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Previewing Evolve 58, 59, and WWN Mercury Rising, Gabe Sapolsky's WrestleMania weekend shows

WWN have their biggest shows of the year scheduled for the biggest wrestling weekend of the year and as always, I'm here to give you the low down on what's going down.

Evolve 58 (Friday April 1st at 5PM Eastern)

Timothy Thatcher (c) vs. Matt Riddle (Evolve World Championship)

Last time out, this one ended in controversy when the champion took advantage of a (perhaps accidental) low knee strike to the groin to hit one of his trademark headbutts and end the match before it even really got going. But Riddle kept himself right in the hunt, beating the nearly unbeatable Chris Hero the next night and receiving an ultimatum from no less than NXT General Manager William Regal— no Evolve Championship, no NXT contract. It's worth noting that the last man to beat Chris Hero was, of course, Timothy Thatcher, and before him, Drew Galloway. Two men, two Evolve World Champions. Beating Chris Hero is the path to title success in Evolve today, and Matt Riddle has beaten Chris Hero.

It's an uphill climb for Mr. Thatcher, who has not had a great start to his year— missing out on the tag tournament with a staph infection and then battling the flu through his controversial win over Riddle and barely managing to scrape out a win over Caleb Konley the next night. It could very well be Riddle's time, especially with the carrot of that lucrative NXT contract dangled in front of him. And that sets the stage for a tantalizing thought: If Riddle wins the title, and then immediately signs an NXT contract, it's certainly not beyond him to hold it hostage, like CM Punk before him. We could, dear friends, be looking at the Spring of Riddle.

Drew Galloway & Johnny Gargano (c) vs. Premier Athlete Brand (Anthony Nese & Caleb Konley) (Evolve Tag Team Championship)

This one has a hell of a stipulation on it— if Konley and Nese lose, they can never team again! Which indeed makes this a very interesting match. Galloway and Gargano, by their very nature, are a chimeric beast, two separate essences bound together by a common goal. Once they lose the titles, is there a reason for them to team again? Their short existence has been plagued by travel woes, with Gargano's NXT obligations and Galloway's obligations to TNA, where he's now their World Heavyweight Champion, causing them to delay several of their matches long enough to allow both men to arrive at the arena. Once the title's out of the picture, lining them up perfectly again may well be impossible, no stipulation needed.

Konley and Nese, meanwhile, seem to have patched over their issues as a team stemming from their 0-2 weekend in the tag tournament, but both men have other problems to contend with as well. Konley has an FIP World Heavyweight Championship defense to worry about, and I'm sure he hasn't given up on chasing the Evolve title either, and Nese has big matches against Sami Callihan and Ethan Page later in the weekend. Can they keep their focus on the tag titles? They may not need to, with the ever devious SoCal Val returning to ringside this weekend along with bodyguard Andrea, who nearly won Konley the title last time.

Ethan Page, meanwhile, is one last wildcard in this one. Page seems to have finally regained a measure of Johnny Gargano's trust, and he's offered to have his back if Drew is late again. With his aforementioned issues with Nese, one would think that if Gargano has to take him up on the offer, some fireworks will be going off in Dallas.

Will Ospreay vs. Zack Sabre, Jr. (Best in the World Challenge Series: The Flyer)

The Best in the World Challenge Series (a five-match series designed to bring out Sabre's confidence and lead him to claim that illustrious mantle) rolls on, with Sabre picking up wins over "WWN Icon" Johnny Gargano and "Technician" Drew Gulak, he's now set to face "Flyer" Will Ospreay in the younger man's Evolve debut. Ospreay, if you're not familiar with him, is only 22, but he's already grown into an incredible young high flyer, right in there with the likes of Matt Sydal, Ricochet, and ACH.

This match, however, is not the first time these two have tangled, having met in the finals of Progress Wrestling's Super Strong Style 16 tournament. That time around, despite Sabre's best efforts to destroy Ospreay's arm (Ospreay's howls of torture still ring in my ears), Ospreay picked up the victory. Will it be any different here? After his two previous wins, Zack's win/loss record is finally in the black, standing at 5-4, but that's hardly a decisive winning record. Ospreay comes to Evolve fresh, with no records hanging around his neck like the proverbial albatross. Will the pressure of becoming the Best in the World mold Zack's focus into a diamond and lead to a win?

And the rest

The Catch Point team of Drew Gulak & "Hot Sauce" Tracy Williams is set to make their return against tag title tournament finalists Heroes Eventually Die (Chris Hero & Tommy End) in what should be an intense and violent matchup. Hero's beaten both Gulak and Williams in singles action in the last year or so, Williams just last week at Evolve 57 and Gulak a little over a year ago at Evolve 38, while Tommy End is untested against the Catch Point boys. Will the tag team format change their fortune, or will Catch Point end up on the charnel heap of teams that HED leave in their wake?

Ricochet finally makes his triumphant return to an Evolve ring against TJ Perkins. Ricochet/Thatcher was one of my favorite matches last year and Perkins brings a similar ability to clip Ricochet's wings to the table, but augments it with his high flying prowess. Ricochet's cockiness was nearly his undoing against Thatcher, but he's had a successful year away, winning (and currently holding) the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship in New Japan alongside Matt Sydal.

"All Ego" Ethan Page faces Sami Callihan in a match that was originally scheduled for Evolve 54 before the card was reshuffled in the wake of Timothy Thatcher's staph infection. A win against a competitor of Callihan's caliber would cement Page's redemption story as completed, but only if he can manage to do it clean, without resorting to his old dickheaded ways. Callihan, meanwhile, is looking for a decisive victory to continue sending a message to champion Timothy Thatcher.

Marty Scurll makes his Evolve debut against Fred Yehi. Scurll, if you're unfamiliar with him, has reinvented himself drastically over the last few years, going from "Party" Marty, a good-time bro type, to The Villain, a fur coat clad, umbrella wielding man who claims that he's not doing anything that any of us wouldn't, in his position, if we were just honest with ourselves. And with that character has come a vicious mat-based style that will fit right in in Evolve. Yehi, for his part, seems to be looking for Catch Point maestro Drew Gulak's approval, and a win over Scurll would certainly go a long way towards earning that.

Evolve 59 (Saturday April 2nd at 1PM Eastern)

Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay (USA vs. Europe Series)

A dream match if there ever was one. The similarities between these two men are impressive. Both made an impact young. Both bring killer 630 sentons to the table. But Ricochet is an established star now, and Ospreay is just breaking out. This match, though hard to write about from a sheer statistics point of view (neither man has wrestled in Evolve in the last year, after all!), has an easy through-line. This is Will Ospreay's chance to definitively prove that he's on Ricochet's level, whether through going the distance or outright victory.

Not to appeal to authority or anything, but this is a match that everybody from Dave Meltzer to Rob Naylor has high on their list of what they're looking forward to this weekend. In a word, hype.

Marty Scurll vs. Timothy Thatcher (USA vs. Europe Series)

This will actually be the fourth match that I'm aware of between The Villain and Tim Thatcher, following matches last December in PWG and APW (the latter of which you can watch online here, free and legal) and just last month in England's Revolution Pro. Thatcher's up 2-1 by that metric, and I'm sure Scurll is looking to even things up. Regardless, it's sure to be another exercise in technical excellence from these two world-beaters.

Another angle to look at on this one is the title situation. If Thatcher retains over Riddle at 58, it's entirely possible, being the fighting champion that he is, that Scurll might cajole a title shot out of him. Now, Evolve officials have been vigilant to prevent "unearned" title shots being granted by eager champions, with Roderick Strong memorably getting turned down several times until he finally got a non-title win over then-champion Drew Galloway in their excellently vicious cage match back at Evolve 38. But Marty Scurll is Progress Champion, and perhaps that would be enough to sway officials into allowing it.

Matt Riddle vs. Zack Sabre, Jr. (USA vs. Europe Series) (Best in the World Challenge Series: The Fighter)

Perhaps Zack's toughest challenge to date in the Best in the World Challenge Series. Riddle is, that one questionable loss to Thatcher aside, currently undefeated in Evolve. Sabre, as mentioned, has fought his way back to a winning record, but coming into this match he may well have ended up 50/50 again. Riddle brims in confidence— if you asked him, he'd tell you that he's already the Best in the World. Zack's humble, nearly to a fault. Riddle beat Chris Hero. Chris Hero knocked Sabre clean out.

All this adds up to a steep mountain to climb for Sabre, but if he hands Riddle only his second loss in seven months, he'll be well on his way to earning the title of Best in the World.

And the rest

The USA vs. Europe series comes to a close as TJ Perkins wrestles Tommy End. Perkins already has a win over End in the record books, in a four-way also featuring Drew Gulak and Biff "Christopher Girard" Busick at Mercury Rising 2015, but the record books can be deceiving, as he actually tapped Drew Gulak out in that match. End, meanwhile, has yet to earn a singles win in Evolve, all his success coming in his tag team with Chris Hero.

Another match that may or may not end up being for a title goes down as Catch Point challenge Drew Galloway & Johnny Gargano. Galloway and Gargano beat Catch Point in the tag tournament, but that was the team of Drew Gulak and TJ Perkins. Now it's the original Catch Point, the Catch Point most used to functioning as a team, Drew Gulak & "Hot Sauce" Tracy Williams. A point in the current champs' favor is that both men will be in town and ready, so no arrival shenanigans this time.

Fred Yehi gets a chance to shoot himself up the rankings against Chris Hero. I think I've written more than enough here before and after about how big a deal beating Chris Hero can be. If Yehi can do it, he'll catapult himself into the proverbial stratosphere.

Sami Caliihan passes the time until his next chance to kick Timothy Thatcher in the face by wrestling Anthony Nese. It's a tough matchup for tag team specialist Nese, pitting Callihan's full-force violence against his raw strength and acrobatic ability, but the Premier Athlete shouldn't be counted out early.

Ethan Page gives a young up-and-comer a chance to make a big splash as he wrestles a competitor selected from the WWN Seminar/Tryout that will be held on Thursday. Indies big and small are boiling over with talent today, and whoever gets the nod here may well be the superstar of tomorrow.

WWN Mercury Rising 2016 (Saturday April 2nd at 9PM Eastern)

Johnny Gargano, Kota Ibushi, & TJ Perkins vs. Marty Scurll, Tommy End, & Will Ospreay

Six-man matches have a long history at Mercury Rising. The six times the event has happened previously, only once, in 2011, was some kind of trios match not held on the card. And on most occasions, it's stacked with the best talent in the world, and the winners earn a coveted prize— the right to make themselves whatever match they please under the WWN umbrella. So, logically, if you win, you gotta stick around to claim your prize, right? That's a tantalizing prospect for these six men, given that only Gargano, Perkins, and End are current WWN regulars.

WWN management are calling this one "Days of Future Past", due to the team of Gargano, Ibushi, and Perkins all having been on Evolve 1 way back in 2010. But this match heralds no grim Sentinel-ruled future where our heroes are all labeled apprehended or slain. No sir, whoever wins, we win, because it means we get to see either Ibushi or Scurll and Ospreay come back for more dream matches.

Sami Callihan vs. Timothy Thatcher

Ever since coming back to Evolve in January, Thatcher and Callihan's paths have been intertwined. Callihan subbed for Thatcher in the tag tournament and capped his weekend by taking Thatcher out with that bicycle kick for the first time. And indeed, every time they've been face to face, a version of that scenario has played out. Thatcher nearly lost the title at Evolve 57 thanks to one of these kicks.

Simply put, Callihan has been dogging Thatcher for months. Even on Thatcher's recent wrestling tour of Europe, they butted heads. In wXw's 16 Carat Gold tournament, Callihan eliminated Thatcher in the second round by catching him in a Stretch Muffler and kicking him in the head repeatedly. Will he win the Evolve World Championship (assuming Thatcher retains through to Mercury Rising, this match will definitely be a title match) the same way? Or will Thatcher dig deep and outfox him?

Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre, Jr. (Best in the World Challenge Series: The Rival)

This is it. The big one. In some ways, the only match in the Best in the World Challenge Series that matters. Hero is blocking the door to greatness, and if Sabre can't push him aside, he might as well be just another schmoe. He needs this win for more than personal pride, he needs it for more than the privilege of calling himself the Best in the World, he needs it, quite frankly, to justify moving to the US and leaving Pro Wrestling Noah behind. I alluded to it earlier, but let's take a closer look at the men Chris Hero has beat since losing his title to Drew Galloway at Evolve 31.

Drew Gulak— He might have found the Catch Point, but he couldn't beat Chris Hero.
Ethan Page— He's All Ego, but he couldn't beat Chris Hero.
Biff Busick— He's signed to NXT, but he couldn't beat Chris Hero.
Trevor Lee— He's TNA X Division Champion, but he couldn't beat Chris Hero.
Mike Bailey— He's so fast they call him Speedball, but he couldn't beat Chris Hero.
Tracy Williams— He's Hot Sauce, but he couldn't beat Chris Hero.

And after Saturday, we might be able to add "Zack Sabre, Jr.— He might be the Best in the World, but he couldn't beat Chris Hero."

And the rest

Taylor Made has an open contract to defend the Shine Championship. This was originally going to be a defense against Lucha Underground star Ivelisse, but she has been forced to pull out of the show with an ankle injury. With Shimmer in town for their show earlier in the day, there's a wealth of talent to fill the void, however.

Caleb Konley defends the FIP World Heavyweight Championship in a four-way, with contenders Gary Jay, Jason Cade, and Maxwell Chicago. Konley has to be ready to defend himself against a variety of styles to hold onto his FIP Championship here. Maxwell Chicago brings a highly entertaining comedic flair to things, but don't write him off for being funny, as he's been FIP Florida Heritage Champion for over 400 days now. Gary Jay took Konley to the limit once before, back at Evolve 45. And Jason Cade, well, he's the next fantastic high flyer about to have his breakout, and it could happen as early as this match.

Catch Point explodes, after a fashion, as Matt Riddle and "Hot Sauce" Tracy Williams meet in the middle of the ring for a third time. Hot Sauce has come up empty in both of their previous encounters, and Riddle's a steamroller, but you can never write a Catch Point man off. Their previous matchup was one of the best of January, and this one could potentially surpass it.

Fred Yehi gets another chance to earn Drew Gulak's respect in a rematch of their Evolve 56 match. Gulak all but came out and told Yehi that there's a spot in Catch Point waiting for him. If he can get one over on the master, one has to assume it'll be his.

"All Ego" Ethan Page gets a chance to put the boots to Anthony Nese in an Anything Goes Match. Nese said that fat guys don't belong in pro wrestling and that Page had made the mistake of his career. Well, Mr. Nese, he might not have eight glistening abs of steel like yours, but Page is no Giant Haystacks, and he absolutely belongs in pro wrestling. I try to be impartial in these here previews for the most part, but redeemed or not, I have to admit I want to see Ethan Page beat Anthony Nese from pillar to post here.

And at some point in the show, WWN will be holding a Night of Appreciation for Terry Funk. The Funker, it goes without saying, is a legend even to legends, and honestly, even at the age of 71, I kind of wish he was working a match. Lord knows he's never retired and meant it. Anyway, it's always fantastic to see a man of his caliber get the appreciation of his peers like this.

Like what you read?

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