Happy Easter if you’re into that sort of thing
Something new this week as I review an EVOLVE show for the first time. I decided to do this one because it’s got an interesting premise of an 8 man tournament where every wrestler supposedly brings a different wrestling style to the party, which should hopefully mean we get some fun contests as “styles make fights” as they say.
I’ve actually watched this show before but that was a LONG time ago and I honestly don’t remember who even wins the tournament, so it will hopefully all be fresh for me again. It also features Brodie Lee and I felt like watching something with him involved because I miss him and his wild marauding ways.
For those not au fait with EVOLVE, it was created in 2010 by Gabe Sapolsky after Gabe had left ROH. The early days of the company had more of a classic UFC feel to them, as everyone entered to the same entrance track and there was more of a focus on shoot styled grapplers like Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly.
My friend and I were actually going through a period where this was “our” company when it first started up, as we’d both hopped aboard the ROH train once the company had already been around for a year, so we decided that we’d be with EVOLVE from the very start just in case it happened to become the “new” ROH. We of course fell off that waggon after a couple of years and I haven’t personally watched an EVOLVE show since something like 2013, and the company itself was actually bought by WWE in 2020 after a few years of being a feeder promotion for it.
Anyway, let’s set the way back machine to 2011 and enjoy ourselves some Style Battle!
The event is emanating from Union City, New Jersey on the 20th of May 2011
Calling the action are Lenny Leonard and Rob Naylor
There’s a cool opening video showing the guys in the tournament doing moves associated with their wrestling styles.
Style Battle Tournament Quarter Final
AR Fox (High-Flying) Vs Rich Swann (Rich Swann Style)
Swann having his own style is a fun gag, but opening the tournament with it kind of makes a mockery of the whole proceedings. The venue looks a bit pokey but the video quality is excellent, which wasn’t always the case with indie shows from this time period. Fox does exactly what you’d expect with his ring style, doing lots of quick high flying moves in the early going, with most of them looking nice. Swann replies with some fast paced moves of his own, as Rich Swann Style appears to mostly be high flying with some extra attitude thrown in.
It’s a small venue but every seat looks filled and the crowd claps along to the big moves in an effort to create some atmosphere, which is appreciated. It’s tough sometimes to get really hyped up in such an intimate setting as you feel a bit self-conscious, especially if everyone else isn’t joining in with you. The match is mostly back and forth, with both guys upping the ante with dives and big moves. They don’t go overly insane though, so as to leave something for other guys in the tournament, and Fox eventually wins it with a Code Breaker off the ropes.
WINNER: AR FOX
Solid opener with some hot moves and they didn’t overstay their welcome
Leonard does the UFC styled post-match interview, which is a nice touch that I liked about these early EVOLVE shows. Fox is magnanimous in victory and puts Swann over. Swann PUNKS him on a handshake offer though.
Style Battle Tournament Quarter Final
Tony Nese (Standing Combat) Vs Jon Davis (Power)
Nese would eventually end up in WWE as part of 205 Live, whilst Davis was one half of the Dark City Fight Club tag team with Kory Chavis. This one is actually more of an interesting battle, as Nese tries to throw strikes on the feet whilst Davis wants to grab hold of him so he can use his repertoire of power moves, which lends itself to a tactical game of chess far more than the two high flying guys in the opener, and ultimately that’s why we’re here. We want to see divergent styles; otherwise what’s the point of the tournament to begin with?
Nese’s kicks in particular make good noise and look snug, and Davis sells well for the bigger guy, registering the pain and making Nese’s stuff look good whilst also getting across that he’s a powerful guy who can fight his way through it. Davis’ power stuff looks really good, as Nese goes up light for all of it and Davis delivers it all with the required ferocity to make it look impressive and impactful. Neither guy is really working heel, but the crowd seems to like Davis more than Nese so he tends to get more cheers.
Davis even busts out a big bear hug at one stage and it works as a submission tease due to Nese selling it big and Davis really giving the impression that he’s cinching it in. Nese eventually manages to fight out (To boo’s from some of the crowd) and then fires up with a slew of kicks and knees, which eventually leads to him getting a running knee in the corner for two. A rana from the top rope follows, but Davis again kicks out, as they’ve built this really well. In all honesty, this should have been the opener, as it’s been a better match and has done a better job of getting the whole concept over.
Davis turns Nese inside out with a lariat for two in another great near fall and then preps for another, only for Nese to catch him with a kick combo and a German Suplex for a two of his own. These near falls have been hot sauce and the crowd is really getting into it. There’s actually some duelling chants now, as Nese has clearly won some people over. He ends up getting buckle bombed though and a Torture Wrack into a power bomb from Davis finishes it soon after.
WINNER: JON DAVIS
This was really good and did a fantastic job getting across the Style Battle idea of the whole show, as both guys had clearly defined approaches to how they were going to wrestle and the story of the match was how each one was going to use their style to overcome the one used by their opponent. This definitely should have been the opener as it got the whole concept over in one match and was a good bout to boot!
Leonard asks Davis if he’ll have anything left for the later rounds after having such a tough Quarter Final (Which is actually a sensible question) but he says he’ll be fine and that AR Fox is next.
Style Battle Tournament Quarter Final
Brodie Lee (Super Heavyweight) Vs Sami Callihan (Hard-Hitting)
Lee sadly passed away in the winter of 2020 after a career that saw him wrestle for all of the major indie companies before having spells in both WWE and AEW. Callihan had a brief stint in NXT as Solomon Crowe that didn’t really go anywhere but he did eventually win the World Title in Impact Wrestling and was the guy who dropped it to Tessa Blanchard.
Callihan was actually one of the more entertaining guys in the early days of EVOLVE, as he’d regularly have these crazy brawls, including one with Drake Younger where they both kept suplexing one another on the floor. This one follows a similar pattern to Callihan’s usual output, as both men come out swinging and waste no time taking it to the floor. It’s good snug action and the crowd is into it. Lee has a pronounced size advantage, but Callihan’s gimmick is that of a fearless nutter who just loves to throw down, so he makes a good tackle dummy for Lee to clobber and throw around.
Callihan spends large chunks of the match selling whilst Lee batters him, and he does a good job of showing both pain and defiance as he manages to survive the onslaught and get the occasional move or counter in to show that he’s still in the match. Callihan eventually starts absorbing some chops and that leads to Lee allowing him to throw some in reply for a chop battle, that eventually becomes a slap and kick exchange, which ends with Lee booting Callihan square in the mush (With a sympathetic member of the audience demanding that he do it again!)
Callihan refuses to stay down though and manages to dodge another big boot in the corner before following Lee to the floor with a TOPE SUICIDA. What I’ve liked about this is that Lee has progressively started to sell more and more as the match has progressed, with him initially being able to shrug off Callihan’s offence relatively easily but he’s starting to feel it a lot more now and actually needs periods to regain his composure. That’s a really nice touch. Lee flings Callihan onto the apron a couple of times and then sends him into the front row for the count out tease, but Callihan manages to make it back in at the count of 19 in a good false finish.
Callihan bravely continues to keep kicking out of Lee’s pin attempts, even though he’s taken a slew of big moves and is clearly worse for wear. Lee sells that he’s not sure how to put this madman away, as he can barely pick the battered Callihan up. Callihan manages to pop up with a Saito Suplex though and gets a flurry of clotheslines and a running elbow smash for two, with Lee only being able to break the count by grabbing the bottom rope, putting Callihan over and protecting his offence whilst also making Lee look resourceful.
We get some more good near falls, as the crowd is with this and really enjoying it. Lee’s leg gives out just when it looks like he might win, and that leads to Callihan heaving him up into a DVD for two, which gets the “Awesome” chant from the crowd, and this has been a great match so I’ll allow it. Callihan manages to hook in a Stretch Muffler and then kicks away at Lee’s hands when he tries to get to the ropes, which eventually leads Lee to uncle and give Callihan the win.
WINNER: SAMI CALLIHAN
Callihan puts Lee’s offence over and says he’s just getting warmed up. He’s not the biggest dog in the fight, but after that he’s certainly the scariest.
Style Battle Tournament Quarter Final
Bobby Fish (Puroresu Jr. Heavyweight) Vs Austin Aries (Hybrid)
Fish has of course has had a notable run in NXT as part of Undisputed Era, whilst Aries has earned himself the reputation of being a locker room troublemaker, with that issue usually causing things to end badly for him in most places he works even though he’s an excellent wrestler between the ropes. He’s very over with the crowd here and he was currently undefeated in EVOLVE at the time whilst Fish had been struggling for his first win up until EVOLVE 6.
This one is mostly on the mat in the early going, with Aries getting the best of it, and its good stuff. Fish eventually manages to get a foothold in the match by trying to work some submission holds, with one of them on the leg causing Aries to bail to the floor in an attempt to walk it off. Fish follows him out though and puts him back in for a sunset flip, only for Aries to roll through and dropkick him in the face before taking over again and giving Fish some payback by going after his leg.
We get the strike trade of course, as they’re clearly going for a Japanese flavour to this one, and that leads to Fish getting a big kick for two. Fish is bleeding from the bridge of his nose, probably from a live round that got thrown in the trade off, but keeps coming and gets a nice Aries styled Tope-Con-Hilo for two. This has been a solid match, and you could picture it in something like Best of the Super Junior, but it hasn’t been as good as the previous two matches by my watch as it’s been less of a clash of styles and more two guys working similar styles.
That being said, Aries’ whole thing is that he works Hybrid Style, so him mirroring his opponent does make sense, it’s just that Swann essentially did the same gimmick in the opener, so it’s not quite as effective when Aries is doing it too. Had he been the lone Hybrid guy then this might have worked more. It’s still a good match, but it just doesn’t fit with the concept as much as the previous two matches so it feels a bit lesser to me as a result. The work itself is excellent though and it’s a good back and forth contest.
This show took place not too soon after the death of Randy Savage, so Aries busts out a Savage-like Axe Handle Smash off the top rope to the floor at one stage, which gets the expected pop from the crowd, and leads to both men fighting on the apron, where they fight over a suplex and Aries eventually snaps Fish’s neck over the second rope before going to the Last Chancery back inside, only for Fish to make the ropes. Aries gets the Macho Elbow following that, but Fish kicks out at two and then replies with a moonsault, only to overshoot it.
I’m not sure if that was a botch or part of the match, but it doesn’t seem to effect things too much either way as the next spot is Aries heading up for a Frogsplash, only for Fish to dodge it. Whether it was planned or not, it ended up coming across pretty flat. We get the expected slew of near falls, but they also feel a bit flat as well, as the match feels like it’s been going for too long. It actually feels like they’re working for a time limit draw, but I don’t think that’s where they’re going with it. The finish is a good call back to an earlier spot, as Aries tweaks his leg again on a missed 450 Splash and can’t apply the Last Chancery properly as a result, which allows Fish to get out and then apply a leg submission hold for the tap out.
WINNER: BOBBY FISH
They were clearly going for this one to be the epic hard-fought bout of the Quarter Final stage, but it didn’t really deliver and probably went for too long in all honesty. The Nese/Davis and Lee/Callihan matches were not only better examples of the Style Battle concept but also went home at the right times and didn’t feel like they wore out their welcome as much. Both men worked very hard and there was lots of good action in the match, but it was probably five minutes longer than it needed to be and started to drag by the end. I did appreciate the finish though, as it made sense and gave Aries a way to lose without looking weak as he would have had it won if his leg hadn’t given out on him
Aries is helped to the back by a runner following that, whilst Fish does the post-match promo in the ring. Leonard asks another great question by asking Fish on how long he’s been working on the heel hook as a submission hold. Fish said that Bryan Danielson once used that hold on him, so he decided to learn it for himself. Hey, that’s actually really good storytelling that calls back to a previous match and allows Fish to show that he’s learnt from a previous loss. Fish says the move shall henceforth be known as the “Fish Hook”. This was a really good promo, and Leonard being the interviewer who asks smart questions is a breath of fresh air.
We get a hype video for EVOLVE 5, a show that featured Jox Moxley and Adam Cole amongst others.
Lenny Leonard introduces Larry Dallas and Reby Sky down to the ring. I’m not really sure who Dallas is but Reby Sky would go one to become Reby Hardy. They apparently cost Chuck Taylor a match at the last show by throwing in the towel for him, so Leonard says that if they do it again then they’ll be suspended. Reby is annoyed by this, but Dallas is calm about it and says that he’s got a new client who will be in The Fray match later. Leonard says that until he’s actually in the ring though they need to leave, and they eventually do.
Style Battle Tournament Semi-Final
Jon Davis (Power) Vs AR Fox (High-Flying)
This one is a natural battle of power vs speed, a story as old as time itself, with Davis already essentially calling his shot by saying that his goal is to hold Fox down so he can’t do his fast paced moves. The opening exchanges are exactly what you would expect, with Davis trying to take Fox down with big power moves whilst Fox tries to use his speed to keep Davis on his toes and avoid getting caught. It’s another good example of the Style Battle concept, and both men play their respective roles well.
Eventually Davis misses a charge in the corner and that leaves the door open for Fox to flip off the apron with a moonsault before putting Davis back inside for a springboard 450 splash, which gets him a two count. Davis responds by DESTROYING Fox with Da Pounce (Period) but that only gets him a two count also. That looked fantastic though, as Fox took a mega bump off it. Fox manages to fight back with the Code Breaker off the ropes, and just like in the opening match that’s enough for the three count.
WINNER: AR FOX
This was solid stuff, as they told the story well and went with the speedier guy using his key attributes to catch the stronger man, proving that it isn’t always about who is the physically strongest when it comes to picking up the victory. That’s the whole message of the entire tournament in a nutshell
Davis is a good sport following that and shakes hands with Fox. Fox says he’ll take that positive energy with him into the Final.
Style Battle Tournament Semi-Final
Bobby Fish (Puroresu Jr. Heavyweight) Vs Sami Callihan (Hard-Hitting)
We open with a handshake followed by a strike trade, as it’s that sort of night, and both men are selling them well, mixing in the idea that they are still sore and beaten down from their previous matches. Leonard pushes on commentary that this will ultimately come down to which man can get their trademark submission move in first, with Fish wanting the Fish Hook and Callihan looking for the Stretch Muffler.
They go straight into the big shots and moves, as both men are worn down and know that they need to win it as quickly as possible so as to have as much left in the tank for the Final as they can, which makes sense from a storytelling perspective and makes the match feel different from some of the longer matches in the Quarters when guys had to do more to wear their opponents down. Callihan eventually gets Fish’s back and throws a bunch of unanswered forearms until the referee stops it.
WINNER: SAMI CALLIHAN
This had the MMA “stoppage finish out of nowhere” deal going on, which was something a bit different and I enjoyed it. The match itself was on the shorter side, but that was the whole point of the story they were telling and it was good action whilst it lasted
Fish says Callihan was the better man but he’d like to do it again sometime, which Callihan says he’s down for, but first on the docket is AR Fox in the Final.
The New Havana Pitbulls (Ricky Reyes and Alex Colon) Vs The Spanish Announce Team (Will and Joel Maximo)
Reyes and Joel are the original members of their respective teams, with Colon and Will stepping in to fill the gaps of Rocky Romero and Jose Maximo respectively. There’s some good action in this one but it does sometimes veer a little too much into looking overly rehearsed when it comes to the intricate counter sequences. The Pitbulls work some heat on Will, with Reyes’ heel act only really extending to yelling “shut up” occasionally. Let’s just say that it was Romero who brought most of the personality to the team originally.
Reyes’ work is good though, and he’s probably the best of the four in the match when it comes to execution and looking believable. Colon is decent but lacks ring presence, with Los Maximo’s struggling a bit with that too, although they do have a collection of hot moves in their back pocket, including a double Spanish Fly, which they deliver to Colon for the three count.
WINNERS: THE SAT
Just a match. Nothing wrong with it, but it wasn’t especially good either
We don’t get any interviews following that.
Entrant #1 Scott Reed
Entrant #2 Cheech
This is kind of like the Rambo match from New Japan, where two guys start and a new guy comes out every 90 seconds, with elimination being via pin or submission. Reed is an indie guy for the North East that I don’t recognise, whilst Cheech regularly teamed with Cloudy as part of the team known as Up In Smoke. Reed and Cheech do some decent back and forth but nobody gets defeated.
Entrant #3 Brain XL
Brian was a member of Special K and was a fixture on the indie scene in the early 00’s before disappearing for a bit. He sadly botches his first proper high spot when he tries to do a 720 DDT on Cheech, but he follows it up with an impressive dive to the floor. He looks a lot like the boxer David Haye here actually. Reed sort of looks like the generic meathead you found in the WWE Development system around this time actually, so I’m kind of surprised he never got a look in.
Entrant #4 Blain Rage
Rage is another generic looking muscular guy who was apparently trained by Dory Funk Jr. Despite an excellent physique he’s not very tall, which possibly put WWE off him back in the day. His work is fine and he shows some decent intensity with what he does. At one point Brian XL actually forgets to kick out of something so Rage just has to get up and the referee stops counting. XL has NOT been good in this match.
Entrant #5 Kory Chavis
Chavis is the partner of Jon Davis in DCFC. He’s an angry big bloke and quickly puts us out of collective miseries by pinning XL with a sit out face buster
Brian XL Eliminated by Kory Chavis (1) – Pin via face buster
Rage stupidly tries to make friends with Chavis following that, and gets clotheslined for his troubles before eating a Shouten Kai for the three count.
Blain Rage Eliminated by Kory Chavis (2) – Pin via Shouten Kai
Entrant #6 Pinkie Sanchez
Sanchez was a fixture on the indie scene at the time, notably wrestling as a heel in CHIKARA as the devious Pink Ant. He runs wild on everyone, doing his usual crazed act. Sanchez dives out onto Chavis, which allows Reed to pin Cheech back inside with a Roll of the Dice.
Cheech Eliminated by Scott Reed (1) – Pin via Roll of the Dice
Entrant #7 Derek Ryze
I can’t find much on Ryze outside of him debuting in 2006 and being from North Carolina. He was apparently trained by Abel Adams. Ryze catches Reed with an enziguri and Chavis follows up with a Claymore Kick to eliminate him.
Scott Reed Eliminated by Kory Chavis (3) – Pin via Claymore Kick
Sanchez and Ryze go at it together and do a nice little segment, with Ryze looking like your typical high flying indie guy, in that his work is fine but he lacks personality. He ends up getting caught by Chavis and crushed with a face buster for three.
Derek Ryze Eliminated by Kory Chavis (4) – Pin via face buster
I almost feel sorry for Ryze to come all the way from North Carolina just to do a couple of spots and get pinned. Wrestling can be a bit of bitch like that.
Entrant #8 Ahtu
Ahtu would be Larry Dallas’ man who was mentioned earlier. Ahtu is a big dude from Philly who apparently mostly wrestles on the East Coast. He immediately runs in and spears Chavis to establish himself as a big scary man.
Kory Chavis Eliminated by Ahtu (1) – Pin via Spear
That was one heck of a run from Chavis prior to that though. So Sanchez is now massively outgunned against the monster, but he bravely slaps away at him, only for Ahtu to no sell it and fling him out to the floor (Although he made an absolute meal of it). That was all kinds of sloppy and the crowd decides to chant that Ahtu can’t wrestle. I really hate that chant, because regardless of how good Ahtu is or isn’t as a wrestler, he’s at least taken the time to train and get himself in shape, which is more than the out of shape jerks in the crowd have ever done.
Sanchez manages to break the count back inside, where Ahtu works him over with basic power moves whilst the crowd keeps chanting that he can’t wrestle. Neither can you guys, neither can you. Sanchez does well as a gutsy babyface and throws himself around to make Ahtu look good, all building to him getting a desperation DDT off the second rope for the upset win.
Ahtu Eliminated by Pinkie Sanchez (1) – Pin via Second Rope DDT
WINNER: PINKIE SANCHEZ
MOST ELIMINATIONS: KORY CHAVIS (4)
That was rough in spots but Chavis and Sanchez both looked good in it, so it wasn’t a total wash
The crowd thanks Sanchez for winning. Sanchez will now be getting an opportunity in DragonGate USA thanks to that win, and tells the fans that he’ll see them there.
We get a video package hyping up EVOLVE 6, a show that featured Austin Aries Vs Chuck Taylor.
Style Battle Final
Sami Callihan (Hard-Hitting) Vs AR Fox (High-Flying)
Fox is right out of the traps here and gets a crazy 450 splash out onto the floor on Callihan before following with a running flip dive for good measure. That second dive in particular looked spectacular. They clearly aren’t going to have a patient mat-based contest here, as Callihan dodges another dive and then gives Fox a suplex on the floor before heading inside for some chops in the corner. Fox stupidly goads Callihan to hit him harder, so he promptly does and then shoves him out to the floor for good measure.
Fox shows guts by dragging himself back into the ring, which gets him over with some sections of the crowd, but Callihan quickly applies a chin lock and then throws in some kidney punches for good measure. I like how they’ve structured this thus far, as Fox went all out in the early going to try and put Callihan away as quickly as possible, but Callihan weathered the storm and is now wrestling the match as his pace by gradually wearing Fox down with all of his stuff strikes and punishing holds. Fox sells it all really well too and shows just enough life that you think he’s still in the fight.
The finishing stretch is done well, with Callihan being the first guy tonight to kick out of the Flying Code Breaker when Fox manages to hit it out of nowhere, which leads to Fox heading up only to be cut off with a pair of Saito Suplexes from Callihan into a running forearm smash for two. I would have bought that as a finish actually, but I think we’re getting some Stretch Mufflage before this one reaches its end. Fox manages to catch Callihan with a Spanish Fly though and that’s enough for the win. Well, I didn’t see that coming!
WINNER: AR FOX
Of course High-Flying is the best wrestling style ever, it’s an indie show after all! This was a good way to close out the tournament, as it was another example of two guys wrestling different matches based around their wrestling styles, with one ultimately winning out
Callihan gives a handshake following that and AR Fox says big things are in his future.
The DVD has a hype video of the show and some slow-motion footage of some of the big spots from alternate angles, so it’s pretty barebones.
When it achieved what it was going for the tournament was very good and it worked well as a concept. There wasn’t really a match that I’d class as “must-see” but there was a decent selection of good ones and the show itself was only 2 hours and 15 minutes long, which meant if flew by pretty quickly and was an easy watch. It certainly wasn’t as much of a slog as some of the early ROH shows could be with their 3 hour plus run-times sometimes.
You’re looking at about £20 if you want to buy this on eBay (I’m not sure how much our American chums would have to spend on it) which is probably too much for what is a decent show at best, but if you can find it for half that price somewhere then there are worse shows to pick up.
A tentative thumbs up depending on price
If you’d like to get in touch to suggest shows to review, ask questions, share your love of those wonderful Royal Blue Toffees, or just generally chat the grapple game, then feel free to hit me up at [email protected]