This show is actually taking place outside, with the ring set up right in the middle of an inner-city alley, surrounded by old brick buildings with graffiti on the walls (some of which seems oddly Mario-inspired). It looks COMPLETELY AWESOME! Major props are due to whoever it was that found the coolest alley in all of Jacksonville.
** PRE-SHOW **
TREVOR LEE & ZANE RILEY vs. JASON CADE & AARON EPIC -2/10
Extremely short, but they packed a bunch of stuff into it.
FIP TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Juicy Product (c) vs. Dos Ben Dejos - 4.75/10
Good for the time it got.
** MAIN SHOW **
LINCE DORADO vs. ANTHONY NESE (w/Caleb Konley) - 4/10
The graphic said that Nese was accompanied by Su Yung instead of Caleb Konley. Whoops. Nese won a relatively short match with a single-leg crab. He kept the hold locked in for a bit after the match and demanded that the referee raise his hand afterwards. The announcers put over that Nese is now acting more aggressively after losing an Evolve World Title match last night.
CALEB KONLEY PROMO - Good. He announced that Su Yung is no longer with the Premier Athlete Brand because she is "an incompetent slut." The "slut" part comes from them being very upset at the revelation that she slept with their babyface rival Rich Swann, and the "incompetent" part... I'm not really sure where that comes from. I don't recall any of her interferences on their behalf backfiring this weekend. This actually got some good heat. Konley also said that he and Nese want to get out of here so they can go party, so even though it is scheduled for later in the show, he wants to have his match against Chris Hero right now. Hero comes out, and we get...
CHRIS HERO vs. CALEB KONLEY (w/Anthony Nese) - 6.75/10
This was one of those Hero strike-heavy matches that for whatever reason just didn't click with me and didn't feel like it built particularly well. Hero's style is such that this sort of thing just seems to happen every once in a while, and I'm not really sure what makes it different from the matches that do work for me except that I just didn't feel it. Hero picked up the win, but they did do a bit to put over how Nese's distractions from the outside have been helping Konley as well as Konley's continued verbal disrespect towards more established top names in the company, both points that follow up from last night's Konley vs. Garagno match.
STYLE BATTLE 2014 TOURNAMENT ROUND ROBIN CHALLENGE MATCH:
James Raideen vs. Timothy Thatcher - 5.75/10
Both men come into this match at 1-1, as are the two guys in the other match, so tiebreakers will come into play to decide the winner unless there is a draw. If there is going to be a draw, it won't be in this match, as Thatcher picked up the win. They told a very interesting story here, with Raideen relying on his strength advantage not just offensively, but defensively as well, clasping his own arms and holding on tight to prevent Thatcher from locking in his submissions. Eventually, though, Thatcher was able to counter a lariat into his Fujiwara Armbar made Raideen tap out (which he did rather quickly to help get the move over).
STYLE BATTLE 2014 TOURNAMENT ROUND ROBIN CHALLENGE MATCH:
Drew Gulak vs. Biff Busick - 6.75/10
Due to the tiebreakers, if Gulak wins this match he wins the tournament because he has a win over Thatcher, but if Biff wins, Thatcher wins the tournament because Thatcher has the tiebreaker over him. Thatcher came out to watch the match, but unlike most wrestlers, who would stand right in the middle of the aisle or right at ringside, Thatcher stood silently behind the fans in the back row.
These two had a nice, long battle on the mat, just rolling around, jockeying for position and trading submissions before speeding up a bit for a finishing sequence that saw Busick get the win via backslide. As I explained above and as ring announcer Heather Lynn explained to the live crowd, a result of this it is Timothy Thatcher who wins this year's Style Battle Tournament. Busick was unhappy about this, and while I can see why he might be unhappy, he knew this going into the match, so I'm not sure why he was so outraged.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Great! The fans were also unhappy about this, and when Joanna Rose came out to interview Thatcher (with Busick and Gulak in the ring as well), fans were shouting that they wanted a match between Thatcher and Busick. Thatcher politely said that he understand why people would be upset, and would be happy to have a match with Busick at any time. The fans wanted the match right now, but Thatcher pointed out that both he and Busick were pretty beat up.
Then Timothy Thatcher cut a long-winded, almost generic babyface promo. That's a really weird sentence to type. He put everyone over, from his opponents in the tournament to guys who he said "set the stage" for people like them. He said that he believes that it is "our time now." Chris Hero, who Thatcher had named by named as a stage-setter, came out and was very unhappy about this statement because, in his mind, Thatcher's comments "would insinuate that Chris Hero's time is over." Lenny Leonard let us know that he thought Hero was reading too much into Thatcher's statement, and I got that feeling as well, so good job by everyone involved.
Hero then opened up on him, saying "you're not a bad wrestler, but you've been here two minutes. You don't even deserve to say the words 'Chris Hero' into this damn microphone." Thatcher tried to apologize, saying that he meant no disrespect, but Hero was still unhappy. He told Thatcher "if you want this microphone, take it," and held it out for Thatcher to take and Thatcher took it... and then Hero nailed him with a big boot right in the face.
Gulak got in Hero's face over this. Referee Brandon Toley got between them so Gulak went to go check on Thatcher but Hero shoved Toley down and nailed Gulak with an elbow to the head from behind. Now Busick got in Hero's face and squared off with him... and then Hero just rolled out of the ring and walked directly out of the... um... venue... instead of going to the locker room. Lenny Leonard let us know that, in his opinion, Hero would have nailed Busick with an elbow, too, if he had gotten the chance to get him from behind but backed down because Busick was facing him.
This was a very good segment that effectively solidified Hero's heel turn while establishing Thatcher, Busick, and Gulak as babyfaces and setting up for eventual matches not just between the three of them and Hero but also between Thatcher and Busick.
DREW GALLOWAY vs. RICOCHET - 7.25/10
Ricochet worked over Drew's still-injured leg to negate Drew's size advantage, which had been one of the announcers' talking points going into this match. Drew eventually made a comeback, which included picking Ricochet up and throwing him into one of the brick walls of the alley, after which Ricochet then fell about three feet down to the ground. And I mean literal ground because there is no floor because this show is taking place outside. The match was structured around a few big spots of offense for Drew while Ricochet worked the leg in the beginning and then did some of his usual high-flying stuff after that. The match was shorter than you would expect for a champion vs. champion match, even if it was non-title. Drew put Ricochet over on the mic after the match as well, then put the over the locker room and the crowd, and planted the seeds of a rematch that would wind up taking place five months to the day from now. Meanwhile, on commentary, Lenny Leonard began planting the seeds for Title vs. Title match that would take place at Mercury Rising 2015 over WrestleMania weekend.
Johnny Gargano vs. Rich Swann - 9/10
An "Evolution's End" match is one in which regular rules are used inside the ring when you're outside of the ring anything goes, and the winning pinfall or submission must occur inside the ring. This sounds odd, and it was almost entirely a non-factor in this match, which is probably why Gabe never booked another one. That being said, these two guys certainly used the "outside of the ring: anything goes" part of the stip to full effect, after aside from one spot early on to establish this rule to the crowd, they managed to structure the match so that they never once lost momentum when they went back into the ring.
THIS is what a blow-off match should be: two men trying to destroy each other. Both guys worked the head and neck and they used copious amounts of weapons and they made me believe that they wanted to kill each other. Swann gave an absolutely outstanding babyface performance, and was rewarded not only with the victory, but also with Su Yung coming out to cheer him on and show her support in his time of need, confirming that they are indeed an item now.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Or not. Su Yung got Swann's guard down with a big kiss, then hit him in the nuts. Then the Premier Athlete Brand ran out and attacked Swann, revealing that, as Lenny Leonard said in shock and disgust "it was a set-up the whole time!"
Then something even more unexpected happened, as Johnny Gargano, who was being helped to the back by the referee, (after visible a moment of inner conflict) came back to the ring to help his former best friend Rich Swann. After Gargano ran the P.A.B. off, he and Swann had an intense stare-down... but rather than shake hands and make up like you might expect, they gave each other the "I'm watching you" symbol and Gargano went to the back. Swann then cut a promo telling Gargano "I hate you, but thanks for saving my ass." He then asked the crowd if he still deserves the Evolve World Title match he was supposed to have last night before his scheduled opponent Chris Hero lost the title. The crowd said that he did, and it turns out that EVOLVE management listened because Swann would wind up getting a title shot on the very next show.
In the ring, this show averages out to be very good, with the wonderful main event making up for a few of the other matches being a bit disappointing, but the real strength of this show (aside from the main event, obviously) comes from everything else. First of all, there was the atmosphere. As previously discussed, the venue was awesome. Lenny Leonard and Ron Niemi provided excellent commentary which was informative, insightful, and emotional, all in the correct proportions at the correct times. And this crowd. Wow. They were small (I think they packed most of the space they had available to them, but I don't think they could have fit more than eighty people in there, anything), but they were also mighty. MAJOR props are due to them, especially in the main event.
And then, of course, there was the non-wrestling stuff that the wrestlers did. We got some great babyface promos and two major segments that would prove to be game-changers in EVOLVE in the long-run, beginning Gargano's babyface turn, turning Hero heel, and establishing Thatcher as a major babyface player. And speaking of both Timothy Thatcher and establishing major babyface players. I'll be back soon with Evolve 34, where Timothy Thatcher will wrestle a man making just the second of what would prove to be many, many, appearances in EVOLVE (and his first was three and a half years ago, all the way back at Evolve 7: Aries vs. Moxley): Zack Sabre Jr.