By Big Red Machine
From January 22, 2016

Evolve 53 (1/22/2016)- Ybor City, FL

OPENING SEGMENT- EVOLVE Champion Timothy Thatcher comes out and he starts off by explaining that he has a staph infection and can’t wrestle this weekend and he is very sad about it, and during this whole bit, he a very Danielson-esque air of humanity about him that made this all feel very real… because it was.
He then starts talking about people who he either owes title matches to or owes ass-kickings to, including Davey Richards (title shot), Drew Gulak (both), Tracy Williams, TJ Perkins, Matt Riddle, & Chris Hero (ass-kickings, but maybe also title shots).
Caleb Konley comes out with the Premier Athlete Brand and he says he wants a title shot, too. He has been towards the top of the rankings all year, and also he beat Thatcher during the WWN tour of China in late 2014.
Anthony Nese cut a promo saying the PAB will win the tag title tournament. He also got into an argument with a (possibly planted) fan about whether Peter Kaasa is a better athlete than he is. SoCal Val cut a promo saying that her guys would win the tag titles and also that she would make sure that Caleb got a shot at the EVOLVE Title. Andrea stood in front of Thatcher and looked menacing.

EVOLVE TAG TEAM TITLE TOURNAMENT FIRST-ROUND MATCH: The Bravado Brothers vs. The Premier Athlete Brand (w/SoCal Val & Andrea)- 6.75/10
And HOLY SH*T THAT’S AN UPSET! BRM’s pick to win the entire tournament is already eliminated. Like Samoa Joe being the first man eliminated from the first Survival of the Fittest match off of a sunset flip from Colt Cabana, this was a great way to start off this tournament, telling the audience that ANYTHING can happen.

We were told that both of these guys got this booking by impressing WWN officials at the tryout camp this very afternoon. Lenny Leonard also noted that there have been seven wrestlers who have got bookings on EVOLVE shows in 2015 based on their performance at these tryouts… and I don’t quite know what it is, but whenever ROH announcers say something like this, it comes off as a lame shill for their tryout camps, but with Lenny Leonard he sounded more like a real endorsement of the success of these tryout camps than a shill.
The match was very short, but fine for the time it got. Cade came across as a pretty generic high flyer who the crowd seemed to already know and was very into. Coleman has a fun arrogant heel gym-rat bro character. I’d like to see both guys back.

STYLE BATTLE TOURNAMENT MATCH: Peter Kaasa(0-0) vs. Matt Riddle(0-0) (w/Drew Gulak)- 4.25/10
The match was short, but I’m fine with that for Riddle matches. Style-wise, this felt a little weird to me simply because I couldn’t identify which style Kaasa was supposed to be representing. They announcers kept talking about his power, but he seemed to be more of a high flyer to me.

If Ethan Page wants to convince us all that he is turning over a new leaf, he might want to ditch the tights that say “All Ego” on them.
Page got the win because the ref didn’t see Black’s foot on the ropes. When Page noticed this, he ut a promo saying he couldn’t accept a win like this. If Johnny Gargano can change, then Ethan Page can change, too. He said he remembered Gargano restarting a match for “his buddy Chuck Taylor” under similar circumstances, so if Page wants to be “buddies with Johnny Gargano,” he needs to have this match restarted so that he can win the right way. This promo from Page was great because he is saying the right babyface things to make us think he really wants to change, but he still seems to have this obsession with Johnny Gargano which is disconcerting to the point where it makes you wonder if this is all a big ruse.
So the match was restarted, the PJ Black immediately repaid Page for this kindness by rolling him up before he even had a chance to put down the microphone and picking up the win. And then PJ had the audacity to offer Page a handshake afterwards… and Page took it. GREAT booking here by Gabe. It won’t just be Page’s quest to get everyone to accept that he has changed that will be difficult. Page actually changing himself will be difficult as well because, as Lenny Leonard described it “no good deed goes unpunished,” which will create many temptations for Page to face that could lead to him slipping back to his heelish ways.

Remember what I said about how the finish of the opener let us know to throw out all of our previous assumptions about what would happen in this tournament? Well this match was definitely aided by that feeling, and the finish confirmed it, but in a different way than what we got in the opener.

STYLE BATTLE TOURNAMENT MATCH: Tracy Williams(0-0) vs. Fred Yehi(0-0)- 6.75/10
Once again, I find myself completely unable to find the “distinct style” (as Lenny Leonard put it” that one of these competitors (Yehi) is representing.

JOHNNY ISN’T HERE YET- Drew Galloway came out to let everyone know that his partner, Johnny Gargano, isn’t here yet because he was wrestling at the NXT tapings and hasn’t gotten here yet. He asks if it is okay with the fans to switch the match order around and have Hero & End vs. Sabre Jr. & Callihan go on next instead.
Then we had a bit of fun with Drew actually calling Johnny from the middle of the ring and leaving his a message on his voice mail (which included all of the fans chanting for Johnny Wrestling).
Then the “WWN Ambassador” who I assume as some sort of booking power came out and asked the fans if they were okay with switching the match order on the show… which Drew had already done, so this felt kind of redundant, but now it’s official.

EVOLVE TAG TEAM TITLE TOURNAMENT FIRST-ROUND MATCH: Chris Hero & Tommy End vs. Zack Sabre Jr. & Sami Callihan- 9/10
Welcome back to the indies, Sami Callihan. Here’s some kicks to face. And for you, Zack Sabre Jr… well…
Anyway, we have our best non-Tanahashi vs. Okada match of 2016 so far. This was completely sick.

When the announcers talked about that possibility earlier, I figured they were just playing up the kayfabe possibility that he wouldn’t make it because that’s just what you’re supposed to do. It never crossed my mind that he really wouldn’t be able to make it to the show in time.
Drew says he has two options: he can either forfeit the match, or he can fight by himself. Then Ethan Page came out and offered to replace Johnny as Drew’s partner… and even says that if they win, he will give his spot up for Gargano tomorrow night.
And Drew points out all of the things Ethan has done over the past year, as well as the fact that Ethan had offered to be Gargano’s partner at the last show and Gargano had told him to f*ck off and asked Drew to team with him instead… so Drew tells Ethan to f*ck off and says that he’ll fight Team Catchpoint on his own.

EVOLVE TAG TEAM TITLE TOURNAMENT FIRST-ROUND MATCH: Johnny Gargano & Drew Galloway vs. Team Catchpoint (Drew Gulak & TJ Perkins) (w/Matt Riddle & Tracy Williams)- 7.5/10
Drew fought on his own for about ten minutes, most of which consisted of Team Catchpoint picking him apart. Then Gargano showed up and they did stuff and the babyfaces made a comeback and won with Galloway pinning Gulak, which seems like a big mistake to me. Having Galloway tap out wouldn’t hurt Galloway because he fought on his own or so long, and also makes us think that maybe Drew should have taken Page up on his offer.

A great way to kick off the year for EVOLVE. Night one of a three-night tournament can sometimes be hard to sell, and this show was essentially night one of three different tournaments (the Tag Team Title Tournament, the Style Battle, and the Second Chance Tournament for teams that were eliminated from the tag tournament tonight), but between some surprising finishes, intriguing booking, and one fantastic match, EVOLVE made this show feel like a must-see.

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