clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Evolve 96 recap & review: ZSJ is the measuring stick, the End aren’t finished yet, and AR Fox has a posse

Evolve Wrestling on Twitter

The show starts just a few minutes after the scheduled 8PM bell time with Lenny Leonard and "Hardcore Giant" Ron Niemi in the ring to welcome us to the show, explain the new format with the additional preliminary matches and intermission, and hype up the card a bit for us.

Dominic Garrini vs. Joey Lynch

Garrini right in with a jumping knee, following it up with a pair of German suplexes but Lynch blocks the third. Duck the lariat, land an enzuigiri, he's already fairing better than any opponent Dom has had in Evolve yet when he hits a suicide dive after that. Back in the ring, fireman's carry, Garrini slips out, strike rush staggers Joey, backbreaker connects and gets a nearfall.

Boot up on the charge, Lynch begins to rally with a lariat, a back elbow, charging forearm, off the ropes, ducking and dodging, straight knee, charging elbow into a Pele kick and he's on fire! Dom won't be stopped short himself, but Lynch catches him with a DDT, holds on and rolls through, Falcon Arrow... NOPE! Going for the moonsault, Garrini shoves him and climbs up after him.

Thinking back superplex but Joey fights him off, elbows, moonsault... GARRINI KICKS OUT AND LOCKS THE SLEEPER HOLD ON! THE HOOKS ARE IN BUT LYNCH ROLLS TO THE ROPES! Joey gets a 540 gamengiri off, a second moonsault comes up empty, Dom from behind...

Dominic Garrini wins by submission with Mighty Mouse.

So given how Dom's first couple Evolve matches went my first thought here was "Thanks for coming, Joey, better luck next time" but then they went out there and they had themselves a damn good back and forth match. Good opener, and good precedent set for these new preliminary matches.

Kyle the Beast & Shane Mercer vs. Matt Knicks & Stevie Fierce

KTB and Fierce to start, the Freelance Champion offering a handshake but it's an excuse for some mockery and Kyle runs him over with a lariat. Wicked rolling shoulder thrust, tag to Mercer, Crash Landing, quick tag, quebrada, another quick tag but they waste time getting each other fired up and Knicks is able to tag in. Valiantly fighting them off one-on-two, Matt celebrates too soon and turns around into a belly-to-belly suplex from the Iron Demon!

Military press, one-handed, knocking Stevie out with a lariat when he tried to save his teammate before dropping the press! Freelance boys use a bit of clever teamwork to recover the tide and engage in quick tags of their own to keep Mercer off balance but soon enough the Beast is in and running roughshod over Knicks. Narrow escape, tag made, blind tag from the Iron Demon, huge pop-up into the swinging powerslam!

Headed up top with Fierce in hand...

Kyle the Beast & Shane Mercer win by pinfall with Moonsault & Battery from Mercer on Fierce.

Really fun match and all four guys did great, always love seeing the Freelance guys come to Evolve, but man something about Shane Mercer just pops. Every time. The one-armed press is ridiculous enough and then you add to it? Fantastic.

Jarek 1:20 vs. Stephen Wolf

Mat grappling early, Jarek eventually going for a big escape on a wristlock. Wolf returns the favor and we shift to some lucha libre action, charging strikes, and a rolling thunder Senton de la Muerte-style dropkick, sends 1:20 outside where he lies in wait for Stephen to come around and let him put his face into the post. Elbow drop off the ringpost, back in the ring, jockeying for position, and Wolf gets some breathing room with a head kick.

Chaining kicks together into a rolling elbow, roll-through into a wicked knee strike... NOT ENOUGH! Stephen up top, Jarek cuts him off and catches him with the Ace Crusher as he tried to springboard back inside, fakeout superkick into the hypnotic knockout superkick... only a nearfall! He declares he has an ace up his sleeve but isn't able to counter the Blue Thunder Driver!

Looking to follow it up from the high rent district, shooting star press... Jarek gets his knees up! Gutwrench lift...

Jarek 1:20 wins by pinfall with a Doctor Bomb lift dropped into a DDT.

Good solid match that ended right as I felt like it was really kicking into gear.

Zack Sabre, Jr. gets on the mic to kick off the main card and he says he loves New York and he worked his ass off to hold the Evolve Championship and he's going to end the year as champion. He thanks us for our support and says in 2017 they sent everyone at him high flyers to cage fighters, but he's beaten all of them. In 2018 this company wants to be about new stars? There are no new stars until they prove their worth in this ring against him.

DJZ vs. Zack Sabre, Jr.

Intense matwork early, Sabre with a clear advantage but Ion at no point lost, and eventually managing to prise wrist control from the champion for a while and turn it around, although it doesn't lead to any lasting advantage. Test of strength leads Zema to a second try at the wristlock, keeping things fluid to keep Zack from being able to counter and breaking when his point is made!

This lights the fire under Sabre and he takes it to DJ hard, going after the leg and then the arm, wrenching and tearing and probing to find what will give out first. Back to the test of strength, into a Japanese stranglehold from Ion, ZSJ reverses and falls back, reversal to the reversal! Jockeying for position in the hold, out and back in, DJ decides to escalate to lucha libre, step-up arm drag and a dropkick before hanging the champion in the ropes for strikes.

Off the ropes, low trip into a crucifix pin for two! Jawbreaker, looking for a dive... CAUGHT INTO A CROSS ARMBAR! Zema gets the ropes and Sabre makes him pay, stepping on his head before torturing him with a stepover armbar into the armbreaker twist! DJ gasping, trying to will life into the arm and Zack kicks him in it before grabbing a wristlock and stepping on his head(!) to set up some fine wrist manipulation and the bicep stomp!

Elevated wristlocks, Ion unable to take the pain, screaming agony as ZSJ continues to bend his arm in unholy torture, rolling armscissors and modified bow-and-arrows and good lord, just sadism of the highest order. Zema ain't giving up yet, though, he's fired up, throwing slaps and a crossbody, up top... but Sabre kicks his arm in and climbs to meet him.

Submissions do their damage but DJ has fight in him yet, coming down with a crossbody, punches into a neckbreaker, hanging his neck over the ropes into a quebrada... NOPE! Arm drags... Sabre has the octopus hold! Taking it into a folding press for a nearfall, rolling around, DJZ counters into his own Ode to Jim Breaks but Sabre is able to get a foot on the ropes!

Big slaps wake the champion up and he starts throwing strikes of his own, turning the match into a full-on slugfest! Superkick staggers him but he's able to fire a Pele kick off, Zema keeps his distance, superkick, springboard Ace Crusher, he heads up top but it gives ZSJ the opportunity to wipe him out with a few precision kicks and leaves both men down and out.

Sunset flip reversed, Ion tries again but Zack gets a triangle choke! Shifting to the double leg Ode to Jim Breaks, he grabs a leg for good measure but Zema is able to stretch and get a foot on the ropes! Putting boots to follow it up, DJ is able to roll him through and get a Gedo Clutch for two, charging into boots, struggling in the corner, Zema snaps an avalanche Frankensteiner off!

DDT blocked, Sabre is able to maneuver around him...

Zack Sabre, Jr. wins by pinfall with the European Clutch.

Incredible match, and with the promo that preceded it, perhaps the purest indication that Sabre didn't just find his killer instinct when he finally beat Chris Hero at the beginning of the year, but he found his place in Evolve, that same spot Chris sat in where he's the ultimate test for any newcomer, the man who you probably cannot beat, but who you MUST be able to hang with to prove you belong on the Evolve roster.

Suffice it to say, DJZ belongs.

AR Fox vs. Jason Kincaid

Kincaid insisting on prayer early after a break, ducking and dodging, trying a bit of grappling but Fox goes for the flight, springboard Ace Crusher blocked with a handstand, Kincaid returns with the cartwheel powerslam double stomp! Charging uppercut, gourdbuster onto the top rope, handspring knee drop, but it's only good for one and AR heads to the floor.

Suicide dive countered but Kincaid counters the counter(!) and turns it into an arm drag! Back in, Tiger feint sets up the kick flip apron moonsault and Fox celebrates with his WWA4 student posse at ringside. Jason rolled back in, cover's only good for two. Fox follows it up with a big corner clothesline and a reverse skin the cat dropkick, an attempt at a springboard countered into a schoolboy!

Jockeying for position, short Ace Crusher from Fox, he heads up top, senton atomico but the knees are up! Double thrusts back AR off, the Gift off the ropes with a swinging X-Factor, off the ropes again, low sweep, and a slingshot forearm drops Fox to the apron! Kincaid cracks his knuckles and comes off the ropes again, flipping over them into a double stomp, headed up top but AR recovers fast enough to cut him off.

Off the ropes... HUGE AIR ON A SUICIDE DIVE! Back in, nobody home on the 450 moonsault, Matrix evasion on a lariat into an enzuigiri, Jason with an arm drag, sent to the apron, kicks stagger him, outside-in springboard blockbuster... NOPE! Trying to set Kincaid up in the corner, Lo Mein Pain countered with a boot, back body drop to the apron into a stunner! Jason off the ropes... FLIP STUNNER INTO THE WWA4 STUDENTS!

Back in, springboard into a tornado DDT, keep the front facelock, slingshot Falcon Arrow... ONLY A NEARFALL! Both men rising to their feet in opposite corners, Fox sidesteps a charge, eats a kick and manages to hit Lo Mein Pain! Back up top...

AR Fox wins by pinfall with a 450 splash.

So that was every bit as wacky as advertised! I particularly appreciate that there wasn't a lot of wasted feeling out time here, it was basically straight into the clash of personalities and then the unorthodox high flying kicked in and it was a blast.

Lenny Leonard announces Evolve’s next shows as January 13 and 14, including the return of Timothy Thatcher!

Austin Theory vs. Darby Allin

Theory using his size to push Allin around early and he gets a big slap in return! Darby turns the heat up, dropkick, big arm drag, Austin takes a breather with Priscilla Kelly to talk strategy but Allin wipes him out with a dive! Big strikes on the floor, running back elbow against the barricade, headed up top... COFFIN DROP! BUT THEORY CAUGHT HIM AND PUTS HIM INTO THE POST!

He chucks him into the post a second time! Back in the ring that's good for a nearfall but you can't count Darby Allin out that easily. Pressing the attack in the corner, hammer whip, big double leg slam out of the corner, and then a HUGE tossing Doctor Bomb! Allin on his feet on the apron, he springboards in but Theory catches him with a swinging STO backbreaker for a nearfall.

Up and over, drop toehold into a Fujiwara armbar but Austin is able to stand straight up and break it. O'Connor roll gets two, into a tornillo, not enough to put Theory away! Wicked clipping elbow gets Austin another nearfall and Darby drags himself to the ropes to try and make his body match his will to fight. Theory punishing him in the corner, repeated lariats into a release suplex!

Going for it again, Darby counters with knees into a suplex of his own and grabs the Fujiwara again on the kickout! Wrenching it back, Austin is able to get the ropes as TPK screams bloody murder but the damage is done and he comes up clutching his arm in visible agony. Arm drag, ducking strikes and returning his own, Yoshi Tonic... NOPE! Headed up top, Kelly jaws at him, Coffin Drop... the knees were up! Fireman's carry... DARBY ALLIN YET LIVES!

Back to the fireman's carry, but Priscilla demands Theory go up top! He complies but the delay gives Allin time to throw elbows... AVALANCHE CRUCIFIX DRIVER! Both men down and out, Darby manages to reach an arm out for the cover... NOT ENOUGH! Back to their feet, slugging it out on wobbling feet, Allin blocks one, jackknife pin gets a nearfall, he crosses the legs...

Darby Allin wins by pinfall with Last Supper.

Good match, this one. Darby being great is kind of a given, he's matured really quickly into a very complete in-ring performer, while Theory has kinda stagnated for a while, but finally, in this one, I really got a sense that he and Priscilla Kelly work as a unit where before it felt kinda like a solution in search of a problem, if that makes any sense.

At this point we go to intermission and I go off to take care of some stuff... and apparently we come almost right back and Jason Kincaid has an altercation with Austin Theory. Sorry for not catching that in my usual detail, folks!

Catch Point (Jaka & "Hot Sauce" Tracy Williams) (c) vs. WorkHorsemen (Anthony Henry & James Drake) (Evolve Tag Team Championship)

Henry and Williams to start, into the grappling, Anthony picking at the arm before Tracy picks at his leg. Henry is able to get away and clear Jaka off the apron and Drake comes in and the match breaks down! Brawling on the floor, Anthony back inside with Jaka now, pummeling him in the corner until Hot Sauce comes back to run him over! Jaka takes James out with a dive, Williams hits a brainbuster, the Smooth Savage up top with the diving splash... NOT ENOUGH!

Working Henry over now, quick tags and strikes, taking full advantage of referee Brandon Tolle being preoccupied with keeping the New Age Enforcer out of the ring but Anthony is able to clear house with a few kicks and a back suplex and gets the tag! A lariat wipes Jaka out and Williams comes in but Drake is able to back body drop him to the apron and knock him down with an elbow for his trouble!

Powerslam / DDT combo gets WorkHorsemen a nearfall! Jaka fighting 'em off two on one but he dives right into a catapult spinebuster and another nearfall when Tracy breaks it up! He dumps Henry to the floor but turns around into Drake's vicious jabs. Catch Point chip away at him, missile dropkick into a German suplex and the cover's good for two. Double whip into a forearm and a spinning wheel kick, double backdrop driver... Henry makes the save!

Hot Sauce dissecting the New Age Enforcer now, stepping on his ankle, but a double suplex goes the other way when the big man overpowers them both! Tag made, double dropkick, charging strikes, a hesitation dropkick to Jaka sets up an exploder suplex on Williams that puts him into his own partner! Pull-up Ace Crusher on the Smooth Savage... ONLY A NEARFALL!

James tags in, freight train strikes into the cannonball! Drake with a fireman's carry, Hot Sauce pulls Jaka down and wipes Henry out with a lariat only to turn around into a spinning backfist and Drill Bit from the New Age Enforcer! Headed up top... NOBODY HOME ON THE MOONSAULT! SLIDING KNEE FROM JAKA!

THE END IS HERE! Drennen chokes Jaka as Odinson and Parrow take Drake and Henry out before turning their attention to Hot Sauce! Big sit-out powerbomb punctuates the whole affair on Jaka! BUT CHRIS DICKINSON IS IN THE CROWD, CHAIR IN HAND! DIVING CHAIRSHOT ON DRENNEN! German suplex on Odinson! One for Parrow as well! HE PAZUZU BOMBS DRENNEN TO THE FLOOR! Off the ropes... SUICIDE DIVE! The Dirty Daddy's putting boots to them for good measure!

The WorkHorsemen are back up and beating on Dickinson! Hot Sauce has recovered as well! The End are back into it as well! All eight guys brawling at ringside, by the merch tables, all over the place. Parrow just knocked somebody who wasn't even involved away so he could powerbomb Hot Sauce into the wall! Jaka's in the crowd, Odinson rams him into the bleachers, this is just insane!

PARROW AND DRENNEN POWERBOMB JAKA INTO HENRY! Dickinson fights the End off valiantly but they put him down by the bleachers! The End leave, the trail of bodies behind them saying it all as WorkHorsemen and Catch Point alike slowly start to regroup.

The match went to a no contest when the End showed up.

So, any time a match ends like that it's tempting to feel cheated but honestly while they were on the road to having their usual very good tag match, it was kind of a mess in terms of keeping track of tags and whatnot and I just can't wait until January when presumably we get Doom Patrol vs. WorkHorsemen vs. the End in some configuration.

Matt Riddle vs. Fred Yehi (No Rope Breaks Match)

Referee Brandon Tolle goes to inform them of the rules but Riddle yanks the mic away and gives his own interpretation of the rules, which is mainly built around the ways it lets him beat Yehi's ass, but the good news is Fred is ready for a fight!

Intense grappling from the gates, right into the ropes to emphasize that the ropes, they do nothing. Yehi picks the leg but Riddle manages to take his back! Fred gets out of that predicament but Matt crawls his way up the ropes with his feet and manages to extricate himself entirely. Go behind to a waistlock, Bro thinking about an armbar but Yehi keeps his hands clasped and manages to get kind of an arm triangle.

Riddle gets them back in the ropes and turns it around, looking for a sleeper of some variety but Fred stays out one step ahead of him and they stalemate. The crowd asks Yehi to take his shoes off and my god he's obliging them. The shoes off, Yehi wades right back into and takes a German suplex! He rises up and returns the favor, Bro does the same, knee strike, strike rush, thinking about the charging forearm but Fred nukes him!

Deep Waters pulls guard on Yehi, trying for a triangle until they approach the ropes and shifting to an armbar but again Fred keeps his hands clasped! Shifting gears, ankle lock on the exposed feet, Yehi throwing upkicks to the try and block and finally getting the Liu Kang bicycle kicks! Leg sweep into a stomp to the chest and a falling armbreaker but the cover isn't enough to finish it.

More stomps, the alternating ones side to side into a cross armbar but Riddle keeps his hands clasped and rolls him to his back and breaks with knee strikes. A few more knees to the ribs and then it's time for the rolling Karelin lifts. Kick to the back into the senton, another but the cover's only good for two. A third senton is one too many, the knees are up and Yehi immediately makes him relive the sensation with a lungblower before going back to the armbar!

Going for the stomp when that goes nowhere but Matt catches it and holds on, throwing upkicks on upkicks until he turns it around and rains strikes down on Fred's guard. Outside, trading chops on the floor until Bro puts Yehi up on the apron for chest kicks. Big finale gets caught and they stand on the apron, strike rush into a double stomp, back inside, another double stomp, only two but he's got the Koji Clutch on!

Riddle rolls himself towards the ropes and up them but Fred stays on him, switching to a Fujiwara armbar when the Koji Clutch becomes untenable. Deep Waters to his feet, Doctor Bomb, short knee... NOT ENOUGH! Chop for forearm, Riddle gets the fisherman buster, only a nearfall and he holds on, hoisting him up for the Tombstone Piledriver... NOPE! Overhead elbows, trying to set the Bromission up now but Yehi catches one and rolls through, inverted suplex!

Matt charges into an exploder for a nearfall and Fred follows it up with hammer fists and chops as Deep Waters covers up in the corner and fires back when he can. Yehi sets him up top, more Liu Kang kicks out of the corner, he charges into a right hand... AVALANCHE FISHERMAN BUSTER! YEHI KICKED OUT AT ONE! Overhead elbows in the ropes again the Bromission is on! Slaps to the ribs, the ropes are no salvation...

Matt Riddle wins by submission with Bromission.

It's only fitting that, as Evolve makes another transition much like the one it made back in 2014, that it does so with a match of this caliber that exemplifies every last ounce of technical wrestling excellence that the 2014 reboot stood for. So much cool innovative stuff here using the ropes in ways that you normally aren't allowed to, great stuff. (And, I hope, not the last time we see this match type in Evolve.)

Keith Lee (c) vs. WALTER (WWN Championship)

Lee wants to bask but WALTER isn't having any of it and we proceed to feeling out on the mat with haste. This leads to bull moose strength testing and the Ring General knocks Keith clean over! Big striking, grinding the Limitless One down in a headlock, off the ropes, shoulder blocks ahoy, giving and taking, leapfrog, drop down, Lee sends WALTER to the floor with a dropkick!

Forearms for chops, just two big dudes clubbing the hell out of each other, fantastic. WALTER WITH A CHOP THAT RINGS OUT LIKE A GUNSHOT! GERMAN SUPLEX GETS A ONE COUNT?! WALTER hoists him up for a body slam but it's only good for two and he follows with a rear chinlock, transitioning to a top wristlock, but Keith gets the ropes and saves himself. WALTER putting boots to him, but Lee wakes up and if you don't have a smile on your face watching dudes this size chop the crap outta each other I do not know what to tell you.

Keith blocks a chop with a forearm and fires off a strike rush that sends the Ring General to the mat! Thinking about the Spirit Bomb but WALTER reverses and targets the arm, uppercut into a Fujiwara armbar, wrenching back unholy and slamming his hand to the mat! Knee drop across the wrist and elbow, clubbing his back, piefacing him, Lee tries to throw a shot but the arm is so jacked that he can't get any strength behind it!

Standing armbar, working the fingers over, he rams them into the top rope! Gojira Clutch applied, Ringkampf rope break into the German suplex but getting the champion up like that may have done damage to WALTER as well! Kneeling on his back and wrenching the arm up, seated armbreaker, disdainful slaps to the back of the head, jawing at the Limitless One.

He rises, throwing forearms but the damaged arm is weak and WALTER catches it and kicks it. Headbutt gets a Sick Kick, WALTER resumes the offensive with kicks and those hamhock chops, pasting Lee to the mat with one! Back to trading chops, the Ring General pulls ahead as Keith tries to keep his arm together, switching it up to uppercuts and lariats but Lee stays on his feet and shows signs of a second wind... POUNCE!

Off the ropes, fireman's carry into the rolling elbow... NO GOOD! Back body drop counters the Spirit Bomb, WALTER trying to get Lee up in the same clutch to no avail, he floats over the reversal, Gojira Clutch denied, shotgun dropkick, WALTER GETS A RELEASE POWERBOMB... NOT ENOUGH! Slow to rise to their feet, WALTER gets up first and slashes Lee's throat with his thumb before grabbing the Gojira Clutch!

Keith throws elbows but WALTER brings those hamhocks down across his chest! Waiting for Lee to get up proves to be a mistake, because he pops him up... SPIRIT BOMB! ONLY A NEARFALL! Rolling elbow blocked, the Ring General connects with a big boot, big German suplex, out of the corner with a lariat, again just a nearfall! Drawing him up, Gojira Clutch but Lee is able to lever his arm away!

WALTER resets the hold and slips out of another counter and again goes right back to the Gojira Clutch! The Limitless One rams him into a corner and then rolls back into a pin... STILL NOT ENOUGH! A boot to the face fires the champion up, another one moreso, the third is blocked, rolling elbow, double chop, up in the fireman's carry...

Keith Lee wins by pinfall with Ground Zero, retaining the WWN Championship.

An excellent match between two of the best big men going for sure. And, like, it's easy to focus on the big visceral strike exchanges and all the bombs, and those are great, but I want to single WALTER's arm work out here, because it was absolutely vicious. Who jams a man's fingers into the top rope?! A Ringkampf man, that's who! Not to mention the Ground Zero to finish a guy of WALTER's size was absolutely crazy.

AR Fox comes out with his posse and a microphone after the match, saying he's gotta cut Lee's celebration short. He can tell by the goofy look on his face he doesn't know who he's looking at, but he's a former DGUSA tag champion, the first ever Style Battle winner, and the first-ever Evolve Champion. So it's only destiny that he becomes WWN Champion.

He and his crew surround the ring but Lee holds the title high over his head defiant. One of Fox's kids rushes him but he shrugs it off and takes them all out one-by-one! Fox hides behind Ayla and Lee backs off, picking Leon Ruff up by the scruff of his neck and sending him into the ropes... where the rest of the posse yank him out before Keith can Spirit Bomb him and they take their leave, message sent.

Keith Lee gets on the mic and says that Fox said he interrupted a celebration, but he didn't get a chance to even do that. He may be hurt, but he hasn't reached any limit, and when it's all said and done he's still WWN World Champion (he defended it in England against Dave Mastiff, I'll allow it). He thanks the crowd and says he'll ensure that we continue to have the opportunity and privilege to bask in his glory.


Let's start off by looking at the new format, shall we? I really dig the rapid fire ten-minute time limit preliminary match portion of the card that's been added-- you're not likely to get any blowaway "Match of the Year" type matches out of it, but it already feels like a great way to open up the card and get some new and exciting folks some exposure without having to worry about working them deep into the fabric of Evolve and that's great.

I'm never going to be terribly excited by an intermission, not least because it's an opportunity for my migraines to flare up, but it is what it is and when you're doing a nine-match, two and a half hour show, I understand giving the live audience that opportunity to take care of business. (And frankly tonight I appreciated it myself, even if intermission had a false start and I missed a bit of actual content!)

All in all it was a borderline great show for Evolve, so let’s break it down with our usual Bident of Wrestling Analysis, starting with the matches. Looking at the "main" lineup, Lee/WALTER, Riddle/Yehi, and DJZ/ZSJ were all great matches, and Theory/Allin and Fox/Kincaid hit their mark, leaving only the tag match as a bit disjointed and messy.

Storyline-wise, the End re-established themselves in a big way and, critically, one that paints an obvious picture as to what they'll be doing next as they've succeeded in getting off on the wrong foot with about half the tag division. AR Fox is not only back for the weekend, but here to stay and calling his shot for the WWN Championship, and Zack Sabre, Jr. has brought his year full circle and taken Chris Hero's place as the man against which all newcomers are measured.

Check the VOD out on, folks.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Cageside Seats Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your pro wrestling news from Cageside Seats