By Big Red Machine
From February 29, 2020

SHOW OPENING - Great. Brendan Vink interrupted Lenny Leonard and Trevin Adams as they were running down tonight’s card because no main event without him in it is worth talking about. He cut a great heel promo before Drake came out to respond with his usual fantastic babyface promo. Vink’s response to Drake standing up for EVOLVE and the locker room to someone who thinks he is above EVOLVE was to say that while Drak e might be a star in EVOLVE, he’ll never be a star in NXT. This is one of those things that if they don’t thread the needle carefully winds up making EVOLVE look very second-class, and so far they haven’t threaded that needle well at all.
Either way, this comment led to Drake slugging Vink, kicking off…

BRENDAN VINK vs. J.D. DRAKE - 6.5/10

This was solid while it lasted, which was only about ten minutes. Vink won by referee stoppage. While this win makes sense with a story about Vink building himself up only to eventually get knocked off of his high horse by some babyface at a later date, it is yet another example of the NXT guy beating the EVOLVE guy. Spots like this are exactly why you shouldn’t be doing that pretty much every time. Because when you need them to happen for storyline purposes, they’ve already hit the point where they’re getting on the EVOLVE fan viewers’ nerves.

POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Bad. The crowd chanted “bullsh*t” at the finish, and Drake himself was not happy with it. He yelled at Vink so Vink came back and attacked him some more until a herd of referees came out to pull him off. I don’t know if this was supposed to help Drake save face to build to a gimmick match that takes referee stoppages out of the equation or something like that, but based on what we saw here, it really just made Drake look silly.


Jessi Kamea is the former Jessi Eleban, who you might remember from the Mae Young Classic or her one match in EVOLVE due to her goofy large glasses. She has pretty much completely changed her look to the point where I didn’t recognize her. I thought she looked and carried herself differently enough that I would have just had Lenny Leonard pretend she was a whole new wrestler. The explanation Lenny gave for her change made sense (although it would have been better if we heard her cut the promo directly), but if you’re going to acknowledge that this is the same person but with a new attitude, then shouldn’t she keep her same last name (and if that’s part of the transformation process, then the new name needs to have some sort of significance, and we fans need to be informed of it).
Kame won a short but competitive match cleanly.


Another short match. They told a decent power vs. speed story. Pacifico eventually got cocky, at which point Davis caught him and obliterated him.


Oh. So that’s what all of this Jake Atlas hype is about. Seems pretty warranted to me.
It takes two to tango, of course, and Wolf was also great here. These two had a match that was fast-paced and athletic while still giving things time to process, as well as maintaining a feeling that this was a real fight and not a performance.


Colby jumped Gacy during his entrance after Gacy turned his back on him to pose on the apron. They told a GREAT story of Colby as the small guy who just wouldn’t stay down, and even gave him the shocking victory. Timing-wise this seems very weird, as Gacy as been on quite the hot streak, and having Colby beat him before blowing it off with a title shot (especially when there are other unwanted members like Donovan for him to beat) seems like a waste of Gacy’s hot streak, as I don’t think Colby gets anything more out of beating Gacy when he’s on a hot streak than he would if Gacy were just coming off of a title loss, or just neutral.

Gacy attacked Colby after the match, so I guess that’s the end of what seemed oddly like a slow face turn for him with all of his clean wins.

I like Allison Danger, but calling her “one of the best female wrestlers of all time” as Lenny Leonard did when putting over Colby’s family lineage is a WWE-level exaggeration.

BRANDI LAUREN vs. AVERY TAYLOR - no rating, decent segment

They started off brawling. Avery controlled things early but Anthony Greene and Harlem Bravado came out to cause a distraction. This allowed Jessi Kamea to come in and run Avery into the post. Brandi then hit her finisher and won. This does a passable job of kicking the can down the road on the Taylor vs. Lauren match while adding a new person to the In Crowd. Adding another woman might seem a little weird given Brandi’s stated mission of wanting to be the only woman under contract, but they can pretty easily spin it (and seemed to be doing so on commentary here, in hindsight) to her wanting to be the center of attention/top female, in which case she would definitely be okay with having a lackey.
Harlem Bravado cut a promo telling us that Jessi was now part of the In Crowd, then called out Denzel Dejournette to start…

DENZEL DEJOURNETTE vs. HARLEM BRAVADO (w/the In Crowd) - 4.75/10

Dejournette got to look good and show off his amateur stuff here, but wound up losing via distraction. Antony Greene attacked Dejournette after the match. Jon Davis came out and helped Dejournette to the back. Greene then cut a promo mocking Josh Briggs for injuring himself doing his own finisher, then challenged him to come out and have their match right now (noting that he warmed up, giving us viewers the implication that Briggs isn’t and is thus at a disadvantage). Briggs, being the fighting champion that he is, happily came out for the…

Josh Briggs(c) vs. Anthony Greene (w/Brandi Lauren, Harlem Bravado, & Jessi Kamea) - 8.25/10

Briggs charged at Greene the moment he got into the ring, jump-starting the match. They kept up a great intensity throughout, even during the slow points. The two stories of the match were the heels on the outside interfering and Briggs’ right hand getting injured, and they told them both very well. Briggs in particular sold great, both men took a lot of punishment, and it was nice to see something actually get an appropriate amount of time for once.

At one point the heels were just taunting Briggs and beating him four on one but eventually Stephen Wolf came out to brawl away with Harlem Bravado (they have a grudge match tomorrow night) and Avery Taylor came out to take out the two women, getting us back to one on one.
My only real criticism here isn’t aimed at the wrestling but rather the announcing (and, perhaps, the production). Lenny Leonard kept talking about there being history between these two because they both came up together in the Massachusetts area and about how this match was so “brutal” because it was “so personal.”

Brutal? Yes. Personal? No. I’m not feeling it. I came into this match knowing that they had been feuding, but I felt like Lenny Leonard was pulling a bunch of info out of his ass and dropping it on me in a desperate attempt to make this feel like a major blood feud. if the reason for that is that there is stuff on YouTube or Twitter that I haven’t seen, that’s EVOLVE’s fault for not showing it to me, because I watch every single show. You can’t assume that fans look at everything you put on social media. If you want something to be a part of the storyline, show it to us and make it relevant before the middle of the blow-off.

The Skulk (Adrian Alanis & Liam Gray) (w/the Skulk) vs. Leon Ruff & A.R. Fox (w/Ayla Fox & other members of the Skulk) - 6/10

Why do Gray & Alanis need to win a #1 contedership match if they beat the champs clean at the last show? Shouldn’t that be enough to earn a title shot on its own? I suppose if Ruff & Fox have an obligatory rematch then it might make sense to have a match to determine which of these two deserving teams gets their shot first, but that’s not how this match was framed.

And yeah, they’re definitely just not showing us stuff. Lenny Leonard is talking about some “video that came out” with Ruff and Alanis’ friendly banter about this upcoming match maybe hitting a little harder than they thought.

The match was mostly just spots. “Skulk Rules” are apparently relaxed rules, especially in regards to tags. This stipulation was added, of course, to facilitate the series of spots that this match was. And hey- if you’re going to do a series of spots and just ignore the tag rules, I’d rather you create a kayfabe justification for it rather than just saying it’s a regular tag match and then ignoring the rules. That being said, the idea of the rules being “relaxed” still isn’t enough for me to be happy with the idea of a referee counting simultaneous pinfalls. Relaxed rules or not, it’s just plain not possible for one partner on each team to be pinning someone from the other team at the same time and it all to be legal because only two wrestlers can be legal. If you’re saying more than two wrestlers are legal, it’s not longer a tag team match but rather a tornado tag, and that’s not what this was billed as.

Doing it for the finish is even more frustrating, and even more frustrating than that was the way this was all handled. If you’re got two teams and you want to keep them even, don’t do a convoluted finish like this. Just do a time-limit draw! In addition to making more sense, it will be more palatable to the crowd that the match can’t continue (the kayfabe reason for time limits is that the building/TV show has only been booked for a certain length of time), and you won’t have to put your ring announcer in such a bad position. And for the love of G-d don’t immediately tell people that they’ll have to check out the website in the coming week for follow-up! Saying that right away makes this feel more like the fans are getting screwed because you’ve got your plan to communicate the important information in place already (even if that is what the logical back-up plan would be). Everyone knows to tune to the website anyway, and even if they didn’t, in this age of the internet people will go to the website in the next week to find out match announcements for the next set of shows anyway.

KEITH LEE SHOWS UP AND GIVES A SPEECH - Meh. This was a big surprise and got a hell of a reaction from the crowd. That being said, these random appearances from NXT guys who I can see on NXT every week don’t do anything for me if they’re not going to move any stories forward, and this definitely qualified as that. Lee also did the ring introductions for our new main event (replacing Greene vs. Briggs), which was…


Lenny Leonard pushed this as EVOLVE officials choosing to give Stallion the main event spot over the #1 contendership match, but with the way things have been pushed lately, it still feels like this match gets the main event spot because the NXT guy is in it.

Speaking of framing, though, I was pleasantly surprised to see Lenny Leonard framing Mansoor’s presence here as him wanting to earn “indy cred” for both himself and the Performance Center. That kind of framing raises EVOLVE up, not buries it like the “everyone wants to go to NXT and EVOLVE is just a stepping stone” framing has been doing.

Also, after all of that supposed confusion, we’ve already got an answer about the #1 contenders to the tag titles: It’s going to be a three-way match, which we all figured out anyway. So why did they tell us t tune in to the website for info if everyone watching was going to be told said info within fifteen minutes?

Anyway, the match itself was better than I was expecting it to be. That’s probably just me underestimating Mansoor. Both guys worked over the head and neck, and they put together a match that started off slow but built well and got pretty damn exciting by the end. That doesn’t mean that seeing Stallion do yet another job to an NXT guy wasn’t frustrating (though considering that he just let someone kick out of the Pedigree, maybe he won’t be an NXT guy for very long). Stallion took a beautiful bump on the finish, though.

POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Interesting, for multiple reasons. Firstly, Stallion got to do the show-closing babyface “thank you for coming” bit, which is a pretty big vote of confidence in your ability to be a babyface from Gabe. Mansoor also cut a promo putting EVOLVE and Stallion over huge, including saying that Stallion “took me to my limit when a former world champion couldn’t.” I’m not sure if that was a shot at A.R. Fox (who Mansoor beat at the previous show) or if it was a shot at Dolph Ziggler, who Mansoor beat earlier this week at WWE Super ShowDown 2020. Between what might be a shot at Dolph Ziggler and someone kicking out of a Pedigree… I foresee some political red flags in Mansoor’s future. Hopefully someone at the PC will take him aside and teach him this very quietly.

Final Thoughts
Looking back on it, this was actually a pretty darn great show from EVOLVE in the ring, but now that I have finished watching it, it doesn’t quite feel that way. Watching it spread out over the course of a week is certainly a factor there, but I after looking back on things, I think the real issue is that this idea of these NXT guys just winning all the time is really starting to weigh on me. My position on the NXT guys since pretty much the beginning has been that I’m happy to have them come in here and either be full-time members of the roster like Street Profits, Ruas, Aichner, and Vink, or work a certain program (Ohno vs. Briggs, Undisputed Era vs. Theory), but if you’re going to bring NXT guys (and gals) in just to be the draw for one weekend, I think you need to at least create the feeling that there is a chance in hell of them losing. If you don’t, then a match that otherwise sounds pretty darn cool like Velveteen Dream vs. A.R. Fox or Kyle O’Reilly vs. Anthony Gutierrez or J.D. Drake vs. WALTER turns into “okay, which of my EVOLVE favorites are jobbing to an NXT guy this month?”

I’d love to be able to tell you that it hasn’t come to that point, but the truth is that we’re well past it. SO far past it, in fact, that I’m now even worried about guys like Vink and Mansoor coming in full time because I’m worried that just like happened with Arturo Ruas- whom, you might recall, was one of my favorite workers on the EVOLVE roster- guys like Vink and Mansoor will show up, run through pretty much everybody, and then leave without really putting anyone over at the end (yes, Ruas lost to Briggs and lost his feud to Henry, but neither of those were at the end of his run, and even after those losses he was beating guys like J.D. Drake). I’m still going to watch EVOLVE because I like the style and I’m growing to love guys like Curt Stallion and Anthony Gutierrez and Anthony Greene and Stephen Wolf, and I will always have some about of faith in Gabe Sapolsky, but at the same time, it’s not going to be as easy of a watch as it used to be until that trust that I’m not just watching my favorites job to NXT guys because WWE is still being protective of their developmental talent who are barely on TV in a business that everyone watching knows is a work is a regained. I’m all for protecting top guys, but like I’ve said with ROH and New Japan, 1) both sides need to respect the other’s top guys because a partnership isn’t a one-way street, and 2) a partnership is about working together, not just working side by side. Having my top guys beat your midcarders and getting attention from the novelty of seeing my top guys on your shows is okay for a while, but really working together involves sitting down and finding times where I am okay with my top guy putting your top guys over because it helps your story and vice-versa.<

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