Friday night was both the beginning of Royal Rumble weekend and EVOLVE’s two-day farewell to Chris Hero in San Antonio. Unfortunately for Hero, things didn’t quite go as planned.
Hero’s main event against Keith Lee was affected by the ropes breaking two different times. The top rope broke just after they had their feeling out process to begin the match, with Hero unharmed after being sent into it. The middle rope survived a bit longer, but succumbed under the pressure of Lee as he fell onto Hero. It was the second time that particular rope had issues after also breaking earlier in the night due to what seemed to be shoddy ring conditions.
It was likely the best match you’ll ever see with two different rope mishaps. Hero again proved how smart he is as a worker by getting the most out of a situation that would’ve totally ruined the match for most other wrestlers.
There was a great improvisational spot where Hero got the ref to make it a no countout match after the ropes broke, then had him start counting after he had laid out Lee on the outside. After Lee got a massive near fall off of a powerbomb, Hero hit some of his trademark elbow strikes and won the match with the Gotch piledriver.
Hero didn’t wait until tomorrow to start passing his EVOLVE torch. He put over Lee in his post-match promo, saying that no one will stop him once he develops the killer instinct that Hero has found over the last three years. They shook hands, hugged, and posed on what was still left of the ropes to close the show — but that was after Zack Sabre Jr. made his way to the ring.
Sabre told Hero that his send-off doesn’t end until Sabre beats him in EVOLVE. He said that Kassius Ohno could head off to Florida after that. The two will meet tomorrow in what is Hero’s final independent wrestling match before going back to WWE.
Earlier in the night, Sabre showed an aggressive side of him that’s rarely seen against Ethan Page. Sabre took out Page and his Gatekeepers before the match even began. The storyline between the two was that Page had beaten Sabre in their match last November.
They had a good match here with their styles meshing better than they did last time. Sabre appeared to have won after countering Page’s spinning Dwayne into a triangle choke. Page tapped out, but Sabre wouldn’t release the hold. Darby Allin hit the ring to stop The Gatekeepers from breaking it up, which led to the referee reversing the decision and giving Page the win by disqualification due to Sabre not breaking the submission.
Despite Hero’s exit, EVOLVE’s weekend might ultimately be close to as remembered for its debuts. Lee got over well in his first EVOLVE match. Being able to work around the ring problems likely endeared him to the crowd even more than his match against Hero otherwise would have. It was also the debut of another former Ring of Honor wrestler, with ACH standing out in what was likely the best match of the night against Matt Riddle.
ACH got a very good reaction in his home state before falling to Riddle. A great striking sequence led to Riddle hitting the Bro to Sleep and fisherman buster to get the win. Both Lee and ACH are excellent additions to a roster that is continuing to add talent after so many EVOLVE regulars were signed by WWE in 2016.
After losing by submission against Jason Kincaid earlier in the night, DUSTIN attacked Riddle after his win to build to their no DQ match tomorrow. DUSTIN laid him out with a DDT onto a steel chair and mentioned doing it for Drew Galloway, who will make his return to EVOLVE next month and likely pick up where he left off with his crusade against the company.
Before the ring finally gave way in the main event, the Catch Point team of Tracy Williams & Fred Yehi successfully defended their EVOLVE tag team titles against Timothy Thatcher & Jeff Cobb. The challengers were thrown together in advance of Thatcher defending his EVOLVE title against Cobb on tomorrow’s show.
The finish to what was a strong tag match saw Thatcher submit to Yehi’s Koji clutch. Larry Dallas came to the ring to stir up trouble after the match by interviewing Thatcher’s manager Stokely Hathaway, who blamed the loss on Cobb and claimed that Cobb had given up on the team. Cobb referenced coming up together in wrestling with Thatcher and training with him in California before vowing to take his title tomorrow.
EVOLVE 76 was bookended by issues with the ring, as the middle rope broke for the first time in the night’s opener. Jaka defeated Peter Kaasa in a rushed finish after Kaasa’s moonsault attempt broke the middle rope in a scary moment, though Gabe Sapolsky tweeted that Kaasa is doing okay. Jaka hit a sit-out powerbomb to get the win.
Jaka’s partner (and the other most recent addition to Catch Point) wasn’t victorious in his match. Darby Allin got a win over Chris Dickinson after seemingly defying death all match as he avoided Dickinson’s offense. Allin fought off Dickinson attempting to throw him across the ring and transitioned it into a pin to pick up the victory. Catch Point had to stop Dickinson from attacking Allin after the match.
Final Thoughts —
Despite the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the main event, this felt like the typical EVOLVE show. The undercard was good and had solid matches that were easy to watch. The last few matches all delivered to some extent, though Hero vs. Lee wasn’t at the level of what the two could produce without the problems with the ring.
Tomorrow afternoon’s show should be noteworthy with Hero having his final indie match against Sabre, as well as an EVOLVE Championship match between Thatcher and Cobb.
EVOLVE 76 results —
Chris Hero defeated Keith Lee
EVOLVE Tag Team Champions Tracy Williams & Fred Yehi defeated EVOLVE Champion Timothy Thatcher & Jeff Cobb to retain their titles
Matt Riddle defeated ACH
Ethan Page defeated Zack Sabre Jr. by DQ
Jason Kincaid defeated DUSTIN
Darby Allin defeated Chris Dickinson
Jaka defeated Peter Kaasa