Ring announcer Timothy Barr has an embarrassingly bad haircut.
ANTHONY HENRY vs. JON DAVIS - 6/10
Short, but hard-hitting and intense, with a bit of good "big man vs. little man" stuff thrown in there as well. Davis was uncharacteristically unsportsmanlike after the match, laying Henry out. He grabbed a mic and said "you won the match but I won the fight."
SAIVE AL SABAH, SHANE STRICKLAND, & A.R. FOX SEGMENT - Necessary, I guess. We were schedule dot get Strickland vs. Saive but Strickland came out and claimed to have injured his ankle last night and thus the "smart" thing for him to do was to take tonight off. Fox (w/Ayla & the Skulk) came out and Fox said Strickland was making excuses but said that he would pick up the slack and face Saive in Strickland's stead. Strickland headed to the back, with Lenny Leonard noting that Strickland was "limping a little harder on the way back than he was on the way to the ring," so the actual storyline is, in fact, that Strickland is faking it (or at least exaggerating). Anyway, the match now became...
SAIVE AL SABAH vs. A.R. Fox (w/Ayla Fox & the Skulk) - 6.5/10
Al Sabah screwed up a dive but still hit people. Lenny Leonard called this by saying that Saive was "not going to get any style points for that one, but it was effective nonetheless." Lines like this are why I love Lenny Leonard so much. He doesn't ignore what's what there in front of you but still always points out the positive.
They had an exciting match with a few very good nearfalls a very definitive finishing sequence. Fox won, ending Al Sabah's winning streak at two. That was a little disappointing, but I guess Gabe decided that Fox needed to win more here. Still, a draw would have at least been nice. I'm curious to know what would have happened if Strickland had been available to wrestle as was originally planned. The champ losing right away is a very un-Gabe-like thing to do, but with Al Sabah coming in with this winning streak and Strickland needing some challengers established, I can definitely see a situation where Al Sabah gets the win and doesn't lose until he finally challenges Strickland for the title.
POST-MATCH HANDSHAKE - Fox gives Al Sabah the respect of a post-match handshake. Al Sabah went to the back, and then The End ran out to attack the Skulk, which turned into a...
LUCHA RULES MATCH:
The End vs. A.R. Fox & The Skulk (Adria Alanis & Leon Ruff) (w/the Skulk) - 5/10
How Lenny Leonard knew that this "impromptu" match where the teams had no said anything to each other was going to be contested under Lucha rules remains to be ascertained. They did an okay job with the size disparity story, but otherwise this was relatively dull for a match that looks on paper like it should have been more of a spotfest. It was certainly spotty, but it was just a lot slower paced than you would expect from 2018.
J.D. DRAKE vs. DOMINIC GARRINI (w/Stokely Hathaway) - 6/10
Here's another one for the "fine for the time it got, but the time it got was almost suspiciously short" column. Drake won, and which made Stokely very angry with Garrini (he was already unhappy at Garrini for failing to protect him from Tracy Williams last night, so this loss just compounded that anger). Stokely sent Garrini to the back and then brought out Dickinson & Jaka, who he said would protect him tonight.
JOSH BRIGGS vs. JAKA (w/Stokely Hathaway & Chris Dickinson) - 6.75/10
Here's another one I was expecting to be a little longer. I guess we're just in for a short show. The match was pretty good for the time it got, but feels like it more time could have made it something really memorable. It had kind of a "battle of the savages" feel but the lack of time never really let it hit the level it needed to for that to really sink in.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Fine. Dickinson attacked Briggs after the match and Stokely got some cheap-shots in as well. This was allowed to last just long enough to remind us that this is a personal issue for Stokely. Tracy Williams came out to make the save, transitioning us into our scheduled...
NO HOLDS BARRED MATCH:
Tracy Williams vs. Chris Dickinson (w/Stokely Hathaway) - 9/10
I'm not going to spoil anything they did other than to say that this was brutal and scary and very... primal, and while it certainly has me terrified of what these three might do next weekend in their big I Quit Match.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Josh Briggs saved Tracy from a post-match assault. This was a bit of a humanizing moment for Briggs, but I'm not totally certain that's a good thing for him.
AUSTIN THEORY vs. MATT RIDDLE - 7.75/10
They had a very intense match, with the story of Riddle trying to knock Theory out with shots to the head while Theory worked over whatever body parts he could, usually either Riddle's head or his injured arm from last night (though it probably would have been better if Theory had picked one and stuck with it). Riddle picking up the win was surprising, considering that he is pretty clearly on his way to WWE very soon, but Riddle's win here sets up for an FIP World Heavyweight Title shot where Theory can get his win back, and more importantly (and perhaps connectedly), Austin Theory said he didn't need Priscilla Kelly's help this weekend... and he has lost both of his matches. Priscilla returning to Theory defend the title against Riddle would therefore make sense for the story (and would mirror the story with Darby Allin as well).
WWN TITLE MATCH:
Joey Janela(c) (w/Penelope Ford) vs. Darby Allin - 9/10
At the conclusions of this match, Lenny Leonard hit the nail on the head when he called it "an ABSOLUTE WAR!" This guys both have very risk-heavy styles, but in slightly different ways that played into each other perfectly. Janela is the kind of guy who can wrestle what for most others would be called a "total spotfest" but make it work, due to the combination of his character, his facial expressions, and the way he structures things. Darby is very epitome of "throw my body at the other guy, and hope I hit or else it's going to hurt me A LOT" and he makes it work with excellent storytelling and selling and facials. In this match, that often resulted in Joey doing his crazy "I don't care if this maims the other guy" type of spots (like some SICK head-drops on the apron) and Darby selling them excellently. They mixed in the story of Darby working over Janela's arm extremely well (the technical element he has added to his game over the past year in his stories with Thatcher and Zack have done wonders for Darby), giving the match a second dimension that also helped avoid the "total spotfest" feel. They had some extremely gripping false finishes, one or two of which were enhanced even more via Lenny Leonard's expert commentary and ties to EVOLVE history.
The most controversial element of this match, I'm sure, will be Austin Theory's interference. He attacked Janela when Janela had an advantage and encouraged Darby to pin Janela, but Darby instead responded by doing one of his crazy twisting Coffin Drop body-press moves, nailing Theory perfectly. While I'm sure people will criticize this as being "unnecessary" interference that only served a WWE/TNA-style purpose of making sure to get Theory's feuds with both men were featured on the show in some variety lest fans forget about them somehow despite both featuring prominently on last night's show, but I think that criticism ignores the intricacies of the personalities involved and their specific interactions with each other.
Darby refusing to accept help is self-explanatory. He is the very epitome of the "determined to prove myself" babyface, and in the promotion that treats cheating as a more heinous and series injustice than probably any other company in the world, to boot. Theory obviously doesn't like Janela for taking his WWN Title, too, so attacking him makes sense... but Theory has disliked Darby for longer than he has disliked Janela, and Darby is the top contender for Theory's FIP World Heavyweight Title, having just defeated him in a non-title match last night, coming off of Theory needing Priscilla Kelly's help to retain that title against Darby last month at FIP Establish Dominance 2018.
As I noted above, Theory didn't have Priscilla Kelly at ringside with him for either of this weekend's shows, and he lost both of his matches, including one to Darby, who he needed Priscilla's help to beat last month. Janela was able to defeat Theory for this WWN Title back at EVOLE 106 because Janela had Penelope Ford in his corner, who was able to counteract Priscilla's interference... so again: when Priscilla is not able to affect the outcome, Theory loses. I think Theory's interference here was his attempt to downplay his own losses to both men. Helping Darby means that, like him, Darby would have "needed help" to win a title match, while attacking Janela and making Janela lose would mean that Janela, too, was unable to defeat Darby, and thus make Theory feel better about his own loss, even if the situations are not analogous (and, deep down in his heart, I think Theory knows that they aren't and that he would just be deluding himself).
And, of course, there is also the simple explanation that helping Darby beat Janela for the title would put the belt on someone Theory is going to have to face soon anyway, and thus Theory's presumptive (in his own mind) victory over Darby to retain his FIP World Heavyweight Title would also set Theory up for a shot at the WWN Title.
Anyway, this turned out to be a pretty awesome show from EVOLVE, even if the undercard at times felt like it under-delivered (not for its spot on the card so much as the potential of the match-ups... but this is a Gabe-booked promotion, so I don't think long undercard matches that give young talent a chance to really shine are out of the realm of something that should be expected). There was a lot of stuff on this show that felt like little escalations or set-ups, and then two FANTASTIC matches (plus a really great one between Riddle and Theory) to close out the final hour... and on a show that didn't go much longer than two hours, that's basically half of the card that came through in a big way.