All preliminary matches have a ten-minute time limit. Timothy Barr and Trevin Adams are on commentary for them.
DOMINIC GARRINI vs. CRAIG MITCHELL - no rating, perfect for what it was
I feel bad rating this as a match because it wasn't quite a squash, but it was an extremely short match that told a simple story perfectly. That story is that Garrini's submissions are extremely dangerous and he will waste jno time going for them. They started off with Garrini going for his armbar but Mitchell got to the ropes. Mitchell then hit a move, then a took a while hitting a moonsault, then he wasted time yet again and before he could try whatever he was about to do, Garrini managed to knock him back into a rear naked choke but Mitchell got to the ropes. Then Garrini hit his "Mighty Mouse" German Suplex into an armbar combo and Mitchell tapped out immediately.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. The End, who are currently feuding with Catchpoint (whose manager, Stokely Hathaway, employs Garrini as his personal bodyguard), came out to attack Garrini. We were told that the reason no one from Catchpoint came out to make the save was because they're not at the building yet (because it's only the preliminary matches so they decided to stay at their hotel and do some more strategizing for their matches tonight). The End also attacked Mitchell simply because he was there, but the main focus of their dastardly attack was Garrini.
MATT KNICKS & STEVIE FIERCE vs. BRADON WATTS & STEPHEN WOLF - 4.25/10
Each babyface had one rather rough spot (Wolf slipped and crotched himself trying to do a Lucha rope-walk thing, and Watts pretty much completely missed his opponent while trying a diving Fame-asser. The story of this match was that Stevie Fierce wasn't taking things seriously enough... and then his team two really cool-looking moves and got the win. That was pretty unexpected.
JASON KINCAID vs. JAREK 1-20 (w/"His Lovely Assistant Candy Cartwright") - 6.5/10
I love that the graphic actually refers to Candy Cartwright as Jarek's "lovely assistant." These graphics never explain to you that someone on the outside it the wrestler's manager or bodyguard or valet or tag team partner or significant other or whatnot, so it makes the fact that they do it here feel even more like they're explaining the joke, but because of the not-quite-over-the-top way that Candy plays the part, it actually fits perfectly and makes the whole thing more funny.
Jason Kincaid is usually on the main cards, but the story is that he lost last night so he got demoted because, of his poor record recently (he has only won one match in his last seven). I liked this for several reasons. First, it makes it clear that losses have real consequences for the wrestlers and tells us that this is not a one-way street. These preliminary matches are going to see which new talents will get to the main roster, but that getting to the main roster does not mean you will stay there. That being said, Kincaid still feels like a main roster guy, and thus getting to face him makes this feel like an even more important match for Jarek than it otherwise would. It also creates a situation where Kincaid can be given a win while the up-and-coming can still come out of his loss stronger than he was going in.
Or Gabe could keep Jarek looking even stronger by having them go to a draw. I didn't see that finish coming, either. Kincaid had just locked on his Compassionate Release submission hold- which has gotten him the win every time he has managed to lock it on with the exception of Evolve 95 when Priscilla Kelly raked his eyes to break it up- when time expired. In addition to the frustration of having the certain win but having time expire, Kincaid also had to deal with the frustration of having his friendly, respectful offer for a post-match handshake rebuffed by Jarek, but he did a disappointingly good job of keeping his composure and grabbing his meditation beads necklace thing and not snapping. This was a frustrating de-escalation from last night. It's been a year! I want to see this guy snap and go to his dark place already!
The only other thing here that I didn't like was Kincaid, whose entire gimmick has been one of Eastern spiritualism, came out decked in Christmas-themed gear. It felt very un-Jason Kincaid.
Lenny Leonard and Ron Niemi are on commentary now.
ANTHONY HENRY & JAMES DRAKE vs. KYLE THE BEAST & SHANE MERCER - 6.5/10
A good, solid win for Drake & Henry over the newcomers, who I definitely think we'll be seeing on the main show again after this showing.
DJ Z vs. A.R. FOX (w/his Hype Train) - 6.75/10
These guys had a very good match built around the simple idea of building up to some big high-flying move or another. Fox picked up another win, so he will likely be getting that shot he wants at Keith Lee's WWN Title sooner rather than later, while this loss makes DJ Z 0-4 in EVOLVE, with his future seeming to be up in the air.
WINNER GETS TO BOOK ANY ONE MATCH THEY WANT IN 2018:
Darby Allin vs. Keith Lee vs. Tracy Williams (w/Stokely Hathaway) - 7/10
Darby Allin and Tracy Williams got tired of the fans basking in Keith Lee's glory and attacked him almost simultaneously to start off the match. The story of this match was essentially the smaller guys trying to find a way to neutralize Lee's size advantage, first by working together against him, then, when that didn't work by Williams just trying to go after Darby, and eventually Williams trying to keep him on the mat and beat him with the crossface. They did a spot where Lee superplexed Williams while also landing on Darby Allin. Upon seeing this, Lenny Leonard had the same exact first thought as me, which was that Lee "must have broke every rib in Darby Allin's body." From that point on we didn't see Darby again until the finish, when he broke up Williams' crossface on Lee with a top rope senton, then quickly pinned Williams to earn himself the right to book any one match he wants in 2018, which seems like the perfect way for Darby to get that Evolve World Title shot he's been wanting since the end of the Ethan Page feud.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. Stokely Hathaway got into the ring and started yelling at Lee... until Lee got to his feet and then Stokely became very scared. Williams grabbed Lee from behind and they had an exchange of forearms which Lee won. This once again left Stokely alone with Lee (Lenny Leonard reminded us that Stoekly's bodyguard, Dominic Garrini, had been taken out by The End earlier) until Jaka came out to help Stokely. Lee knocked him down with a lariat.
Then Chris Dickinson came out (presumably from the crowd like last night because he's "suspended from all wrestling activity", although we didn't see it because the camera was focused on the stuff happening in the ring), grabbed Lee from behind, and hit him with a German Suplex. Williams and Jaka then managed to get Lee up onto Jaka's shoulders so Jaka & Dickinson could put Lee down with the Death Trap. Stokely then cut a promo saying that Catchpoint is the greatest faction in EVOLVE history and he will once again be managing the Evolve World Champion after Jaka defeats Zack Sabre Jr. later tonight. During Stokely's whole speech, Williams was doing things like stepping on Lee's hand, and Stokely gave Lee a few stomps before leaving. After intermission, Lenny Leonard would inform us that due to getting involved tonight despite his suspension, Chris Dickinson has been ejected from the building.
FIP WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Fred Yehi(c) vs. Austin Theory (w/Priscilla Kelly) - 7.25/10
Justin Barrasso from Sports Illustrated joined Lenny and Ron in the booth for this match. He was mostly fine, aside from telling a story about how Priscilla Kelly got into wrestling that is one of those stories that we don't need to hear and I think takes away from the mysteriousness of the character when we do (the story is that her fandom of wrestling began when her autistic brother bought an Undertaker action figure mistakenly thinking it was a pirate).
Yehi worked over Theory's midsection while Theory tried to win with his atrociously-named "Theory KO" (it's a TKO). Yehi seemed to have things won after a lungblower but Priscilla Kelly put Theory's leg on ropes. Yehi then got distracted with Kelly, allowing Theory to take over and get some good nearfalls, including finally hitting the Theory KO. Yehi managed to kick out of the Theory KO so Theory had to come up with a new finisher to beat him and win the title, ending the longest rein the FIP World Heavyweight Title's history.
Much like Jason Kincaid before he won a Style Battle earlier this year, Theory was definitely in a spot where he needed to win something, and the FIP World Heavyweight Title was a fine something for him to win. It wasn't really helping Yehi much anymore, and the consequences of switching the title are minimal with FIP not having run since early August and not seeming to have any plans to run in the near future, either. It's just a little surprising that Gabe would give Theory a championship just one night after William Regal told him that he needed to win a championship to get on his radar and really stand out. Normally Gabe would turn this sort of thing into a nice long journey, but I guess giving the heel Theory the win right away gives him something to brag about and use to argue that he's better than everyone else.
NO ROPES BREAKS MATCH:
Matt Riddle vs. WALTER - 7/10
This wasn't originally scheduled as a No Rope Breaks match but Riddle suggested it be one (saying he thinks it's "the future of this business," so we know Gabe is really high on this) and WALTER said okay. The announcers pushed that this might give Riddle an advantage because of his experience in UFC, where the cage doesn't break a hold but you are allowed to kick off of it to help you escape. Riddle did that at a key moment last night against Fred Yehi, and also did so against WALTER tonight, flipping out of a Gojira Clutch and quickly turning it into some Danielson-style elbows, then repeatedly forearming WALTER in the face when WALTER tried to slip through the ropes to escape, causing the referee to award Riddle the match via referee stoppage.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT -Good. Riddle wants to shake WALTER's hand but WALTER decides he would rather kick Riddle in the face. He then threw his ice pack down onto Riddle and stormed off, so it looks like one of PROGRESS' big feuds of 2017 will be coming to EVOLVE in 2018.
EVOLVE WORLD TITLE MATCH:
Zack Sabre Jr.(c) vs. Jaka (w/Stokely Hathaway) - 8.75/10
Wow. A bit of shoving on some otherwise clean breaks on lock-ups that wound up in the ropes and these guys had me believing that they wanted to kill each other. This definitely felt more like a fight than a wrestling match, with both guys often going straight for the kill and pretty much just beating the sh*t out of each other, trying to rip each other's limbs off, or trying to choke each other out. Zack did many sickening things to Jaka's knee, and Jaka sold it well... until he had to go on offense and then his selling wasn't so great. I think they had a similar problem in one of their other matches against each other in EVOLVE this year, so this is definitely a part of his game that Jaka needs to work on.
At one point Jaka rolled to the outside and his tag team partner Chris Dickinson showed up, despite having been ejected from the building earlier. Dickinson fired Jaka up like only Chris Dickinson can, and he stayed at ringside for the remainder of the match without anyone trying to remove him. I would normally dislike this, but I was actually kind of fine with it here. Despite being heels, I don't ever recall seeing anyone from Catchpoint interfere in a match so Dickinson wasn't a risk to interfere, and, in fact, trying to remove him if he didn't want to leave probably would have been more likely to cause a commotion and distract at least one of the wrestlers than just letting him stay. That being said, he should face some sort of disciple for this, like a fine or something. He needs to learn to obey EVOLVE management's orders.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. Zack gave Jaka a totally unnecessary stomp to the back after the match, although it is entirely plausible that he didn't mean to do so and Jaka just unknowingly rolled into the way of Zack was stepping after getting up after releasing the winning submission hold. Chris Dickinson seems to think it was on purpose, though, as he started to go after Zack but was calmed down by a referee. Dickinson then went to check on Jaka. This whole thing might well have even just been a shoot accident, but I figured I'd mention it here just in case it wasn't.
The real meat of this post-match segment was The End coming out and attacking Catchpoint. Stokely ran away and Jaka had already been helped out of the ring leaving Dickinson alone in the ring. He actually hit big moves on both Parrow and Odinson before Drennan nailed him with a chairshot. Tracy Williams came out to help but got nailed with a chair, then shoved off the apron into the barricade. Jaka tried to get involved but was felled by a chairshot to his injured knee. Drennan then hit Jaka's knee with the chair a bunch more times while Odinson and Parrow made Dickinson watch.
They let Dickinson go and he immediately went over to check on Jaka so The End started to walk off... only for Dickinson to dive onto them. They brawled backstage, with Williams following closely behind. Jaka tried to hobble off under his own power, but Dickinson and Williams came back out to help him.
Another great show from EVOLVE. Last night's show was a little better in the ring, but tonight's show definitely felt like a show that really signified things moving forward (well... maybe not in the Kincaid angle, but at least there it was a different way of showing things not moving as quickly as I would like rather than doing the same thing over and over). Whatever is going on with this No Rope Breaks match gimmick of Riddle's (Ultra-Pure Title?) definitely seems to be something Gabe is invested in, and Zack has once again showed why he deserves to be the champion by having the Match of the Night. The End's attacks are doing a great job of keeping Catchpoint in an interesting tweener roll where they shift back and forth depending on who they're in the ring with at the moment, but it's getting a little silly that these guys are always backstage and yet are never booked in matches.
This was supposed to be a weekend of change for EVOLVE, and while we did get some big shifts in storylines, the most up front change was the change in the structuring of the cards, which I think was an excellent idea. EVOLVE is basically running their own developmental system right in front of our eyes, and the fact that main roster wrestlers can get demoted means that its presence will always serve as a reminder that every loss has consequences.