Lenny Leonard announces a change to the rules: there are no more count-outs... but the referee does have the authority to disqualify the wrestlers if he thinks things are getting too out of hand or if they are refusing to get back into the ring. So basically we're back to the original ROH rules.
ZACHARY WENTZ vs. A.R. FOX (w/the Skulk) - 6.75/10
There was one point in the match where Fox pretty clearly missed with two kicks but Wentz sold them anyway and it looked horrid. Other than that this was a pretty solid opener. Fox got the win, but they gave Wentz more than enough offense to be able to look strong in defeat against an established top name in the promotion.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Skulk member Tommy Maserati cut a promo in which he first put over Fox, but then said that tonight was about the future of EVOLVE, and that meant guys like him. He put out an open challenge, so we then got...
JOSH BRIGGS vs. TOMMY MASERATI (w/A.R. Fox & the Skulk) - excellent squash.
Briggs is a MONSTER. He quickly squashed Maserati, then left. Fox and his Skulk all laughed at Maseratil, but then helped him to the back to show that he was still one of their own.
STOKELY HATHAWAY PROMO - Great. There were two key points to this promo. The first was Stokely telling Tracy that Catchpoint no longer stands for the things Tracy thought it stood for; it now stands for "whatever I want it to stand for." Stokely also rubbed it in Tracy's face that he controlled Catchpoint not because he gave a crap about the ideals or history behind it but simply because "it's worth money." This part of Stokely's promo got some great heat.
The second point of Stokely's promo was that Tracy's match against Dominic Garrini would now be under "Catchpoint Rules" (which I guess Stokely can do because he controls both men's contracts?). Catchpoint Rules are the exact same as the old ROH "Pure Wrestling" rules which Gabe himself created when he was booking ROH. This got me quite excited, as I always loved Pure Rules and have always hoped someone would bring the gimmick back. I also liked the way Stokely taking this entirely unrelated ruleset and now using the Catchpoint name as a brand for it plays into his line about Catchpoint now being whatever Stokely wants it to mean, regardless of whatever history may exist.
Garrini then hopped into the ring for the...
CATCHPOINT RULES MATCH:
Tracy Williams vs. Dominic Garrini (w/Stokely Hathaway) - 6.75/10
The first words we heard out of Lenny Leonard's mouth were him musing about how these "Catchpoint Rules" sound very familiar but he just can't put his finger on where he has heard them before. I thought this was a very smart thing to do, as it makes sure that everyone watching understands that they are in no way attempting to pass this off as a new concept.
Garrini got into the ring and went right to the middle of the ring to do the Catchpoint salute, infuriating Williams into charging at him and attacking him from behind to start things off. Basically this was every time that someone offers the Young Bucks a Too Sweet knowing that the Bucks aren't allowed to return it, except in this case 1) the person doing it actually has a real reason to be a dick 2) the person doing it is a heel rather than in the Bucks' matches where anyone who is opposing them, be they babyface, heel, or even their own stablemates will do it, 3) the fans booed because they were actually angry at the heel for what he had done rather than being angry that WWE won't let them see the Young Bucks do a hand gesture, and 4) Tracy reacted with actual emotion, as opposed to the usual bemused expression the Bucks have because they know that the whole purpose of that happening in their matches is to set up a superkick spot where thy get to be the ones who look good in the end.
Garrini got Williams in a submission early on and Tracy instinctively used the ropes to break it, then (after Garrini had disengaged) realized what he had done and looked very annoyed with himself. The new wrinkle on the Pure Rules here isn't in the rules but in Stokely, as I don't remember anyone who engaged in Pure Title matches on a regular basis having a manager to cause distractions for him so he could get away with throwing a closed fist punch to the face without the referee seeing it.
Now that I've waxed poetically about how happy I am to see Pure Rules returning, I have to say that I was disappointed in this match. It was a very good match, but the gimmick didn't really come into play that much. It wasn't relevant to the finish at all, each guy only used one rope break, and I don't think we ever even saw a referee give someone a warning for the closed first to the face. As far as establishing this new gimmick and the effect it can have on matches, this match did a rather poor job of that.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Fine. Tracy Williams tried to go after Stokely Hathaway after the match but Chris Dickinson & Jaka got in the way. Tracy dove onto them but realized Stokekly had already escaped, so he quickly retreated back to the ring and dared them to come at him. Dickinson looked like he might take Tracy up on the offer but he backed down. That was very un-Dickinson-like at first glance, but Dickinson wasn't really in his usual rage either and wasn't the offended party here, so I'll allow it.
TEAM FREELANCE WRESTLING (Matt Knicks, Chris Castro, & Isaias Velazquez) vs. TEAM WILDKAT SPORTS (Bu Ku Dao, J. Spade, & Johnny Flex) (w/Natalya Markova) - 2/10
A mostly dull tag team match with the occasional break for stupid comedy where the heels thought a jacket would give them super-strength. The crowd was into it because the guys from their local promotion were the good guys, but the fact that I was watching an EVOLVE show and getting an interpromotional match between wrestlers from two other promotions felt very out of place... and that was before the match started. Once it did, pretty much everyone was acting like an over the top cartoon character (especially the heels), which is just so very un-EVOLVE. My assumption is that they were using the Freelance promoter's license for this show so they threw him a bone by booking his guys, and they probably used Luke Hawx's promoter's license for all of Mania weekend and so they threw him a bone by booking his guys on this show, too. I understand why it was on here, but maybe we could have asked these guys to adjust to the EVOLVE style a little more?
STEVIE FIERCE vs. ANTHONY HENRY - 7/10
Henry, who has never been anything but a babyface in EVOLVE, got heavily booed tonight, as apparently this match is a grudge match because these two have been feuding in Freelance Wrestling. The fact that Henry is a somebody in EVOLVE, plus Lenny Leonard running down the important bits of the backstory made this match much easier for me to get into. As did the seriousness of it, because these two really don't like each other. They had a GREAT nine-minute match, with lots of work on the head and neck from both guys, and they played into the finishes of their previous matches very well. I'd definitely like to see more of Stevie Fierce in EVOLVE.
LEON RUFF vs. LIAM GREY - no rating, fine segment
Austin Theory and Priscilla Kelly came out and Theory punched Ruff in the face. This also served as a distraction that allowed Kelly to climb to the top rope and hit Grey in the back of the neck with a dropkick. Theory then nailed Grey with the Theory-K-O and then pitched Ruff out of the ring, closely followed by Grey.
A.R. and Ayla Fox came out to check on A.R.'s students while Theory cut a promo on DJ Z. Kelly demanded that DJ Z come out for their WWN Title match right now even though the match was scheduled to be the main event. They said they were doing this to prove that Theory- both the WWN Champion and FIP World Heavyweight Champion- was "the one who calls the shots" (the announcers characterized them as "spoiled children"). This segment not only served the purpose of getting some heat for Theory and creating a reason for the title match to not be the main event, but it also seemed to start to subtly turn A.R. Fox babyface. I think he's better as a heel right now with his Skulk in his corner, but he's a competent babyface as well.
WWN TITLE MATCH: Austin Theory(c) (w/Priscilla Kelly) vs. DJ Z - 7.5/10
Lenny Leonard pushed that Austin Theory demanding that this match take place earlier than planned resulted in DJ Z not being ready for the match, pointing out that he didn't even have his goofy entrance helmet on as he came through the curtain.
Kelly has been acting a lot more normal tonight than she usually does. She is also returning from a suspension for "constant interference in Austin Theory's matches." Lenny Leonard wondered if she had learned her lesson, and this match answered that question with a resounding "NO." They told a good story of both guys working on the other's neck, while Priscilla kept getting me (and the crowd) more and more angry with her interference. One would have to think that Priscilla will soon find herself suspended once again.
ANYTHING GOES MATCH FOR THE EVOLVE TAG TEAM TITLES:
Catchpoint (Chris Dickinson & Jaka)(c) (w/Dominic Garrini) vs. The End (Odinson & Parrow) (w/Drennan) - 7.25/10
Catchpoint just charged right out to get things started, with all six men brawling around for a few seconds, though Garrini quickly grabbed Drennan and dragged him backstage to keep it down to two-on-two. Stokely showed up to nervously observe the match from a safe distance away before quickly deciding that even this was not safe enough for him and heading to the back.
They had a great weapons match, with Catchpoint picking up the win. The match was as intense as you'd expect and was pretty great for the time it got, but nonetheless disappointed with how short it was, considering that it was being teased as the blow-off. And with Catchpoint's victory here this feels like it not only has to be the blow-off, but The End's repeated failures in this their first feud have sort of killed them off for me. They're not un-rehab-able, but it will take a lot of work, and EVOLVE's tag team division is only three teams so there really isn't anyone to give them a rehabbing program with.
SNOOP STRIKES vs. DARBY ALLIN vs. TREY MIGUEL vs. MYRON REED - 6.75/10
This was a great little showcase match for all four men. It was highly choreographed, but mostly managed to avoid feeling overly choreographed. One of the times it did feel overly choreographed was that stupid "four guys take turns punching each other around in a circle" spot, but at least these guys sold those punches pretty well, too. All four guys were showered with praise from the crowd, but it was Darby Allin who picked up the win.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Fine. Candy Cartwright came out to give Darby a warning: "Jarek is coming." Candy said this over and over in her bubbly bimbo "lovely assistant" voice while thrusting her chest out. Darby was on alert, but did his best to just ignore Candy and headed to the back. Candy followed him, repeating her warning while getting more and more frustrated at being ignored. The announcers told us that Jarek had been "un-booked" for this weekend's shows after his heinous attacks on Jason Kincaid and Darby Allin in New Orleans. Darby already has a match against Jarek booked for next month, so this kept the storyline fresh in our minds while building up to that while not requiring Jarek to be present and thus get over that actions- like Jarek's attacks- have consequences.
KEITH LEE vs. JAMES DRAKE - 8.5/10
This was one hell of a hoss fight that got a standing ovation when it was over. Lee getting the win surprised me a bit, although it does kind of fit in with a bit of a pattern of Gabe's where he'll actually give a guy some wins on the way out because he's confident that both his booking and his wrestlers can get a guy over with a loss, and that doing it this way avoids any feelings of a win by a midcarder over a top guy feeling forced due to the situation and thus averting any potential backlash stemming from such a feeling. The fans gave Lee a thank you chant afterwards.
SHANE STRICKLAND vs. MATT RIDDLE - 8.75/10
With his Evolve World Title not on the line here, Riddle seems to have forgone his now-usual insistence that his matches not have rope breaks. That was just something I thought, not something the announcers said, so it might be nothing. Two things that the announcers did say that turned out to be important were noting that no one came out to celebrate with Riddle when he won the Evovle World Title last month, and giving us the background that Strickland feels slighted by EVOLVE officials for not continuing to book him after his 2013 run with the company (they could have thrown in that he wasn't the only wrestler who was "sponsored" by another wrestler as part of the "New Talent Initiative" in 2015 to not become part of the roster, too, but I guess they forgot about that). For this reason, they said, Strickland felt he had "a point to make" to EVOLVE officials that they made a mistake by not using him.
To that point, the Shane Strickland we got tonight was much different than the flippy guy we usually see. This was a vicious man who used his agility to supplement a striking game and technical game that combined to pick apart Matt Riddle's left arm. Riddle's selling was excellent. At one point his arm was too hurt to use for a German Suplex... so he hit a one-handed version instead, which was crazy!
Middle made a comeback, going for the knockout via elbows but Strickland was able to block one and catch Riddle's injured arm and turn things around, eventually one-upping Pentagon Dark's trade-mark arm-snapping spot with one that not only looked more vicious but made a sickening snapping sound!
Strickland then got Riddle in a Keylock but Riddle got to the ropes... and Strickland refused to break the hold. The referee kept daring him to do so but Strickland wouldn't leaving the referee with no choice but to disqualify him. The fans didn't like this finish at all, but reacted better than you might think an indy crowd would.
Strickland lightly shoved the referee and then continued to work on Riddle's arm. He eventually got a chair and Pillmanizered Riddle's arm, and the announcers noted that no one was coming out to help Riddle because Riddle doesn't have any friends. Riddle was helped to the back while Strickland soaked up the boos from the crowd (well... it was about 70-30 in favor of booing), yelled to ring announcer and "WWN Ambassador" Trevin Adams that he wants a title shot, then pointedly told the camera "I'm the most dangerous one in EVOLVE now."
There is a lot of stuff to unpack here, so here goes. The finish is interesting to me for several reasons. Firstly, Riddle was in the ropes, which, while Strickland was rightfully DQed for not breaking the hold in this match, would actually not have saved Riddle under the "no rope breaks" rules that Riddle has repeatedly expressed that he prefers. Secondly, this finish- along with several other things that either happened tonight or were mentioned on commentary in connection to tonight's events (the announcement of the rule change about count-outs, Priscilla Kelly returning from her suspension, Candy Cartwright's appearance serving as a reminder to us that Jarek is currently serving one, the inclusion of an additional, specialized ruleset with the Catchpoint Rules)- also plays into a concept that they are subtly pushing that sets EVOLVE apart from most promotions nowadays, which is that the rules matter and breaking them will have consequences.
This, therefore, must mean that Shane Strickland's actions tonight (including putting his hands on an official) will have consequences. Upon seeing this finish and the aftermath, one could- nay, one should- ask why it is that if Strickland wanted a title shot, he purposely got himself DQed for something silly like not breaking a hold in the ropes, and after the referee gave him several chances as well. I think the answer to that question is found at the intersection of the announcers' points about Strickland wanting to prove that EVOLVE officials made a mistake by not keeping him on the roster and his comment at the end declaring himself to be "the most dangerous man in EVOLVE." I think Strickland feels a need to go overboard to really show EVOLVE officials that they screwed up. I think in his mind beating Riddle would guarantee him a title shot, but if he doesn't win the title match then there is no guarantee he'd be brought back after that, but developing a reputation as a man who injured Matt Riddle would have more last value for getting him booked in EVOLVE (and, should EVOLVE officials still refuse to see his obvious talents, elsewhere). I think what the "I want a title shot" statement was really meant to do was to create a sort of "uncrowned champion" status around himself, and that that would make him a lot more valuable to EVOLVE.
The next question which must be asked (especially because I ripped WWE to shreds for doing it in my Raw review) is why this was positioned as the main event if it was going to end in a DQ. The best answer I can come up with is that doing so does put a kind of exclamation point in this whole thing, but I don't think that's enough of a reason to justify doing a DQ in the main event. EVOLVE deserves credit for doing this sort of thing so rarely, and thus I am generally more predisposed towards accepting it than when other companies do it, but even still I just don't think it was worth it in this case. There was no reason that Drake vs. Lee couldn't have closed the show, and you could have justified that match getting the main event spot over the Evolve World Champion in a singles match by having Strickland come out and demand that his match happen now because he's tired of waiting to be able to show EVOLVE officials what a big mistake they made by not keeping him around (this would also have the added benefit of allowing the fans in the building to hear this important bit of information for this match, and thus it might have made them slightly more accepting of the finish, especially with it not being a main event in this case, either).
This was an awesome show from EVOLVE! Everything was at least very good, and the show was capped off by two awesome matches and a big angle with Strickland to close things out. The only negatives were the disappointing DQ finish in the main event, the disappointing length of the apparent blow-off to the Catchpoint vs. The End feud, and the stupid six-man tag that in no way felt like it even belonged in EVOLVE.