ADRIAN JAOUDE vs. JOSH BRIGGS - 4.5/10
Lenny Leonard said that Josh Briggs only missed one show due to his injury when he actually missed two shows (125 and 126). Yes, he was in the building and did something at 125, but in my book if you're presented as injured and also not booked on the card then you still count as missing the show due to injury.
That injury was the story of this match, with Jaoude going after it. He received an unrequested assist from Austin Theory, who hit Briggs in the injured hip with a crutch when the referee's back was turned. Briggs managed to crawl back into the ring, but was forced to tap out soon afterwards.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. Theory attacked Briggs after the match and taunted him with the Evolve Title. Nate Webb, who Theory defends his title against tomorrow night, came out to chase Theory off. If you're wondering what Nate Webb did to earn a title shot, join the club. But apparently there is some reason this title match is happening, as Lenny Leonard told us that "the issue between Nate Webb and Austin Theory became very personal very quickly." Hopefully someone will actually explain to us what that issue is at some point tonight.
Anyway, Webb demanded for Theory to come back out, but he won't. Webb- who was only booked for tomorrow night and not tonight and thus "isn't supposed to be here," tried to go backstage to get Theory but the referees blocked his path and ordered him to go elsewhere, presumably ejecting him from the building.
STEVEN PENA vs. LIAM GRAY (w/A.R. Fox, Ayla Fox, & the Skulk) - 5.25/10
A solid, action-packed match for the time it got, with a rather surprising result as well. Skulk member vs. random dude usually goes in the Skulk's favor, but not tonight.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Fox managed to somehow sound happy and party-ready while telling Liam off for losing. He noted that Adrian Alanis has also been losing a lot lately but told Adrian he had a challenge lined up for him tonight, which turned out to be...
BABATUNDE vs. ADRIAN ALANIS (w/A.R. Fox, Ayla Fox, & the Skulk) - no rating, excellent squash
Babatunde is definitely going to be something. He's a huge dude who can move and he definitely has the charisma to be a babyface, too.
IF WOLF WINS, HE EARNS A WWN CONTRACT:
Stephen Wolf vs. Anthony Greene - 6/10
A solid ten-minute showing from both men. Greene picked up the clean win.
ANTHONY HENRY vs. JUNTAI - 4.75/10
This match was more of an excuse for Lenny Leonard to explain Anthony Henry's mindset to us than anything else. Henry sees himself as a sort of "gatekeeper" for EVOLVE. In his mind, the fact that it took him so long to get to EVOLVE means that he is going to make sure that anyone else who tries to get in is worthy, but whether others see it his way or see it as more an undue arrogance is up in the air. Juntai was allowed to make a short comeback towards the end, but on the whole I thought he was thoroughly unimpressive, and the match and several spots that didn't look particularly good.
KASSIUS OHNO & HARLEM BRAVADO vs. THE SKULK (Leon Ruff & A.R. Fox) (w/Ayla Fox & the Skulk) - 8/10
This went close to half an hour, and the story of it was that Leon Ruff was the babyface in peril and got the living sh*t beaten out of him but still kept going. He kicked out of everything he was hit with and eventually not only won the match but also Kassius Ohno's respect, here in his home market. The match had a lot of really clever little lots and Ohno and Bravado hitting Leon with the Gentlemen's Agreement was a fantastic nearfall.
RANDI WEST vs. BRANDI LAUREN - no rating, meh squash
This wasn't a particularly impressive squash, and so long as EVOLVE's women's division (if it can even be called such a thing) continues to revolve around one woman at a time (first Priscilla Kelly, and now that Priscilla is gone, Brandi Lauren) it doesn't feel like it's worth caring about.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Meh. Brandi cuts a promo in which she tells us that she is "the biggest star here" because "I have made my NXT debut multiple times." Someone might want to explain to her what the word "debut" means. She turned into your standard "I am everything in this division" heel promo. Soon Shotzi Blackheart came out and attacked Brandi the moment Brandi turned to face her. She laid Brandi out with a Saito Suplex and said "this division is mine to build."
Okay, so now there are two, but neither one comes off as particularly likable, and they don't have anything to fight over (other than the SHINE Title, I guess, but that's booked by Dave Prazak, so anything Gabe wants to book will take a backseat to Prazak's ideas). If you sign six different women and at least four of them on each show, then you'll have my faith that you're building a real division. Right now this just feels like something they're doing in order to have women on the show. I understand the PR reasons for doing that, but IMO the best answer "why don't you have a women's division" if you're EVOLVE is "we do. It's called SHINE. They run their own shows. You should check them out. Keeping men in EVOLVE and women in SHINE means we can give you TWO rosters full of talented competitors, one per gender, rather than trying to mush them into one roster and taking away half of the jobs from each," because trying to force a women's division in EVOLVE will leave you with something that will always look bad in comparison to SHINE, and will only serve to clog up the EVOLVE shows with a pale imitation of a women's division.
CURT STALLION vs. EDDIE KINGSTON - 6.5/10
Stallion is out for revenge for being jumped by The Unwanted back at EVOLVE 123, so he attacks Kingston right out of the gate. I realize that Kingston's dance card has been rather full since then, but it would have been helpful to get some kind of reminder of this angle during the intervening few shows. If you want to get your hands on a guy as revenge for a post-match attack, sitting on your butt and waiting for a match to get booked feels a little too passive.
The match was a very good brawl, but never really felt like it got out of second gear, which kind of dulled the effect that the story of Stallion hanging in there with the meanest guy on the indies Eddie Kingston was supposed to have. Stallion's headbutt finisher looked very weak, which definitely hurt the finish. It was like a lame version of Torpedo Moscow.
On commentary, Lenny Leonard acknowledged that Unwanted member Shane Strickland had signed with NXT, and wondered what this meant for his status in the group. He told us that he tried to talk to Kingston and Gacy about it but they wouldn't answer him. In other Lenny Leonard based notes, I liked him making sure to tell us that the reason Colby Corino was not booked this weekend was "personal reasons," because that puts the impetus for Colby not being here on Colby. This is important because part of the idea of Kingston and Gacy winning the tag titles was that they could use them to force EVOLVE to book them and their fellow Unwanted members, even though, as their name suggests, EVOLVE didn't want to book them. If we weren't given a reason for Colby not being booked this weekend, the logical conclusion to draw would be that EVOLVE just didn't book him, which would kill the story.
I was also greatly amused at Lenny Leonard calling Eddie Kingston's STO an "STO out of nowhere," but because it did come out of nowhere and because an STO is not a move you would expect to see from Eddie Kingston. But enough about Lenny Leonard. Instead let's talk about the...
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. Joe Gacy came out and attacked Stallion. Kingston then cut a promo, telling the fans "HOW DARE YOU BOO ME!" because he has remained "independent" his whole career. He called wrestlers who sign contracts "marks" and "sell-outs." He threatened to take out Babatunde just like he took out the Street Profits because people like him are taking spots that himself and Gacy and Colby deserve. Note the lack of mention of Shane Strickland.
Gacy then cut a promo telling J.D. Drake to come so they can have their WWN Title match right now because he is tired of waiting. Little lines like this that explain why the title match isn't going on last when it seems like it should be the obvious kayfabe main event are important because they show that the title is kayfabe important, rather than just being a prop. The title was supposed to go on last, but circumstances with the wrestlers changed that, rather than the company kayfabe booking the title to be secondary to a non-title match with a big outside star.
Never one to back down from a fight, J.D. Drake came out and we started the...
WWN TITLE MATCH:
J.D. Drake(c) vs. Joe Gacy (w/Eddie Kingston) - 7.5/10
They tried really hard to not have the referee see Kingston punching Drake, and while they succeeded at that (or at least set it up so that there was plausible deniability), they weren't quite quick enough that it didn't look like the referee looked up, saw Drake punching Kingston and knew that Kingston was about to fire back so he purposely looked away to check on Gacy, rather than it looking organic.
This was a great hoss fight with lots of emotion behind it. Kingston and Gacy's trash-talking did a great job of getting their characters over as a little bit detached from reality in that we know they're wrong that Drake doesn't deserve his title and that the people EVOLVE brings in don't deserve their spots, but they believe it so deeply it's a little scary. Gacy worked over Drake's arm but Drake made a comeback without using the arm too much and got the win.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Fine. Kingston knocked Drake out with the Backfist to the Future and shoved Drake's belt in his face, telling him "YOU DON'T DESERVE THIS!" over and over again. The fans taunted The Unwanted by chanting "YOU BOTH LOST!" at them. I like this crowd. Babatunde's music hit and Babatunde came out to make the save... eventually. There were several awkward moments where the music was playing and the camera cut to the entrance in anticipation of Babatunde emerging, and then eventually cut back to the ring because he hadn't come out. The Unwanted bailed, and Babatunde helped Drake up.
ADAM COLE vs. AUSTIN THEORY - 7/10
They did a good job for the mere thirteen minutes they got, but the fact that this big main event that has been built up to for months got so little time was very frustrating. It also made Theory's pre-match announcing antics insufferable, and his early-match stalling, while part of the story of the feud (Theory saying and doing things to get under Cole's skin), also felt more like waste of precious time than something that enhanced the story. Main events not getting an appropriate amount of time has definitely become a problem for EVOLVE recently.
They both worked over the other's head and neck and looked for their big moves, but the match barely felt like it got out of second gear when the finish came. That finish saw Nate Webb return. He did so right after Theory had kicked Cole in the nuts while the ref's back was turned so the result of his presence was evening things up rather than giving the babyface the advantage and he didn't really distract Theory so much as he distracted the referee, which was fine, though it definitely felt un-EVOLVE-like. That being said, this is Nate Webb and a feud that appears to have sprung up out of nowhere so far as EVOLVE continuity is concerned (I'm not sure if this was a Twitter angle or if they're playing off of something looked for another promotion, but either way, there is no excuse for Lenny Leonard not to have explained it to me at this point), so it's possible that feeling un-EVOLVE-like is what they're going for.
While the referee went over to deal with Webb, Theory grabbed the EVOLVE Title to use as a weapon but Cole countered his attempted belt shot with a superkick, and as other referees and a security person arrived to deal with Webb, the original referee got back in the ring and counted the pin, making Cole the second NXT wrestler to have a win over Theory in EVOLVE since he won the title (Gargano being the other). The Gargano win doesn't seem to have gone anywhere, which is not good, but I do have hope that this Adam Cole win is leading to something, simply because Austin Theory vs. Undisputed Era has been a constant storyline for a few months now.
This was an okay show from EVOLVE. There was some very good stuff on this show, but a lot of the matches (even the stuff that was great) felt like it should have been better (and in the case of the top three matches, would have been better if it was given more time). Other than the half-hour Fox & Ruff vs. Ohno & Bravado match that could have ended a few minutes earlier than it did, the women's match and the stuff with the Skulk in early on were the big culprits here (I'm fine with the Greene vs. Wolf match, both to give the new guy a solid win, and to establish that these "win and get a contract" matches doesn't always end with someone getting a contract), so I really hope that both the women's division as a whole and the "Skulk on a losing streak" storylines actually go somewhere. Tomorrow night's show has some very exciting match-ups (Cole vs. Fox, Ohno vs. Briggs, Work Horsemen vs. Unwanted, and a Bravado vs. Jaoude rematch that has me very intrigued) so hopefully those don't suffer from the same timing issues that most of tonight's matches did.