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Evolve 94 Live Report: A View From The Front Row

Amazing performances got undercut by preposterous window-dressing, a poorly constructed guardrail and a match stip that didn’t quite work.

Throughout Evolve 94, which built from a slow simmer to an intense boil, I thought, “Wow, what a show, EVOLVE 94 is a blockbuster!” And mentally comparing the card to how a New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) one is typically structured, moving in importance and pacing with each match.

But from the moment I left the venue until now, I found myself scratching my head, thinking “why, why do you do that?”

Welcome to The Circus

To begin — for some reason that they didn’t tell the fans in attendance in La Boom — the venue was dressed up like a Halloween Circus show. Despite the much hyped “The End” thing, this window-dressing — complete with a HORROR CIRCUS sign that got in the way in the main event — didn’t seem intentional.

Instead, since everyone tried to pretend like everything was normal, it made Evolve’s “home” venue La Boom feel less than such. As if they were playing in a borrowed ball-pit.

While this is likely because the previous show that ran didn’t clean up, it also reminded myself and others of something else. How the wrestling industry — and a certain promoter — are referred to as carnies. And that’s not a compliment meant to evoke the excellent Tennesee-based tag team The Carnies., Nick Iggy and Kerry Awful.

Oh great, that place

Before the show could begin, WWN's Trevor Adams announces EVOLVE is returning to the Elmcor Center in Queens on Saturday, December 9. Yes, the Elmcor where Progress NYC was hotter than the surface of the Sun, and many myself included, got sick. Hopefully the building doesn’t have problems during the cold weather months like it does in the summer.

Fortunately for fans, Evolve isn’t likely to pack that house in the way Progress did. Evolve only managed 500 or so tickets sold for the show that it ran before Progress (which sold over 1,500, for a venue rated for a maximum of 600).

I should note, I do not blame Progress for the above. Progress doesn’t have a US office and relied on Evolve — whom it worked with for April’s More Than Mania weekend — to book that venue.

But yes, onto the show:

Lenny Leonard -- who’s so nice they named him Leonard twice -- is in ring alongside his co-commentary Ron Niemi to kick things off, but he's interrupted by Stokely Hathaway who has Catch Point (Dickinson, Hot Sauce, Jaka and Dominic Garrini) with him.

After running down the card, Stokely -- who's wearing a fine hooded sweatshirt that he stole from your aunt Rose -- says he's going to see if he can make the unmarketable marketable, and asks a kid standing in the ring with them for his name.

The kid is Rayo, and so we learn our first match will have Rayo against Dom Garrini. This three-move (running knee, spinebuster, and win via Kimura submission) moment was technically Garrini’s first formal match in Evolve, and lasted barely a minute. Stokely tosses Rayo out.

Not even sure if I can call that an opening bout. Garrini's knee was dope, though. Rayo sold it like his face was broken.

Dickinson grabs the mic and demand his match so …

Chris Dickinson vs. Jason Kincaid

Now this is what we expect of Evolve: some substantial grappling. Frustratingly, though, the match didn’t move as well or as fast as we’ve come to expect from each of these two.

It felt like they were asked to make it quick, or they left some in the can because of the post-match stuff. Dickinson kept trying to ram KIncaid’s head into the top turnbuckle from the fireman’s carry positon.

The big highlight of the match was Kincaid hitting a coast to coast dropkick, and soon thereafter, Dickinson won with a crucifix powerbomb onto the turnbuckle and while he's celebrating...

This is The End

We get an invasion from three guys who wrecked shop, and a graphic on the screens of the venue read “the end” in a gothic font, pointing out that this was the payoff for the slightly-hyped Evolve Dies angle. Judging by the crowd’s reactions, it seems like these guys were 1) barely known and 2) not what people wanted to see.

The trio are from WWN’s Full Impact Pro promotion, which I have tried to watch, but failed. It’s just rougher around the edges than I feel OK spending me time on, and that includes its ring announcer — who worked Evolve 94, making us all miss Joanna Rose.

It was tough to sit through FIP when it was on FloSlam, and as long as WWN is doing iPPVs only, it will probably only be seen by the dozens who attend it in Florida.

While I recognized The End’s Parrow from the first WWN title match, I needed the help of those on Twitter to ID the other two. The big brawny bastard with a hammer tattoo is Odinson, and the smaller, Jimmy Jacobs-looking dude is Drennan.

They demolished The Dirty Daddy and the hairy thinker, who had to be carried off by refs. It’s hilarious to see Evolve, which often tries to go against the grain of pro wrestling’s tropes, do a classic invasion angle, with zero unique flourishes.

Richard Watts vs Austin Theory w Priscilla Kelly

Watts, making his debut in Evolve, was introduced with the news that 1) he’s a local, from the Bronx, and that 2) he has far too many nicknames. The former endeared him, the latter confused and detracted.

Still, this was. a fun match where Watts, the self-branded Shred God, endeared himself to the locals pretty quickly with his flashy moves and mannerisms.

While anyone who’s looked up Priscilla Kelly's matches online knows that she can wrestle, Evolve’s only-men-wrestle philosophy meant her role continues to stagnate. I’ve got faith in her abilities, but her limited role (displaying anger when Theory's opponent is getting cheered or succeeding, and laughing when Theory is doing well) is not great. Maybe she’ll get to do more if they ever turn her face, I’m not sure.

Theory, though, continues to improve and grow. I don't have any specific spots to call out, but his in-ring confidence has bloomed since his first time in the Evolve ring. This match upped the intensity from the first, thanks in part to how easy it is to boo Theory. The kid is too athletic, too attractive and too young.

Theory wins with his cutter, which I believe he calls the Theory KO, but before we realize it, “the end” is displayed on the screens around us. Theory and PK look around, while Watts is basically dead on the mat, and make the smart decision to abandon the rookie and the ring. The moment had a comic hilarity to it that I frankly needed, as I was already feeling bored by The End, who brutalized Watts with a chair and a powerbomb.

Jarek 1:20 vs Darby Allin

Possibly the hottest match of the night in terms of crowd response, and one of my favorites. Jarek 1:20 became an instant heel during the last two Evolves (92 and 93) with his weird magician gimmick, where he pretends to give wrestlers $500 bonuses for good matches -- only to give them $5.

From the second he came out from the curtain, though, the boos rained down on Jarek like he was caught in monsoon season. During his entrance and the whole match, the guy got derided for being 1) "a shitty Chris Hero" 2) "fat Adam Cole" and 3) "off-brand Brian Kendrick." He also got hate for his “stupid little choker."

Darby Allin on the other hand, is a god at La Boom. Beloved for his daredevil stunts (which he developed in an excellent feud with Ethan Page) and evolving in-ring technical work (he's done well by himself when going against Hot Sauce and Zack Sabre Jr.), he entered to a heavy DAR!BY! chant, which was soon followed by a FUCK HIM UP DARBY! FUCK 'IM UP! rally.

I missed a significant portion of this match thanks to Evolve's weakest link: the barricade railing on the side of the ring closest to the camera. Just as it happened during a recent Hot Sauce vs ACH match, the railing broke off as Jarek flung Allin into it.

I was there with the railing in my lap for both this match and the ACH/Hot Sauce match, and while some say this is just indie wrestling, it’s getting to a point where I think Evolve management needs to buy a new railing and secure it better, before someone gets seriously injured. A more litigious fan might have sued them had they been in my position.

Cleverly, the finish involved Darby pinning Jarek — who spent the match yelling "ESCAPE ARTIST!" when making it to the ropes while in a submission — with his unescapable "Last Supper" Gibson Leglock, which looks like something you’d expect from Zack Sabre Jr..

I don't know why I didn't expect this to be the marvel it was, but damn. Second only to the show's mammoth main event.

The [never]Ending story

By this point, we in the crowd knew what to expect, so many of us -- myself included -- popped up and started screaming at Darby to get ready for The End.

Once I realize how awkward and corny that sounded, I started yelling "THOSE JACKED UP BASTARDS FROM FIP ARE COMING," but they entered La Boom again before I can finish my sentence.

Darby, ever the thrill-seeker, shouts at them to bring it, earning even more love and adulation from the crowd. Before they can, he sprints to the top turnbuckle nearest the entrance and does his signature coffin drop blind fall towards them. From my angle it looked like he didn't catch all of them. Hopefully he's OK. After slamming Allin into the ring post, they powerbombed the kid onto chairs on the stage.

I don’t know if Jarek also got ravaged by The End, but nobody cares because we all wish he was never born. Dude has "1:20" written on his crotch, and the poker symbols (spade, heart, diamond and club) on his other gear.

Fred Yehi vs Tracy Williams w. Stokely Hathaway

A great technical match, with lots of strong striking, Yehi’s stomp attacks and tons of holds. Chicanery and shenanigans from Stokely Hathaway enabled Williams to win via submission with a Guillotine hold.

As much as I love Fred and wanted him to win, I wasn’t entirely surprised or let down. Current speculation points to Yehi signing a deal with WWE soon.

Jaka, who's no dummy and angry that his tag partner Chris Dickinson got demolished by The End, demands that these interlopers come out.

Instead, we hear that signature techno music tune, and...

Evolve Champion Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Jaka (non-title match)

Excellent duel, though the non-title nature of the match kind of let us know how it would end. Still, Sabre Jr. and Jaka worked it like a title match, with the technical wizard looking as precise as ever, and Jaka bringing lots of stiff hits and pain.

In a series of traded chops, Jaka's rang loud and Zack Sabre Jr.'s seemed to dissipate into that hairy chest. Lots of good submission work from Zack on the ground and Jaka did some solid evasion, showing some scouting work.

In the gnarliest moment of the night, Jaka put at least one toe against one of Sabre's eyes. A deserved YOU SICK FUCK chant followed.

At one point, they brawl to the outside, right in front of me in the front row (camera side). Jaka’s hoisted on top of the railing, I’m trying to snap photos for this report, and it all gets chaotic. Sabre Jr. apologizes when it’s all over, saying “sorry about that, mate.” Such a nice boy.

Jaka’s win via pinfall, following a massive sit-out powerbomb, was made all the more important thanks to the gleeful reaction of Stokely Hathaway (who bounded into the ring to throw his cardigan over Jaka), a look of dejection from Sabre Jr., and a menacing glare from Tracy Williams.

But wait…

Before ZSJ could leave the ring, out came … Priscilla Kelly. Which was odd, considering we all expected The End to show up.

Maybe this is leading to a program between Sabre Jr. and Theory, or it’s Kelly looking to work with someone closer to the top of the card.

Last Man Standing WWN Championship Match: Keith Lee vs Matt Riddle (c)

If you read my BOLA coverage, you already know I’m a pretty big Keith Lee fan. The hype package for the match played before Keith Lee came out, and The Friendly Fellow entered to a lot of love from the crowd. Riddle, as always, was greeted by showers of BRO! chants.

Riddle and Lee start the match with tons of power, with Keith giving Matthew a taste of his own medicine by no-selling the former UFC fighter’s german suplexes.

The first ref count of the night followed Riddle hitting a Bro To Sleep and a german, and I notice that Lee’s doing the little things, by looking over at Riddle to watch for when he gets up, and acting as if he’s thinking “well, damn, time to rise.”

At one point, Lee tossed Riddle, and the Bro’s leg hit the giant wobbling HORROR CIRCUS. A “FUCK THAT SIGN” chant that I may have started was followed by a “USE THAT SIGN” chant.

As Lee touches the sign and wonders if he could get it down, I notice that his gear features the Ravenclaw crest from Harry Potter. This follows his previous Mewtwo gear, and cements his geek cred.

Tons of high-power offense in this one, with Riddle hitting tons of flying elbows and Lee hitting his Spirit Bomb powerbomb, Ground Zero sitdown powerbomb and Doomsault moonsault, but the Bro is still able to rise.

The stuff on the ring apron, right in front of me, truly had me shook. Riddle tried to get Lee onto his shoulders, but the big man dropped elbows to stop, but a series of reversals wound up with Riddle dropping Lee onto the apron, and then rolling down to the floor, taking the ring skirt down with him. Wrapped in that ring skirt, on the floor, Lee looked either dead or asleep.

Barely making it back to his feet (outside the ring) by nine, Lee gets pulled into the ring by Riddle, who tags him with more blows and a senton. Riddle had been hitting Lee with kicks and knees all night, but went to the well one too many times and Lee caught his leg and hit him with a Go To Sleep of his own, which had me ready for the win.

Lee then placed Riddle on the top turnbuckle, like he’s a Bourbon Street drunk getting tossed into a cab home. Then Keith puts him in the fireman’s carry into a ground zero from the top and they’re both down.

The crowd’s audible excitement wasn’t at a loud pitch by the time senior official Brandon Tolle counted to 9, but when Riddle collapsed at 10 and Lee was on his feet, the audience popped.


Quietly, Riddle left the ring, exiting through the gate, walking to the merch table.

Handed the title by the ref, Keith Lee was brimming with the purest looks of joy, nearly on the verge of tears. Lee thanked the crowd in a speech he said wasn’t planned. Mentioned that he had been warned about coming to Evolve, which could be taken two ways, but then he transitioned to how people told him the crowd at La Boom is insane and how we the La Boom fans make it home. While some had said the building was half full at the 6PM start of the show, the building was packed by this point.

I was so happy to be there in the front row for this moment in Keith Lee’s career. But since I want the best damn thing possible for the guy, I’m kinda salty that Evolve didn’t give him a pinfall victory. It’s a safe way to keep Riddle protected while dropping the belt, and sets up a rematch, as the Bro can say “you didn’t pin me, bro.”

Since the Keith Lee era started without the pinfall it deserved, I hope he gets many soon. He earned it with this amazing match, and so I hopefully predict we spend many months, all the way through the More Than Mania week in New Orleans, basking in this glory.

Collecting other thoughts

But seriously, as Evolve and WWN find themselves embroiled in a legal battle with FloSlam, and returns to iPPVs, it needs to do better.

This HORROR CIRCUS nonsense isn’t becoming of a promotion with talent as phenomenal as Lee, Sabre Jr., Riddle, Stokely Hathaway, Catch Point, and the rest of its stars. Unless they want to be taken seriously, they really need to work on their optics.

Also, I was very glad to be there in attendance, as it meant I wouldn’t be able to hear the dreadful color commentary of Ron Niemi, who returned to the promotion in September. I thought he was just temporary because Lenny Leonard was under the weather and they wanted a backup guy, but I guess WWN management liked what Niemi brought.

If that’s the case, it’s a sad indicator of the truths seen its other changes of talent. Joanna Rose not announcing the show (she’s said she had commitments in the UK) is not a good sign when her replacement is that guy from other WWN promotions (who is not as good at enunciating clearly, and called Mia Yim “Mika Yim” at the recent MLW One Shot event).

Evolve 94 was also missing a sense of humor, which can be clearly tied to the absence of Ethan Page and ACH. While Page publicly left the company, we don’t know what ACH’s status is. Evolve won’t be able to replace Page, a singular talent in my eye, but I hope it tries to do better in these regards.

Henry T. Casey is a tech writer for Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag who can be found at @henrytcasey on nearly every social media service. He podcasts about wrestling at The Ring Post, which you can listen without worrying about it being too negative or going over every damn segment on Raw.

All photos credit to Henry T. Casey.

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