ANTHONY HENRY vs. SAIEVE AL SABAH - 7/10
These guys had a great "young guys speedily working their way up the card" opener. Al Sabah got the win, which caught me by surprise. No so much because I don't think Gabe is committed to pushing Al Sabah hard but because Henry is just coming off of his own big establishing singles victory over Timothy Thatcher so I didn't expect him to lose. I figured we were in for a time-limit draw, which seems best to me not only because no one has to lose but because it also build to an inevitable rematch. It's Gabe booking so I'll assume that there was a reason that he needed Al Sabah to win here (or needed Henry to lose here), but Gabe's track record has been uncharacteristically so-so as of late.
PARROW (w/The End) vs. TOMMY MASERATI (w/A.R. Fox & the Skulk) - squash
Fox and the Skulk coming out to Public Enemy's music was fun. Lenny Leonard claiming that Public enemy were the "possibly the greatest tag team in ECW history" was not. In terms of having wrestling matches- or even brawls- that were actually entertaining, I would place them below the Dudleys, the Gangstas, the Eliminators, RVD & Sabu, the Impact Players, Storm & Candido, Sandman & Scorpio, Mikey & Cactus, Mikey & Tajiri, the FBI, Raven & Dreamer, Raven & Stevie, and even the Pit Bulls.
Parrow predictably squashed Maserati like a bug. He then powerbombed him over the top rope and down onto Fox & Friends. They went to the back while Drennan grabbed a mic and cut a promo about the 2300 Arena, simultaneously playing to its history but also saying that it had been "gentrified and sanitized." He called out Odinson's three opponents tonight and said that they would get what they deserve in their match tonight, which happens to be up next.
J.D. Drake vs. Jon Davis vs. Josh Briggs vs. Odinson (w/The End) - 6.75/10
J.D. Drake is the former James Drake, who is now going by J.D. Drake to differentiate himself from the British James Drake "because I'm better." These four large dudes had a fun four-way hoss fight. The finish somehow managed to both feel like it came out of nowhere and yet also felt like a definite and fitting finish from the moment the move was executed.
AUSTIN THEORY vs. DARBY ALLIN - 7.5/10
Priscilla Kelly was not at ringside with Theory tonight because, after she helped him retain the FIP World Heavyweight Title against Darby at FIP Establish Dominance 2018, Theory apparently feels the need to prove that he can beat Darby without her help so he asked her to not be at ringside for this match.
They started off hot and never really let up. The crowd was very pro-Darby (as you would expect) and they were very hot, too. These guys are having one heck of a heated feud, and Darby's win here ensures that it will continue.
On commentary, the announcers pushed the idea that Theory was jealous of Priscilla Kelly getting booked in WWE's Mae Young classic because he always talks about how he is using the WWN as a stepping stone to WWE, but his manager has gotten booked by them before him. They also noted that he showed no concern for Priscilla after pulling her in the way of a Darby Allin dropkick at Establish Dominance 2018, so despite my observation about Priscilla's behavior afterwards in my review of that show, a break-up might well be coming. Another piece of "evidence" for that is the announcers trying to draw a connection between Theory telling Priscilla that he doesn't need her to beat Darby Allin in this match and Theory's rejection of his mentor and trainer A.R. Fox that we've seen on recent shows, so they might well be setting Theory up as an unlikeable loner (as opposed to right now where he is an unlikable person who only gets along with one other person, Priscilla, who also happens to be quite unlikable).
A.R. FOX (w/Ayla Fox & the Skulk) vs. JOEY JANELA (w/Penelope Ford)- 7/10
They tried something Matrix Minute-esque as the opening spot although it only went about fifteen seconds and didn't really look as cool as you would hope (Janela seemed to be the one who was going too slow for it, to my eyes). They spent the rest of the match trading big moves that focused on the head and neck until Fox got the win, setting up a WWN Title match at some point down the line.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Odd. Austin Theory came out and attacked Janela. Both Penelope Ford and the Skulk tried to stop him so Theory took the Skulk out and wound up face to face with A.R. Fox. They began to have a shouting match but Janela got up superkicked Fox into Theory, then attacked both guys. The set-up for the stuff Janela did was pretty contrived. Fox and Theory tried their best to make it look natural, but some things you really just can't save. Ayla got in Janela's face for attacking her husband so Penelope nailed her with a bicycle kick.
I like the idea of this heel turn for Ford and Janela, as it meshes well with the idea that EVOLVE officials really didn't want to bring them in because they are heelish and disruptive and... well... bad, and EVOLVE officials only really brought them in because they thought they would be able to deal with Austin Theory and Priscilla Kelly, figuring that they would be the lesser of two evils. The problem is that right after this, Janela grabbed a mic and cut this big babyface promo about how great Philadelphia wrestling fans are and it doesn't matter what the owners want to call this building because it will always be the ECW Arena and no one will ever be able to "paint over" the history that was made here, etc. It was very much not the sort of promo you cut after a heel turn.
EVOLVE WORLD TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Catchpoint (Chris Dickinson & Jaka)(c) (w/Stokely Hathaway & Dominic Garrini) vs. Tracy Williams & T.K. Cooper - 7.75/10
If you're wondering why T.K. Cooper is teaming with Tracy Williams or why this is a tag title match, I have no idea. The match was as violent and chaotic and hard-hitting as you would expect it to be, though, so that was good. Catchpoint won with a nifty little combo on, but Williams snuck back into the ring while they were celebrating and took Stokely out from behind with a clothesline, then floored both Garrini and Jaka when they care after him.
HARDCORE WAR FOR THE EVOLVE WORLD TITLE:
Matt Riddle(c) vs. Shane Strickland - 9/10
A "Hardcore War" they advertised and a "Hardcore War" they delivered. For almost half an hour these two tried to put each other away using various weapons and the occasional submission hold as well. Strickland worked over both Riddle's arm (with submissions) and his mid-section (with double-stomps). Riddle was his fiery babyface self, spurred on by the extremely-hot, 95% pro-Riddle crowd. They had a number of sick spots excellent false finishes, and Riddle even had one of his fingernails ripped out before Strickland ultimately won with a frightening JML Driver.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - GREAT! Strickland, who had talked trash to Riddle's family during the match, now turned his wrath on everyone else. He rubbed in that Riddle could not continue the EVOLVE tradition of handing the title to the next champion because Riddle had to be immediately taken to the back for medical examination. He also excoriated the locker room for not abiding by the tradition of coming out to congratulate the new champion. He threatened to keep talking- and by doing so hold up the PROGRESS show and damage the WWN's relationship with PROGRESS- unless the locker room came out to congratulate him. The babyfaces finally, grudgingly, came out, and Strickland cut a promo on each other them in turn, having particular moments with both Saieve Al Sabah, who he faces tomorrow night, and Darby Allin. Throughout most of this (especially the times when he was talking to the crowd rather than to other wrestlers) he kept referring to himself in the third person as "Swerve," and managed to pull it off in such a way that it was purely annoying and never once made him sound cool like The Rock did with it. It was wonderful.
Another very GREAT show from EVOLVE, with a consistently strong undercard capped off by an awesome and historic main event. The booking doesn't quite feel as good as it did last year- or even back in May- but things still make sense, and if there is one thing Gabe has excelled at in his career, it's getting new stars over quickly when the need arises, and top heel Shane Strickland has been an excellent example of that. In five shows he has gone from a random bring-in to a completely credible world champion. Hopefully the booking on the rest of the card starts to heat up as well.