EVOLVE 9: Gargano vs Taylor
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
Match of the Year candidate? Battle of the century in EVOLVE? Greatest DVD from the promotion? True establishment of the newest and best concept in professional wrestling?
All that and more, I must say.
EVOLVE has been a promotion I’ve rooted for, and while the concept is strong, innovative and theoretically awesome, the product has had to work itself out. And, with the ninth edition, it has definitely exploded on the scene.
I still have to watch the Style Battle, so maybe this is building on the previous, but considering all the hoopla about Finlay/ Callihan, there was no way for me to wait to watch this. Then again, for me, Gargano vs Taylor was the draw. And then having Kevin Steen all over the DVD was an especial bonus.
EVOLVE isn’t the only company to run with statistics (Beyond Wrestling started that modern trend), but this are the most prominent promotion with that gimmick. And if momentum is maintained, and the official alliance with Dragon Gate USA raises the viability, and this sort of action is delivered, we may be seeing a definite impact of the concept.
At first glance, EVOLVE 9 seemed to be a reset, and that’s not always a good thing, and for a promotion that went from a vehicle for Bryan Danielson to Davey Richards, back to Danielson, with Chris Hero and others possibly in the driver’s seat, the concept of starting way too many guys at (0-0) seemed problematic.
But once you turn this DVD on, you will realized that there is no concern about the newcomers.
There is a certain other promotion that does way too much, way too crazily and without any foundation in professional wrestling fundamentals. This is not that promotion, and while the angles and interactions and debuts are fast and furious, there’s no sense of this DVD ever getting out of control.
And while featuring the understated brilliance of Kevin Steen, that’s saying much.
What I absolutely loved about EVOLVE 9 was the multiple threads of storylines. Kevin Steen, albeit working an angle with ROH while appearing for the vastly more structured (storyline wise) EVOLVE, isn’t the overbearing featured guest even though he’s an overbearing heel.
There’s a lot to be said about Kevin Steen, when you hear him talk and interact and .... well – yeah, having him destroying some newcomers and disrupting EVOLVE was outlandish – there’s a compelling aspect to his personality. Steen is not the screamer, not the crazed maniac (well, in a certain sense), but someone who talks in an understated manner, has a diabolical streak, and yet is understandable despite his crassness.
That’s what I got from his commentary, and his bullying of Lenny Leonard and Jason Harding.
The interactions with the matches were a bit annoying, but having Steen there meant having Steen be Steen, and in one instance he was a major disruption, and in the other, he got things handed to him.
But more on that later...
The biggest match for the mainstream here was David “Fit” Finlay taking on Sami Callihan.
The build-up was great, with all the respect for Finlay, with Finlay trying to talk and impose some sense on some of the guys, and with the glimpses of the preparations for the match. EVOLVE has taken those glimpses to another level, with a documentary eye and not a foolishness of that national alternative.
So, by the time the match comes around, we’re well prepared for it.
(Is it just me or does Callihan’s entrance music sound like the Tori Amos version of Slayer’s “Reign in Blood”???)
More on that match later...
Another definite storyline played out with several threads of its own.
Both Johnny Gargano and Chuck Taylor are top players in EVOLVE, and both have associations with manager extraordinaire Larry Dallas. [L.D., that’s all the farther I’m going until the check cashes.]
Dallas is an interesting investment, all worked commentary aside. He’s a throwback to Bobby Davis (of Buddy Rogers fame), with the expensive shirts, the good-looking appearance, an ability to talk, and being a center point for his heel faction.
What’s awesome with Dallas is that he was never shoved down the fans’ throats, so while he has a level of heat, he’s now established in his role.
Dallas’ attempt to disrupt the Main Event is interesting because it is laughable. Dallas’ entourage of fine ladies, the physically impressive Ahtu and the tag team of The Scene (Scott Reed and Caleb Conley) are beginning to be a serious heel faction, with or without Gargano or Taylor.
Again, more on that Main Event later...
So let’s hit the main points of the matches:
Bobby Beverly (0-0) vs Eric Ryan (0-0)
This is a backdrop for Kevin Steen, and in the legendary fashion of Big Al of ECW/911 fame.
Super Smash Brothers (0-1) vs Facade & Jason Gory (0-0)
Players Uno (unmasked) and Dos (masked) are veterans from Quebec and CHIKARA and parts unknown. Facade & Gory are from my region, and are replete with potential. Not sure if there was a clash of styles or what, but the high flying of Facade & Gory never materialized.
I do appreciate the concept of introducing new guys – the only real complaint of the entire DVD was that introducing about a dozen new guys on the same card was too much. Then again, my complaint in general for indy promotions is the overdoing of the same matches, so I’ll take this approach.
(And, if you’re going to intro new guys, it should be done on a card where you have two loaded Main Events – one for the Mainstream, one for the Hardcores, and a lot of other things happening.)
Silas Young (2-1) vs Sugar Dunkerton (0-0)
Of everything going on with EVOLVE 9, this match actually worked just as well as anything else. The match was great, the storylines intertwining was well booked, and the ability of both guys to play out their roles was fascinating.
And having Gargano come out in the end just solidified what EVOLVE is all about.
Young is the long time AAW Champion, and is an underappreciated talent. Where storyline and reality overlap is up for speculation, but the alcoholism angle is edgy and well played, to the point where there’s vastly too much realism for what the mainstream considers pro wrestling.
But that is backdrop to the match, where CHIKARA’s Dunkerton (think basketball player throwback to the 1970’s, with huge Afro) comes to wrestle in EVOLVE. And, it’s Young who brings the basketball to the ring.
There’s something overdone in this, but it works in the end (discounting Silas Young’s impressive but not exactly well struck finisher, the “PeeGeeWaja Plunge”. This begins with Young standing on his head, on the turnbuckle pad, and then doing a corkscrew moonsault. )
Dunkerton makes the match work, however, pulling out pro wrestling hold after pro wrestling hold, establishing that he can play in EVOLVE, and establishing that CHIKARA’s guys aren’t just cartoons.
Lince Dorado (0-0) vs Pinkie Sanchez (0-0)
What’s up with CHIKARA invading all these indy promotions?
Well, because they’re that good, that’s why. Dorado reminds me of a younger, smaller Mil Mascaras, but then again, I’m not hearing about how insufferable he can be, so it’s probably an unfair comparison.
Pinkie Sanchez is a guy to watch.
Sanchez has insane facials, a veteran repertoire and being the only guy I’ve seen actually win a match with a figure-four leglock in fifteen years, that does get one’s attention. The match truly told a story, and might have been 2 minutes too long, but it was great.
Up in Smoke (4-0) vs The Scene (0-0)
On one level, this was an above average indy style tag match, replete with double-teams and nearly a spot-fest, which was a little different for EVOLVE. On another, it introduced two guys into Larry Dallas’ stable, and that’s a good thing, because new guys and tag teams and a heel stable works well together.
Scott Reed is more muscle and Caleb Conley looks more like a babyface (think Adam Cole or that one-man-rock-band dude) but as a tag team, they have potential.
Up in Smoke is the CHIKARA veteran team that has run through EVOLVE’s Tag Team division .... up until this match.
Not sure what the skinny is on the post-match, but that was very clever. Lenny Leonard doing the post-match interviews is absolutely awesome, and while if this happens every DVD it would be bad, having surprises like this can be interesting.
What’s the surprise?
Watch the DVD.
Bobby Fish (1-4) vs Jon Davis (0-1)
Ok, so I’ll spoil here, as Kevin Steen interrupts with a classless but priceless look on his face afterwards. It turns into a three-way, no-rules match, which I really hated because guys shouldn’t be able to set matches in this promotion – but someone should have that authority.
What was awesome was the work.
Fish and Davis have a series of kick exchanges that put them both over.
Steen was involved at a level that made it work – not overwhelming while being overbearing, establishing himself for further matches, progressing his own storyline with ROH while establishing EVOLVE in various ways.
And in the end, Jon Davis has something with that three seconds around the world finisher.
Tony Nese (0-2) vs John Silver (0-0)
Nese is now on the national alternative, and he’s got abs that are amazing. Just saying. He’s a bit tall for this group, and Sliver looks very impressive but would have looked better against a guy his size. He did cut an awesome intro promo afterwards, so there’s more to be seen of him.
Both were trained by Mikey Whipwreck.
Only complaint was that having guys familiar with each other leads to a longer match where everyone does their spots, but that’s a weak complaint.
(Main point being that with a lot of debuts, having a few squashes would have been better. Some guys should be shown to not be able to hang with EVOLVE ... yet, and others should be shown as impressive enough to get more matches.)
Sami Callihan (3-1) vs Dave Finlay (0-0)
Everything about this match was off the charts, but the only jaded comment is that this match, held before 1985, would have been merely one match among any mid-card match on any significant region in the world. I hate to have that come across as a complete complaint, but it’s not a knock on the talent in the ring, but the booking and creativity and matchmaking efforts of so-called creative types these days.
From the bell, they changed things up, and throughout the match, they delivered a hard-hitting style more representative of All Japan than anything else.
The respect thing could have played out a bit better, but they went with Callihan being vulgar taking multiple finishers, which meant there should not have been a hug and great deal of appreciation in the end.
But Finlay being Finlay means that the wry smile and passing reference shows that he did appreciate the match. And the fans interacting and being involved and being played too – was a clinic for what the business has lost in the past quarter-century in putting together a great match.
Johnny Gargano (6-2) vs Chuck Taylor (5-3)
Larry Dallas being ignored, then castigated, then made irrelevant was interesting to open this.
But in the ring, Gargano and Taylor shined.
Either of these guys can be the very next generation’s Danielson, Samoa Joe or CM Punk. Gargano seems to have more innate ability to project all aspects of wrestling ability. Taylor has a bit more charisma in his Kentucky Gentleman character, and more size, and more innovation. Between the two, they are establishing themselves as the upper crust of the indy elite.
I’m not so sure about these two establishing an ongoing feud as much as having one of them break above the rest of the EVOLVE roster, but there’s something hesitant about establishing a true star of the promotion, in this day and age, that must be understood.
In that regard, Johnny Gargano may be the better bet for the future.
Here, however, it’s Sole Food, it’s Awful Waffle, it’s Chucky-T stealing the show.
EVOLVE is a promotion that is established and now has momentum with a new look, a new format, a new way of appreciating professional wrestling. It’s a promotion well worth watching and a promotion I’m greatly enjoying and a product I look forward to watching, because it features development and storylines and a pure wrestling approach – even when it pushes the envelope.
Joe Babinsack can be reached at
. I’ve got Gatekeeper – the book about Gary Goodridge – and DG USA and ROH and some bios of top indy stars, plus maybe some CHIKARA commentary, coming soon.