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EVOLVE 69 recap: Johnny Gargano says farewell, Matt Riddle picks up the torch


EVOLVE Wrestling couldn’t have asked for a better face of the company to lead them into independent prominence than Johnny Gargano.

Gargano is excellent inside of the ring, but it’s his innate likability and charisma that makes him a truly special professional wrestler. He’s someone who is able to convey the emotion of every moment to the audience. Gargano has been steadily improving to get to the point where he can genuinely be called one of the best wrestlers in the world, and fans have seen that in both NXT and the Cruiserweight Classic.

Gargano's undeniable heart and passion have been on full display in WWE recently, but it’s EVOLVE and the independent promotions that he's worked for that have shaped Gargano into a competitor capable of those performances. And it has been obvious even only through watching his path to the summit of pro wrestling that Gargano's tireless work ethic is a major reason that he’s gotten this far.

Sunday night was Gargano’s final appearance in an EVOLVE ring. He teamed with Cody Rhodes (who was billed only as Cody) to defeat Drew Galloway and Chris Hero in a tag team match in the main event of EVOLVE 69. Gargano locked in the Gargano Escape on Hero and forced him to tap out after Rhodes prevented Galloway from breaking up the submission.

There was a fairly bothersome stream issue during the match, but it seemed to be a solid main event. Gargano and Rhodes did stereo dives to the outside during the match and teed off on their opponents with double superkicks.

After the match, Rhodes cut a brief promo and left Gargano in the ring to say goodbye to the crowd. But Gargano didn't get the opportunity to give a farewell speech.

Ethan Page attacked Gargano and attempted to prevent him from leaving EVOLVE on a positive note. Page had been trying to gain Gargano’s trust again after turning on him in the past, but revealed that it was all for show during the attack. Page brought out two massive gatekeepers (a tag team known as Devastation Corp) and laid out Gargano with a package piledriver.

Page and the gatekeepers went to the back, but not before Page invited anyone else who wanted to ruin Gargano’s final moments in EVOLVE to come down to the ring. Galloway and DUSTIN took Page up on his offer, burying Gargano under an EVOLVE banner. And after Galloway attempted to recruit Matt Riddle to his crusade against the company and away from his Catch Point partners at EVOLVE 68, Riddle joined Galloway and DUSTIN in the ring.

But Riddle didn’t give in. He faked shaking Galloway’s hand, but instead laid him out with a kick to the head. He took out DUSTIN before helping Gargano to his feet. And Gargano kissed the EVOLVE banner before getting back on the mic.

If the implications weren’t already clear, Gargano pointed to Riddle as the next person who would carry the company before exiting the ring and leaving Riddle alone to bask in the spotlight. Riddle declared that "EVOLVE is bro, bro."

EVOLVE will surely miss Johnny Gargano, but they once again fortuitously find themselves with one of the best pro wrestlers in the world as the ace of the company. Riddle is equally as special as Gargano, though in different ways. I’m sure that he works just as hard, but wrestling feels effortless to Riddle. It shouldn’t be possible that someone is as good as he is only one year into their career.

In that year, Riddle has developed an almost inhuman feel for the business and the little things that go along with being a great pro wrestler. He has a natural cocky demeanor that could make him a great heel, but he’s so likable and has so much charisma that there isn't a better choice to be the next face of the company.

Riddle wrestled earlier in the night against TJ Perkins in an excellent match. It peaked near the end with an insane sequence of counters that resulted in Riddle locking on the Bromission for the tap out win.

And with EVOLVE co-founder Gabe Sapolsky coming out to appreciate the moment after the match, Perkins also bid farewell to EVOLVE before he heads to WWE.

In the match of the night, Ricochet defeated Zack Sabre Jr. after connecting with a 630. Their styles meshed well and the result was a borderline contender for the EVOLVE match of the year. At one point, Ricochet attempted a shooting star press, got caught in a triangle choke, but powered his way up to hit Sabre with a one-armed powerbomb.

The night began with a series of new talent showcase matches. Darby Allin earned an EVOLVE contract in the opener after getting a surprise win over Tony Nese. Allin jumped backwards off the top and got caught by Nese, but he transitioned it into a jackknife cradle to pick up the victory. Joey Styles presented him with the contract after the match.

In the second new talent showcase match of the night, Fred Yehi stopped Travis “Flip” Gordon from earning an EVOLVE contract after smoothly transitioning a springboard lariat attempt into a Koji Clutch for the submission win. And Ethan Page fought off a tough challenge from David Starr, who looked good in the match, and got the win with a package piledriver.

The final showcase match of the night saw "Hot Sauce" Tracy Williams defeat Chuck O'Neil. Galloway and DUSTIN laid out Williams after the match and attacked his leg with a chair. Williams' Catch Point friends made the save, though they were without Riddle and Perkins. That led to DUSTIN getting a win over Drew Gulak with help from Galloway in the next match.

Gulak later confronted Riddle and TJP about not being there when Catch Point needed them.

Final thoughts:

The stream problems in the main event were a speed bump, but EVOLVE 69 is definitely worth going out of your way to see. The Ricochet vs. Sabre match was fantastic and Riddle vs. TJP wasn’t too far off. The new talent showcase matches were fun and added some flavor to the undercard. And the main event angle closed the book on Johnny Gargano’s run as the ace of EVOLVE and set up Matt Riddle to run with the torch.

EVOLVE 69 results:

  • Johnny Gargano & Cody Rhodes defeated Drew Galloway & Chris Hero
  • Ricochet defeated Zack Sabre Jr.
  • Matt Riddle defeated TJP
  • Ethan Page defeated David Starr
  • DUSTIN defeated Drew Gulak
  • "Hot Sauce" Tracy Williams defeated Chuck O’Neil
  • Fred Yehi defeated Travis “Flip” Gordon
  • Darby Allin defeated Tony Nese to earn an EVOLVE contract