Yessir, ladies and gentlemen, it's time for the World Wrestling Network to come back in to your home with Evolve 60 (live from Joppa, Maryland) and Evolve 61 (live from Queens, New York), and as always, I'm here to give you the low down on what's going down.
The Thatcher Crisis
You'll notice, scanning over the card for these two shows, that Evolve World Champion Timothy Thatcher is totally absent. That's because he's been suspended, having put hands on an Evolve official at Evolve 58 last month. Stressed, isolated, and now suspended, the hope is the time off will give him an opportunity to get his head back in the game. He'll be back at the Florida shows in June, however, defending his title on both nights.
Adding to the intrigue (enough that it is in fact a crisis!) is the odd situation that played out last month after a one-armed Thatcher successfully defended his title against Sami Callihan, where he laid the belt down in the ring, saying he'd reclaim it later, after he repaid Catch Point the debt he owes them. Drew Gulak took the belt from the ring and remains in possession of it, which will be addressed at the shows this weekend.
WWE Global Cruiserweight Series Qualifying Match Participants
As I'm sure a lot of folks have popped in to find out just who might be on the Network in two months and what their deal is, I've cobbled together some quick profiles of the four men involved, in addition to my usual match preview for both later on. Also note each competitor's name links to the mini-documentary Evolve have commissioned for them, for even more information.
Drew Gulak, one of the original leading lights of the technical wrestling revolution with 11 years in the business, is a former CZW World Heavyweight Champion who made his bones, naturally enough, in the Combat Zone, pledging to end the ultraviolence and bring pure grappling back to ECW's old stomping grounds. In Evolve, he's founded Catch Point, which he insists is simply a philosophy and a way of life, but resembles a pro wrestling stable all the same. The consummate grappler, you never know what hold is actually going to finish a Drew Gulak match, but his Gu-Lock bodyscissors Dragon Sleeper is particularly deadly.
"Hot Sauce" Tracy Williams, besides having the best nickname in pro wrestling, is a 7-year pro, having been trained by no less than Mike Quackenbush and Claudio "Cesaro" Castagnoli. The first several years of his wrestling career are an anthill of confusion that I have not yet quite been able to kick over, but since he started running full-time with Evolve last May, he's been one of the most enjoyable competitors on the roster to watch. His hard-hitting marriage of pure grappling and strong style is a real winner, and he strings moves together better than anybody this side of Roderick Strong, often pairing piledrivers and brainbusters into his Just Facelock for the finish.
Fred Yehi, "angry, pissed off, and short" as his intro calls him, toiled for 3 years in relative obscurity in the southeastern indies before getting the call to Evolve late last year. His style, built around finding opportunities where others might ignore them (particularly attacking his opponent's hands and feet) and getting in close for his practically Lesnarian arsenal of suplexes. His Koji Clutch hasn't yet found a victory in Evolve, but as long as he rolls with Catch Point, it's only a matter of time.
"Technical Lightning" TJ Perkins, or TJP for marketing reasons, is a 17-year veteran of pro wrestling, having debuted in 1999 at the tender age of 14. From the California indies to Mexico, Japan, and the national stage in both Ring of Honor and TNA (where he is a former X Division Champion, wrestling under a mask as Suicide and later Manik), Perkins has excelled wherever he's gone. Equally at home on the mat and in the air, TJP has taken to finishing his matches with a cross-leg ankle lock he calls TJ Clutch.
Evolve 60 (Friday, May 6th, at 8PM Eastern)
Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre, Jr.
After going 3-2 in his Best in the World Challenge Series, Zack Sabre, Jr. may well be the best wrestler in the world. Even in defeat, he's brought a more aggressive, surefooted nature to his matches— but he can't beat Chris Hero. Indeed that Young Knockout Kid has ended matches twice now by knocking him, ending both their previous encounters with deadly elbows to the head. "Greatest of All Time" might not just be a catchphrase.
But Zack Sabre, Jr. gets up every time, never silly enough to jut his chin out and say "Try again," he's far too much of a strategist for that, but he gets up, and he's game to try again. No opponent Chris Hero has faced in the last two years has been able to get back up a second time. Trevor Lee locked up with him twice and said "no more". Most guys are done after one, but Sabre is different. Sabre knows that to be the guy he wants to be, to be the Best in the World, to be the Ace of Evolve, he needs to get past Chris Hero. And the only way to do it is to keep on training, keep on trying, keep on studying tape in order to find that hole in Hero's game and exploit it.
Will the third time be the charm? Hell if I know, but it's gonna be a great match.
Catch Point (Drew Gulak & "Hot Sauce" Tracy Williams) (c) vs. Catch Point (Fred Yehi &
TJ Perkins TJP) (Evolve Tag Team Championship)
It's certainly an interesting choice for a first title defense. Could we look back at this and say— "Catch Point explodes!"
Not really, because they improve through competition, and this certainly fits the bill. Gulak and Williams are coming off a crazy hot weekend that saw them take down both Heroes Eventually Die (Chris Hero & Tommy End) as well as beating Galloway and Gargano for the Evolve Tag Team Championship, and the first defense is keeping things in-house. Yehi and Perkins are off to an immediate disadvantage having never teamed before, whereas Gulak and Williams are a veteran team who have been competing in Evolve as a team for around a year now.
Drew Galloway vs. Ethan Page
Galloway turned his back on Johnny Gargano and on the growing NXT influence in Evolve at Evolve 59, and Ethan Page will not stand for it. Page's long road to redemption sees a final test here— if he can put Galloway, one of independent wrestling's toughest competitors (not to mention current TNA World Heavyweight Champion), away without resorting to underhanded tactics, all traces of the old Ethan Page will be swept away with the tide. But Page's record is a losing one, and Galloway has won all but three of his last eleven singles matches, and those losses came at the hands of Roderick Strong (who nearly caved his head in against a steel cage in one of my favorite matches last year, at Evolve 38) and current Evolve World Champion Timothy Thatcher. Ergo, All Ego may well find the challenge insurmountable.
And the rest
Johnny Gargano takes on Marty Scurll as the British import gets a shot to take down the man most associated with Evolve. Yes indeed, the Villain is back and this time his opponent is WWNLive icon Johnny Gargano. Gargano's brought his grappling A game to his last couple singles matches, but come up empty every time. Will he go to the mat again, or take a hybrid approach to counter the devious Englishman? Scurll, for his part, coming off of decisive wins against Fred Yehi and Evolve World Champion Timothy Thatcher, has to be the clear favorite here.
It's Caleb Konley vs. Lio Rush as the former Premier Athlete looks to rebuild his championship contender resume by taking down a hot young prospect. Another slice of 2016 here as Lio Rush signed with Ring of Honor some time ago and Caleb Konley is the newest member of the TNA roster. It'll be an uphill struggle for the MCW standout, as Rush gives up six inches, forty pounds, and 8 years of experience against Konley. Can the hometown hero muster the heart to push through?
And the original Premier Athlete, Anthony Nese wrestles pro wrestling's fastest-developing star, Matt Riddle. Nese has had a bad year. Riddle has had an exceedingly good year. The math is not hard. But Riddle is not perfect, he's been caught out by Williams and Thatcher once each fairly (watch the tape, the knee was high but legal!) lost again when he let his anger get the better out of him trying to break the champion's arm. If Nese brings his best self, if he rises from the ashes of the Premier Athlete and focuses hard, digs deep and finds that extra level to bring Riddle to the limit, though... He might not beat Riddle, but he may well impress WWE officials enough for a spot in the Global Cruiserweight Series.
As part of an initiative to test new regular tag teams and build the tag division, the Bravado Brothers (Harlem & Lancelot Bravado) will be in action against the Devastation Corporation (Blaster McMassive & Flex Rumblecrunch). If you're unfamiliar with Chikara's Devastation Corporation, you're in for a treat. Two giant hoss dudes that can flip and fly with the best of' 'em. Blaster, in particular, is like a 6'5", 266 pound version of AR Fox, doing over-the-ringpost tope con giros and such. Check out a highlight reel!
Evolve 61 (Saturday, May 7th, at 6:30PM Eastern)
Drew Galloway vs. Johnny Gargano
This is not the first time these two men have met, no sir. They had a clash for the ages at Mercury Rising 2015, a title-for-title tilt that brought Galloway's Evolve World Championship and Gargano's Open the Freedom Gate Championship together for the first time. That match was a knock down drag-out instant classic that saw Galloway win both belts with a jumping tombstone piledriver.
Gargano in the meantime, however, has matured. He fended off Ethan Page's attempt to beat him with his own evil past, and he's gone toe-to-toe with the best technical wrestlers in the world using their own style against them. He's settled comfortably into his role as elder statesman of Evolve, while Galloway has chafed and strained. He put his feud with Roderick Strong to bed soon after, but didn't hold the titles together for long, losing to Timothy Thatcher at Evolve 45 just three months after beating Gargano, and went on to be suspended for striking a referee the next night. As he wrestled nearly everywhere else in the world, waiting his suspension out, he stewed, growing increasingly dissatisfied with WWN's groundbreaking relationship with WWE.
And then they teamed, and won the Evolve Tag Team Championship, and all seemed well. One of the most 2016 moments of the year thus far, NXT and TNA coming together to win a shiny new set of tag titles! But the tension seethed under the surface. They worked well together, but neither man could seem to arrive at the arena at the same time twice due to outside commitments. And when Catch Point tapped Gargano out at Evolve 59, Galloway's stack finally blew. Now that receipt comes due, and based on the war they had last time, well, this one better go on last, because the building might not still be standing when they're done.
Drew Gulak vs. "Hot Sauce" Tracy Williams (WWE Global Cruiserweight Series Qualifying Match)
Look at the adjective, "WWE". 2016 pro wrestling, everybody! Yet more Catch Point vs. Catch Point action here on Saturday, as the master takes on his first disciple for a spot in a WWE tournament. And indeed, through competition, Williams has improved, dropping two to Matt Riddle before being only the second guy to beat him, and indeed, the only guy to beat him with zero controversy as to the result. In point of fact, Hot Sauce has beaten all three other members of Catch Point, only Gulak remains to be crossed off his list. Gulak, meanwhile, owns wins over Perkins and Yehi but has been unable to put Riddle away. So without needing to run down either man's complete record, you can see, adding the master/student distinction in, they're pretty evenly matched.
Fred Yehi vs.
TJ Perkins TJP (WWE Global Cruiserweight Series Qualifying Match)
If only we had delete keys on our writing machines here at Cageside Seats. Alas, the strikethrough will have to do. Sorry, Mr. Hathaway!
I've joked about Catch Point exploding, but if it happens, it's gonna happen here in this first time matchup. Yehi's fresh, he's hungry, he's eager to prove that he belongs in Catch Point even without the WWE bauble dangling over their heads. TJP, meanwhile, has distracted himself, signing with Stokely Hathaway's Dream Team. While he still runs with the other Catch Point men, is he still dedicated to finding the Catch Point?
And the rest
Rivals and tag partners clash for the first time in Evolve as Marty Scurll and Zack Sabre, Jr. go head to head. These two know each other inside and out, and it's sure to be a showcase of the modern British grappling arts. The internet tells me that these men have faced each other at least six times previously, with Sabre up 4-2, and more worryingly for the Villain, Scurll's last victory coming in 2012. Will Marty have to remember how to party in order to begin to claw his way back up to even?
It's rising star vs. hot prospect with Matt Riddle vs. Lio Rush. Much as with the Konley matchup, Rush gives up a significant amount of size against Riddle, but here the ROH Top Prospect Tournament winner actually has the experience edge as far as pro wrestling is concerned, having two months on Mr. Riddle. Not that that matters all that much, as Riddle has been an absolute freight train his entire time in Evolve, but it remains an interesting data point, and knocking off Riddle would be a significant status boost for Lio.
A returning Chris Dickinson wrestles Ethan Page. We last saw Mr. Dickinson in October, beating "Hot Sauce" Tracy Williams at Evolve 49 and losing to Matt Riddle at Evolve 50, and here he faces a fit, trim Ethan Page who, while he hasn't quite been able to take down the biggest opponents yet, finds himself cleaning up the competition all the same. A Dickinson win here is an upset that will surely see him be brought back sooner rather than later, but assuming he makes it out of the Galloway match alive, I wouldn't bet against Ethan Page.
Plus the Bravado Brothers in a matchup that has yet to be announced. Originally scheduled to be wrestling New York's own Milk Chocolate (Brandon Watts & Randy Summers) before Watts was forced to pull out due to injury, the Bravados will still be in action on Saturday, we just don't yet know against whom. Whoever it is, they'll face a team that went deep in January's tournaments, falling to the eventual champions in the semis of the main tournament and being the second team eliminated in the finals of the Second Chance Tournament. Hungry for another opportunity, I certainly wouldn't want to stand in the Bravados' way.
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