Yessir, ladies and gentlemen, it's time for the World Wrestling Network to come back in to your home with Evolve 68 (live from Deer Park, New York) and Evolve 69 (live from Queens, New York), and as always, I'm here to give you the low down on what's going down.
First off, a reminder that Joey Styles will be on these shows and in Evolve more generally going forward, making matches, calling matches, and generally bringing his wisdom to bear for the next generation. It’s gonna be great to have him.
Evolve 68 (Saturday, September 10, at 8PM Eastern)
Johnny Gargano vs. Zack Sabre, Jr. (Battle of the Aces)
Johnny Gargano had a bad August. Forced to miss the last round of Evolve shows due to his NXT commitments, he and Tommaso Ciampa came up empty in their NXT Tag Team Championship match against the Revival at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II. And on the following Wednesday night, in the second round of the Cruiserweight Classic, the knee injury he suffered in that match came back to haunt him when TJ Perkins sent him home empty-handed with TJP Clutch.
And here we are, Johnny heading into his final weekend of Evolve events with a bum knee that may or may not have healed yet. His first match of the weekend pits him against submission expert Zack Sabre, Jr.
Combine that with the new, more vicious attitude Mr. Sabre displayed last month, and the target painted on Johnny Wrestling’s knee becomes a tombstone.
Drew Galloway vs. Drew Gulak
With Catch Point’s war against Timothy Thatcher out of the way, Drew Gulak is finally able to turn his full attention to Drew Galloway. It’s a match that has long been overdue, with Gulak being one of the few people on the roster when Galloway made his Evolve debut who is still around and still hasn’t faced the hulking Scotsman in one-on-one competition.
They’ve clashed in tag team action several times, with Galloway up 2:1 on Gulak, although both men were only involved in the finish the first time, at Evolve 53, when Galloway took Gulak out with three Future Shock DDTs to advance to the second round of the Evolve Tag Team Championship Tournament.
Galloway’s record against grapplers is slim but losing here in Evolve, although when he can convince them to brawl him on his own terms, as he did Johnny Gargano, his odds improve. So that becomes the question here— if Gulak can force Galloway to wrestle his match, he likely wins the day, but if he gets hot and lets himself get swept up in a Galloway Brawl, well...
Matt Riddle vs. Ricochet vs. Tony Nese
Originally scheduled to be a simple rematch of Riddle and Nese’s Evolve 60 tilt, Ricochet was added in when he became available and suddenly the math is entirely different. Before, Nese had to beat Matt Riddle, a nigh-unstoppable juggernaut here in Evolve second only to Chris Hero and the Evolve World Champion Timothy Thatcher in terms of win/loss record, and he had to do it by himself.
Nese always had a slim but fair fighting chance but now, now he’s in the multi-man environment in which he thrives. Riddle has only been in two such matches in his short career, both for the Monster Factory, but was victorious in his first four-way, claiming the MFPW Heavyweight Championship, his first championship gold in pro wrestling. And naturally, being a long-time Dragon Gate USA veteran, Ricochet is no stranger to high velocity frays.
So it’s gone from an 80/20 uphill battle to a 33/33/33 even playing field. Riddle has got to be looking to build his contendership back up after finally falling to Timothy Thatcher in a fair fight. Nese is continuing to rebuild in the wake of the Premier Athlete Brand’s split. Ricochet is looking to re-establish himself now that Evolve is his home base for the first time in over a year. Clearly, big stakes here for each man.
And the rest
“Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams locks up with DUSTIN in singles action. Much like Gulak/Galloway, this is all about avenging the loss of the tag titles and stemming the tide of Drew Galloway’s invasion, and doubly so after Hot Sauce missed his chance to regain the tag titles last month entirely due to vicious attack from the Goon Squad. He can’t win the tag titles back here, but he can certainly gain some personal satisfaction.
Fred Yehi looks to avenge his defeat in tag action last month by going one-on-one with Jigsaw. Both Yehi and Jigsaw have had a tough time of it in singles action, although granted, Jigsaw has only wrestled the one match, against Zack Sabre, Jr., thus far in his return to Evolve. A win for either man could be the beginning of a road right to the main event, and Yehi may have an edge with his allies in Catch Point to advise him and help him learn from his loss.
Darby Allin looks to make a mark by taking down
TJ Perkins TJP. The former skateboarder turned daredevil pro wrestler has a steep challenge in front of him in TJ Perkins. Indeed, perhaps his only advantage over TJP is his lack of concern for his own well-being. TJP has an extra dose of concern here as well, seeing as he has the Cruiserweight Classic semifinals to worry about. It may be enough for Darby to sneak out the win, in the end.
Team Tremendous and Monster Mafia collide by halves as Dan Barry and Ethan Page square off in singles action. This is a match that has natural consequences for the Evolve Tag Team Championship as a result. The match itself is a classic flying vs. power matchup, as Barry’s athletic acrobatics find themselves lined up against Page’s power moves and brawling ability.
Evolve 69 (Sunday, September 11, at 6:30PM Eastern)
Chris Hero & Drew Galloway vs. Johnny Gargano & Cody Rhodes
This is it. Johnny Gargano’s last match for the family of promotions that took him from a scrawny Ohio indie guy with a ponytail, whose biggest claim to fame was losing to MVP dressed like an elf one SmackDown, to the ace of Dragon Gate USA, the face of Evolve, and the WWN Icon, Johnny Wrestling. The end of not just an era, but the era. Johnny Gargano was here on day one, on the first show for both DGUSA and Evolve. Barring two months of injury after Evolve 10 and the odd show missed here and there for other obligations, he’s seen it all. And now he’s going, and yes, it’s to bigger and better things for WWE and NXT, but it’s still steeped in sadness. But more on that in a later piece, onto the matchup.
We got here in a most excellent 2016 kind of way, with Joey Styles changing the booking last month so that instead of Gargano vs. Cody Rhodes, they’d be tag partners against Chris Hero and Drew Galloway. Two of the four Evolve World Champions to date against the longest-reigning Open the Freedom Gate Champion in history and the grandson of a plumber who’s still looking to prove that he can hang on the indies.
It’s gonna be a war, folks, and no matter how the match goes, I can tell you it’s gonna end in tears and thunderous chants of “Thank you, Johnny!”
Ricochet vs. Zack Sabre, Jr.
Ricochet has got to be looking to make his full-time Evolve return with a bang here. But Zack Sabre, Jr. with his new attitude and potentially a final win over Johnny Gargano, is certainly not going to make it easy.
The last two times Ricochet found himself in grappler vs. flyer matchups in Evolve he went one-for-one, beating Timothy Thatcher back at Evolve 36 (in one of my favorite matches of last year) but losing to TJ Perkins at Evolve 58 (granted, not a pure grappler, but notable data all the same). So he’s 50-50 here, but the Future of Flight is a former Open the Freedom Gate Champion, former Open the United Gate Champion, and one of the few men to own a win over Chris Hero.
Sabre has a Cruiserweight Classic match of his own to worry about on Wednesday, which certainly factors into all of his matchups here this weekend, but if I was a betting man, I’d say he’s ready to throw caution to the wind and do whatever it takes to beat Ricochet, and I’m looking forward to seeing it happen.
Matt Riddle vs.
TJ Perkins TJP
Catch Point explodes! Except not really because those dudes are all about competition. But there are real issues here. TJP’s manager Stokely Hathaway has doubted Matt Riddle’s resolve and dedication to Catch Point and indeed, Matt has seemed strangely distant. Especially as compared to Perkins, who despite his increasing engagement as the keystone in Stokely’s Dream Team, has been right there for his Catch Point brothers at all times.
But despite that, the question rings hollow. Yes, Matt Riddle has been distant. Yes, he’s been openly courted by Drew Galloway, looking for that last crowning piece to take his Merry Men over the edge. But Matt Riddle will be here next month, and TJ Perkins will not. TJP is taking his talents to Raw, and that’s great for him. I’m really happy for him to get the spotlight on the biggest stage our industry has to offer. But he’s still leaving, and Matt Riddle will still be here, tearing it up for some time to come.
The match will be excellent, to be sure, but the doubt engendered by Stokely will remain.
And the rest
Former colleagues in the Gentleman’s Club meet in the ring when Drew Gulak and DUSTIN square off. DUSTIN is in some ways responsible for bringing Drew Gulak into Evolve, seeing as said Club was his stable, but now he’s the bitter outsider and Gulak the established hero. Drew still owes him a proper receipt for taking the tag team championship away, to boot.
Darby Allin takes another crack at a WWN veteran, facing down Tony Nese. The first of four New Talent Test matches on the card, Allin is a familiar face at this point (and indeed, the only one of these new talents to be on the Evolve 68 card) but he has yet to win a match for Evolve. And this weekend is his last chance, if he comes up empty here, he’s done. If he wins, he gets an Evolve contract. Tony Nese had best be prepared for the storm.
The New Talent Test initiative rolls on as David Starr goes one on one with Ethan Page. David Starr is a guy I’ve been aware of for a while but only recently had a chance to check out in any detail, and I’m quite glad to see him here on an Evolve card finally. Not just because he’s a cat bro, either, but his match with Corey Hollis at PWX Another Level was an arm salesmanship showcase that showed me that he’s ready to fit right in at Evolve.
UFC veteran Chuck O’Neil makes his Evolve debut against “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams. A former competitor on the Ultimate Fighter, O’Neil’s been tearing it up in Beyond for some time now, including a feud against Evolve’s own Matt Riddle where he came up 0-3. Now, he faces the challenge of fellow Catch Point grappler Tracy Williams, and it ought to deliver.
Travis Gordon makes his return, trying his luck against Fred Yehi this time. Ethan Page took care of him pretty handily last time, and I doubt he’s going to fare any better against short, pissed off, and angry Fred Yehi, but hey— like they say, any man with two hands has a fighting chance.
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