This is the Fightful.com live viewing party for EVOLVE 76! The first part of a two-night doubleheader of EVOLVE events happening in San Antonio as part of Royal Rumble weekend, this doubleheader also marks the promotion's farewell to Chris Hero, who has returned to WWE. Hero faces Keith Lee, the latest WWN signee, in the main event of a card that also will see the EVOLVE Tag Titles on the line. Hero is just the latest EVOLVE standout to leave for WWE, with Johnny Gargano, TJ Perkins, Tony Nese, and Drew Gulak all departing for WWE in recent months. This creates a vacuum for new opportunities and potential fresh rivalries and matchups going forward in 2017. Be sure to come back here at 9 p.m. EST to follow all of the action.
The pre-show featured wrestlers from the Texas Wrestling Alliance, which is best known for being the school and promotion co-founded by Shawn Michaels. I missed the first match and the early portion of the second due to connectivity issues, on my end.
Max Castellanos vs. Rudy Russo
Russo gets the win after going for a springboard, getting caught in midair by Castellaneos, and then countering into an inside cradle.
Carson vs. Moonshine Mantell
Immediate collar and elbow between two big, well-built wrestlers. Carson takes a shortcut with a kick to the gut and pulls Mantell into a side headlock to boos. Couple of fists to the head by Lion. Mantell shoots him off into the ropes and Carson drops him with a shoulder tackle. Another collar and elbow, and Mantell transitions into a go-behind. Carson breaks free with a couple of back elbows, goes off the ropes. Mantell cuts him off with a forearm, then a slam. Mantell telegraphs a back drop, gets kicked under the chin by Carson, but Mantell recovers and hits a back suplex. Carson retreats to the apron. Mantell pulls him between the top and middle ropes and goes for a kick, but Carson dodges it and snaps Mantel's neck back against the top rope. Running neckbreaker gets a two count for Carson. Mantell tries a comeback, but Carson cuts him off and chokes him against the middle rope. Lots of old-school heel tactics by Carson, who starts paintbrushing Mantell with slaps and taunting him. Mantell answers with a couple of big chops and a nice belly-to-belly suplex that gets a two count. Mantell with punches and chops in the corner on Carson now. Carson gets a near fall on a nice catch powerslam. Carson with a modifed chin lock, then rakes Mantell's back and goes back to the chin lock. Carson tries to finish with a splash off the ropes, but Mantell gets the knees up. Mantell catches Carson with a back elbow, avoids a corner attack by Carson and makes his comeback, hitting a couple of running axehandle blows followed by a back drop off the ropes. Shoulder blocks, chops and forearms in the corner now by Mantell, who hits a big running lariat off the ropes. He covers and only gets two. Both guys trade shots at center ring. Mantell with a couple more chops, pushes Carson back into the corner, Irish whip, Carson with the ol' up and over, lands behind Mantell and connects on a Rock Bottom in the middle of the ring. Cover... only a two count! Now Carson goes after the top turnbuckle pad in the far corner. The referee stops him. Carson charges Mantell, who delivers a knee to the head. Mantell hoists Carson for what looks like a crucifix bomb, but instead brings Carson down facefirst for a modified Gory Bomb to get the pin and the win.
WIN: Moonshine Mantell
Main card begins at the top of the hour.
Here we go. Lenny Leonard kicks off the show, then calls out Catch Point. The entire group comes out, with a fairly loud "Bro!" chant for Fightful podcast host Matt Riddle. Riddle, by the way, has the PROGRESS Atlas Title, which he won earlier this month. Tracy Williams, the new leader of the faction now that Drew Gulak is gone for WWE, says a few words about how it's a new era for EVOLVE and Catch Point. He brags a bit about new Catch Point members Jaka and Chris Dickinson, and Jaka says "let's do this now!"
Jaka vs. Peter Kaasa
Jaka bulls Kaasa back into the corner on the initial collar and elbow, and makes a clean break. Headlock by Jaka, Kaasa shoots him off, shoulder tackle and neither man budge. Another shoulder tackle by Jaka, Kaasa goes nowhere again. Now Kaasa goes for his own shoulder tackle, Jaka ducks but Kaasa with a nice flip into a dropkick. Hip toss by Kaasa, clotheslines Jaka over the top rope, then skins the cat to get back into the ring as the crowd applauds politely. Jaka cuts off Kaasa, dropping him throat first across the top rope, but Kaasa with a release German. Jaka counters a corner attack by Kaasa, then hits a rolling kick in the corner for a two count. Headbutt by Jaka, shoots him off and hits an elbow but the pin gets one. Kaasa fires up with chops and forearms, but Jaka answers and drops Kaasa with a wicked sounding chop, then a vertical suplex and pin attempt for a two count. Double open hand strike across the back of Kaasa. Kaasa counters an Irish whip, hits a Thesz press and rains down punches on Jaka before dumping him to the floor. Kaasa with a punch or two out on the floor before Jaka drives him back against the ring apron. Muta-esque elbow by Jaka back inside the ring, covers and another two count. Head and leg catch suplex by Jaka, another pin attempt and another two count. Kaasa going for the far corner, Jaka with a waistlock and pulls Kaasa back to center ring, rolling cradle for another two count, and then Jaka rocks Kaasa with a headbutt. More headbutts between the shoulder blades by Jaka, followed by a snap DDT. 1... 2... Kaasa kicks out. Jaka pulls Kaasa back up and blasts him with a chop, Irish whip, Kaasa ducks it and hits a flying lariat, a punch and a back drop as he makes his comeback. Another Irish whip, and Kaasa with a tilt-a-whirl slam, followed by a standing corkscrew moonsault! Pin attempt only gets two! Now Kaasa calling for the Kaasa Tornado... Jaka rolls out of the way and goes to the corner. Kaasa charges in, Jaka backdrops him out to the apron and superkicks him to the floor. Jaka measuring Kaasa... slingshot plancha out onto the floor! Jaka goes up top, but he takes too much time. Kaasa up the corner ropes with an Angle Slam off the top! 1... 2... Jaka kicks out! Kaasa goes for a springboard and the middle rope breaks. Kaasa lands very badly. That looked scary. The referee checking on Kaasa, but the match continues. Jaka with a kick, followed by a sitout powerbomb in the middle of the ring for 1... 2... 3.
Lenny Leonard runs down some of the upcoming EVOLVE events, just trying to kill time while they repair the ring after that broken middle rope. He specifically mentions the tournament to crown the first WWN Champion, which will take place in Orlando during WrestleMania weekend.
Leonard then cuts to some pre-taped video...
And we're back! Lenny Leonard says Kaasa is getting "tended to" in the backstage area. Hopefully he's OK; again, that could have been very very bad.
Catch Point comes back to the ring once again, and again Williams has the microphone. He says Catch Point will prove they're the best tonight by defeating Thatcher, the EVOLVE champ, and Cobb. Dickinson grabs the mic and calls out his opponent.
Chris Dickinson vs. Darby Allin
Huge size difference here, and not the first time these two have faced one another in EVOLVE. Dickinson using his power advantage early to keep Allin hemmed up in the corner. Allin tries for a springboard monkey flip, Dickinson blocks, Allin lands on his feet. Allin can't Irish whip Dickinson out of the corner so he walks up the ropes and hits an armdrag. Allin counters a powerbomb by setting both feet on the top rope, and delivering on another springboard armdrag. Momentum ends in a hurry as Dickinson Beals Allin against the turnbuckles in the near corner. Running power slam by Dickinson, who covers and only gets a one count. Chops in the corner by Dickinson, who starts fish hooking Allin before snapmaring him and kicking his smaller foe in the back. Brain buster by Dickinson... cover only gets two. Dickinson throws Allin into the corner and hits a lam strike. Allin answers. Dickinson with a series of slaps and stomps to batter Allin down to a seated position in the corner. Dickinson hoists Allin for a belly to belly, sets him on the top turnbuckle. Allin with a series of back elbows to cut him off,. Dickinson goes to stand on the top rope but Dickinson kicks his legs out from under him to crotch Allin on the top rope. Dickinson grabs Allin in a crucifix bomb... Allin counters with a huracanrana to the floor, then hits that crazy no-hands dive of his out to the floor! Both men struggle back to the apron. Headbutts by Allin. Dickinson into the ring, waistlock on Allin, pulls him through the ropes into a nasty looking wheelbarrow German suplex! Rolls through into another... rolls through and attempts a third, but Allin counters into a jackknife cradle that only gets two. Clothesline in the corner by Dickinson, followed by a lariat off the ropes... Dickinson gets Allin up for that crucifix bomb... Allin counters into a victory roll... and he gets the win!
Dickinson attacks Allin after the bell but after just a few seconds, Williams and Fred Yehi pull him off. Catch Point holding Dickinson back from pursuing a victorious but thoroughly pummeled Allin out to the floor.
WIN: Darby Allin
DUSTIN vs. Jason Kincaid
Fightful.com contributor "The Gift" Kincaid faces Dustin in what's being billed as a special challenge match.
Initial exchange of holds. Dustin with a wristlock, Kincaid down into a headstand before kipping up to escape. Dustin goes for a half crab, Kincaid rolls out of it. All kinds of unorthodox counters by Kincaid so far which honestly are difficult to describe. These two are definitely testing that rebuilt middle rope. Dustin with a headscissors, Kincaid with a handstand and walks on his hands to get out of it, blocks a kick by Dustin, spins him around and shoves him down facefirst to the mat. Kincaid hooks Dustin's head, walks up the ropes using his hands and then hits a headscissors, but Dustin cuts him off with an overhead belly-to-belly throw into the turnbuckles. Dustin working over Kincaid out on the floor now, drops him facefirst down into the ring apron then posts him. Back into the ring we go. Leonard really trying to build up Kincaid on commentary talking about his background and working on his submission game. Two men trading chops now, with Kincaid firing from his knees. Underhook suplex by Dustin gets a two count. Now Kincaid trying to fire back, but Dustin with a scoop slam and a measured elbow off the ropes. Another cover and another two count. Kincaid coming back with elbow smash, forearm, and a chop but Dustin dumps him to the floor again. Kincaid headfirst into the apron again. Straight rights to the head of Kincaid, who is seated on the steps. Kincaid shoved back into the ring, Dustin goes for a slingshot senton but Kincaid with the knees up to block. Kincaid goes for a submission but Dustin blocks. Dustin sends Kincaid off the ropes, drops him facefirst to the mat and hits a basement dropkick. Cover... but only a two count. Now Dustin heading out and up to the top rope. Kincaid cuts him off with a press slam, sitting out with it. Dustin into the far corner, blocks Kincaiid's charge with a boot up, Kincaid catches Dustin with a powerslam, cartwheels to his feet and hits a double stomp then immediately into a springboard second-rope blockbuster. 1... 2... no! Dustin with Soul Food... Kincaid hits a lariat through the ropes, followed by a slingshot rolling neck breaker that only gets two. Kincaid charging Dustin in the corner, Dustin counters with a high knee, hits a Falcon Arrow but Kincaid kicks out at two and a half. Now Dustin biting Kincaid by his long dreads. Hooking Kincaid for a possible powerbomb, but Kincaid is blocking. Dustin softens him up with forearms across the back, hoists him, Kincaid drops down, but Dustin hits a release powerbomb off the ropes, then turns him over into a half crab. Kincaid trying to make the ropes and Dustin transitions into an STF. Kincaid gets his free hand to the bottom rope. Kincaid slumped in the near corner, and Dustin hits a charging kn ee to a seated Kincaid. Charges again, Kincaid flips Dustin out to the apron and an elbow knocks him down. Kincaid with an innovative flip over the top rope into a douible stomp to the chest of Dustin on the apron. Kincaid tries a suicide dive, Dustin catches him, then elevates Kincaid with a suplex, walks around the near ringpost to the adjacent side of the ring before finally dropping the hammer on a suplex on the floor! More innovative offense. Dustin grabs a chair but the referee gets it away from him. Kincaid leaps up onto the bottom rope behind Dustin into a springboard stunner. Back into the ring... Kincaid with the double stomp, then hooks Taylor in a straitjacket-style submission that Leonard calls the Compassionate Release. Dustin taps out. A big win for Kincaid over a former EVOLVE tag champion...
WIN: Jason Kincaid
Zack Sabre, Jr. vs. Ethan Page
Page accompanied to the ring by The Gatekeepers. Before the match can get going Sabre comes storming out to the ring area, drills the Gatekeepers with a penalty kick and a knee off the apron to take them out of the equation before taking the fight right to Page. They brawl around the ringside area, before Sabre hooks Page out on the floor in an octopus hold. Nasty sounding forearm uppercut and a kick to the leg by Sabre. Sabre going after Page's left arm looking for the Jim Breaks Special, but Page counters and sends Sabre into the ringpost. Page gets Sabre in and the match officially under way. Both guys trading shots. Sabre shoots for a takedown but before he can hook a leg submission fully, Page into the ropes. Sabre gets Page back to center ring and working on the leg, now stretching Page with a modified half crab, but with Sabre facing Page. He cranks the ankle as well and Page into the ropes. European uppercuts by Sabre, Page answers with a forearm of his own that drops Sabre. Page gets Sabre into the corner, drops him with a forearm then delivers a running knee off the far ropes. Page Irish whips Sabre with velocity into the opposite corner. Sabre starts to rally with a running big boot, then a leaping kick and the momentum carries Sabre out to the ring apron, but before he can follow up, Page with a running kick of his own to knock Sabre to the floor. The Gatekeepers start to converge on Sabre but Page calls them off. Page out after Sabre, goes to post him again but Sabre gets a foot up to block, pushes off and hooks Page for a tornado DDT! Sabre goes for the penalty kick out on the floor, Page ducks it, Sabre turns and charges to follow, Page catches him and hits a tilt-a-whirl slam that drops Sabre facedown on the floor. Page shoves Sabre stomach first into the apron, rocks him with a forearm to the head. Hooks both arms, swings Sabre's legs up onto the apron... and then turns Sabre into a backbreaker down across an extended knee. Page into the ring and Sabre takes until 17 of the 20 count to get back in. Page pounces with stomps followed by a scoop slam. Punches in the corner now by Page, followed by a boot across the throat. Sabre trying to fire back with a series of European uppercuts but a roundhouse right by Page cuts him off. Headbutt by Page, but Sabre shakes it off with a running European uppercut. Now back and forth trading shots, as the fans boo Page and cheer Sabre. Page winding up for a big right three times but each time Sabre cuts him off with a kick to the arm. Running big boot by Sabre. Page into the corner, Sabre with a charging European uppercut, then leaps to the middle rope and springs off with a spin kick to the head that levels Page! Sabre has shown lots of fire in this match. Page into the far corner, Sabre charges in with leg kicks. He goes for the penalty kick, Page blocks and clocks Sabre with a right. Page goes back off the ropes, Sabre charges in with a European uppercut to block, then hits a deadlift bridging German. Page kicks out at one... Sabre brings Page back into a full nelson. Page blocks. Sabre gets Page down on the mat, wrenches his neck then hooks Page in a RNC/hammerlock submission combo. Page able to roll to the ropes. Sabre now delivering kicks to Page, who's still down. Nasty sounding kick to the chest as Page gets to one knee. Sabre with a European uppercut as Page stands. Page answers with a slap, Sabre with an upkick to the left eblow, then hooks Page in a kimura with a bodyscissors. Page powers out with a fallaway slam that hurls Sabre. Sabre blocks the bicycle kick by Page, into an octopus hold. Page tries to counter into a slam, Sabre drops down. They charge the corner. Sabre with a European uppercut, but gets caught by Page as he climbs the corner ropes. Sabre, still seated on the top turnbuckle, hoists Page in an RNC. Now both men on the top turnbuckle. Page with a back elbow and hits a modified powerslam off the top! Page hits his version of the RKO, goes for the pin... only a two count! Back to center ring, and Sabre counters, takes Page's back, and transitions around into a triangle choke. Sabre also traps the left arm, and Page taps out. The match is over but Sabre won't let go of the hold. The Gatekeepers come in to jump Sabre, but before they can, Allin slides in and drills both Gatekeepers with low blows. Sabre chokes out Page into unconsciousness, but the referee reverses the decision over Sabre's refusal to break the hold and gives Page the win. Allin remains in the ring, taunting an unconscious Page after Sabre has already made his exit.
WIN: Ethan Page
Matt Riddle vs. ACH
Fightful.com podcast host Riddle takes on ACH, who is making his EVOLVE debut here.
Nice reaction for the entrance of ACH. Riddle offers a handshake as we get under way, and ACH accepts. Early hold for hold exchange and when they go to the mat ACH actually gets the better of the exchange. Riddle blocks a leg kick and connects on a heel trip, dragging ACH back to center ring. He starts for an armbar but transitions into a triangle but ACH is right at the ropes and grabs the middle one to force a break. Now ACH with a single leg takedown, working on the left knee of Riddle. Riddle goes for the arm to counter but ACH is able to roll free. ACH showing his mat wrestling and technical skill so far despite the well-deserved rep as a high flyer. Now ACH with a side headlock, and drops Riddle with a shoulder tackle when Riddle shoves him off into the ropes. ACH evades a couple of kicks by Riddle. Riddle dodges a dropkick. They lock up again, Riddle carries ACH into the corner, series of forearms, followed by a chop and a leaping running forearm, then an Exploder suplex. ACH left cringing after the impact. Riddle drags ACH back and hits his leaping senton. Riddle up measuring ACH as he struggles to his knees, and Riddle delivers a kick to the chest. ACH up into the corner, Riddle follows him in with a running forearm and a measured chop. Another charge by Riddle gets cut off by a back elbow. Riddle blocks an ACH kick and hits a jumping knee under the chin. Riddle teasea a dive, but baseball slides out to the floor and delivers a huge overhand slap that drops ACH. Kick to the chest by Riddle. ACH answers with a chop but Riddle shrugs it off and answers, then throws ACH back in under the bottom rope. Dead lift gut wrench suplex by Riddle... rolls through and hits another. Riddle covers and hooks the near leg but only gets a two. ACH tring to get back to his feet in the corner, but Riddle is right there. ACH ducks Riddle's charge, off the ropes, baseball slide between the legs, another baseball slide for the heel trip, followed by a double stomp and a senton. Riddle powders out, and ACH with a running soccer kick to the chest that ECHOES through the building. ACH taking a chance to recover as Riddle is slow to stand. ACH limping as he shoves Riddle back into the ring. Riddle evades ACH and connects on a German suplex. Chop and a series of kicks to the chest by Riddle with ACH slumped against the rope. ACH somersault to avoid another strike by Riddle, gets Riddle down and after a little bit of playing to the crowd he ensnares Riddle in a Muta lock. Riddle gets to the ropes to break. Both men back standing. ACH with a couple of chops, and the second one against the ropes sounds particularly nasty. Riddle answers with an overhand chop, ACH with a big forearm that drops Riddle. Riddle hooks the top rope to block the Irish whip, but then gets lit up with more chops with a kick sprinkled in. ACH blocks a clothesline by Riddle and a knee strike, but not the upkick. Another knee strike drops ACH. Now Riddle into the opposite corner measuring ACH. Charging forearm at center ring. Both men trading overhand chops to the chest now at center ring. Riddle with a head kick, ACH into a snap German suplex. Riddle immediately to his feet and hits a big German of his own. Both men are down and the crowd applauds, and gives its first "This is awesome" chant of the night. Both men slow to rise, and now Riddle to his knees and calling out ACH. Both men on their knees and just trading strikes. To their feet and Riddle with a wicked looking series of forearms, followed by palm strikes to the body. ACH avoids a spin kick, hits a big kick of his own. Riddle fires back, hoists ACH in a fireman's carry and connects on Bro To Sleep, rolls through into a fisherman's buster and gets the three count.
WIN: Matt Riddle
Riddle cuts a promo after the match and notes that, unlike Williams and Yehi, he doesn't have a WWN title. He says 2017 will be the "Year of the Bro." But as he wraps up, DUSTIN is out and attacks Riddle with a steel chair. He leaves Riddle laying to decent heat from the crowd. These two already are set to wrestle at EVOLVE 77 tomorrow in a No DQ match. DUSTIN gives a shout out to Drew Galloway before getting in a few more stomps before the referees hit the ring to stop the attack.
EVOLVE Tag Titles: Tracy Williams & Fred Yehi defend vs. Timothy Thatcher & Jeff Cobb (w/ Stokely Hathaway)
Williams and Yehi make their second title defense against Thatcher and Cobb, who will square off tomorrow night for the EVOLVE Title. This is the first EVOLVE appearance for Thatcher since EVOLVE 72 in November, where he successfully defended his EVOLVE Title against Drew Gulak in a Squared Circle of Survival match but suffered a nasty concussion in the process.
Already dissension being teased between Thatcher's manager, Hathaway, and Cobb during the ring entrances. Yehi and Thatcher start off and the match quickly goes to the mat. The initial exchange is brief and ends in a stand-off. Thatcher briefly picks an ankle then hooks a side headlock on Yehi. Crowd is definitely behind Yehi. Yehi going for Thatcher's right arm, spins Thatcher down to the mat, pin attempt only gets one, and Yehi transitions into an armbar. Thatcher bulls Yehi back into the ropes near the champions' corner, and Williams tags himself into the match. Thatcher with the single leg, Williams counters into an ankle lock. Both men hooked up in a modified collar and elbow while their legs are tied up. Now trading shots from the seated position. Thatcher stands and has Williams' leg, but Williams with the trip and can't hook an ankle before Thatcher gets to the ropes. Couple of big forearms by Williams take Thatcher to one knee, Thatcher answers back with a forearm smash and an European uppercut. Knee to the gut, Williams blocks a gutwrench suplex and again gets to the ropes near his own corner, letting Yehi tag himself into the match. Yehi goes low for a dropkick to the knee, then stomps Thatcher's left hand. Thatcher, unfazed, back to his feet and hits a belly to belly suplex. Yehi comes back with a stomp to the instep, a trip and a basement dropkick. Pin only gets two. Yehi grabbing Thatcher by the ears to get him up, back into the champs' corner, Williams tags in and hits a running knee to the ribs while Yehi still has Thatcher hooked. Thatcher going to work on Williams' left arm before finally tagging in Cobb, who gets cut off wiuth a series of big forearms by Williams. Cobb shrugs them off and throws Williams. Tag to Yehi, who comes in with chops on Cobb that don't budge the big man. Yehi ducks a chop by Cobb, delivers a foot stomp. Yehi off into the ropes, Cobb hooks him and delivers a spinning release throw from a back suplex position. Nasty forearm uppercut by Cobb. Thatcher is back in, hitting a forearm, a European uppercut, a knee to the body and a Russian legsweep in a combo before transitioning into a submission on the mat. Yehi able to escape by wrenching the ankle of Thatcher, who elbows his way free. Cobb tags back in. Irish whip, Yehi ducks a couple of clotheslines, goes for a cross body but Cobb catches him and hits a delayed vertical suplex. Pin attempt only gets two. Reverse waistlock. Yehi tries to elbow his way free, blocks an O'Connor roll by Cobb and is able to tag Williams who goes to the top rope and comes in with a big flying strike on Cobb, then waylays Thatcher in the corner. Cobb blocks a German by Williams, they battle briefly in the corner but Williams gets the single leg and hits a twisting back suplex. Cobb lands near enough for Thatcher to tag himself in. Nasty exchange of strikes between Willliams and Thatcher ends with a discus clothesline by Williams that only gets a two count. Thatcher cuts off Williams' follow up with a forearm, into a double underhook suplex. It gets a two count. Thatcher hooks Williams' arm, tags Cobb, who delivers a measured falling headbutt. Cobb lighting up Williams in the corner with forearms and chops, then shoulder blocks to the midsection. Williams put in a pump handle, Cobb walks back past center ring and hits a dead lift release suplex. Dead lift gut wrench by Cobb, and the challengers tag again. Now Thatcher with his own dead lift gutwrench into a suplex. Cobb tags himself back in and hits the exact same move. Thatcher back in, and another deadlift gutwrench as the one-upsmanship continues. Cobb spins Williams around on a couple rotations before hitting the next deadlift gutwrench. Yet another gutwrench by Thatcher, but when he goes for the pin Yehi able to break it up despite being knocked off the apron by Thatcher mere moments earlier. Suplex and a pin by Thatcher only gets two, and Williams is able to rally and hit the champ with a brainbuster. Williams tags Yehi, who comes in the proverbial house afire with a couple of dropkicks, elbows his way out of a back suplex by Thatcher and lights up Thatcher with a series of kicks capped by a shotgun dropkick. Yehi sends Cobb off the apron. Yehi with a discus forearm, Cobb in to break up the pin and suplexes Yehi. Williams in and goes after Cobb with forearms and chops. Williams pulls down the top rope to send Cobb to the floor, and follows with a slingshot pescado. Cobb up after just a second, tries to post Williams but Williams drops down and sends Cobb into the post, then levels Cobb with a lariat. Thatcher avoids a stomp by Yehi, steps on the hand of Yehi. Thatcher has Yehi's arm trapped and lighting him up with clubbing blows. Yehi with a headbutt to escape, trips Thatcher and transitions smoothly into the Koji Clutch. Thatcher can't reach the ropes, and he taps!
WIN: Tracy Williams & Fred Yehi to retain the titles
After the match, Leonard on commentary speculates whether the layoff for the past two months has Thatcher dealing with ring rust. The champions exit when Larry Dallas comes to the ring with a microphone to ask Hathaway whether Thatcher will retain his title tomorrow night against Cobb. Hathaway cuts a promo saying Thatcher didn't lose, but Cobb lost the match for them. Cobb responds, bringing up his long history with Thatcher, says he'll win the title tomorrow night and asks Thatcher, "when did you become Stokely's bitch?" Brief tease of dissension between Thatcher and Hathaway before Thatcher menaces Dallas out of the ring.
Chris Hero vs. Keith Lee
This is the EVOLVE debut for Lee, who signed a WWN contract earlier this month.
Big reaction for Hero on his entrance, who is wearing a retro Seattle Sonics jacket and Sonics-colored gear. (No Spurs gear?) Hero does a lap around ringside giving friendly forearm taps to every fan in the front row. Some good production values, as the camera catches Lee just staring, unblinking, at Hero during his jubilant entrance.
Here we go. Both men slowly out of the corner and advance to center ring for a staredown. Hero offers a handshake, and after pausing, Lee accepts. Collar and elbow at center ring. Lee gets the better of it but before fully forcing Hero back into the corner Hero wriggles free and retreats to the far corner. Knuckle lock at center ring, and Hero twists Lee into a wristlock. Lee trying to use his power to send Hero back to the mat but Hero transitions into an arm wringer. Hero gets Lee down to one knee and still working the arm. Twists back into the wristlock, working the hand and even the fingers, before spinning back into an arm wringer. Lee busts off a somersault and gets free of the hold. They tie up again, and Hero catches a side headlock. Hero working the hold. Very deliberate pace so far in this match. Hero transitions into the cravate. Lee able to shoot Hero off finally, but he hooks the top rope to avoid a collision at center ring. During this early feeling out process, Lenny Leonard has been expounding on the various accomplishments during Hero's career. Hero teases another knuckle lock but hooks a side headlock instead. Lee tries to counter with a back suplex, Hero rolls through. Lee with a headlock of his own, loses it quickly. Lee shoots Hero off, and the top rope snaps. Hero lost his balance and his neck went against the rope, and there's a break in the action as he apparently was shaken up. Now Hero back in and he is dissasembling the top rope himself. Fans chanting "F--- that rope!" Now Lee actually helping Hero dissasemble the top rope and get it out of the ring. And Hero immediately with a leaping push kick. Springboard forearm smashes off the second rope. Lee firing back with an overhand chop and some punches with his left. They trade chops but Lee's chop sends Hero down and out to the floor to regroup. Hero calling Lee out to the floor, and Lee is happy to accept the invite. Hero playing to the crowd ... and then charges! Forearms by Hero to the back of Lee, who scoops Hero and dumps him back-first on the apron. Forearms and chops to the chest of Hero, who rolls to his feet and hits a big forearm uppercut followed by an overhand right that staggers Lee and has Hero clutching his hand. Bicycle kick by Hero staggers Lee! Both men trade stiff punches, and now they go nose to nose still out on the floor. Forearm exchange now... both guys hitting hard! Lee with a couple of measured forearms and Hero is staggered. He retreats to the ringpost, wrapping up around it. Lee with a waistlock trying to pry him free. Hero lets go of the post, Lee still has the waistlock. Hero backs Lee against the post and, with his head right against it, connects on a forearm shot right to the side of the head. Hero then turns to the referee and asks for this match to be fought under no countouts. Big double overhand chop by Lee leaves Hero cringing! Lee goes for another and Hero catches Lee with a jab right to the face. Hero picks Lee's right leg, sweeps the standing leg... leaping senton out on the floor! Now Hero with a knee drop to the head of Lee. Hero to the apron now... somersault senton onto Lee on the floor! Now that Lee is down, Hero back into the ring and tells the referee to start a count. Funny... Lee beats the 20 count fairly easily. Hero with a back chop to Lee, then a knee to the side of Lee's head. Hero starts talking trash as he hits another big forearm across the back and a push kick to the side of the head. Lee is finally up and he is simmering with anger. Lee making his comeback with another series of strikes capped by a double chop. Lee goes for a suplex. Hero able to block. Lee finally does hoist Hero, leaving his feet and leaping on the landing. Cover only gets two. Lee immediately into a chinlock but Hero is near the ropes and forces a quick break. Lee has Hero in a fireman's carry but quick fire back elbows to escape. Another nasty forearm by Hero, then gets Lee into the corner, climbs to the middle rope into a somersault stunner. Hero with the cover, hooks the leg... only a two count! Lee slow to stand and Hero backs off, measuring him. Hero goes for the roaring elbow but before he hits it, Lee delivers a huge lariat. Immediately goes for the pin... Hero out at two and a half! Lee adjusting the knee pads as he heads for the corner. Lee up to the middle rope... and THE MIDDLE ROPE BREAKS! Hero was rolling toward the ringpost, and Lee landed right on him. Who put this ring together?!?! The referee checks on both men but we quickly resume the action. Both men to their feet, Hero with three stiff forearms but Lee won't go down. Hero measuring Lee for another... Lee catches him, into a sit out powerbomb! 1... 2... Hero with the shoulder up! Lee goes to pull Hero up for another move and Hero crumples. The referee checking on Hero, who is favoring the back of his head but says he can continue. Now Lee finally has Hero up, immediately into a fireman's carry. Hero trying to elbow his way free, repeated elbow strikes by Hero but Lee has not dropped him. More elbows by Hero, who drops down behind Lee, delivers a spinning bicycle kick... then the roaring elbow! Another roaring elbow... then a third to the back of the head but Lee still has not gone down! Hero going for the Gotch piledriver... and after a battle, he hits it! Hero covers, hooks the leg... and gets the three count.
WIN: Chris Hero
Hero gets the microphone after the match. Hero brags about himself a bit, then spends quite a bit of time putting over Keith Lee. Hero talks about his career, which encompassed 18 years and 2,000 matches. He talks about making opponents bleed and knocking their teeth out. Hero praises how big and bad and tough Lee is. He tells Lee to find his killer instinct, and he'll be unstoppable. Now Zack Sabre is in the ring. He vows to beat Hero tomorrow, "and then Kassius Ohno can piss off to Florida." Sabre promptly exits the ring. Hero says he'll make people bleed and knock out teeth tomorrow, and then shakes Lee's hand.
Hero does another victory lap around the ringside area.
And that'll do it... join us tomorrow for EVOLVE 77!
My Thoughts: An entertaining card from top to bottom. Hero vs. Lee was match of the night, and I would imagine it would have entered "epic" territory if not for the ring rope issues, which really were ridiculous. Being able to, I'm presuming, re-structure an entire match on the fly like that speaks highly to the caliber of both as performers. Thankfully no one appeared to have sustained serious injury, although all three situations could have been really bad. As the first show of the year for EVOLVE and one that took place with Hero on his way out, it felt like the promotion was trying to build new stars and definitely succeeded on that end. Lee looked very impressive in his debut, going toe to toe with the hard hitting Hero. Yehi scored a clean submission win over Thatcher, who has held the EVOLVE Title for more than a year and a half. Kincaid defeated a former EVOLVE tag champion. Allin scored a meaningful upset win over an opponent who has manhandled him in the past. And, meanwhile, Riddle continues to keep rolling as arguably the hottest talent on the roster (and I don't just say that because he co-hosts a podcast here)... definitely watch this card on demand if you did not see it live!