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Hawke’s Top 35 Evolve Matches from 2016

December 21, 2016 | Posted by TJ Hawke
Chris Hero Image Credit: WWE, EVOLVE

Despite some bizarre storylines being implemented throughout the year, Evolve has basically become the best in-ring product in the US. It’s mostly by default, but they deserved the praise nonetheless. Check them out.


35. Dustin vs. Tracy Williams – 9/10/2016


This was an EXTREME match with NO interference allowed.

Dustin and Hot Sauce worked for about a minute before Drew Galloway and Catch Point showed up. Joey Styles, NOT THE GM OF EVOLVE DESPITE HAVING POWER, came out and stole away the agency of the other characters to compensate for some inadequacy get over his power. He also made Dustin vs. Hot Sauce an EXTREME RULES match where no interference was allowed.

Anyway, it led to a fun plunder brawl with ladders and thumbtacks with the finish being Hot Sauce willingly rolling into thumbtacks in order to secure the submission victory. This was basically just a less good version of the brawl Chuck had with Trent? in PWG a month or so earlier. (***)


34. Matt Riddle vs. Fred Yehi – 1/23/2016


This was a 2016 Style Battle tournament match.

Well, this was quite fun and delightfully compact. Yehi basically dominated the match and looked like a future star in doing so. Riddle sold well and made Yehi look good in general before getting a heel hook out of nowhere to steal the win. I hope Evolve continues the trend of booking action-heavy matches that do not go too long and tell good stories. (***)


33. Matt Riddle vs. Lio Rush – 5/7/2016

32. Cedric Alexander vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – 8/20/2016

31. Fred Yehi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – 10/16/2016

30. Drew Gulak vs. Tony Nese – 8/19/2016


This was a real nice midcard match and an effective use of both guys. The key to the match was their nice job of conveying the “struggle” of trying to get the upperhand with a sense of urgency of trying to actually win. There was just a nice pace and crispness to everything they did as a result which allowed the match to never feel boring or allow it to just all run together. This was a pleasant surprise, and it actually made me think they might have the chemistry to pull off a series of matches. Good job. Gulak won via fruit roll-up. (***1/4)


29. Matt Riddle vs. Zack Sabre Jr. 4/2/2016

28. Drew Gulak vs. Jaka – 12/10/2016

27. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tony Nese – 7/17/2016

26. Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre – 5/6/2016

25. TJ Perkins vs. Fred Yehi – 5/7/2016

24. Matt Riddle vs. Marty Scurll – 7/17/2016

23. Chris Hero vs. Dick Togo – 12/10/2016

22. TJ Perkins vs. Cedric Alexander – 8/19/2016

21. Fred Yehi vs. Travis Gordon – 9/11/2016


This was as good as advertised and a leading example of how to make a compelling and substantive pro wrestling match in under six minutes. Yehi is normally the one at the advantage for being unconventional. Gordon’s flippiness was so ridiculous though that it put Yehi on the defensive. Gordon seemingly was building lots of momentum due to his flying all around, but then Yehi caught a springboard attempt with a Koji Clutch (which actually felt IMPORTANT instead of just trite) to sneak away with the win. VERY GOOD PRO WRESTLING WAS HERE. (***1/2)


20. Brian Cage vs. Darby Allin – 12/10/2016


Professional wrestling is great. Darby did a bunch of stupid things that were fun to watch. Cage got to toss Darby around in a way that was fun to watch. They even pulled off the most satisfying countout finish possibly ever. Cage tossed him from the ring to the stage. Darby tried to dive back into the ring before the 20 count, but he came up short and crashed to the floor. Brilliant stuff.

Darby Allin has been a great example of going about getting yourself attention for your in-ring work in the worst way possible. It’s worked though and should serve as a lesson to every young wrestler out there: risk your life taking a bunch of stupid bumps on the undercards of iPPVs because they will be GIFed enough that people will take notice. (***1/2)


19. Chris Hero vs. Tracy Williams – 3/19/2016

18. Matt Riddle vs. Trevor Lee – 6/11/2016


This match had the shockingly intriguing dynamic of Trevor Lee dominating a large portion of the match by really tossing Riddle around. On paper, that does not really appeal to me, but I really got into it. It forced Riddle into an uncomfortable role and made him look desperate in the process. That sense of urgency and physicality that make Riddle matches stand out were not missing thankfully, and the match still worked as a result. They lost some momentum in the final few minutes, but it was nothing too damaging. Riddle won with some submission. (***1/2)


17. Sami Callihan vs. Ethan Page – 10/16/2016

16. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Will Ospreay – 4/1/2016

15. Chris Hero vs. Matt Riddle – 3/20/2016


Oh, this was so very good. Matt Riddle has been acting like the cock of the walk since he arrived in Evolve, and it was ever-so glorious to see Hero just beat him the fuck up here.

Hero looked world-class as usual. He dominated Riddle while being a slight dick about it (including sullying himself by attacking Riddle’s poor bare feet). Riddle meanwhile got to show off his tremendous ability to work underneath which was extra impressive given that he is a heel and Hero is a beloved indie figure.

The finish was great at both being satisfying in the moment while clearly allowing for a rematch (that I need yesterday). Hero went for the Gotch piledriver, but Riddle reversed it into a triangle. That was not putting Hero away though so he transitioned into an armbar to force Hero to tap out. Very fun stuff! (***3/4)


14. Chris Hero vs. Drew Gulak – 10/15/2016

13. Timothy Thatcher vs. Drew Gulak – 10/16/2016


This was a FIGHT TO THE FINISH match (whatever the fuck that means).

These two have been wrestling forever it seems, and way too many of their matches have felt derivative of their early efforts. Their matches never seemed to truly evolve (pun not intended), and it had no longer become a pairing to become excited about in any way. Thankfully, they finally changed it up.

This was essentially treated like a falls count anywhere match but without any nearfalls. They brawled all over the building, in the streets, and Gulak eventually won with a Gu-Lock while Thatcher was completely stuck in the ropes. It was fun. It was violent. It was intent. Very good fucking stuff. (***3/4)



12. Matt Riddle vs. Timothy Thatcher – 8/20/2016


This was for Trashy Tim’s Evolve Championship.

This was a great combination of Riddle and Thatcher’s unique yet similar styles to make for a match that was compelling from beginning to end. Thatcher’s attempts at hyper realism and Riddle’s “quality over quantity” approach mix together to provide plenty of brutal action and a no frills tone that just works incredibly well. It felt like a true contest that either man could win. Thatcher eventually made Riddle tap out though to bring some closure to this eight month feud that was booked exceptionally poorly. It at least ended on a very high note. (***3/4)


11. Fred Yehi vs. Cedric Alexander – 6/11/2016


This was exactly what an opener or a midcard match should be. It made both guys look good, it got the crowd involved, and it told a compelling story. All the while, it never felt long or did anything to overshadow the rest of the card.

They also did a great job of having Yehi just control the whole match without it ever feeling boring or repetitive. Yehi just works like he is in complete control of everything. It’s a rare quality that just adds a ton to the smoothness of a match.

Cedric then had to find openings to get some offense in, and each spot felt important as a result. It created an awesome finishing sequence where Cedric just DVDed Yehi into the corner. However, the way it was executed felt more like he just dove in there out of desperation instead of it being, “Time for the DVD into the corner spot.” Small things like that really add to the match. Cedric then finished Yehi with his backbreaker. (***3/4)


10. Matt Riddle vs. Roderick Strong – 7/16/2016


This was a very fun battle between two guys who have at various points in the past eighteen months been one of the very best wrestlers in the world. This was basically a 50/50 battle all the way through with neither guy getting full control for longer than a minute at a time. It had a great pace, featured a ton of physical action, and was worked with a great sense of urgency. This was exactly how you should work a midcard match. Roddy appeared to be on the verge of victory when Riddle caught him with a submission to force Roddy to tap out. (***3/4)


9. Matt Riddle vs. Cedric Alexander – 6/10/2016

8. Matt Riddle vs. Tommy End – 8/20/2016


This was a great match, and it basically proved definitively that Matthew Riddle is a living god whom we all must bow down to until the end of time. The structure of this match was so awesome.

Riddle came out firing with some strikes that sent End reeling. End’s only chance was to connect on some heavy strikes, and that was exactly what happened. Riddle’s selling as usual was on fucking point, and he made End’s offense look devastating.

This all put Riddle in a corner, but End could not finish. There was a great falsie where it looked like End had the match won with a kneebar. Riddle escaped though and won with HIS SUBMISSION. Riddle was amazing here on offense and defense, and it made End look the best he has ever been. Without a shadow of a doubt right now, Riddle is one of the very professional wrestlers in the world. The crazy part is that he’s still technically a rookie. (****)


7. Matt Riddle vs. TJ Perkins – 9/11/2016


This was GREAT as it basically had all things that make pro wrestling wonderful. First off, it had a great story. TJP was a step ahead of Riddle virtually the entire way and had the ex-UFC fighter fighting from behind on his heels. TJP and Riddle were working a furious pace that allowed for moments to stick out but without the sense of dead air between those moments. Both men were working with urgency and the feeling that they were actually trying to win. Both men came out of the match looking phenomenal. TJP got to leave the indies on a major high note. Riddle got to look strong in victory but without it coming at the expense of his opponent. On top of all that, the momentum and energy built to a fever pitch that perfectly reached climax at the finish. Beautiful. Riddle won cleanly via Bro-mission. (****1/4)


6. Chris Hero vs. Matt Riddle – 10/16/2016


This was just effortlessly wonderful. It’s almost unfair just how easily these two are able to produce greatness in the ring without a significant in-ring story or outside storyline providing a hook.

The match was Hero trying to dominate as usual early on. Riddle firing back to prevent himself from getting too far behind. Hero turning it on to get the advantage. Hero then casually controlled the match some more without it ever feeling like he was wasting time. Riddle fought back, and they tried to finish each other from there on out.

It was dramatic, exciting, and the tension increasing organically from beginning until the end. It was fantastic professional wrestling. Hero won via elbow as he’s wont to do. (****1/4)


5. Chris Hero vs. Matt Riddle – 11/13/2016


Coming off a shocking loss to Hot Sauce the night before, Chris Hero came into this match not fucking around one bit. Just as Hot Sauce jumped him the night before to get the advantage, Hero jumped Riddle here to get the advantage. From there, Hero practically squashed Riddle for ten minutes. It was beautiful.

Riddle fought back of course, but he really stood no chance against Hero on this night. Chris Hero came into this match looking to reestablish dominance, and he did just that. This was a helluva match. (****1/4)


4. Chris Hero vs. Fred Yehi – 4/2/2016


Chris Hero is just on a higher level right now as a performer compared to the rest of the world. This was yet another match where he turned in a world-class performance and made his (already very well-respected) opponent look like one of the very best wrestlers in the world.

The story was flawless and right up my alley. Hero came into the match full of his swagger. The fans treated him in a manner that only fed his ego. Yehi was completely out-matched due to the size differential. Hero dominated a large portion of the match, but Yehi would have a million small comebacks where he just pick away at Hero. He got in shots where he could to find the chinks in the armor. He eventually connected on some bigger offense as well.

He picked away at Hero slowly but surely and progressively made the match more competitive. Hero’s advantage never fully went away though, and he eventually finished off Yehi cleanly with the ripcord elbow.

I loved every moment of this match. Fantastic work by both men, and it was an excellent way to put a heel over cleanly while making both men look better after the match. (****1/4)


3. Chris Hero & Tommy End vs. Zack Sabre Jr. & Sami Callihan – 1/22/2016


This was a first round match in the Evolve Tag Team Championship Tournament.

This was one of the best tag team matches that the US indie scene has produced in quite a long time.

Hero and End, despite being a first-time team to the best of my knowledge, came into this match as if they had been working together for years. Sami and Zack felt like two individuals who did not prepare to work together at all.

Naturally, Hero and End controlled the majority of the match, and they did so in compelling fashion. The latter was accomplished by just destroying Zack over and over again.  My gawd, this was an excellent beating. Zack did of course escape eventually for the Sami hot tag. Sami actually made a decent comeback despite his strength as a performer usually being taking a beating.

Obviously, that Sami hot tag turned into an extended back-and-forth sequence to close out the match. What was surprising though was how excellent the selling and the pacing was during that closing stretch. After finally tagging out, Zack disappeared for a LONG time. That is so crucial to making a big beatdown seem meaningful and not like a waste of time.

Everything was just done so well after this point. There was great action with some genuinely surprising twists and turns in the battle for control. Zack and Hero in particular were just phenomenal when they were in the ring together. They might have the best chemistry of anyone in wrestling at the moment, and it was a delight to see them go at it again here.

Finally, the last thing I loved about this was that Zack eventually was the one to take the fall. He survived a ton throughout the match, but his kickouts always seemed to be losing more and more stream throughout the contest. It looked like he was going to be able to withstand a one-on-one battle with Hero, but End then jumped in out of nowhere with a (sloppy) double stomp to set Zack up for defeat. Just great stuff.

In all honesty, this was one of the best matches in Evolve history. Seek it out. (****1/2)


2. Chris Hero vs. Tracy Williams – 11/12/2016


This match was fantastic. It started with a bang, as Hot Sauce jumped Hero from behind with a German. That set an urgent pace for the match and forced Hero to not really relax at any point in the match.

The match progressively and organically settled into the story of the bigger Hero battling the fiery Hot Sauce. This was performed as well as you would expect, and the crowd was absolutely rabid for it.

They also managed to allow Hot Sauce to win cleanly and decisively by submission in a way that felt earned. While Hero has been dominant for large portions of 2016, they told a story about he is still susceptible to smaller guys who can stay a step ahead of him and who are not afraid to punch him in the nose. This was brilliant. (****1/2)


1. Chris Hero vs. Timothy Thatcher – 6/10/2016


This was for Thatcher’s Evolve Championship.

As someone who is fairly in the middle when it comes to Thatcher (he’s had some great matches and some real bores in the last couple of years), it has been entertaining to see factions form in regards to him. Some people seem to think he is one of (if not) the best in the world. Others find him to be horrible almost all the time. Both sides are wrong of course, and I am right (as always).

This seems like one of those matches that both sides could get into though (similar to how I felt about the Thatcher/Gargano match from last year). Thatcher did a lot of the stuff that he tends to do but organically blended it into a more crowd-pleasing kind of match.

Hero tried to get control early. Thatcher went after the leg. Hero avoided him doing too much damage though and then went to town on Thatcher. Thatcher then did something surprising: he changed up his strategy. Instead of going after the arm to set up the Fujiwara, he started throwing BOMBS at Hero. This weakened Hero enough to give my fellow Brit a chance to win.

They did some spots that played off their trademark offense before Thatcher managed to apply the Fujiwara to win the match. This was a beautifully worked, compelling from beginning to end, and continued one of the best in-ring rivalries going today. Check it out. (****1/2)

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