wrestling / Columns

Csonka’s Top 23 EVOLVE Matches of 2017

December 30, 2017 | Posted by Larry Csonka

WELCOME back, back to the column that makes lists and hopes that you enjoy them. We’re closing up shop in 2017, so this week’s column will look back at the best of EVOLVE matches from 2017. I always hear a lot of people saying that they can’t decide what to watch because they do not have enough time to follow everything, so maybe this will help those of you short on time find some stuff to check out. I saw almost every EVOLVE show in 2017, and while I may have missed a couple of shows due to the FloSlam fiasco, I still think I have a pretty great list of matches to recommend to you from the year. Anyway, I hope that you enjoy today’s preview, and feel free to share your thoughts. It’s wrestling, we love it and will disagree. The only rules are “have a take, be respectful of other’s opinions and don’t be a dick.”

* 23. From EVOLVE 88 – Anthony Henry & James Drake defeated Champions Chris Dickinson & Jaka @ 19:50 via pin to become the new champions [****]
* 22. From EVOLVE 79 – Jeff Cobb defeated Jaka @ 8:55 via pin [****]
* 21. From EVOLVE 82 – Kyle O’Reilly defeated Keith Lee @ 20:00 via pin [****]
* 20. From EVOLVE 80 – Ricochet defeated Keith Lee @ 17:15 via pin [****]
* 19. From EVOLVE 76 – Matt Riddle defeated ACH @ via 13:55 pin [****]
* 18. From EVOLVE 84 – Champion Zack Sabre Jr. defeated Ethan Page @ 14:10 via pin [****]
* 17. From EVOLVE 81 – Fred Yehi defeated Matt Riddle @ 17:30 via ref stoppage [****]
* 16. From EVOLVE 91 – Chris Dickinson & Jaka defeated Travis Banks & TK Cooper @ 13:37 via pin [****]
* 15. From EVOLVE 81 – Anything Goes Match: Darby Allin defeated Ethan Page @ 20:15 via pin [****]
* 14. From EVOLVE 83 – Champion Zack Sabre Jr. defeated Lio Rush @ 19:25 via pin [****]
* 13. From EVOLVE 97 – Matt Riddle defeated WALTER @ 10:00 via referee stoppage [****]
* 12. From EVOLVE 84 – Keith Lee defeated Donovan Dijak @ 18:55 via pin [****]
* 11. From EVOLVE 77 – Matt Riddle defeated DUSTIN @ 10:55 via pin [****]

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10. From EVOLVE 83 – Kyle O’Reilly defeated Fred Yehi @ 20:45 via submission [****¼]: I loved this, as they worked a great mix of submission and striking, with great attacks and selling; this came off as a level above everything else on the weekend with ease, and that’s not a knock on the other matches, these two were just locked in and delivered at a very high level. O’Reilly’s EVOLVE run was short-lived, but it was a fun stop before he headed off to NXT.

9. From EVOLVE 91 – Champion Matt Riddle defeated Keith Lee, Tracy Williams, and WALTER @ 15:52 via submission [****¼]: This was a great match with a great atmosphere in the ring and from the crowd. They did a great job of making Lee and WALTER’s interactions feel really important while paying attention to the previously existing issues with Riddle and Williams. Williams took the role of the opportunistic asshole, constantly ruining everyone’s chance to win and also picking up some great near falls, especially down the stretch, and he kept trying to end Riddle’s title run by picking the bones after other’s had done the hard work. Riddle defeated Williams to retain, submitting him and possibly ending their feud. Keith Lee lost but didn’t take the fall and was protected. But you can see that his happy go lucky façade is slowly cracking, and he was reluctant to give his buddy Riddle the fist bump at the end. I am still waiting for a pissed off and unhinged Keith Lee as a glorious death machine.

8. From EVOLVE 97 – Champion Zack Sabre, Jr. defeated Jaka @ 18:13 via submission [****¼]: This was an absolutely great match, and a beautiful clash of styles, that they made work so very well. The story was that Jaka, the tough as nails brawler, came in with a dinged up knee, and Sabre was the pure technician, sticking to his game plan, simply breaking him down and staying focused on taking out the knee to nullify his power advantage. Jaka kept fighting, and the point where Dickinson arrived to fire his partner up to make one last push for the title played extremely well. The home stretch was really excellent, taking the entire match up a notch, but at the end of the day, Sabre’s focused and consistent attacks paid off, taking out the knee and finally submitting Jaka. Jaka has proven a great tag team guy for EVOLVE, but the series with Sabre has shown that he’s capable of so much more.

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7. From EVOLVE 96 – Zack Sabre Jr. defeated DJ Z @ 15:10 via pin [****¼]: This was an absolutely great match, with Sabre giving DJZ a lot, and also DJZ keeping up with Sabre’s grappling game throughout. The transition work here was almost as flawless as can be, they kept a great pace, kept the crowd interested and while Sabre picked up the win, DJZ looked absolutely great and made me want to see a rematch down the line. It amazes me that Impact has done so little with DJZ, he should be an asset for them, not sitting on the sidelines and putting on great matches for other companies.

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6. From EVOLVE 96 – Champion Keith Lee defeated WALTER @ 19:13 via pin [****¼]: This was a great hoss fight, with WALTER giving the champion all he wanted and more than he expected. This was a very different match for both, and most times they are the bigger and more dominant performer, but here they had to go power for power. Lee had to fight from the bottom, and did so well as the crowd believed in him, and more importantly believed that WALTER was a legit threat to him and the title. This had great work, great pacing and delivered a hard-hitting hoss fight, with Lee surviving and proving to be not only the deserving champion but THE big man in WWN Live. This certainly delivered in the main event spot, as both guys continued to have a great 2017.

5. From EVOLVE 79 – Zack Sabre Jr. defeated Champion Timothy Thatcher @ 18:58 via submission [****¼]: This was the best Thatcher match since last year’s match with Chris Hero. Thatcher took that sense of urgency and aggression from that match and added in some subtle, but much-needed heel mannerisms and reactions to the crowd here, things he desperately needed. They worked a great match, kept the crowd hot (playing off of them very well) and finally delivered the big title change, which came off as a big deal for Sabre and for things changing in the promotion.

4. From EVOLVE 87 – Champion Zack Sabre Jr. defeated Jaka @ 15:00 via pin [****¼]: After a rough performance at Evolve 86, Jaka came into Evolve 87 with purpose and not only had a great match with Sabre but put on one of his very best Evolve singles performances to date, not only did he win over the crowd and show that he could go with the champion in a big time match, but this felt like a genuine star making performance from him.

3. From EVOLVE 84 – Champion Matt Riddle defeated Kyle O’Reilly @ 16:18 via submission [****½]: This was an absolutely awesome main event, both guys were locked in and delivered an extremely entertaining and hard-hitting match. There was some really great stuff on this same show, but this was on a completely different level; it looked as if it came off effortlessly for them. It had a great feel of realism I how they pulled off the grappling and striking, and allowed O’Reilly to really embrace the style he loves, it also felt big time and important throughout.

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2. From EVOLVE 87 – Champion Matt Riddle defeated Keith Lee @ 14:56 via pin [****½]: The finish saw Lee collapse from sheer exhaustion after hitting the head butt, with Riddle luckily landing on top after an absolutely great war. This was an excellent main event match, with Riddle surviving, but not being able to put away Lee even with his best stuff. They worked an excellent, hard-hitting match that never felt slow, and stayed in that 10-15 minute window that Riddle thrives in. While Riddle did pick up the win, he didn’t dominate or finish Lee like he does most opponents, protecting Lee and allowing them to easily set up another match down the line, which they did.

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1. From EVOLVE 77 – Zack Sabre Jr defeated Chris Hero @ 23:20 via submission [****½]: These two have had battles before, great matches and ZSJ had been close to victory on several occasions. But Hero kept coming out on top, always having the answer to the ZSJ riddle. Hero has claimed that he’s the greatest of all time, no one is his equal and you better not speak his name. Overall they did an absolutely tremendous job of playing off of their previous matches, and also setting Zack Sabre Jr up with a new sense of urgency and aggression as he finally beat “the greatest of all time,” and was now able to continue his journey to be the “best in the world,” which Hero originally ended.

– End scene.

– Thanks for reading.

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“Byyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyye Felicia!”