs, but it did give the match a much-appreciated brisk start. They brawled around the ring. Strong did some apron-assisted back breaker stuff. Galloway channelled Sheamus, most notably with the ten punched in the ropes spot (which I personally can’t stand). Strong took control with a belly-to-back suplex and began stretching the champ. Galloway surprised him with a Sick kick and a tilt-a-whirl back breaker, moves usually in the Roddy play book.
They exchanged strikes and no-sell techniques before Galloway scored a spinebuster power bomb. Strong came back from that to hit a superplex, running strikes in the corner and an Olympic slam. Galloway survived that and the gutbuster that followed, then grabbed the ropes when he was placed in the Stronghold.
Galloway powered out of the Gibson driver and blasted Strong with a buckle bomb and a lariat. The cradle Tombstone piledriver that he hit after that could, and probably should, have been the finish. Not because what followed was bad, but because the Tombstone is one of the most legitimate match-ending moves you can use. Instead Strong kicked out and got a second Sick kick and a Gibson driver. Galloway kicked out so Strong hit him with another. That was kicked out of too. After they’d exchanged some elbow strikes Galloway used the Sick kick again. Then he got his double arm DDT for the win.
After the match the two shook hands before Strong grabbed the title belt and smacked Galloway with it. It's possible it was the beginning of something significant but not definite. Roddy's character is pretty well established as a guy who does stuff like this from time to time. It doesn't have to mean anything so it probably doesn’t.
Biff Busick versus Zack Sabre Jr looked like something of an awkward prospect on paper. Sabre Jr wrestles a very junior heavyweight style and Busick goes in for the American strong style more than anything else. Happily they worked well with one another. They took the route of hold exchanges, submission holds and occasional strike flurries and high spots that we'd seen in the first two matches of the card but set a brisker pace doing it. Busick won after Sabre Jr passed out in the rear naked choke, but not before he'd managed to escape it a few times. Other highlights of the match were a wonderful high angle kimura and a would "soccer" kick from Sabre Jr and a particularly impressive snap dragon suplex from Busick.
An Open the United Gate championship match followed that. Harlem and Lancelot Bravado defended against AR Fox and Rich Swann and The Premier Athlete Brand unit of Anthony Nese and Caleb Konley. Not that this was the advertised match. Fox cashed-in his "any title match at any time" clause to add himself added to the match alongside Swann. He said something about earning a shot at the Open the Freedom Gate title at a later date but I couldn't make out specifics because of the poor audio system. Just to make things worse Fox then broke the microphone.
It would be unfair to call the match a spot-fest because there was psychology on display. It was very heavy on big spots though. I’ll concentrate on them. Fox hit a series of dives onto all of his opponents. Swann tried to do the same but got caught by Moose, who power bombed him into Fox. Swann was isolated and worked over by heel teams. After a couple of minutes he fought them off with a pair of Lethal Injections. Moments after that he scored a Springboard Codebreaker before being given the buckle bomb-enziguri combo move by the Bravados.
Harlem tried to German suplex Nese but ‘The Premier Athlete’ landed on his feet and gave the champion a double stomp. The action moved to the apron, where Harlem recovered and gave Konley off the apron onto Nese. From there everyone brawled awkwardly to a spot beneath a gantry so that AR Fox could do a “balcony” dive. The audience loved it. I thought it was good, but I would like to point out that it’s not 1999 anymore. Guys shouldn’t be doing such risky moves in front of small crowds. If it’s going to be done do it on a bigger show.
The first team eliminated were the Bravados when Fox got a rollup as they tried to give him the Gentlemen’s Agreement (which I’m aware sounds filthy but whatevs). Naturally the brothers were unhappy with that turn of events so they attacked Fox and successfully gave him the Agreement, while the Brand gave Swann a kicking outside the ring. Moose stepped in the way of the Brand getting their hands on the Bravados but got smashed with a spinning heel kick by Mr A.
The Bravados finally left and Fox sold the “mugging” for a bit. Swann kicked out of Nese’s one arm buckle bomb and Konley's Death Valley bomb so they gave him a double team move: a pump handle (Nese) and neck breaker (Konley) at the same time. Obviously Swann had to kick out of that too. Because he’s just so darn resilient.
Su Yung chose that moment to provide a distraction, tottering up onto the apron and shouting at Swann. She ended up taking an enziguri intended for Nese.
Konley halted a Lo Mein Pain attempt on Nese and took out Fox with an insane Death Valley bomb onto the apron. Nese then got a 450 on Swann for the win and the titles, ending a great match.
The crowd chanted "EVOLVE" after the match. I thought that was a nice touch. It's not a promotion that gets the name chant treatment all too often.
The main event saw Ricochet defend the Open the Freedom Gate championship against Uhaa Nation. After some stalling and posing the match got underway with Uhaa quickly grabbing the initiative, the story being that he not only had the obvious size and strength advantage but also the speed advantage. He hit a very high back body drop, a belly-to-belly, and a gut wrench before slapping on a sleeper to tire ricochet out early. Ricochet avoided the moonsault to the outside and hit the challenger with a springboard Shooting Star Press then began targeting his leg.
Several minutes passed before Nation managed to fire back properly. After a clothesline and a big(ger) boot he flattened Ric' with a cross body from the second rope and then floored him with a spinebuster. He missed a corner splash allowing Ricochet to attempt a Benadryller. He wasn't strong enough so he gave Uhaa an Ace crusher and a standing 450 instead.
Moments later a Ricochet springboard attempt was halted by an enziguri. He followed that up by suplexing the champ from the apron back into the ring via the second rope. Because power!
Ricochet slipped out of gorilla press and went for the Regalplex. Uhaa escaped and German suplexed Ricochet, who landed on his feet and got a northern lights suplex and a brainbuster then a top rope SSP for two. He once again tried the Benadryller. This time he managed to pick Uhaa up but found the kick to the head blocked. Uhaa fired back with two power bombs, a pop-up and a sitdown, for two. Scooping Ricochet up he started the Uhaa combination but Ricochet pulled him down to the mat and applied a leg submission before he could finish the sequence. Uhaa got to the ropes and the pair returned to their feet to trade punches and uppercuts.
Ricochet faked a super kick, causing Uhaa to cover his head (something which tends to annoy me because guys never got to block super kicks). The created an opening for Ricochet to kick Uhaa's knee, but Uhaa stayed on his feet and grabbed Ricochet for a Tombstone. Uhaa went for a splash. Ricochet rolled away, dropped him with an enziguri and rushed to the top rope. There he hit a 630 splash to retain the championship.
After the match, which was a belter, Uhaa handed the title to Ricochet and they slapped hands. Ricochet cut a show-closing promo which was incredibly muffled. The gist seemed to be that we should carry on buying iPPVs and going to shows. Fair enough.
EVOLVE 35 (and 34 for that matter) continued the trend of rejigging, elevating new names and preparing things for future events. Of particular note on that last point was the conflict between The Premier Athlete Brand and Johnny Gargano, which I suspect will come to head at the WrestleMania weekend shows, perhaps in a tag title match pitting The Brand against Gargano and Swann. It will also be interesting to see where the whole thing with the referees being zealous about adhering to rankings system goes.
Overall, it was another successful weekend for EVOLVE.
Results summary:Johnny Gargano def Drew Gulak
Timothy Thatcher def Tracy Williams
Drew Galloway def Roderick Strong
Biff Busick def Zack Sabre Jr
The Premier Athlete Brand def The Bravados and Rich Swann and AR Fox for the Open the United Gate championship
Ricochet def Uhaa Nation