EVOLVE 8: Style Battle
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
I’m always into tournaments, and different wrestling styles is such an alien concept to the mainstream today, that there were two big plusses going into this DVD. Throw in that it’s EVOLVE – which has its own take on pro wrestling, and it’s orchestrated by Gabe Sapolsky, and there’s a definite momentum involved.
The immediate negative, just to counter-balance the expectations, is that the Styles aren’t exactly all that.
There’s the age old Ring of Honor ‘let’s name everything something unique’ approach, which remains tiresome. With eight combatants, I understand trying to capture the Bruce Lee tournament feel, and have the tournament represent eight different styles, but it really doesn’t make sense.
What exactly is the difference between Jon Davis, representing “Power” and Brodie Lee, representing “Super Heavyweight” and even Sami Callihan representing something called “Hard Hitting”???
Rich Swann and AR Fox are both high flyers. I get the concept of Rich Swann’s attitude making him his own style, but when everything’s an exception, there is no real structure!
That, plus Tony Nese as a proponent of “Standing Combat” and Austin Aries as “Hybrid”….
Ok, so let’s get beyond the negativity, and into the matches.
EVOLVE 8 has a different feel to it. There’s a lot less of the build up and backstage stuff, but that’s ok with the tournament providing its own measuring stick. As annoying as the naming of the Styles is, the flip side is that the tournament played out well, and played up a lot of underlying storylines and themes.
As if telling tales with solid wrestling matches with honest finishes was a lost art form.
Not quite sure if I agree with records in a tourney should be outside of the ongoing records, but that’s the kind of debate about structure that wrestling promotions and fans should engage in, not just pretending that not having structure is the way to go.
Tourneys have one problem for me, though, in that I hate to spoil the fun and spell out the finishes. In the end, I’ll be naming the winner, but I want the reader to know that getting there is important. To that end, I’ll provide insight into the first round, touch briefly on the second round, and then explore the finals and ramifications of the event itself.
AR Fox (High Flying) vs Rich Swann (Rich Swann)
These guys are set up to provide an ongoing feud, with similar styles, personalities that clash, and this being a rematch from EVOLVE 7.
This is a fast paced match, and the high-flyers break out of the bell throwing kicks and establishing a pace that all but telegraphs a fast finish.
I, for one, have no problem with that concept. Not every match in wrestling should be a back-and-forth epic, and especially not in a tournament environment, and especially not when every match on the card feels the same.
That is, we should expect, the nature of a “Styles Battle” Tournament.
In a battle of High Flyers, I can readily say that a High Flyer won.
Tony Nese (Standing Combat) vs Jon Davis (Power)
Nese, of course, landed a high profile mainstream slot since this event, and in terms of an athletic, physical look, he’s definitely well deserving. Of course, Tony Nese in EVOLVE is going to display his athleticism a lot more than elsewhere, and I was impressed by his work.
Jon Davis is getting a push of sorts as a singles. He was part of the Dark City Fight Club, but Kory Chavis had an injury, and in the long term, it’s better for them as a team to take a break than to do a foolish breakup angle or even to job out and stick around way too long in a midcard slot.
Davis, in terms of doing the Strong Man gimmick, really nails his role.
He’s creative, he’s definitely powerful, and his work here and on other DVDs provides a distinct style that isn’t really seen much these days. In terms of a Style Battle, Nese did play up the strikes and kicks, plus some to represent “Standing Combat” and Davis definitely established his style.
And the “Around the World in Three Seconds” is a great finisher.
In a great touch, Lenny Leonard leaves his broadcast partner Rob Naylor for an interview, providing an old school in-ring promo.
Brodie Lee (Super Heavyweight) vs Sami Callihan (Hard-Hitting)
Speaking of power, here’s a match with two further variations on that theme.
Brodie Lee has come across mostly as just a big guy, and we may eventually see how that translates into the WWE. Callihan is smaller in stature, but brings it with sort of an All Japan style of stiff work.
In terms of a tenaciously powerful smaller guy against a relative giant, it turns out to be a great match.
While I’m sure the realities of who’s going where played into the finish, it remained a surprise. But as a strong style, hard-hitting, back-and-forth match that goes about ten minutes (and thankfully not longer), it was well fought.
And yes, Sami Callihan can be the scariest dog in the fight.
Austin Aries (Hybrid) vs Bobby Fish (Proresu Jr. Heavyweight)
There is yet another continuation of a theme here. Realistically, both guys have a similar style. I would suggest any future Style Battle focus on the first round as battles of one style, then progressing with the different styles from there, which would have been a more structured tournament style
(Or, have a series of matches to establish representatives of a set number of defined styles).
The continuance of the theme here is that one guy is moving on, the other staying. I’ve really liked the way Bobby Fish has developed in EVOLVE. He’s a great talent, but in playing the role of the jobber, he’s made quite a connection to the fans.
(There’s something to be said, has been said, and should continue to be said about having guys who take bumps, make their opponent’s look great, and are true professionals in the business, buy why digress…)
Match was pretty long for the Tourney format, but it was important here for establishing that Fish can go hold for hold with Aries, even if Fish was woefully ill-prepared in slapping a head scissors on Austin Aries.
I’m not entirely sold on the finish, because logically I can question putting over a winner or the finalists a lot stronger in terms of who they vanquished, but in terms of the big picture, matchmaking is about setting up pieces, not just short-term considerations, and the Fish definitely needed a big win.
And, lo and behold, Lenny Leonard is out to put over the win and the evolution of Bobby Fish from his match with Bryan Danielson.
Which is then followed by an awesome trailer for EVOLVE 5
Then, a nifty interlude with Larry Dallas and Reby Sky. Dallas is developing in the role, and EVOLVE is establishing the role, of the Manager, and I love it. One aspect done well is the associations, and another aspect is the rules-based structure being established by the promotion itself.
Putting Sky in the ring with Dallas doesn’t make sense in some ways, but showing that Dallas is a mover and shaker is important. Having him talk up his latest acquisition is equally important. And then setting up a reaction from the EVOLVE organization about having people ringside and avoiding interference is just the level of detail rarely seen these days.
While the interlude puts some time between the opening round and second round, there should have been another match as well, but the time frame between semi-final and finals is even more important…
A big problem with a Tournament is that people must lose. In that regard, the records not being affected is a good thing, but then again, a win is a win. But losing – to most fans these days – is a loss, and sometimes too many fans get too caught up in losses being the end of momentum, the end of a push (er, whatever that means today) and the end of backing a new favorite.
With the Tournament structure, that shouldn’t be part of the equations.
With structured booking, losing should only be another part of the equation, period.
Everyone’s going to lose in the tournament, save the winner. Getting to the second round is an accomplishment. It should set up rematches and it should establish the pecking order.
The post-match interviews in EVOLVE, and notably on this DVD, help to establish the promotion and the fair play and the all important ramifications – not just of winning and losing, but of working within the structure. One vast improvement with EVOLVE 8 is that they’ve gone through the distractions and the flagrant rules breaking and the influences of Homicide and Jon Moxley and the seemingly misguided efforts to show that there are some guys that just aren’t going to fit into this promotion.
That’s fine, but we all know that the mainstream of professional wrestling is so unstructured that we don’t need such reminders!
I thought both semi’s were strong matches, and both put over the finalists strong.
Two guys had to lose, but let’s not focus on that, let’s focus on the finals – and Lenny Leonard and the post match actions (of a positive nature) put the focus where it should have been.
The New Havana Pitbulls vs The SATs
This was an interesting tag match, featuring a top indy team of the not-too-distant past, against a remake attempt of a team of about that same era.
The SAT (Joel & Wil Maximo) were on the cutting edge of tag team action, a more high flying version of the Briscoes, with a Hispanic flavor but that same sort of ‘we make our own psychology’ approach. Of course, when creativity and athleticism reaches a certain height, there’s no apologies necessary.
The SATs are a bit older, expectedly a bit heavier, and while they can still pull it off, there’s a step or so missing, and it was a bit telling.
(Which, to me, makes this matchup a bit perplexing. Why not intro both teams, give them a win or two, then put this match together???)
The Havana Pitbulls were Ricky Reyes and Rocky Romero. That team broke up a while back, and while Reyes had some pushes and some potential in ROH, it seems like both these guys have never regained their once promising potential.
Putting Alex Colon in with Reyes may have been an effort to regain that team’s reputation , or perhaps to give a rub to Colon as a rising star. Not quite sure what was expected or what happened afterwards.
In the end, it just seemed like the buildup, the match and the possibilities were all rushed.
Scott Reed, Cheech Hernandez, Brian XL, Blain Rage, Kory Chavis, Pinkie Sanchez, Derek Ryze, Ahtu
Kind of a different approach and probably a few too many faces in this match. Maybe I’m confusing things, but I thought the Fray! was less a gauntlet and more of a tornado rules match. Here, it’s a match starting with two guys and bringing in a new wrestler every so often. Also old school ECW rules where someone must win by being the last guy standing.
Which I always appreciated more than having one guy pin one other guy and beat everyone in the match. That never makes sense to me.
Interesting mix here. Cheech Hernandez is coming off his breakup with Cloudy, and was once at the top of EVOLVE’s tag team food chain. Kory Chavis returns, perhaps also newly a single. (Hmm, there’s two tag wrestlers needing new partners).
Scott Reed is more established, but Brian XL (who apparently was a big deal in certain circles) and Derek Ryze and Blain Rage are all relatively new to me.
Pinkie Sanchez is making waves across the industry, but I’m finding out that he needs to be in the ring with the right size of opponent.
And then there’s Ahtu.
I’ve rarely seen a guy look like this, and I’m familiar enough with the business over the past several decades. This guy makes Ahmed Johnson look soft. This guy makes Scott Steiner look overweight. This guy makes the roster of EVOVLE look like children.
And yet nothing speaks of the fan base in attendance like their insistence on chanting “you can’t wrestle” to a guy with this type of physique.
I’m still not sure if this is a positive or a negative, but the reality of the fans these days screams for education. Then again, it screams for working with or against those sorts of sentiments. Here, I think it worked well, because despite all the long term potential of Ahtu, getting the crowd to rally behind Pinkie Sanchez seems to have been the purpose, and that purpose was well delivered.
Sanchez delivers more on his in-ring promo, and an EVOLVE 6 trailer recaps Aries vs Taylor.
Ok, so it’s Sami Callihan vs AR Fox
These two have much potential, and vastly different styles.
This is the time and place for a back-and –forth match, and a great opportunity for someone to break out and establish a name and get the most out of this Tournament.
Time will tell if the tourney meant anything. On some levels (the “Styles” and definitions) it felt makeshift, but as it played out, it played out well. Finishes were clean, logical and the matches themselves told stories. Not everything went according to expectations, and while questions arose, they seemed to be answered in terms of the big picture.
The only downside to the Style Battle was that there is no EVOLVE Championship, just leaders in winds, record, etc, so there’s no tangible gain from winning, just the expectations of momentum.
However, momentum was delivered.
AR Fox, of the generation of high-flyers in EVOLVE (PAC, Rich Swann, Ricochet being the others), seems to have much potential, a bit lacking in personality and look, and yet continues to be pushed as a blue-chipper. Fox has a look, but seems to have lacked a bit of fire.
He turned up the heat here.
It was a great battle in terms of a Style clash – Callihan proving his capability and his power, and Fox showing that he was not only the king of the high-flyers, but a guy who could beat power, could mix it up, could have that something and could rise to the occasion.
Kinda telling how Fox, who has a vastly more clean cut look, impressed a fan base that was more into the crazed personality of Callihan. But Fox brought his game, brought his creativity and all but took everything Callihan had to offer.
That was enough to win over the crowd, win the Battle and set the foundation for bigger things to come.
And, if you trace back the tournament, it creates a number of rematches, including the finals, for future DVDs …. Which, most importantly, means that the DVD was a success and helps to further the establishment of EVOLVE as a promotion to watch, especially in its relationship to Dragon Gate USA.