We start the event with a series of backstage vignettes, first of the three remaining 2-0 wrestlers in EVOLVE talking about what it would mean for them to go 3-0, then of Chuck Taylor mooning the camera because they didn't want to talk to him until now that he's in the main event, then of Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli discussing their matches tonight. Bobby Fish, Hero's opponent tonight, comes in and shares in some camaraderie with the Kings Of Wrestling and it appears that Hero vs Fish tonight will be a friendly contest. I've said this before, but I really liked how we're getting to know the wrestlers and what's going through their mind from a competitive sense. It makes sense, since EVOLVE is supposed to be completely focused on competition and have relatively little in terms of storylines at this point, that the wrestlers would completely focus on that and not on who jumped who in the locker room.
From there we move on to our opening contest, as Sami Callihan takes on Adam Cole. I love watching Callihan, the guy is so good and so intense, and he doesn't do anything overcomplicated, all his stuff looks cool, looks stiff, and doesn't take 20 minutes to set up. He's also gotten himself into great shape, having trimmed off some of the extra weight he had been carrying around. I'll admit, the first time I saw him I didn't really get him, but the guy has grown on me in a big way and I think he's almost certainly a future star on the indies. Adam Cole, on the other hand, I know nothing about and he really didn't show me much here, this was all Callihan as he stiffed the crap out of Cole and tapped him out to a Stretch Muffler, getting himself off to a strong start in EVOLVE.
The second match saw Johnny Gargano take on Ricochet, Both guys entered this match with 1-1 records, so the story here is that both men want to win so they don't wind up on the wrong side of a .500 record. Ricochet hit a dive to the floor on Gargano and both guys got counted out, but the rulebook says there must be a winner in all EVOLVE matches, so it was decreed that the first guy to make it back into the ring would be declared the winner. This added a nice bit of urgency at the end as it became a mad scramble to be the first guy back in the ring, and Gargano ended up beating Ricochet out and becoming the first man to win an EVOLVE match by countout. Jimmy Jacobs and his crew crashed Gargano's postmatch promo and mocked him from the aisleway, to which Gargano responded by questioning Jimmy's sexuality. Obviously, those two are headed toward a rematch of their bout on EVOLVE 2, and the way this is playing out, it appears that Sean Davis and Orange Guy are intentionally sitting in the middle and playing both guys against one another.
Match #3 featured Mercedes Martinez defending the WSU Title against Brittney Savage, and it's the usual total squash for Mercedes. I'm surprised Mercedes hasn't gotten a shot at a major role in either ROH or TNA, she's got a great look and she's one of the best female workers on the indies right now. She's really worked her ass off and taken her lumps, and I feel like she really deserves that shot. Mercedes finishes Brittney off with a fisherman's buster, then cuts a postmatch promo saying that she came here for the best competition, and she's going to get it, so she challenges Amazing Kong to a match. I don't know offhand if that match ever happened in SHIMMER, but if you're interested in seeing it (as I am), it's going to happen on September 11th in Rahway at EVOLVE 5.
Backstage, Jon Moxley cuts a promo establishing his character as a wildman who prefers making his own rules to those laid out by EVOLVE officials, and then we move on to a three way tag team match, as Team Beyond, Aeroform, and Up In Smoke battle it out in a match where I think the average age is something like 15. In all seriousness, while I appreciate the athletic ability of these guys, they all look really young and underdeveloped, and I'm not suggesting a return to the days of guys who look like the Warlord, but appearances count when you're supposed to be taken seriously going out there and physically competing against guys who look like Claudio Castagnoli or Bobby Fish. There's a reason Jay Lethal has a career in a national company and none of the other guys from Special K do. Speaking of former Special K members, Up In Smoke and Aeroform had tangled before on EVOLVE 2, with Up In Smoke getting the win and putting Aeroform down to 0-2, so this is an opportunity for Aeroform to pick up a much needed win while also getting some revenge on Up In Smoke. I guess that in the absence of a CHIKARA six man tag, we needed a car crash spotfest, and that's exactly what this match was. I won't sit here and rant because you probably know this isn't my cup of tea, but it does at least involve some pretty cool dives and stuff, and some entertaining characters in Louis Lyndon and Up In Smoke, and Aeroform pinned Team Beyond to pick up their win and then they got in a postmatch faceoff with Up In Smoke, presumably setting up a straight tag rematch down the line.
We see a backstage promo of Kyle O'Reilly and Chris Dickinson training and firing each other up for their matches later, and then we go to one of the matches I was most looking forward to on this DVD, as Jon Moxley takes on Drake Younger in both men's EVOLVE debut. These guys have a heated history elsewhere, and they pick up right where they left off, going blow for blow right from the opening bell. I'll admit it, I really undersold Drake Younger when I called him a low budget Eddie Kingston the first time I saw him. Drake is deceptively athletic and a surprisingly good wrestler. These two have a lot of intensity, and that may sound cliche but intensity is really important to telling your story in a wrestling match. Guys can go out there and do all the fancy dives, kicks, and chain wrestling they want, it's not until you make it look like you're really pumped about winning your match and/or hurting your opponent that you really start getting crowds into it. This was a great brawl and one of the better matches on the show, and Younger picked up the win after he gave a bloody Moxley the Drake's Landing, which is a running Cop Killa. Good match and I'm really looking forward to seeing more of both guys in EVOLVE.
Our next match saw Chris Hero take on Bobby Fish, and while Hero is the obvious crowd favorite here and a much bigger star, Fish is obviously being groomed to be a top guy in the company. He's 0-2 going into this match, but even though he's been losing, it's always close enough that it looks like he could have won and his opponents needed to practically kill him to beat him. Bobby Fish is far and away THE guy that EVOLVE has done the best job of getting over in my opinion. Gabe Sapolsky has always had a great eye for talent that he can make something out of, and Fish is a great example because he's never been a guy I saw anything in until he got to EVOLVE. Even against a star like Hero, Fish keeps it competitive and you can tell the fans are really getting behind Fish because each time Hero clocks him with a knockout blow, the fans pop when he kicks out or doesn't go down after taking the shot. Hero ended up winning, of course, but Fish looked terrific in defeat as Hero threw everything he had at Fish but he kept going, including one point where Fish kicked out of the rolling elbow at 1, and it finally took two rolling elbows, a boot to the head, and a third rolling elbow to put Fish away. So even though Hero won, he had to pull out his biggest shots multiple times to put Fish down. Brad Allen came out to check on Fish after the match, drawing the ire of Hero, whom Allen had been looking for a match with since EVOLVE 1. Hero talked him down, saying he wasn't getting a match with him because it's not his time, before walking away in disgust.
The next match was a four way that included Chris Dickinson, Brodie Lee, Gran Akuma, and Hallowicked. This match was a lot of fun, and mainly centered on putting Brodie Lee over as a monster, which is the way it should be. He tossed guys around, dominated his opponents in slugfests, didn't allow himself to be Irish whipped, and survived being attacked by all three opponents at once. Brodie's been poorly booked for a long time in that he's sold and done jobs for guys he shouldn't simply because he's so big, so I'm happy when I see the other guys ganging up on him and things of that nature since they know they can't match him on their own. Brodie pinned Dickinson with the Truckstop (a Black Hole Slam) to win the match.
Next was the sleeper hit of the evening, as Kyle O'Reilly took on TJP. It's really a shame that TJ started shooting his mouth off and got himself dumped by EVOLVE and DGUSA because he's exactly the kind of guy those companies, and EVOLVE in particular, need. He's a talented and seasoned veteran who's been kicking around for years, but for some reason has never broken through anywhere outside of California. I've never seen a bad TJ match, and even if you don't make him a main eventer (which I could understand, since he has an admittedly bland personality), he could at least be an upper midcarder who you can always count on to have a good match and be the steppingstone to the main event. O'Reilly, on the other hand, found himself in a tough spot when Davey Richards left EVOLVE and left Kyle hanging. I think that could make a great angle for O'Reilly where it could now be him overcoming all kinds of obstacles without being able to rely on Davey, especially since that's what actually happened. These two are very similar wrestlers in that they both do a lot of MMA style striking and submissions and a lot of mat wrestling, and they managed to fit all of that in here. Solid match that saw TJ get what I considered to be a surprise win over O'Reilly, tapping him out to his modified Sharpshooter. I would have loved to see a rematch because this was very entertaining, but I guess that's not going to happen now.
Next, we go to a backstage segment with Bobby Fish on the phone with a mystery person explaining that even though he's 0-3, he feels himself getting closer and asks the person not to give up on him yet. From there, we move on to a match between the only two guys left on the roster with 2-0 records, Jimmy Jacobs and Brad Allen. As I said earlier, Allen wants a match with Chris Hero, but Hero doesn't think he's ready and refuses to face him. So instead, Allen gets to try and prove himself against Jimmy Jacobs who, in the absence of originally planned headliners like Bryan Danielson and Davey Richards, has become the de facto top star of the company. Jimmy's buddies Sean Davis and Orange Guy take seats at ringside, and are soon joined by Johnny Gargano. I see big things in Brad Allen, he's a big guy with a solid physique who is also really athletic and can do a lot of high flying stuff that you wouldn't expect out of a guy his size. I believe he was under a developmental deal with WWE at one point, and it just blows my mind that they would let a guy with his gifts go, while holding on to dead weight like a Michael Tarver or Skip Sheffield. Jacobs gets the win by tapping Allen out to the End Time in a finish that kind of surprised me given that Allen is building to a match with Chris Hero. I guess it'll lead to Hero saying that this proves Allen isn't on his level since he can't even beat Jimmy Jacobs. Jacobs now becomes the first guy in EVOLVE to go 3-0 and officially becomes the guy with the best record in the company.
Finally, we come to our main event as Chuck Taylor took on Claudio Castagnoli. Taylor's mad that he needed to win a qualifying match to even get into EVOLVE instead of just getting on the roster like everybody else, and then the qualifying match concept was done away with altogether. This has the dual effect of a)making him the only guy in the history of the company who needed to qualify for the main roster, and b)since the qualifying match win doesn't count toward his overall record, that automatically puts him behind the other win-loss leaders. So now here he is in the main event of EVOLVE 3 against one of the top names on the independent scene, and for a guy who Gabe has said he never really saw anything in, he sure rose to the main event pretty damn quickly. As you might expect, Claudio physically dominated Taylor the entire match, and even though Taylor tried to get out of the way of some of Claudio's big moves, Claudio was able to muscle him around with some pretty impressive power moves, such as grabbing Taylor and literally yanking him up to the top rope. claudio also showed some uncharacteristic high flying moves like a crossbody from the top rope. Taylor did get some hope spots, but for the most part this entire match saw Taylor taking punishment until he dodged a bicycle kick and Claudio crotched himself on the top rope, allowing Taylor to start to make a comeback and eventually counter a hard lariat into the Omega Driver for the win. Taylor has really come out of nowhere to become a top star in this company and got a nice reaction from the crowd after beating Claudio. He cut a postmatch promo saying he did what he said he was gonna do, and things are going to change here in EVOLVE.
Finally, we wrap things up with a backstage angle with Sean Davis, Orange Guy, and Johnny Gargano razzing Jimmy Jacobs backstage, and Jacobs saying he doesn't want any part of their club scene and limos, he's here to be a serious wrestler and isn't going to let stuff like that distract him. Sean Davis doesn't seem all that bothered by being blown off, and leaves with Gargano and Orange Guy to hit the party scene. Say, is Silas Young still a part of this angle? He missed EVOLVE 2 and we haven't seen him since.
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Another great effort by the EVOLVE crew. As I said before, EVOLVE got all its ducks in a row for this event, and this is easily the strongest effort to this point by EVOLVE. They have finally settled into a comfortable compromise of match length, match quality, and character development and delivered a very enjoyable show. I gave a rave review of this show when I attended it live, and it absolutely held up on the DVD release. That said, there are some things I think EVOLVE can do to improve the quality and value of future releases.
One suggestion I would have to improve EVOLVE DVDs going forward is to include more extras on the DVDs, and I understand that with only four events under their belt as of this writing, they don't have a deep video history to draw a lot from. They already have the highlight video of each show, but I think there are other things you can do, like one of the things that's pushed on the DVDs already is that they have this roving backstage camera crew and reporter who are supposed to be capturing everything going on backstage. Well, maybe you can have them capture more stuff like postmatch promos, maybe altercations in the locker room or parking lot or things of that nature. You can also start hyping the next DVD, because by the time each DVD comes out, I'm sure Gabe has a pretty good idea of where things are going at the next event, so you could put together some simple videos just hyping future matches and events. I'm sure there's other stuff you could add, but those are the first two that come to mind that wouldn't require any extraordinary effort on EVOLVE's behalf that would give the DVDs an added value beyond just a video of the show. The ROH Video Wire is a great supplement to the ROH DVDs and live shows and help bridge some of the gaps from DVD to DVD, and I think it's a formula that would also work well for EVOLVE.
And really, for a new indy company that's diving right into a world that already contains strong competitors in ROH, CHIKARA, CZW, and PWG, and also the fact that they're essentially competing with themselves since EVOLVE management is also behind Dragon Gate USA, they need to add as much as they can to the EVOLVE DVDs to make people want to buy them beyond just the show itself. One of the reasons the Dragon Gate USA DVDs are such a great value is the vast plethora of extras that are included on each release, and even if they don't do anything on that level, EVOLVE DVDs need something more to make them the same kind of must have merchandise.
But just rating the show in and of itself, great effort as usual. I loved the Hero-Fish and Castagnoli-Taylor matches, and I'm really looking forward to seeing where they go with Taylor from here, as he's come out of nowhere to become a solid main eventer for the company. I'm interested in seeing the continued progression of Fish as well, and would like to be there when he finally gets that big win. I've said it before, and I'll say it again here: EVOLVE has taken a bunch of unknown indy talent and turned them into wrestlers and characters that you connect to and care about. Chuck Taylor, Bobby Fish, and Brad Allen are all going to make big names for themselves through EVOLVE, and the company is a great platform for other indy talent like Brodie Lee, Kyle O'Reilly, Johnny Gargano, and Sami Callihan to break through to the next level as well. In a world where so much of the great indy talent is locked up by other companies, EVOLVE has cultivated a strong roster that never fails to put on a great, athletic show where everybody busts their ass to deliver the best show possible, and this event is the best one that I've seen so far. Thumbs up, and I can't wait to see EVOLVE 5 on 9/11 in Rahway.
For more information on this and other EVOLVE DVD releases and news, check out www.evolvewrestling.com.