The show starts with Lenny Leonard welcoming us to Queens. Already in the ring with Lenny are a bunch of people, including his broadcast partner Ron Niemi, Stokely Hathaway, Dominic Garrini, Catchpoint, and another wrestler who I don't recognize. Almost immediately, Stokely cuts Lenny off and tells him that he will take over from here. Stokely runs down the card for us, hyping up matches such as Tracy Williams taking on "the dumbest former member of Catchpoint because he turned down my offer to manage him, Fred Yehi" and Jaka vs. "your Evolve World Champion- not mine- Zack Sabre Jr." Upon Stokely asking him, the unknown wrestler identifies himself as "Rayo," and he will be facing Stokely's new personal bodyguard, Dominic Garrini, and that match is scheduled for first on the card (which explains why all of these guys were already out here), so let's get down to...
RAYO vs. DOMINIC GARRINI (w/Stokely Hathaway & Catchpoint) - great squash
Garrini floored Rayo with a huge running knee, powered him down twice, then made him tap to a Kimura in about twenty seconds.
Never one to be patient, Chris Dickinson decided that he wanted his match to be next so he demanded his opponent come out and fight him right now. His wish was granted, so we got...
JASON KINCAID vs. CHRIS DICKINSON (w/Stokely Hathaway, Dominic Garrini, & Catchpoint) - 6.75/10
You might remember from last month's infamous leaked e-mail that Gabe had said he had been talking with Chris Dickinson, who was advocating that the wrestlers challenge themselves to change things up a bit in all of their matches. Well Mr. Dickinson sure put his money where his mouth is, as that was on full display here. There was a lot of stuff from both guys (though especially Dickinson) that was new, but managed to feel like something that wrestler would normally do (rather than feeling like someone changing up their entire style for the sake of changing up their style), and the match was certainly more enjoyable for it.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - A message saying "The End" showed up on the... Gabe-and-Sal-Tron?... and then Drennan, Parrow, & Odinson from FIP and ACW ran out and beat up both Dickinson and Kincaid. The rest of Catchpoint seems to have mysteriously disappeared. Maybe they left during the match while I wasn't looking, or maybe they got taken out and I didn't notice it. Either way, they weren't there to help their teammate. Music played for pretty much the whole beat-down. I honestly don't know if it was the attackers' music or if it was still Dickinson's.
So this obviously solves the mystery (or at least part of it) as to what those "The End" videos were about. If they absolutely had to bring in some guys from another WWN promotion, these three, Sami Callihan, and Jason Cade would have been my top choices, but aside from Sami, I don't think there is really anyone from another WWN promotion that I actually want to see in EVOLVE so we'll see how this goes.
BRANDON WATTS vs. AUSTIN THEORY (w/Priscilla Kelly) - 5.75/10
This was one of those matches where going in you knew that Watts had no chance, but they gave him just enough at just the right times to make you start to doubt that assumption.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - The End ran out and went to attack both guys but Theory shoved Watts at them and ran away so he got away unharmed while Watts got destroyed.
DARBY ALLIN vs. JAREK 1:20 - 6.75/10
It's always nice to know that your thoughts are totally aligned with those of the announcers because it means that you are grasping the stories being told exactly as the booker wants you to. In this case, my reaction to seeing Jarek 1:20 come out was to groan and say "not this dork again" after his appearances last month consisted of him doing magic tricks and annoying Fred Yehi and Darby Allin. The announcers then let me know that they felt the same way. Then the match started and Jarek showed that he has what it takes to go in EVOLVE and both myself and the announcers were expressing the opinion that it was a mistake to write this guy off based on what he did last month.
This match was a slower-paced version of the sort of very athletic style you'd see out of a Ricochet or a Will Ospreay, but instead of lots of flips and dives they were just impressing the hell out of me with their ability to use their athleticism to counter their opponent's moves. Also, Darby Allin did a crazy suicide dive where he nailed Jarek in the back of the head and somehow managed to land in a roll on the wooden stage that was maybe a foot in front of Jarek. Later, he tried a dive from the apron to said stage but Jarek countered it with a superkick, and Darby landed ribs-first on the edge of the stage before falling to the floor (thankfully he was okay). Even with this new focus on technical wrestling (he again won with the Gibson Leg Lock), Darby Allin will still always be Darby Allin.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. The End came out again, but Darby was ready for them, knocking one of them off the apron when he tried to climb up. Then Darby climbed to the top turnbuckle and went for the Coffin Drop but Parrow caught him and ran him face-first into the ringpost. Then he powerbombed Darby onto some unfold chairs on the stage. That's how high and far he threw him.
Then The End started to beat up some ring attendants or something. Some referees tried to stop things but Drennan hit them with a chair, which should be some sort of suspension, based on established precedent. I like that all of these post-match attacks have been made to feel slightly different.
FRED YEHI vs. TRACY WILLIAMS (w/Stokely Hathaway & Dominic Garrini) - 6.5/10
They did some stuff and it was fun for a while, but the finish (involving a distraction by Stokely, Yehi going after Stokely but Garrini pulling him to safety, and then Williams using this distraction to snap the rope into Yehi's neck before hitting a lariat and winning with a guillotine choke) felt like it came way too soon... and this has been the longest match of the night so far, clocking in at just under a mere eleven and a half minutes.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Jaka ran out and cut an angry promo on The End, telling them that he wants revenge for them attacking his tag team partner, so if they want to fight, they should come out and fight Catchpoint right now, when it will be a fair three-on-three fight. The End did not show up because they're cowards. Instead, Jaka's scheduled opponent, the Evolve World Champion Zack Sabre Jr. came out, so we moved on to...
ZACK SABRE JR. vs. JAKA (w/Stokely Hathaway, Dominic Garrini, & Tracy Williams) - 7.5/10
Both Tracy Williams (who Zack defends his title against tomorrow night) and Jaka got in Zack's face as soon as he stepped through the ropes. The referee separated them but Jaka jumped Zack as he was taking his jacket off in the corner, and that got us underway. This was an extremely intense match, almost a brawl in some ways, with the usual submission wrestling you'd expect to see from these two mixed in. Jaka used his power to overcome Zack's technical prowess and picked up the win over the Evolve World Champion in this non-title match. Stokely and Jaka celebrated while Tracy Williams got in Zack's face to do some trash-talking.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Priscilla Kelly came out, stroked Zack's chest, then walked away.
RIDDLE VS. LEE VIDEO PACKAGE - Great! I bring this up not because EVOLVE's video packages usually aren't great (they are) but because putting one in the middle of the show is a rather new thing for EVOLVE. Usually they all air right before the show.
LAST MAN STANDING MATCH FOR THE WWN TITLE:
Matt Riddle(c) vs. Keith Lee - 8.25/10
This was a very light on the sort of big, crazy bumps you'd expect from a Last Man Standing Match in some other promotion, but in EVOLVE, where such bumps are rare, it worked very well. Without those bumps they had to rely on their in-ring storytelling, which is something EVOLVE excels at, and this match was no different. Here they told the story of two men who were determined not to lose this match, and yet who were both cocky enough to make mistakes that almost cost them the match multiple times. It was Lee who came out on top (despite taking a very scary Fisherman's Buster on the apron, right on his head), winning his first singles title in a major indy promotion.
KEITH LEE PROMO - A great, emotional babyface "I just won the title!" promo.
This was a pretty disappointing show from EVOLVE. All of the hype heading into this weekend was that it was going to be a weekend of change, but while we did get a major title change and the start of a big angle in The End attacking people, this really didn't feel that much different from any other show. In fact, it felt like a regular EVOLVE show but worse, due to the lack of a full crew (ACH, James Drake, and Anthony Henry were not here, plus it is the first show without Ethan Page), and due to the short length of the matches (and, consequently, of the show itself, which didn't even make it to the two hour mark). It felt like the EVOLVE version of what today's ROH has become. Gabe has earned my trust so I am going certainly not going to give up on the promotion, but I was definitely greatly disappointed by this show. Hopefully tomorrow night's show will be better.