Radican’s One To Watch: A look at J.D. Drake’s journey from Evolve to AEW Dark

By Sean Radican, PWTorch columnist (Twitter: @SR_Torch)


This is the debut of a weekly series of articles called One to Watch. I will be writing an article each week that takes a look at a rising independent talent or a talent from a major company like AEW, NJPW, ROH, or WWE that has been overlooked in any promotion, has been making waves, but might not have gotten their just due quite yet. My first column looks at J.D. Drake’s journey to AEW and his debut on AEW Dark this week against Eddie Kingston.

Although Evolve wrestling shut its doors for good last year when WWE purchased the company in July, it appeared that J.D. Drake was ready to take the next step in his career and transition from the main roster to the Evolve roster. Drake won a match on a NXT house show early last year and his performances in Evolve over the previous year seemed to indicate he would get an opportunity in WWE sooner rather than later.

Evolve was trending downward from their heights in 2014-2015 when they were the best independent promotion in the country and had become a place where NXT wrestlers got some reps under the watch of Evolve booker and WWE consultant Gabe Sapolsky before being put on TV.

Despite Evolve trending downward, Drake’s stock was on the rise late in 2019 heading into 2020. He had debuted in PWG, held the WWN World Championship for 258 days, and was ready to do what so many others had done before him and make the step to the next level.

It didn’t happen.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit and Evolve initially announced it was going on hiatus before closing its doors for good a short time later when it was announced that WWE had purchased the company. Several wrestlers from the Evolve roster signed with WWE after Evolve closed its doors.

Drake announced he was a free agent on July 3 and it looked like despite the pandemic, he would find a way to continue to make noise in wrestling. Drake wrestled some matches after the pandemic hit, but did not appear in any high profile independent promotions.

I wondered what happened. I still don’t have answers. Most of Drake’s contemporaries in Evolve got signed in the wake of the company shutting down. Timothy Thatcher, Leon Ruff, Curt Stallion, Austin Grey (Antony Greene), and Brandi Lauren all signed WWE contracts. Drake did not.

Drake was also part of The WorkHorsemen tag team with Anthony Henry. They held the Evolve World Tag Team Championships together and grew as performers while wrestling not only in Evolve, but in multiple independent promotions. It was announced that Henry had signed with WWE last month.

I continued to wonder what had happened to Drake, but hadn’t asked him directly about it or reaching out to others to find out. Regardless, WWE didn’t seem to be an option anymore.

Drake’s big opportunity came last week. News began to circulate that he had been spotted at ringside during AEW’s tapings. AEW announced the AEW Dark matches for this week a couple days later and a dream matchup for independent wrestling fans was booked on a big stage. Drake vs. Eddie Kingston.

You see, Drake doesn’t have the traditional WWE body type. He’s an old school heavyweight with his trunks pulled up above his belly. He is a southern brawler out of North Carolina and wears cowboy boots.

So, what’s the catch? Despite being a massive man, Drake can not only brawl and go strike-for-strike with the best of them, but he can also fly a little bit. I have never seen a man his size be able to do a moonsault with the grace with which Drake executes his version of the maneuver.

AEW Dark has been a springboard for many independent wrestlers and veteran wrestlers and serves as an avenue to show what they can do in front of AEW booker Tony Khan’s influential eye. I don’t think it was a coincidence that Drake was matched up with Eddie Kingston. Kingston’s style was a perfect match for Drake to shine on AEW Dark with.

AEW uploaded this week’s episode of AEW Dark tonight and I immediately went to Drake vs. Kingston and they did not disappoint. They went right to war trading hard chops and headbutts. Drake’s chest was beaten red within minutes thanks to Kingston’s chops.

Drake missed a moonsault and took the pin in the match, but his performance was memorable. Drake showed he belongs in AEW because his look and hard-hitting style are unlike anyone else on the roster.

I’m usually the last person to say that AEW should be adding more talent. They have way more talent under contract than they have TV time. Where’s that additional hour of TV by the way?

Back to Drake. He’s the perfect modern brawler. He’s got a lot of old school flavor and would have very much looked at home in the ring with Stan Hanson and Dr. Death Steve Williams. Drake brings that act into the modern era by moving extremely well in the ring while throwing in a little high flying. He would be a perfect fit in AEW’s heavyweight division.

Drake arrived back in the spotlight with his appearance on Dark tonight. The question now is what will happen from here. After watching his peers from Evolve take the next step in their careers, it appears Drake is on the verge of finally making a big step with his and I can’t wait to see his journey unfold.

Contact Sean at radicansean@pwtorch.com. Follow him on Twitter @SR_Torch. 

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