Evolve 123 & 124 recap & review: No more Mr. Nice Guy

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Better late than never, folks! We’re gonna kinda lightning round these bad boys because Mania weekend is right around the corner, so without further ado you can consult our posts (Evolve 123, Evolve 124) for full results if you need them and otherwise, on with the show!

Evolve 123

Colby Corino vs. Curt Stallion

Mat grappling early on until Corino’s had enough, they turn the heat up from there, with Stallion soon taking the lead. Unwanted interference ensues, Colby runs real hot, and a strong series of moves culminating in a half nelson backbreaker / half nelson suplex combo nearly wins him the match! Stallion rallies from there and in short order takes the match.

No surprise, this rules. Colby and Curt are two of the hypest young men on the roster and their styles meshed perfectly to make for an exciting, fast-paced opener.

Post-match we get a promo segment where Eddie Kingston runs Stallion down and demands a title shot opposite the Street Profits, who oblige, coming down and offering up here and now. The Unwanted, of course, aren’t interested in fighting on anyone else’s schedule and leave.

Darby Allin vs. Josh Briggs

Fast-paced from the jump, neither Allin nor Briggs holding back and Josh pulls ahead due to his innate ability to dodge Coffin Drops. Dominating Evolve’s daredevil, but you can’t keep Darby down for long and he goes on an impressive spree of countering everything Briggs throws at him until finally the Go to Hell catches him and it’s over shortly thereafter.

This didn’t get quite as much time as might have been optimum but it was really good all the same, a perfect snapshot of both men’s current attitudes and situation.

Adrian Jaoude vs. Rory Gulak

Jaoude starting off with his capoeira chops, probing kicks and Gulak goes low to grapple. Adrian can play that game, too, and ends up outwrestling Rory and forcing him to the floor. Armbar into the omoplata, looking for a double armbar in a sweet sequence and then into the striking. Crescent kick nails him, Jaoude picks the legs and it’s over.

This was like catnip to me, grappling excellence that hearkens right back to the heady days of 2015 when the Evolve roster was dominated by guys like Tim Thatcher, Zack Sabre, Jr., Drew Gulak, and Biff Busick. AND you got Adrian Jaoude out here doing capoeira before finishing dudes off with Volk Han moves?! Beautiful. Fantastic stuff.

The Skulk (AR Fox & Leon Ruff) vs. WorkHorsemen (Anthony Henry & JD Drake)

Henry going hard on Ruff early, clearly looking to send a message, cycling through to Fox and Drake as the Skulk pull ahead and isolate the Blue Collar Badass. WorkHorsemen recover by leveraging Leon, we get a sick powerbomb into the ropes to set up the pop-up haymaker in the kind of doubleteams my dudes have excelled in since day one, and with AR wiped out on the floor, Ruff is in it way over his head.

Working him over, throwing him around with abandon, Anthony showing that vicious streak again. Ruff rallies, they deny Fox the tag but he runs roughshod and gets it anyway. AR running hot, malfunction at the junction for the WorkHorsemen, stereo 450 splashes come up empty but stereo Ace Crushers nearly do it for the Skulk! Henry and Fox trading pins, the Lethal Lover tries a shortcut but gets caught and when he lingers too long he costs Drake a winning pinfall by inadvertently stopping the count.

Nobody home on the moonsault, Henry accidentally clocks Drake, and that’s all she wrote.

This match was fantastic, the absolute cream of what the Evolve tag division is capable of. I can pick nits, I think probably either the heat segment with Ruff or the crescendo could have been a hair shorter, but this ruled. Especially Ruff, who played sympathetic never-say-die babyface with aplomb, and Henry, who has just been killing it with this whole story of his frustration boiling over into a heel turn.

Great stuff.

Austin Theory (c) vs. John Silver (Evolve World Championship)

Silver hot out the gates, pressing the attack hard and getting a shockingly tight nearfall off a bridging German suplex. Theory turns it around from there, cocky and working the Meat Man over for a while. Action heats up, bigger and badder moves, tide turning back and forth until a somewhat desperate Theory resorts to trying to unlace John’s boots for the distraction! Silver’s smarter than that, big brainbuster into a cutthroat choke but Austin ends up winning the day shortly after.

So, cards on the table, I was very open about not being excited about this match and… it was fine. Silver actually impressed me here, he really brought an energy to the proceedings to where I can kinda see why he connects with other folks even if he’s still not totally 100% working for me. (And credit where it’s due, that cutthroat choke is legitimately a cool move.)

Indeed, this was also the “good” version of Theory, showing off his WWA4 pedigree by way of AR Fox, all cool stuff and no extended chinlock sequences, so all around, not bad at all.

Harlem Bravado vs. Shane Strickland

Grappling to start, a trip to the floor and back puts Bravado in control until Strickland can get to work grinding him down with holds. Escalation, a bit of back and forth, and eventually we trundle to a finish.

Shane Strickland has had a stellar record in terms of delivering great matches in Evolve thus far but all rules are meant to be broken and this is overlong and kinda lifeless and I was just not into it. Part of that is that as much as I love the Bravado Brothers as a team (Grandma’s boys 4 life!), Harlem as a singles guy feels like he’s lacking in identity.

Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins & Montez Ford) (c) vs. the Unwanted (Eddie Kingston & Joe Gacy) (Evolve Tag Team Championship)

In a word… chaos! Things settle down, the Unwanted working Ford over at length until he gets a burst of energy and makes the tag. Dawkins in like a house afire, nearly taking his own partner out at one point by tossing Gacy into him, big splash, so close! Double-teaming Angelo on the floor in the aftermath, Montez does a tope con giro over the post but the ref gets caught up in addressing him and Strickland’s able to run in with a knee that feeds right into our finish.

This was a good match and a good way to close out the Street Profits’ six months as Evolve Tag Team Champions.

Orange Cassidy vs. Velveteen Dream

Electric atmosphere, Cassidy drawing a line in the sand and getting hip gyrations from Dream in return. Two can play at that game, and you can cut the sexual tension with a knife. Eventually the action intensifies, VD off the top and to the floor and he ends up sharing a moment with our man Henry T. Casey after he wipes Freshly-Squeezed out. Looking to grind Cassidy down but Orange is able to rally and start working the leg over to set up our final act.

This is exactly everything you wanted it to be the second you read the words “Orange Cassidy vs. Velveteen Dream”, folks. Seamlessly weaving from both men’s character work to their wrestling acumen and back again, to some shockingly intense leg work… great match, this one.

Evolve 124

Brandi Lauren vs. Priscilla Kelly

Intense mat grappling to start, turning the heat up with a little bit of flying, Lauren takes control with a Stunner over the ropes but that doesn’t last long before Kelly snipes the win out from under her.

Not much to this one at all, folks. It’s fine for what it is, of course, and the opening grappling really pops, but in the end this is almost more angle than match.

Post-match, Darby Allin makes the save for TPK and Anthony Henry rushes down after him, face half-painted and in long tights like Darby’s and we’re off!

Anthony Henry vs. Darby Allin

Hard-charging action on the floor to start, Henry firmly in control, his aggression on center stage. But when Anthony chooses to toy with him, Allin is able to get right back in the fight only for a crotching on the top rope to cut him right off. Coffin Drop countered into a German suplex, right into a Tenryu powerbomb but Darby won’t stay down and when Henry goes for a Coffin Drop of his own Allin is finally able to make a rally stick!

Attacking the arm, some slick grappling exchanges, and into the series of suicide dives that leads to our disqualification finish.

This rules. Like yes, the non-ending isn’t great, but it makes sense, they’re fighting again in a no DQ at Evolve 125 and if that match is just “this but with a finish”, it’s gonna be fantastic. Could watch these guys wrestle each other every month, easy.

Post-match Henry keeps attacking Darby with the chair, Priscilla Kelly shows up for the save and he decides he’s got no problem hitting her, JD Drake shows up to stop him and TPK’s the one who hits him! A superkick meant for her hits Allin and Anthony chokes him out with a Dragon sleeper!

Harlem Bravado vs. John Silver

Grappling early, Silver turns the heat up but Bravado snaps off a DDT that cuts him right off and takes him back to square one. Working over the Meat Man’s head and neck, soon John rallies and they start trading big moves on our way to the finish.

This is fine– again, credit where it’s due I’ve enjoyed Silver’s work here even if he usually doesn’t grab me, but there’s not a huge amount of structure or story here outside the head and neck stuff that just doesn’t develop as deeply as I’d like.

Adrian Jaoude vs. Wheeler YUTA

Grappling to start, YUTA with a bit of an edge but a right to the kidneys gets Jaoude right in. Moving to striking, Adrian shrugging everything Wheeler has to offer before raining down palm strikes and wrenching the holy hell out of YUTA’s hand. Jockeying for position, Jaoude with a big German suplex, into those deadly kicks and into the finish from there.

Again, I am loving Jaoude’s approach here in Evolve and Wheeler is as welcome a surprise as Rory Gulak was at 123. Jaoude vs. Timothy Thatcher when?

Curt Stallion vs. Leon Ruff

Ruff strong out the gates, flipping away and sending Stallion to the floor, doing his mentor AR Fox proud in the process. From flips to strikes, Curt powering through, locking Leon down with a Cobra Twist. Intensity growing as the action escalates, wicked stomp to the foot into the short-arm DDT for a really cool nearfall for Stallion. Both men digging deep, sweet straitjacket German suplex from Ruff, Curt hits his moonsault Russian legsweep AND THEY LAND ON THEIR FEET…

Suffice it to say, this is a great match. It’s got a tiny bit of New Japan main event syndrome, so to speak, where you could cut a few minutes out of the early-goings without losing much at all, but the screaming climax is the real deal, folks.

Adrian Alanis vs. Anthony Greene vs. Liam Gray vs. Mike Orlando

Our two Skulk boys going after Orlando first, Greene comes in, Mike recovers and runs roughshod for a bit. Anthony runs wild with a balloon and impressive high flying skills, much to the delight of the La Boom crowd. Alanis back body drops Gray hard into the crowd, Orlando with a big man tope con giro! Liam back in, spikes him with a DDT, Greene drives him into the mat in turn but a missed dive lets Adrian dump him and head to the finish with his Skulk brother in tow.

This is a pretty standard Evolve four-way– some hype action from some familiar faces and some new ones. Not exactly an instant classic, but fun and a nice bit of breathing room on the card.

AR Fox vs. Josh Briggs

Fox dodging from the jump, but he gets cocky and does the Skulk dance, letting Briggs take him out with a kick. AR right back at it, to the dives immediately, into the crowd with abandon! Fox keeps the pressure up, knowing that the second he lets up Josh is gonna take him out, and take him out he does, shoving him off the top and ribs-first into the barricade!

They take turns ramming each other over the barricade, Briggs hip tosses him into the damn apron, this is a brutal, physical match. Back inside, Fox firing away, they jockey for position in the corner, AR going for his Swanton and his 450 and neither find traction. Go to Hell connects, only two, to the apron and Fox ends up getting busted open! Onto the stage for a guillotine leg drop on the apron, Lo Mein Rain to the floor, AR Fox laying it all on the line!

Josh Briggs finds the werewithal to kick out of the 450 at one, he blocks Lo Mein Pain… AVALANCHE M5 FOR THE VICTORY!

So yeah, this match is friggin’ incredible and it’s a damn shame Briggs isn’t going to be able to follow up on it immediately at Mania weekend, what with dislocating his hip in the finish and all. Just this awesome story of Fox knowing he has to keep hammering Briggs with everything he’s got because every shot from the big man is gonna hit like a freight train, and Josh learning that he has to go as big as possible if he wants to actually put AR away. Fantastic stuff.

Austin Theory vs. JD Drake (c) (WWN Championship)

Theory stalling early, refusing to meet Drake in battle, but finally he gets JD on the floor and starts trying to get his shots in. It goes… fairly poorly until a second trip to the floor sees Austin cut a dive off with a forearm. Tables turned, Theory works him over a good long while but you can’t keep the Blue Collar Badass down and he chains a pop-up Flowsion into the Vader Bomb for a sweet nearfall.

Austin gets his licks in, Drake chops the flesh from his chest, Theory drops the 301-pounder with the spin-out Argentine Powerbomb and follows it with a superkick and a Death Valley Driver but James Damn Drake neither flags nor fails! This feeds into the final run that leads to our finish and there we are.

This was a great match. Credit where it’s due, I’ve given Theory a hard time for inserting these bland WWE-style chinlock heat segments into his matches but here against Drake he spends an extensive amount of time in control without going to that well, and well, JD Drake is JD Drake, he just always delivers and might be my single favorite active wrestler on the indies to watch today.

Post-match Theory gets on the mic and claims that he was only at 50% for that match and the only time he gives 100% is when he defends the Evolve World Championship before claiming there’s no competition on the indies or even at NXT.

To which Trevin Adams rolls up and says he’s got a video that Austin might be interested in, which is Kyle O’Reilly of the Undisputed ERA taking issue with Theory’s comments of late about him being dead weight and challenging him to a match at Evolve 125 on April 4! Austin Theory accepts the challenge!

Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins & Montez Ford) & Velveteen Dream vs. the Unwanted (Eddie Kingston, Joe Gacy, & Shane Strickland)

Dream and Strickland with some mat grappling early, turning up the heat with some lucha libre and VD’s leg issue comes back up! Working the NXT North American Champion over, Dawkins gets the tag and comes in hot but soon enough finds himself worked over as well as the match breaks down. Finally Ford’s in the match, running wild, Tower of Doom, into the “everybody do something cool” part of the match.

Colby Corino runs interference, Montez barely saves Velveteen from having his arm broken by Swerve and we head to the finish.

So this is just a really fun trios match, folks. It’s a little by the numbers in the early goings but when it gets hot it gets hot and it’s frankly just darn cool to see a whole trio of NXT guys square up against three of Evolve’s finest.

Post-match the Unwanted attack and lay the NXT guys out and Strickland breaks Ford’s arm by Pillmanizing it with a stomp off the top!

Overall

This was a really strong set of shows to send us into WrestleMania weekend, even if one of the biggest and most compelling stories set up last month seems to have been somewhat sidelined– yes, Priscilla Kelly and Darby Allin are now officially allied, but with only a mixed tag at Mercury Rising and no title shot in sight I’m confused as to what’s happening there.

That being said, this weekend had a bunch of great matches, with great performances from all the usual suspects but especially Anthony Henry, who’s just thrown himself into this turn in an excellent way and just exudes menace from every pore in his body.

But also just the whole vibe with the NXT guys against the Unwanted and everything… I have my quibbles still but this really does feel like it’s been a special time for Evolve and I’m excited to see what the next step from here is now.

Check the VOD out on WWNLive, folks, whether as an individual purchase or at no additional cost with your Club WWN subscription.




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