Josh Briggs def. Anthony Greene
I've seen Briggs and Greene compete in person at different points of their respective careers here on the northeast independent wrestling scene and they're both very good. Briggs has great size and is incredibly athletic as well. As for Greene, the "retro" act looks like it's working for him and I'm a fan of his pairing with Brandi Lauren (who I'll talk more about during her match later). This was a strong start to the show.
Stephen Wolf def. Harlem Bravado, Curt Stallion and Sean Maluta in a Four-Way Freestyle Match
The only guy I was familiar with from this match was Maluta, who took part in 2016's Cruiserweight Classic and has had a ton of enhancement matches on NXT over the years. All four of them had their time to shine and made the four-way formula fun. Granted, it came across like a spot-fest, but that isn't always a bad thing, especially on shows like this where you don't know everyone and just want to be entertained for some of the matches. It was smart to position this earlier on in the card.
Arturo Ruas def. Anthony Henry
I've seen Ruas in action before on NXT (he's under contract to them) and he's stood out to me every time. Maybe that's just because of his unique appearance, but he's held his own in every match I've seen him in. In fact, I thought he came across like more of a star than Henry did here. Henry wasn't awful by any means, but Ruas simply had the better showing. The crowd was easily at their most quiet on this show for this match and I don't blame them. It was decent yet nothing out of the ordinary, at least in my opinion.
Brandi Lauren def. Shotzi Blackheart in a No Disqualification Match
Lauren stood out to me as someone who had potential during her brief stint in IMPACT a few years ago and it appears she's developed quite a bit in EVOLVE. Meanwhile, I'm familiar with Blackheart from the appearances she's made in IMPACT in the past. I believe this was a last-minute addition to the card and I'm glad it was included. They went out there and killed it by utilizing the No Disqualification stipulation nicely and getting more extreme than I thought they would. I don't think it's a stretch to say that this was more hardcore than anything we'll likely see on Sunday at Extreme Rules, which was fitting seeing as how this event emanated from the 2300 Arena (ECW's old stomping grounds). Props to both ladies for a hell of an effort here.
Babatunde def. Colby Corino
I think it goes without saying, but yes, Colby is the son of ECW legend and current WWE agent Steve Corino. I saw some of his work in Ring of Honor a few years ago, but he was always on the receiving end of beatdowns at the hands of BJ Whitmer. I guess much hasn't changed because he was squashed in a matter of minutes here by Batatunde, who is another WWE developmental talent who looks to be making strides in EVOLVE. He'll need a bit more seasoning before he can become a regular on NXT TV, though.
AR Fox and Leon Ruff def. The Unwanted to Win the Evolve Tag Team Championship
Fox blew me away with what he could do during his time in Lucha Underground and I'm honestly shocked a bigger company hasn't picked him up yet. He has to be on the radars of WWE and AEW, or at least he should be. Eddie Kingstom of The Unwanted never did anything for me while he was in IMPACT, but he seems to be more in his element in EVOLVE and is obviously being used a lot better. This was way shorter than it probably should have been, but for the time they were allotted, this was an exciting affair with a notable title change.
Matt Riddle def. WWE Cruiserweight Champion Drew Gulak (Non-Title)
These two have history as members of Catch Point from back in the day and the video package that preceded this match helped familiarize fans who didn't already know that. Their chemistry together is tremendous and they ended up having the best bout of the night here. The focus on the submissions along with the suspense that every nearfall had made this a real treat. Gulak winning may not have been all that bad seeing as how they were in Philadelphia (where Gulak is considered a hometown hero) and how Gulak has never beaten Riddle before, but the crowd didn't seem to mind too much. I'd definitely be down for a rematch in NXT eventually, if not a full-fledged feud between them.
Paul Heyman Addressed the Audience
While Heyman doesn't have any connection to EVOLVE (except for how he mentored EVOLVE promoter Gabe Sapolsky), he does have a connection to the 2300 Arena because of how it served as a home base for ECW for so many years. However, he talked a lot less about ECW and more about how EVOLVE is the future and how he wished to be invited to this event because of how strongly he believes in the product. It was a pleasant surprise and the crowd was stoked to see him.
Evolve Champion Austin Theory def. JD Drake to Win the WWN Championship
Drake is very talented, but Theory has future WWE Champion written all over him. He has the confidence to back that claim up and is super skilled in the ring. Let the record show that I know nothing about either one of these guys, so that may have hindered my enjoyment of this outing, but it did have a big fight feel nonetheless and was very well wrestled. Briggs didn't receive much of a reaction afterward for confronting Theory, probably because the crowd was hoping for a bigger surprise, but I'd assume that sets him up for a future title shot and that's a match that intrigues me.
NXT Champion Adam Cole def. Akira Tozawa
I knew this was going to be a quality main event, but not only is there no established tension between the two men, it couldn't have been more predictable that Cole was retaining his title. They picked up the pace down the stretch and both guys had standout performances, but even Johnny Gargano getting involved wasn't enough to convince me that Tozawa could capture the championship. This was less about EVOLVE and more about Gargano (who hadn't been seen on NXT TV since TakeOver: XXV) and Cole furthering their feud, but Gargano's promo to close out the night was heartfelt and put over the promotion in a big way.
Say what you will about WWE only airing this show live on WWE Network because it went up against AEW's Fight for the Fallen pay-per-view, but I think it's very cool that more promotions are getting exposure through WWE on their own network. That would have never been possible years ago, so I'd love to see more of this in the future. I had never watched an EVOLVE show prior to this, but I came away very satisfied with what I saw. They have a ton of talent at the moment and the inclusion of developmental wrestlers from NXT is a nice touch. There was a lot of top-notch wrestling on this special and therefore I'd recommend giving it a watch.
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