September 11, 2010 was a pretty big day in Independent Wrestling.
At the Manhattan Center in New York City, Ring of Honor held its
Glory By Honor IX event, headlined by the Kings of Wrestling taking on Wrestling's Greatest Tag Team (Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin) for the first time ever, as well as Tyler Black's final ROH match, defending the ROH World Title against Roderick Strong.
Meanwhile, at the Eagles Club in Berwyn, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, SHIMMER was taping its Volume 33 and 34 shows, featuring Madison Eagles' first two defenses of the SHIMMER title against Cheerleader Melissa and Ayumi Kurihara, respectively.
Then, there's the EVOLVE show in Rahway, New Jersey, featuring Bryan Danielson, fresh off his return to WWE after the infamous "tie incident" which saw Bryan released from WWE as punishment for strangling ring announcer Justin Roberts on TV with his own tie, taking on Munenori Sawa in the Main Event, as well as the EVOLVE debut of Amazing Kong, better known to most of you these days as WWE's Kharma.
Once again, let's recap - ROH runs one of the biggest shows of its year on iPPV an the Manhattan Center in NYC, headlined by Hass and Benjamin vs. the Kings of Wrestling, and Tyler Black's final ROH match against Roderick Strong.
Meanwhile, approximately 30-40 minutes away (according to Google Maps, at least), in Rahway, New Jersey, Gabe Sapolsky's EVOLVE tries to compete with this by booking Bryan Danielson vs. Some Japanese Guy Most of You Have Never Heard Of, and Awesome Kong.
Yes, this actually happened.
I'm not making this up.
EVOLVE actually tried to compete with one of the most controversial matches in ROH History, as well as the debut of the World's Greatest Tag Team against arguably the hottest Tag Team in Wrestling today in the Kings of Wrestling with Daniel Bryan wrestling a guy you've never heard of, and Awesome Kong.
Needless to say, EVOLVE had its ass handed to it, and it shows in the show I'll be reviewing today,
EVOLVE 5: Danielson vs. Sawa.
Now, I really don't want to get into the speculated heat between Gabe Sapolsky and ROH management following Sapolsky's ousting as booker in favor of "Scrap Iron" Adam Pearce, or the continued dick-waving that's resulted in ROH talent being pulled from EVOLVE shows, including Adam Cole, Kyle O'Reilly, and EVOLVE co-founder Davey Richards.
Their personal issues, if they even exist, are irrelevant to the fact that Sapolsky's promotions, EVOLVE and Dragon Gate USA, are out for Ring of Honor's Spot as the Leading Independent Wrestling Promotion.
And while DGUSA does produce a consistently quality show that rivals, and in some ways, even surpasses the current ROH product in some aspects, namely, DGUSA's in-ring action, which, in my opinion, is likely the best wrestling you will see on the market today, EVOLVE's efforts to establish itself against ROH, in particular, falls terribly short.
It actually makes one wonder if, providing Gabe Sapolsky's eventual goal is to overtake ROH as the top Independent Promotion, or even secure one or both of his products among the 2 National Promotions, WWE and TNA, why there is an EVOLVE and a DGUSA, instead of just DGUSA.
To put it nicely, EVOLVE comes off, at least to me, like DGUSA's
Sunday Night Heat.
It's a show dedicated mostly to guys you'd normally see on DGUSA undercards, as well as other up-and-coming Indy talent who may simply not be ready for the DGUSA shows.
Let's be clear, here.
The only real connection between EVOLVE and DGUSA is its management, namely, Gabe Sapolsky and Full Impact Pro owner Sal Hamaoui.
Beyond that, EVOLVE and DGUSA may use some of the same wrestlers, but there is virtually no real connection, creatively, between the two products.
At the same time, because they have virtually the same management, and the fact that Gabe often promotes and markets them as sister promotions, many fans regard the two products as related, even though, creatively speaking, nothing that goes on in EVOLVE affects DGUSA and vice versa.
So, with the background information out of the way, let's pop in this DVD and get on with the review, shall we?
Our show begins with Chuck Taylor putting his boots on in the back while bitching to the members of Up in Smoke, Cheech and Cloudy, that Bryan Danielson is in the Main Event.
For those unaware, Taylor was forced to earn his spot on the EVOLVE roster by wrestling a match (which, obviously, he won) on
EVOLVE 1, a win that doesn't count in his overall EVOLVE record.
By the time
EVOLVE 3 came around, about six months later, Sapolsky had retired the "earn your way onto the roster" concept altogether, making Taylor one of the few, if not only person to have been forced to earn his way on the roster.
Because of this, Taylor's first EVOLVE win isn't counted on to his record, and he's constantly talking about how he's (in this show's case) 3-0, but should be 4-0.
This is the point where I also should let you know that, in EVOLVE, win-loss records are everything.
There are no titles in EVOLVE, at least not yet, and therefore, dominance in EVOLVE is tallied by one's win-loss record, which is splattered all over these shows.
It's listed along with the wrestler's name during entrances.
They list the records on EVOLVE's website.
It's the constant, if not only, topic of promos.
Wins, in EVOLVE, really are everything.
It actually is a pretty cool concept, although, it also serves to remind fans that Pro Wrestling is, in fact, fake, because you're constantly having to be told that winning actually matters in EVOLVE.
It's the same reason I bitch about Matt Morgan constantly reminding fans watching Impact that wins actually matter in the Bound For Glory Series, because, in the kayfabe world of wrestling, ALL wins should matter.
So, while it's nice that EVOLVE actually goes out of its way to make wins matter, they do so with about all the subtlety of a baseball bat upside your head.
We then hear from members of the EVOLVE roster, talking about tonight's Main Event.
Rich Swann seems to think Sawa is going to own Danielson tonight.
Drake Younger, in his DGUSA shirt (cheap plug), believes Danielson will win.
Ricochet believes Sawa's kicks give him the edge against Danielson, then talks a bit about his match later on in the night against Kyle O'Reilly.
Adam Cole takes the pussy way out and says it's not his place to pick a winner, because Danielson and Sawa are where he wants to be as a competitor.
Here's a hint, Adam - you're never going to get there by being a wuss.
I swear, EVOLVE.
Way to make me hate a supposed babyface in your company right off the bat.
By the way, it should be noted that these segments are about 20 times less interesting than they sound in these recaps.
The guys interviewed about Danileson/Sawa showed little to no personality whatsoever, including Rich Swann (which, given the man's natural charisma, is quite a feat).
What little personality that would have shined through gets downplayed something fierce, as everyone here is trying to be as solemn and serious as possible, coming off more like a bunch of shy wallflowers rather than outgoing, professional athletes.
Your average MMA fighter shows more personality in his interviews than whiny-ass Adam Cole wussing his way out of a straight answer, and that, in case you are wondering, is not a good thing.
We get an opening video package explaining the concept of EVOLVE, because, instead of just presenting the show where win-loss records are taken seriously, and rules are actually enforced to the letter, we have to be told that, in EVOLVE, unlike the other fake wrestling shows out there, wins actually matter, and things that would not be tolerated in actual professional sports won't be tolerated here... a concept that will be COMPLETELY thrown out the window come
EVOLVE 6, when Homicide is not only allowed to repeated stab Jon Moxley in the forehead, and the balls, with a fork, but does so AFTER THE MATCH ENDS, and ABSOLUTELY NO ONE COMES OUT TO TRY AND STOP HIM.
Yes, I just called out EVOLVE for pulling sh*t only TNA would have the balls to try.
I'm thinking this review won't be linked on EVOLVE's website after this...
Anyway, back to
EVOLVE 5, and our first match, Chuck Taylor vs. Mike Quackenbush.
That is, once we're done watching Bryan Danielson and Sawa doing their pre-match warm-ups to some really terrible music that can only be described as atonal moaning.
It needs said - for all of EVOLVE's flaws, and believe me, there are many, EVOLVE does at least provide some quality wrestling.
Unfortunately, as will end up being the story of the night here on
EVOLVE 5, this crowd does not give a sh*t.
They all came here to see Bryan Danielson.
Because, let's be straight here - if you were an Indy Wrestling Fan in the Rahway area on September 11, 2010, chances are, you went to the Manhattan Center to see Tyler Black drop the ROH Title on his way out, as well as the debut of Haas and Benjamin against the Kings of Wrestling.
These people, for the most part, are either the most hardcore Bryan Danielson fans in New Jersey, so much so they'd willingly skip out on
Glory By Honor IX, one of if not
the most talked about show in Indy Wrestling in 2010, to do so, or they're guys who came to their first Indy show ever because they saw Danielson on WWE TV.
As far as Indy Crowds go, and Indy Crowds in New Jersey in general, this one SUCKS.
So you actually end up having a fantastic match between Chuck Taylor and Mike Quackenbush, but you wouldn't know it by the crowd whom outside of a few spots, mostly sit on their hands in silence through not only this match, but most of the show.
Quack picks up the win with a cradle pin after Chuck Taylor misses with an attempted springboard clothesline off the top rope, now making Chuck Taylor 3-1, which is supposed to be 4-1.
Yeah... not much of a gimmick, there, but to Taylor's credit, he is one of the few standout characters on any given EVOLVE show, serving as, for all intents and purposes, its top heel.
If EVOLVE even has such a thing...
Our next match is tag team action, as Aeroform (Flip Kendrick and Louis Lyndon) takes on Up In Smoke (Cheech and Cloudy).
Aeroform are basically Blaxploitation-era Martial Arts Guys, and Cheech and Cloudy are, obviously, stoners.
We have a decent, high-spotty tag match, which this crowd does not give a sh*t about at all.
During the opener, people at least seemed to get into the highspots.
Here, they don't even really seem to care about those.
We get a momentary chant from maybe 8 people, and then, back to near silence.
It's sad, because the match isn't all that bad.
It's not great, but I've certainly seen worse.
Near the end, the crowd starts to warm up to the spot, at least, but if you actually look at the people in the crowd, you can tell they're not too particularly in to the match, or the show so far.
So, with that said, let's actually take a look at the situation for a second.
We're in the Rahway Rec Center, which is basically a glorified gymnasium.
The building is maybe a third full, with fans who, for the most part, only came here to see Bryan Danielson and maybe Awesome Kong.
They don't care about these flippy guys.
They've never heard of them.
There's no pre-match promo to get these fans behind one or the other team.
Neither team really stand out as either heel or babyface.
You don't know who to support here, nor do you have any real idea who these guys are outside of maybe their outfits, because, not only did you not get any pre-match promo or segment, but no one in EVOLVE actually has entrance music.
EVOLVE uses like 5 or 6 generic riffs they play, pick one to play before a match, then have all the participants of the match come out to the same lame, generic riff.
So, you have a crowd that doesn't know who anyone is outside of Bryan Danielson and Awesome Kong.
You don't establish in any way whatsoever who the guys are in your undercard, so much so, they don't even have their own entrance music.
You never establish who your good guys or bad guys are, or if you even have any.
You simply throw out wrestlers, hope they have a flashy enough outfit for fans to get a feel of who they might be if you actually let them show a personality for five seconds, and just let them wrestle for 15 minutes or so with a clean finish.
Is there any wonder why this crowd, who doesn't know who any of your guys are, for the most part, sit there on their hands, clapping politely for highspots, looking bored and wondering when Bryan Danielson is coming out?
There shouldn't be, because you've given these people nothing to connect to, nothing to react to, other than maybe a few cool stunts, and no reason to care about anyone in your ring outside of the two names you put on your card to draw this half-full building worth of people who, if they were fans of Indy Wrestling at all, would have gone to the ROH show a half-hour away instead!
For as much as I rip into TNA for their BS, at least they try to give you reasons to care about their talent.
They fail at doing so on a scale so epic, if fail were money, it'd fund the
Avatar sequel, but at least TNA TRIES to make you care about what is going on in the shows.
EVOLVE doesn't even do that.
It kind of makes you wonder what Gabe Sapolsky is doing to book this show outside of making a list of matches and managing to get the people on that list to appear on the show, because, right now, two matches in, he's done nothing that this live crowd would have seen, and only one thing on the DVD (Taylor bitching in the back about his win-loss record) for the folks watching the show at home, to make them care about ANYTHING happening on this show outside of the names you put on the card to draw - Danielson and Kong.
To EVOLVE's credit, Lenny Leonard, the play by play, does at least manage to try and set the stage for fans watching at home what is at stake in this match (Aeroform's poor win-loss record, and the potential threat of being ousted from the EVOLVE roster) for the fans watching at home.
This, of course, does nothing for the live crowd, whose lack of energy is so profound, it actually takes away from whatever good the commentary or the DVD segments have done to make you, the fan at home watching, care about what is going on there.
Cheech and Cloudy win the match with the Tidal Wave, which some of you may remember as the Qubecers' double-team finish after they crotched Flip Kendrick on the top turnbuckle and nailed him with another double team move which looked like a flapjack variation of La Resistance's double-team finish.
After the match, Lenny Leonard then interviews Up In Smoke, calling them out for crotching Flip Kendrick on the top turnbuckle.
Yes, this is considered "cheating" in EVOLVE.
Cloudy responds to this by saying that there are no cheap wins, just wins.
Aeroform confronts them afterwards, but nothing comes of it, as Up In Smoke turn heel.
The crowd reacts to this by doing absolutely NOTHING.
Yeah, because, guess what, Up In Smoke?
ONE SPOT of moderate "cheating" after an entire match of not doing ONE DAMN THING to make anyone believe you are heels isn't going to make anyone boo you.
They don't care, because no one, either in booking, or in this match, gave this crowd, or anyone watching at home, any reason to believe you did anything dishonest until the very end of the match, and, when you finally did, it's met with, "meh."
Larry Dallas, the supposed heel manager of EVOLVE, tries to get into the show, but security once again tells him he's not invited.
This has been going on for a few EVOLVE shows now, and, spoiler alert, this is eventually paid off on
EVOLVE 6 when Chuck Taylor announces Dallas as his new sponsor in an attempt to rectify the wrongs against him, including that whole "not including my first win in EVOLVE on my win-loss record".
Our next match has Jimmy Jacobs taking on Adam Cole, the whiny little wuss from earlier who dared not to have an answer to a simple question like, "Who do you think will win tonight's Main Event?" because he's afraid it'll hurt his chances of becoming a Main Eventer himself, which... god, I can't WAIT for Jimmy Jacobs to kick his ass.
Jimmy's basically been treating Cole like a towel boy since
EVOLVE 1 (oh, I wonder why... maybe because you're character's acting like a pussy?), and Adam Cole is here to prove he's a man here tonight.
So, in a twist I would normally see in TNA, the guy I'm supposed to sympathize with and cheer for (Adam Cole) is a total wuss, so much so, I find myself wanting to cheer the heel.
To EVOLVE's credit, though, we actually have a heel vs. a babyface, and, amazingly enough, the crowd actually buys into this match more than the previous two, because, holy hell, the guys in the ring actually have defined roles, you have some idea of what is going on because Jimmy actually acts like a heel and constantly taunts Cole as the match progresses, and Cole actually makes a pretty decent comeback, which gets the live crowd behind him, especially in the end.
Unfortunately, Cole's effort is shot down, and Jacobs picks up the win with the Contra Code.
After the match, Lenny Leonard gets some words with Jimmy Jacobs, who takes this chance to mock Johnny Gargano for not being able to beat Cole at a previous EVOLVE show, then brags about the fact that, as of right now, Jacobs is the Wins Leader in EVOLVE.
Gargano and Jacobs have been in something of a dick-waving feud in EVOLVE since the first show, and this is Jimmy waving his schlong around, talking about how his is bigger than Johnny's, figuratively speaking.
Sami Callihan takes on Drake Younger in our next match, a hard-fought, strong-style brawl that honestly looked like it took about a year off of each man's career.
I mean, seriously, these two damn near killed each other, here, with stiff shots and some wicked suplexes, as well as a good old-fashioned ringside brawl which saw the men just beat the holy hell out of one another.
The crowd was, once again, pretty quiet for this one, although the sheer physical intensity of the fight certainly woke a few of these people up.
Younger is able to counter out of Callihan's Stretch Muffler into a cradle pin for 2, then follows this up with the Drake's Landing (a vertabreaker) to get the pin.
Younger is now 3-0 in EVOLVE.
After the match, Younger calls out the Wins Leader, Jimmy Jacobs.
In the back, we have Bryan Danielson lecturing Chuck Taylor about his bad attitude, telling him that he could be the Face of EVOLVE if only he knocked off his crap.
For all the crap I given EVOLVE thus far about not telling any stories or giving its fans many, if any, reasons to care about anything going on in the ring, I do have to give them credit here.
The one angle they actually do seem to push, outside of the Gargano-Jacobs dick-waving contest, is Taylor's attitude problem.
Our next match is a 6-way shootout featuring Brad Allen, Johnny Gargano, Rich Swann, Frightmare, Gran Akuma, and Jon Moxley.
This, for those familiar with Sapolsky as a booker, is the standard "time-filler" match he books for guys who otherwise don't have anything else going on during a particular show.
Two men work in the ring, with the other 4 on the outside.
Guys tag in and out.
You know the drill.
Johnny Gargano rolls up Frightmare after a short spotfest to pick up the win.
After the match, Gargano brags to Lenny Leonard about his win.
He declares himself the baddest man on the planet, which brings out Homicide, making his unannounced EVOLVE debut.
This also marks the first time all night this crowd actually gets up out their seats.
Homicide laughs off Gargano's claims of being bad, then tells Johnny to get the stepping.
Gargano cowers away, and Jon Moxley steps into the ring to confront Homicide.
'Cide tells Mox that he's coming back to the Northeast to reclaim his crown as King, and that Mox better watch his back.
Mox leaves, and Homicide takes a mic.
After realizing this is a family show, and he's not allowed to curse, he promises that he's back to take over EVOLVE and the Independent Scene.
He then leaves, because, in a couple hours' time, he's got to show up on ROH's
Glory By Honor show and scare the piss out of Roderick Strong.
We get a recap of
EVOLVE 4, where Brody Lee earned himself a suspension by swinging at an official after his match with Jon Moxley.
We also learn that Moxley was fined for his use of a chair.
We then go to the end of Intermission, where Lenny Leonard thanks the fans for coming out.
We then get an acknowledgement of ROH's show in NYC, which starts shortly after the EVOLVE show here ends.
Why this is included on the DVD, god knows, other than to quell rumors of heat between Sapolsky and ROH, I would imagine.
Jon Moxley then comes out to demand a rematch with Brody Lee because of the events of
The first of our two "drawing" matches begins, as Awesome Kong takes on Mercedes Martinez for Martinez's WSU Title.
Yes, the Women's Superstars Uncensored title is on the line here at
After a hard-hitting, albeit short contest, Mercedes wins by DQ when a ref tries to stop Kong from taking off a turnbuckle pad, and Kong responds by kicking the ref in the balls.
Kong tries to Awesome Bomb Martinez after the match, but Mercedes reverses it into a facebuster, and the two brawl their way to the back.
In the back, Johnny Gargano and Jimmy Jacobs are arguing about their dick size some more.
Gargano then lets Larry Dallas and his girlfriend in through the back door.
Jimmy groans at this development, as virtually no one on Earth apparently likes this Larry Dallas guy.
Our semi-main event sees Ricochet take on Kyle O'Reilly.
The two start slow, but build up to a pretty decent match, overall.
The commentary also helps, giving you some background on what's at stake, plus talking about Ricochet's strategy and what he would need to do to defeat a technical wrestler like O'Reilly.
The crowd is at least awake for this match, although I honestly had to laugh in some shots where you had guys more engrossed in their text messages than in the match.
Unfortunately, while the crowd is awake, they aren't particularly excited about this mat-based hold-fest, either.
Ricochet goes for the top, but O'Reilly catches him.
Kyle tries to go for a superplex, but Ricochet kicks him off and nails his 630 on O'Reilly for the win.
In the back, Mercedes Martinez is moping about her DQ win over Kong.
Homicide walks up to her and tells her to cheer up, she got the win, at least.
Main Event Time as Bryan Danielson takes on Munenori Sawa.
Like every Daniel Bryan match you've ever seen, it's a classic, mat-based battle, which keeps the action fast, even on the ground.
It also helps that Sawa is no slouch in the ring, either.
The crowd is legitimately excited for most, if not all of this match, even though, even now, you're hard pressed to see anyone actually on their feet.
The match follows a certain pattern.
Every time Sawa has an advantage, the crowd goes quiet and waits for Bryan to reverse the hold.
Every time Danielson is on offense, the crowd pipes back up.
Sawa comes close to a win, locking Bryan in an Octopus Hold, but Bryan is able to slip out and nail a pair of roundhouse kicks for 2.
A third roundhouse and a LeBell Lock later, Sawa taps, and the crowd... actually stands up and chants "Best in the World".
Even here, with the best reaction this crowd has given this show all night, it still seems rather weak.
It's actually sad how unenthusiastic this crowd still feels even when they actually are awake and giving a damn.
Bryan and Sawa had a great match, better than this show likely even deserved, and, while they still got the best reaction all night, it was still relatively mild compared to any reaction Bryan has received at any other Indy show he did during his momentary exile from WWE last summer.
Dragon Gate crowds practically tore down the building for him.
Most of the smaller shows, including PWG, saw fans throwing ties at Bryan instead of streamers.
In Rahway, one of Danielson's final Indy appearances, wrapping up the bookings he picked up after his WWE release months earlier, he got a decent reaction, but not a particularly big or memorable one.
After the match, he puts over Sawa as a hell of a wrestler. He then puts over EVOLVE, calling it his baby, telling us how he came up with the name and helped put together the concept (including a notable omission of Davey Richards' name, which you'd think would have come up considering he was supposedly just as much a part of putting EVOLVE together as Danielson and Sapolsky, if not moreso).
Danielson then thanks the fans for supporting him throughout his career.
He gives a heartfelt speech, then follows it up by asking the sound guy to play Europe's "Final Countdown" (which you never hear on the DVD) so Bryan and the EVOLVE fans can have one last great moment together before he goes back to WWE.
Unfortunately, this moment is not shown on the DVD.
We then cut to the back, where Johnny Gargano, Larry Dallas, and Dallas' girlfriend meet up with Chuck Taylor, who is still moping in the same chair he was in when Bryan Danielson lectured Taylor earlier.
Dallas boosts Taylor's ego a bit, and the four decide to head out and party it up in NYC.
Yes, even the EVOLVE talent is trying to get to NYC in time to see
Glory By Honor IX, it seems...
Final Thoughts: Boring.
Seriously, if one word sums up this show, and EVOLVE in general, it's "boring".
The angles, if they exist, are dull.
The only guys worth a damn to note, really, are Johnny Gargano, Jimmy Jacobs, Chuck Taylor, Jon Moxley, and the draws - Danielson and Kong.
Mercedes Martinez tries her best to stand out, but here, it almost seems pointless.
Unless you're a WSU fan, or care about the WSU Title, Mercedes' part on this show is simply to have a Women's Match, and nothing more.
As far as entertainment value is concerned, this show leaves a lot to be desired.
The wrestling is, for the most part, okay.
Jacobs/Cole is a surprisingly good match, despite the fact that Adam Cole has done nothing in this promotion but make me want to see people hit him.
Quack and Taylor turned in a decent opener, and, of course, your drawing match - Danielson/Sawa - was as solid a Main Event as you could hope for.
But, really, if all a show really has to offer, overall, is a good Bryan Danielson match, you could buy about 500 other DVDs and get that, plus some.
EVOLVE isn't a terrible show, by any means, but it's not a good one, either.
The wrestling on
EVOLVE 5 is okay, the crowd is dead and doesn't care, there isn't much to the show other than the wrestling, and very little stands out.
What's worse is that there were far better shows taking place that same day, be it the SHIMMER shows in Illinois, or ROH's
Glory By Honor which would start shortly after
EVOLVE 5 ended.
If you were a fan that had to choose between seeing the EVOLVE show or
Glory By Honor, and you picked EVOLVE... I'm sorry.
Seriously, you got ripped off.
An average Bryan Danielson match (which, for comparason's sake, is still better than most people's 'good' or 'great' matches by miles) isn't going to make up for missing out on the Kings of Wrestling vs. Haas and Benjamin, Christopher Daniels vs. Austin Aries, or Roderick Strong's ROH Title win in Tyler Black's last match in the company.
It just isn't.
As for anyone looking to buy
EVOLVE 5: Danielson vs. Sawa on DVD, save your money, or pick up Ring of Honor's
Glory By Honor IX instead.
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