Yessir, ladies and gentlemen, it's time for the World Wrestling Network to come back in to your home with Evolve 66 (live from Joppa, Maryland) and Evolve 67 (live from Brooklyn, New York), and as always, I'm here to give you the low down on what's going down.
Evolve 66 (Friday, August 19th, at 8PM Eastern)
Matt Riddle vs. Timothy Thatcher (c) (Evolve World Championship No Holds Barred Match)
This is it, folks. Matt Riddle has had two chances to take the title from Timothy Thatcher and has come up empty twice, under admittedly dubious circumstances. But now, with no holds barred, there will be no excuses left. Low blow? It's legal. (Although, point of order, the "low" blow that ended their first match was a perfectly legal knee to the inner thigh. Watch the tape!) Break a man's elbow in a cross armbar? That's legal, too. Pinfall, submission, knockout. No countouts. No disqualification. No stoppages. Nothing but a clearly defined winner, by hook or by crook.
Thatcher is no stranger to this kind of match, having competed in several over the course of his career. Admittedly, most in his more distant past on the California indies, but also in Evolve. Almost a year ago to the day he fought Biff Busick in an all-out war to end their long-running feud. Busick attacked his surgically repaired ear, causing heavy bleeding, and Thatcher went after Biff's injured thumb, eventually breaking it to end the match and send Busick away from Evolve for good. Some even say he was so embarrassed by the loss that he changed his name to Oney Lorcan.
Riddle, however, in his young career, has only fought one match of this kind, a street fight against Cliff Compton for Monster Factory Pro Wrestling, the show-running arm of the school that taught him the pro grappling arts. Granted, it was last December, before he won Style Battle, before he beat Chris Hero, before he developed into the juggernaut that is challenging for the Evolve title today, but he lost that match. Matt Riddle is a fast learner, though, one of the fastest in pro wrestling history, and I wouldn't count on him to make the same mistakes twice.
No matter what though, I'm excited to see more of the fast-paced UWFi-style grappling they showed in both of their previous matchups.
Cody Rhodes vs. Zack Sabre, Jr.
Cody Rhodes sure picked a low key opponent for his first match on the independent scene, didn't he? Jumping right in the deep end is the grandson of a plumber, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
One might think he's in over his head-- after all, it's hardly as if WWE provides many opportunities for him to wrestle grapplers on Zack Sabre, Jr.'s level-- but one would be incorrect. Cody owns victories over men the likes of Bryan "Daniel Bryan" Danielson and William Regal thanks to his time in WWE, and who would gainsay either man's technical wrestling acumen? No one, that's who.
But it'll be a steep climb for Cody no matter who he's beat in the past, as Sabre is coming off a weekend that saw him finally shake off the cobwebs and go 2-0 against Jigsaw and Tony Nese. Only time will tell if his springtime of defeat has left a lasting impression, but for now I'd be quite hesitant to bet against the Technical Wizard.
DUSTIN vs. Ethan Page
The newly rechristened ex-Chuck Taylor makes his singles redebut against "All Ego" Ethan Page, who will try once again to prove to Johnny Gargano that he's changed his stripes by dint of his blood, sweat, and tears.
One would think that he's done more than enough by now. Page has taken more than a few beatings for Johnny Wrestling, he's run out to save him at every opportunity, but still, even broken and battered, Gargano pushes him away. What more does a guy have to do? Well, beating DUSTIN here might help. He is, after all, one half of the Evolve Tag Team Champions, and a victory in singles competition could provide a foothold to gain a tag title shot.
And who, exactly would Page team with if he won such a title shot? Chris Dickinson? Sure, he's teamed with him against the Bravados, but they came up empty. Josh Alexander? As much as I'd love to see Monster Mafia make their Evolve debut, no, it doesn't seem right. There's only one answer, and his name is Johnny Gargano. It's about time, Johnny. Everybody can see it but you, it seems. Be friends with this man again.
And the rest
Drew Gulak and Tony Nese throw down in our first of three WWE Cruiserweight Classic Spotlight Matches this weekend. This is a match that could have been the finals of the Cruiserweight Classic based on the bracketing, but now that Nese has fallen to Brian Kendrick, it takes on a somewhat less momentous aspect. But still, it's a chance for Mr. Nese to show that he's no two-round wonder, that he could have taken the whole thing if only the die had been cast ever so slightly differently.
Two instant crowd favorites in the face off as Cedric Alexander takes on
TJ Perkins TJP in a WWE Cruiserweight Classic Spotlight Match. Alexander is out of contention, but not out of our hearts, and if Mr. Hs does his job right, this is likely to be one of his last Evolve matches. TJP's second round match against Johnny Gargano isn't scheduled until the 24th, and the outcome of his matches here and now have to impact how he does a mere four days later. Can Cedric play spoiler?
Catch Point, represented by the team of Fred Yehi & "Hot Sauce" Tracy Williams get ready to have a wrestle against the recently returned Jigsaw and great flippy man Peter Kaasa. Kaasa, fresh off a tour of Dragon Gate, would certainly like to return with a splash, and Jigsaw has gotta be eager to earn a permanent place on the roster. Well, beating Catch Point in a matchup like this would suit both men's goals, but it's easier said than done against the reigning, defending FIP World Heavyweight Champion and one of the only men to beat Matt Riddle without controversy.
Evolve 67 (Saturday, August 20th, at 3PM Eastern)
Drew Gulak vs. Timothy Thatcher (If Thatcher is still Evolve World Champion, the title will be on the line)
Four times. Drew Gulak and Timothy Thatcher have squared off in the ring four times for WWN promotions, first at FIP Everything Burns 2014, in a match contested for the CZW World Heavyweight Championship, in a two out of three falls match, also for the CZW title at A Wrestling Odyssey, in Style Battle at Thatcher's debut at Evolve 31, and most recently at Evolve 39 last year with nothing on the line but pride. Even outside WWN, Thatcher has fallen to Gulak in Beyond Wrestling and in Championship Wrestling From Hollywood. Sometimes a man has your proverbial number, and Gulak seems to have Thatcher's.
Not helping matters for the champion (if he indeed retains his title for a third time against the Bro of Bros) are the mindgames that Drew Gulak has been playing. Constantly running Thatcher down, telling him he's unfit to be champion, letting his fellow members of Catch Point play hot potato with the physical title belt after Thatcher set it on the mat in Dallas. Stoic as he is, it must wear on the man even as he's rebuilt his confidence with wins over Hero, Hot Sauce, Scurll, and TJP. That nagging voice inside his head that says Gulak's better, that Gulak has beaten him every time out, that maybe Gulak is right, that maybe he isn't fit to be champion, maybe his entire reign, his entire career in Evolve has been a sham.
Title on the line or no, it's only a slight exaggeration to suggest that Timothy Thatcher's entire career pivots on this match. Either he can finally beat Gulak and exorcise the demons of the first half of the year once and for all, or he falls and his best-in-the-world level 2015 blows away like so much dust in the wind.
Chris Hero vs. Cody Rhodes
If Zack Sabre, Jr. is the deep end, Chris Hero is the Marianas Trench. Not only is he one of the best wrestlers in the world today, but he is, as I'm so fond of harping on, all but undefeated here in Evolve. Hero's Welcome vs. Cross Rhodes seems to be a question answered before it's even asked. But there's more to this match than meets the eye.
Chris Hero interfered on behalf of Drew Galloway and Ethan Carter III at Evolve 62, helping them to win their unsanctioned street fight against Johnny Gargano and TJ Perkins. And later that night, Galloway confirmed that Rhodes was to be the fourth man in their anti-NXT crusade. So! Stablemates at war with one another. Interesting. If I was a betting man, I'd count on shenanigans here, but let's imagine for a moment that they go hard at one another. What chance does Cody have?
Well, Chris is nursing a knee injury he suffered in the UK right now, so that's an opening for Rhodes to exploit. Indeed, beating Chris Hero with his father's own figure four would make a hell of a statement.
Matt Riddle vs. Tommy End
Tommy End is on his way to NXT, that's as close to a fact as you can get in the wild world of pro wrestling. He's said his goodbyes in Germany already, and this may well be his final appearance for Evolve. Riddle, conversely, has found himself fighting and scraping for an NXT deal since day one. William Regal told him that in order to earn an NXT contract, he'd need to win the Evolve title. Easier said that done, but let's look at the situation. No matter whether Riddle has the title or not, he's wrestling a guy on his way out.
Now, I don't expect this to be a Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg situation, no sir. Both men are consummate professionals, hard workers, and they won't take it easy just because it may be their last day, so to speak. But if Riddle's here to stay (whether he's not champion or perhaps Drew Galloway has brought him around to his way of thinking), he's fighting for more than just bragging rights or to keep a championship, he's fighting for independent wrestling. Drew Galloway's philosophy is warped and twisted, to be sure, but he's right of one thing-- independent pro wrestling on Evolve's level is every bit as good as or even better than the "big time" wrestling promotions.
Not to say that Tommy End is exactly Mr. Monday Night over here, of course, he's carried the flag for independent wrestling all over the world. But when he's on his way out and a guy like Riddle is still fighting and clawing for a contract, it's an obvious contrast.
And the rest
The war rages on as a Catch Point team consisting of Fred Yehi, "Hot Sauce" Tracy Williams, and
TJ Perkins TJP square off against Drew Galloway and his goon squad of DUSTIN and Ethan Carter III with the Evolve Tag Team Championship on the line. After Drew Galloway put Johnny Gargano away last month, this is a real chance for Catch Point to strike back, especially now that management has put the tag titles in play to justify allowing Ethan Carter III to participate in a sanctioned match. Galloway's always looking for more merry men, though, and who knows who might come out to play?
Cedric Alexander takes on Zack Sabre, Jr. in another WWE Cruiserweight Classic Spotlight Match. Much like his match against TJP, this one is an opportunity for Cedric to play spoiler for Sabre's chances on Wednesday night. If Zack takes a Lumbar Check hard, he might have no choice but to forfeit his match against Drew Gulak, even. If Thatcher has his way with Gulak, it may even end up as a double forfeit!
Peter Kaasa and Tony Nese finally have a long-awaited rematch of their Evolve 52 tilt. That one ended in Nese's favor thanks to SoCal Val's chicanery, but Nese is a changed man now. After Premier Athlete Brand dissolved and his downward trajectory brought him all the way to the bottom, he's unlikely to go for such an easy win a second time.
And more, featuring Ethan Page. All Ego doesn't have an opponent yet, but he's being advertised for the card. Based on the last couple shows, one might expect him to beat the holy hell out of some fresh young talent, but anything is possible.
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