JOHNNY GARGANO vs. DREW GULAK - 8.5/10
Now that's how you open a wrestling show! With eighteen minutes of solid, pure wrestling (plus one perfectly-placed dive).
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. Su Yung and Mr. A came out on behalf of the Premier Athlete Brand. Su relayed a message from Tony Nese that Gargano's win over him last night was a fluke and he wants a rematch. She also warned Johnny that if he ever tries to help Rich Swann again, there will be consequences. Johnny responds to this by asking "what are you going to do, Su; give me herpes, too? This was a wonderful line because it actually makes fun of Swann- who Gargano now respects but still doesn't like- as well.
Su ordered Mr. A to punish Gargano for saying that about her, but Johnny easily took the big klutz down with a drop toe-hold and locked him in the Garga-No Escape. The Premier Athlete Brand ran out to help Mr. A so Gargano bailed. Nese started to yell at Mr. A for being a failure but Caleb Konley got everyone to calm down and head to the back.
TIMOTHY THATCHER vs. TRACY WILLIAMS - 6.75/10
Thatcher smiled during his entrance again, which dispels my theory that his smile last night was some sort of accident. He wound up having a good reason to smile, though, as picked up the win here in a fun grappling contest.
RODERICK STRONG vs. DREW GALLOWAY - 9/10
Ring announcer Heather Lynn accidentally introduced Galloway as "Drew McIntyre." Lenny Leonard immediately said "I hope she's got a good lawyer," and I like to think that this screw up is the reason Gabe booked her to get accidentally kicked in the head by Drew on the next sow and written off.
Drew cut a promo putting Roddy over and putting the fans over and saying that he wants to do what he said he would do and defend the title anywhere and everywhere that he can, but the referee told him that while EVOLVE officials appreciate that Drew is willing to do so, "it's all about the rankings" now so he can only defend the title against people who earn their title shots based on being placed highly in the rankings, and because this is Roddy's first weekend in, he hasn't made it into the rankings yet. This announcement predictably got booed, and I'm a little surprised that Gabe did this because it makes the company itself come off as the heel denying the fans what they want. It makes the new top babyface more of a babyface so I can see why he did it, but it's definitely risky ground to play on.
The referee (Brandon Toley) told Roddy that he could get a title shot if he beat Drew (in respectable manner, of course, because that sort of thing is also reflected in the rankings. Roddy arrogantly insisted that there was no question of "if" he would beat Drew because he has beaten pretty much everyone and said that he would prove that Drew was a "failure" as Evolve Champion, just like he was "a failure in WWE." Roddy then hit Drew with the microphone (while both the referee and Drew had their backs turned) and started beating on Drew, resulting in the referee calling for the bell to start the match.
Despite Roddy's heelish hot start, Drew quickly fired up and started to chop the sh*t out of Roddy and holy sh*t did this get intense. These guys just beat the sh*t out of each other for almost twenty minutes, with a whole bunch of well-executed and believable false finishes. Drew got the win, which seemed off considering everything that had been set up before the match started, but Roddy attacked him afterwards and laid him out with Drew's own title belt, which continues the feud but without justification for a title match... which I guess does create an opening in which they can once again push the idea that Drew wants to defend the title but EVOLVE officials won't let him, but I'm not quite sure where the endgame to that is so I'm not sure it's worthwhile. It does also let you have another match which Roddy can win so their eventual blow-off where Drew retains the title will be the rubber match rather than the feud ending at 1-1, so I guess that's something.
ZACK SABRE JR. vs. BIFF BUSICK - 8.75/10
An insane display of technical wrestling, with the story of the match being Biff's attempts to lock in the Rear Naked Choke despite all of the cringe-inducing, torturous things that Zack was doing to his arms. A few wrestlers had slipped into the crowd to watch this match, including Timothy Thatcher, who Busick yelled at afterwards due to still being upset with losing this year's Style Battle tournament to Thatcher via tie-breakers.
THREE-WAY ELIMINATION MATCH FOR THE DGUSA OPEN THE UNITED GATE TITLES:
The Bravado Brothers(c) (w/Moose) vs. A.R. Fox & Rich Swann vs. The Premier Athlete Brand (w/Su Yung & Mr. A) - 8.75/10
This was supposed to just be the P.A.B. vs. the Bravados but A.R. Fox came out and said that he was using the right to pick his own match (which he had won at an earlier show) to put himself in this match. One of the Bravados said he couldn't be in this match because he didn't have a partner, but Rich Swann, who is involved in a feud with the P.A.B. was already making his way to the ring to be Fox's partner. In a little touch I really liked, Fox said that he also wants a shot at the DGUSA Open The Freedom Gate Title, but he didn't need to waste "book your own match" on it because he thinks he'll be placed high enough in the rankings coming out of this weekend to earn a shot at that belt anyway. All in one sentence this put over the DGUSA Open The Freedom Gate Title as also being important to Fox and building to Fox challenging for that belt, put over the importance of the rankings, and explained why Fox was going for the tag titles rather than a singles title when he didn't even have a partner.
This whole match was an absolutely crazy spotfest. A.R. Fox even found a high place to dive off of. Fox got a roll-up on the one of the Bravados to ensure that we would have new champs coming out of this match. The Bravados didn't take too kindly to that and assaulted Fox while the P.A.B. took advantage and double-teamed Swann. Then the P.A.B. and Bravados had a confrontation which ended when Mr. A laid Moose out with a Spinning Wheel Kick. Despite this, Nese still yelled at Mr. A.
The match continued as a spotty tag match with the heels having control most of the time. Rich Swann did get some revenge on Su Yung, albeit accidentally, when he tried to kick Konley but Konley ducked and Su got nailed. From there they did one more CRAZY bump and then we got the finish, right at the peak. This was NUTS.
DGUSA OPEN THE FREEDOM GATE TITLE MATCH:
Ricochet(c) vs. Uhaa Nation - 8/10
The story of this match was power vs. speed, but not quite in the usual way. Nation is an absolute freak of an athlete, so early on Ricochet joked that he wasn't even sure if he had the speed advantage. Ricochet then set to work working over Nation's knee to ensure that he had it. Nation's selling could have been better, and he certainly did more flipping and running than I would have in such a situation, but they still captured the essence of the story that Ricochet now had the speed advantage and used that to control the match... until Nation managed to catch him and slam him down and then Nation took over (including one absolutely crazy false finish) before Ricochet made his comeback and got the win to retain his title.
This was an absolutely INSANE show and if I had seen it back when it happened I probably would have voted for it for Show of the Year. EVOLVE's transformation continues with the new tag champs, Zack Sabre Jr. and Roderick Strong coming off as huge players in their first full weekends with the company, the likes of Busick, Thatcher being established not just as regulars but as solid up and comers able to put on excellent matches and who are clearly on the rise, and the debut of one of the most important men in this company over the next several years, Tracy Williams. Next up is Evolve 36, where even more changes will occur, but this time more focused on the factions in the company.