EVOLVE 88 Review

July 8th, 2017

Opening Match:  Jason Kincaid vs. Caleb Konley
I thought this was going to be the match that broke Kincaid and caused him to snap.  Konley has been away from EVOLVE for some time and Kincaid losing to him could realistically put him over the edge.  In a genuinely intriguing decision, Kincaid defeated Konley here.  I don’t think these two had the best chemistry together and fifteen minutes felt too long, especially for the opener.  Kincaid’s double stomp while hanging from the rafters woke the crowd up but it really should have ended the match.  The actual record book result is the most significant takeaway, though.  Kincaid won in 14:43 with the Compassionate Release.  **½

Match #2:  Austin Theory (w/ Priscilla Kelly) vs. Ethan Case
Theory was originally scheduled to wrestle ACH, but he refused to wrestle in the second match on the show.  Whiny ACH is legitimately fantastic and the storyline allows him to show some personality, something that Ring of Honor never really seemed interested in having him do.  Ethan Case was a fine opponent for Theory to kick off his time as a heel.  Theory appropriately had a newfound demeanor and sense of aggression in the ring.  Time will tell if Theory and Kelly will be able to remain authentic as dark, brooding figures, but Theory is in a good place at this point in his career.  Theory won in 6:41 with a TKO.  **

Match #3:  Keith Lee vs. Ethan Page
This was an odd rematch to book so quickly, as Page just recently lost to Lee at EVOLVE 86.  The booking is even odder in the sense that Page lost again in about ten minutes and nothing really came out of it.  Their EVOLVE 86 match had more energy and featured Page being a lot more crafty and resourceful.  This ended up being perfectly fine because Lee and Page are talented wrestlers, but the booking made it difficult to become overly excited about what was happening in the ring.  Lee won in 9:55 with a roaring forearm.  **½

Match #4:  Tracy Williams (w/ Stokely Hathaway) vs. Darby Allin
This was Allin’s in-ring return after his injury stemming from his feud against Ethan Page.  At this point in the show, you got the sense that this was going to be a hard crowd to win over.  They haven’t been reacting to much and Williams dominating the majority of this thirteen-minute match was not going to help anyone’s cause.  I certainly think it’s a good idea to start conditioning the fans to not expect absolute craziness from Allin on every show.  In that sense, having him wrestle an extended match against Williams was a good idea.  Just not in front of this crowd.  The action could have consisted of Allin running wild for six minutes, Williams catching him with a few punishing arm submissions for the win, and Allin would not have looked bad at all (the man’s arm is still injured!).  Williams won in 13:27 with an armbar.  **¼

Match #5:  Fred Yehi vs. ACH
Yehi was originally scheduled to wrestle Trent Barreta, but he suffered an elbow injury.  After ACH refused to wrestle in the second match, the fifth match seemed high enough on the card for him.  I might be sounding like a broken record, but I don’t think seventeen minutes was the right idea in front of this crowd.  Yehi and ACH are great at subtleties – their personalities and nuanced offense is rewarding to watch but you actually need a engaged, attentive audience to notice what they are doing.  These two could have undoubtedly delivered a tremendous eight-minute sprint and that’s exactly what this card needed.  As it stands, this was just okay, but ACH’s new direction is at least enjoyable.  Yehi won in 16:45 with a koji clutch.  **½

Match #6:  EVOLVE Tag Team Titles: Catch Point (Chris Dickinson and Jaka) © vs. Anthony Henry and James Drake
Leave it to Dickinson and Jaka to adapt to what had been an apathetic crowd up to this point.  The champions added enough aggression and urgency into their offense to make the crowd take notice.  This was a legitimately shocking title change.  Of course, it helped that the crowd was already familiar with Henry and Drake.  You can only really measure the success of the title change based on the information available.  The fact is that when Drake pinned Dickinson, the crowd was on their feet and it felt like something huge had just happened.  Moving forward, this title change leads to some interesting questions.  As a practical matter, how will crowds in other markets react to the new champions?  As a storyline matter, how will Dickinson and Jaka losing the titles affect their willingness to stay in Catch Point?  For now, this was a strong tag team match that checked all of the right boxes.  Henry and Drake became the NEW EVOLVE Tag Team Champions at 19:56.  ***½

Match #7:  EVOLVE Title: No Holds Barred: Zack Sabre Jr. © vs. Timothy Thatcher (w/ Stokely Hathaway)
This was a fresh take on a no holds barred match and they delivered a great main event.  The stipulation did not awkwardly make Sabre and Thatcher go outside of their wheelhouse.  Instead, they used the stipulation to accentuate their offense by using the environment in creative ways.  The lack of rope breaks also went a long way.  I don’t think this is the type of match you can have very often, but once in awhile matches like this one are a great reminder of the unique product that EVOLVE brings to the table.  EVOLVE 88 needed a memorable main event to bring the show together and thankfully this was a proper way to end their feud.  Sabre retained his title in 18:00 with an octopus stretch in the ropes.  ***½

-Show Grade: C+
You Need to See:
You’d Enjoy Watching: Sabre/Thatcher, tag title match
You Should Avoid:

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