March 26, 2015
-From San Jose, CA. This is a part of the WWNLive Experience at Wrestlecon, which took place over Wrestlemania 31 weekend. Our host is Lenny Leonard.
-Before the opening contest, Drew Gulak asks for a chance to speak. He says that professional wrestling as a business that has lost sight that what really matters is winning matches. He wants to make wrestling real enough so you can feel it.
Timothy Thatcher vs. Drew Gulak
They kick things off with a technical wrestling clinic. Both guys are decked out in black tights, making this a true “no nonsense” affair. Leonard on commentary provides a nice backstory that this is the fourth encounter between these two on WWNLive programming, and Gulak has won every time. Gulak scores the first big power move with a German suplex. The crowd has been quiet, but attentive, making for a unique viewing experience. Thatcher escapes an arm breaker and applies a Fujiwar armbar, but a rope break stops a finish. Thatcher saves himself from an ankle lock and begins to sell frustration. A judo throw sets up another arm breaker for Thatcher. Gulak escapes and wraps himself into a Figure Seven ankle lock. Thatcher reverses, nails a judo throw, and stomps the wrist to set up a Kimura. Snap suplex by Thatcher gets a 1 count, so he goes back to the cross arm breaker. Gulak slaps the back to break, but Thatcher blocks a submission to muscle him up for a hard back bump. Dead lift suplex by Thatcher, followed by uppercuts, changes the tone of the contest. Gulak scores a flying forearm for 2. Thatcher reverses an ankle lock, but Gulak does the same. Gulak blocks the Kimura and rolls Thatcher into a crucifix pin for the win at 13:09. Just tremendous professional wrestling by two rising stars, ****.
Winner: Drew Gulak
-Thatcher is a good sport and shakes hands with the better man.
Tommy End vs. Biff Busick
I’ve heard good things about End, and this is my first time seeing him. He’s a scary looking guy with tattoos and I get the impression he’s a hard hitter. End and Busick feel each other out cautiously. Busick looks for pin attempts as means for mind games. End’s counters are smooth and he connects with a stiff kick to the chest, leading to the exchange of stiff shots. They summon FIGHTING SPIRIT, but End wins the exchange with a running kick to the face. Busick comes back with a European uppercut counter in mid-air, and nearly pins End after a combination of attacks. Busick hits a series of running elbows, but End blocks the last one, only to eat a hard lariat for 2. End rebounds with a knee to the head but misses a flying double stomp. End’s kicks look brutal, and an apparent K-O kick leads to another 2 count. Busick block some kicks, but ultimately gets knocked down, but still kicks out. Busick manages his headlock takedown into a rear naked choke and End succumbs at 9:31. Just a fantastic display of power, speed, and technical skills, ***½.
Winner: Biff Busick
-Biff Busick calls out Chris Hero, accusing him of being scared of his choke hold. That match is happening on EVOLVE 40.
-Ethan Page asks for the mic before his match. Page addresses the fact that not too many fans know who he is and thanks Johnny Gargano for sponsoring him.
Ethan Page vs. Chris Hero
Hero gets a, well, Hero’s welcome and walks around the ring, bumping arms with the fans. I seem to remember Page as one of those guys breaking into the business who tries too many elaborate spots and botches most of them, so hopefully I’m either mistaken, or he’s made some progress. They shake hands and lock up, with Hero going after the arm. Page holds up his end in the chain wrestling sequence, but his shoulder tackle has zero effect. Hero lets Page try again, but cuts him off with an elbow. Page retaliates with a slam and leg drop. Some technical difficulties hold me up for a few moments, but we come back with Hero knocking Page around, but unable to get a pinfall. Page takes a methodical beating before countering a back senton with his knees. Hero shakes it off and hits a bicycle kick, but Page counters again with a suplex that leaves them both down. Page makes a plucky jobber-type comeback, hitting a sit-out power bomb for 2. Page rolls on with a suicide dive. There’s a confusing cutter counter spot, where I think they were confused about who was supposed to be selling. Page shakes off another Bicycle kick and delivers a leaping enziguri. Spinning kick by Hero gets 2, and I’ve lost my patience for this match. Page apparently blocked a moonsault, though it looked like he took it to me. I can feel the star rating dwindling the longer this goes on. Hero repeatedly attacks the head and finishes with a rolling elbow at about 14:30. This was too long and sloppy. Page is still pretty vanilla and sadly it looks like Hero’s better days are behind him, **.
Winner: Chris Hero
-Hero summons the mic. Rather than do the tired old “I respect my opponent” bit, he talks about Biff Busick stealing his “Hero” moniker. This lures Biff out, who reiterates his talking point that Hero is afraid of him. Busick challenges Hero to knock him out on a free shot. Hero decides to leave instead, prompting Busick to initiate a brief scuffle. Hero escapes and flees the room. Busick declares Hero a dead man and leaves. Sadly, I was way more interested in this match before seeing Hero wrestle Page.
The Premier Athlete Brand (Caleb Konley, Brian Cage, and TJ Perkins, with So Cal Val and Andrea) vs. Rich Swann, Ricochet, and Uhaa Nation
Swann sings his fan-favorite rendition of “All Night Long” and it’s gotten over nicely with this crowd of super-fans. Swann starts against Konley and has a field day faking him out on knuckle locks and dancing. They quicken the pace and sprint through an exchange, with Swann using his agility to gain the upper hand. Cage, of Lucha Underground fame, squares off with fellow powerhouse, Nation, and they exchange shoulder blocks. Nation shows off his own big man agility and catches Cage with a drop-kick. Cage drop-kicks the knee to set up a sitting DDT. Cage earns big heat for a drop toe hold into a 619 (not cool so soon after the Perro Aguayo Jr. tragedy). Perkins (who was in the Aguayo match) has a turn showing off spots with Ricochet. Perkins gets cornered for a rapid fire triple team assault. Cage and Nation have a power contest, seeing who can best beat up the other’s partners. The Premier Athlete Brand prevent a stunt show, and set up Swann as the face in peril. Swann absorbs a beating but kicks Cage in the head to get a hot tag to Ricochet. Cage deflects a flying Ricochet, but Nation storms in with a series of rapid power attacks. Nation catches Cage with a German suplex, but Nation lands on his feet in a reversal. Nation no-sells a wheelbarrow German suplex and both he and Cage go down with simultaneous big boots! Konley returns with a shotgun drop-kick, but Nation rebounds with a Samoan drop for 2. Lungblower by Konley, but Swann returns for a step up heel kick to the face and frog splash for another near fall. Konley counters with a flapjack variation and locks on his O-Face submission. Ricochet saves and arranges for his team to wipe out the PAB with a triple moonsault spot. The match has broken down with bodies hitting finishers and saves, until everyone goes down for the mandatory “This is awesome” chant. It comes down to Konley suffering Swann’s 450 splash and the Uhaa Combination for the 3 count at 20:15. Simply incredible six man outing, minus the 619 blemish, this was a joy to watch, ****¼.
Winners: Rich Swann, Uhaa Nation, and Ricochet
-Andrea sneaks into the ring and delivers low blows to Swann and Nation. They’ll be squaring off again with the Premier Athlete Brand at EVOLVE 40. So Cal Val takes out her frustrations on TJ Perkins, apparently blaming him for the loss. TJ leaves in disgust.
DGUSA Open the Freedom Gate Championship:
Fox has adjusted his look, so if you squint, you’d think Chavo Guerrero was in the ring. They have an athletic feeling out process, choosing to run the ropes rather than chain wrestle. Fox palms the face, shifting the tone from sportsmanlike, to personal. Fox grabs Gargano’s wrist, shows off by hopping on the ropes, and flips his way into a bulldog. Gargano takes control via chopping, but Fox comes back with a springboard back senton onto both Gargano and Page. They try to use ringside furniture to their advantage, but it’s Gargano who bounces off a staircase for a tornado bulldog. Back to the ring, Gargano delivers an interesting looking knees to the chest into a monkey flip. The most pathetic dueling chant in the history of wrestling breaks out as Gargano dominates. Nefarious heel Fox signals a comeback with a missile drop-kick. Fox kips up into an enziguri and they both avoid dive attempts, until Gargano nails a somersault senton off the apron. Gargano’s leaping DDT gets 2, as does Fox’s jackknife cradle. Ace crusher by Fox and Swanton bomb get 2. Gargano avoids a 450 and double stomps the head, leading to a power bomb for yet another near fall. They get to their feet while exchanging forearms, leading to super kicks and enziguris knocking them back down. Fox misses a guillotine leg drop, and a suicide dive sends them crashing into the barricade onto the first row. They stumble to the ring, where Fox counters a spear and nails a flip piledriver for a ridiculous false finish. Gargano counters Fox on the top rope and nails a buckle bomb and lawn dart, good for a 2 count that no one cared about. Fox shakes it off (no-sells) to the 450 splash for a near fall everyone expected Gargano to kick out of. A top rope Hurts Donut only gets 2 again. Johnny manages to win via GargaNo Escape at 21:43. Matches like this are hard to rate because both men worked so hard, and several of the moves and exchanges are incredible, but I’m just so numb to this style and so are the live crowds. This was missing too many key ingredients (mainly intangible elements that it’s hard to put my finger on) that I can’t go any higher than ***¼.
Johnny Gargano © (with Ethan Page) vs. AR Fox
Winner and still DGUSA Open the Freedom Gate Champion: Johnny Gargano
-Lacey (!!!) back from retirement comes to the ring to interview Gargano about his next title defense against EVOLVE Champion Drew Galloway. Johnny says he’s going to stick around to watch Galloway wrestle and wishes him luck.
In case you don’t know, PJ Black is the wrestler formerly known as Justin Gabriel, looking to reestablish himself as an indie darling. A year ago, this match might have opened WWE Superstars, but now it’s main eventing EVOLVE on a big weekend, so it’s funny how things change. They shake hands but both go for ambush kicks. The match restarts with an aggressive lock up. Black sweeps the legs and looks for a quick pinfall. The pace quickens, sadly Black loses his footing at one point, and Galloway takes over with a block. Black unleashes a series of chops, but Drew fires back with a big boot. Drew steals the Sheamus clubbing to the chest spot and nails a suplex. To the floor, Black drops Galloway into the crowd and leaps off the barricade. Black charges, but Galloway elevates him into the ring post! The fans are beyond dead as Galloway dishes out a methodical beat down. Black drops Drew for a pair of suicide dives and returns to the ring with a springboard elbow shot. The fans wake up as PJ hits a third dive and a running somersault senton. They have a struggle on the ropes, leading to Black double stomping the chest in a tree of woe. Black looks to repeat, but Galloway sits up in the tree of woe for a power bomb! Galloway hangs Black over the ropes for a sick Alabama Slam variation. Black lands a series of super kicks for a near fall. Tornado DDT by Black and a second off the ropes also gets 2. Drew counters a springboard moonsault with his knees and lands a piledriver for 2. Drew’s Air Raid isn’t enough, and I appreciate that these guys are kicking out of believable moves. Galloway nails a Future Shock DDT for the win at 18:10. It took a while for these guys to suck the fans into it, but they ultimately succeeded, ***½.
Drew Galloway © vs. PJ Black
Winner and still EVOLVE Champion: Drew Galloway
-Lacey interviews Drew about his upcoming title vs. title match with Johnny Gargano. Drew takes a moment to put over PJ Black and shakes his hand. Galloway puts over the fans, and they’re now awake enough to appreciate the kind words. He turns his attention back to Gargano, who is in big trouble, because Galloway has been unleashed and he’s not willing to let his hard work go to waste and lose his EVOLVE title. Johnny Gargano comes to the ring for a face off. Drew says he doesn’t apologize Johnny and for now on, this is his ring. Gargano says he respects Drew, but he’s been here for six years, busting his ass without any of the advantages granted to Galloway. They argue over whose ring it is and murder threats are brought into the equation. Galloway throws a head butt, but Ethan Page makes the save. Rich Swann runs in to help pull Gargano to safety. Their upcoming bout should be a good one, I bet they’ll kick out of a bunch of finishers.
Final Thoughts: This show peaked early. Had it ended with the six-man tag, I’d probably be raving that this is a Show of the Year contender. It went on long enough for EVOLVE to showcase some of their bad habits, like exhausting the crowd and having a mind-numbing main event formula. Still, two four-star matches is nothing to sneeze at. There’s some exciting things happening in EVOLVE, I just hope the stars providing that excitement can move into better slots on the card. Thumbs Up.
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