WrestleMania Weekend: Evolve 102 Review

Image result for evolve sabre riddle

A big old main event. Credit: Evolve

After the joys of Bloodsport, it’s time for WrestleMania weekend to get a bit more serious with Evolve 102. I can happily confirm that I am now sober and ready for some lovely Gabe booked action. Let’s dish out some stars.

DJZ defeated Austin Theory

DJZ has become a bit of an indie darling which is not something you would have predicted back in his BroMan days.

The early story was Z’s attempts to fly being combatted by Theory’s brains. Twice he went for dives only to find Austin had slid under the ring and come out the other side to attack from behind. You should never try the same trick more than once, though, because as Theory came in for his second attack Z launched him back over the top and finally hit his goal.

A lot of the aforementioned praise for DJZ has come from spots like that and his willingness to put his body on the line. He’s earning a reputation for being a bit of a daredevil, so I was pleasantly surprised to see he was a lot more than that. While he did fly, these two were also putting together a well-worked contest that didn’t rely on over the top stuntman like performances to shine.

It wasn’t all down to DJZ either. I’ve been a bit down on Theory in the past, finding him to be a bit bland. Well, this was the best performance I’ve seen from him (it’s worth noting I am not a religious Evolve watcher, I bounce in and out). He was as crisp as a cold winter’s day, and between the two of them, it looked almost effortless.

In the end, going high risk would prove to be Theory’s mistake rather than Z’s. He took things to the top rope where DJZ was able to wiggle out and hit a Sunset Flip Powerbomb before following up with the ZDT for an abrupt win.

A solid start to the show. It was fast-paced with both men impressing. Lovely stuff.

Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars

Austin Theory got on the mic and had a tantrum about losing. He then went on to challenge Lee for his WWN Title tomorrow, promising to put his own FIP belt on the line. One of them must have a booking elsewhere because he made it the opener too.

Will Ospreay defeated AR Fox

AR Fox came out with his entourage having a lovely old time. Will didn’t have any friends, although he deserves credit just for being there after last Sunday.

It took two minutes for these two to plaster a massive grin on my face. Partly because I was having a lovely time and partly because I imagined all the internet twats turning red as Ospreay and Fox danced around each other. If Z vs Theory was smooth, then this one was a smooth as a really smooth person sliding on ice (yea, that one needs work). I’m going to stop saying the word smooth now.

Look, you know what you’re getting from these two. It was a face-off to see who could do the coolest things. While AR Fox spent a bit of time trying to floor Will, he still took flight at every chance he got. They were working at video game levels of speed with the moves looking nicer than anything a group of pixels could too.

It wasn’t all flips, though. Ospreay has been making a conscious effort to add more striking elements to his game, so it was no surprise to see Fox and him swing some big old blows at each other. It would eventually lead to a sick looking powerbomb from Will which seemed to be setting up the finish until the screamy member of Fox’s entourage got involved. If she weren’t incredibly annoying, I’d find out her name. That It only served to piss Will off as he dove on to all of them at ringside seconds later.

He followed up with a Robinson Special and an OsCutter (which Fox took straight onto his head) to take things home. If you love flippy boy wrestling, then you have no reason to miss this one.

Verdict: Four And A Quarter Stars

The End (Parrow and Odinson) defeated WorkHorsemen (Anthony Henry and James Drake), Catch Point (Dominic Garinni and Tracy Williams) and Doom Patrol (Chris Dickinson and Jaka) in a match with too many rules to explain here

Lovely Gabe booked action? More like overbooked Gabe action. What the hell was going on here. Right, let’s try to make sense of it. It’s one fall to a finish with no need for tags. I  thought they were saying it was Lucha rules, but nope, it was just a big old rumble. As if all of that wasn’t chaotic enough, Doom Patrol will lose their belts if, and only if, they get pinned which kind of takes away the whole point of multi-man title matches. Did you get all that? Good.

After a big brawl to start things off, Catch Point and Doom Patrol were left in the ring. Stokely Hatheway asked Garinni to lie down for Dickinson which he did. Williams wasn’t having that and quickly broke it up. A burst of storytelling in among all the chaos.

Chaos is the only word for this. There was far too much going on here. It had its moments. I enjoyed James Drake hitting an impressive moonsault for a guy that big only for Odinson to break up the pin by throwing Anthony Henry at it. The problem was the numerous logic gaps involved. The End won by pinning Henry, but why would they bother? Wouldn’t they have been better dumping him over the barrier and going after Doom Patrol?

If you enjoy lots of big boys beating the crap out of each other, then give it a watch. However, I think you’ll see better examples of that over the course of the weekend.

Verdict: Three Stars

Keith Lee defeated Darby Allin

There is a slight size discrepancy here. Last year at WrestleMania weekend Darby Allin arguably broke out in that insane fight with Ethan Page. Since then he’s challenged for the Evolve Title and become everyone’s favourite nutter.

He was going to have to embrace that side of himself to take Keith Lee down. In the early going, he seemed to find a path to success. Bouncing around Lee, flipping off the ropes and going for as many speed moves as possible. Lee’s a big bugger, though and it only took him connecting with one Pounce to a flying Allin for the momentum to change.

If this had just been Keith Lee chucking Darby Allin around the ring, I’d have been happy. There were several moments where he just picked him up, spun him around and threw him away. They weren’t moves, it was more like a man disposing of trash.

Allin’s main problem came with actually hurting Lee enough to keep him down. He hit a Coffin Drop while Keith was draped across the ropes and the big man still bounced to his feet rather than hitting the mat. Meanwhile, Lee’s moves were flattening the Darby. It was very much a case of Allin having more guts than brains.

That’s precisely what it should have been too. I like Darby Allin a lot, but he’s not a winner. Beating men like Keith Lee isn’t the way to elevate him. Battling valiantly before getting destroyed is. He’s an underdog who gained more from climbing to his feet after Lee Spirit Bombed him through the ring than most would from winning. He’s at his very best when he’s getting the shit kicked out of him by men five times his size, which meant that this was cracking.

Verdict: Four Stars

Keith Lee accepted Theory’s challenge post-match. I wonder whether one of them has got a WWE contract. I know they’ve both been rumoured to be on the radar.

After that promo Darby crawled towards Lee, using his leg to pull himself up to the microphone before demanding Keith keeps beating him up. That was awesome.

He didn’t get his wish from Keith Lee, so Jarek 120 turned up to provide it instead. Apparently, he wants Allin’s spot on the roster which should make for an entertaining feud.

RINGKAMPF (WALTER and Timothy Thatcher) defeated Munenori Sawa and Daisuke Sekimoto

Confession time, I don’t know much about Sekimoto or Sawa. In fact, I don’t know anything about them. I’m excited to learn! Especially as they’re going up against two of the very best boys. Who doesn’t love RINGKAMPF? Even if those horrible Evolve fans continue to be mean to Big Tim.

By the time Sekimoto and WALTER were chopping each other I was sold. It was like two brick walls had come to life and decided that all they wanted to do with their sentience was wage war on each other. Amazingly, it led to RINGKAMPF isolating Sekimoto. It’s not often you see a man that size being kept in his opponents’ corner. Then again, it’s not usually a man like WALTER doing the isolating. He and Thatcher were putting on a clinic in tag team wrestling broke up by big old hoss battles being The Ring General and Sekimoto.

When Sawa finally got the hot tag, he and Thatcher decided to get in on the striking action. Sawa is rapid, his hands flashing out and connecting before Big Tim saw them coming. Apparently, this was his first match in seven years. Judging by what I saw, he hasn’t missed a step. They grappled and struck at a fantastic pace which was a perfect contrast to the slugfests their partners provided.

Look, there was a lot of beef involved here. Even Sawa, the least beefy boy, brought a couple of slabs to the party. Nothing they did was particularly fancy. However, it all looked like it hurt. I love my flippy boys, but one slam from Sekimoto had more impact than 95% of what they do. The German that he hit on WALTER (with an assisting kick from Sawa) looked like it should have murdered the big Austrian.

RINGKAMPF ended up picking up the victory as they got duel Gojira Clutches locked on. I’m not sure it really mattered, though. The real winners are fans of big boys slapping each other.

Verdict: Four And A Half Stars

Stokely Hathaway came out to badmouth RINGKAMPF ahead of their title fight with Doom Patrol at Mercury Rising. Darby Allin then interrupted him and continued his mission to be witness to his own murder by demanding WALTER fight him now. He got a powerbomb in response to that. They’re facing off at Evolve 103.

Matt Riddle defeated Zack Sabre Jr to win the Evolve World Title

It’s worth remembering that only a few hours before this Matt Riddle had a shoot style match with Minoru Suzuki. In fact, WALTER and Tim Thatcher were involved in that show too. If you’d like to read my drunken review of Matt Riddle’s Bloodsport, please click here. Sorry, I shouldn’t use Evolve main events to plug my shit.

Riddle vs Sabre is always an intriguing match-up. Riddle is one of the few guys who can go to the ground with Sabre and hold his own. That played into the early goings as Riddle was coming out on top as often as Zack on the mat. At one point he pushed him up with the soles of his feet before dropping him down and almost slipping into an armbar as ZSJ had to scramble to escape.

The real gamechanger is that not only can Riddle wrestle with Sabre, he can also outpower him with combinations of strikes and suplexes. It all amounts to him being one of the rare examples of a wrestler who can go into a Zack Sabre Jr fight and lay claim to being the favourite.

Not that things were all going Riddle’s way. I said he could compete on the ground with ZSJ not that he would always win. Sabre was able to target Riddle’s leg and start using his lack of boots to his advantage, twisting The King Of Bros foot and even bending his toes back.

It all added up to a meticulous contest that at times was almost too well thought out. It lacked the aggression that brings the best out of Zack.  We never got dickhead ZSJ. I want him stamping on heads and calling people a wanker. I don’t want him selling German Suplexes.

Not that it was terrible, I doubt these two could be terrible, it just felt like they could have gone to the next level and slipped up one more gear in that closing section. Which kind of brings me back to what I said a few hundred words ago. It was Riddle’s second match of the night, and he still had one more to go. I’m sure of the three, this is the one he viewed as the most important, but he’s still a human being. He’s got a body he needs to protect. On a regular Evolve weekend, he can give everything to Evolve. On WrestleMania weekend where he has roughly 25,000 things booked, that’s not a luxury he can afford.

All of which sounds horribly negative and I don’t mean it too. I still thought it was good. Riddle’s main events tend to fall into a big move formula with people kicking out of everything. However, Zack tempers that mentality. It becomes so submission based that you don’t get a hundred two counts. You get a hundred examples of his octopus-like limbs sneaking him out of trouble. On this night, though, it didn’t matter how many limbs he seemed to have. Riddle powered out of Orienteering with Napalm Death and managed to lock in the Bromission. A few seconds later, the submission master was tapping.

Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars

Overall Show

A damn fine show from Evolve. It’s weird writing about this so soon after doing Bloodsport because they couldn’t be more different. While that was chaotic fun Evolve was classic pro wrestling. Well worked matches with storylines being set-up that will run throughout the weekend. Gabe still knows what he’s doing.

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