Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
It’s been a while since I looked at EVOLVE, and I’m regretting it.
The twelfth installment of the promotion is one of the best DVD’s I’ve seen in a while, from start to finish, and especially in the areas of character development, in-ring action, in-ring banter, storylines and match buildups.
What EVOLVE is doing is not only clicking on all cylinders, but revving up parts of the professional wrestling machine that haven’t been run in ages.
There are more than a few high points to explore:
For starters, let me call out Lenny Leonard, who simply is the best announcer in the business these days. On this DVD, he’s flying solo most of the way, but works with guests (Low Ki, Johnny Gargano) and whether calling all the shots or sharing voice time, Leonard is everything that should be in an announcer – obviously filled with knowledge, history and respect; calling the action but staying away from overstating things; and always keeping the fans informed on multiple levels.
EVOLVE’s action is a little more methodical, and Leonard brings out the best of the talent, channeling Gordon Solie at times in explaining the focus of holds, discussing strategy when appropriate, and tying the action to feuds and the history of the wrestlers in the ring.
Leonard also plays interviewer in the ring, and EVOLVE brings alive that long forgotten aspect of connecting the fans to the winner, which also plays into further interactions and, on this DVD, a few chances for Low Ki to develop his attitude.
Setting aside Low Ki for a moment, one thing that really, really struck me was the banter in the ring.
That’s one thing most promotions keep far away from. But this talented roster is filled with guys who put together matches seamlessly, and there’s something about hearing the trash talk, the mocking, the standing up to adversity and the grunts and groans that takes the craft of pro wrestling up several knocks.
Sure, there’s some vulgarity and there’s the antics of The Scene (please, someone find Larry Dallas in Japan…. I’m already well done with Jonny Fairplay) but overall there’s great positive about AR Fox vs Sami Callihan as a blow-off to a long running feud and hearing as well as seeing the focus on the anger and animosity between the two.
And not just a by-the-numbers match where the announcer is the only one talking.
I can’t overlook Low Ki any longer – his presence on this DVD is overwhelming, and just after praising his in-ring, here he’s establishing himself as a very unique heel, one taking umbrage with the fan-centric approach of guys like El Generico and Jigsaw (or maybe just masked men). The calling of the Ricochet vs El Generico was very reminiscent of the debut of Tazz… except we were introduced to Low Ki up front.
Obviously Low Ki has the history and the talent to pull off the heel with a chip on his shoulder, but the understated delivery is what makes it work. He’s knocking the “youngsters” all the while pointing out their flaws, and the interactions with El Generico – in the ring, at the announce table, afterwards and then showing El Generico’s reaction backstage …. This is the staging of the sport like no other promotion today.
And what makes it awesome isn’t the chanting or the scripting or any sort of overbooking – it’s setting up things so the talent shines in the ring, and develops as they wrestle and deliver promos.
EVOLVE went through some rocky times, but now it has a core roster, the inclusion of many faces from Dragon Gate, the veteran presence of Dave Finlay and also significant indy players like Low Ki.
It also boasts one of the best formats for “making” new names: the inclusion of lesser known names in the openers and the multiple-man matches allows guys to get some wins. The win and loss records being prominent also makes matches meaningful.
Sure, there’s a bit of a stretch from time to time (why, for example, Sami Callihan is headlining with a 3-4 record) but overall the buildup is very strong. What’s also interesting is how guys like El Generico and Samuray Del Sol are a lot less hampered by bad records, while Chuck Taylor keeps building up his wins and … well, also his menagerie of cohorts.
Building up matches is definitely an EVOLVE focus.
Dave Finlay vs Jon Davis was many months in the making.
AR Fox vs Sami Callihan was a year in the making
The Gargano vs Taylor feud is building up.
Ricochet called out Low Ki, which should eventually be a big, big match.
So, while the Low Ki vs Jigsaw was an indy dream match without big, big fanfare, it was made meaningful because it was part of the development of Low Ki’s character, and also in setting a tone. I really enjoy Low Ki’s work, as he pares down the high spots, and tells a story in the match. There’s something about the typical quasi-comedy of Jigsaw (he’s not completely emblematic of CHIKARA, but he’s one of the tall stringbeans) that worked interestingly well with Ki’s quasi-heel approach.
Suffice to say, this is a great match.
Finlay vs Davis was another clinic of a match. Finlay can work with the best of them and make the least of them shine, but he didn’t have to reach with Jon Davis. As the strongman of the roster, Davis pulled out some surprises – a few submission attempts, a few highspots of note, and in the end, he’s a better wrestler for having tried Finlay.
Setting aside some feature matches of up-and-coming talents (and the man-scout), but ignoring the Swamp Monster for various reasons, the other vastly interesting concept at play here was the Bobby Fish MMA Fight from Cage Wars XII.
Fish wasn’t flashy, but he won.
Fish was definitely not just playing at being a MMA fighter, he looked the part and looked like he overmatched his opponent. Sure, the UFC purists will scoff at the headgear, but Fish wasn’t swinging at the fences (or that padding). He finished off his opponent with a scarily strong kick to the liver.
He may not be a Mirko Cro-Cop, but he’s definitely showing a side that can be marketable for MMA and pro wrestling, and while I know most of the answers, it does make you wonder why no one else has gone this direction.
(Yeah, I’m ignoring that national alternative. They already killed a cool perspective I had building for Rampage Jackson. I thought the over/under would have been two months, not two weeks).
EVOLVE #12 is a must see for fans hoping for something different in the sport. In terms of top quality talent, matchmaking and identifiable (and realistic) wrestlers, there’s no other promotion out there that can touch what’s on display on this DVD.