Well known to fans of British wrestling, Martin Stone made his debut here against one of the toughest competitors in EVOLVE, Biff Busick. The match started out tentatively, neither man willing to concede an opening, before Biff slapped Stone across the face and raised the ire of the Londoner. Stone took control of the match, forcing Busick to the mat with a tight side-headlock, but Biff eventually fought his way to his feet and the two men began trading blows, much to the crowd’s approval. Stone proved a good match for Biff in this regard and could have had the match won when he hit a beautiful release German suplex, but as he tried to follow up with a brainbuster Biff floated over and locked in a rear naked choke to force Stone to tap. Biff cut a promo on Hero post-match, but the microphone was acting up and I couldn’t hear most of it. This was good for what we got, but I definitely would have liked to see more as it felt like the match ended just as they got going. Hope to see Stone back in EVOLVE soon, he worked well with Busick here and their styles definitely complimented each other.
2. Team Tremendous (Dan Barry & Bill Carr) vs Larry Dallas’ New Team (Earl Cooter & Jody Kristofferson)
Larry Dallas had teased the debut of his new mystery team, which turned out to be Earl Cooter & Jody Kristofferson who had worked the WWNLive tour of China last year. Nothing against either guy, but that was somewhat anticlimactic. Also making their debuts were Team Tremendous of Officers Dan Barry & Bill Carr, who have been tearing it up wherever they go and making a good name for themselves this past year or so. The match started out at quite a clip, Team Tremendous dictating the pace early on before Cooter managed to isolate Barry. Dan fought back well and hit a big Arabian press moonsault for a near-fall, before tagging in Bill. Cooter tried to string some offence together against the big man, but when leaping off the top-rope he got caught in a huge Boss Man slam! Tremendous took full control and the action spilled to the floor, Barry hitting a crazy tornillo over the ropes before Carr followed him with a big tope that brought the crowd to their feet. Kristofferson brought a brief moment of hope for Larry Dallas when he nailed Barry with a nasty spear, but miscommunication put pay to their chances of victory, Team Tremendous closing the case with Book ’em, Danno (a doomsday device sliced bread no.2)!! This was a fun tag match, Team Tremendous are a highly enjoyable act that the crowd seemed to dig, definitely would love to see more of them in EVOLVE.
3. AR Fox vs Matt Cage
Matt Cage is another new debut here for EVOLVE and has been impressing recently for indies such as AIW and Beyond Wrestling. He comes endorsed by Uhaa Nation, which is how this match with AR Fox came about. Fox is super over with the New York crowd as he makes his entrance, but Cage has a fair few supporters of his own and even more by the time the match ends. They started off at a blistering pace, Cage showing that’s he more than a match for the crisp execution of AR Fox, scoring early on with an insane tope con hilo that sent him three rows deep into the crowd. It wasn’t long before Fox was delving into his aerial bag of tricks either, as he wiped out Cage with a huge somersault tope over the ring-post. Back in the ring Cage impressed as he did a good job of keeping Fox under control, earning a number of close near-falls. The turning point came when Cage kicked out of Fox’s springboard 450 and Fox had a look on his face that showed he didn’t know what it would take to put Cage away. They went back and forth for a few more minutes, before Fox caught Cage with the Lo Mein Pain, hitting a 450 splash for the win. This was a super fun match, both guys never let up the pace and didn’t miss a beat. A great showing from Cage who came away looking almost the equal of his more experienced opponent.
4. Drew Gulak vs Chris Hero
Gulak came out before the match to put certain sections of the roster on notice for possessing more style than substance, before declaring himself ready to fight his opponent right there and then. Cue Chris Hero. They started things off slowly, both men testing each other as they tried to grab a decisive hold, only to be met with counter-hold after counter-hold. With the match placed firmly on the mat things were looking decidedly in Gulak’s favour as a frustrated Hero rolled to the outside. He took an uncharacteristic cheap shot getting back in the ring and, advantage in hand, began to almost derisively punish Gulak as he tried to stretch him apart. Drew fought back but let his emotions get the better of him, however, as he unwisely tried to go toe-to-toe with Hero in the striking department. Suffice to say, Hero wasted little time in throwing some devastating looking elbows that left Gulak wobbling. Gulak tried to find some space on the floor, but Hero followed him and kept up the physicallity with some more vicious elbow strikes. They teased a knockout on numerous occasions but, although glassy-eyed, Gulak kept fighting and eventually got his second wind, almost ending things with a big sunset flip. Hero all but cemented his victory when he hit a huge hangman rolling elbow, but instead of going for cover he hoisted Gulak up and absolutely spiked him with a tombstone for the three-count. Hero got on the mic and made light of the fact that he’d KO’d Gulak, before addressing Busick and telling him he didn’t have the right to say Hero’s name, let alone call him out. Busick came down to the ring and Hero told him if he wants to fight, he’s more than ready, only to then throw a still woozy Gulak into Biff and put the boots to them both. Biff wasn’t down for long, however, and ran Hero off to the back. This was as technically sound and hard-hitting a match as you’d expect from these two, but it felt slightly disjointed. The opening half showed off some great hold-for-hold wrestling and I enjoyed seeing Drew try and trade strikes with the far larger Hero, but there was perhaps a few near-falls too many down the stretch and I don’t think the audience were anticipating that the tombstone would end it. Regardless, this was a good contest that set-up well for Hero vs Biff later in the month.
5. PJ Black vs Caleb Konley
The ‘Darewolf’ PJ Black had been set to make his EVOLVE debut at WrestleMania weekend, but so eager was he to get back in the ring that he called up EVOLVE officials and asked for a match on this show, which he was given against one half of the Open the United Gate tag champions, Caleb Konley. Early on Black began to show the crowd the things he could do that Justin Gabriel wasn’t allowed to, as he and Konley swiftly went through some smart lucha-style exchanges. Black hit a nice tornillo dive, but then Konley took control after a few minutes when he caught PJ on the floor with a huge tornado DDT off the ring-post. From there on it was all about Caleb trying to ground Black, locking in his weird submission that google tells me is a “arm-trap pendulum crab hold”. Yeah. Black manages to roll into the ropes to break the submission, then moments later brought the crowd to his feet as Caleb shot him into the ropes, only for him to leap up to the top-rope and hit a huge lionsault! He went up top for the 450, but Konley cut him off and the two jockeyed for position before Konley dropkicked PJ to the apron. Caleb charged and caught an enziguri before PJ Black soared with a springboard 450 for the win. This was another good match, although they didn’t hit the heights I felt were possible from either competitor. AR Fox was on commentary to scout Black for their match at Mania weekend, which was a nice touch. He did well, marked out for PJ’s big offence and in doing so helped put him over and hype their match. Good stuff.
6. Davey Richards vs Anthony Nese
The man who main evented the very first EVOLVE event, Davey Richards, made his return to EVOLVE here for the first time since early 2014 as he took on Anthony Nese of the Premier Athlete Brand. The crowd seemed to be feeling some fatigue as the match got under way and the wrestlers strung together a pretty patchy opening stretch, but they soon woke up as the fight spilled out to the floor and Richards hit his running kick on the ring apron to great acclaim. Both men traded holds in the middle portion of the match, working over each other’s legs to little effect or much interest from the audience, other than when Davey did his hip gyrating “Sleazy Richards” Indian deathlock spot. Things picked up later on as both men started throwing some big strikes, Davey in particular just lighting up Tony’s chest with some vicious kicks, and not before too long both guys were throwing bombs each other’s way. Richards scored with a bridging German suplex for a near-fall, while Nese hit a picture perfect standing dropkick and belly-to-back piledriver for a near-fall of his own, but the decisive moment came when Davey drilled Nese with a folding powerbomb before heading up top to hit a double-stomp that ended it. This was a fine match, they did a good job getting the crowd into the final third and picked up the pace well, but I felt like it was a Davey match I’d seen a number of times before. Regardless, this was a good competition and Nese looked strong hanging with Davey.
7. Non-Title Cage Match –Drew Galloway vs Roderick Strong
The show took a short intermission here to set up the cage, but it ended up turning into a rather long intermission and the live feed eventually returned a good sixty minutes after the last match! There were some reports of people leaving early because of this and I was worried that the fairly lively crowd would suffer, but they were still as excited to see Strong & Galloway slug it out as I was (even though it was gone 3AM for me by that point), which was good to see. I could, however, have done without Roddy’s slow heel promo (on a faulty microphone) before the match, which didn’t help matters. Also, the cage itself was a bit of a sight. For one thing, it clearly was too big for the building, was leaning worryingly and it seemed to be held together with rope. Strong slid in between one of the half-meter wide gaps at the side of the cage (no, really) and the match got under way, both guys relentlessly throwing fists, forearms and elbows the other’s way, as befitted the intensity Strong’s feud with Galloway took on almost from the very beginning. Strong tried to escape up the side of the cage, but Drew followed him and hit a big side-Russian legsweep that left both men in pain. Galloway kept up the punishment, hitting a big boot that turned Roddy inside out before planting him face first to the mat with an Alabama Slammer. Galloway continued to control the match until he went up top and Strong followed, before bringing him down to the mat with a huge superplex for a near-fall. He hit the Gibson Driver but still couldn’t put Drew away and tied him up in a tree of woe. It looked like Strong was going to hit a double-stomp on the prone Galloway, but Drew popped up reverse spider-style and suplexed Roddy off the top! A re-galvinised Galloway took the fight to Strong in a big way, dumping him face first into the steel cage with a series of lawn darts, but should probably have gone for a cover as Strong caught him with the vertical lift backbreaker for another near, near-fall. Strong trapped Galloway between the ropes and the cage, droppkicking him so much that the cage was shaking wildly. He continued the assault as Drew sank down beyond the ring apron, hitting dropkick after dropkick to the side of Drew’s head until the referee was finally forced to stop things.
Post-match Roddy continued to beat down Galloway, until PJ Black made the save. Black said he’s facing Drew at Mania weekend and he wants to make the match for the EVOLVE title. Drew explains that he doesn’t care about the belt, he just wants to get his hands on Strong, but if PJ wants a title match then he’s got it. Galloway then turns his attentions to another sore point for him, the fact that there are two top titles in EVOLVE. To solve this situation he lays out a challenge to Johnny Gargano, Open the Freedom Gate Champion, to face him in an EVOLVE/DGUSA title unification match at WrestleMania weekend! This was a good promo from Drew, even if he had to keep fighting against the awful microphone, but stating that he didn’t care about the belt before laying down a title unification challenge was sending mixed messages, in my opinion. The match itself was great, a brutal main event and a great way to cap off a great show. Full credit to Strong & Galloway for working such a physical match in such a rickety cage, although it helped add some tension whenever either man would scale it, as I was worried the whole thing would collapse! The ending was vicious and really highlighted that Roderick was willing to do anything to defeat Drew, while the champ looked good in defeat as he repeatedly came back and just exploded with ferocity all aimed at Strong. Overall this was a very enjoyable show that, until the crazy-ass intermission, just flew by. Hero/Gulak, Fox/Cage and Strong/Galloway were all great matches, well worth going out of your way to see, while I also enjoyed Team Tremendous making their debuts and my first look of PJ Black outside of WWE. Production wise, everything was fine except for that damn microphone (perhaps bring a spare next time?), but I wanted to make special mention for the commentary team of Rob Naylor & Trevin Adams, who did a fantastic job all night, providing backstory, keeping up with the action and never once intruding on the matches they were calling. Awesome stuff.
EVOLVE 38 will be available to view on VOD at wwnlive.com shortly