OPENING SEGMENT - Fine. Lenny Leonard informed the live crowd that Austin Theory attacked Johnny Gargano after last night's match and there was reason to worry that Gargano wouldn't be able to compete tonight, but he has been cleared to do so. Basically the purpose of this was to let people who didn't see last night's show know about the attack and play up the severity of the injuries Gargano suffered in order to protect him a bit if he loses tonight (which he really should or else this just makes Theory look really bad).
It also served as something for the Street Profits to interrupt to so that when Montez Ford said they were "hijacking the show" until Eddie Kingston came out to fight him it felt more like they were actually coming out when they weren't scheduled to. As far as actual "hijackings" go, this was the least angry one I've ever seen, as the Street Profits were still their fun, entertaining selves. This feels like it shouldn't work but it actually did. I think the reason for it is that their issue with Kingston really doesn't feel like it warrants hijacking the show just to make him come out for his match early, so their playfulness managed to also make it feel like their use of the word "hijacking" was deliberately over-dramatic.
But that doesn't mean this wasn't still serious. Ford (who did all the talking) managed to keep just the right amount of steel in his voice the whole time and beautifully toned it just that one little bit every time he mentioned Kingston's name. This is the sort of thing that I really don't think anyone else in wrestling could pull off other than the Young Bucks and maybe Zack Sabre Jr.
Ford was soon granted his wish and we started the action off with...
EDDIE KINGSTON vs. MONTEZ FORD (w/Angelo Dawkins) - 6/10
This was a very good brawl while it lasted, but it lasted a lot shorter than I thought it would. Ford won, and Kingston left angry about what he claims was a "two-on-one" advantage for the second straight night. Henry did briefly put his hands on Kingston last night, but Dawkins did not get involved in any way here tonight.
Because he was already out here, Dawkins figured he might as well just have his match now so he called out Josh Briggs and we got...
JOSH BRIGGS vs. ANGELO DAWKINS (w/Montez Ford) - 6.75/10
Kingston came back and attacked Montez Ford. They brawled to the back, which distracted Dawkins enough for Briggs to take advantage and nail him with a big boot and take control. Briggs worked over Dawkins midsection. There was some good action in here and some convincing false finishes, but it just felt like there was a little something missing and they never quite got into gear.
Briggs picked up the win, which was a happy surprise to me. After Briggs left, Montez Ford came back out and played with the crowd a bit. I found this to be totally unnecessary. I would rather think he's still fighting with Eddie Kingston somewhere, or that they got broken up and are both being restrained in the back until they can calm down. I did not need to see Ford being jovial.
JOEY GACY vs. J.D. DRAKE - 7/10
An excellent, hard-hitting brawl! Drake picked up the clean win, but Gacy definitely walks away from this one stronger in defeat than he was when he walked into it.
Curt Stallion vs. Orange Cassidy vs. Leon Ruff - 6.75/10
The match was good. Without Orange Cassidy's comedy I would have enjoyed it a lot more. Stallion got the win and was rewarded with a WWN contract. He did some comedy, claiming that he was getting calls from "Court," "Shibata-san," and "Cody" during this, each of which prompted Trevin Adams to up the offer by fifty or a hundred dollars per appearance.
EVOLVE TITLE #1 CONTENDERSHIP MATCH:
Anthony Henry vs. A.R. Fox (w/Ayla Fox & The Skulk) - 8.25/10
They started off seemingly about half a step off at times, but they corrected that relatively quickly. Henry worked the head and neck while A.R. Fox just did A.R. Fox stuff, but the real story here was two guys who just didn't want to stay down. Henry in particular kicked out of basically everything Fox had, and the storytelling with Fox going from bigger move to bigger move all in a row was excellent. One little touch I liked here was the commentators pointing out that EVOLVE's next weekend of shows would take place in Charlotte and Atlanta- each wrestler's respective home markets- so either one of them felt like a completely viable winner. We got a post-match show of respect between the two warriors, which is something of a contrast to Henry's behavior with most of the NXT talent.
DARBY ALLIN vs. FABIAN AICHNER - 7.5/10
Aichner attacked Darby from behind during his entrance. Aichner worked over Darby's back with his power moves while Darby used his agility to counter Aichner's stuff while also working over his knee. Darby's selling was the usual excellence and Aichner definitely makes for a great heel to throw people around. Aichner tried to get the win via illegal leverage like last night but this time the referee caught him. Darby picked up the win via Last Supper and the crowd went bonkers.
Lenny Leonard called this "another win over a former EVOLVE Champion," but this is the only win over a former champion for Darby since his win over Matt Riddle back in August, which I think was his only other win he has had over any former EVOLVE Champion.
JOHNNY GARGANO vs. AUSTIN THEORY - 7.25/10
Gargano charged right at Theory to start things off, looking for some revenge for last night's post-match attack. I had no problem with him doing Theory's pre-match entrances bit to get under Theory's skin before this even though he seemed jovial during it because Gargano, as "the icon of the WWN" has become a babyface who stands for the rules and thus wouldn't jump Theory before the opening ceremonies, but would have no problem doing things to get under Theory's skin beforehand.
The match was going along well until overbooking started. First we got a ref bump. Then Johnny Gargano got a visual pinfall on Austin Theory. Then Theory hit Johnny in the nuts. He went for a Pedigree but Priscilla Kelly ran out and attacked him. Theory went to attack Kelly but Darby Allin came out and took Theory out. Then Josh Briggs came out and attacked both Darby and Gargano. Then Theory crawled into a pin on Gargano but the referee was late making the count because he was just waking up. Then Theory went for a shot with the title belt, missed, and Gargano made him tap out to the Gargano escape. Gargano getting the win on Theory is something that feels like it should be worrying, but if this leads to Gargano getting a title shot and doing the clean job for Theory then I'm fine with it. If not... it's quite worrying.
As for the other stuff, the run-ins all mostly make sense based off of who doesn't like who, but Briggs' attacking Gargano feels like it really needs to lead to some sort of match between them but I doubt it will. And while the individual run-ins make sense, the bit as a whole felt kind of random. Darby running in on Theory makes sense in that he's been chasing Theory for every title Theory has won in the past year, but by the end it felt like this wasn't done to push the idea of Darby as a challenger for Theory so much as it felt like it (and Briggs' subsequent run-in) were done to create a reason for Darby to be out here so that Gargano could put him over in his post-match speech and encourage him to his face to go win the Evolve Championship.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Gargano gave a big post-match speech. He talked about being back in this building for the first time since his goodbye was ruined by first Ethan Page and then Drew Galloway and his pals back at Evolve 69. He then put Darby Allin over and told him to focus on "wins and championships," (as if Darby wasn't focused on such things already) and told him to win the Evolve Championship (as if that wasn't already Darby's plan). He then called out the whole locker room and put them over and shook all of their hands shakes their hands (obviously Briggs and Theory did not come out for this). This whole thing felt like a speech for the sake of a speech, which I think is becoming a problem for EVOLVE with all of these NXT guys coming in and giving the show-closing goodbye. Maybe it's time to let A.R. Fox or Darby Allin or J.D. Drake start doing it.
This was a bit of a worrying show from EVOLVE. The wrestling was all good and everything that happened made sense, but there are very few things in the promotion right now that seem to have any real direction. Yes, Darby wants the Evolve Championship and has been chasing it and Austin Theory for a long time. Yes, the Street Profits and the WorkHorsemen don't like each other, and both groups have a problem with Eddie Kingston. Yes, Darby has been having good showings against a bunch of NXT guys but I don't see any real endgame for that, especially if Darby doesn't actually get to beat any of them other than Aichner (who, like the Street Profits, while being under NXT contract, feels like a real part of the EVOLVE roster at this point, as opposed to all of the other bring-ins who don't, and feel overprotected). But everyone else feels pretty directionless.
The NXT guys definitely seem to have helped draw, but aside from Aichner and the Street Profits (and maybe Ohno) they feel like they've done much for the storylines, and when they're taking up the majority of the focus of the show, that's not good. My hope is that they are being used as a temporary drawing gimmick so that a new midcard/upper midcard can be established (like they're doing with Stallion and Gacy), but I'm getting worried that this process will take so long that we get months of what feels like nothing moving forward. Hopefully some more stuff starts up in Charlotte and Atlanta in February.