EVOLVE 131: 10th Anniversary Special

EVOLVE 131: 10th Anniversary Special

By Big Red Machine
From July 13, 2019

EVOLVE 131: 10th Anniversary Special
It's actually closer to DGUSA's 10th anniversary, but we'll let that slide, as the two had basically merged within a few years, so it's still the 10th anniversary of the post-ROH Gabe/Sal indy project, and EVOLVE is the survivor of that.

We start off with a video package highlighting the many former EVOLVE wrestlers in WWE with those wrestlers talking about how important EVOLVE has been to them honing their craft and making it in the WWE. The word "wrestling" is said more times in these ninety seconds than you'll hear it in an entire year of WWE programming (including NXT, NXT UK and 205 Live).

We then got Lenny Leonard in the ring surrounded by a bunch of people. Curt Stallion was staring a hole through Anthony Greene (I guess EVOLVE officials have issue an edict similar to last time for him to keep away from Greene and not screw up this important show or else they will cancel his match with Greene coming up on their swing through the Midwest in August), Brandi Lauren was jawing at Shotzi Blackheart, who was being held back by referees, and some others were there, sometimes doing similar things while Lenny Leonard once again told us that these people are going to be the future of WWE. You know... just in case the video package in which they spent ninety seconds doing this exact same thing wasn't enough. Lenny decided to start the show off before the referees lost control. Harlem Bravado managed to kick Stephen Wolf while they were all leaving the ring. This felt very hokey and contrived.

Josh Briggs didn't leave the ring but instead cut a promo saying that "tonight is about opportunity" and that he was going to make the most of his. His scheduled opponent for tonight, Anthony Greene, was apparently slow to get to the back because he and his manager Brandi Lauren were both still standing at ringside, so Briggs insisted that they start the show off with...

JOSH BRIGGS vs. ANTHONY GREENE (w/Brandi Lauren)- 6.5/10

This was a solid opener, but I was surprised this didn't go longer in order to try to have that blow-away first impression opener. Greene worked over Briggs' knee to make him think twice about going for his chokeslam onto the knees finisher. Briggs managed to win by hitting a chokeslam into a powerbomb rather than the chokeslam onto the knees that Greene was ready for.


Sean Maluta vs. Curt Stallion vs. Stephen Wolf vs. Harlem Bravado - 7/10

If you don't want someone to ruin matches on this show then then why was Harlem Bravado booked after his behavior on the previous show? Lenny Leonard's framing made it even worse, with EVOLVE management seeming to purposely reward Harlem for his bad behavior.

Wolf, angry about both the kick earlier tonight and the low blow at Evolve 130, charged at Harlem while Harlem was taking his "grandma said knock you out" shirt off to start things out. This match turned out to be your big action spots match. They had a GREAT finishing sequence with Wolf getting his first win in EVOLVE by pinning Harlem Bravado.



This was ten awesome minutes of realistic "fake MMA" style goodness, which, when combined with the heat between these two, resulted in yet another match for the "BRM's favorite matches under eleven minutes" list.

Brandi Lauren vs. Shotzi Blackheart - 7/10

I was kind of torn between rating this as a match and rating it as a segment. I ultimately went with a match simply due to the punishment that Shotzi took here, and because EVOLVE has so few women's matches (never mind quality ones) that this deserved to be rated as a match so it could sit at the top of the list.

Basically, Brandi hired Natalya Markova to fight for her, and she ran in right away. Brandi had to wrestle a mini-match with Markova first and take her out before she could get to Brandi. She and Brandi then had a good little weapons match of their own where Brandi only got the win because Anthony Greene came out to pull her out of the way of a dive into a pile of chairs, resulting in Shotzi going into those chairs hard. Curt Stallion came out to brawl away with Greene, but the tide had already turned and Brandi beat the crap out of a weakened Shotzi with a Kendo stick to get the win. While Shotzi had always been portrayed as tough, this match for me was the first time her character really felt tough, rather than like someone playing a the gritty tough gal against softer competition.

BABATUNDE vs. COLBY CORINO (w/Sean Maluta) - no rating, good semi-squash

Colby was allowed to get some offense in this time, but this was basically a squash with the story being the size differential being way too much for Colby to overcome.

POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. The rest of The Unwanted came out and Kingston cut a great promo on Babatunde explain why they hate him: They have had to "do things the right way" by spending years on the indies working everywhere they could get bookings, etc., while Babatunde gets everything handed to him because he's large and used to play football. Kingston says they are going to take him out right now and The Unwanted surround the ring but A.R. Fox and the Skulk come out to make the save, transitioning us into the previously scheduled...

The Unwanted (Eddie Kingston & Joe Gacy)(c) vs. Leon Ruff & A.R. Fox (w/Ayla Fox & the Skulk) - 6/10

This was a fast-paced, all-action match. Fox & Ruff won the titles and the Skulk had a big party afterwards.


MATT RIDDLE (w/Curt Stallion) vs. DREW GULAK - 8.25/10

An awesome EVOLVE-style match mixing grapplef*ck and big moves. The crowd was very hot for everything, but when they started chanting "YOWEE WOWEE!" I wanted to see each and every last one of them flogged. Riddle picked up the clean win, which I found very surprising because he's the Cruiserweight Champion, but it does continue the story that Lenny Leonard had been putting over that Gulak has never been able to defeat Riddle.

POST-MATCH SEGMENT - We got a big show of respect between Riddle and Gulak, and Gulak also put Curt Stallion over as someone Riddle hand-picked to be his opponent tomorrow night.


PRE-MATCH SEGMENT - Weird, but also touching, and very big for EVOLVE. Bryan Idol being referred to as someone EVOLVE would never have made it this far without was a funny inside joke (I believe Gabe and Sal have used his promoter's license several times). He was supposed to be the guest ring announcer for the title vs. title match. Then the lights went out, and when they came back on... PAUL HEYMAN was in the ring. Heyman cut a promo putting EVOLVE over HUGE, which was a big deal because- as Heyman noted- he has turned down tons and tons of offers to do this same thing for countless promotions since ECW closed. That all being said, why the hell did we have to do the swerve and the dumb lights going out gimmick (other than for the sake of the ECW tribute)?

Austin Theory(Evolve Champion) vs. J.D. Drake(WWN Champion) - 7.75/10

Austin Theory beat J.D. Drake cleanly to win the title. The match was exciting, but quite frankly I'm too stunned to say anything else right now. Drake was our guy, not Theory! I know that Briggs has been built up to be the guy to take the Evolve Title from Theory, but having this match happen and end like this feels like such a downer.

POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. Austin Theory cut an awesome heel promo saying that everyone's dreams now have to go through him. Then the lights went out and Josh Briggs appeared behind him, laid him out with his chokeslam into a backstabber thing and posed with the title. EVOLVE has almost never done the stupid, hokey "the lights go out" thing, but now they've done it twice in one night and I already can't stand it.


Adam Cole(c) vs. Akira Tozawa - 7.5/10

Cole worked the neck and got the win. The match had an odd feeling to it because Cole has been a babyface during this entire 2019 run he's had in EVOLVE but was a full-fledged heel here like he is in NXT. The big surprise here was Cole trying to use the belt as a weapon but Johnny Gargano coming out to stop him. After the match Gargano put the current EVOLVE roster over and cut the traditional babyface "send the crowd home happy" promo.

Final Thoughts
This was an interesting show from EVOLVE. It was a great show in the ring, but didn't seem to me like it was quite the level of show that would convince anyone to seek out much more EVOLVE unless they really got into the "this is the future of WWE" hype... and even if that person did want to follow EVOLVE more, they didn't do much to plug Club WWN so that people would know where to go to watch more EVOLVE. This show didn't feel any different from any other 2019 EVOLVE show, which is both a positive in that it didn't feel watered down for the WWE Network, but a negative in that it still feels like it doesn't quite have its own identity anymore. The more I think about it, the more J.D. Drake's loss really took the steam out of the show for me. It just feels like another step in EVOLVE being subsumed by WWE, even if it really has nothing to do with that. And it's not that EVOLVE hasn't done well in that role, showing fans what the likes of Fabian Aichner, the Street Profits, and Arturo Ruas are truly capable of, but there has just been a little too much of a push of the idea of it being a WWE feeder league for it to not feel overpowering whenever they've got guys like Adam Cole in the main event and beating Austin Theory, or like here were it was Gargano and Tozawa in the ring to close the show, not Drake or Henry or Briggs. It is what it is, and I've accepted it... but that doesn't mean I don't wish they would do a better job of making it feel a little less like that.

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