Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
While my initial reaction to the sixth installment of EVOLVE suggested a bit of a mess, the overall feel of the product is a positive ... and then some.
Educating new fans to a new concept isn’t easy, but the efforts are commendable and the feel of the promotion is interesting. What’s becoming a troublesome is the focus at the top – initially the company was to be built around Bryan Danielson. Then it was Davey Richards. Then Danielson came back, briefly.
Meanwhile the challengers began to be built, and guys like Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli seemed to be groomed to take top slots. But the contractual situations keep arising, showing just how difficult it is to work long term from a smaller company standpoint.
It looks like Austin Aries is set to be the man in EVOLVE, and there’s a great positive in that development on many levels.
Yet the company is losing Jon Moxley (to the WWE) and that feud with Homicide – so violent, so antithetical to the stated rules base of the promotion -- now seems even more of a distraction, more of a mystery, more of a mess.
The other observation of confusion is this: once more, EVOLVE opens with the voiceover from Lenny Leonard about this being a different approach to pro wrestling, and names – specifically – a wins leader, a records leader and a winning streak leader.
However, these achievements are never really followed up in the action or the card or the ongoing booking.
While I understand that a chance to get Danielson in for a main event, or Aries or someone at that level should not preclude the win/loss records, it does become a point of confusion when the promotion touts a win/loss record, and then all but ignores the ramifications of that record.
If Aries is the long-term solution, why not run him up the card and give him a 3-4 match win streak, and then tout him as the streak or record leader? Why derail so many challengers at this point, such that no one is undefeated, no one has a streak of more than 2-3, no one has a claim to become a main eventer based on the rather simple logic of having a great record?
In the end, Chuck Taylor getting beat, or having a definitive loss between Johnny Gargano and Jimmy Jacobs, or even that surprising opening loss by someone 4-0 isn’t what is bad, but the unexplained booking strategy that puts someone at 4-0 in the opener, and a battle between middling records at the third-from-the-top slot are two points that make this a mess.
Well, the third is that Homicide/Moxley feud, which is interesting in terms of Moxley, but all but destroys the credibility and power of the promotion in the framework of its own rules. I don’t blame EVOLVE for wanting Homicide, and I don’t blame the Notorious 187 for being himself, but when framework of the promotion clashes with the expectations of even one of the arguably biggest names on the indy scene, the promotion should be established over the personality.
And that didn’t happen here.
Maybe it will down the road.
But it’s strange that a promotion promising evolution doesn’t exactly show a smooth development of its product.
As for the positives, there are many: that Main Event was well worthy of its positioning; the establishment of various new names and battles is progressing nicely; there is a definitive feel (despite some annoying continuances of established indy wrestling) that the matches are more meaningful and the records are at least being established; and I really do like the ‘documentary’ feel of building characters, storylines and establishing reasons for issues.
Larry Dallas as newly established Manager, accompanied by Reby Sky, was also a big, big plus. (Larry, send me that check pronto.)
Plus, that “Sawa lost in New York” video featuring Kaiju Big Battel was, well, so over-the-top that it can only be described as great.
Some comments on specific matches:
Drake Younger vs Silas Young
This was your typical indy clash, with talented guys in the ring and some good spots, but the length and back-and-forth nature are my pet peeves. Who can complain about talent being on display in the ring? Well, I can if every match is more of the same.
Younger had shined as someone who is transcending the garbage wrestling label, but I’m really taken aback by not having him as the unexpected record or wins or streak leader. I’m also taken aback by how he suddenly looks like Eminem.
But more taken aback by the sense that if Records matter, how does 4-0 earn the opener?
On a very positive note, Younger sold this decision in a way in which all finishes in EVOLVE should elicit a response – not the ho-hum of the mainstream expectations, but the disappointment of losing a well-fought battle.
Four-way: Rich Swann vs AR Fox vs Tony Nese vs Scott Reed
Fox was the big star here, overcoming a YFU spot (planned or not?) where he could have completely destroyed his knee on the steps in a botched kick off the top. Fox has a degree of athleticism and creativity that have to be seen, (yet is similar enough to Swann (& Ricochet) which isn’t a good thing.)
Tony Nese takes washboard abs to a whole new level. Scott Reed has that powerhouse look and feel. Swann is a true gymnast in the ring.
A multiple man match has its limitations, so did this match, but they got a guy over and put the other talents on display.
Kyle O’Reilly vs Bobby Fish
Interesting allusions to the Richards situations from the announce crew, which by the way includes Austin Aries for the first few matches. Another kinda strange record matchup, as Fish has been the loser of 4 and winner of none, while O’Reilly has a promising future. Fish, of course, has losses against top names, so I don’t mind the situation as much as I don’t get any impression that with a 0-4 record, he was in danger of losing his spot.
It’s another back-and-forth match, but with a lot of MMA style kicks and submissions (albeit the sense of a submission as a transition hold).
Classy post-match promos. I love the interviews after the match, and this was made up for some qualms about the match itself.
Up In Smoke vs The Super Smash Brothers
Interestingly, we never learn why Player Dos is sans mascara, if I may mix my romance languages. Interesting also that there is only one tag match on EVOLVE #6 (and no women match). But Cheech & Cloudy in the guise of the best tag team in EVOLVE continues. Not sure if they will ever fight Hallowicked & Frightmare, but hey, who’s speculating?
Super Smash Bro’s are Montreal/CHIKARA based crew, and there’s a lot of smooth double-teaming and tag team action in this match, as should be expected.
I love Up In Smoke as the true heels of the promotion, subtle enough to work in the rules of EVOLVE, yet overt enough to make them different than your standard villainy. Interesting indeed to see heels who cheat to win and openly say it and do it, as opposed to the standard tweener role.
Relaxed Rules: Homicide vs. Jon Moxley
I’ve already pointed out my issues with this…. In terms of the match, it was a battle of the brash heel taking on the established master of violence, with an underlying drama of Moxley playing by the rules while Homicide wasn’t.
The match itself was solid. The win was unexpected but well in the framework of the rules.
The post-match was way too long, way too much and way too destructive in all the wrong ways. If you love violence, this is intriguing, but if you love violence, why are you watching EVOLVE in the first place?
Ricochet vs Adam Cole
I really like the “Future of Flight” moniker, and Ricochet has proved his talents everywhere he’s wrestled. Adam Cole is the prototypical young babyface.
This match would be more impressive if it was less back-and-forth, or lower on the card, but a good battle nonetheless.
The other observation on this match was the sense of having finishers. Far too often, there’s a spectacular dive, maneuver or hold that SHOULD be the finish, but ends up being merely a near-fall. When a guy like Ricochet does a twisting/spinning or otherwise aaaaah inspiring display, there shouldn’t be an immediate awwwww for the ensuing 2 –count.
Jimmy Jacobs vs Johnny Gargano
This feud has had a strong center stage in EVOLVE, and really explores the concepts of the rules and promotion well. Jacobs is 4-1, Gargano is 4-2. With those records, they should be high on the card. With their feud --- again, the brash youngster taking on the veteran, there is a sense of effort, a sense of establishing new talent and a sense of meaning across the board.
Jacobs is the true MVP of the promotion, and while I’m not as high on Gargano as Taylor or Ricochet or others, he’s got the Jacobs of the future potential in him.
His alignment with the Larry Dallas management team with Chuckie T is apt.
Chuck Taylor vs Austin Aries
In no way would I call this a situation where the Main Event made the DVD, but this match solidified the efforts of EVOLVE and made more meaning out of the entire product.
It established Aries as the man.
It established Chuck Taylor as someone who will be the man.
It established a superior level of wrestling.
And it established that sense of pro wrestling as a sport that differentiates it from other promotions.
Somewhere in this match Chuckie T dislocated his shoulder. He favored it, and the announcers mentioned it, and Aries brought it up in the post match interview in the ring. That takes the match up to another level, even if that sort of gutting it out is questionable for a truer sense of independent contracting.
At times the commentary of Taylor as a college student, not taking the profession serious was a bit annoying, but it did weave together a lot of what EVOLVE is all about. Aries as a no-nonsense professional here to teach a lesson to the upstarts – namely Taylor – was well done.
It was established with the opening shot of Chuck snoozing on a couch, and Aries walking into the locker room, first showing respect to the others, then shooing them out so he could prepare.
It was further referenced with Taylor and Larry Dallas, plus with Aries working out backstage. And of course Aries was all over the storyline during his commentary in the first few matches.
Which is why I changed my tune on EVOLVE #6 from the mess I saw in Homicide vs Moxley, to an appreciation of the overall efforts in Taylor vs Aries.
This match, from the bell to the interview of Aries afterwards, is what the promotion is all about. That other match is sort of what wrestling unfortunately is, and what it really shouldn’t be.
If the continued storylines support those notions, and I believe they will, then this distraction of Homicide in EVOLVE will play out to a satisfying conclusion, even – and especially – if the shockwaves of having someone of his caliber in the promotion does threaten a lot of the format.
But the key is that Austin Aries establishes himself as the opposite force, even as he establishes himself against the opposing efforts of Chuck Taylor, only to give him props at the end of the fight.
Before I go way too long, like Homicides fork on the head of Jon Moxley, I can’t help but bring up those backstage glimpses: Adam Cole’s reaction to Drake Younger & Homicide, Silas Young confronting Johnny Gargano, and even the drawn out Bobby Fish’s significant other drama – all these are glimpses into a modern era transformation of the product – head and shoulders above the impact of what other people are pretending to do with the canvas of the artform.