OPENING SEGMENT - Fine. Both Lenny Leonard and A.R. Fox thank us all for our support over the years. Fox then cuts a promo saying that EVOLVE can't go on the WWE Network with a disgrace like Austin Theory representing them as champion, and thus it is up to his student Leon Ruff to prevent this from happening tonight. He also hypes up his own match against Tyler Breeze and the Skulk's match, which is...
MILK CHOCOLATE vs. THE SKULK (Adrian Alanis & Liam Gray) (w/A.R. Fox, Ayla Fox, & the Skulk) - 5.75/10
The Skulk got things started off with a big dive before Milk Chocolate had even made it to the ring. The match was short but had a lot of action and was very good for the time it got. Milk Chocolate picked up what feels like an upset victory, even though the Skulk are on a losing streak.
HARLEM BRAVADO vs. BABATUNDE - 4.25/10
Harlem was allowed to get some offense in on the giant but not much. They got over how hard Babatunde's chops are, which is important because J.D. Drake wanted to face Babatunde at tomorrow's show to see who has the hardest and most devastating chops in EVOLVE.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Very good. J.D. Drake came out to thank Babatunde for saving him from The Unwanted at Evolve 127 as well as to let Babtunde know that he took exception to Babatunde's recent comment that he saw fear in Drake's eyes that night when Drake looked up from the mat and saw Babatunde standing over him. Drake is determined to prove he is not afraid of Babatunde and so he will put the title on the line in their match.
Babatunde shoved Drake into the corner and feigned the big chop but then gently patted Drake on the stomach and then then on the cheek. Drake gave him a death stare the whole time.
Babatunde left, then Drake cut a promo saying that because he is a champion that EVOLVE and the WWN can be proud of, if he gets pinned or submitted in his match tonight, he will relinquish the title and give it to the man that beats him tonight. So essentially it's a...
FATAL FOUR WAY MATCH IN WHICH THE WWN TITLE WILL CHANGE HANDS IF THE CHAMPION IS PINNED OR SUBMITTED:
J.D. Drake(c) vs. Takuri vs. Sean Maluta vs. John Silver (w/Alex Reynolds) - 6/10
Everyone ganged up on Drake in the beginning, which makes sense because everyone would rather than win the title than just pick up a win and not win the title. This is really what should happen in every Defy or Deny match in ROH (because once the champion is eliminated there is no risk to the challengers) but never does. They built their whole story around the idea that everyone wanted to pin Drake and they told that story very well. Drake won, meaning that tomorrow night's match with Babatunde will, in fact, be a title match. Lenny Leonard used the term "title opportunity," which he really shouldn't have done. Even the people who don't mind- or even like- the heavy WWE presence in EVOLVE don't want to hear WWE-speak in EVOLVE commentary.
BRANDI LAUREN vs. SHOTZI BLACKHEART - No rating bad segment. Apparently Brandi Lauren has been politicking to keep other women out of EVOLVE by burying them to management. If that is what has kept women out of EVOLVE then doesn't that just make management look bad?
They brawled. The brawl wound up on the outside and eventually Brandi wound up in the crowd. The referee ordered Shotzi not to follow her but she did, so the referee declared the match a no-contest. They brawled a bunch until they were separated by referees, which is exactly what happened last time. The idea here was supposed to be that the referees were so concerned with calming Shotzi down that the pacified Brandi was able to grab Shotzi's goofy entrance helmet and sneak up behind Shotzi without them noticing to clock her with it, but Brandi did way too much of the usual pro wrestling pantomime for it to be believable that one of the three referees who were looking in her direction didn't see her in time to get between her and Shotzi.
JOSH BRIGGS vs. ARTURO RUAS - 6.5/10
It took me WAY too long to remember that Arturo Ruas is the new name WWE randomly gave Adrian Jaoude. The story of the match was Ruas using his athleticism to avoid Briggs' power moves and trying to win with strikes or leg submissions. The finish saw Briggs go up for a top rope version of finisher, just like when he injured himself against A.R. Fox trying it back at EVOLVE 124, in this very building... and this time Ruas avoids the move but Briggs' still lands on his back and hurts his injured hip. Ruas then locks a submission in and referee Jay Clement eventually decides to call for the bell in the interests of Briggs' safety even though Briggs never gave up. This finish would have worked a lot better for me if there hadn't been so many non-conclusive finishes in EVOLVE over the past few months.
EVOLVE TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Unwanted (Eddie Kingston & Joe Gacy)(c) vs. Anthony Greene & Curt Stallion - 7.5/10
This was not a good match for announcer Lenny Leonard. He accidentally said the tag titles would be on the line tomorrow night when they won't be, referred to one half of the NXT Tag Team Champions as "Antonio Dawkins" and combined Kingston and Gacy into "Eddie Gacy" multiple times.
As bad a match as Lenny was having, the wrestlers were having a good one in the ring. I really loved the little things they did to show us that this makeshift team was not going to work together as well as the tag champs, who team together regularly, and the spot where they almost won via fluke (Kingston nailed Greene with a Backfist to the Future, causing him to fall onto Gacy, and Greene then grabbed Kingston to prevent him from breaking it up) did a great job of contributing to this underdog feeling because they had been setting up the idea that it would take something like this for the titles to change hands.
Speaking of the titles possibly changing hands, I'm really not sure why these guys are getting a title shot. The feud makes sense (The Unwanted don't like people who they see EVOLVE management as wanting, and Greene and Stallion have both earned WWN contracts in the past six months) and Stallion has a win over Kingston, but that doesn't feel like anything near enough to earn a title shot. Lenny Leonard pushed the idea that The Unwanted being tag champs when EVOLVE debuted on the WWE Network next month would be an embarrassment to the company, but he never pushed the idea that this match was made a title match because EVOLVE officials wanted to avoid such an embarrassment and getting the titles off of The Unwanted so they wouldn't embarrass the company a la Kevin Steen's ROH World Title reign, so there wasn't any real justification for a title shot.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. After The Unwanted left, the babyfaces got a chance to soak up the appreciation of the crowd for their strong effort. Then Brandi Lauren came out and gave some sort of signal and Greene turned heel on Stallion and beat him up a bunch. He and Brandi celebrated together and there was a lot of "you and me on the same team" pantomiming. They went to leave but Greene came back and beat Stallion up a bit more. This got a lot of heat, and I was happy to see Greene turn heel because he has one of those faces you just want to punch, and I find his lack of substantial personality rather annoying so hopefully turning heel will help him develop one.
TYLER BREEZE vs. A.R. FOX (w/Ayla Fox & the Skulk) - 7.75/10
Lenny Leonard trying to impress us on Tyler Breeze's behalf by saying that his first match in FCW was a ten-man tag involving Roman Reigns, Bray Wyatt, and Big E. was extremely grating to me. Firstly, I'm not really a fan of acknowledging prior gimmicks unless it's absolutely necessary, and doubly so in cases like Bray Wyatt (where is supposed to be a completely different person from Husky Harris) or Roman Reigns (where all of the big deals WWE announcers have made about Roman's "first pinfall loss" or how he has "never tapped out" or whatever would be kayfabe contradicted by acknowledging his time as Leakee.
Secondly, it's a very poor argument that making it to WWE development makes you in any way special because, while the future stars that Lenny mentioned might have been in that match, Lenny also told us that it was a ten-man tag, which means that there were six other men in that match. Those six men were Darren Young, Ricardo Rodriguez, Tough Enough winner Andy, a guy named Li Fang who doesn't appear to have ever made it out of Texas side from his FCW stint, James Bronson/former AJPW nobody PJ Friedman, and Henry Godwinn's son. I'll bet most of didn't even know that Henry Godwinn had a son, never mind one who tried to break into the wrestling business. Or that the few people who remembered James Bronson knew he worked for All Japan in the early 2000s. Or have even thought about Tough Enough Andy in at least five years. I sure fall into that category.
Thirdly, and most importantly... who the hell was Lenny trying to get Breeze over to with this fact? Indy fans know how good the guy is, and any WWE fan who has tuned in after some co-promotion with NXT or whatever already knows how good Breeze can be just from his few NXT appearances over the past year. I can accept that the fact that they are pushing the idea that WWN is a "pipeline to WWE," but going full on with this almost markish "isn't it so cool that he was in a developmental match with these big WWE guys" is a bridge too far for me.
The match itself was pretty darn great. The story was that they each had the other's big stuff scouted pretty well and were mostly able to avoid it. I really don't like those spots where the Skulk stops Fox from hitting the floor when he gets knocked off the apron. That really should be considered interfering in the match and should at least result in the Skulk being ejected from ringside.
ANTHONY HENRY (w/J.D. Drake) vs. RODERICK STRONG (w/Bobby Fish & Kyle O'Reilly) - 8/10
This was all of the expected awesomeness. Roddy worked over Henry's back while Henry worked over whatever part of Roddy he found an opening to work on.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Fine. Roddy won, but he put Henry over huge on the mic after the match, saying he had a lot of heart and that EVOLVE was in good hands with him as a top guy. Austin Theory came out and said he was tired of J.D. Drake claiming to be the top champion in EVOLVE. Drake tried to get at Theory but Henry held him back. Theory then insulted Henry and said he would be the one to represent EVOLVE as its champion on the WWE Network at Evolve 131 in two weeks. Theory then noted that tonight was going to be Leon Ruff's first main event in EVOLVE, and vowed to make it his last. This brought out Ruff, who charged at Theory to kick off their scheduled...
EVOLVE TITLE MATCH:
Austin Theory(c) vs. Leon Ruff - 7.5/10
Watching this match made it very clear why these two are A.R. Fox's best students. This was definitely a spotty match, but they paced it out well and created the necessary emotion to make it work. Even in this short twelve minutes, Ruff took a tremendous amount of punishment (including a f*cking Awesome Bomb on the apron!) and came off as a babyface star in the making. I don't think anyone thought Ruff had a prayer of winning... but they managed to change my mind for the few moments necessary to make his big nearfalls work. I was disappointed to see yet another Austin Theory match where he had to cheat to win (especially against a guy much lower on the card), but it at least builds to a rematch, which I would LOVE to see.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Great. Theory cut a usual Austin Theory promo telling us that he is a future WWE Champion and EVOLVE and the Evolve Title are just stepping stones to him, but at least he set this one up by plugging the fact that he is going to main event EVOLVE's big show on the WWE Network first (he says that after that he'll main event a TakeOver show, and then go on to main event WrestleMania. WWN Champion J.D. Drake headed down the aisle to confront him but Josh Briggs cut in front of Drake and ran to the ring, sending Theory scurrying. Briggs challenged Theory to a match when EVOLVE returns to this venue in September, saying it wouldn't be a wrestling match but rather a "fight" and a "public execution." Briggs' promo was pretty great, though ended on an odd note when it seemed like the show was being hurried off the air.
This was a very good show from EVOLVE, with some nice storyline development, some big moments, and some great wrestling. While the way their relationship with WWE is portrayed- and particularly the way EVOLVE's wrestlers are portrayed in relation to NXT's- is certainly something that is worthy of criticism, the big anniversary show airing on the WWE Network has at least given Gabe something to build to, as this show did a great job of making that show feel like it will be truly a momentous night for EVOLVE.