EVOLVE 79 (Review)

Timothy Thatcher defends his EVOLVE Championship against Zack Sabre Jr. Drew Galloway and Matt Riddle’s hot feud finally sees both men face each other in a sanctioned match, whilst Ethan Page and Darby Allin look to settle their own rivalry…

Jason Kincaid
(Winner: ACH, via pinfall)

Anthony Henry
Austin Theory
Chris Dickinson
Fred Yehi
(Winner: Chris Dickinson, via pinfall)

Jeff Cobb
(Winner: Jeff Cobb, via pinfall)

Keith Lee
Tracy Williams
(Winner: Keith Lee, via pinfall)

Darby Allin
Ethan Page (with The Gatekeepers)
(Winner: Ethan Page, via pinfall)

Matt Riddle
Drew Galloway
(Winner: Matt Riddle, via referee stoppage)

Timothy Thatcher (C) (with Stokely Hathaway)
Zack Sabre Jr.
(EVOLVE Championship)
(Winner, and new champion: Zack Sabre Jr., via submission)


EVOLVE 79 is perhaps the most enjoyable show from EVOLVE Wrestling in recent memory. With three matches hitting four stars or higher, and others close to that too, the consistency across the card was just incredible.

The weakest entry of the night was the opener, often a sticky point at these EVOLVE shows. They either give us a ‘Match of the Night’ candidate, or a contest which leaves once concerned for the match quality for the whole show. In many ways, Kincaid versus ACH sat somewhere in the middle, although sat a little closer to the latter. I just can’t enjoy Jason Kincaid matches, and it’s possible making me a little bias in my ratings of them, but I don’t like his look and I don’t like his moveset nor ring psychology. For his part, ACH did get a somewhat smoother match out of Kincaid than Ethan Page did at EVOLVE 78, but it was without question the weakest match. Two good spots stuck in my memory though, both with Kincaid on offence, one seeing him hit a dropkick from the stage to the ring, the other being a very slick flip over the ropes into a double stomp on ACH, who was laying on the edge of the ring apron.

The ‘4-Way Freestyle’ was a lively little match, and perhaps would’ve served the show better as a opener. I wasn’t so convinced that Dickinson and Yehi should’ve been forced into being opponents, given they are part of the same stable, despite the teased unrest between the two tag teams that make up that faction. That said, they set the two of them up well, and avoided them having an awful lot of contact with each other.

I thought the work done by Austin Theory and Anthony Henry was great, and both men definitely carried the match for the most part. Henry has been booked incredibly well in EVOLVE Wrestling, always looking talented and competitive. The company clearly see a lot in Henry, and are doing good work with him. Same could be said for Theory too, so has made a very positive impression thus far.

Quite enjoyed the finish, which highlighted the risks of a fatal four way, with Dickinson sneaking the pinfall, whilst Yehi was busy trying to make Henry tap out. For his part, Dickinson is starting to look like a beast, and is so intense right now with his all round presentation. I’m liking his current run, as are the fans attending the shows.

I’ll hold my hands up and say that Jaka and Jeff Cobb absolutely surprised me. Both men put on a match that, at many other shows, would’ve been ‘Match of the Night’. Two big guys, heavyweights, going at it and leaving it all in the ring. From a hanging superplex of the top turnbuckle by Cobb, to an exchange of backwards suplexes in the middle of the ring, they did a wonderful job of presenting themselves as legitimate beasts going to war with each other. Cobb looked more impressive than he has done in recent performances, and Jaka held up his end of things too, having his best EVOLVE match since he took on Drew Gulak at the end of 2016. I’d love to see more matches between these guys, and I really think there’s money in going that route with them both.

On paper, Lee versus Williams looked like it might be a repeat of Lee’s match with Zack Sabre Jr. at EVOLVE 78, especially when you looked at both men stood across from each other in the ring. Williams rocks a similar build and size to ZSJ, whilst Lee is just a mammoth of a man. Their match surprised though, taking on a much different style from what Lee had wrestled with ZSJ only the night before, with Tracy Williams bring an offensive striking style that turned the match into an aggressive and hard-hitting contest.

For his part, instead of just playing the big guy who can squeeze smaller men until they’re all but dead (as he did with ZSJ), Lee brought the hard moves too. Both men gave as good as they got, but in Williams’ case, it was rarely ever enough to get the big man down. In a sickening moment that literally deserved “holy shit” chants (I don’t recall if there were in fact any, mind you!), Lee hit a Spirit Bomb that had Williams bounce back up off the ring surface, perhaps almost “four feet high,” as the commentary described. The match got given a good amount of time, and really just was so much better than you’d have expected going into it. The right man won, and Lee looks unstoppable at the moment.

I’ve made no attempt to hide my dislike for Darby Allin. Like Jason Kincaid, I feel he takes away from the EVOLVE Wrestling product, and I’m absolutely furious that he still has yet to refine his moveset and ring psychology to actually give any of it some real meaning. That said, the build to this match with Ethan page was done well, and the pay off was a treat too.

There was a nice coffin drop from Allin to the outside taking out Page and the Gatekeepers, although I did think the crowd slightly oversold how good it was. I imagine it probably looked pretty sweet live though, to be fair. Brutal press slam delivered from Page, where he threw him from the stage into the ring post. From that point on, it was mostly all Page, especially after he handcuffed his opponents hands behind his back.

The match went longer than I expected, after the ‘cuffs came out, but there were some nice spots with them. I genuinely don’t know how Allin didn’t break his wrists with some of them, so I commend him for genuinely putting his wellbeing on the line. The obligatory fight back, whilst handcuffed, was done well until Page finally put the match away, and stuffed Allin in a body bag to take him away. Yes, you read that right, and it was awesome. EVOLVE should do more angles like that. Not surprisingly, Page declared after the match that he was coming for the EVOLVE Championship, which is something I’ve been expecting since 2016, as his heel run certainly seems to be headed towards a title stint.

Riddle and Galloway finally had their grudge match, and it was good, but on a card that had already blown me away with the quality of some of its matches, this contest between two of the biggest names on the independent scene just didn’t really stand out. On a weaker show, it would probably be a decent main event, but not here. Not at EVOLVE 79.

The finish was a nice touch, with the referee stopping the match due to Galloway being unable to defend himself. It’s obviously left the feud open, given Galloway can claim the referee made the decision too soon, and after the beatdown Galloway gave Riddle after the match, you have to assume we are going to get Galloway/Riddle again soon (which it has since been confirmed that we are).

Enjoyed the segment after the match, with Riddle rubbing Yehi and Williams the wrong way when he dismissed their changes of winning the upcoming WWN Championship match that they will both feature in on 1st April 2017. Yehi laid down the challenge of a match, and I dare say this probably means Riddle won’t be a welcome member of their group any more.

The main event was an interesting one, as in the early minutes I genuinely thought that it was not going to hit the heights of some of the other matches on the card. There seemed to be a little bit of time before both men really gelled, but when they did, the contest got very good. The problem, for me, is that ZSJ’s matches don’t always appeal to my mood. He’s absolutely incredible with his technical and submission wrestling, but at times I just want a main event where the two men go to war with each other. Given this was to be Thatcher’s final match as EVOLVE Champion, a nice little brawl would’ve made it a more memorable affair, but I do admit that there’s something rather fitting about him having lost the title in a genuine wrestling contest.

The crowd were hot throughout, and when it looked like Thatcher might’ve been headed for another successful title defence, they really got behind ZSJ. When he finally locked Thatcher in his final submission hold, and just started kicking Thatcher’s head at the same time, the crowd was ready to explode as they knew what was coming. Thatcher soon submitted, making Zack Sabre Jr. the new EVOLVE Champion, following Thatcher’s 596-day reign.

EVOLVE tradition was ignored, when Ethan Page attacked ZSJ, meaning Thatcher wasn’t able to hand the victor his championship, as is tradition in the company. Instead, Thatcher threw it down, and left ZSJ to be beaten down by Page. I would’ve ended the show there, personally, but ACH was soon out to save the day and declare that he wants a title match against ZSJ, which the new champion accepted. A happy ending, but maybe it should’ve been saved for the live audience, not the television feed?

All in all, a really good show, which delivered some top matches and was the most enjoyable EVOLVE has been in a while. Their arena setup in New York is the best they have, and makes the show look legitimate, so I hope they can start giving their shows a similar look when they are travelling around the country, as it really adds a lot to the presentation when it is allowed to look so good on TV.

Match of the Night

Keith Lee vs. Tracy Williams

EVOLVE 79 Rating



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