Drew Galloway is in the ring to start the show. He interrupts Lenny Leonard’s countdown. The setup looks great this year. Galloway starts pumping up the crowd about WrestleMania weekend. “This is not mania week, this is wrestling week.” Galloway calls out Riddle, leading to…
Opening Match: Drew Galloway vs. Matt Riddle
Galloway attacks before the opening bell and reigns down punches. Riddle fires back with kicks in the corner and hits an exploder. They trade forearms at ringside. Galloway drapes Riddle across the guardrail and hits a powerslam onto the apron. Riddle answers with a go 2 sleep variant. Galloway trips him on the apron and hits a scary piledriver through a ringside table. Back in the ring, Galloway hits a Future Shock DDT and another piledriver for the win at 7:16. An interesting match and result. Galloway essentially dominated Riddle here. Sure, Riddle had some moments of fire during the ringside brawling, but he played perfectly into Galloway’s gameplan. The table spot was an ambitious way to start the weekend, but I think this was well-executed for the most part. **¾
Match #2: Chris Dickinson vs. Timothy Thatcher (w/ Stokely Hathaway)
The ring announcer almost calls Thatcher the current EVOLVE champion. They trade control on the mat to start. The action quickly devolves into strike exchanges. Dickinson seems to have the upper-hand. He just curb stomps Thatcher at one point. Thatcher applies an ankle lock and transitions into a gutwrench suplex. They trade more strikes and Thatcher hits a butterfly suplex. Dickinson responds with a saito suplex and both men are down. Dickinson hits a german suplex for a nearfall. Thatcher finds an opening to apply his choke sleeper for the victory at 9:18. There was little intensity to the proceedings and, at times, not any urgency. The crowd’s interest was mostly detracted as well. Most importantly, we didn’t receive any kind of indication of what life will be like for Thatcher post-title reign. **
Match #3: Jaka vs. Jason Kincaid vs. Lio Rush
Kincaid headscissors Jaka to the floor. Rush and Kincaid have a fast-paced exchange. Jaka prevents Rush from diving and drops an elbow. Jaka takes out both of his opponents with a plancha. Jaka hits an exploder on Kincaid, who responds with a slingshot neckbreaker. Jaka german suplexes Kincaid, causing him to superplex Rush from the apron into the ring. All three men are down. Everyone trades strikes. Kincaid hurricanranas Jaka to the floor. Rush hits a springboard reverse hurricanrana on Kincaid. Jaka dazes Rush on the top rope with a punch. Kincaid hurricanranas both of them to the canvas. Jaka connects with a double clothesline but eats stereo superkicks. Rush hits Rush Hour on Kincaid, dives onto Jaka, and then lands a huge frog splash onto Kincaid for the win at 9:09. The late addition of Rush gave this match some much-needed energy. To be honest, Rush was just operating at a higher level than either Jaka or Kincaid during this contest. Overall, the action was just okay, but Rush was a ton of fun to watch. You would be hard-pressed to find a more exciting professional wrestler in 2017. **
Match #4: Facade and Michael Richard Blaze vs. The Gatekeepers (w/ Ethan Page)
The Gatekeepers don’t have individual names, making any attempt at play-by-play difficult. Facade tries doing cool things but runs into a black hole slam. Blaze gets mauled by a lariat. The Gatekeepers hit a flying elbow-back drop combination on Blaze for the victory at 2:03. Squash.
Match #5: Ethan Page (w/ The Gatekeepers) vs. Austin Theory
Theory takes advantage of Page’s cockiness and lands a flurry of offense. Page hits an iconoclasm and sends Theory flying with a back drop. Theory landed awkwardly on the back drop and may have tweaked his knee. Page takes control until Theory breaks open the action with a dive to the floor. In the ring, Theory lands a standing shooting star press and hits a blockbuster. Page answers with R-K-Ego and a knockout kick. Page follows with a superkick and a bicycle kick. Page hits a uranagi for the win at 7:23. For whatever reason, this show has been pretty lifeless since the opener. The crowd just did not care about this match. Page was so methodical that Theory didn’t even really have the chance to look strong in losing. Luckily, the rest of the card has some exciting pairings. *¾
Page runs down Theory and the crowd on the microphone after the match. Priscilla Kelly starts walking down the ramp and into the ring. Men in blue jumpsuits with face paint carry a body bag to ringside. The Gatekeepers attack the men before they can open the bag. They then attack the body bag without opening it. They finally open the bag. Darby Allin comes out with a pipe to almost no crowd response. Allin attacks everyone. This was an odd segment that went way too long before the payoff. Page and Allin will wrestle in an anything goes match tomorrow at EVOLVE 81.
Match #6: Keith Lee vs. Ricochet
Ricochet doesn’t fare well in an initial lockup. Lee sets him on the top rope like a child. Ricochet seems to think this size disparity is comical. He finds an opening to connect with a few dropkicks. Lee answers with a dropkick of his own. The crowd is on their feet for Lee. This energy is what the last four matches lacked. Lee starts firing off these biels that have Ricochet flying across the ring. Ricochet comes off the middle rope with a hurricanrana. He connects with a tiger feint kick and a springboard uppercut. Lee retreats to ringside, where Ricochet catches him with a dive. Back in, Lee runs through a clothesline and hits a shoulder tackle. Ricochet hits a nice basement ace crusher and lands a standing shooting star press for a two count. Lee easily escapes the Benadryller but falls victim to a reverse hurricanrana. Ricochet connects with the Benadryller and follows with multiple knockout kicks for a nearfall. Lee avoids a shooting star press and hits a spinebuster. Both men are down. Lee wins a strike exchange and hits a sit-out powerbomb for a nearfall. Lee misses a top-rope moonsault. Ricochet lands a springboard 450 splash for a two count. Ricochet adds a shooting star press for a nearfall. Lee shrugs off another shooting star press but Ricochet throws more kicks. Ricochet lands a 630 splash for the victory at 17:13.
Lee’s smugness might be the best thing going in professional wrestling right now. You’ve never seen someone have a more genuinely good time throwing another human being around a wrestling ring than Lee did here. Ricochet bumped like a mad man and everything clicked. I certainly have mixed feelings about Ricochet winning, but the work they put in here was just incredible. ****
Match #7: EVOLVE Tag Team Titles: Catch Point (Tracy Williams and Fred Yehi) © vs. Michael Elgin and Donovan Dijak
Williams and Elgin start the match by trading strikes. Williams applies a cross armbreaker in the ropes. Yehi fights off the much-larger Dijak with his unique striking. Dijak eventually tosses him across the ring. Elgin drapes Williams across the apron as Dijak throws Yehi to the floor. Dijak lands a fosbury flop onto Catch Point. In the ring, Elgin lands a slingshot splash onto Williams and the challengers isolate him. Williams hits a dragon screw leg whip on Elgin and makes the tag. Yehi cleans house with more unique yet sensible offense. Elgin catches Yehi with an enzuigiri out of the corner. Williams missile dropkicks Elgin into a german suplex from Yehi. Elgin fights back with a falcon arrow on Williams. Dijak connects with double knees in the corner on Williams and hits a suplex. They battle up top and Williams hits a DDT onto the top turnbuckle. Dijak responds with a nice springboard moonsault. Williams counters Feast Your Eyes with a dragon screw leg whip. Elgin superkicks Williams to save Dijak from a crossface. Dijak hits a chokebreaker on Williams for a nearfall. Elgin powerbombs Williams from the middle rope for another two count. Elgin hits a bucklebomb on Williams. Yehi saves him from Feast Your Eyes. Yehi hits a destroyer on Elgin. Catch Point powerbomb Dijak for a two count. Williams traps Dijak in a crossface. Catch Point retain their titles at 18:24.
There was obviously something missing from this match, although it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly that could be. One surface level criticism is that the match didn’t really have a story and the result was pretty much a foregone conclusion. All four men are tremendous professional wrestlers, but asking them to make the mere trading of offense interesting for eighteen minutes is a tall task. I don’t know. The action was clearly worthwhile in spurts and Yehi was on fire for the entire duration. But this could have been so much more. ***
Match #8: EVOLVE Title: Zack Sabre Jr. © vs. ACH
ACH connects with a dropkick along with a punt from the apron. He adds a swinging neckbreaker. Sabre aggressively tries to slow the match down and traps ACH in a few submissions. He puts his hands behind his back and allows ACH to chop him. ACH spits at Sabre and gets taken down to the mat for his troubles. ACH connects with a basement dropkick and comes off the middle rope with a codebreaker. He follows with a neckbreaker over his knee. Sabre traps him in a triangle choke but ACH immediately reaches the ropes. Sabre connects with a penalty kick and hits a half nelson suplex. ACH fights back with a flying double stomp. He hits a german suplex for a nearfall. They trade strikes. A slap from Sabre staggers ACH. Sabre connects with a few uppercuts in the corner. Sabre applies a guillotine choke but runs into a lariat. ACH hits a brainbuster for a nearfall. ACH tries a 450 splash but gets caught in a triangle choke. Sabre retains his title at 15:17. A strong first title defense for Sabre. There was very little downtime in this match. ACH brought the fight to Sabre from the opening bell and their conflicting personality quirks added a nice layer of intensity to the action. Again, I think it was obvious that Sabre was going to retain, but you wouldn’t have known that from the crowd reaction. A very good main event. ***½
Michael Elgin attacks Sabre after the match with a backfist. He wants their match tomorrow to be for the EVOLVE Title.
-Show Grade: B
–You Need to See: Lee/Ricochet
–You’d Enjoy Watching: Sabre/ACH, tag title match, Riddle/Galloway
–You Should Avoid:
Join me at 4:00 pm EST tomorrow for EVOLVE 81 live coverage! Follow Ryan on twitter at http://twitter.com/RRozanski
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