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By Stuart Carapola on 5/31/2010 9:31 PM

I've really been enjoying EVOLVE and the product that Gabe Sapolsky and Sal Hamoui have put together. I think that over the course of the three shows they've done, they've gradually built a strong product with good characters and done something similar to what Gabe originally did in ROH, which was take a bunch of unknown or poorly exposed wrestlers and fashion them into both solid characters and a roster that can be identified with EVOLVE.

I was able to attend the first and third EVOLVE events, but was unable to attend the second due to a personal commitment. Unfortunately for EVOLVE, it turned out that I wasn't the only one who couldn't make it to the show, as severe weather conditions left them with a very small crowd of people who were both willing and able to brave the storm and make it to Rahway, NJ. So since I wasn't able to do a live report and haven't really touched on this show elsewhere, here now are my stream of consciousness thoughts on EVOLVE 2 : Hero vs Hidaka.

The show opened with short backstage promo segments with Bobby Fish, Aeroform, and Chuck Taylor, with all of them talking about how their EVOLVE careers didn't get off to the best start but they plan to get on track tonight at EVOLVE 2. From there we go to Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli, with Hero running down Brad Allen and talking about how he's getting challenges from this guy and doesn't even know who he is. Finally, we see Ikuto Hidaka pacing backstage getting himself mentally ready for his main event match with Hero. I like these segments, and one of the things that EVOLVE has done very well is get us inside the heads of the EVOLVE roster and help us get to know their personalities and motivations, and that's an important thing to do when you're basically starting from scratch with a roster of mostly unknowns.

Speaking of Brad Allen, he opened the show with a victory over Chris Dickinson, and Allen is a guy I see a ton of potential in because he's a bigger guy who, appearance-wise, reminds me a lot of BJ Whitmer, but is also agile enough that he can fly around like a much smaller wrestler and do a lot of high flying and springboard type maneuvers. I like his angle where he wants to win and succeed in EVOLVE for his late mother, sometimes it's hard to give people believable babyface motivation, but this is the kind of thing that will definitely do the trick and set Brad Allen up as an honorable kind of guy. He cut a postmatch promo where he acknowledged that Hero didn't consider him worthy of wrestling him yet and wants him to work his way up, but made it known that he still has Hero in his sights and he'll see him down the road. I've said before that when EVOLVE crowns its first champion, Brad Allen is one of the two or three guys who I think will be really strong favorites to get the strap.

Before our next match, we go backstage to Johnny Gargano and Sean Davis as they talk about Silas Young and how he's been MIA since the last show, and then Jimmy Jacobs shows up and told Gargano that he may think they're buddies, but they're not because Jacobs is still at a higher level than him and he needs to show Jacobs some respect. Gargano blows him off, so Jacobs makes a match between Gargano and himself for tonight. I'm interested to see where the angle with this group goes, and I still don't get what Sean Davis and the other tagalongs are doing there, but I guess we're going to find that out down the line. I did like how Jacobs was still holding himself above Gargano because the reality is, Jacobs is a veteran and Gargano's still young in the business, so it makes sense that Jacobs would want to put Gargano in his place and make it clear that he's not made just because he hung out with them after the last show.

We head back to the ring for our second match as Gran Akuma took on Brodie Lee in a battle of former partners. The Official Singles and Tag Team Divisions have since been dissolved, but when they were still around these two were partners in Akuma's Army, but that group had since dissolved when Akuma broke the group up because he wanted to wrestle singles, so the story is that Brodie wants a shot at Akuma for breaking up the group without even telling him. I'm a big fan of Brodie Lee, I think the guy has great size and a lot of power, and the thing that drives me nuts about him is that he's a guy who should be physically dominating and beating nearly everyone he wrestles, but instead he's seen more ceilings than Michelangelo. He did get the win in his match on EVOLVE 3 so hopefully that's the start of a push for the guy, but he's in a similar situation to the Big Show because he's a huge guy that nobody takes seriously because he's done so many jobs. Case in point, Akuma beat him by submission here with the Rings Of Saturn, and I like Akuma and find him fun to watch, but he's like half the size of Brodie and shouldn't be beating him, much less by submission. That said, the match was a lot of fun to watch, both guys worked really snug and it came off like a real fight and I like that better than when guys are more concerned with doing fancy moves that look like they couldn't hurt a fly.

We move on to tag team action as Aeroform took on Up In Smoke, and this was another example of how the official divisions weren't going to last, because Cheech was in a qualifying match to join the singles roster, and he lost that match but took the back door into EVOLVE by switching to the tag division with Cloudy instead. Not that it really mattered to me because I like Cheech & Cloudy and I'm happy that they got in as regulars, but it just served to demonstrate how unwieldy the division system was and how it's something that, in retrospect, looked a lot better on paper than it came off it practice and I'm glad they've decided to shelve the concept. But anyway, this was a solid if extremely spotty match, and I don't think anyone's going to confuse these guys for the Hart Foundation and the British Bulldogs, but all four of them are really entertaining and have a kind of goofy charisma where you know that none of them are ever going to be main eventers, but they still connect with the audience and can light up a crowd in that team mascot kind of way, and that makes them valuable to have around despite their other shortcomings.

After that match we head backstage to Kyle O'Reilly with his trainer, Tony Kozina, and even though they don't mention him by name, Kozina is explaining to O'Reilly that even though Davey Richards is gone from EVOLVE, he has to move on and not let it create a distraction for him or cause him to lose his focus. Again, good backstage segment that accomplished two things: first, it addressed the big purple elephant in the room that was Davey Richards no longer being a part of EVOLVE after he was supposed to main event this show against O'Reilly, and secondly it gave O'Reilly his new motivation: move forward without the guidance of Davey Richards and prove that he can succeed even without him.

Back to the ring for match #4, as former WWE star Kenn Doane took on Caleb Konley. It's so funny watching Doane on the independents because he was easily one of the smaller guys on the roster in WWE, but he towers over everyone I've seen him in the ring with in EVOLVE and Dragon Gate USA. It's interesting to watch because it forces Doane to change up his wrestling style because he couldn't work a power style in WWE because of the size differential, but on the indies he's in a position where he's able to muscle his opponents around and manhandle them. Even though he does still pull out some nice finesse stuff, like a sweet ankle pick while doing a baseball slide to the floor, he does work a slower, more methodical style that sees him trying to ground his smaller, more agile opponents like Konley. Konley did get some offense in, but this was more or less squash with Doane going over with a top rope legdrop and then cutting a postmatch promo saying he's proven everything he came to EVOLVE to prove and then walking out. Doane wasn't at EVOLVE 3, but I would assume we're going to see him again, at the very least to do a rematch with Jacobs.

Moving on, our next match saw Kyle O'Reilly take on Hallowicked in what basically amounted to a competitive showcase for Kyle O'Reilly to give him a win and some momentum coming out of the Davey Richards situation and help establish him on his own. I think I've made it abundantly clear that I am no fan of the CHIKARA six man tags we've seen so many of, but I have no problem seeing them used for something, anything but a six man tag. Hallowicked in particular I think is a solid enough wrestler that he can be used for something better than that, and works well as a midcard guy who you know isn't a pushover, but can be used as a steppingstone for a guy you're trying to move up the ladder. Case in point, these two had a nice, solid match where the young O'Reilly proved himself with a hard fought win over the more experienced Hallowicked, using it as step one on his hopeful rise to the top of EVOLVE.

Next we go to another backstage segment with Jacobs and company, as Gargano continued to show disrespect by taking Jacobs lightly and Jacobs continuing to drive home the fact that he's a seasoned veteran while Gargano is, pardon the pun, a Johnny come lately, and Davis is sitting in the back egging both men on.

Back to the ring for our next match as Ricochet took on Chuck Taylor. This match was made back at EVOLVE 1 when Taylor, fresh off his qualifying match victory over Cheech, challenged Ricochet after his match to wrestle him at EVOLVE 2. Ricochet accepted, and here we are. I like Taylor a lot, I think he's a solid wrestler and he's a great talker, but the thing about him is that I think he's too skinny to be taken seriously against certain opponents. Case in point, he defeated Claudio Castagnoli in the main event of EVOLVE 3 and while I thing he's good enough to main event in EVOLVE from a pure talent perspective, watching him beat Claudio is kind of like watching Rey Mysterio beat Randy Orton, you just have a hard time believing it because of the size differential. This makes it hard because I like him and want to see him do well, but when I'm being honest with myself I have to admit he probably shouldn't in some cases. Still, he's on that list with Brad Allen as a guy who I wouldn't be surprised to see become the first EVOLVE Champion. As for Ricochet, I see nothing in the guy. He's a cut and dry, run of the mill spot monkey who fits great into one of those multi-man car crash spotfests where nobody sells anything and it's just one dive after another, but other than that he has nothing. Taylor gets the win with the Awful Waffle and then cuts a postmatch promo calling himself a Cinderella story and promising to go undefeated in EVOLVE.

Next we have one of the best matches of the night as Bobby Fish took on Claudio Castagnoli, and I like the build they've done with Bobby Fish where he's this guy who's working his ass off to improve and shows a ton of heart by fighting and fighting and going to distance every time out, but still hasn't been able to pick up a win in EVOLVE. I'm looking forward to seeing him finally pick up that big win and I'm going to be interested to see who it's against, but the hard fought nature of the losses he's suffered so far have done a great job of getting the fans behind him and making them want to see him win, and when he finally gets that win I'm expecting the fans to go nuts. As for Claudio, he and Hero have been seconding each other during their EVOLVE matches, and one reason I'm glad the divisions have gone away is that while they're both valuable singles wrestlers, I love them as a team and am hoping to see them work some tag matches down the line if EVOLVE can come up with a solid team for them to work against because, no disrespect meant to Up In Smoke or Aeroform, there's really no suitable competition for them right now. Fabulous match where Claudio literally threw everything he had at Fish and Fish kept fighting and kicking out of everything until Claudio knocked him out with three European Uppercut shots in a row to pick up the win. Crowd started a Bobby Fish chant after the match, and then Claudio was about to cut a postmatch promo when he was interrupted by Chuck Taylor who says that since they're both 1-0, and since he's here to make an impression on EVOLVE, he wants to go after the biggest dog in the yard, and challenges Claudio to a match at EVOLVE 3. Claudio makes a crack about Taylor not being in his weight class, just driving home the point I made earlier, and then accepts Taylor's challenge.

Before the next match, we go to a short backstage promo with Brad Allen saying that he's helped prepare Hidaka for his match with Chris Hero tonight, then says that after Hidaka gets done beating Hero, we'll see if Allen's in his league or not. Speaking of promos, we go back to the ring as Chris Dickinson tries to say something when he's interrupted by Sean Davis and company who mock him and call him a curtain jerker. Dickinson gets out of the ring to confront them but Tony Kozina comes out to calm him down and takes him to the back. I guess the idea of this segment was that Kozina's taking Dickinson under his wing and going to train him to manage his emotions or something. Dickinson hasn't impressed me so far, but we'll see where it goes if this becomes Kozina mentoring Dickinson and it's not just a one time thing.

We go to women's action after that, as Mercedes Martinez defends the WSU Title against Sumie Sakai, who you may remember from early ROH events. Mercedes has basically just been racking up wins for the first three EVOLVE events, and this was the most competitive of the three matches, but still a pretty quick win for Mercedes leading into Mercedes challenging Amazing Kong at EVOLVE 3 to get in the ring with her at a future EVOLVE event. That's a match I'm really looking forward to, because I don't know offhand if they've ever wrestled one another before, but I'm sure it would make for a really fun, hard hitting match between two girls who can really lay it in. I haven't actually seen Sumie Sakai wrestle since those early ROH events, but she certainly doesn't seem to have lost any steps in the eight years since. This was the only match where Mercedes has been in any kind of trouble so far in EVOLVE, but she came through and picked up the win with the fisherman's buster in about five or six minutes. Mercedes cut a postmatch promo saying that Sumie Sakai was tough competition, but she's still the WSU Champion and wants more competition in EVOLVE.

We move on to another of our feature matches of the evening as Johnny Gargano took on his would-be mentor Jimmy Jacobs. This was exactly what they've been building all night, as the young upstart Gargano had a good showing, but took Jacobs too lightly and made some rookie mistakes such as catching Jacobs with a spear through the ropes, but then later trying it a second time and getting caught in the End Time. Finish came when Gargano put Jacobs up on the top rope, but Jacobs reversed Gargano's move to a top rope Contra Code and then locked in the End Time for the win, then mocked Gargano after the match for being a smartass punk. I think I've said this before, but what I've seen of Gargano when he's out of the ring or backstage leads me to believe that he's a pretty charismatic, creative guy, but he shows absolutely none of that during his matches because he's got this stone face on like he's concentrating really hard on what he's doing, and I think if he found a way to emote more during his matches it would be to his benefit.

Up next is another backstage segment, this time with Bobby Fish, who is on the phone trying to explain his losses to some mysterious caller on the other end. Apparently he has some responsibilities that he's failing to fulfill, and he's explaining that things take time and he'll get on track, but when he sees that he's on camera, he leaves the room. Okay.

Next we get my favorite match on every EVOLVE show: the Official Meaningless CHIKARA Tag Team Spotfest where none of the guys matter, and nothing ever gets accomplished. This time around, it's a four way tag team elimination match as Mike Quackenbush teams with Jigsaw to take on the Coloby, the Osirian Portal, and Hallowicked & Frightmare. I think I've made it clear time and time again how much I hate these matches, so I'll spare you the ongoing commentary and just say that they flipped, they flopped, the Ants Marched, and then the Ants Got Eliminated. They flipped more, they flopped more, Quackenbush no-sold everything, and then Jigsaw handed Hallowicked his second loss of the night. They flipped even more, they flopped even more, they did a bunch of head drops, and then the Osirian Portal pinned Jigsaw to win the match. By the time EVOLVE 3 came around, the counter had been reset and everyone was back at square one. Thanks for coming, guys!

All this brings us to our main event, as Chris Hero (accompanied by Claudio Castagnoli) took on Ikuto Hidaka (accompanied by Brad Allen). I'm not hugely up on the Japanese scene and know next to nothing about Hidaka other than the fact that I saw him do a shot or two back in the really early days of ROH, but I did enjoy the few matches I've seen him in. This was interesting to watch because I've gotten so used to Hero relying on the strikes and knockouts that I almost forgot what a great mat wrestler he is, and probably the first 10-15 minutes of this match saw Hero dominating Hidaka on the mat. It's funny sometimes watching how some wrestlers can portray one character or wrestling style in one indy, and then be completely different in another, it's almost like they're Bizarro World versions of each other sometimes, but seeing how well Hero can do so many different styles just drives home what an awesome worker he's become and how adaptable he is to pretty much any opponent. This was easily the best match on the show, and it went a good 25 minutes before Hidaka got the win with a knockout kick.

The show closed with one final backstage segment with Jacobs, Gargano, and their entourage, and basically consisted of Jacobs gloating over his win and Gargano sulking and making faces at Jacobs as he walked out the door to go party with Sean Davis. Again, Bizarro World because the Jimmy Jacobs I know probably wouldn't be into going out clubbing, he'd shun the entire club scene and sit home cutting himself and writing poetry or something.

I really enjoyed this show a lot, and I think EVOLVE has a great game plan because even though guys like Jacobs, Hero and Castagnoli are obviously being used as the draws to get people to the first few shows, they're also being used to help give a rub to guys like Brad Allen, Johnny Gargano, and Bobby Fish and get them into a position where they'll become main eventers and be able to draw on their own without relying on the ROH guys. They're also valuable to have because EVOLVE really does have a very young roster, and it never hurts to have veterans around to give the young guys a nudge in the right direction. EVOLVE took a major hit when Davey Richards pulled out of the promotion before this event, but in my opinion they did a great job adapting after he left and put on a very entertaining show. Definite thumbs up for this one.