DARBY ALLIN CALLS OUT TIMOTHY THATCHER - He wants to have their match right now. This was a good way to contrast the current Darby Allin as a man of few words rather than the more talkative Darby we had seen in the Ethan Page feud and while he was recovering from his arm injury. Thatcher answered his call, so we started off the show with...
DARBY ALLIN vs. TIMOTHY THATCHER (w/Stokely Hathaway) - 4.75/10
This one took an interesting turn early on, as after just one or two wrestling sequences Darby went for the Coffin Drop but Thatcher caught in a sleeper hold. Stokely and Thatcher both thought Darby was out so Thatcher dropped him, but as he did Darby got his hand up, and because the ref had never made any sort of signal and never called for the bell, the ref told them the match was still on. As they headed back to the ring, Darby dove onto them, which gave him the advantage, but after a bit Darby's extremely high risk "just throw my body at the other guy with all of the force I can muster behind it" strategy backfired, and Thatcher started to dominate.
I thought that restart bit was going to be used to give Thatcher (& Stokely) something to be angry about when Darby eventually got an upset win by roll-up, but instead the finish was Thatcher using that chicken-wing pin type of thing (that's what they used to call it in SvR, anyway) but the ref determined that Darby had barely gotten his shoulder up after the two count, but this time Thatcher didn't jump the gun and just added on more pressure and the referee counted the three right away. It might seem like Darby got buried here for essentially being pinned for almost six straight seconds, but when you factor in Darby's heavily injured arm and the odd underdog-ish way his character works, I think this was actually a very creative finish, and one that could send Darby's quest to prove he is an EVOLVE-level technical wrestler in two or three different directions.
On commentary, Lenny Leonard hammered home that Darby's arm was a big liability for him, having now cost him both of his matches this weekend.
ETHAN PAGE vs. ACH - No rating, interesting segment. ACH came out looking clearly unhappy about having to wrestle second on the card yet again (and maybe he was even originally scheduled to be the opener). Page came out in a t-shirt and put basketball shorts on once he got to the ring, to mock ACH's (seemingly silly, to me) form of protesting not being booked in a better spot on the card. They goofed around for a bit, but in a way that made sense because these are two guys who are unhappy with the company right now and goofing around before the match is very un-EVOLVE.
They made fun of Ricochet doing The Rock's catchphrase at New Japan last week, though ACH's criticism of ROH for not letting him do it there doesn't seem like much of a criticism if they're saying that no one but The Rock should do it (and that's a sentiment I completely agree with). Lenny Leonard said they were acting like "children" on commentary.
They proceeded to have a match that was a cross between the HBK vs. Triple H European Title match and that CHIKARA comedy spot where one guys "teaches" the other how to do elementary wrestling moves in the middle of the match. The called spots loudly and obviously, never hit each other, and in the process of all of this made fun of the Young Bucks repeated handsprings, El Generico's fake dive and pose spot, the fans, Dave Meltzer (and star ratings in general), the Okada vs. Omega match from Dominion, Jimmy Havoc calling his finisher the "Acid-Rainmaker," strong-style forearm exchanges, DIY, and many other things.
While on the whole I thought this was enjoyable, I do think that it went on a bit too long, and there were definitely some things they said and did that I thought crossed the line by calling attention to things that will definitely lead to suspension of disbelief issues. (For example, at one point ACH went for an "AMERICAN DESTROYER!" which he called very loudly. Page countered it by doing a back body drop, then stuck his hands in his pockets and shouted "I didn't grab his legs because I'm not an idiot!" It was funny, but it was too far, IMO.)
One of the things that made this work that I can't stress the importance of enough was Lenny Leonard's commentary. Rather than playing along with their mockery, Lenny Leonard tried to refute ACH's points about how he felt disrespected by EVOLVE (pointing out that EVOLVE has booked ACH against the top guys in the promotion, saying "maybe you're not in the last match on the show, but you're getting main event-quality opponents") and reiterating to us that these guys are here because they truly are great wrestlers, and that engaging in this sort of mockery is extremely disrespectful. It will be extremely interesting to see the kayfabe fallout from this match.
JON DAVIS vs. JASON KINCAID - 7.5/10
They had a great power vs. speed/agility match in which they did everything they could to make Kincaid the star of the match. Unlike Caleb Konley last night, Jon Davis returns Kincaid's post-match show of respect.
KEITH LEE vs. TRACY WILLIAMS (w/Stokely Hathaway) - no rating, meh segment.
Stokely has a rather showy Catchpoint jacket, which is a very un-Catchpoint thing to have... which is why Tracy Williams hiring Stokely to manage them feels like such a betrayal of their principles.
These two had a big chop and forearm-fest. Neither was doing a good job of listening to the referee when he told them to back off when the other guy was in the corner. Said referee was soon squished between them when he was trying to back Lee up and Williams came charging at them. They brawled to ringside and Catchpoint came out to try to pull Williams off of Lee while the rest of the locker room came out and tried to keep Lee back. After a while Lee seemed to give in but Williams didn't, so most of the guys went over to Williams... and which point Lee slid into the ring, smirked, and then did a big dive onto the pile of everyone. The only guy who seems to have not been hit was Thatcher, who decided to start brawling with Lee. They brawled away, so this match I guess just had no finish.
Meanwhile, Jaka & Dickinson started to get in the faces of Anthony Henry & James Drake, who beat them for the Evolve Tag Team Titles last night. Stokely cut a promo noting that Henry & Drake have an open contract to defend the belts tonight and Dickinson cut a promo calling Henry & Drake's win a fluke, and just when it looked like we were about to get a respectable tag title match, the Rubber Ducky song from Sesame Street started playing and the Ugly Ducklings showed up and Coach Mikey revealed that they had found said open contract lying around backstage and signed it. He then produced the contract (which he had crumpled up in a fanny-pack to verify this claim), so we wound up getting an...
EVOLVE TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Anthony Henry & James Drake(c) (w/Amber Young) vs. Catchpoint (Chris Dickinson & Jaka) (w/Stokely Hathaway) vs. The Ugly Ducklings (w/Coach Mikey) - 6/10
The story of this match was that Catchpoint dominated most of it. Henry and Drake kinda-sorta stole their pin at the end. What happened was that Henry broke up one of Jaka's pins after a big Catchpoint combination and then ducked a Dickinson clothesline and sent him over the top, and with both Catchpoint guys on the floor Henry wiped them out with a dive while Drake moonsaulted the Duckling in the ring for the pin. They did some work of their own to get the win, but I'm sure Catchpoint (especially very angry men like Jaka & Dickinson) will see it as their pin being stolen in a match they completely dominated. Dickinson & Jaka took out their frustrations by beating up the other member of the Ugly Ducklings on the outside a bit while yelling at Drake & Henry.
Despite my earlier misgivings, I will admit that the presence of the Ugly Ducklings worked in this case because I can't see anyone else just finding an open contract lying around backstage and deciding to sign it, and having a third team in this match was necessary for this finish, which does a good job of advancing the budding issue between Catchpoint and Henry & Drake. I just hope to never see goofballs like the Ugly Ducklings in EVOLVE again.
PRISCILLA KELLY PROMO - Good. She says that Austin Theory is not the man we used to know. The old Austin Theory was weak and gullible, but he decided that he didn't want to be a pathetic failure like the fans so he joined up with her and she will make him unstoppable.
TRENT BARETTA vs. AUSTIN THEORY (w/Priscilla Kelly) - 7.5/10
Angry about being hit in nuts after their match last month, Trent charges right at Theory to start things off. His elbow is heavily taped because he had to go to the hospital with an infection and thus missed yesterday's show. We didn't actually get a bell. I'm not quite sure why the ref didn't ring it when they started fighting, as they were both in the ring, but not having a bell allowed them to brawl all over the place and use a weapon or two without any ramifications. Trent dominated most of it until a Priscila Kelly distraction allowed Theory to cut him off.
We did finally get a bell when they wound up back in the ring. They told a bit of a story with the injured elbow, but mostly it was two guys who didn't like each other trying to put the other one down. Theory picked up the clean win for what Lenny Leonard made sure we knew was "the biggest win of his EVOLVE career."
EVOLVE WORLD TITLE MATCH:
Zack Sabre Jr.(c) vs. Fred Yehi - 8/10
Another awesome main event brought to you courtesy of EVOLVE Wrestling and Zack Sabre Jr. There were two stories in this one: 1) Yehi working over Zack's head to soften him up for the Koji Clutch, and Yehi trying to get into Zack's head with some verbal maneuvering. Unfortunately for Fred, neither one worked. Zack cut a short promo putting Yehi over after the match, then let Fred cut the "goodbye. Thanks for coming!" promo because, as he noted, this was a home market for Yehi, although instead of cutting that promo, Yehi cut in which he briefly thanked the fans, but more of the focus was on him vowing to train harder than ever so that next time EVOLVE comes to Georgia he will win.
A very good show from EVOLVE... and yet, shockingly, this was has been the worst EVOLVE show of the year. That means they're having a pretty good year, but it also doesn't change the fact that this is the first EVOLVE show I've seen since I started following them two and half years ago that has felt skippable. You'll enjoy it if you watch it, but you won't really be missing anything if you don't.