Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
There’s a lot about EVOLVE that differentiates it from the expected notions of professional wrestling. For one, event the faintest concept of “style” being used with the sport is amazing these days. For another, the promotion has been going strong without any focus on a Championship. And for a third point, while the wins-and-losses concept seems a little faulty, the promotion has built a structure by which no other product can be measured.
All this is very positive.
Even more positive is that EVOLVE makes use of its structure, it’s top-notch talent at the top, and a seemingly more talent friendly environment to make an effort to bring new names in and let them run with their opportunities.
While there are negatives, they seem trivial in an industry where negativity is the norm and obliviousness to history, success and formulas is even more expected. When it is not, harping on a promotion for not fully embracing wrestling’s past wouldn’t be prudent.
One point that needs to be made, and quickly, touches upon the cleverest part of EVOLVE 16 and the climax of the STYLE BATTLE TOURNAMENT. The point here is that doubling up on a Tournament and a retirement angle doesn’t exactly get attention from a wider audience. But then again, that EVOLVE actually puts forth realistic angles along with meaningfully built matches puts it above most other Indies.
The question that comes to the forefront of this DVD is who will win between Bobby Fish and Jon Davis for the Tournament Final.
Enhancing the outcome is that Jon Davis, after some strong battles and some soul-searching, has put his career on the line, saying that he’s retiring if he does not win. Meanwhile, the packaging of the Tournament, the participants and the Finalists is strong, even if the nature of the concept of Style seems a little weak these days.
But I give Gabe Sapolsky and EVOLVE all the credit for the effort.
The other interesting aspect of the Tournament is that it is used to spring a guy from the stats chase to a main event slotting – both by being in the main event by nature of the Final itself, and by the referencing of AR Fox as the previous winner of this Tournament, and the opportunities that ensued.
AR Fox, of course, is now the EVOLVE Champion.
Another mention of importance is Lenny Leonard, who is the best announcer in the business these days. Either with guest commentators or solo, Leonard calls matches like few others, is unmatched in his knowledge of the business, and brings a level of excitement and importance like no others.
Having a credible announcer who knows the history of the talent, their moves, references those important points during the matches and sells on various levels is something that can’t be said of this business, especially with Jim Ross retired and Dave Prazak inexplicably on the sidelines.
(Yeah, I can name some names pretty darn good, but Lenny Leonard trumps them all).
I gripe about another retirement angle, but few similar storylines have had this emotion. Jon Davis’ Style should really be called the Strong Man, but that’s waaaay too old school for these days. But Jon Davis is also a guy who battled hard against Fit Finlay in several matches, and hit a losing streak, the likes of which are well explained on this DVD.
More important is the references to his family, his career, his age and his soul-searching.
This is no ‘out of the blue’ storyline, and certainly no trite and/or scripted nonsense. We get the impression that Davis means what he says, and the matches leading up to the Style Tournament are well presented as the foundation for his frustrations. Jon Davis proves that doing a great promo (I’d definitely reference Mark Henry as well) can be done by feeling the situation and linking it to both reality and emotion.
Funny how alien a concept that can be to this industry.
Yet the emphasis of the DVD, of the Style Tournament Final, is also about the other participant, and what makes this more meaningful is that Bobby Fish isn’t played out like an afterthought. I’ve felt that Fish has shown a pure understanding of being a professional wrestler over his stint in EVOLVE, and there is great resonance between their careers, in that Bobby Fish opened up his EVOLVE tenure with four losses, even as he was hand-chosen by Bryan Danielson to headline an early DVD.
Yeah, that Bryan Danielson.
So we have an angle resonating on several levels and while retirements are passé in this business, there is a strong connection involved here, showing the Davis family, showing Jon Davis spewing emotional promos about his failures and all the while using the backdrop of this unique Tournament to raise it to another level.
The match itself may not make most people’s top ten for that year, but with the backdrop and the emotion and the story and being the finals, let alone the talent involved, it felt so much more important and was called so much more importantly, and built to a strong, conclusive finish.
Which, after all, highlighted the differences in the Styles: on one hand was the power, on the other, a submissions base.
Sure, I would prefer better terminology, a tighter adherence to the professed styles and perhaps a better sense of the clashing of the two (instead of often a mishmash of Styles by their actions) but I can’t fault EVOLVE on any level for any of that, in an industry where the “house style” is the only conception of “Style”.
(Being in an era where MMA should be a strong reference for professional wrestling, and that professional wrestling should be able to produce distinct styles, is a frustration felt more about almost every other promotion around).
Yeah, I pushed out a thousand words about one match, ignoring the ever entertaining Chuck Taylor, the superlative talent of Johnny Gargano, the interesting visual appeal of Tony Nese, the phenom that is Samuray Del Sol and of course the excellence that is AR Fox.
Come to think of it, that’s probably the best example as to why EVOLVE always pulls off great DVDs, and this is no exception.