Lenny Leonard told us that this section of the show would be three matches featuring guys who aren't full members of the roster yet, each with a ten-minute time limit. We'll then have a short intermission before we'll get on to the main show with the big matches.
We know Lenny Leonard is in the building, but Timothy Barr and Trevin Adams are doing commentary (at least for the first part of the show).
DOMINIC GARRINI vs. JOEY LYNCH - 5/10
This was all action, but it needed to be with the ten minute time limit. Garrini has squashed everyone he has faced in EVOLVE in a matter of seconds, but Lynch got some real, sustained offense on him, which immediately made Lynch feel important. Garrini won with his "Mighty Mouse" German Suplex into an armbar combo, which got the immediate submission, keeping the lethal feeling of Garrini's armbar alive. They got some very well-deserve chants of "PLEASE COME BACK!"
KYLE THE BEAST & SHANE MERCER vs. STEVIE FIERCE & MATT KNICKS - squash.
This was a squash that went on a little bit longer than it was entertaining for. The reason it went on longer, I think, was so they could give Fierce and Knicks opportunities to show their goofiness, which they were criticized for on commentary after their loss. If that was the idea then at least there was a purpose to it going long, but that doesn't mean it didn't still feel like it dragged.
STEPHEN WOLF vs. JAREK 1-20 (w/Candy Cartwright) - 5.5/10
A good showing from both guys. The fans were very into Jaerk, by which I mean they were into him as a heel and wanted him to go away. He's a magician, so they chanted for him to "DISAPPEAR!" Candy Cartwright is his "lovely assistant" and she was fantastic on the outside, squealing with bubbly delight whenever he did anything, and breathing an exaggerated sigh of relief whenever he kicked out of a pin. Jarek posed for the crowd rather than helping Candy down from the apron after celebrating his victory, which drew the crowd's condemnation, but Candy insisted to them that it was okay.
These matches were all solid and got over the people who needed to get over while still giving the losers in the non-squashes enough to feel like they deserve another look. The only problem was the commentary, which was fine... except for whenever they would plug WWN seminars, which they would often plug by talking up someone from a WWN seminar "appearing" (read as: jobbing) on NXT. It felt like these plugs were outside of kayfabe and directed to any workers who might be watching rather than the usual in-kayfabe commentary intended for fans watching the show, and thus it pulled me out of the kayfabe mood.
Lenny Leonard and Ron Niemi are on commentary now.
ZACK SABRE JR. PROMO - He thanks the fans for their support, notes that he has beaten everyone they have thrown at him and promises to end the year as champion. He says that the company is looking for its "next generation" of stars, but no one is a star here until they prove themselves by beating him.
ZACK SABRE JR. vs. DJ Z - 8.25/10
This was one hell of a way to start the show! Zack dominated DJ Z on the mat and worked over his arm and tied him up in all sorts of knots and DJ Z just would not quit. Then he even managed to make a comeback and so help me G-d they had me believing that the Evolve World Champion was going to lose to a guy who has spent most of the past four years as a one-note clown in TNA. DJ Z earned the crowd's respect here and he earned my respect to the point where I was extremely disappointed that Zack Sabre Jr. didn't seem willing to show him any after the match.
JASON KINCAID vs. A.R. FOX (w/Leon Ruff & some other people) - 7/10
Fox has a posse with him. Leon Ruff has his name on his shirt and I know he's an A.R. Fox trainee, and the rest of these people dress like exactly what I imagine an A.R. Fox trainee dress look like, so I'm just going to assume that they're all students of his. The female with him is I guess his wife, based on the last name. At least I really hope she's his wife because his sister shouldn't touch him like that.
Lenny Leonard referred to these people as A.R. Fox's "hype train." He also correctly noted that the lifestyles of these two wrestlers are "polar opposites."
These guys had a great high-flying match in which they used their general demeanor to highlight the differences between them (Kincaid being calm and centered, Fox being boisterous). Fox picked up the win, but the crowd was mostly behind Kincaid and let him know that they appreciated his effort.
DARBY ALLIN vs. AUSTIN THEORY (w/Priscilla Kelly) - 7/10
Theory worked over Darby's mid-section after taking advantage of one of his high-risk moves. They had an excellent false finish on the Theory KO which got everyone in the building (and me at home) to bite on it. Darby eventually got the win with his "Gibson Leg Lock" roll-up thing.
Handing Theory only his second loss since taking Priscilla Kelly on as with manager in the middle of this year. Speaking of Priscilla Kelly, she deserves a lot of credit for her work on the outside. She is wonderfully expressive. It might seem over the top for most others, but everything she does feels perfectly in-keeping with her character in my opinion.
JASON KINCAID CONFRONTS AUSTIN THEORY - Mostly bad. Jason Kincaid, whose character is that of a follower of a generic Eastern spirituality, all of a sudden started to recite aggressive slam poetry, mostly directed at Kincaid. This was not only just plain bad, but Kincaid's delivery felt way too much like someone who is trying way too hard to make something more dramatic than it needed to be. Priscilla Kelly jumped on him from behind, which was supposed to be a heel move, but it's exactly what I would have done in her place because I was so sick of this poetry crap. Kincaid got her off of him but she hit him with a dropkick. Kincaid was about to snap but eventually found his grounding. Theory got in Kincaid's face and dared him to hit him. Kincaid threw a punch but Kelly ran in the way and Kincaid managed to pull his punch just in time to not hit her, then ran to the back to get away from them so he wouldn't snap. This was mostly a poorly-executed segment, but it does have me convinced that tomorrow night will be the night when Kincaid finally snaps, which is a moment I've been waiting all year to see.
EVOLVE WORLD TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Catchpoint (Tracy Williams & Jaka)(c) (w/Stokely Hathaway) vs. James Drake & Anthony Henry - 6.5/10
Tracy Williams is defending the belts with Jaka here instead of Chris Dickinson because Dickinson got suspended for his post-match attack on one of the Ugly Ducklings after The End refused to come out and fight Catchpoint at the last show.
These guys had a match that was going along fine until The End ran out with a chair and attacked Catchpoint. This whole thing was really just set-up for the...
BIG POST-MATCH BRAWL - Very good. Chris Dickinson had been sitting incognito in the crowd, and so when The End attacked Catchpoint, he took his chair, hopped the barricade, and attacked them. This resulted in a big three-way post-match brawl that spilled out into the crowd, with The End coming out on top.
NO ROPE BREAKS MATCH:
Matt Riddle vs. Fred Yehi - 7.75/10
Riddle interrupted the referee's final rundown of the rules to insist that "the rules mean that the ropes won't be able to save Yehi tonight" and that Riddle would be able to "stomp his ass" at will. Riddle has definitely felt a little heelish over the past few shows, and this continues that trend. Yehi responded that if Riddle wants to make this a fight (instead of a friendly wrestling match), he'll make it a fight.
Apparently liking symmetry, the fans chanted for Yehi to take his shoes off and wrestle barefoot like Riddle does, and Yehi obliged. This was another GREAT match, and I thought they did a very good job of making the stips matter but also just doing regular stuff so that it didn't feel like everything was being forced to play into the stipulation. The post-match show of respect was an unexpected treat.
WWN TITLE MATCH:
Keith Lee(c) vs. WALTER - 7.5/10
Stokely Hathaway briefly came out to watch this match from the aisle. Lenny Leonard speculated that Stokely feels that WALTER "stole" Timothy Thatcher from him because back at EVOLVE 91 WALTER appeared in the aisle and Thatcher suddenly told Stokely "I have to go" and left EVOLVE (based on where he has worked since then- i.e. nowhere outside of Europe- my suspicion is that this had something to do with visa issues). It has been announced, however, that he will be back next month, so hopefully we'll get some movement on this then.
The match itself was the expected fun hoss fight, with the added twist of WALTER being WALTER meaning that we actually had one guy looking for submissions rather than just big dudes doing power stuff. WALTER worked over Lee's arm but Lee was able to both avoid the Gojira Clutch and fight through the pain in his arm to make a big comeback and retain his title. Despite all of the great stuff they did, I have to confess that my two favorite spots in the match were the opening spot where they just worked a simple headlock for a while, and their rendition of the usual "tackle, drop-down, leapfrog, dropkick" spot, simply because of how cool their large sizes made it all seem. Especially the headlock. I once heard someone (I think it was Jim Cornette but I'm not sure) in a shoot interview mention that you can get a headlock over as a dangerous submission hold if you give it to someone like Mark Henry and then tell everyone else not to do it, and while it's easy to understand the concept behind that, seeing it in action is something different. This headlock didn't feel like a rest hold or a preliminary technical wrestling spot during the "feeling out process" portion of the story. This felt like a dangerous hold that Keith Lee needed to work his way out of as soon as possible.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. A.R. Fox and his "hype train" came out. Fox cut a promo running down his championship history in the WWN and said that it was his "destiny" to win the WWN Championship as well. He and his crew all got into the ring. One of them attacked Lee from behind but Lee basically no-sold it and took the guy out. The others started to attack one-by-one like really dumb AI and got destroyed. Finally it was just Fox and his hopefully-wife-rather-than-sister left and she gladly allowed herself to be a human shield to protect Fox from Lee. The posse started to leave, so Lee grabbed Leon Ruff, who was the one guy remaining in the ring and was setting up to toss him onto the rest of them but the others pulled him to safety. Right before they saved him, Ron Niemi referred to him as a "sacrificial lamb," so we can add him to the list of wrestling announcers who are smarter than Taz.
KEITH LEE PROMO - Good babyface promo. He declared himself now the WWN "World" Champion due to defending his belt overseas last month. He then transitioned it into the big babyface "thanks for coming and supporting us" show-closing promo, but because he's Keith Lee somehow telling us all that we could continue to bask in his glory constitutes a babyface thing to do. But it works for him.
This a GREAT show from EVOLVE. We were told to expect changes to the style of the show tonight, and what we got definitely felt like an improvement on what we had been getting. I really liked the way they did the preliminaries, as it gives a kayfabe reason for those matches to be short, but one which functions as a kind of non-kayfabe excuse for these guys to not feel like chumps when they lose short matches. Separating the prelims from the other stuff also helped the "main" show feel like it was returning to the all-killer, no filler" set-up that had worked so well for them in the past that they felt like they had moved away from in the middle of this year, and the establishment of DJ Z, Fox's seeming heel turn, the inclusion of Drake & Henry into the Catchpoint vs. The End feud, and the announcement of Thatcher's return (as well as what might be the beginning of WALTER becoming a regular member of the roster) makes it feel like things are changing in the promotion, but without the feeling of any sort of forced major "WE'RE GOING IN A NEW DIRECTION NOW!" type of thing that was part of what hurt this year's FIP reboot. Hopefully tomorrow night's show gives us more of the same.