While Kayfabe Commentaries is best known for their interviews with “legends” of the wrestling business, last year they dipped their toes into the independent wrestling world with their “Next Evolution” series. The series is hosted by EVOLVE creator/co-founder and former Ring of Honor booker Gabe Sapolsky. Each episode involves Gabe and another wrestler discussing their history together and providing commentary on some of the most critical matches of their EVOLVE/WWN tenures. The previous installments featured Johnny Gargano and Roderick Strong, but the latest installment involves Chris Hero, who is now back in NXT as Kassius Ohno.
When CM Punk and Colt Cabana showed up in Ring of Honor in the Fall of 2002, people assumed Hero wasn’t far behind due to their association with each other in the Midwest and Northeast. Fans would have to wait 3+ years for Hero to step foot in an ROH ring, and if you remember the ROH message boards days, Hero was one of the most requested competitors for the organization. Hero always heard Gabe didn’t care for his wrestling style or physique (and the fact that ROH already had enough wrestlers in t-shirts), but Hero never pined about not being in Ring of Honor because his schedule was fairly busy without them. Hero also didn’t want to come into the company as “just a guy” in a scramble or four way, especially when so many fans have been clamoring for him; he wanted to make an impact. Hero also heard that Gabe wasn’t pleased when Hero pinned then Ring of Honor World champion Bryan Danielson during the 2005 Ted Petty Invitational for IWA Mid-South.
Simultaneously, the Philadelphia market for ROH wasn’t doing well and CM Punk had just left, so they needed something to revitalize the area. When Mike Burns (Smart Mark Video owner and then CZW booker) mentioned they and ROH had the same date in January 2006 booked for their events, the concept for a one-off CZW vs ROH main event of Hero vs. Danielson was conceived. At the time Hero had issued ‘open contracts” for title contenders, and since Hero pinned Danielson elsewhere, he was a believable contender and it would give Danielson the opportunity to “get his win back.”The match and concept revitalized the market and turned into a feud which to this day many consider the best ROH storyline ever. The timing worked out perfectly because had Punk or James Gibson not left, that spot for Hero may not have opened up, and had he debuted in a random match previously, him leading the CZW contingent wouldn’t have been nearly as impactful. They recount some of their favorite moments from the feud and how easily it was to transition Hero into a regular roster member when the feud ended.
Gabe is very complimentary of working with Hero and how Hero is always able to add a little extra to his ideas to make them even better, providing some fun details from their time in EVOLVE. Speaking of EVOLVE, the pair take a look at four of Hero’s EVOLVE matches:
Chris Hero vs. Ikuta Hidaka
“EVOLVE 2: Hero vs. Hidaka” – Rahway, NJ – 3.13.2010
Review: Claudio Castagnoli serves as the corner man for Hero, and Brad Allen serves as the corner man for Hidaka. Hidaka and Hero measure each other, cautiously picking their openings. They go to the mat to work on one another’s legs and arms, and to vie for the advantage. Both guys go for some quick pins to no avail. Hero stretches out Hidaka on the mat. Hidaka looks to go for the ankle lock, and Hero quickly gets the bottom rope. Back to the mat they go with Hidaka targeting Hero’s leg, and Hero targeting Hidaka’s arm. On their feet, the targets stay the same. Hidaka lays in some shots to Hero. He wheelbarrows up and Hero knocks him with an elbow for two. Hero slams Hidaka back first over his knee for two. Hero drills Hidaka with a couple elbows and chops for two. Hero goes back to the arm and Hidaka switches so that he’s picking Hero’s ankle. Hero kicks Hidaka away. Hero hits a basement boot to Hidaka’s head for two. Hero lays in some more strikes. Hidaka fights up with punches to Hero’s mid-section, and Hero responds with another hard elbow. Hero lands on Hidaka’s mid-section with a senton splash for two. He hits a second for two. Hero looks for a powerbomb, but Hidaka counters with a DDT. Hidaka boots Hero in the face and heads up top. Hidaka hits a missile dropkick and a superkick. Hidaka drops Hero with a reverse DDT for two. Hero cracks Hidaka with an elbow and drops him with a hangman’s suplex for two. Hero hits a trifecta of elbows. Hero hits the ropes, and Hidaka dropkicks Hero’s leg out. Hidaka cinches in the ankle lock. Hero tries to kick away but Hidaka shrugs it off. Hero sends Hidaka to the ropes, and Hidaka rolls right back to the ankle lock. Hero puts his leg on the rope to break. Hidaka gives a springboard dropkick to Hero’s leg. Hidaka wheelbarrows into a waistlock from Hero. Hero lands a hard rolling elbow to the back of Hidaka’s skull. Hero muscles Hidaka over with a belly-to-back suplex. Hero hits a leaping elbow in the corner. Hidaka superkicks Hero, but Hero cracks him with a rolling elbow for two. Hero looks for a powerbomb. Hero’s leg gives out, and Hidaka gives him a dragon screw leg whip. Hero applies a nerve hold to stop Hidaka, and hits another rolling elbow for two. Hidaka blocks a boot and kicks out Hero’s legs. Hidaka applies a leg-lock ankle lock. Hero grabs the ropes to break the submission. Hidaka kicks away at Hero’s legs. Hero nails a rolling elbow and chops Hidaka on the ropes. Hidaka cartwheels into a leg lariat. Hero Yakuza kicks Hidaka. Hidaka gets up and eats another rolling elbow for two. Hero looks for the Death Blow, and Hidaka backslides him for two. Hidaka elbows Hero. Hero tags Hidaka with one as well. Hidaka hits an enzuigiri to block another elbow and gets a two count. Hidaka lands a series of kicks for the pin at 28:22. Two shows in and EVOLVE has established that the main event is the most important (and so far, the best) match on the card, as it should be. Both guys worked really hard and helped set the table for the type of technical and hard hitting wrestling EVOLVE was looking to emphasize. ***¾
Gabe & Hero Commentary: Flooding in the area resulted in low attendance for the event. Hero traveled from a wXw event at the ECW Arena earlier in the day. Gabe and Hero discuss the politics with Ring of Honor and their roster members working the show and how Hero’s style changed between between the time when Gabe was fired from ROH (October 2008) and this event. Gabe discusses how EVOLVE strayed from Bryan Danielson’s initial vision and why concepts like the backstage segments didn’t work. They agree that the modern EVOLVE crowd would be more receptive to this particular match. Hero discusses the process in updating your character and changing up your style.
Chris Hero vs. Bobby Fish
“EVOLVE 3: Rise and Prove” – Rahway, NJ – 5.1.2010
Review: Claudio Castagnoli seconds Hero to the ring. Fish strikes Hero in the face as Hero tries to take the advantage on the mat. Fish lays in knees to Hero’s face. Hero attacks Fish in the corner and snapmares him into a crucifix pin for one. Fish moves to a front-face lock and transitions into a hammerlock on the mat. Fish delivers some kicks to Hero as Hero tries to fight back. He lays in some knees before applying a headlock on the mat. Fish dropkicks Hero to the floor. Fish lays in some more kicks when Hero comes back in, and sends him to the floor with a knee. Fish springboards over the ring post onto Hero on the floor. Back in the ring, Hero hits a flash kick. Hero connects with a forearm, and Fish takes Hero over with a hurricanrana. Fish gives him a belly-to-belly suplex and comes off the top rope with a diving headbutt, which only glances Hero. Fish grabs his knee and rolls to the floor. Hero catches Fish with a kick to the side of the head as Fish comes back in. Hero and Fish trade blows. Fish fires up and gets in a flurry of blows, but a boot to the stomach and a spinning elbow knocks Fish down for two. Hero hits a flash kick for one. Hero nails an elbow and a standing senton for two. Hero knees and kicks Fish in the face. Fish shoves Hero away, but Hero keeps on top of him with hard strikes. Fish suplexes Hero for two. Hero hits some elbows, and Fish turns a rolling elbow into a Falcon Arrow for two. Fish lays in some kicks and forearms. Fish backdrops Hero, but misses a moonsault. Hero picks up Fish in a cravate and cracks Fish with a rolling elbow. Hero hits a running elbow strike and follows with a rolling elbow for two. Fish gets a sole butt, and Hero runs at him with another elbow. Fish hits a leaping knee strike. Hero nails Fish with an elbow. Fish counters the Death Blow with a neckbreaker, and small packages Hero for two. Fish gives Hero a high kick to the head for two. Hero gives Fish an elbow to the back of the head and rolls him up for two. Fish knees Hero in the mid-section while trapping his arm behind his back. Fish lays in knees to the side of Hero’s knees as he goes to the mat. Hero gives Fish a Saito suplex, but Fish fires up and lays in boots to Hero’s chest. Hero nails a rolling elbow and Fish kicks out at one. Hero nails Fish with two rolling elbows, a stomp to the back of the head, and a third rolling elbow for the pin at 14:51. This was a master class in getting Fish over as a top competitor. Despite losing, he looked very resilient and the crowd was hoping he’d finally get his win. With Bryan Danielson lined up for Fish on the next show, it was important to set him up as a credible challenger, and this match helped do just that. ***½
Gabe & Hero Commentary: Hero was very happy about this match because he thought highly of Fish and was happy to give him a showcase. He provides some insight on working to get somebody over in a match and some difficulties it provides when it’s in front of a crowd who is unfamiliar with that competitor. Hero also talks about the differences between this match and the one with Hidaka, and why you couldn’t necessarily do the same match with both of them given the story you were trying to tell.
Chris Hero vs. Drew Galloway
“EVOLVE 31: Hero vs. Galloway” – Ybor City, FL – 8.8.2014
Review: Chris Hero has been champion since 2.23.2014 and this is his third defense. This was scheduled as a non-title bout, but Hero decides to be a fighting champion and put it on the line. They hesitantly approach one another, with each guy taking to a corner before the other can make a definitive move. Galloway sneaks in a rollup for two. Hero controls him by the wrist, but Galloway trips him and goes for Hero’s wrist himself. They switch control of one another’s arm. Hero goes to the corner when Galloway kicks his arm away. Hero grabs Galloway’s leg and twists on his left ankle. Galloway maneuvers Hero into a side headlock. Hero rolls free. He key locks Galloway’s legs and applies a facelock. Galloway breaks the key lock and shoots Hero off. Galloway remains steadfast from Hero’s running shoulder block attempts. When Galloway tries, Hero leapfrogs and drops down before catching him with a dropkick. Hero avoids an O’Conner Roll. He kicks Galloway in the face before landing a senton splash for two. Galloway avoids an attack, slides through Hero’s legs, and knocks him down with a short-arm clothesline. After stomping Hero in the corner, Galloway gets a one count with a suplex. He grabs Hero’s left arm and applies pressure to his neck. Hero escapes and sends Galloway to the corner. Galloway ascends the ropes but Hero crotches him on the top turnbuckle and kicks him to the outside. Hero lays in some shots on the floor. Galloway strikes too, but Hero kicks him in the side of the head. Back in the ring he clobbers Galloway with a straight punch for two. He tags Galloway with a forearm strike for two. Hero grabs a cravate. Galloway escapes. He knee strikes Hero in the face to avoid a backdrop. Hero holds onto the ropes to avoid a dropkick and gets a two count with a folding press. Hero mocks Galloway as he stomps him on the mat. Galloway shows signs of fighting back but Hero keeps control with a bicycle kick. Out of nowhere Galloway finds the energy for a flying boot to the face. He gets two with a Northern Lights suplex. Galloway goes for Future Shock, but Hero slides out. He gives Galloway a cravate neckbreaker for two. They boot one another in the face. Galloway swings Hero into a uranage for two. On the floor, Galloway goes to whip Hero, but Hero retaliates with a rolling elbow. He goes for another but ends up colliding with a steel beam. Galloway targets the now injured arm of Hero back in the ring. Hero kicks him in the head and foolishly uses his hurt arm for a rolling elbow. Galloway kicks out. Hero goes for the Death Blow. Galloway stops it and hits the Future Shock for the pin at 17:22! Galloway is the new EVOLVE champion! This was a genuine surprise when it happened, and you couldn’t ask for a better way for Galloway to enter the company and establish himself as a major player. He and Hero had an excellent battle, one in which Hero’s hubris cost him the match and his championship. The two matches that preceded it were stronger, but this was still a good main event and a symbolic of a new start for the company. ***¼
Gabe & Hero Commentary: Galloway was supposed to wrestle Trent Baretta, who got injured at Beyond Wrestling a couple weeks before hand, which would’ve been less of an issue if it wasn’t Trent who vouched for Galloway to come to EVOLVE. Gabe spoke to Galloway directly for the first time after Trent was injured and Galloway convinced him to put the company on his shoulders. This being Galloway’s first post WWE match leads to Hero recollecting his transition from NXT back to the Indies and his first match back in EVOLVE with Johnny Gargano. Gabe talks about Galloway as a champion and what the original plans for his run was. He also discusses the idea behind putting the title on Hero initially and why they took the title off of him on this night.
Chris Hero vs. Timothy Thatcher
“WWN Live Supershow: Mercury Rising” – Santa Clara, CA – 3.28.2015
Review: The fans are split, chanting loudly and passionately for either competitor before the bell. On the mat, Thatcher goes for the arm while Hero goes for the leg. Hero backs Thatcher to the ropes and backs away. They each grab a cravate. Thatcher almost takes Hero down in an armbar, but we get a stand-off instead. Thatcher blocks Hero’s rolling elbow attempt. Hero takes him down in a Gedo Clutch, but Thatcher converts it into a surfboard. Hero quickly grabs the ropes to escape. With Hero watching the armbar, Thatcher grabs a single leg hook. Hero uses the ropes to escape again. Hero gets in some chops, so Thatcher rocks him with uppercuts and suplexes Hero into a one count. They trade waistlocks on the mat, with Thatcher going for the armbar. Hero applies a headscissors, forcing Thatcher to use his neck to escape. Thatcher does so and puts on a bow and arrow stretch. Hero escapes and takes a breather outside. In a strike exchange, Thatcher again blocks the rolling elbow. He gets in some uppercuts, but Hero nails the Cyclone Kick for two. Hero gets in a few more nearfalls, striking Thatcher as he’s grounded. When Thatcher gets to his feet, Hero puts him back down with a single leg dropkick. Hero outstretches Thatcher’s shoulder and arm before dropping his knee across Thatcher’s shoulder blades. Thatcher grounds Hero, throwing some forearms to the face. He tries grabbing a Kimura, but Hero uses the ropes to slide outside the ring. Hero baits Thatcher into a running kick through the ropes. Hero nails him with an elbow. He tries a second, but Thatcher catches his arm and tries the Fujiwara. The referee breaks it up when Hero gets on the apron. Hero kicks Thatcher in the head back in the ring. He gets two with a senton splash. Hero spikes Thatcher with a Gotch Piledriver for two. He goes for a second, but Thatcher counters with a German suplex. Hero bicycle kicks Thatcher. Thatcher gets another German suplex. Hero tries a rolling elbow. Thatcher headbutts Hero to stop him and both men fall to the mat. Thatcher tries charging Hero in the corner, but Hero kicks him in the face with each charge. Thatcher catches the last boot and unloads with punches and chops. Hero follows Thatcher into the ropes with a bicycle kick. He tags him with four rolling elbows. Hero kicks out right before three and grabs the Fujiwara armbar! Hero taps out at 21:32! The fans who started a match with a dueling chant for both participants are now solely chanting for Thatcher alone, which sums up how successful of a story these two told. For the entire match, Hero bested Thatcher. He kept him grounded, hit him with elbows, even indicated with his facial expressions and body language that he felt he had the match won the entire time. Lo and behold, Thatcher was relentless, kicking out of whatever Hero threw his way, knowing that if he could just get that armbar applied properly, it would be over. He did, and it was. Thatcher wasn’t just fighting for the armbar, but was actively doing what he could to avoid elbows and prevent Hero from wearing down his neck, with varying success. It came off a huge win for Thatcher, and the crowd played a big role in creating an atmosphere for these two to flourish. ****
Gabe & Hero Commentary: Gabe says this is one of his favorite matches ever. The commentary on this one gives you insight into both Gabe and Hero’s philosophies on professional wrestling and telling a story within a match, as well as telling a story over the course of a weekend (such as WrestleMania weekend when this match took place.) Aspring wrestlers should especially give this match a watch. If that’s the kind of insight you’re looking for, this is the best match on the set for that.
Overall: Chris Hero has always been one of my favorite interview subjects, as he’s always willing to go in depth and has a great memory of events. He and Gabe provide different, yet complementary and compelling insight into the four matches provided. All four matches are quality bouts to boot, and I think anybody who is a long time fan of EVOLVE or Chris Hero would find this feature to be quite enjoyable.