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WWNLive returned to action Friday night in Ybor City, Fla. with EVOLVE 51 featuring an EVOLVE Title match, the returns of Drew Galloway and Johnny Gargano , and more big matches…
Trevin Adams opened the show saying they were going to crown EVOLVE Tag Team Champions during a triple shot in January. RPG Vice is the first team in the tournament, which will take place in Ybor City followed by two nights in Orlando.
(1) Peter Kassa vs. Ethan Page. Page didn’t seem like himself during the early going. Kassa dominated the action, but Page hit a fallaway slam. Page favored his ankle before going after Kassa. Kassa shrugged off an enziguri and hit a dead-lift German with a bridge for a 2 count. They went back and forth and Kassa hit a moonsault into a swinging DDT. He eventually draped an arm over Page for a 2 count. Kassa hit the Saske special and the fans went nuts. Kassa followed up with a 630 for the win.
Page shook Kassa’s hand and raised it after the match.
WINNER: Peter Kassa.
Star rating: (***1/4) – This got off to a bit of a slow start, but finished strong. Kassa was amazing with his high flying here.
(2) Drew Gulak (w/Tracy Williams) vs. Matt Riddle. Riddle got a rear naked choke and a cross-arm breaker early, but Gulak got to the ropes. Riddle kept going for submissions, but Gulak managed to find a way out of them. At one point Riddle no-sold an Irish Whip, which was fantastic. Gulak hit a big dive to the floor, but Riddle got the upper hand and hit several punches before Gulak broke free. Gulak had a triangle, but Riddle powerbombed out of it. Riddle caught Gulak with a big kick off the ropes, but Gulak kicked out at 1. Gulak tried to come off the top, but Riddle turned it into a judo throw and went right into a cross-arm breaker for the win.
Gulak put Riddle over after the match. Riddle told Gulak that he was just another stepping stone to the EVOLVE Championship. Williams then wiped out Riddle from behind. Gulak told Riddle he learned today that anything can happen in wrestling.
WINNER: Matt Riddle.
Star rating: (***1/2) – impressive showing by Riddle. He’s getting better each time out and this was well-designed to play to his strengths.
(3) Fred Yehi vs. Lio Rush. Yehi took off his pajama bottoms and it looks like things are now officially on after Rush got the better of an early exchange. Rush has the upper hand, but Yehi fired back with a pair of big suplexes for a 2 count. They went back and forth and Yehi got the Koji clutch, but Rush managed to escape. Yehi hit a big flurry of offense capped by a fallaway suplex, but Rush managed to kick out. Rush hit a one man Spanish fly and a frog splash for the win (dragon’s call).
Both men shook hands after the match.
WINNER: Lio Rush.
Star rating: (***) – Very good back and forth action. Yehi’s offense is really cool and unique.
(4) Martin Stone vs. Tracy Williams. This match was very even to start. They had some good exchanges on the mat with some hard-hitting exchanges mixed in. At one point, Stone trapped Williams’s arms and nailed him with a series of elbows to the back of the head for a near fall. Williams mounted a comeback and both men were down. They got up and began exchanging blows. They went back and forth and Williams countered a kimura into a tombstone for a 2 count. Stone hit the chaos theory, but Williams kicked out. He went right into the rainmaker for a near fall and both men were down. Williams caught Stone with several elbows. He hit a piledriver and a DDT for a near fall. He went right into the cross face for the submission win after Stone kicked out.
WINNER: Tracy Williams.
Star rating: (***1/2) – This was a really enjoyable back and forth hard-hitting match. Stone was impressive and I’d love to see more of him in EVOLVE.
(5) Anthony Nese (w/Andrea) vs T.J. Perkins. The announcers mentioned that Perkins had an issue with PAB dating back to WM. Naylor mentioned that Perkins had been around since the first EVOLVE show and he is talented beyond his years. They talked about Perkins’s early days in the LA NJPW Dojo with guys like Samoa Joe, Bobby Quance, and Rocky Romero. Leonard mentioned that Val wasn’t in attendance because she was scared for her life when Galloway went nuts before getting suspended. The pace picked up and they had a fast exchange that saw Perkins transition from a Boston crab into a STF. Nese blocked it so Perkins went to a bow and arrow submission. Nese finally got out of Perkins’s clutch on the match, but Perkins caught him in an octopus submission. Perkins lodged himself in the ropes and baited Nese into going after him. Nese ended up flying to the floor and Perkins set up for a dive, but Nese ran into the ring and wiped him out with a running knee. Perkins mounted a comeback and sent Nese into the turnbuckles with a head scissors. He then hit a stump puller on Nese’s arm. Nese fired back and went for a springboard. Perkins got his knees up and grabbed an arm submission from his back, but Nese stomped his way out. Nese recovered on the floor and managed to nail Perkins with a running kick from the floor to the apron. Nese grabbed a long headlock on the mat and the crowd remained flat for the action. A short time later, Nese went up top selling his arm and went for a dive, but Perkins caught him with a dropkick to his shoulder. Perkins got a cross-arm breaker a short time later, but Nese got the ropes.
Perkins set up on the apron and hit a springboard dropkick that connected with Nese’s shoulder. Nese then countered a pump-handle and hit a huge jumping piledriver that left both men down on the mat. Nese lifted Perkins, who flipped around him into an arm bar. Nese leveraged himself on top of Perkins and hit a one-arm buckle bomb. Holy crap! Nese favored his arm and bounced off the ropes, but Perkins caught him with a flying knee and both men were down. They had a great fast exchange with both guys countered each other until Perkins elevated Nese and dropping him chest first into his knees out of the tiger suplex position. Perkins went for a swinging DDT off the top, but Nese blocked it, placed him up top, nailed him with a kick, and hit a super hurricanrana for a 2 count! Nese went up top again for a 450, but Perkins got out of the way. Nese went for another one-arm buckle bomb, but Perkins rolled through into a cross-arm breaker and Nese tapped!
Timothy Thatcher came out and confronted Perkins, who had sucker kicked him at the last EVOLVE show. Perkins went for a kick, but Thatcher blocked it and dropped him with an uppercut. Tracy Williams came out and stood over Perkins. Gulak came out as well and Thatcher patted the EVOLVE Championship and walked away. Catch point headed to the back after Thatcher left.
Naylor commented that he loves Joanna Rose’s accent as she got ready to introduce the next match.
WINNER: T.J. Perkins.
Star rating: (***1/2) – There were stretches of this match that dragged, but this got really good down the stretch. Perkins worked on Nese’s arm throughout the match and the pace was really slow, but then they built the match up to a really good finishing sequence.
Drew Galloway got a big ovation coming out to face Caleb Konley. Konley nailed him with a dive when he was making his way around the ring. Holy crap!
Konley went right after Galloway on the outside and they brawled through the crowd. Galloway lifted Konley and dropped him over the bar. Leonard mentioned that The PAB had attacked Thatcher after his blow off match against Roderick Strong. Leonard said Konley was frustrated because even though he had a higher ranking, Lee and Gulak were selected to have a match for the right to face Thatcher at the last set of EVOLVE shows. Konley hit a snap suplex on the stage and dumped some water on Galloway. Konley charged at Galloway, who caught him and hit a tilt-a-whirl slam on the bar. Galloway then got behind the bar and poured himself a beer. He then spit it in Konley’s face and they continued to brawl on the floor. Galloway picked up Konley and tossed him like a rag doll into the side of the stage on the floor. Holy s—t! Galloway set up several chairs on the outside and the fans fired up. Andrea got in Galloway’s face and kept pushing him. The distraction eventually allowed Konley to toss Galloway into the chairs after he accidentally hit Andrea. Both men got into the ring and the match still hadn’t officially started according to the announcers. They went back and forth until Galloway nailed Konley with a big clothesline that left both men down. A ref came in and called for the opening bell.
(6) Caleb Konley (w/Andrea) vs. Drew Galloway. Both men got up and Andrea was helped to the back. Galloway hit some big chops in the corner, but Konley swept his legs out from under him when he went to the apron. Konley dropkicked Galloway to the floor and Konley sold his arm. Galloway beat the ref’s count and Konley got on top of him and hit a series of elbows. Konley caught Galloway with a sliding clothesline for a 2 count. Konley had the upper hand and began working over Galloway. He talked trash to Galloway and began slapping him across the top of the head and the face. Galloway began firing up and walking towards Galloway. Galloway fired up and tossed Konley into the corner. He nailed him with some big forearms in the corner and a clothesline off the top. Galloway caught Konley with a baldo bomb for a 2 count a short time later. The fans fired up and chanted for Galloway. Konley fired back and signaled for the o face, but Galloway fought him off. Galloway went for a running kick, but Konley got out of the way. Galloway had his foot caught over the top rope and Konley nailed him with an inside out moonsault for a 2 count. Galloway tried to charge at him in the corner a short time later, but Konley got his boots up and stomped Galloway down to the mat. They battled up top and Galloway set up for a superplex, but Konley crotched him and slapped him into the upside down position. Konley stepped on Galloway’s knees, but he popped up and tossed him down to the mat. Wow!
Galloway followed up with a sick kick for a 2 count and both men regrouped. Galloway went for a spinebuster, but Konley held onto the ropes and hit a sunset flip. Galloway kicked out, but Konley held on for a powerbomb and then a buckle bomb. He then finished the sequence with a Michinoku driver for near fall. Holy s—t! Konley went up top for his signature step-up moonsault, but Galloway got his feet up. Galloway sold great anger and glared at Konley from his knees. Galloway put Konley over his shoulders and climbed to the second turnbuckle for an air raid crash, but Konley kicked out at the last second. Wow! Galloway sold frustration and signaled for the finish. Konley countered Galloway and grabbed a handful of tights to roll him up, but he kicked out at the last second. Galloway then obliterated Konley with a running kick and hit the future shock DDT for the win. Wow!
WINNER: Drew Galloway
Star rating: (****) – First of all, this was Konley’s best singles match to date in EVOLVE. He brought the fight to Galloway and this match felt epic down the stretch with both men doing their best to put each other away. There were some great near falls down the stretch leading into the finish. What a match.
Johnny Gargano was out first for the main event. He got a big reaction from the fans. Ethan Page came out while Timothy Thatcher’s music played. He got the mic and the fans booed. He told Gargano he couldn’t get his attention. He said everyone was sick of Ethan Page and the fans applauded. Page said Gargano made him say I quit. Page said when he quit, he quit the match and also being a bad person backstage. He said he tried to ruin what Gargano had built in EVOLVE and Page had shown him no respect. Page said the next night should have been one of the most special moments of his career when he stood in the ring with Sami Zayn. He said Zayn looked him in the eye and told him he sucks. Page said that’s when he knew he needed to change and look Gargano in the face like a man and apologize. Page then apologized to everyone.
Gargano took the mic from Page and said he had been part of some of the biggest matches in the history of EVOLVE. Gargano said all those matches pale in comparison to tonight because he can win the EVOLVE Championship. Gargano said if Page wants to show him that he’s changed, he can get out of his ring. Page looked upset and walked to the back.
EVOLVE Champion Timothy Thatcher’s music played as Leonard said he wasn’t sure whether or not he could buy Page’s apology. He said Page was a big distraction to Gargano right before his big title match.
(7) EVOLVE champion Timothy Thatcher vs. Johnny Gargano – EVOLVE Title match. Leonard discussed how Gargano had never captured the EVOLVE Championship. The fans chanted for both men and Gargano looked into the crowd while Thatcher stood and started at Gargano. Leonard talked about how Zayn had told Thatcher that to prove he’s the man he would have to defend his title against Gargano. Both men shook hands before they went at it. Neither man would let go of the handshake, so Thatcher broke it with his leg. Leonard asked who the face of the company is. Is it Thatcher who is the champion or is Gargano who has been with the company since the beginning and built it on his back? Naylor said Thatcher was Pippen to Gargano’s Jordan. Leonard talked about how we can see Gargano on NXT. Naylor said NXT is available on Hulu and Leonard chimed in with a WWE Network promo as well. Oh brother. Thatcher got the upper hand and worked over Gargano’s arm before transitioning to a high-angle ankle lock. They went back and forth on the mat. Both men continued to counter each other on the mat with Gargano blocking a nice arm bar attempt at one point. Gargano had a surfboard, but Thatcher broke free and went after his ankle. Gargano finally got to the ropes to break the hold. They went back and forth and the pace picked up with Gargano going for the Gargano escape multiple times. He finally got it, but Thatcher got the ropes right away. Thatcher went after Gargano’s arm on the mat. Both men got to their feet and Gargano finally hit and elbow to Thatcher’s face before suplexing him into the turnbuckles. Thatcher sold his leg and Gargano went right after it with a dragon screw. Gargano worked a leg submission as Thatcher tried to free himself. He finally rolled over forcing Gargano into the ropes.
Gargano grabbed Thatcher’s leg and twisted it down into the mat. He continued to go after Thatcher’s knee. Thatcher grabbed Gargano’s arm and bridged it using his legs before snapping it backwards. Ouch! Thatcher got up and limped. He told Gargano to bring it. Thatcher grabbed Gargano’s hand and slammed it down to the mat with his boot. Thatcher worked over Gargano’s arm and wrist, but Gargano managed to grab the bottom rope. Thatcher lifted Gargano’s hand up and snapped his fingers apart. Gargano fired back and went for a figure 4. Thatcher tried to block it, but Gargano got his leg over to fully apply it. Thatcher sat up and tried to go after Gargano’s arm, but he had to let go because of the pain. Thatcher then tried to roll over, but Gargano managed to block him. Thatcher finally managed to grab the bottom rope to break the hold. Wow! Thatcher slowly tried to get to his feet and they went at it in the middle of the ring. Gargano went for a punch with his injured arm, but couldn’t do it, but he did managed to chop block Thatcher down to the mat. They battled in the corner and Gargano went for a lawn dart but Thatcher flipped him over into the tower of McGuinness for a 2 count. That was a nice sequence there. Thatcher went for the Fujiwara arm bar, but Gargano was right near the ropes. Thatcher looked away briefly on the floor and Gargano nailed him with a kick. Gargano then nailed Thatcher with a dive through the ropes and both men were down on the outside.
Gargano tossed Thatcher back into the ring and hit a slingshot DDT. Gargano tried to go for the hurts don’t it, but Thatcher countered. Gargano and Thatcher traded counters until Thatcher got the Fujiwara arm bar. Thatcher couldn’t bridge up on the hold because of his leg and Gargano eventually got to the ropes. Both men began trading slaps and kicks. Thatcher managed to finally block a superkick with a short headbutt and both men collapsed to the mat. Wow! The fans began chanting for both men. Gargano faked a superkick and kicked Thatcher’s knee. He then went for the figure 4, but Thatcher rolled him up for a 2 count. They went back and forth trading counters until Gargano got a half crab. Thatcher struggled to the ropes and Gargano went for the Gargano escape. Thatcher tried to fight it, but Gargano managed to lock it in. Thatcher finally made it to the ropes to break the hold. Gargano went for a slingshot spear, but Thatcher nailed him with a knee. Thatcher hit a side salto suplex and applied the Fujiwara arm bar forcing Gargano to tap. Wow! That was amazing.
Leonard said that Thatcher had earned his place on top of WWN by winning the match. Leonard said Gargano was the longest reigning champion in the history of the company and had come within a hair of claiming the EVOLVE Championship. Thatcher offered Gargano a handshake after the match. Gargano accepted and left the ring.
Drew Galloway came down to the ring. He said he had a few things to get off his chest. Galloway said he could complain about things like about being suspended for 4 months and Thatcher taking his title even though his foot was under the bottom rope. Galloway said he wasn’t going to do that because he’s not a little bitch. Galloway said he’s a wrestling animal. Galloway said when he debuted and won the title he said the world was going to learn about EVOLVE, which is the house of best talent in the world. Galloway said since he’s been gone. He says now Triple H is talking about EVOLVE and now WWE wants EVOLVE talent. He said EVOLVE is now on fire. Galloway said he’s not finished being champion yet. He said tomorrow night they have a non-title. Galloway said screw that and let’s have a title rematch. Tolle grabbed the mic from Galloway and said EVOLVE is all about the rankings. He told Galloway that he’s not ranked. Galloway yelled at Tolle as he tried to keep Thatcher and Galloway apart. Trevin Adam came down to the ring and said EVOLVE officials were willing to sanction the match if Thatcher was willing to accept it. Thatcher said of course and Galloway kicked Tolle out of the ring. Galloway said their match tomorrow is what’s best for business.
WINNER: Timothy Thatcher to retain the EVOLVE Championship.
Star rating: (****3/4) – This was a great match that told an excellent story. The question in EVOLVE for months has been who will be the face of EVOLVE. Gargano represented the old guard in this match and he’s done everything in WWN except win the EVOLVE Championship. They wrestled an incredible technical style match with Thatcher going after Gargano’s arm and Gargano going after Thatcher’s leg. The pacing was nearly perfect throughout the match and they had some great counter sequences before Thatcher was finally able to get enough torque on his Fujiwara arm bar to get Gargano to tap. Go out of your way to see this one, as Thatcher’s win cements him as the new face of WWN.
Overall Thoughts: (9.0) – This wasn’t quite on the level of some of the best EVOLVE/WWN shows of the year, but it was darn close. This was one heck of a show. Watching it, I felt like every single match I was mattered for one reason or another. The storylines in EVOLVE are clicking right now and EVOLVE booker Gabe Sapolsky really lined things nicely to build up this card from start to finish with strong storylines and in-ring action.
I really enjoyed this show. The opener was a treat and it took a bit to get going, but Kassa and Page told a good story with Page seeming to have difficulty finding himself after losing an I Quit match to Johnny Gargano. Kassa’s athleticism is incredible, especially given the amount of muscle he’s carrying. It won’t be long before he’s signed by NXT.
Another standout performer was Matt Riddle. He improved on his last set of matches from his debut weekend in EVOLVE and had a really good MMA style match against Drew Gulak, who has had a hand in training him. I loved when Gulak tried to Irish whip Riddle and he refused to run the ropes. Riddle picked up another win, but I enjoyed the post-match angle with Williams blind-siding him while he was talking trash to Gulak.
I’ve heard of Lio Rush, but I hadn’t heard of Fred Yehi. Both men were impressive facing off against each other in their debut EVOLVE match. This reminded me in some ways of the Ring of Honor of old when the company would bring in fresh faces and introduce cold to the crowd and both guys would get over. Rush is really athletic, but Yehi brought something different to the table with his unique style of offense and power moves. I’m looking forward to seeing more of these guys.
The last two matches on this card brought the show up several levels. I was really enjoying the card up until that point, but Caleb Konley really surprised me putting on an excellent match against Drew Galloway, who was returning from suspension. The match was personal, as The PAB had jumped Galloway before he was suspended. I really enjoyed how Konley started the match by hitting a dive on Galloway as he made his entrance. I hadn’t seen intensity from Konley like this before, but he wrestled this match like a man possessed. This was a breakout match for Konley even though he took the loss here.
The main event was another technical classic featuring Timothy Thatcher defending his EVOLVE Championship against Johnny Gargano. This very much felt like the old guard vs. the new guard with Gargano and Thatcher wrestling to determine who the face of WWN is.
Gargano has been tremendous in DGUSA/EVOLVE since the company started in 2009. He’s done everything in the company except win the EVOLVE Championship. Gargano is criminally underrated and in my eyes is the true definition of a top guy capable of playing the lead heel and face roles on the independents. In this match, he showed that he could go toe-to-toe with Thatcher on the mat. EVOLVE has had some incredible technical matches since the company started their reboot in August of 2014 and this match certainly stood out as one of the best technical matches of the year for the company in a year when they’ve had many great technical matches thanks in part to using wrestlers like Thatcher, Busick, Strong, and Sabre on a regular basis.
I recommend going out of your way to see the replay of this show. It was a tremendous night of wrestling from start to finish with a series of matches that felt fresh and unique. Not only was this show good in its own right, but it did a good job of making the next show feel like a must-see event with a strong promo exchange between Thatcher and Galloway to set up their EVOLVE title match at EVOLVE 52. Thumbs up.
The EVOLVE 51 iPPV can be purchased on-demand at WWNLive.com.
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