Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
Lots of stuff going on with EVOLVE, and all of it good.
Let’s start with the announcer – Lenny Leonard – who should be at the top of anyone’s top announcer list, especially now with Jim Ross happily retired. Leonard evokes Old School mentality, call’s matches at a pace that no one else could even begin to keep up, knows the guys, the holds and the strategies.
Sure, in a mainstream product where everything looks the same, that isn’t important, but Leonard puts an exclamation point at the right time, in the right manner, to enhance the action in the ring, and tells the tales to give newcomers depth, give strength to the established talent and makes all the matches meaningful.
The big story of this edition of EVOLVE is AR Fox, but more about him later.
An interesting development on this DVD is the inclusion of MMA mentality. We’ve got a stoppage due to strikes, a submission which would otherwise be a transition or rest hold in less observant promotions, and while EVOLVE still features various styles and approaches known to the top of the indie scene, this MMA mentality being included definitely helps to keep things real.
I’d say that EVOLVE is improving the concept of professional wrestling, but I believe that was the point.
Let’s get to the matches:
Opener is a four way to determine the Challenger for Johnny Gargano’s Open the Freedom Gate Championship (with the more open connections between Dragon Gate USA and EVOLVE). I’m not a big fan of multiple man matches , or wrestlers wrestling multiple matches on a card, but the high-flying nature of the participants, the importance conveyed by Leonard, and the commentary by Gargano make this an important feeling spectacle.
As the opener, it does make sense
The match pits AR Fox, Ricochet (not the Puerto Rico guy), Jigsaw and Samuray del Sol, four of the best high flyers in the indie scene (with Aaron Neville mired in FCW), for a shot at one of the biggest crowns of the indie scene.
The match is high-flying, high-paced but with the stylistic approach of EVOLVE, it featured a lot of subtleties, an awesome performance by Ricochet, and a schooling in strategy by the announcers, even though Gargano seemed to overlook the importance of NOT LOSING as much as he was focused on telling the audience that the guys should be trying to stay in the ring.
Wait a minute, maybe Gargano was talking at a level of subtle heel Champion that I didn’t catch?
Aside from a variety of chanting spots, and a lot of great, fast action, the highlight to me was the work of Ricochet. Heel actions and readily identifiable expressions (frustration, hurt, miscues and other setups) are things that put Ricochet at a higher level than the others.
In terms of a four-way, I was impressed and it told a good story, with the requisite four-way spots a few times, but not quite as contrived as could be feared. The only real complaint I had was that there shouldn’t be multiple “he dropped him on his head” spots that aren’t the finish.
Next up: Silas Young vs Adam Page.
Someone should tell Page his stylistic initials on his trunks seem to show AF, not AP. It’s not as bad as Kurt Angles “AGE” initials, but there’s already an Adam that is the ROH World Champion, so further confusion isn’t a positive.
Silas Young as the “last real man in professional wrestling” is a solid gimmick, and Young heels like few others, even though that’s damning with faint praise in this industry.
I loved the finish – a guy just beating the crap out of his opponent is awesome, and Young’s “I told you to give up” makes it even more memorable, plus the apparent hardway color.
There’s an awesome recap of EVOLVE 12 that comes up that shows how this promotion is light years ahead of others – it’s all about the wrestling, and those spots highlighted are all about the wow factor.
Caleb Konley vs Kyle Matthews is another MMA style match. I’m hesitant to compare Matthews with Matt Brown of UFC, as he’s more akin to Mike Jackson of 1980’s Georgia Championship Wrestling notoriety. The whole Scene raunchiness is annoying, and Jonny Fairplay even worse, but if it gets notice, it does something.
By the way, Chuck Taylor on color was hugely entertaining.
When Konley tied Matthews up like a pretzel, I hoped it would go to a finish. When it did, it worked.
EVOLVE is under great pressure to build up new stars, and this next match was a good example of trying.
Jake Manning (of the Gentlemen’s Club) vs Alex Reynolds matches two guys starting out positively on the EVOLVE rankings, both being undefeated. Manning (the Man Scout) gets a good response from the crowd. Reynolds looks like Rick Martel, solid build, good presence.
Match went a little long considering the previous two, and more of the indie approach, but coming out of it, Alex Reynolds is making a name, which is important. Even if Chucky T’s announcing plays up his group and some rather cheesy members…. but that’s what heels are all about.
Nice backstage promos by Jon Davis and Sami Callihan, both with great promise but with losing streaks.
Davis is coming off a loss to Fit Finlay, and knows he’s in for a hard match with Low Ki. Setting up this match, and following up with it, shows a great strength of the promotion. They put over the match before it began, touted it during the match, and Low Ki cut a solid promo – touting Davis as a strong opponent and once again calling for an EVOLVE Championship.
Low Ki’s work is always awesome, the finish was great and he gets touted as the only guy to ever get to 4-0.
(Too bad Low Ki’s reputation overshadows his understanding of the business and how to work).
Chants of “Swamp Monster!” regale the entrance of Chuck Taylor (wins leader), with his “zany cast of characters”, which is the aforementioned green moss covered gimmick and the Man Scout, but not the Legal Eagle nor Orange Cassidy.
Mike Cruz is the opponent.
This ends up as an extended enhancement match, despite a game attempt by Cruz. Kind of an odd match, considering where it is on the card, but as a match more focused on featuring Taylor’s talent and character, it was fine. That “new hold” was hilarious, but weird in the EVOLVE context.
Taylor is the wins and overall record leader, which does merit a strong place on the card, but if Mike Cruz comes in at 0-1, what logic does it make?
Sami Callihan vs El Generico is a matchup of WWE bound talent.
It again presents another illogical records placement of a match, although on the indie scene, Callihan vs El Generico merits a main event everywhere.
Low Ki on color, which is interesting, because Ki is immersed in calling the match as he sees it. (Odd that such a style of announcing is ages gone by). Something wasn’t quite clicking from my observation here. It felt more like the indie style matches that all feel and look the same, although El Generico did play up the selling for most of the match.
The set up for the Stretch Muffler was good, and I figured it would go to a tap-out, but two applications of a main event level guy’s finisher, when the opponent is selling a bad knee? Then it follows up with a burst of speed from that same guy, hitting a big boot in the corner?
Which knee was sold?
I’m not so sure. But one guy got the match after selling most of the match. Not so bad a concept, but I dunno. Post match interview with El Generico challenging Low Ki was a bit odd – El Generico doing a Mexican accent wasn’t the best in the world, and then Sami attacks him, with Low Ki making a non-physical save.
Yeah, the frustration was understandable, as was Lenny Leonard establishing how EVOLVE doesn’t tolerate such actions. Let’s see how “unacceptable” it is.
Before the Main Event, we see glimpse of action of Dragon Gate USA, including Bryan Danielson and Brodie Lee. I know Danielson and El Generico are well more associated with other promotions, but there’s a number of EVOLVE Alumni signed to the WWE, showing just how strong this promotion is in terms of developing talent.
Interestingly, the Main Event is considered a Dragon Gate USA match, and not counting towards EVOLVE standings.
AR Fox vs Johnny Gargano (Open the Freedom Gate Champion) starts out slow, indicating a long match. Leonard plays up the scouting of Gargano and that Fox had to fight a hard fight (against 3 men) earlier in the card. Then they start getting aggressive.
Fox hits a pretty nifty plancha.
They play around outside the ring, with Gargano turning the tables (but not using any tables) and eventually tossing his opponent back in. Leonard plays up Chucky T’s win and ability to call the stips on the next match with Gargano. But is it overselling to point out that T wants a title match, and wouldn’t the stips be against Gargano?
Gargano is smooth in the ring, creative in approach, good on the stick and as passionate as anyone.
Johnny G. is truly the “whole shebang”; just too bad he’s … from Cleveland. But seriously, it’s too bad there’s no respect or reality of a junior heavyweight class in any promotion, because like Rey Mysterio or Daniel Bryan, he’s always going to be wrestling guys who outweigh/outsize him.
Wow, can Fox fly, though.
But like a daredevil.
Which gets the fans behind him big time. The build to the first real, near fall, is solid stuff. From there, they had the fans stoked, which was, indeed “awesome”.
There’s an intensity that Gargano brings that can’t quite be explained.
Death Valley Driver, then an Emerald Frosen by Fox… a bit much to have the Champ kick out, but he is the Champ, after all. But then Fox misses a 450, eats a superkick, then a Hurtzdonit, but kicks out. Another donut, and then Fox succumbs to the Gargano-escape.
A nice, emotional scene afterwards with Gargano thanking everyone and bringing in a girl from ringside, named Peyton, who wrote a school paper about him being her hero. Gargano put her over as being special herself, and she got a big pop from the crowd.
Thankfully it was a respectful crowd all night.
EVOLVE continues to push the buttons and stretch the envelope; formatting professional wrestling in a meaningful way with wins-and-losses. Even though it doesn’t always work out logically, it frames the action (and the action is the key) very well, and the differences from the mainstream are signifant.
And to the positive.