wrestling / Columns

Csonka’s Top 46 EVOLVE Matches of 2018

December 28, 2018 | Posted by Larry Csonka
EVOLVE Best 2018

WELCOME back, back to the column that makes lists and hopes that you enjoy them. This week’s column will look back at the best of EVOLVE matches from 2018. 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. Anyway, I hope that you enjoy today’s list, 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.”

* 46. From EVOLVE 109: Tracy Williams vs. Chris Dickinson [****]
* 45. From EVOLVE 118: AR Fox vs. Leon Ruff [****]
* 44. From EVOLVE 109: Matt Riddle vs. Austin Theory [****]
* 43. From EVOLVE 98: AR Fox defeated Matt Riddle @ 11:00 via pin [****]
* 42. From EVOLVE 99: Matt Riddle defeated Jaka @ 12:38 via submission [****]
* 41. From EVOLVE 100: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Austin Theory [****]
* 40. From EVOLVE 100: Matt Riddle vs. James Drake [****]
* 39. From EVOLVE 108: Chris Dickinson & Jaka w/Stokely Hathaway vs. Tracy Williams & TK Cooper [****]
* 38. From EVOLVE 113: Façade vs. Harlem Bravado vs. Jon Davis vs. Josh Briggs vs. Anthony Henry vs. Jason Kincaid [****]
* 37. From EVOLVE 113: Shane Strickland vs. Tracy Williams [****]
* 36. From EVOLVE 114: Shane Strickland vs. Fabian Aichner [****]
* 35. From EVOLVE 104: Keith Lee vs. James Drake [****]
* 34. From EVOLVE 111: Joey Janela vs. Austin Theory vs. AR Fox vs. Darby Allin [****]
* 33. From EVOLVE 109: Tracy Williams vs. Chris Dickinson [****]
* 32. From EVOLVE 111: WALTER vs. Anthony Henry [****]
* 31. From EVOLVE 110: WALTER vs. JD Drake [****]
* 30. From EVOLVE 109: Matt Riddle vs. Austin Theory [****]
* 29. From EVOLVE 102: Will Ospreay vs. AR Fox [****]
* 28. From EVOLVE 103: Matt Riddle vs. Daisuke Sekimoto [****]
* 27. From EVOLVE 102: Matt Riddle vs. Zack Sabre Jr [****]
* 26. From Mercury Rising 2018: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Munenori Sawa [****]
* 25. From EVOLVE 115: AR Fox vs. Austin Theory [****]
* 24. From EVOLVE 118: Anthony Henry vs. Kassius Ohno [****]
* 23. From EVOLVE 115: Fabian Aichner vs. Kassius Ohno [****]
* 22. From EVOLVE 115: The Street Profits vs. Anthony Henry & JD Drake [****]
* 21. From EVOLVE 115: Mustafa Ali vs. DJZ [****]
* 20. From Mercury Rising 2018: Daisuke Sekimoto vs. Keith Lee [****]
* 19. From EVOLVE 118: Darby Allin vs. Roderick Strong [****]
* 18. From EVOLVE 106: WALTER vs. Darby Allin [****]

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17. From EVOLVE 113: AR Fox vs. Austin Theory [****¼]: This was a great match. The pacing was excellent, the crowd was into it big time, and they played the student vs. teacher dynamic well. And that was really the key here. The wrestling was really great, but Fox going from reluctant attacker to doing what he felt he needed to do played well and Theory was a great asshole throughout. The main theme was that Fox didn’t want to be doing this match, as he still sees Theory as one of his kids/students, and near the end that cost him as he was controlling and Theory begged off and asked for forgiveness. These are the kinds of performances that Theory needs. Also, AR Fox, really good at the pro wrestling thing. He makes so many things look effortless.

 photo Chris Dickinson  Jaka vs. James Drake  Anthony Henry_zpsqmhpyur2.jpg

16. From EVOLVE 105: Chris Dickinson & Jaka vs. James Drake & Anthony Henry [****¼]: I really thought we’d be heading towards a title change here, and the work of the match really added to that feeling as they worked an absolutely great match, with great action that kept escalating, and hot crowd that was buying hard into all of the near falls. This was laid out extremely well, everyone looked good, and it was easy to buy either team winning but at the end of the day. Jaka & Dickinson continue to reign supreme, while Henry & Drake continue to put in really impressive performances, and with the loss, may be headed for the singles ranks; this was simply a really great effort from everyone involved.

15. From EVOLVE 111: Shane Strickland vs. DJZ [****¼]: The story early on was the champion taking his challenger way too lightly. DJZ go to control and not only looked good, but they made it believable that Strickland could lose in his first title defense. They worked a spectacular closing stretch, and Strickland has this awesome second gear he slips into when he’s pissed/frustrated, where he just becomes extremely violent and that is what allowed him to overcome the game challenger. I wish DJZ got the chances to shine in Impact that he gets in places like EVOLVE & AAW, because he’s really great.

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14. From EVOLVE 100 – Champion Keith Lee vs. AR Fox [****¼]: Great match here, with Lee retaining as expected, but both guys working a great layout, playing into the size & style difference very well, and most importantly, putting doubt into who was actually going to win. The escalation of the action and drama was very well done, and the final few minutes caused some excellent crowd reactions, and the homestretch kicked ass. Fox’s return to EVOLVE has been really well done and not only is he delivering, but he’s evolving into a better performer.

13. From EVOLVE 107: Matt Riddle vs. AR Fox [****¼]: This was an absolutely great sprint style main event. Fox came in wanting to prove that he could play Riddle’s game, which proved to be a failure as it was looking like a squash early on as Riddle simply dominated with ease, out grappling Fox and laying in tremendous amounts of punishment It wasn’t until Fox changed his gameplan and worked his style of match, going fast paced, high risk, shock and awe that he was able to get some footing, taking control and scoring with some absolutely great and believable near falls. Riddle eventually overcame, completely overwhelming Fox with a barrage of offense to get the stoppage. This was simply great and the highlight of EVOLVE 107.

12. From EVOLVE 117: Darby Allin vs. Kassius Ohno [****¼]: There are few things better in wrestling tan Darby Allin’s never say die babyface arc in EVOLVE; he’s defeated big names, but hasn’t won that title just yet while becoming an absolutely loved figure in EVOLVE that the fans get behind each and every time. The only thing more beautiful is when a wild Chris Hero appears to play the role of a completely savage bully. One of the main reasons I love the EVOLVE/WWE deal is that it has allowed Kassius Ohno to work there, channel the work that event one loved him for, and has given him a purpose. Allin fell once again here, but it wasn’t without a fight. He took more than most could, but it was death by elbows as Ohno survived the big comeback, took everything Allin had, and then just destroyed him with elbows until he finally put him away. Allin still hasn’t figured it all out, he’s still loved, but while he may have failed, he earned the respect of Ohno on this night.

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11. From EVOLVE 110: Darby Allin vs. Matt Riddle [****¼]: This is a huge and heartbreaking win for Allin, as this was originally set to be an EVOLVE title match. While not quite up to the level of their excellent efforts last weekend, this was an absolutely great main event, and with the clean and decisive win, as well as Riddle putting him over huge post match, Allin leaves this match as a made man. The work was great, the layout and drama worked, and Riddle dominating (as he should due to his stature in EVOLVE), only for Allin to survive long enough to completely frustrate and piss off Riddle, leading to him making a small mistake, leading to the Allin win was a great story. Allin continues to evolve, continues to improve, and has crowd support; he’s a star for EVOLVE.

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10. From EVOLVE 109: Joey Janela vs. Darby Allin [****½]: This was an absolutely excellent main event, and like I said yesterday, while Allin is an amazing underdog character, he’ also blossomed into a great complete wrestler and showed it once again here. Janela has been a complete breath of fresh air to EVOLVE, bringing a superstar vibe and a completely different character to the promotion. This was just a flat out, excellent main event, it felt big time and important, with the crowd fully invested and into Allin’s possible title win, trying to rally him throughout and buying into everything. Janela is not only carrying himself like a star but is delivering in the ring for EVOLVE. They have something special with Allin here, and when he finally wins the big one, the EVOLVE faithful are going to lose their shit. The peaks and valleys in terms of drama here were absolutely great. With Allin’s loss here and Riddle winning earlier in the show, I see Allin beating Riddle at EVOLVE 110.

 photo Matt Riddle vs. JD Drake_zpsnqymok0s.jpg

9. From EVOLVE 111: Matt Riddle vs. JD Drake [****½]: While I would have loved for Drake to take this one, he didn’t need to judging by the post match reaction as Riddle left him alone and he got a standing ovation for his effort. This was absolutely awesome, playing off of and even improving on their first meeting with more hard-hitting action, a greater sense of urgency, and some absolutely tremendous drama down the stretch. Drake had been doing well so far in his singles career, and while he went 0-2 on the weekend, he put in two tremendous performances against WALTER & Riddle that showed that he can hang with anyone, and won over the crowds both nights; he’s a made man in EVOLVE.

8. From EVOLVE 108: Matt Riddle vs. Shane Strickland [****½]: This was an extremely well built feud that came to its end here in a hardcore match in the old ECW arena. Everything they did to get here made sense, Strickland was the hot hand and delivered as soon as he walked in the door, and with Riddle on the way out, putting the title on Strickland made sense. The match was excellent, playing well off of their previous matches, and also playing into the stipulation extremely well without completely overdoing it and making it a garbage match. It took everything he had, but Strickland finally overcame Riddle, and considering what Riddle brought to the company, he deserved to go out like a Superman here tonight, and it was done in a way that they made you think Riddle may retain. Make sure to catch this one, it’s one of the best EVOLVE matches of 2018.

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7. From EVOLVE 109: Joey Janela vs. Darby Allin [****½]: This was an absolutely excellent main event, and like I said yesterday, while Allin is an amazing underdog character, he’ also blossomed into a great complete wrestler and showed it once again here. Janela has been a complete breath of fresh air to EVOLVE, bringing a superstar vibe and a completely different character to the promotion. This was just a flat out, excellent main event, it felt big time and important, with the crowd fully invested and into Allin’s possible title win, trying to rally him throughout and buying into everything. Janela is not only carrying himself like a star but is delivering in the ring for EVOLVE. They have something special with Allin here, and when he finally wins the big one, the EVOLVE faithful are going to lose their shit. The peaks and valleys in terms of drama here were absolutely great. With Allin’s loss here and Riddle winning earlier in the show, I see Allin beating Riddle at EVOLVE 110.

6. From EVOLVE 99 – WALTER defeated Zack Sabre Jr @ 18:05 via pin [****½]: This was an excellent co-main event match, and a great example of how to work a big man vs. little man match. The story was that Sabre was the superior grappler, but constantly got pulled into WALTER’s game. While Sabre was able to link together some great exchanges, WALTER was constantly able to cut him off with a singular move or strike, due to his power and size advantage. They have worked together before and know how to mix their styles very well, and while Sabre tends to dominate matches, it was refreshing to see his opponent take most of the match and make him fight from the bottom. The action was smooth, seamless, and at times very brutal. The match was excellent.

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5. From EVOLVE 98 – Champion Zack Sabre Jr. defeated Darby Allin @ 19:40 via referee stoppage [****½]: This was an absolutely excellent main event, one that told an absolutely great story and served as a true star-making performance for Darby Allin. He’s had some great outings in the past, but this was his most complete performance to date. Allin got into Evolve through a tryout, and became a cult hero, basically Evolve’s Mikey Whipwreck. The fans fell in love with him, they followed his rise and his improvement as he grew organically into his role as a rising star. But with that being said, Sabre didn’t take this young man seriously, and was dismissive of him early on. Allin continued to fight, refusing to stop his quest, and this just pissed Sabre off, and flicked the switch as Sabre when into his “I don’t care about your well being, I will break you apart” mode, which he is so good at. Allin never quit, he kept fighting and had the fans believing in him, but at the end of the day, he just wasn’t ready for Sabre. Sabre broke him down, tied him in knots, and Allin went out on his shield, refusing to quit, and having to be saved by the referee. This was excellent stuff, great action, beautiful storytelling, and a match that will make Allin a bigger star than he was. That Sabre fella is also really good.

4. From EVOLVE 105: Matt Riddle vs. Keith Lee [****½]: This was an awesome main event, a fitting close to the feud and a beautiful send off for Lee who has been an essential part of the WWN world since signing. They played extremely well off of their past meetings with fun call backs, working to a hot crowd and making sure to close of the feud in style. This was one of those throw it all at the wall matches, there was going to be no rematch, and Riddle went over clean and decisively, but Lee went out looking absolutely great and in a way, rewarded for his great time with the company. To me, there are rare times that the one count/fighting spirit kick outs work perfectly, and this was one of those times. There was no coming back, so having them throw everything at each other, and survive enough to add to the drama, worked here, especially in front of a very receptive crowd. This was billed as the final war, and the work, the crowd reaction, and simply everything worked here. Riddle is locked into his next feud. Lee got to say goodbye; it all worked as well as you could have hoped for.

3. From EVOLVE 104: Matt Riddle vs. Shane Strickland [****½]: This was an absolutely awesome main event, a hell of an angle and a huge vote of confidence for Strickland in his return to the company. The story was great, with Riddle controlling early and just delivering a beating, but Strickland survived the onslaught, which led to his attack of the arm. His work was great, crisp, clean, and focused, while Riddle’s selling ruled and his fight spots came at exactly the right time. They had a hot crowd that was invested into the story that they were telling, reacting to Strickland’s dickish punishment and Riddle’s comebacks, adding a ton to this. This main event was excellent, and an overall huge success in terms of making Strickland a player on night one, and on top of that, he comes off as a much-needed heel and legit threat to Riddle.

2. From EVOLVE 108: Matt Riddle vs. Shane Strickland [****½]: This was an extremely well built feud that came to its end here in a hardcore match in the old ECW arena. Everything they did to get here made sense, Strickland was the hot hand and delivered as soon as he walked in the door, and with Riddle on the way out, putting the title on Strickland made sense. The match was excellent, playing well off of their previous matches, and also playing into the stipulation extremely well without completely overdoing it and making it a garbage match. It took everything he had, but Strickland finally overcame Riddle, and considering what Riddle brought to the company, he deserved to go out like a Superman here tonight, and it was done in a way that they made you think Riddle may retain. Make sure to catch this one, it’s one of the best EVOLVE matches of 2018.

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1. From Mercury Rising 2018 – Matt Riddle vs. Will Ospreay [****¾]: THIS… THIS is what I had been waiting for, we’ve had a lot of good, and very good, and even great this week so far, but we’ve been missing that outstanding match and finally got it here. This was an excellent match. The story was simple, Riddle was coming in on the championship high, he just beat Sekimoto and Sabre, and the match was under his rules. On the other hand, Ospreay was coming in all banged up and he knew that. He attacked right away, shock and awe, looking to win the match as quickly as possible. It was a great plan, but his reckless nature is what allowed Riddle to take control, and he focused on that neck. This match had the most heat of anything on the WWN shows this week, by a wide margin. Riddle was awesome, showing a ruthless side here, while Ospreay played the resilient babyface, doing his all to overcome. The homestretch was amazing, with excellent near falls, and a real feel that Ospreay could actually win here. This fucking ruled.

– End Scene.

– Thanks for reading.

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“Byyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyye Felicia!”


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