EVOLVE 29 on May 9th, 2014 in Queens, New York
Opening Match: JT Dunn vs. Blake Edward Belakus
Belakus hangs onto a side headlock until Dunn snaps off a few armdrags. Belakus ties up Dunn’s left arm in the ropes and takes control with a shoulderbreaker. Dunn fights back with an ace crusher and a corner yakuza kick. He connects with a spin kick and lands a dive to the floor. Dunn drapes Belakus across the guardrail and hits a guillotine leg drop from the apron. In the ring, Dunn hits a springboard facebuster. Belakus goes back after the left arm and connects with a huge lariat. Dunn recovers with a flatliner but runs into the Bad Wolf Slam to give Belakus the win at 7:57. I enjoyed this match quite a bit for what it was, as they worked extremely well together and the action felt fluid. It would be nice to know something about Belakus’ character, as his intensity only provides so much depth. Dunn’s resilience was enough to make this an engaging opener. **½
Match #2: Harlem and Lance Bravado vs. Ethan Page and Josh Alexander
Alexander takes down Lance with a shoulder tackle after an even mat exchange. Moose backs off Alexander on the floor. Oh Moose, I forgot about you. Please interfere later. Page hits an atomic drop on Harlem followed by a leg drop. Page lands a dive to the floor onto Lance as Alexander hits a sit-out slam on Harlem. The Bravados send Page into Alexander with an exploder. They isolate Page until he fends off Lance with an elbow drop and makes the tag. Alexander hits a double suplex. Page superkicks Harlem but gets booted off the apron by Lance. Alexander takes out Lance with a backbreaker across the apron. Alexander blocks a dive from Harlem and connects with a roaring elbow. Page follows with an enzuigiri from the top rope. The Monster Mafia hit a neckbreaker-backbreaker combination on Lance for a nearfall. Harlem hits a blockbuster on Alexander and Lance adds a bucklebomb. The Bravados attempt More Bang for Your Buck but Page breaks it up. The Monster Mafia hit an ace crusher-german suplex combination on Lance for a two count. The Bravados recover with the Gentleman’s Agreement on Page for the victory at 13:19. A competitive yet clean win for the champions, which is something they desperately needed. The Monster Mafia received a great opportunity here to showcase their unique offense and it’s clear that they impressed the crowd. Given their performances in other promotions like AIW, I would be shocked if they weren’t brought back. These are the type of matches that the Bravados need to have more often to gain acceptance from the fans rather than just spite. ***
Match #3: Caleb Konley vs. Rich Swann
Before the match, Su Yung offers Uhaa Nation a spot in the Premiere Athlete Brand. Konley pretends to do the worm and then kicks Swann in the midsection. Swann almost catches him with a quick small package. They have a fast-paced exchange ending with Swann snapping off a hurricanrana. He teases a dive but Konley cuts him off with a lariat. Swann fires back with a series of chops. He attempts a dive from the top rope but Konley takes him out with a dropkick in midair. Konley takes control until Swann hurricanranas him off the middle rope and lands a dive to the floor. In the ring, Swann lands a flying crossbody and connects with an axe kick. Konley blocks a handspring ace crusher with a dropkick and hits a german suplex. Konley blocks another hurricanrana and hits a sit-out powerbomb for a nearfall. They have a pretty insane strike exchange and both men are down. They battle on the apron and Konley german suplexes Swann to the floor. Back in, Swann avoids a double-jump moonsault and hits a spike piledriver. Swann connects with a basement superkick and lands a phoenix splash from the middle rope for the win at 16:59. I could certainly get used to this whole no interference thing. Swann has been quietly having tremendous singles matches like this one over the past year and Konley, believe it or not, has been doing really well since joining the Premiere Athlete Brand. There’s been a lot of cases of EVOLVE booking themselves into a corner recently but here both participants came out for the better irrespective of the result. This was a great exhibition that took advantage of a hot crowd. ***½
Match #4: Johnny Gargano vs. Biff Busick
They trade control on the mat and Busick applies a rear-naked choke out of nowhere. Gargano is able to reach the ropes. They dodge each other’s kicks and find themselves at a stalemate. Both men fall to the floor after Busick refuses to release a side headlock. Gargano sends him into the ringpost and hits a suplex onto the floor. Gargano takes control back in the ring. Busick comes back with a european uppercut and lands a dive to the floor. Busick reenters the ring with a blockbuster. Gargano finds an opening to apply the Gargano Escape. Busick crawls to the ropes and lays in some elbows. He misses a charge and falls to the floor. Gargano lands a dive to the floor and hits a slingshot DDT back in the ring. Busick counters the lawn dart with a half nelson suplex. Gargano connects with three superkicks. Busick traps him in a sleeper hold. Gargano climbs to the top rope and slams Busick to the canvas. Busick immediately reapplies the sleeper hold. Gargano turns it into a pin attempt for a nearfall. They exchange kicks and finisher attempts. Gargano hits the lawn dart. Busick goes back to the sleeper and transitions into a crossface variant for the victory at 18:03. Undoubtedly a huge win for Busick, but Gargano is completely directionless at this point. The losing streak after a lengthy title reign has been done before and the issue is that I will associate this losing streak with Gargano’s title reign in how I remember it. I’m sure that Gargano will make the best of it. Wrestling-wise, this was another very good match on a pretty consistent card thus far. The crowd was evenly split and it led to some nice nearfalls down the stretch. ***½
Match #5: Tim Donst and Jigsaw vs. Fire Ant and Green Ant
The crowd still loves the Colony, as seen over WrestleMania weekend. Donst and Green Ant begin with some chain wrestling. Jigsaw makes sure to knock Fire Ant off the apron before locking up with Green Ant. Fire Ant hits a fireman’s carry takeover on Donst but Jigsaw cuts him off. Donst hits an STO on Fire Ant and he is isolated. Fire Ant comes off the middle rope with a hurricanrana on Jigsaw and makes the tag. Green Ant connects with a missile dropkick on Jigsaw and hits a tornado DDT on Donst. The Colony connect with stereo dropkicks on Jigsaw in the corner. Green Ant lands a dive to the floor onto Donst. Fire Ant hits a tornado DDT on Jigsaw and takes out Donst with a dive as well. Fire Ant counters a brainbuster from Jigsaw into a chinbreaker. Green Ant adds a top-rope splash for a nearfall. Donst hits an ace crusher on Fire Ant and a belly-to-belly suplex on Green Ant. Donst hits a death valley driver off the top rope on Green Ant and Jigsaw adds a flying double stomp for a nearfall. Green Ant counters the Jig n’ Tonic into the Chikara Special. The referee counts to three? That gives the Colony the win in a hilarious fashion at 12:40. I actually wasn’t a huge fan of this match before the finish, but the finish killed any momentum that they had. The crowd loved the Colony but also wanted to cheer for Donst and Jigsaw, which ended up generating tepid reactions to a lot of the exchanges. This was a fine way to build up the Colony for their title match against the Bravados, but some unforeseen circumstances worked against them. **½
The Bravados come out after the match and remind the Colony to use the tag rope in their match tomorrow night. Moose attacks the Colony from behind and Lance mockingly pins Fire Ant.
Match #6: Drew Gulak vs. Chuck Taylor
They begin by trading control on the mat. Gulak slaps Taylor and applies a side headlock. Taylor counters into a headscissors. Gulak attempts to bridge out but Taylor spikes his head into the canvas. Gulak retreats to the floor to regroup. Back in, Taylor outsmarts Gulak and synchs in an ankle lock. Gulak finally creates an advantage by hitting a suplex into the turnbuckles. He takes control with a lariat from the top rope. Taylor blocks a charge with a knee strike and hits a DDT. He follows with a superplex and both men are down. Taylor locks in a half crab and transitions into an STF. Gulak reaches the bottom rope to escape. Gulak avoids a moonsault and hits a back suplex. He adds another back suplex for a nearfall. Taylor flips out of another back suplex but finds himself in a modified ankle lock. Taylor taps out, giving Gulak the win at 15:27. You have to feel bad for Taylor at this point. I fail to understand how anyone would take him seriously after considering everything that’s happened to him since the EVOLVE Title Tournament last year. This was a fine match. There was nothing actively bad happening, but an uninspired crowd and the relative ease with which Gulak won left me feeling flat. Something, anything, needs to be done to salvage Taylor. **¾
Larry Dallas tries to interrupt the show, but Rich Swann comes out and calmly escorts him to the back. That felt really weird and meaningless.
Match #7: AR Fox and Uhaa Nation vs. Trent Baretta and Anthony Nese
The Premiere Athlete Brand fail to recruit Nation before the match. Su Yung makes the stipulation that Nation must join if he loses this match. Then, Christina Von Eerie comes out to attack Ivelisse. They start brawling as the Premiere Athlete Brand jump Fox and Nation. Fox and Nation recover with stereo dropkicks on Baretta. Fox misses a split-legged moonsault but recovers with an armdrag-headscissors combination. Nation clotheslines the Premiere Athlete Brand to the floor and Mr. A guards them. Fox, however, lands Lo Mein Rain to the floor onto everyone. Fox misses his guillotine leg drop on the apron and the Premiere Athlete Brand isolate him. He connects with a springboard dropkick on Nese and makes the tag. Nation connects with a double clothesline and lands a springboard crossbody onto Baretta. He follows with a german suplex on Nese. Nation lands a moonsault off the apron onto the Premiere Athlete Brand. The man is impressive. In the ring, Fox hits a twisting brainbuster on Baretta and Nation adds a top-rope splash. Fox hits a springboard codebreaker on Nese. Baretta comes flying in with a double stomp on Fox and all four men are down. Nese lands a lionsault onto Nation and hits a bucklebomb on Fox. Nation absolutely levels Nese with a lariat and everyone is down once again. Nation hits three powerbombs on Baretta and Fox adds a swantan for a nearfall. Nese hits a pumphandle powerbomb on Fox. Baretta german suplexes Fox from the top rope and the Premiere Athlete Brand spike him with a double team DDT for a two count. Nation bicycle kicks Baretta and military presses Nese. Fox lands a 450 splash onto Nese and Nation follows with the Uhaa Combination for the victory at 18:11. This was a great main event and the match of the night in my opinion. Given the inevitability of the result (Nation was not going to join the Premiere Athlete Brand), the crowd remained invested in the match. Quite frankly, it’s hard not to react to the impressiveness of Nation’s offense and this was a great return for him as well. We can take issue with the Premiere Athlete Brand losing here after having an allegedly huge win in the trios tournament over WrestleMania weekend, but I think we should just settle with this being a very good main event to close out a show with virtually no interference or screwy finishes. ***¾
Overall: EVOLVE promised no interference during this weekend’s shows and night one delivered on that promise. While not every match clicked, everything received enough time to succeed and over half of the matches on this show were worth checking out in my opinion. Sure, there were still some booking annoyances, but these were not the infuriating kind. Wrestlers like Chuck Taylor, Johnny Gargano, and the Premiere Athlete Brand are being lazily booked at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they were robbed of the opportunity to have a quality match on this card. There are certainly areas that need improvement, but EVOLVE 29 has to be seen as a significant rebound from the travesty that was EVOLVE 28 and the show earns a recommendation.