HARLEM BRAVADO vs. JOE BAILEY - 5.5/10
A good, clean little opener with both guys working the head. Bailey did a great job of getting the crowd behind him even though both wrestlers wrestled completely cleanly.
TIMOTHY BARR MAKES A BIG ANNOUNCEMENT - EVOLVE returns to New York City on January 18th and 19th... and JOHNNY GARGANO WILL BE HERE!
JOEY GACY vs. BSHP KNG - 6/10
A very good match for the time it got. Both guys looked impressive, but KNG was the one who walked away with the win. I like the idea of giving the win here to KNG instead of Gacy because KNG is the up-and-comer while Gacy is an indy veteran with some name-value, which both gives EVOLVE a little more kayfabe leeway to keep booking him in preliminaries even after repeated losses than they would have with KNG, and allows for Gacy to embark on a "veteran making a comeback" version of the guy fighting from the bottom to get to the top story, which would set Gacy apart in a company full of either young guys doing the same, where the bigger name indy veterans (Fox, WALTER, Strickland) are almost exclusively main eventers.
JOSH BRIGGS vs. LEON RUFF (w/A.R. Fox, Ayla Fox, & The Skulk) - 6.5/10
The main story here can be summed up as big, strong, and angry (Briggs) vs. small, fast, and happy (Ruff). Briggs was a great monster and Ruff was a great babyface. They did a spot early on where Briggs got in the face of the largest member of The Skulk, Adrian Alanis, and Alanis had to be held back from interfering and causing his buddy to get DQed. AS the match wore on Briggs grew more and more frustrated by his inability to put Ruff away, to the point where actually pulled him up on a two count after hitting his finisher just to punish him more. After doing this he pointedly pointed at A.R. Fox on the outside, then hit Ruff with his finisher a second time and this time kept him down for the win. This was Ruff's first match after officially signing his WWN contract, and it was definitely a good character-building loss for him, while for Briggs it was a good win that sets up two future matches for him.
A.R. FOX PROMO - He said he was "lit," which made me think of Lit from Special K, which made me realize that The Skulk is basically a babyface version of Special K here all of these years later. Fox figures that because he is so hyped up and is already out here, there is no reason to wait to start...
CURT STALLION vs. A.R. FOX (w/Ayla Fox & The Skulk) - 7/10
A rare mistake by Lenny Leonard saw him call what was clearly a belly-to-belly version of a Spider Suplex as a "Spider German Suplex." I don't usually harp on people when it's pretty clear that they just misspoke, but a German Suplex should be second nature to any wrestling announcer. This was like calling a clothesline a kick.
This was a GREAT match for the time it got. Both guys worked over the head, but the thing that will forever stand out to me about this match was Stallion hitting Fox with a REVERSE SPANISH FLY! Not only was this a major highspot for a convincing nearfall, but the move was so impressive and the nearfall so close that from that point on, Stallion winning seemed to be a completely realistic possibility, with his ensuing nearfalls seeming all the more certain to be actual falls, and all of Fox's seeming like Stallion kicking out was much more of a possibility than it had been before. This was certainly, as Lenny Leonard and Ron Niemi both put it, an "impressive debut" for Stallion in EVOLVE, earning "PLEASE COME BACK!" chants from the crowd.
KASSIUS OHNO vs. DARBY ALLIN - a PERFECT 10/10
The storytelling this match was absolutely INSANE! Do you want to know how to kick out at one the right way? Then watch this match. Darby might have kicked out at one more times in this match alone than Tomohiro Ishii has over his entire career, and yet every single time Darby did it in this match it meant more than every time Ishii has done it. Why? Because it was never gratuitous. It never once felt like he kicked out at one "because a kick out at one spot would be really cool for our match." They did it to help tell their story. Darby NEVER STOPPED SELLING, nor cheapened the concept by no-selling Ohno's strikes at any previous point in the match, and when he did fire up he did so in a completely believable manner for the situation. They did this all so well that when Ohno finally got a two count it felt Ohno was the one who had accomplished something by keeping Darby down for two rather than Darby being the one that the spot was putting over by kicking out after taking that sickening elbow to the back of the head.
Ohno, for his part, was excellent as the big, mean, bully, pissed off about a previous loss (in this, his loss to Riddle at Takeover) and here to take it out on this poor kid who was unlucky enough to be booked against him... only do find out that this kid WOULD. NOT. STAY. DOWN. In both his high-risk offense and in his through his indomitable will to keep doing, Darby Allin showed us that he would put himself through any amount of pain to keep fighting in this match, and finally only stayed down when he was literally incapable of getting back up, with Ohno kneeling down on his with all of his considerable weight for good measure.
EVOLVE TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH ION WHICH THE WWN TITLE CAN ALSO CHANGE HANDS IF J.D. DRAKE IS PINNED:
The Street Prophets(c) vs. J.D. Drake(c) & Anthony Henry - 8.25/10
The story here is that over the course of the past few shows, the animosity between these two teams has boiled over from what should have been friendly competition to something a lot angrier. A large source of the problem has been Anthony Henry's general anger at the WWE guys coming in, though J.D. Drake has also taken some actions that the Street Profits- and Montez Ford in particular- thought were just playful as being disrespectful. Henry's mental state here was certainly something to behold, as he seemed so determined to beat the Street profits that you know he's going to go over the edge at some point. Henry was apparently the one who made the initial challenge to put Drake's title on the line to get them another shot at the tag titles, and had also vowed that he would make sure that Drake wouldn't lose the title, so that only added to the pressure he was feeling, and the more the match went on, the more likely it seemed that he would just crack.
Angelo Dawkins was the babyface in peril and Drake & Henry worked over his knee. Dawkins sold well and we got an EXCELLENT sequence to set up the hot tag, after which things just kept ramping up and getting more and more awesome, until EDDIE KINGSTON came out of the crowd and attacked Ford while he was brawling with Drake on the outside. The ref called for the DQ, as Kingston went after Dawkins as well, and then even gave the referee a Backfist to the Future J.D. Drake then charged in and attacked Kingston, which is one of those dream matches that never really occurs to you until it's put in front of you.
Yes, the DQ was disappointing because this was a title match that clearly en route to being something memorable, but I assume that this will have been necessary for the story because my theory at the moment is that Kingston was an insurance policy that Henry brought in to enable him to fulfill his promise that he would not allow his partner to lose his WWN Title, and once that fact comes out, J.D. Drake will be quite unhappy with Anthony Henry.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. Kingston and Drake brawled to the back, with henry stumbling after them. Ford ran over to check on Dawkins, and some referees came out to do so as well. Ford then grabbed a mic and cut a promo angrily challenging Kingston to a match on January 19th at Evolve 120.
EVOLVE WORLD TITLE MATCH:
Fabian Aichner(c) vs. Roderick Strong vs. Austin Theory (w/Priscilla Kelly) - 7/10
The stream had some problems that caused us to miss the first few minutes of this match. I am watching this on Monday, December 17th and this still hasn't been fixed. Maybe it was missing the beginning of the match, or the fact that the missed time meant that I only saw about eleven minutes of action in this main event, but the match just felt like it was missing something. The story a combination of the usual three-way story and Priscilla Kelly's interference, with those stories coming together for the finish. Said finish saw Kelly run in and blatantly break up a pin, and then, as Roddy was chasing her away, Theory was able to hit Aichner with Gataxia and win the title.
I don't have a problem with Theory as the champion, but the way this happened makes it feel like a step backwards. Priscilla Kelly's interference was a storyline that it seemed like they were working on bringing to a close back in the spring and summer, with her first being suspended after her repeated interference, then WWN officials having to "resort to" bringing in Joey Janela (who they really didn't want in the company because of his own penchant for rule-breaking) because with Joey came Penelope Ford, who would be able to neutralize Priscilla. Then they started to do stuff in FIP and in EVOLVE where it seemed like Theory was ready to dump her because he was jealous of her getting attention from WWE via the Mae Young Classic... and now they're just back on the same page with him as a champion and her interfering in matches again. Same sh*t, different belt.
And the thing that makes it even more frustrating is that it's not like there is any kayfabe reason EVOLVE can't just bar her from ringside for all of Theory's matches. It's not like she's the Paul Heyman (or, to use a more EVOLVE-appropriate reference, Stoke Hathaway) type of manager who is shown to be in control of the wrestler's contract and does the negotiations, and thus can threaten to pull the wrestler out of the company entirely if they try to keep her away from ringside. She is a guide to him, yes, but from a nuts-and-bolts business point of view, she's really more of a valet, and thus there is no reason EVOLVE shouldn't be able to stop her from coming out to ringside.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Okay. Aichner keeps the EVOLVE tradition alive of presenting the belt to the new champion, for which he was repaid by Theory telling him to "get out of my ring." Then he grabbed a microphone and told Priscilla Kelly the same thing. I chose to leave the above paragraphs in even though this technically eliminates the problem that I had been complaining about them not eliminating because it's a disappointing pay-off. Yes, it's a dick move for him to "fire" her (though she has wrestled independently in WWN- and even in EVOLVE specifically, so I don't think he can fire her from anything other than being his manager) when she just played a big part in him winning the title, but Theory was already dick who now has a title he doesn't deserve, so this really doesn't make me dislike him any more, and Priscilla has been a heel her entire run and just helped him to cheat to win a title, so I don't feel bad for her at all and I'm happy that she's gone, so any attempt to turn her babyface off of this will fall flat because she herself hasn't actually done anything to show a new moral alignment.
Theory then started to talk about how this would help him become WWE Champion until Darby Allin came out. They had a... very Darby Allin confrontation, which resulted in Theory pie-facing Darby, and Darby then tackling him and getting some punches in before Theory was able to escape, grab his newly-won title, and run away.
This was a pretty great show from EVOLVE. It delivered in the ring, had a perfect match, and had some extremely important storyline developments. The trouble with the feed (there was actually some between the Ohno vs. Darby match and the tag title match that I didn't comment on because we didn't miss any wrestling or promos or anything important like that) certainly put a damper on things, as did the "not quite there" nature of the main event and some of the more questionable storyline developments stemming from that, but it was still an extremely enjoyable watch. Darby vs. Ohno is definitely a must-see match for the absolutely superb storytelling, so if you watch nothing else from this show, make sure you watch that.