EVOLVE ran its second event this past weekend in Rahway, NJ and I was unfortunately unable to attend due to other personal commitments, but I did get my hands on the DVD of the first EVOLVE show, so I decided to write a column and give my thoughts on the debut EVOLVE event, which took place this past January in Rahway. I was in attendance live when this show was taped, so it'll be interesting to see how it comes across on DVD.
The DVD opens with a segment of Kyle O'Reilly training backstage with Tony Kozina and Davey Richards. Davey and Kozina kick the camera crew out even though they're supposed to be set up and filming everything. After that we get a segment with Kota Ibushi sitting backstage saying things in Japanese I can't understand.
From there we go to the opening video, followed by a video of some of the wrestlers on the EVOLVE roster explaining why they wrestle. I really liked this segment because even though each wrestler only got a few seconds to talk, right away you're establishing their characters and what motivates them.
The show proper opened with Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish tearing it up with a hot, fast paced, stiff opener. This was exactly the kind of match they needed to open the show with to set the tone for the entire evening. Unlike the Hit Squad-Christopher Street Connection squash that opened the first ROH show, this was more of a gut check type match with both men having to work really hard to try and pick up the win. The crowd really got into this one, with O'Reilly picking up the win after hitting a tornado DDT into a brainbuster.
From there we go to Chuck Taylor vs Cheech in a Qualifying Match, with the idea that you have to win a match like this to become a full member of the EVOLVE roster rather than being able to just walk out and start wrestling like every other company. It's an idea that's been unofficially used by Gabe in the past where guys have to win matches to earn and maintain their spot on the roster, but now it's been made an official part of the EVOLVE rulebook. This match was geard more towards working the crowd as opposed to an all-out battle like the first match with both men playing to the crowd as much as they were wrestling, though that's no knock on the action which was good, albeit really spotty at times. Taylor gets the win with an Offal Waffle, which is a Blue Thunder Driver into an actual piledriver as opposed to the usual powerbomb finish of the move. Lenny Leonard gets in the ring and asks Taylor for his thoughts after the match, and Taylor complains about having to win a qualifying match to become a part of EVOLVE while other people like Kyle O'Reilly get a pass, and he suspects the office of not liking him, and he says he's going to make their life miserable. Good promo except that I'm really tired of wrestlers referencing "The Office" or whatever you want to call the people in charge. You could have told this story without referincing any authority figures, because today's fans are conditioned to expect that this means "The Office" will eventually become a part of the storylines, which I don't gather will be the case.
Our third match saw Ricochet take on Arik Cannon. Ricochet is a very small, fast paced high flyer and the story of the match was Ricochet's speed and aerial moves against Cannon's size and power. Ricochet is a Rey Mysterio or Amazing Red type wrestler who's going to need to be booked as the eternal underdog because of his size and the fact that he doesn't even look as intimidating as Red if you can imagine that. Ricochet picks up the win with a 630 and is then confronted by Chuck Taylor who, now an official member of the EVOLVE roster, sees that Ricochet is undefeated, and he says that where he comes from down south, he doesn't believe in evolution, he believes in creationism and he's going to create his place in EVOLVE, and challenges Ricochet to a match at EVOLVE 2.
More backstage segments are up next, as Jimmy Jacobs and Silas Young shoot the bull backstage as Adam Cole comes in to hang out with them. Jimmy and Silas give him the cold shoulder, so Cole tells Jimmy that his match is up soon and he should start to get ready. Jimmy thanks the rookie for his advice and suggests he do some hindu squats while Jimmy does his own cardio, which involves going outside for a cigarette. From there we go to Brad Allen backstage writing MOM on his wrist tape, with the idea that, like he said earlier, he's dedicating his career to his late mother.
Back in the ring we get our first tag team match, which pits the Dark City Fight Club of Jon Davis and Kory Chavis against Aeroform of Louis Linden and Flip Kendrick, who I don't believe is any relation to Brian Kendrick.. This is similar to the last match in that it's big tough guys against small, flippy guys, except that the DCFC are even bigger and tougher than Arik Cannon. Aeroform gets some offense, but this is mostly the DCFC brutalizing Aeroform before putting them away with Project Mayhem. This match set the DCFC, already over from their runs in ROH and Florida, up as the team to beat in the tag division.
We follow the first tag match in EVOLVE with the first women's match in EVOLVE, as WSU Champion Mercedes Martinez takes on Niya. Total squash here, Niya got zero offense as Mercedes went to town with a series of high impact moves before picking up the win with a fisherman's buster. Match was all of a minute long, if even that. Lenny asks Mercedes for comments after the match, and she says that EVOLVE is not just a men's promotion, and she's here to show that the women are every bit as tough as the men.
Match #6 sees Brad Allen taking on Silas Young, and both men got in each other's face right away with the match degenerating into a brawl almost from the beginning. Brad Allen is a big dude, and flies around a lot more than you would expect out of a guy his size. Silas is a guy that I think has something and could be a bigger star, but he tries too hard to be fancy about a lot of the stuff he does. There was a really ugly spot in this match where Allen went for a moonsault to the floor on Young, but Young dropkicked him in midair, but it looked like both men legitimately got knocked on that one. Allen got the win after catching Silas in the middle of his stupid headstand moonsault and gave him a windmill flatliner for the win. Lenny Leonard gets in the ring to ask Allen for thoughts after the match, and he thanks the fans for giving him the opportunity to EVOLVE and then challenges Chris Hero to a match at EVOLVE 2.
The star power of the show comes out next, as Jimmy Jacobs takes on Kenn Doane. Jimmy takes the mic before the match and says that Doane has been handed everything in this business, while Jimmy's had to fight for everything he's ever had, and he's going to make Doane wish he was still playing dress-up in a cheerleader's outfit. Kenn Doane takes a really long time to get to the ring as I note for the third or fourth time so far how bad the music in EVOLVE is. I'll also take this moment to mention that I don't like how EVOLVE only announces the wrestlers' names, not their weights or hometown. I guess that's their attempt to do something different and set themselves apart, but to me it just seems backyard. It's a little strange to see Doane play the big monster because he was smaller by WWE standards, but he looks like Hercules standing next to Jimmy. This was a little different from the other matches on the show because it had a slower, more methodical pace with better psychology with Doane trying to shut down the smaller man from outmaneuvering him while Jimmy used his brain to work around Doane's size and power moves. The finish came when Doane hit a top rope legdrop on Jimmy and got the three count, but Jimmy's foot was on the ropes. Doane saw the foot after the three count and kicked his leg off the ropes, but Tommy Dreamer comes down to ringside and tells the ref about the foot on the ropes. The referee restarts the match, Jimmy gets the End Time and Doane taps.
After the match, we get a promo segment where Dreamer, who had just gotten his WWE release days before this show, gets in the ring with a mic and puts over the workers for traveling a long way to perform for the fans, then thanks the fans for letting him become a star. He goes to leave, but Jimmy grabs the mic and calls Tommy back into the ring and says he could thank Tommy for helping to promote EVOLVE and could thank him for helping him for his help winning the match, but he won't because he doesn't need anybody's help, and he used to have followers who would do whatever he wanted, but now he's going to stand alone. He accuses Dreamer of pretending to come here to thank the fans when he was really just looking for one more moment in the spotlight. Jimmy says he doesn't want to risk getting banned from EVOLVE after his first match by beating up Dreamer, and he doesn't need a stamp of approval from some washed up has-been. Dreamer says he's here for free because he wants to help his friend start something, and he's not a member of the roster and he just wants to have fun, then he suckerpunches Jimmy and a brawl breaks out with Tommy getting the better of Jimmy and hitting the DDT. Interestingly, the crowd was not 100% behind Dreamer like you would expect at an indy show in New Jersey, and in fact the crowd was at best 50-50 and was at times cheering Jimmy and booing Dreamer. I was a bit surprised to see that since Dreamer has always been treated like a god in the northeast, but I guess ten years spent working for WWE can change the indy scene's perception of a guy.
We go backstage to see both Davey Richards and Kota Ibushi getting warmed up for tonight's main event, and also get a segment with Kenn Doane getting pissed off and walking out the front door claiming to have been screwed once again by yet another company.
Next match is Johnny Gargano against Chris Dickinson. Gargano's a guy that Gabe obviously likes because he's used Gargano on just about every show he's booked over the last year, and Jimmy Jacobs also put him over strong in an interview with Mike Johnson (which you can hear in the Elite section) saying that Gargano reminds him of a young Alex Shelley. I don't see it personally, but maybe more of that will come out in upcoming shows. Dickinson works an MMA style with a lot of stiff strikes and kicks and has kind of a young Guido Maritato look to him. Entertaining match which mostly saw Gargano trying to outwrestle Dickinson and ground him while Dickinson was working to pummel Gargano with hard hitting offense. Gargano picked up the win with a full nelson into a Flatliner. After the match, Gargano goes to ringside and makes plans for later with Sean Davis, and I guess they're going out for a night on the town together. A night on the town in Rahway...there's a contradiction in terms if I've ever heard one.
Next we got a very entertaining match between TJP (aka TJ Perkins) and Munenori Sawa from Japan. If you've never seen TJP before, he's a really solid and entertaining wrestler who is as smooth and technically sound as anybody and has some great kicks to boot, but for some reason has never gotten a sustained push anywhere I've ever seen even though he's worked in PWG (his home territory), ROH, FIP, and now EVOLVE. I really hope that EVOLVE is where he finally gets a nice push because he's worked long and hard and deserves one. Sawa I've never heard of before, but based on this match is very similar to TJP is terms of size, speed and wrestling style. As for the match itself, these two just mercilessly kicked the crap out of each other for 10 minutes, repeatedly hitting each other so hard that I could feel it just watching. Sawa finally got the win by tapping TJP out to an Octopus Hold, but both men got over big with the Rahway crowd with this one. Other than the main event, this was easily the next best match on the show.
Another backstage segment as Adam Cole talks about how he may be the bottom guy on the roster right now, but he went to Tommy Dreamer and asked him for his advice because he's always trying to improve, and one day everyone will remember the name Adam Cole.
Next match sees the CHIKARA guys doing what they do best (and as best as I can tell, all they do): trios action, as Akuma's Army of Gran Akuma, Icarus, and Brodie Lee take on Team Frightning of Mike Quackenbush, Frightmare, and Hallowicked. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I've seen so many CHIKARA six mans that they all seem the same to me, and none of them mean anything because it never matters who wins or loses, because they're just going to be back in the ring with the same guys on the next show. To me, this is the modern equivalent of those lucha six man tags on Nitro in the 90s, no matter how impressive the athletics involved are, they have zero psychology and none of the guys involved mean anything. Brodie Lee changes things up a bit by bringing his size and power into the equation, but other than that it's the same old thing. And I know I've said this before, but Gran Akuma always looks like he's smiling and that makes it hard to take him seriously as a badass. Team Frightning wins this one after pinning Icarus with a Sky High, but Akuma's Army is guaranteed to get some revenge in the 10,000 six man matches these two teams are guaranteed to have in the future. After the match, Lenny Leonard asks Quack if he had any doubts about this match coming back after back surgery and he said he did have doubts, but he's getting better and six man matches are his science, so next time around he wants to up the ante and do a four corner elimination tag match at EVOLVE 2 as I decide I'd better get some antacids before watching that match.
We go out to the hallway where the camera girl is consoling TJP after his earlier loss to Munenori Sawa, and when she sees the camera on her she abruptly leaves and says she has to go find Silas. After she leaves, TJP smirks at the camera.
Main event time, as Kota Ibushi takes on Davey Richards, who is accompanied to the ring by Kyle O'Reilly and Tony Kozina. Amazing, blowaway match from the beginning as these guys went at each other from the moment the bell rang. The match went back and forth with Davey matching his stiff kicks and explosive style against Ibushi's amazing high flying and stiff kicking ability of his own. This was largely meant to be a showcase for Davey Richards, who was obviously originally meant to be the guy EVOLVE was built around until he opted to stay with ROH. Still, it was the right match to have because this was the match that is going to set the tone for EVOLVE main events and I'm glad that they got this match out of Davey before he left. The crowd was on their feet for this one as it went back and forth before Davey finally put Ibushi away with the Kimura Lock. Davey and Ibushi got a much deserved standing ovation after the match. Davey actually cut a big promo after this at the live show putting over EVOLVE and challenging Kyle O'Reilly to a match at EVOLVE 2, but obviously events after this event changed plans and the entire promo got scrapped, which is too bad because it really pumped the live crowd.
After the match, we go backstage for one final round of promo segments as Brad Allen talks about how the day after he signed his WWE contract, his mother was killed in a car accident and as a result, his head was never where it needed to be, but now with her help everything came together tonight at EVOLVE. From there we go to Sean Davis, Jimmy Jacobs, and Johnny Gargano leaving the building for a night on the town. They talk an obviously unhappy Silas Young into coming out with them, but as they leave, Silas' cell phone rings and...IT'S HIS WIFE. The phone number on the caller ID is blanked out, but I think that's probably because Gabe Sapolsky didn't want a bunch of idiot wrestling fans calling his cell phone looking for Silas Young's wife.
I liked this show live, and it came across even better on DVD. This may get me some heat, but I actually thought that top to bottom, this was better than the first ROH show. It may not have had the star power of Eddy Guerrero and Super Crazy and the Richards-Ibushi match may not earn the legendary status the Daniels-Dragon-Low Ki match has, but I thought it was every bit as good and was supported by a much stronger undercard. All the matches were kept short, with most of the matches going no more than 10 minutes and only the last two going more than 15. The EVOLVE roster is a lot like the ROH roster in February 2002, a bunch of young guys you've never heard of going out there and pushing the limits to put on a good show and impress whoever's watching. I dug the character development with Brad Allen and Chuck Taylor in particular getting a lot of face time on this DVD, and that's something EVOLVE is going to need to do to get a roster of almost entirely unknowns over with their audience. One suggestion I would have for EVOLVE would be that since they have a video screen at their shows, instead of just having it run the EVOLVE logo all night, they can use it to run promos with the wrestlers before the show or maybe on intermission, similar to what Gabe does at Dragon Gate USA. It might even be a cool idea to do a pregame show similar to what the Big Two companies do with their PPVs and run that before the show begins. But that said, terrific first outing and it really made me regret missing EVOLVE 2 this past weekend. If you're a fan of just straightforward wrestling with minimal storyline gaga and guys going out there and leaving it all out in the ring, then this is a DVD that you'll want to get.