MATT ROGERS & ZENSHI vs. THE PRECIPICE (w/Skinny Vinny) - 5/10
The Precipice won, which isn't a shock because they are the ACW Tag Team Champions. EVOLVE needs some new tag teams, so maybe this will lead to them coming in?
Lenny Leonard welcomes us to "the new EVOLVE" and warns us that we are "going to see a lot of new faces here: some you may recognize and some you may not." How little we knew.
OPENING SEGMENT - Evolve World Champion Shane Strickland comes out to brag about all of the people he has supposedly run out of EVOLVE, citing Matt Riddle, Tracy Williams, & DJ Z. He was then interrupted by NXT's Fabian Aichner. Making this even weirder, Aichner was wearing wrestling boots, jeans, and a black shirt with the sleeves cut out that said "sick." on it, making him look a lot like an indy wrestler. Did WWE's attempt to explain how the Women's Evolution started three years ago when Steph decreed it but also somehow Trish and Lita main eventing Raw for the WWE Women's Title in 2004 was part of it last night break the space-time continuum and I fell into an alternate dimension or something?
Strickland tries to attack Aichner with the belt but Aichner ducked it and nailed Strickland with a big backbreaker. Aichner then went for something else that starts in a powerbomb position but Strickland rolled out of the ring. The fans had started off the segment split 50-50 on Strickland even though he is a heel, but he had managed to turn most of the people against him by claiming to have run Riddle, DJ Z, and Hot Sauce out of EVOLVE. This then put them right back on his side. Strickland then grabbed a mic and offered to defend the Evolve World Title against Aichner tonight so he could send him back to the performance center humiliated, saying "this isn't an opportunity for you; this is an opportunity for me."
WWN TITLE QUALIFYING MATCH:
Darby Allin vs. Josh Briggs - 7.75/10
Why do these two have to wrestle a qualifying match but no one else does? We got an explanation of why such a match is taking place (because management wanted to do something akin to MLB's Wild Card Game), but not an explanation of why these two men, who have been portrayed as big stars on the rise, are the ones who have to win their way in.
Originally we were supposed to have a one-night tournament to crown a new WWN Champion, but instead we're having a Ladder Match later tonight because "WWN officials wanted to put together the most explosive match possible." This reasoning feels SOOO un-Gabe-like, and even more un-EVOLVE-like.
Okay, good. I'm watching EVOLVE again. These guys only went ten minutes, but they did a great job telling their story (Darby overcoming Briggs' size advantage with his athleticism), and did an excellent job of making their match feel very raw.
JESSIE ELABAN vs. PRISCILLA KELLY - 5.5/10
This match had some spots that... did not look very good, and it really started to drag by the end. Elaban did get over as a babyface, but her in-ring style is way too generic for EVOLVE, and her personality does not fit in with the company, either. Kelly would have worked better with someone else.
JOEY GACY vs. ADRIAN JAOUDE (w/Cezar Bononi) - 6.5/10
This was a very fun (mostly) shoot-style match, though the finish could have looked better. I am currently mentally compiling a list of guys I would love to see Jaoude wrestle in EVOLVE, NXT, wXw, or just about anywhere else.
BARRETT BROWN vs. LEON RUFF (w/Ayla Fox) - 7/10
Where are the rest of The Skulk? If I had to guess, they weren't out here so as not to distract from what was something of a breakout match for Leon (and Barrett Brown as well). Gabe gave these two the chance to step up to the plate, and they definitely delivered. Throw in a finish designed to make us want to see a rematch, and I now have two new talents to be excited about seeing in singles competition in EVOLVE again.
EVOLVE TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Chris Dickinson & Jaka(c) vs. The Street Profits - 8/10
Ford could have sold his leg a little better after getting it worked over for a chunk of the match and he and Dickinson had one spot that looked pretty bad, but other than that this was an awesome match. The storytelling was excellent, which is impressive given the number of stories they were telling (Ford's leg and Ford as the babyface in peril, the Street Profits' desire to prove themselves vs. Jaka & Dickinson's desire to prove them wrong, Ford dropping his fun shtick during armlocks once the shine ended, etc.), and they certainly managed to get the crowd (and myself) interested in the Street Profits' mission. As for the idea of NXT guys holding the Evolve Tag Team Titles... at the time, I was happy for a shake-up and happy with the Street Profits' performance and hoped that them as tag champs would bring some extra attention to EVOLVE. But with everything else that happened... well... I'll get into all of that later.
STREET PROFITS PROMO - Great babyface promo. They'll defend the belts wherever EVOLVE goes.
For those wondering, Lenny Leonard literally asked "What is the benefit to the Street Profits coming to EVOLVE?" and then answered his own question by basically saying "buzz" (although props to Lenny for phrasing it in as kayfabe a way as possible, making it seem like he was asking what the benefit is for the Street Profits, but in reality he was answering the question from EVOLVE's point of view.
MIKEY SPANDEX vs. DANTE MARQUIS CARTER - no rating, okay segment
Mikey Spandex's gimmick is that he is the heir to the Spandex fortune. Well... at least there is a reason he picked such a goofy name. The match barely got started before NXT's Dan Matha came out and beat both guys up.
DAN MATHA PROMO - Great! He says he keeps hearing about "this EVOLVE place" where all of the brightest up-and-comers are coming from, so he came here on his day off to prove that EVOLVE isn't all it's cracked up to be (I actually think he said "EVOLVE ain't sh*t," but I couldn't tell because the fans were booing so loudly). He then proceeded to talk about how he slept with two women last night and said he hoped all of the ladies in the crowd had brought "drip pads" with them so they wouldn't embarrass themselves due to his large and muscular presence. This was an excellent heel promo, and certainly not something this guy would ever be allowed to say in WWE or NXT.
Matha said he was the alpha and this was now his ring and dared anyone in the back to do something about it. Some members of The Skulk came out and Matha said stuff about their mothers so they insulted him back. They told us that their buddy, Tommy Maserati, who was also scheduled for tonight's "Skulk Scramble" couldn't make it, so they suggested that Matha enter instead. He consented, so we got a...
FOUR-WAY SCRAMBLE MATCH:
Shawn Dean vs. Liam Grey vs. Adrian Alanis vs. Dan Matha - no rating, great segment
The fans have been chanting "MR. CLEAN!" at Matha, because he does, in fact, resemble Mr. Clean. He also resembles what I imagine Gran Akuma would look like after a trip to Dr. Nicodemus' laboratory. That was your CHIKARA joke for the evening.
Matha started off by rolling to the outside to let the three Skulk members fight it out. Alanis, the largest among them, emerged victorious, and then found himself face to face with Matha, who was a head taller than him and all but no-sold his first chop before smashing him in the gut with a knee. I thought that was a perfect way to start the match off to really get over both the size difference and the fact that Matha is a heel.
Dean jumped into the ring on him and Matha worked a headlock on him like it was the most vicious of wear-down holds, and it worked. He even showed off his power by pulling Dean away when Grey tried to pull Dean out of the hold by grabbing his feet.
A.R. Fox eventually came out and helped his students get some offense on Matha and even knocked him out of the ring, although Matha never left his feet. Matha walked off, even while telling Fox "I'm gonna get you."
The ref ordered Fox to leave the ring because there was still a match going on. Fox complied, and the match continued, with The Skulk doing their usual spotty stuff for about a minute until Alanis got the pin on Dean. I thought this whole thing was pretty genius, as it was basically a squash for Matha without anyone from The Skulk needing to get pinned, set up Matha for a match with A.R. Fox at a later date, and allowed Alanis to get the win, so we basically had two winners instead of one in this four-way. Matha got some pretty good heat, so the fans were happy to see Fox run in to make the save, happy to see him leave, returning this match to its advertised "Skulk Scramble" billing.
EVOLVE WORLD TITLE MATCH:
Shane Strickland(c) vs. Fabian Aichner - 8.25/10
This match was pretty awesome, and went over twenty minutes, which I think was necessary to establish Aichner. The two stories they told here were Strickland working over Aichner's arm and Strickland's agility vs. Aichner's power. The match was awesome, and wound up with a really great "fight" feel towards the end. Aichner defeated Strickland to win the belt, and suffice it to say that the fans are not happy, even though they were quite willing to boo Strickland early on when he was being heelish. Unlike the Street Profits' title win, I was not happy with this one. Part of that is because it feels hot-shotted, part of it is because Strickland's reign has been so short, and part of it us because he felt like he had unfinished business with at least Saive Al Sabah and Darby Allin. But the major reason is that we have now had two NXT wrestlers/teams show up and win EVOLVE belts on their very first day, while we are being told that this is a "new" EVOLVE, and that is concerning, to say the least. But I'll get into all of that at the end.
FABIAN AICHNER PROMO - He cut basically the same promo the Street Profits, did, but without as much emotion. The fans were about 90-10 against him.
LADDER MATCH FOR THE VACANT WWN TITLE:
Anthony Henry vs. Harlem Bravado vs. J.D. Drake vs. Darby Allin vs. A.R. Fox (w/Ayla Fox) vs. Austin Theory (w/Priscilla Kelly) - 9.5/10
OUTSTANDING! This was not your typical "ladder stunts" match. Don't get me wrong: they were in here. But the focus of this match was on its many different stories. There was the story of Darby Allin and his never-say-die attitude, being taken to the back half-way through due to a shoulder injury, only to return later and continue to wrestle his reckless style with just one good arm. There was the story of the on-going feud between A.R. Fox and Austin Theory, with both men's manager even getting involved at times. There was the story of James Drake and Anthony Henry, former tag team partners who had an amicable split earlier this year, working together earlier on but always knowing they would eventually have to fight each other. And there was the story of the complete and total chaos of a six-way ladder match, and how hard it is to ensure that the ring is finally clear before you go for the belt. Emotions ran high, and these six men battled it out for over half an hour until finally one man emerged victorious.
There was a point where Fox was climbing the ladder and Bravado came off the turnbuckle to try to hit him with something and Fox went to counter with a cutter but they missed each other and both crashed to mat. I bring this up to point out that this sort of thing actually doesn't bother me at all, as it still makes perfect sense within the world of a wrestling match. They each tried to hit the other guy with a move and missed, then sold exactly the fall they took. Phantom bumps or clearly forced body positioning bothers me because it makes it clear that what I am watching is choreographed. This sort of thing actually makes it feel a little less so.
At this point you're probably asking yourself why I didn't go the full 10/10, and this is one of those matches where I'm honestly not quite sure. Like TLC II, something about this match just makes me feel like it's a 9.5/10, and I can't put my finger on it. Your opinion might differ, and so I urge you to check the match out for yourself before you continue reading on.
PROMO BY THE WINNER (AND OTHER POST-MATCH STUFF) - F*CKING AWESOME!
When you detach the wrestling product from everything else, this show was AWESOME. There were some very surprising storyline developments, we had a bunch of new faces who were all used very well and (at least for the moment) seemed to show that they belong in an EVOLVE ring (well... aside from Eleban, but EVOLVE rarely has women's matches, anyway), and the action overall was pretty f*cking great, capped off by an outstanding main event.
But then there is that sinking feeling that comes from having WWE-contracted guys come into a promotion and immediately win a bunch of belts. It doesn't feel good. At this time I must again emphasize that aside from Eleban, everyone they brought in performed very well and felt like someone who could fit into EVOLVE's style. And if that's what this turns into, then I'm all for it. If this is Triple H realizing he has a lot of guys who are ready for TV but he doesn't have a spot for them so he is loaning them out to his buddy Gabe to learn how to exist in a different environment where they will nonetheless still benefit from working with veterans like J.D. Drake, Shane Strickland, and Doom Patrol while also getting their first taste of the life of the road they will experience if they are fortunate enough to be called up to the main roster then I think that's wonderful.
But that support is conditional on EVOLVE being able to remain different. I want to see an EVOLVE where Adrian Jaoude can come to have a shoot-style match that you would never see him have on WWE TV, just like I want there to be an EVOLVE for Joey Gacy to come have the sort of shoot-style match you wouldn't think he would normally have in CZW. I want there to be an EVOLVE where Angelo Dawkins can put his amateur wrestling skills to use that WWE will rarely allow him to. I want there to be an EVOLVE where "WWE acts" like the Street Profits can come earn some indy credibility, and can be given a chance to deliver to a level that NXT's regimented TV schedule rarely allows them to.
But that EVOLVE needs to still be one based on logical booking, good storytelling, and the portrayal of pro wrestling in a more sports-like environment, with wins and losses mattering, and cheating kept to a minimum (and always followed up on in the booking). While PROGRESS' storytelling hasn't suffered much with WWE's interference, WWE has the reputation they have for a reason, and I'm worried about an EVOLVE that turns into just another generic indy that happens to be able to use NXT talent. I'm worried about an EVOLVE that won't bring in someone like Timothy Thatcher for a run just because of outside politics. I'm worried about an EVOLVE that might keep the name, but ceases to really be EVOLVE anymore.
Throughout the show, the announcers kept pushing that this was a "new EVOLVE" and that it was a place that talent could come to "grow, learn, create... EVOLVE." In my opinion, this slogan makes it feel too much like a feeder league, and very much feels un-kayfabe. It almost feels like a slogan they should be using to recruit wrestlers, not to advertise to fans. ROH's "creating excellence," or even Lenny Leonard's line that "this is a place talent come to prove themselves" are much better, and I hope to be seeing more of that sort of thing in the future, although I highly doubt that "grow, learn, create... EVOLVE" will be going away anytime soon. I have no problem with EVOLVE getting treated for the most part like a WWE developmental territory, but I do have a problem with EVOLVE portraying itself as such in kayfabe. This was certainly a show that will go down in history. Whether it goes down as the beginning of something new and wonderful, the beginning of the end, or just the beginning of another chapter remains to be seen. I guess I'll just keep my fingers crossed.