An almost year-long rivalry comes to a head, as Darby Allin and Ethan Page clash under no disqualification rules. Catch Point continues to implode, as Fred Yehi faces Matt Riddle. EVOLVE Champion, Zack Sabre Jr., seeks revenge as he faces Michael Elgin following Elgin’s attack on him at EVOLVE 80…
Zack Sabre Jr.
(Winner via pinfall: Zack Sabre Jr.)
(Winner via pinfall: Drew Galloway)
(Winner via pinfall: Keith Lee)
Timothy Thatcher (with Stokely Hathaway)
(Winner via pinfall: ACH)
Jason Kincaid, Sammy Guevara & Austin Theory
Tracy Williams, Chris Dickinson & Jaka (“Catch Point”)
(Winners via pinfall: Catch Point)
(Winner by referee stoppage: Fred Yehi)
Ethan Page (with The Gatekeepers)
“Anything Goes” Match
(Winner via pinfall: Darby Allin)
If there’s one thing I could ever accuse EVOLVE Wrestling of being, it’s inconsistent. Sometimes the promotion has given us superb shows, and other times it does such a good job at building a show, that the show itself fails to live up to expectations. I’ve yet to see a bad show from EVOLVE, but I have come out of several shows feeling underwhelmed. EVOLVE 81 was one of those occasions.
There’s no denying that the card for this show was strong. Several matches were booked that would’ve main evented any other EVOLVE show, but being that 81 took place over Wrestlemania Weekend, the card needed to be stacked from top to bottom, and it was. Even Zack Sabre Jr., current reigning EVOLVE Champion, only opened the show.
That match was against Michael Elgin, and followed on from Elgin’s attack on Sabre Jr. at the end of EVOLVE 80. Their match was a clash of styles, with Sabre Jr. utilising his technical skills, but struggling against the size and strength of Elgin. The crowd weren’t too into this one, but assuming they had also been at the PROGRESS: Orlando show a little while earlier, they were probably just taking some time to get their energy back.
Some nice spots in this opener, such as Sabre Jr. using his teeth on the ropes to force a rope break, and when an attempted triangle submission by Sabre Jr. on the top turnbuckle resulted in Elgin slamming him down hard onto the mat. The current EVOLVE Champion took the win via a sneaky roll up, and continues his run of victories, but the match didn’t set the world alight in this writers opinion. Some nice build afterwards though, suggesting a Sabre Jr./Lio Rush title match was in the company’s immediate future.
Before that though, Rush had to beat Drew Galloway, which he surprisingly failed to do. Drew needed the win as he headed into the first ever WWN Championship match at Mercury Rising 2017, but given the pre-match promo from Rush, you’d have assumed he might have been protected a bit more here. It was a good, hard-hitting match, and the crowd were really into it. Galloway’s win did make sense, but Rush maybe needed a bit more legitimacy behind him to back up his title talk.
Donovan Dijak and Keith Lee put on one of the finest matches I have ever seen from two big men, and that was partly due to the fact they didn’t wrestle like two big men at all. As was noted on commentary at one point, this match-up wouldn’t have been out of place in WWE’s 2016 Cruiserweight Classic tournament. Both men showed athletic ability that defied their size, and the crowd were into it from the start. There were too many spots to mention, but the ending sequence was a particular highlight, with both men flipping out of chokeslam attempts, before Lee hit the Spirit Bomb for the three count. From an athleticism perspective, this was superb, but I was crying out for a bit more psychology to move it away from just being a spotfest. At this point, it’s getting hard to ignore the fact that Keith Lee is having arguably the best matches in EVOLVE currently, or certainly the best run of matches anyway.
Timothy Thatcher continues to try to rebound from his title defeat to Zack Sabre Jr., this time taking on ACH. For me, this one never quite got going, which is disappointing given the two talents involved. More disappointing though, was that Thatcher lost. He’s clearly no longer protected by “champion booking,” but I didn’t expect to see him lose so soon after his defeat to Sabre Jr.
Catch Point versus Kincaid, Guevara and Theory, was another that failed to really get going. Given Chris Dickinson has been on a roll recently, and Tracy Williams seems to pull superb matches out of the bag every so often, I had expected a bit more here. It did eventually come to life, but I’d argue that was more due to what Kincaid, Guevara and Theory brought to the table, more so than Catch Point. Dissension was teased yet again within the ranks of Catch Point, as we head toward the inevitable EVOLVE Tag Team Championship match between Dickinson and Jaka, and the current reigning champions.
Speaking of Catch Point, we finally got the Yehi/Riddle match that I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time. Frustratingly, like a lot of the later matches on this card, it just didn’t do it for me. Riddle comes with some serious hype behind him, and it’s not for no reason, but I’ve yet to see him consistently put on matches that steal the show. Even when he has, you could argue that it was due in large part to his opponent. It could be that I am being overly harsh here, but with the talent of both men, and the way this match had been hyped on previous shows, I’d just expected a bit more energy and pace to their battle. That Yehi won due to Riddle passing out was just nuts too, but it’s good to see some variety in the finishes!
The main event was Darby Allin against Ethan Page. Anyone who has read my thoughts on Darby Allin previously knows that I’m not his biggest fan, so when I realised he was main eventing this show, I did feel a hint of disappointment. He lacks psychology, and just looks like he’s putting on a gymnastics routine at times. There’s talent there, but until he connects the dots, I just won’t be able to take him seriously as a viable star. With all that said, his feud with Ethan Page has been building for months, and was probably the hottest feud going into this show, so arguably deserved the top spot on the show.
I can confirm that this was Allin’s best match in EVOLVE Wrestling, but it wasn’t without its flaws. Allin spent the majority of the match being the victim of some brutal offense from Page, and both men took part in some spots that really stole the show. Honestly, I was surprised at just how much I was enjoying it, given I have no real love for Allin, until the final five minutes of the match came about, and suddenly I was shaking my head.
Austin Theory getting involved seemed unnecessary, and given he’s still a new talent in the company, him interfering in the main event really went down like a lead balloon with the crowd. He hasn’t earned the right for that spot yet, and the pop that should come with it. Even worse was the fact that, after taking an absolute beating that should have easily beaten a man of his size, Allin was able to get the victory over Page with barely a fraction of the offense that Page had got in on him. It made Page look weak, and whilst I get that this is sometimes the price of a heel/babyface feud, it just didn’t sit right with me that Allin could win after everything that had been done to him. We’re talking John Cena levels of comeback here, except Allin is probably not even 25% the size of Cena.
All in all, it wasn’t a bad show, but it could’ve done so much more. I don’t know if some of the matches were purposely slowed down due to the talents being booked for numerous shows over the weekend this was put on, but something was missing in many of the matches.
That said, if you’re a wrestling fan, you should go out of your way to watch Keith Lee versus Donovan Dijack, and Darby Allin versus Ethan Page. Out of seven matches, I’m adamant that everyone should see two, so I suppose that does defend the quality of the show in many regards. I just wanted more from what was a great card on paper. Call me greedy, perhaps!
Match of the Night
Donovan Dijak vs. Keith Lee
EVOLVE 81 Overall Rating