. Ethan Page vs Fred Yehi
Good opening match that probably could’ve gone on for a little longer, especially considering the length of yesterday’s opening bout. Fred Yehi is a very impressive young talent and had another good showing here against Page, who’s doing some of the best work of his career. Yehi got to show a different side of himself here, his power and athleticism coming more into play than it did against Gulak. Fred hit some big German suplexes and looked to cause the upset, but was caught by a package piledriver from Page for a victory that felt somewhat abrupt.
. TJ Perkins vs Tomasso Ciampa
A split reaction going into this one, the fans behind both Ciampa and TJP. It started off a bit tentatively, but soon picked up the pace. Ciampa took control and mocked TJP’s attire, hitting a lungblower to his hat. Eventually Perkins managed to rally, hitting a nice hurricanrana before starting to build up a head of steam and taking the fight to Ciampa. He went for a rana off the top, but it didn’t go so well for him and Ciampa hit an air raid crash off the middle-rope for a big near fall. The ‘Psycho Killer’ looked to finish things off with Project Ciampa, but TJP surprisingly kicked out at 2.9. An incensed Ciampa furiously set TJP up for the move again, but Perkins rolled through into truck hitch ankle lock to force the submission in what was a fast-paced, competitive match-up.
. Chris Hero vs Matt Riddle
Once it became apparent that Matt Riddle had “it” in terms of pro-wrestling and was developing his skills at an astonishing rate, this became one of the most anticipated match-ups for fans of his young pro-wrestling career and it did not disappoint. With matches like this Chris Hero proves that he’s one of the best in the world today, while Riddle proves that he has a ton of ability and a ton of potential. Hero used his strength and size advantage to assert his dominance for much of the match, but was still wary of Riddle’s abilities. Hero looked to have victory sealed after punishing Riddle with a series of elbow strikes, bloodying his lip, but the former UFC fighter transitioned beautifully from a piledriver attempt into a vicious kimura that forced Hero to immediately tap. A very exciting bout, Riddle’s not all there yet and can seem a bit tentative in offence, but he did a great job here that was only bettered by Hero’s performance in leading the bout. Great stuff.
. EVOLVE Title Match – Timothy Thatcher (c) vs Caleb Konley
Sami Callihan attacked Thatcher before the match and Konley tried to take quick advantage, but Thatcher wasn’t willing to give up the title that easily. Konley took control and what proceeded was a slow, plodding match that did little for me personally. Things picked up in the final quarter, but while there was little technically wrong with the work being put in I struggled to get invested, especially once there was a ref bump and the Premier Athlete Brand shenanigans started, but ultimately Thatcher managed to shrug off the odds being stacked against him and tapped out Konley with a Fujiwara armbar after a brutal headbutt in what was a good closing stretch to a match that, for the most part, didn’t really click with me.
. Sami Callihan vs Tracy Williams
This proved to be quite a physical and intense match, both guys looking to move up the EVOLVE rankings and neither willing to give up a step to their opponent. Callihan put his strength to good use early on, but Williams showed a lot of toughness in going toe-to-toe with Sami and was able to do a lot of damage while on offence, working over Callihan’s arm. In the end Sami had to resort to just stomping and elbowing Williams in the face, so tough was the predicament the ‘Catch Point’ member was putting him in, but although it earned him some respite, it wasn’t enough to secure the match and Williams still had a lot left in the tank (as evidenced by the perhaps slightly egregious 1-count kick out from a Cuerno piledriver). A big knee from Callihan finished it, ultimately. Real fun, hard-hitting match that the crowd were well into.
. Zack Sabre Jr. vs Drew Gulak
I was very much anticipating this match-up, the first meeting between Zack Sabre Jr. and Drew Gulak since their great bout at wXw’s AMBITION 5 shootstyle tournament back in 2014. Tensions seemed to be running high at the outset, mostly on Gulak’s part, and the initial exchanges on the mat showed his intensity. Zack wasn’t taking Gulak lightly, however, and put some good early work in on Gulak’s arm until Drew caught him with a nice butterfly suplex to shift momentum in his direction. A more cautious Sabre returned to the arm and also started working on Gulak’s neck and leg as well, picking apart Drew in order to soften him up. A vicious penalty kick seemed to really tweak his neck and Zack took full advantage with a Japanese strangle hold. Gulak refused to give in and Zack started let some frustration show, punishing Drew with some brutal strikes and trying to snap his neck with a headscissors. After taking a breather on the outside, Gulak managed to catch Sabre in an ankle lock out of nowhere that left Zack scrambling for the ropes. Gulak repeatedly went back to the ankle and Zack had to take his boot off to ease the pressure, but was clearly in a lot of trouble. Gulak repeatedly body slammed him into the ropes, a tactic he used in their previous singles encounter to good effect, but (just as in that match) Zack had a counter and trapped Gulak in a guillotine. Gulak briefly managed to fight back, doing more damage to Zack’s injured ankle, but a brutal WAR Special-esque submission earned the win for Zack Sabre Jr. An excellent technical wrestling bout and the best match of the weekend, for my money.
. EVOLVE Tag Titles – Drew Galloway & Johnny Gargano (c) vs Team Tremendous
Galloway, who had been delayed by travel problems, got this one started off quickly with a giant pump kick to Bill Carr’s jaw (which even surprised his tag partner Gargano!). Team Tremendous took exception, but were unable to do much about their predicament as the tag team champions set into a rhythm with some quick tags. Gargano, however, got caught by a nice flying neckbreaker from Dan Barry that gave Team Tremendous the opportunity they needed to take control. It wasn’t long before Gargano managed to extricate himself and make the tag to Galloway, who came in like a house on fire with a huge overhead belly-to-belly on Barry. Gargano & Galloway isolated Barry for quite a while, but a clever transition into a DDT off the top-rope on Galloway earned him the hot tag to the big man Bill Carr. Galloway looked genuinely surprised at the ease with which Carr threw him with an exploder suplex, while a dangerous tope con hilo turned things decidedly in the favour of Team Tremendous. A crucifix powerbomb/flatliner combo almost scored them the win and the tag team championships, but Gargano managed to kick out at the last second. Tremendous hit the Doomsday Device (Book ’em, Danno!) on Galloway, only for Gargano to break up the count, yet moments later a recovered Galloway caught Barry in the Futureshock DDT to retain the tag titles. A fun tag match main event in a show heavy with singles matches.
Overall this was a fun show, for the most part, with only the EVOLVE title match not leaving me terribly enthused. Zack Sabre Jr. vs Drew Gulak was a fantastic technical wrestling contest that built really well on their match two years ago in Germany, both guys having come a long way since then. Likewise, Chris Hero vs Matt Riddle was a very exciting clash of styles, while Sami Callihan and Tracy Williams provided a full-throttle, fast paced and hard hitting match that the crowd very much seemed to enjoy. This one’s an easy recommendation, there’s a lot to love in EVOLVE at present and (while you could argue some of the promotion’s variety has been lost in recent times) the whole thing felt very focussed and well presented.
You can order the VOD replay of EVOLVE 57 and other WWNLive events HERE