EVOLVE 5: Danielson vs. Sawa
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
I slid this DVD in the player with a little concern. I had already heard the results, and two of my faves seemed to have had less than stellar showings. I already knew that Chuck Taylor got a blemish on his EVOLVE record, and I heard from a few sources that the Mercedes Martinez/Amazing Kong match didn’t live up to expectations.
There’s a funny thing about expectations, though.
EVOLVE’s fifth edition was more of the same. That is, it was more of a wrestling product that is moving beyond the expectations; EVOLVE emulates Old School, Post-Modern and a combination of styles tied into a decided structure that just doesn’t exist anywhere else. Because of this, it provides entry to new fans, and it is establishing itself as it grows.
Because finishes are important, that makes the losses meaningful. Because of the expectations, when you hear of losses and finishes without the context…. well, guess what, the way the finishes happened is all the more important than just that notch on one side of the record or not.
What impressed me greatly about EVOLVE was seeing what happens when the promotion focuses on the structure and lets the action in the ring revolve around the talent in the ring.
Because of that, the matches are conclusive, satisfying and even more so, enjoyable.
This isn’t your typical indy wrestling promotion: more interested in keeping the roster and the guest stars and the balance. Instead, we get matches that are more ‘real’ and more representative of what wrestling should be. Sure, that’s in my opinion. But weekly reviews for six years on this Wrestling Observer’s web site, and following professional wrestling in a serious manner for a quarter of a century as an adult allows me to spew forth opinions that are educated.
But I digress.
I can review EVOLVE #5 and provide the nuances and the details, but there’s an aspect to EVOLVE that just has to be watched. Lenny Leonard and Leonard CHIKARASON are becoming the best announce crew around. And Lenny Leonard doing interviews immediately after the matches are over provide a perspective lost twenty years ago, when the late, great Gordon Solie got moved from his podium.
No, there’s no podium, but there is an utmost respect for the announcing and the referees and the structure. I prefer that the decision makers at EVOLVE are nameless and authoritative. It establishes that the promotion means business, not hackneyed authority figures who only destroy the illusion.
The specific case in point is the Mercedes Martinez/Amazing Kong match.
Sure, we can be disappointed that the match ended in a DQ win for Mercedes Martinez. But the depth to this match, scenario and future threads is impressive. It’s easy to say that the education of fans should be done not with this person or that person, or not with EVOLVEs only established Champion, or not with this match, but the reality is, this played out well.
Well, more than just well.
Mercedes Martinez is a talented wrestler that I cannot possibly speak more highly of. She’s established the WSU Championship as the pre-eminent one, and has established herself as the most deserving Champion in the sport, and has shown that she understands the business and her role.
In EVOLVE, she has run through opponents and challenged the biggest, baddest opponent around, Amazing Kong.
That match was anticipated, built up and now it has happened.
But this isn’t about a win and a loss. This is about how it played out and how it impacts the next match. It’s about establishing EVOLVE’s structure and the conduct of the wrestlers and the expectations of the fans for how the product works.
There are simple formulas for success, and Martinez and EVOLVE have tapped into one. On one hand, an established Champion, on the other hand, a destructive challenger, and no wrestling fan should ever be disappointed about seeing the two do battle.
Here, they clash and the power of Kong is on display, and suddenly the Champion isn’t steamrolling another opponent. But she’s not going to lose her belt that easy, and once she turns the tables, that destructive opponent does what villains had done in the era of 1963-1981, when a certain Champion built the foundation of the modern day business.
Yes, Amazing Kong got frustrated, got DQ’d and it was not a satisfying finish.
But let’s look at a few points. For one, take a look at that finish. This wasn’t a foolish and overblown act of violence. This made a point, and then the referee immediately rolled out of the ring and signaled the DQ. There’s a sense here that the referee is in control – he warned Kong a few minutes earlier, and she rebelled against it, and it wasn’t tolerated.
The other point, equally significant, is that Mercedes Martinez was not at all happy about getting the win that way. She showed it instantly, she then showed that she was capable of turning the tables on Kong, and then she came back and battled Kong to the locker room.
Later, she’s unhappy about the match and gets cheered up by Homicide. She’s the best, she got a win, and yet that wasn’t the way she wanted it. Sure, it wasn’t the way most fans wanted it, either. But let’s not pretend that wrestling is always satisfying, because it isn’t. And I’m far more into a promotion that plays off the fans expectations than those ones that are losing hundreds of millions of dollars because they can’t bear to do anything in respect, or for respect, of the fans.
You can trace what EVOLVE is all about in the Martinez/Kong match.
But that’s not everything involved in EVOLVE. Bryan Danielson is back, and this is the promotion he was going to build with Gabe Sapolsky, and this main event (which is challenged early and furiously as not being the right one, by Chuck Taylor) is built up with promos and speculation which enhances the expectations, and also proves to be a touchstone for playing up characters and wrestler’s goals and what they are interested in. Drake Younger, Adam Cole and others all have interesting things to say.
Because what they’re saying is what we expect them to say.
And that’s the key to EVOLVE. Again, it’s all about the talent and providing a structure.
And it’s all about unleashing the talent.
At the same time, we’ve got a main event that was satisfying and not because it was an hour long clinic, but it was a focused match between two highly skilled wrestlers. What I love about EVOLVE is that the matches get away from the give-and-take that plagues the indy world. That makes the matches more real, more interesting, more focused. It’s not sitting back and watching spotfests, but watching more intently to see what happens.
Just like everything else, there’s depth in the details.
And what about Homicide?
Homicide makes a mark in EVOLVE 5 in several scenes, interacting with Johnny Gargano, with Jon Moxley and with Mercedes Martinez. Homicide is awesome here, because the indy fans know what he is, what he can do and how he’ll get there.
It’s funny to see Homicide struggle with avoiding profanity, but it’s serious business how he interacts, and in a few minute span, he set up two collisions that will play out down the road.
Another fixture in EVOLVE is Jimmy Jacobs, who continues to stir the pot and establish his influence and yet has moved from being annoyed at guys like Gargano to sticking it to them. Watch his match against Adam Cole, and you’ll realize that there’s a depth here that defies modern sensibilities.
See also what happens when Up In Smoke takes on Aeroform. The tag team division is stronger than just one match, but making Up In Smoke heels within the bounds of EVOLVE’s structure, playing off of expectations, and playing into the wins and losses of Aeroform’s record all makes it more interesting.
As much as the multiple man matches can be annoying, there’s something to doing them when the end result is like what happens when Brad Allen, Johnny Gargano, Gran Akuma, Jon Moxley, Frightmare and Rich Swann do battle.
Rich Swann is amazing in the ring. There’s something about the mix and match of sizes that annoys, but nothing about featuring the talent and propelling some storylines.
You may think Kyle O’Reilly vs Ricochet second from the top isn’t right. I’d suggest to watch that match and then give me your impressions.
Because impressions are lasting with EVOLVE 5. I hated to see Chuck Taylor lose, but I know something is coming out of that, and I knew Mike Quackenbush would make it a satisfying match. I am looking forward to seeing what Drake Younger can do outside of the hardcore milieu he’s used to fighting in. I am looking forward to seeing Mercedes Martinez dominate EVOLVE like no man can.
I remain impressed by EVOLVE and what’s most important is that I look forward to the next DVD like few other promotions today.