February 25th, 2017
Opening Match: ACH vs. Jason Kincaid
ACH is a very unique professional wrestler. Kincaid fits the same description. They felt like they needed to out-do each other in this match and the story basically told itself. I typically find Kincaid’s offense to be disjointed but when you frame his offense in a certain context, like this battle of one-upsmanship, he’s enjoyable to watch. Unsurprisingly, ACH delivered a fantastic performance in a shorter contest. ACH won in 7:09 with a brainbuster. ***
Match #2: Anthony Henry vs. Chris Dickinson vs. Fred Yehi vs. Austin Theory
EVOLVE has been pretty good lately about limiting the number of random multi-man matches taking place on their shows. The contrast in personalities in this match had me somewhat optimistic going in. All four men absolutely killed it and blew away my expectations. Not only was the action crisp and exciting, but the interactions between Dickinson and Yehi were great, subtle storytelling. You really got the sense that they aren’t on the same page despite both being members of Catch Point. The finish was icing on the cake, with Dickinson pinning Theory while Yehi had Henry ready to submit. Dickinson won in 8:21 with the Border Toss on Theory. ***¼
Match #3: Jaka vs. Jeff Cobb
I always find myself enjoying Cobb’s matches less than other people, but he had a strong outing here against Jaka. Go figure. I think the previous two matches had the crowd excited and they were very willing to respond and get invested in the back and forth power exchanges that Cobb and Jaka brought to the table. Gabe has done an excellent job of putting Dickinson and Jaka into a position to succeed and they have added a great deal to EVOLVE cards recently. Cobb won in 8:49 with the Tour of the Islands. ***
Match #4: Keith Lee vs. Tracy Williams
EVOLVE hit the jackpot with Keith Lee and I don’t anticipate Gabe screwing up the booking anytime soon. Lee’s size and power presents a puzzle to every opponent he encounters and he’s a difficult puzzle to solve. Williams tried to just take the fight to Lee with pure aggression. That strategy worked for Chris Hero, but Hero was somewhat able to match Lee in the size department. Williams’ strategy pretty much failed and the few times he was able to sustain continuous offense, it was because he took advantage of Lee’s cockiness. Watching all of this play out was highly entertaining. Keith Lee is great. Lee won in 11:37 with Ground Zero. ***¼
Match #5: Ethan Page (w/ The Gatekeepers) vs. Darby Allin
Page came into this match looking to end Allin’s career and he tried to do just that. Early on, Page military pressed Allin from the stage into a metal pillar. He then handcuffed Allin’s hands behind his back. Page beat down Allin for a few minutes and all of the offense looked more brutal because Allin’s hands are tied. Then, Allin made an insane comeback with his hands still handcuffed. The crowd went crazy. Page eventually caught up to Allin and put him away. This match was extremely well-executed. Booking is not hard and EVOLVE is great. This show is reaching eerie levels of consistency. Page won in 9:02 with a powerbomb. ***¼
After the match, Page puts Allin into a body bag and carries him away.
Match #6: Drew Galloway vs. Matt Riddle
There was some bad blood coming into this match since Riddle refused to join Galloway in his quest to takeover EVOLVE. This was yet another strong match on an insanely high-quality card thus far. Galloway had a worthwhile match with Jeff Cobb on the last show, and he really brought it this weekend. In particular, Galloway did a good job of being his usual brooding self but also turning up the urgency when the situation called for it during this brawl.
The post-match angle was also well-executed. Yehi basically revealed his frustrations with Riddle and challenged him to a match. Between Dickinson and Jaka having their eye on Williams and Yehi’s tag titles and Riddle seemingly being an outlier, Catch Point has actually turned into an interesting unit. The Premiere Athlete Brand, for instance, was a faction I could not care less about. Riddle won in 12:04 with the Bromission. ***¼
Match #7: EVOLVE Title: Timothy Thatcher © (w/ Stokely Hathaway) vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
Thatcher’s reign was undoubtedly polarizing. Although I have not watched all of his defenses, I certainly understand the common criticism that he refused to adapt and tried to force his style of wrestling onto the crowd at times. On the other hand, I’ve seen Thatcher have genuinely terrific matches. His defense against Chris Hero last year is often cited. Trying to diagnose where Thatcher’s reign went awry right now is likely unhelpful, although it could be an interesting case study in ten years to look back on. Right now, it’s more important that Thatcher’s reign came to an end in a fantastic way.
The success of this match starts with Sabre being someone that the crowd genuinely wanted to see win the title. This is something that ROH has constantly gotten wrong since 2009. After Sabre finally conquered Chris Hero, his rival, it felt like this was his time to dethrone Thatcher. Given the way Sabre has been built up, the crowd had no problem biting on any of the nearfalls down the stretch. The closing minute, with Sabre frantically trying to make Thatcher submit, is unlikely to be replicated in any way anytime soon. Pro wrestling can plausibly be said to be about moments, and this title change felt like a moment. Check it out. Sabre won in 18:55 to become the NEW EVOLVE Champion. ****
Finally, LOOK AT THESE MATCH TIMES. Not only was EVOLVE 79 consistently great, it was an absolute breeze to watch in one sitting. Every other promotion should take notice of what EVOLVE accomplished here.
-Show Grade: A-
–You Need to See: Thatcher/Sabre
–You’d Enjoy Watching: The rest of the card. Seriously.
–You Should Avoid: