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Evolve 131 recap & review: Lauren and Blackheart had a war, Paul Heyman showed up, and Theory unified the titles

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Austin Theory vs. JD Drake at Evolve 131 WWE Network

The show opens bang on time on the WWE Network with a video package featuring all the Evolve alumni who have gone on to WWE success.

Lenny Leonard is in the ring with about half of the roster to welcome us to the show before passing things to Trevin Adams as Harlem Bravado blasts Stephen Wolf off the apron with a boot!

Trevin gives the mic to Josh Briggs, who says tonight he’s taking his opportunity and he wants his match right now!

Anthony Greene vs. Josh Briggs

Briggs in control with throws and backbreakers early but Greene starts chipping away, a tijeras here, a bit of interference from Brandi Lauren at ringside there, and he gets to work on the injured leg of the big man. Jockeying for position on the apron, AG knocks him down but Josh chokeslams him on the damn apron! Greene keeps his head in the game, though, kick to the leg and a superkick sets up an Ace Crusher on the apron!

Back inside, turning crossbody gets Anthony a nearfall! Chopping away in the corner, arm drag into the turnbuckles was pretty slick and he follows it up by stomping away at the big man’s bad leg. Briggs dipping his foot back in, passing AG to the floor, deck him with a leaping lariat when he returns! Charging strikes, superkick counters the big boot at first but Josh follows through with it!

More boots, off the ropes, swinging backbreaker into a Crash Landing backbreaker... NOPE! Jockeying for position, again Greene leveraging the leg but Josh’s strength keeps him from converting and Briggs nails him with a sit-out Dominator... STILL NO! Shrugs off an enzuigiri but the second one lands and AG turns him inside out with a back suplex and a sick Emerald Flowsion variant to set up a half-crab!

Headed up top to follow it up, 450 splash comes up empty but he rolls through, Josh puts him in the corner but Anthony schoolboys him hard into the turnbuckles to get him back where he wanted him! Up top again, jockeying for position, Lauren again interfering and she gets thrown out by referee Jake Clemons! Greene with an avalanche victory roll... NOT ENOUGH!

Superkicks on superkicks but Briggs blocks... GO TO HELL! Upkicks to block the crab, goozle denied and AG just pastes him with punches until Josh gets the goozle...

Josh Briggs wins by pinfall with the M6, which is the name for his new choke powerbomb.

Hell of an opener! Good back and forth action, and a damn good way to kick off the first indie show ever broadcast on the WWE Network.

Ooh, video packages aired DURING the show, that’s the WWE Network touch. This is the “Meet the Unwanted” video they put up earlier in the week.

Curt Stallion vs. Harlem Bravado vs. Sean Maluta vs. Stephen Wolf

Wolf going after Bravado, they end up on the floor, Maluta has Stallion in the ring but Curt gets a count off a double stomp! Whip reversed, Bravado gets blasted off the apron by Sean, jockeying for position, backslide into a roundhouse kick and a rolling neckbreaker! Stephen on the button with a dropkick, getting into it with Maluta and wiping him out with a diving crossbody!

Harlem interrupts, Stallion comes in and starts chopping away at him only to get his face booted off! Wolf off the ropes... TOPE CON GIRO! Sean with the senton atomico to the floor, Curt follows it up... CORKSCREW TOPE! Back inside, Maluta manages to overcome Stallion only for Bravado to low bridge him to the floor. Reverse STO / inverted DDT combo gets Harlem a two count!

Wolf whips him into the corner, Maluta elbows him off the top and then lays into everybody with superkicks! Two count on Stephen, they jockey for position and both men end up wiped out after a double crossbody! Wolf recovering faster, enzuigiri nails Bravado, Stallion German suplexes Sean and he and Wolf form a brief alliance! Of course they end up slugging it out after, Stephen with a wicked rolling elbow but Harlem nails him with a boot!

The match breaks down a bit, everybody doing a thing, Wolf recovered first again, Bravado ducks him, pop-up Death Valley Driver! Moving on to Curt, Straight Cash, Homie blocked, roll through, Air Raid Crash neckbreaker! Codebreaker from Maluta, Wolf drops him with a Blue Thunder Driver and heads up top! Jockeying for position... CURT STALLION MOONSAULT RUSSIAN LEGSWEEP! STRAIGHT CASH, HOMIE! WOLF OFF THE TOP...

Stephen Wolf wins by pinfall with a 450 splash on Harlem Bravado.

SCRAMBLE! SCRAMBLE! SCRAMBLE! These are always fun and this was no disappointment. Not the most incredible example of this kinda match, but still, a lot of fun especially later on when it really got wild.

Anthony Henry vs. Arturo Ruas

Both men flashing out the gates with knockout strikes but neither connects! Into the brawling, Ruas looking to grab a hold but Henry gets the ropes! Jawing away, but Anthony shoots in, takes him down, looking for the armbar but Arturo has his hands clasped and rolls out of it! His own cross armbar blocked, Henry posts to his feet, raining punches down only toget caught by the bodyscissors takedown back into an armbar attempt!

Anthony reverses, Ruas gets the counter powerbomb! Raining punches down, a shockingly deep cover but Henry’s staying in the fight! Punches in the corner, Anthony gasping and crawling back up the ropes so Arturo chokes him for a beat. A knee connects, Henry gets up but stumbles trying to land a forearm! Back on his feet, palm strikes, roll through to a double stomp and Anthony’s not done yet!

Duck a lariat, reverse roundhouse kick, cravate knees, Ruas puts him in the corner but he kickflips up top and hits a missile dropkick! Back suplex follows, bridging northern lights and into the armbar but again Arturo’s hands are clasped! He breaks the clasp but Ruas rolls into a pin and forces the break! To the floor, Henry follows with a wicked knee off the apron!

Back in, up top, nobody home on the double stomp and Ruas sidesteps a boot! Blocking a punch, strike rush of his own into a cartwheel boot... NOT ENOUGH! Mounting Anthony, raining forearms down, backing off after two or three, cravate lift onto his shoulders but Henry counters with a sleeper and stays on him after he gets rammed into the turnbuckles again and again!

Kick his leg outta his leg, off the ropes, kick misses and Ruas gets an upkick into a German suplex... NOPE! Probing jabs from the NXT star, Henry gets a boot back, jockeying for position, catch the knee and Anthony rises with iron determination! Buzzsaw roundhouse takes his damn head off! Up in the turnbuckles, Henry perches for a double stomp to the back and follows it with a tornado DDT!

Up top... THE DOUBLE STOMP CONNECTS BUT CAN’T PUT ARTURO RUAS AWAY! Thinking fast, converting to an ankle lock, wrenching it in, Ruas reverses into a heel hook but Henry grabs one of his own! Sitting up, slapping each other full force across the face until they break! To their feet and to their knees, slugging it out punch for punch in the middle of the ring!

Henry with an advantage but he runs into it...

Arturo Ruas wins by pinfall with a reverse roundhouse.

NOW THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT! As I had hoped, they just beat the absolute piss out of each other in the best way. This match ruled. These guys rule. I’m crying. I love pro wrestling.

Brandi Lauren vs. Shotzi Blackheart (No Disqualification Match)

Natalia Markova attacks at the bell and Lauren taunts Blackheart for asking for a no DQ match! Running in, spinning X-Factor, charging reverse roundhouse but Shotzi fires back and lays her out with strikes! Off the ropes, Tiger feint kick, fired up, headed up top and she puts Markova down with a missile dropkick! Both heels together on the floor, off the ropes, suicide dive connects!

Blackheart gets a bunch of chairs out, doing a little bit of ultraviolent feng shui but Brandi is able to dropkick a chair into her face through the ropes! Taking Shotzi around ringside, rearranging the chairs, slugging it out but Lauren is able to put her face-first into the post! Blackheart recovers and bulldozes Brandi through a chair! Lauren cuts her off... APRON POWERBOMB!

Back inside for the cover... NOPE! Shotzi back into it, kick and knee combo, rolling elbow into an enzuigiri... SENTON IN THE CORNER! Shiranui attempt on the apron, Lauren blocks, taking her to the floor, Blackheart busted open and bleeding from the nose but she brings Brandi over to the chairs from earlier and completes her violent design, a pyramid of open chairs!

She sets Lauren up, seated, in the top chair and howls... AND ANTHONY GREENE IS ON THE APRON TO BLOCK! He eats a boot, Blackheart off the ropes... SUICIDE DIVE INTO THE PYRAMID OF CHAIRS BUT HE GOT BRANDI OUT AND SHOTZI WIPES OUT! Back inside for the cover... BLACKHEART WILL NOT STAY DOWN! CURT STALLION AND ANTHONY GREENE ARE BRAWLING WHILE BRANDI WAILS ON SHOTZI WITH A KENDO STICK! IT’S OVER!

Brandi Lauren wins by pinfall with about a dozen kendo stick shots.

Holy crap. I was a little put out by the beginning of the match, figuring they were making it an angle for time constraints and we’d get the “real” match tomorrow night in Massachusetts, but then they kept going, and by the time of the apron powerbomb, I was in. Shotzi Blackheart is a mad, mad woman and I love her so. Bit of an abrupt finish, but it makes sense after that tope into the chairs, good lord.

Babatunde vs. Colby Corino

Corino jawing right away and looking to take it to Babatunde, but he gets taken out to the floor. Pop-up chop from the floor to the apron into a press slam over the top and back inside! Colby recovers enough to blast him off the apron and Sean Maluta runs interference from the floor! Clubbing away, springboard senton atomico... NOPE! Diving again, the Polish giant catches him... CHOKEBOMB INTO THE TURNBUCKLES!

Stinger splash, off the ropes for an elbow drop, off the ropes again...

Babatunde wins by pinfall with the big splash.

This was a hoot for what it was! Colby was never gonna have a chance in hell of winning but he was damn good, as he always is.

Post-match, Eddie Kingston’s got a live microphone on the WWE Network! He says they’ve got a beef with “Baba Booey” and that people like him make them sick, getting everything handed to them because they played football and they’re seven foot whatever, but they traveled the road and did it the right way. And just like the Unwanted did with the Street Profits, they’re gonna take this big goofy bastard out!

They get up on the apron... BUT HERE’S THE SKULK! WE GOT OUR MATCH!

The Skulk (AR Fox & Leon Ruff) vs. the Unwanted (Eddie Kingston & Joe Gacy) (c) (Evolve Tag Team Championship)

DIVES OUT THE GATE! The Skulk gain and maintain control by throwing dive after dive, Ruff in with Gacy, multi-jump headscissors sets up a kick combo into an Ace Crusher, German suplex... KINGSTON MAKES THE SAVE! Malfunction at the junction, Ace Crusher takes Leon out and the tag champs double team Fox! Double forearms on Ruff... NOPE!

Working Leon over... AVALANCHE FLOWSION IS ONLY GOOD FOR TWO! Reverse STO / STO combo takes AR down, that gave Ruff enough time to recover and start laying forearms in! The Skulk turning the tide, jockeying for position, Lo Mein Pain... GACY KICKS OUT! AR thinking Foxcatcher but Eddie nails him with Backfist to the Future! Ruff Ride countered, big lariat combo... STILL NO!

Fox goes Coast 2 Coast, Leon hits Ruff Ride, sucide dive, AR up top...

The Skulk win by pinfall with the 450 splash from AR Fox, winning the Evolve Tag Team Championship!

Hell of a match! Making this relaxed rules / basically a tornado tag was a great idea, because it was just chaos start to finish and a very, very fun time. Stoked to see Ruff get rewarded for the work he’s put in, too, and hey, maybe we can see a little Freebird action with Adrian Alanis?

Post-match, the Skulk celebrate as only they can.

Drew Gulak vs. Matt Riddle

Intense grappling from the jump, very quickly stalemating, shifting to probing strikes, Gulak fighting from his back but Riddle nearly gets him and again we stalemate. Again struggling for dominance on the mat, our Bro with a hammerlock, shifting to a rear chinlock but Drew breaks his grip with relative ease and struggles him into the Gu-Lock! Riddle reverses, looking for the armbar but he’s in the ropes and referee Brandon Tolle calls the break!

Collar and elbow, Matt laying kicks in in the corner, Gulak jumps off the second and gets wasted by a knee strike! The senton follows, looking for the armbar, denied, shift, looking for the Bromission but Drew counters into a cover for one! Back to strikes, Gulak with a straight suplex for another one count! Headscissors, Riddle pops out, Penalty Kick ducked!

Back to standing, peppering each other with punches, Drew briefly with a Gotch cradle before shifting to a side headlock, Matt breaks free, hangs on, rolls through, powerbomb into the knee but Gulak catches it... POWERBOMB OF HIS OWN! AND INTO A HALF-CRAB! Gulak following it up with uppercuts, Riddle returning elbows and chops and palm strikes! Ripcord knee... NOPE!

Senton across the back, Deep Waters up top... BACK SUPERPLEX FROM GULAK BUT OUR BRO KICKS OUT! On their knees, spent, trading strikes and Drew shoots in for a single leg only for Riddle to block and hammer him with stomps to set up a Penalty Kick... STILL NO! Headbutts from Gulak, full nelson applied, reversed... Riddle’s got the Gu-Lock! Drew reverses but Bro has a triangle and Gulak is only saved by falling into the ropes!

Small package, Riddle kicks out, forearms, fisherman buster... NOT ENOUGH! Into the apron, Riddle’s got a sleeper hold but Gulak hangs him over the top rope to break! Matt runs back over... SPRINGBOARD GERMAN SUPLEX! Back up top... CORKSCREW MOONSAULT GETS CAUGHT INTO THE GU-LOCK! RIDDLE’S GOT NOWHERE TO GO BUT HE REVERSES OUT... GOTCH TOMBSTONE PILEDRIVER! IT’S OVER!

Matt Riddle wins by pinfall with a Gotch Tombstone Piledriver.

WHAT A MATCH THIS WAS! But then, did you expect anything different? I think not. The spirit Catch Point lives on, my friends.

Post-match, Gulak gets on the mic and says Catch Point was founded on three things-- competition, opportunity, and respect. He stands here as WWE Cruiserweight Champion in the middle of an Evolve ring, and Bro is a hell of a competitor that he respects and it is always an honor. They share a Catch Point handshake and a hug before Curt Stallion hits the ring.

Drew talks him up and says he hopes Curt is up to the task of facing Riddle tomorrow.

Bryan Idol is introduced as the special guest ring announcer here... for some reason. He coughs and fails to do much of anything and the lights go down. When they come back up... PAUL HEYMAN IS IN THE RING?!

He introduces himself and says he’s honored and privileged to be back home. He says for many years he’s been offered guest spots on shows and at conventions, and to be honest and personal for a moment, he wasn’t invited to come here tonight because they know he always turns them down, so he asked to be here tonight. And the reason why-- he takes a minute to handle a heckler-- the reason why is because everyone here is the future.

He doesn’t want to be one of the old-time boxers sitting watching black and white film saying “that used to be me”, he wants to scout the future of the industry. So for that reason, and because he’s fat and sweating his ass off, he’s going to hang around and ring announce this next match! Five years from now, he says, on YouTube or wherever’s hot, when you watch the video you’re gonna play this match and say to yourself that was the moment we knew this industry is going to evolve.

Austin Theory (Evolve) vs. JD Drake (WWN) (Evolve World Championship / WWN Championship Winner Takes All Match)

Going for finishers early, no dice, brawling on the floor and up the ramp and Theory mocks Drake for taking fifteen years to get to Evolve! Back inside, no good, Austin trying for chops and of course, JD gives them back in kind and just lays him right out! Theory clubbing away, stomping, cutthroat choke and then a back suplex into a standing moonsault... NOPE!

The Blue Collar Badass staggered but fighting back into it with chops, chest all welted up, shrugging off Austin’s striking and rising to his feet filled with determination, demanding to be hit in the face! HE TELLS THEORY HE CAN’T HIT HIM HARDER THAN LIFE HAS! Off the ropes, big slam gets Drake some time but when he charges in he gets drop toeholded into the turnbuckles and eats the rolling thunder dropkick!

Jockeying for position in the corner, JD drags him to the floor... POP-UP HAYMAKER! BIG MAN SUICIDE DIVE! Back inside, fired up, running chop into a body slam, up top... VADER BOMB IS ONLY GOOD FOR TWO! Stomp to the chest, headed back up top, no good, Austin gets the blockbuster for two! Looking for Ataxia to follow it up but Drake hosses him up and throws him into the corner!

Chop in the corner, hoisting him up, another chop reverberates across the ECW Arena! Theory slips under, looking for a powerbomb, denied... THEORY GETS THE ARGENTINE POWERBOMB ON THE BIG MAN! Back body drop, charge into a boot, rolling thunder... COUNTERED INTO A STUNNER AND AUSTIN THEORY FLOPS LIKE A FISH ON DRY LAND! CANNONBALL! DRILL BIT! IS THIS IT?! THEORY KICKS OUT!

Up top... THE MOONSAULT CONNECTS BUT HE CAN’T PUT AUSTIN AWAY! Nose to nose on their knees, slugging it out, rising to their feet, a back elbow and a superkick gets JD staggered but he blocks Ataxia and lays the Evolve Champion out with a lariat! Up top again... NOBODY HOME ON THE MOONSAULT! SUPERKICK! SUPERKICK! SUPERKICK! UNDERHOOK, ATAXIA...

Austin Theory wins by pinfall with Ataxia, winning the WWN Championship.

My god. I’m disappointed at the result, because JD Drake is probably my favorite active wrestler today, so of course I want him to win everything, but the emotion here is off the charts! Theory berating him for taking fifteen years to get here, Drake telling him he can’t hit harder than life... This was an incredible match and I want to crawl inside of it and just live in the Blue Collar Badass’ energy for a while.

Post-match, Theory gets on the mic and says everyone knows Evolve is where it’s at and they’re gonna try their hardest to get here and chase their dreams-- he drops the WWN Championship and steps on it-- and realize that the Evolve Championship symbolizes that your dream has to go through him. He says he’s the measuring stick and the real superstar, and the lights go out.

When they come back up, Josh Briggs is standing behind Theory! CHOKESLAM! Briggs holds the Evolve World Championship high.

Adam Cole (c) vs. Akira Tozawa (NXT Championship)

Collar and elbow, struggle in the feeling out, break in the corner and Cole taunts. Tozawa going after the arm, wristlock, reversed, side headlock as the crowd starts to get behind the Stamina Monster. Adam targeting the neck and back to get back in the fight, trying to grind Akira down with a reverse chinlock but when he starts jawing at Tozawa, that’s a clear mistake.

Slugging it out, the Dragon Gate striker pulling ahead, off the ropes with a sliding boot that sends Cole to the floor... SUICIDE DIVE FOLLOWS IT UP! Back in, Cole sidesteps the second so Akira improvises, cannonball senton off the apron! Back inside, up top, missile dropkick... NOPE! Jockeying for position, Tozawa wants the Everest but Cole gets an enzuigiri and a lungblower for two!

Fireman’s carry neckbreaker over the knee, still only two! Hammering Tozawa with strikes but the Stamina Monster stands up, determination in his heart, giving every forearm back twice as hard! Laying into the champion, only more fired up after running into a boot! Trading shots, fakeout into the Tozawa Right, superkick, both men are down and out!

Akira wakes up first, up top, he gets cut off, jockeying for position... TOZAWA DIVES INTO A SUPERKICK! BRAINBUSTER OVER THE KNEE... STILL NO! Cole gets the title out, referee Brandon Tolle yells at him to put it away or get DQ’d... JOHNNY GARGANO IS HERE! Tozawa with a schoolboy and a snap German suplex off the distraction, rolling solebutt, slip under, 540 enzuigiri, up top... KNEES UP ON THE DIVING SENTON!

PANAMA SUNRISE! OFF THE ROPES... LAST SHOT! IT’S OVER!

Adam Cole wins by pinfall with Last Shot, retaining the NXT Championship.

This didn’t have the highest stakes (sorry Tozawa, I love you but you’re not winning the NXT title on an Evolve show) and it was a little more chinlock-y than I’d have liked, but it was still a real enjoyable pro wrestling contest, especially in the final stretch when it got intense. Good stuff!

Post-match, Cole and Gargano have a standoff before Adam leaves and Johnny checks on Tozawa.

He asks the crowd to give it up for him and says every time he steps back in this building he’s reminded how much he loves what he does. He was at the very first Dragon Gate USA show in this building back in 2009, and now he’s back, live on WWE Network, and that tells him two things-- one, he’s getting old, and two, pro wrestling in 2019 is pretty freakin’ cool! And it’s because each and every single one of us make this what it is, and we have no idea.

Back in the day, he used to close these things by asking a very particular question. It’s been a while, and he asks Akira if he remembers the question, to which Tozawa correctly answers “Did you enjoy the show?” Johnny says there’d be no Tozawa, no Cole, no Gargano, if it wasn’t for the fans letting them live their dreams, and he wants to ask one more thing, for the guys in that locker room, for the future of pro wrestling.

For the JD Drakes, the Austin Theories, the Shotzi Blackhearts, the Josh Briggs, and he wants us to support them as much as we did him. He thanks us for letting him live his dream, but we’re running out of Network time so he needs to wrap this up, and he does so by saying he loves every single one of us and he loves Evolve, too.

Overall

Indulge me in a bit of storytime, friends.

Five years ago I was closeted, sad, and miserable, and pro wrestling was my only lifeline to the world. Unable and unwilling to address the gender-shaped hole in my soul, I doubled down and started watching as much indie wrestling as I could justify spending money on, and soon enough, I found myself watching Evolve regularly starting in August 2014.

Thanks to men like Biff “Oney Lorcan” Busick, Drew Gulak, Zack Sabre, Jr., and Timothy Thatcher, I soon found myself with a new favorite wrestling promotion, and the next fall, when a working agreement with WWE was announced, I knew I wanted to help bring new eyes to the shows, what with Evolve being in the news suddenly. So beginning with Evolve 49, I took to the FanPosts here and started writing.

That soon turned into a staff position and then an actual paid contract, and at the beginning of 2018, when all my coping mechanisms failed and I finally had to come out to myself as a transgender woman, that steady income gave me the confidence to know I’d be able to transition, no matter how slowly I may have had to take it.

Without Evolve, without this working agreement, without this exact set of circumstances that lead us to today... I don’t want to guess at how my life would have turned out. So to see that working agreement finally blossom, well... I cried about four times during the show, overwhelmed with the emotion of seeing the show I love make it to the big time, so to speak.

Enough of my overwrought backstory, how was the show?

Evolve 131 was a perfect encapsulation of everything that makes Evolve great. Start to finish, this is a show that barely ever lets up for a moment, just good to great wrestling match after good to great wrestling match, with just enough storyline intrigue peppered in to keep things moving.

Ruas/Henry, Riddle/Gulak, and Drake/Theory are my picks for match of the night, with Blackheart/Lauren only the tiniest fraction behind. Storyline-wise, the Unwanted fall a step behind losing the tag titles but can focus their rage on Babatunde, Theory will be completely unsufferable with the singles titles unified in his hands, and Blackheart and Lauren are about to turn the heat up even higher.

Plus the show LOOKED great on WWE Network, with the production values pretty well refined past Evolve’s usual and often rough standards, and the ebb and flow of the show was improved by the interstitial video packages between every match. There were a couple of hitches here and there, a video package not starting on time, a mixed-up tron graphic, but really, my only real complaint is that the audio was a bit low and I had to turn my TV up nearly double what I normally have it on to be able to follow along.

Check the VOD out on WWE Network, folks, it’s a good one!