Watch This Wrestling 17 (4/27—5/3)

Here’s the latest edition of my weekly roundup of what’s worth checking out from the week in wrestling. People I talked to loved the Raw main event more than I did, but my issue was that the winner was so clearly obvious.

If somehow you found this and you don’t know I do a podcast about wrestling, I do! It’s called The Ring Post, and we just published our latest episode “Paybacklash” which you can find here.

As always, a list of what I watched for this week’s edition and what I’m planning to watch next week. If I’m missing anything that can be accessed without too much trouble, @ me on twitter: henrytcasey.

What I Watched:

  • Progress Wrestling, Ch.47: Complicated Simplicity, hit VOD on 4/29
  • NJPW: Wrestling Toyo Province 2017, 4/29
  • WWE Payback, 4/30
  • Monday Night Raw, 5/1
  • ROH Wrestling, 5/1
  • SmackDown Live, 5/2
  • 205 Live, 5/2
  • Talking Smack Live, 5/2
  • NXT, 5/3
  • NJPW: Wrestling Dontaku, 5/3

Non-WWE Match of The Week:

Kenny Omega vs Tomohoro Ishii

NJPW: Wrestling Dontaku, 5/3

As much as I loved the matches from Progress 47 (watch it) nothing stands up in comparison to this bit of business from The Cleaner (Omega) and the Stone Pitbull (Ishii).

I wanted there to be a little more heel/face dynamic when I was watching this match, but in the time since I’ve realized why. Omega may possibly be turning heel, and this match may have primed the crowd to handle it, as they’ve already been turning on Okada, his opponent at the upcoming Dominion show.

NJPW: Wrestling Dontaku is available on NJPW World.

Honorable Mentions:

  • South Pacific Power Trip vs. London Riots, Progress Wrestling, Ch.47: Complicated Simplicity, hit VOD on 4/29
  • PROGRESS World Title and Tag Team Titles on the line: British Strong Style vs Ringkampf, Progress Wrestling, Ch.47: Complicated Simplicity, hit VOD on 4/29
  • Hiromu Takahashi vs Ricochet, NJPW: Wrestling Toyo Province 2017, 4/29

Non-WWE Segment of the Week:

EVOLVE Mini-Doc: Page vs. Darby – The Final Chapter

WWN Live/YouTube, 5/1

I’ve had a hard time writing about the recent last man standing match between Ethan Page vs Darby Allin. This video, another gem of an Evolve Mini-Doc from Kenny Johnson, tells so much story that it needs to be screened at the start of the next Evolve event.

Excellent mix of match footage and backstage content, with caption overlays as necessary. Gives the suicidal Darby Allin all the credit he deserves. I hope he’s going to be well soon.

Honorable Mentions:

WWE Match of The Week:

Naomi & Charlotte Flair vs Natalya & Carmella

SmackDown Live, 5/2

While the Payback PPV had some good stuff, this is the match I found myself thinking about more. And that’s less about the match itself rather than what it did for its characters. Love everything that happens once Charlotte arrives, as well as Becky’s decisions.

Honorable Mentions:

WWE Segment of the Week:

The Fashion Files

SmackDown Live, 5/2

Without a shadow of a doubt, the best non-wrestling segment of the WWE week. Please, let this be a recurring bit. As I noted on the latest episode of The Ring Post, I want this to be a plot device for summarizing the current state of SmackDown Live.

Purest of gold here:

Honorable Mentions:

Watch This Wrestling 16  (4/20 – 26)

Indie Wrestling Twitter freaked out over Trevor Lee vs. Chip Day from CWF Mid-Atlantic Worldwide 102 practically the second it hit YouTube, and for good reason. It’s a blast. Unfortunately, it had a big moment that killed the vibe for me.

At some point midway or late in the match, Day gets what seems like too much offense in for Lee to kick out. And yet, he did. But seriously, check out that match, linked below.

As always, a list of what I watched for this week’s edition and what I’m planning to watch next week. If I’m missing anything that can be accessed without too much trouble, @ me on twitter: henrytcasey.

What I Watched:

  • T1W & Battle Club Pro: “The One Who Knocks”, 4/22
  • EVOLVE 82, 4/22
  • Tier 1 Wrestling Presents: “True Will”, 4/23
  • EVOLVE 83, 4/23
  • Monday Night Raw, 4/24
  • ROH Wrestling, 4/24
  • SmackDown Live, 4/25
  • 205 Live, 4/25
  • Talking Smack Live, 4/25
  • NXT, 4/26
  • CWF Mid-Atlantic Worldwide 102, 4/26

Upcoming Watch List

  • Progress Wrestling, Ch.47: Complicated Simplicity, hit VOD on 4/29
  • NJPW: Wrestling Toyo Province 2017, 4/29
  • WWE Payback, 4/30
  • Monday Night Raw, 5/1
  • ROH Wrestling, 5/1
  • SmackDown Live, 5/2
  • 205 Live, 5/2
  • Talking Smack Live, 5/2
  • NXT, 5/3
  • NJPW: Wrestling Dontaku, 5/3

Non-WWE Match of The Week:

Keith Lee vs Kyle O’Reilly

EVOLVE 82, 4/22

EVOLVE continued its hot streak at 82 & 83, the two New York shows it put on last week. And how did it rebound from losing Drew Galloway (now McIntyre) to WWE? By adding Kyle O’Reilly. And if you thought you’d seen Kyle’s best during his recent Ring of Honor, run, I suggest you check his re-debut match in EVOLVE (which was against Keith Lee) out.

Not only does Keith Lee just not have bad matches, but the booking here plays nicely with the problem inherent in the match. Sure, the crowd almost turned on the show, but Lee’s charisma and O’Reilly’s intense violence helped bring everything home.

EVOLVE 82 is available via FloSlam.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Matt Riddle vs Timothy Thatcher, EVOLVE 82, 4/22
  • [EXTREME VIOLENCE WARNING] Darby Allin vs Ethan Page, EVOLVE 82, 4/22
  • Matt Riddle vs Penta OM, Tier 1 Wrestling, True Will, 4/23
  • Zack Sabre Jr. vs Lio Rush, EVOLVE 83, 4/23
  • Fred Yehi vs Kyle O’Reilly, EVOLVE 83, 4/23
  • Trevor Lee vs. Chip Day, CWF Mid-Atlantic Worldwide 102, 4/26

Non-WWE Segment of the Week:

Stokely Hathaway’s Big News

EVOLVE 83, 4/23

And it’s come to this. Stokley Hathaway, the Paul Heyman of EVOLVE now manages … well, you’ll see.

I love this for more than a few reasons, and what it’ll do to Yehi & Williams are paramount among them. It’s one of those solid show-opening promos that sets a ton of plates spinning to make for some excellent business.

WWE Match of The Week:

Drew McIntyre vs Andrade “Cien” Almas

NXT, 4/26

Again, I liked this as much for the work and their in-ring chemistry as I do for what it accomplishes. Further establishing Drew’s beastly force and Almas tranquilo chill made for good story telling beats in the build to NXT TakeOver: Chicago, which will be here before we know it.

Honorable Mentions:

WWE Segment of the Week:

Table For 3: Common Bonds: Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, and AJ Styles

Table For 3, 4/24

The worst kept secret in WWE is that the shows right before a PPV (known as the Go-Home events, as in: send them home ready to pay more) now suck eggs.

Therefore, my favorite thing on WWE this week was the latest episode of Table For 3 on the WWE Network. Not only did Nash, Michaels and Styles get to shoot the shit, but they get to let HBK tell his side of why he doesn’t want to un-retire to face Styles.

Honorable Mentions:

Watch This Wrestling 15 (4/13 – 19)

First of all, an apology for how late this is. My weekend was a blur of indie wrestling and Persona 5, but I’m looking to get next week’s done quickly.

As always, a list of what I watched for this week’s edition and what I’m planning to watch next week. If I’m missing anything that can be accessed without too much trouble, @ me on twitter: henrytcasey.

What I Watched:

  • PROGRESS Wrestling Presents: Freedom’s Road S01E07, 4/13
  • Make Me Feel Alive…, EVOLVE, WWN Live, 4/14
  • How To Cut A Good Wrestling Promo, Ethan Page, 4/14
  • OTT: Scrappermania III, 4/15
  • Monday Night Raw, 4/17
  • ROH Wrestling, 4/17
  • Chikara: Bad Wolf, hit VOD 4/17, originally happened 4/1
  • SmackDown Live, 4/18
  • 205 Live, 4/18
  • Talking Smack Live, 4/18
  • NXT, 4/19

Upcoming Watch List

  • T1W & Battle Club Pro: “The One Who Knocks”, 4/22
  • EVOLVE 82, 4/22
  • Tier 1 Wrestling Presents: “True Will”, 4/23
  • EVOLVE 83, 4/23
  • Monday Night Raw, 4/24
  • ROH Wrestling, 4/24
  • SmackDown Live, 4/25
  • 205 Live, 4/25
  • Talking Smack Live, 4/25
  • NXT, 4/26

Non-WWE Match of The Week:

Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks (The Elite) vs Lio Rush, Ryan Smile, & Will Ospreay (The Uptown Funkers)

OTT: Scrappermania III, 4/15

While the below honorable mentions do some things well, this match checks a lot of boxes, and with style.

While the Funkers do in fact funk, they also bring the high flying brilliance that Rush and Ospreay are known names for. And of course you have The Bucks doing their chicanery and Kenny being the slyest devil in the game.

OTT: Scrappermania III is available via FloSlam.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Marty Scurll vs Jay White, OTT: Scrappermania III, 4/15
  • Martina, Nixon Newell, & Alex Windsor vs Bea Priestley, Jinny, & Katey Harvey, OTT: Scrappermania III, 4/15
  • Zack Sabre Jr. vs Mike Quackenbush,Chikara: Bad Wolf, 4/1 (available 4/17)
  • Silas Young, Hangman Page, Jay White, and Jay Lethal vs Colt Cabana, Lio Rush, Hanson from War Machine and Bobby Fish, ROH Wrestling, 4/17

Non-WWE Segment of the Week:

EVOLVE Mini-Doc: Crowning A WWN Champion

Directed by Kenny Johnson, via WWNLive/YouTube, 4/17

If you want a brief primer on what’s going on with a few of the biggest names in EVOLVE, this is a great way to catch up with Catch Point. Not only does it tell the Yehi / Riddle story, as well as show off the dickishness of “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams, but it doesn’t leave the other half of the 6-man elimination match behind. And that means you get more Stokely Hathaway, and to learn about Jon Davis and Parrow.

Honorable Mentions:

WWE Match of The Week:

Sasha Banks vs. Mickie James vs. Alexa Bliss vs. Nia Jax – Fatal 4-Way Match

Monday Night Raw, 4/17

It’s not a perfect match, but it deserves some callout for something that WWE got right with the swaps in the women’s division. With Mickie James and Alexa Bliss, Sasha Banks and Bayley finally have opponents with similar frames.

It was weird that WWE announcers never harped on the uphill battle that the comparably-tiny Sasha Banks should have been facing with the chiseled and statuesque Charlotte Flair. But now, they won’t need to, and this match showed some proof. While we all love an underdog, Sasha looks more realistic a potential victor now, and if this is her day 1 chemistry with James and Bliss, she will have a solid chance of thriving under this new era.

Also: Charlotte appears to have been the puzzle piece that SmackDown Live’s women’s division needed. Her match with Naomi was the first time in a while that either performer worked with someone who physically matched up. Unfortunately, a series of whiffs near the end made that match harder to watch.

Honorable Mentions:

WWE Segment of the Week:

Cesaro & Sheamus welcome The Hardy Boyz to Team Red

Monday Night Raw, 4/17

This segment is the proof that Matt Hardy is now working with the WWE when he’s trolling the masses about a return of his former self. As Dave Tach put it on our latest episode of The Ring Post, Matt can spend 95 percent of a promo in Hardy Boyz mode and then sprinkle on a bit of Broken Brilliance.

Honorable Mentions:

Watch This Wrestling 14 (4/6–12)

But first, about that elephant in the arena…

I want to reaffirm some of the reason behind this weekly roundup. Every week, WWE provide more than enough hours of pro wrestling for most, but there’s more. From those wacky Brits in Progress to the insane bastards of New Japan, wrestling isn’t just WWE.

This past week, there was as much reason to reiterate the above as ever before. No, not because of the phenomenal match between Kazuchika Okada and Katsuyori Shibata at Sakura Genesis. But because of the big outside-the-ring story of bullying in the WWE making the rounds in major publications such as Sports Illustrated and the New York Post.

Vince’s love of fucking with people is no secret, but this has popped up because of speculation that SmackDown Live color commentary announcer, noted veteran, and all-around-cancerous-motherfucker JBL is the reason for the absence of SDL play-by-play announcer Mauro Ranallo. You know, JBL, the guy who thought it’d be OK to goose-step like a Nazi during a show in Germany.

While we haven’t heard any stories about what JBL did to Mauro, who has been public about his bipolar diagnosis, and is off-air for what has been reported as stress, nothing would surprise anyone at this stage. It’s currently expected that Mauro and WWE will settle in private, and that WWE will address this in some way, as the story has been made too-public to ignore.

If it were up to me, and Mauro were not available to the WWE anymore, the SDL announce team would be Corey Graves, Byron Saxton and Renee Young. Of related note this week was the shamelessly transparent “we’re trading the black commentators!” moment where Raw traded Saxton for the useless lump of humanity called David Otunga.

Thankfully, we get a six-week window before Raw Is 3 Hours of Otunga goes into effect, thanks to his commitment to filming a movie where he’s playing a lawyer. In that time, Booker T will be filling in, because (again), “LOL BLACK COMMENTATORS, GOTTA HAVE ONE, AND NO MORE THAN ONE!” Assuming Book does well, I’d like to see a Raw team some day that’s him, Graves, and Tom Phillips.

As always, a list of what I watched for this week’s edition and what I’m planning to watch next week. If I’m missing anything that can be accessed without too much trouble, @ me on twitter: henrytcasey.

What I Watched:

Upcoming Watch List:

  • PROGRESS Wrestling Presents: Freedom’s Road S01E07, 4/13
  • OTT: Scrappermania III, 4/15
  • Monday Night Raw, 4/17
  • ROH Wrestling, 4/17
  • SmackDown Live, 4/18
  • 205 Live, 4/18
  • Talking Smack Live, 4/18
  • NXT, 4/19

Non-WWE Match of the Week:

Kazuchika Okada © vs Katsuyori Shibata for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship

NJPW: Genesis, 4/9

Most matches don’t get 38 minutes between bells, but that’s because few have the conditioning and technical prowess of Okada and Shibata. The former is the crown jewel of New Japan and the latter, well, he would have been on the rise after one hell of a match. More on that in a moment.

The story here is that Shibata enters the match guns ablazin and in a far more passionate state than Okada. The crowd is on board with this, vocally entirely behind Shibata. Okada is entering that mixed-reactions phase of his career most people associate with John Cena and Roman Reigns, and this match cemented it. Felt a bit like Punk/Cena MITB in that way. Except Okada starts taking shortcuts, playing to the boos.

Without spoiling any spots, I’ll leave discussion of the good parts of the match at that.

Part of me doesn’t want to give the win to the most-talked-about match of the week, but it was the best match outside of the week, despite its serious flaw. And that flaw is so bad that I won’t go back and rewatch this match, despite loving (the majority of) it.

While I always suggest people go watch these matches, this one comes with a brutal asterisk. Near the end of this match, which was already going to win MOTW, Shibata leveled Okada with what is now believed to be a shoot-headbutt. As in the skull-to-skill headbutt that split Shibata open was legitimate, despite early reports of it being a work.

As reported by many, including Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer, reports are coming out that Shibata is currently hospitalized, dealing with lingering right-side paralysis. Meltzer noted that Shibata has “some memories of the match” as if to infer that memory loss is involved. After all of this, it is expected that Shibata will never be cleared to wrestle again, ending his young career. Thankfully, it appears he will recover, but we shouldn’t have needed to hope for that.

It brings up a question of what kind of stiff work is actively encouraged or at least tacitly endorsed by the New Japan management. Much like WWE with its bullying problem, NJPW needs to take this moment to consider how it does business.

Sakura Genesis is available on NJPW World.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) © vs The Hunter Brothers (Jim Hunter & Lee Hunter) for the PROGRESS Tag Team Titles, Progress Ch. 46: I Like To Chill Out Here And Shoot Some Dinosaurs, 4/7
  • Pete Dunne vs Mark Andrews for the PROGRESS World Title, Progress Ch. 46: I Like To Chill Out Here And Shoot Some Dinosaurs, 4/7
  • Hirooki Goto vs Zack Sabre Jr., for the NEVER Openweight championship, NJPW: Genesis, 4/9
  • Curt Stallion vs John Skyler in a 2017 Top Prospects Tournament semi-final match, ROH Wrestling, 4/10

Non-WWE Segment of the Week:

EVOVLE Mini-Doc: Zack Sabre Jr. Can’t Make a Mistake

EVOLVE, WWN Live, 4/12

Evolve’s mini-docs, which get attributed to Kenny Johnson, are typically great previews or recaps. This one, though, goes further. It tells twin stories of frustration, from the current EVOLVE champ Zack Sabre Jr. and recent signee ACH.

As the title suggests, the focus of the feature is ZSJ hanging onto his title by a hair. What that means for Zack is that he’s getting closer to the “do whatever it takes” mentality that heels use, to cheat to keep his championship.

This, if you’re following Sabre Jr. outside of this promotion, is intriguing. In Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG) and New Japan, to name a couple of the other place he pops up, things are different.

Everywhere but EVOLVE, he’s called “Zacky Three Belts” because he’s crossed over to the dark side, turning heel. So whether he’s joining Minoru Suzuki’s nefarious Suzuki-Gun faction or tag-teaming with The Villain Marty Scurll as The Leaders of The New School, he’s always drawing ire. It’s the role that many who see his lanky frame and know-it-all submission style believe he was born to play.

And then we have ACH – who has worked as a friend of Zack’s in EVOLVE – who came here to win gold. ACH who should have been a world champion by now, but was passed over. ACH who couldn’t get the job done in Orlando, against Sabre Jr. at EVOVLE 80.

ACH who says he doesn’t know what comes next. ACH who’s been a face all this time and maybe that’s not enough.

Of course, this video doesn’t hammer home either potential turn all that hard. Gotta keep that surprise going. I love how the focus and zoom fall out of the scene where Michael Elgin cold-cocks Zack Sabre Jr. after basically demanding their match be for the title. And then the brief moments they bring from Elgin/ZSJ definitely paint Sabre Jr. as valorous and Elgin and the prick.

And then the other challengers. Lio Rush, who challenges Sabre Jr. for the title at the next EVOLVE events, and has “no more time to waste.” Ethan Page, tired of getting looked over by the booking committee, and more than happy to remind you of his two wins against Zack.

And finally, back to Sabre Jr., who speaks of the weight of the belt on his shoulder. If that doesn’t get you buying tickets or a FloSlam subscription, then I’m confused.

Honorable Mentions:

WWE Match of the Week:

AJ Styles vs Sami Zayn vs Baron Corbin in a #1 Contender’s match for the United States Championship

SmackDown Live, 4/11

The Superstar Shakeup gave SmackDown Live the kind of roster that everyone wished it had on day 1. Sure, we thought Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt were amazing workers, but that just wasn’t happening.

So this past week saw them add a flurry of talent, with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens coming over as two marquee acquisitions. Oh, and they’re also adding Big E, Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston (give me New Day singles runs) and Rusev to a show that already had AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Baron Corbin, Tye Dillinger and Luke Harper? So hot, hot damn.

And as if they felt the need to prove themselves, Zayn, Styles and Corbin put together a match worthy of their names. So while Styles is still working through being a good guy, Sami’s trying to prove himself against a bully he can hurt (Corbin is no Strowman), and Corbin is showing that he’s a fast learner.

This was the closest call for WWE MOTW in a while. While this had to be the winner, I appreciated the work in the other two matches, also worth checking out. This one just had more time and better pacing. Find the full version on Hulu if you have to.

Honorable Mentions:

Note: Both Galloway and Gallagher hit headbutts, no reports have emerged of resultant injuries.

WWE Segment of the Week:

Braun Strowman Savagely Attacks Roman Reigns

Monday Night Raw, 4/10

I’m really confused about what WWE meant to do with this segment, but I loved it so much nonetheless. This isn’t the best WWE segment of the year (remember the Festival of Friendship?), but damn it’s a close second.

Sure, he didn’t lift the ambulance (hello, it’s pro wrestling), but everything else about it was just so damn cool. Braun just rag-dolling Reigns around the backstage area elevates him to the most awesome thing on the Raw roster.

I watched this Raw at a bar with other fans, and this segment became the most amazing moment when consumed with a dozen or so fans screaming their heads off. So I just can’t emphasize enough how huge this moment is. 

WWE needs to handle this properly on Monday, and keep Roman off TV and let Braun continue to be the next wonder of the world, but not overdo it.

Some notes:

  • Roman takes a moment to remove his clipped-on microphone, because he’s a good employee who treats company property with care.
  • The segment wins by demonstrating impossible awesomeness by way of camera tricks.
  • Someone (possibly the WWE) started a god damn online petition to fire Strowman. That, if done outside of the company, is today’s version of that time people thought the NWO actually invaded WCW and called the police.
  • How does this happen the same week as The United Incident?

And about my confusion:

So, this made Strowman cooler than ever for many. Was it supposed to make Roman pitiable? Likable? Is this just to get Roman cool as a vengeful motherfucker?

After Roman Reigns had all the heat last week, are they trying to cool him down? What the hell?

Watch This Wrestling 13 (3/31 – 4/5)

Oh what a week. In short: WrestleMania Weekend isn’t just about WWE. When WrestleMania comes to town, it draws in more other promotions than any fan can manage to see. Which means so many promotions are active at the same damn time.

In a way, that means these weekends might be best viewed at home. I was able to stream more than enough (but not all, we’ll get to that) wrestling, thanks to FloSlam, the FITE app and the WWE network. As someone who attended WrestleMania 30 in New Orleans, I can say that seeing all of the shows in any city without public transit (such as New York) will require significant pre-trip mapping and plotting and familiarity with taxis and ubers. Or, getting a rental car.

So while I will have watched around 42 hours of wrestling for this edition, there was even more. So, if you find yourself looking for more than what I list, the HighSpots network has the stuff that even I missed. Let this be a warning to you, kiddos, if you go to WrestleMania in New Orleans next year, which I hope to, you might need to take a time management class first.

You might have noticed that I didn’t list WWNLive.com when I talked about streaming services, which is weird considering I did use it for Progress. Going forward, you ought to be wary of live events from there, as the promotion fell on its face trying to stream Progress: Orlando. It claimed that a denial of service attack was involved, but I’m suspicious that the company couldn’t handle the stress of Progress fans. Refunds for that event are due some time this week(!).

Lastly, a note. You might notice that the dates on this week are a little shorter than a full week. Looking at when exactly the graps take place, I’ve decided that future roundups will start on Thursday and end on Wednesday. Think it might help get this thing up faster.

As always, a list of what I watched for this week’s edition and what I’m planning to watch next week. If I’m missing anything that can be accessed without too much trouble, @ me on twitter: henrytcasey.

What I Watched:

  • PROGRES: Orlando, 3/31
  • EVOLVE 81, 3/31
  • WWE Hall of Fame, 3/31
  • Kaiju Big Battel, 3/31
  • WCPW Pro Wrestling World Cup: Scottish Qualifier , 3/31
  • Ethan Page: I Hate WrestleMania Weekend, 3/31
  • WrestleCon Supershow, 3/31
  • Ring of Honor: Supercard of Honor XI, 4/1
  • NXT TakeOver: Orlando, 4/1
  • WWN Supershow, 4/1
  • Beyond Wrestling, 4/1
  • Full Impact Pro, 4/2
  • WrestleMania 33, 4/2
  • Monday Night Raw, 4/3
  • WWE Ride Along, 4/3
  • ROH Wrestling, 4/3
  • NJPW Road to SAKURA GENESIS 2017, 4/4
  • SmackDown Live, 4/4
  • 205 Live, 4/4
  • Talking Smack Live, 4/4
  • NXT, 4/5

Non-WWE Match of the Week:

Keith Lee vs Donovan Dijak

EVOLVE 81, 3/31

So, damn it was hard to pick just the non-WWE match of the week, so boy are there a ton of suggestions below. But yeah, this match is a delight.

A hoss fight, if you don’t know, is when you take two (or more) big boy wrestlers and have them settle their differences in the ring. Keith Lee and Donovan Dijak, though, was an ultra hoss fight. They were doing all kinds of moves you don’t expect from such huge dudes. Like Keith Lee’s monkey flip, or his corkscrew plancha off the apron.

The match was so intense that the crowd started an “OH! Bask in, his gloooorrrrry!” chant ala Zack Sabre Jr.’s “Seven Nation Army” chant. A much watch if you like big dudes, and still something you should check out to see what they can do when they’re not a bunch of Great Khalis.

EVOLVE 81 is available on the FloSlam network.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Fred Yehi vs Matt Riddle, EVOLVE 81, 3/31
  • Darby Allin vs Ethan Page, an Anything Goes Match, EVOLVE 81, 3/31
  • Travis Banks & TK Cooper (South Pacific Power Trip) vs Sami Callihan & Shane Strickland, PROGRESS in Orlando, 3/31
  • Tyler Bate © vs Mark Andrews for the WWE UK Championship, PROGRESS in Orlando, 3/31
  • Team Ricochet (Richocet, Jason Cade, Sami Callihan, AR Fox & Desmond Xavier) vs Team Ospreay (Osprey, Lio Rush, Drew Galloway, Ryan Smile, & Marty Scurll), WrestleCon Supershow, 3/31
  • Marty Scurll vs Adam Cole, ROH TV Title MatchRing of Honor: Supercard of Honor XI, 4/1
  • The Young Bucks vs Matt and Jeff Hardy, ROH Tag Team Ladder Match, Ring of Honor: Supercard of Honor XI, 4/1
  • Travis Banks & TK Cooper (South Pacific Power Trip) vs Catch Point, WWN Supershow, 4/1

Non-WWE Segment of the Week:

Ethan Page: I Hate WrestleMania Weekend

YouTube / Ethan Page, 3/31

One of two back-to-back award winners this week, Ethan Page’s YouTube channel continues to reward those who know about it. This week, that means we’re treated to a tirade about WrestleMania Weekend. Specifically, Page goes after the smart fans who constantly put themselves over in the stands and annoy him for not keeping kayfabe going at the merch booth.

Maybe some day he’ll be in the WWE and complain about how shitty it is that fans bring beach balls to the shows of WrestleMania week.

Honorable Mention:

WWE Match of the Week

DIY vs The Revival vs Authors of Pain ©

NXT TakeOver: Orlando, 4/1

As should be expected, the WWE tag team match featuring The Revival was the best damn match from the promotion, writ-large.

The story going into this match was that Akam and Rezar, The Authors of Pain, a pair of impossibly thick, big boys are just unbeatable. Not only are they good at fighting, but they’ve got the tag team wrestling genius, the former Road Warriors manager, Paul Ellering giving them orders.

That combination led to them beating fan favorites DIY (Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa) for the titles, and then getting in the targets of former champs The Revival (Scott Dawson, Dash Wilder). Also, The Revival and DIY are true rivals, so everyone comes into this with reason to hate the other teams.

So while this match begins as a triple-threat, the two smaller teams unite and turn it into a 4 on 2. From the differing combinations (Gargano & Dawson; Ciampa & Wilder) to the powerbomb spot, it’s all just glorious. Also, the moment with the air getting sucked out of the room is practically a tiny tribute to first eliminated team’s ability.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Asuka vs Ember Moon, NXT TakeOver: Orlando, 4/1
  • Shane McMahon vs AJ Styles, WrestleMania 33, 4/2
  • Kevin Owens vs Chris Jericho, WrestleMania 33, 4/2

WWE Segment of the Week

The Booing of Roman Reigns

Monday Night Raw, 4/3

Absent from the above list is Roman Reigns vs The Undertaker in a Battle for The Yard match. What may not have been obvious at the start, but feels like it now, is the fact that this was the most hamfisted retirement stip ever.

And so Monday Night Raw began with the most iconic moment in years. Following a replay of the retirement of the most beloved zombie ever, the crowd let loose with chants.

The following chants take place, in this order:

“Un-der-ta-ker!”
“Ro-man-Sucks!”
Roman Reigns’ music hits. Roman enters the arena, and then the ring.
A torrential downpour of boos hits.
“DELETE!”
“Fuck! You! Roman!”
Reigns mouths the words, “I’ve got you in the palm of my hand”
“YOU SUCK!” (not ironically, as with Kurt Angle)
Every time Reigns moves the mic to his mouth, the crowd boos harder and harder.
“ASS!HOLE!”
“RO! MAN! SUCKS!”, in the key of “New Day Rocks”
“SHUT! THE! FUCK! UP!” (to a man who hasn’t said a word yet)
Roman Reigns: “This is my yard now.”

End Scene. And with that, the WWE may have accepted Roman Reigns’ place as a heel. We’ll know better next week but this was a very good sign.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Kurt Angle meets Enzo and Big Cass, Monday Night Raw, 4/3
  • Welcome to NXT, Drew … McIntyre?, NXT TakeOver: Orlando, 4/1

Watch This Wrestling 12 (3/24 – 30)

This week’s going to be kind of an abridged edition, because I’ll be publishing the next week’s edition very soon after this. So, no Upcoming Watch List, as most of that’s already happened.

If I’m missing anything @ me on twitter: @henrytcasey.

What I Watched:

  • WCPW Pro Wrestling World Cup: UK Qualifier, 3/25
  • NJPW Road to Sakura Genesis, 3/26
  • ROH Wrestling, 3/27
  • Monday Night Raw, 3/27
  • WWE 24: WrestleMania Monday, 3/27
  • SmackDown Live, 3/28
  • 205 Live, 3/28
  • Talking Smack Live, 3/28
  • Kurt Angle: Oh, It’s True…It’s True!, 3/28
  • EVOLVE Mini-Doc: Keith Lee – YouTube 3/28
  • NXT, 3/29
  • Progress: Freedom’s Road 6
  • EVOLVE 80, 3/30
  • GCW – Joey Janela’s Spring Break!, 3/30
  • WWE Bring it to the Table, 3/30

Non-WWE Segment of The Week:

We Haven’t Seen The Worst Of Ethan Page?!?!

YouTube / Ethan Page

Most indie shows don’t give promos a lot of time in the ring, so it can be on the talent to make it happen. Ethan Page’s YouTube, therefore, is something that Evolve should be sponsoring for its benefit to the company.

Remember when Undertaker started crafting videos and sending them in as teasers? Remember how that didn’t really make much sense? Who taught this guy how to edit? Page, as the obsessive asshole looking to ruin moments for Johnny Gargano and Zack Sabre Jr., and spending all his time crafting and cutting these videos and rants, works in a very easy way.

Honorable Mention:

Non-WWE Match of the Week:

Jason Kincaid vs Jaka vs Lio Rush

EVOLVE 80, 3/30

In a surprise move, Lio Rush was added to this match at bell-time, turning it into a Three-way freestyle match. And while the meditating Kincaid and yelling Jaka can both go, the addition of Rush turned this match into hyper-mode.

And if anyone hadn’t seen Mr. Rush Hour before, now they know who to keep an eye out for going forward. Love the teased team-ups and backstabbing, and how his speed contrasted with Jaka’s size and strength and how his cocky charisma worked with Kincaid’s nonsense. Proved that he’s able to work with all type.

Evolve 80 can be found on the FloSlam subscription service.

Honorable Mention:

  • Drew Galloway vs Ricochet, WCPW World Cup UK Qualifier Bonus Match, 3/25
  • Joey Janela’s Spring Break Clusterfuck: Arik Cannon vs Bryan Idol vs Crazy Boy vs Dink vs Ethan Page vs Façade vs Glacier vs Invisible Man vs Jervis Cottonbelly vs Jimmy Lloyd vs John Silver vs Travis Gordon vs Veda Scott, 3/30
  • Dan “The Beast” Severn vs Matt Riddle from Joey Janela’s Spring Break!, 3/30

WWE Segment of the Week:

The Redemption of Crossfit Jesus Seth Rollins

Monday Night Raw, 3/27

The Seth Rollins Face Turn had been a catastrophe. For months, crowds limply cheered for the guy as he yelled at Stephanie about Triple H. Then Rollins gets injured, and the heat gets transferred to Samoa Joe, and it becomes about Joe and Triple H.

But then on the go-home Raw before Mania, everything finally snapped into place. Seth danced around the topic of betraying Roman and Dean, but sold his humble state of mind with regret about selling out to Trips. Sure this match could end his career, but that’s how much he needs redemption.

WWE Match of the Week:

Johnny Gargano vs Akam vs Dash Wilder

NXT, 3/29

In a solid tease of what’s likely the following week’s WWE Match of the Week, NXT gave a triple-threat version of its tag team titles match. Everything here shows the creativity of the superstars at work, especially  the teased team-up between Wilder and Gargano and the sneaky chicanery of The Revival.

Watch This Wrestling 11 (3/17 — 23)

What a solid week for professional wrestling.

WWE segments fired on all cylinders in the lead up to WrestleMania, but it also released something for the superfans by unveiling newly-found footage of a promotion we’ve never heard of before. Outside of the E, we got a great PPV from PROGRESS, an OK New Japan tournament and even some neat videos from EVOLVE.

Here’s what I watched for this week’s edition and what I’m planning to watch from the 24th through the 30th. If I’m missing anything that can be accessed without too much trouble, @ me on twitter: henrytcasey.

What I Watched:

  • Southpaw Regional Wrestling, 3/17
  • New Japan Cup 3/17
  • wXw 16 Carat Gold (Night 1), 3/17 (tried night 2, it bored me)
  • WCPW: Matt Riddle vs Cody, 3/18
  • New Japan Cup 3/19
  • PROGRESS Ch. 45: Galvanize, 3/19 (via On Demand on 3/23) 
  • New Japan Cup 3/20
  • ROH Wrestling, 3/20
  • WWE Monday Night Raw, 3/20
  • WWE Ride Along, 3/20
  • New Japan Cup 3/20
  • EVOLVE Mini-Doc: Catch Point “Everything Is Under Control”, 3/20
  • WWE SmackDown Live, 3/21
  • WWE 205 Live, 3/21
  • WWE Talking Smack Live, 3/21
  • WWE NXT, 3/22
  • WWNLive’s YouTube: “Jason Kincaid – Overwhelming Gratitude” 3/23

My Upcoming Watch list:

  • ROH Wrestling, 3/27
  • WWE Monday Night Raw, 3/27
  • WWE SmackDown Live, 3/28
  • WWE 205 Live, 3/28
  • WWE Talking Smack Live, 3/28
  • WWE NXT, 3/29
  • EVOLVE 80, 3/30
  • GCW – Joey Janela’s Spring Break!, 3/30
  • WWE Bring it to the Table, 3/30

WWE Match of The Week:

The Usos vs American Alpha © for the tag team titles

SmackDown Live, 3/21

SmackDown’s tag division has been on life-support ever since the Alphas won. Sure, I love the former NXT champs and want to see them get their moment, but nothing ever interesting happened during their time as champs.

So thank god for The Usos, who’ve done wonders building themselves up as swaggering heels. Also, credit to WWE for putting this eventful barnburner on free TV. Much like Bayley winning before Mania, this division was dampened by its babyfaces holding the titles going into the biggest show of the year. Now, both teams have momentum to get a pre-show match on the Mania card, and I’m hoping it goes for two out of three falls.

And to be a bitter smark, I need to take an aside here. Yet again , SmackDown Live’s best match didn’t get the spotlight it deserved. Instead, the main event of this show went to a crap segment featuring Shane McMahon’s shitty punches and inability to actually connect on his flying elbow. Sure, it was impressive that he made it as far as he did, but reminded me of that spot between him and Roman Reigns at Instantly made a dead division matter. 2:3 falls at Mania?

Honorable mentions:

WWE Segment of The Week:

Tie: Southpaw Regional Wrestling & Total Bellas Bullsh**

YouTube.com/WWE, 3/17 & SmackDown Live, 3/21

Sure Southpaw Regional Wrestling got the whole wrestling internet talking and watch it if you haven’t (I bet you have), but the Total Bellas Bullsh** segments share top billing.

Not only did they succeed by making Cena’s unwillingness to propose to Nikki the elephant in the room, but they were hilarious. Maryse has been back for how long and we didn’t know she was this funny? Her timing is excellent and the line “I’m the one wearing the hat!” had me cackling. The first bit was so good it earned a sequel.

Things got better with Breezy Bella … who you need to see to believe. Two bonus clips, then:

Honorable mentions:

Non-WWE Match of The Week:

Jinny vs Nixon Newell

PROGRESS Ch. 45: Galvanize, 3/19 — went up on demand on 3/23

This match was a semi-final in the PROGRESS Women’s Championship Natural PROGRESSion tournament, which will crown the promotion’s first women’s champion.

Because I’m just starting with PROGRESS, I kinda needed this match to show me where it is in regard to women’s wrestling. Sure, Ch. 44’s, Dahlia Black vs Session Moth Martina was entertaining, but it didn’t grab me as much, partially because it was a comedy match.

PROGRESS Ch. 45 is available via https://demandprogress.pivotshare.com/

Honorable mentions:

  • WCPW: Matt Riddle vs Cody, 3/18
  • Katsuyori Shibata vs Tomohiro Ishii, New Japan Cup 3/19
  • Jay White vs Jay Briscoe, ROH Wrestling, 3/20
  • British Strong Style (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) vs South Pacific Power Trip (TK Cooper & Travis Banks with Dahlia Black), PROGRESS Ch. 45, 3/19
  • Mark Andrews vs Will Ospreay, PROGRESS Ch. 45, 3/19
  • Jimmy Havoc vs Pete Dunne, PROGRESS Ch. 45, 3/19

Non-WWE Segment of The Week

Jason Kincaid – Overwhelming Gratitude

WWNLive’s YouTube, 3/23

I don’t know about the rest of the EVOLVE audience, but I’ve been trying to figure out what to make of Jason Kincaid since I first saw him wrestle. He’s a meditating beardo with a style that confuses the shit out of his opponents, but always seems to impress.

So, I thank EVOLVE and its parent company WWN for finally committing to defining the gimmick. More importantly, credit to Kincaid for making it work so well.

Honorable mentions:

The Night Trashy Tim Tapped

OH! THAT-CHERRR IS GARRRRBAGE!
OH! THAT-CHERRR IS GARRRRBAGE!

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As the Evolve Champion, Timothy Thatcher was the purest villain in professional wrestling. And because of what pro wrestling has become, the crowd gave him the exact reaction that a heel should want: abject and sincere hatred. And it freaks some people out.

Some have told me they’re surprised about how much the Evolve crowd hated Thatcher. Getting boos is one thing, but the unanimous lack of respect inspired by this muscular Californian demonstrates that he works on another level. Sure, he got elevated to the title soon after he joined Evolve and held the title for longer than some might like, but there’s more happening here.

We live in a time of mixed heat, where fans appreciate Brock Lesnar’s freak physique, abiding mystery and overall singularity. Kevin Owens gets applause for his time spent on the independent circuit, his cool moveset and mastery of the microphone. Even when Seth Rollins is a heel, fans are in awe over his flippy shit.

image

Even the independent scene is filled with Cool Bad Guys. On paper, the Young Bucks, Adam Cole, and Cody (all members of The We’re So Cool Bullet Club) are baddies. Yet none of them get treated as the villains by anyone, even in Japan, the land of fans supposedly rooting and booing by the numbers. They get the chants of “Too Sweet!” Fans want to do the Wolfpac Salute (also called the “Too Sweet!”) with them. Their superkicks cause riots. And unless they’re booked to be the good guys, it makes for really messy stories, or a lack thereof.

In a way, Thatcher works above all of those prominent wrestlers because he does nothing exciting. He only provides a convincingly brutal but incredibly dry in-ring style, to a point where I can’t say more than that.

Thatcher doesn’t do social media or meet & greet merch sales either. His character, if you could call it that, is in absentia.


Thatcher gives the Evolve audience so little (beyond his straightforward, no-frills, no-fun, almost San Antonio Spurs-ian style of wrestling), that I can’t help but over-analyze what he does offer.

His only accoutrement, until recently at least, was the phrase Ring Kampf on his gear. Kampf loosely translates to Fight, but since Ring Fight doesn’t really say much, the gear provides more obfuscation of his character.

Someone looking to make conclusions where they are not might remember that Kampf is one of the two words in the title of Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, so that might mean something. It doesn’t, or at least not like that. Ring Kampf is a faction of a bunch of German wrestlers plus Thatcher, and they all have a look reminiscent of … yeah.

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So because Thatcher’s style is so minimalist, in an era where fans are used to heels with more characteristics, Evolve turned up the heat by pairing him with Stokely Hathaway. Hathaway, who needed a new client after he managed the now-reviled TJ Perkins until TJP made it to the WWE main roster.

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Perkins, by the way, is a clear example of how a character will fail if they straddle the line between hero and villain sloppily. Sure, he does flippy moves, loves video games, and fights bullies, but he’s smug and egotistic. Further, some hate him for his history of tweeting Men’s Rights Activist ideologies.

Hathaway, though, adds delusions of grandeur to the screen when Thatcher appears. We know to boo the daylights out of Stokely, but we also respect his facial expressions and his ability on the microphone. During his time with Thatcher, he kept bringing up his client’s epic reign, which was 596 days-long when Evolve 79 began. It didn’t see day 597.


Thatcher went into the weekend of Evolve 78 & 79 (Feb. 24 & 25) with two scheduled title defenses: Fred Yehi at 78 at Joppa, MD, and Zack Sabre Jr. at 79 at Queens, NY. But unfortunately, the former was already doomed.

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Evolve pre-announced that Evolve 79 would feature a match where the loser of Thatcher / Yehi would fight in a Four-Way Freestyle match featuring Chris Dickinson, Anthony Henry, and Austin Theory.

While he’s one half of the Evolve Tag Team Champions, Yehi made so much sense for this match, especially with his experience fighting some of those guys in other promotions. Further, Thatcher just sounded wrong for a match comprised of guys so farther down on the card than he, the Evolve champion.

Yehi’s loss didn’t suggest Sabre Jr. would win, but it was frustrating. Yehi, who is introduced as “angry, pissed off, and short” is amazing in the ring, mixing submissions, unexpected strikes and a manic energy together. Watching his match and being sure he had no chance was unengaging. Dude could also benefit more from a title win than Zack Sabre Jr., as the Brit is one of the most-well-known independent wrestlers today.

Not only is Zack Sabre Jr. the Pro Wrestling Guerilla champ, but his notoriety rose with the WWE Cruiserweight Classic last summer. He went in as an established name, and one of the few at that, and left with more fame than before.


But while Thatcher / Zack Sabre Jr. is a big match because of ZSJ’s star power, I went in expecting him to lose. Death, Taxes and Tim Thatcher’s reign, I thought, were sacrosanct. Wouldn’t you want Thatcher’s reign to end at an Evolve event during the big, upcoming WrestleMania weekend series of shows?

So, you know the quoted chant that I led this piece with? That chant, which might have been made by the fans on the spot, was sung in the key of “Oh, Zack Sabre Juuuuunior!” And of course, that’s sung in the style of The White Stripes song “Seven Nation Army,” an insanely popular song in sports arenas across the world and in ZSJ’s home country.

That chant spun out of the standard “That! cher’s! Garbage!” chant that follows Tim everywhere. Is the chant what spawned the nickname name Trashy Tim, or was it the other way around? Is calling Thatcher garbage a derision of his plainness, or a sign of respect for how pure his villainy is? I like to hope it’s the latter. That in a time where too many blur the lines, Thatcher is the one true evil.


That might not be it, though. Thatcher as the dry, dominant champ doesn’t always work, though. When I saw him in person for the first time, defending his title against Drew Gulak at Evolve 67, the crowd sort of died around him.

Maybe the gymnasium they were performing in was too muggy, as we were all drenched with our own salty sweat. Knife-edge chops against chests resulted in mid-air splashes.

Maybe the crowd was too wiped from one hell of a show, which included a great matches such as Tommy End vs Matt Riddle, Chris Hero vs Cody, and Cedric Alexander vs Zack Sabre Jr..

No matter why that match fell apart (maybe Gulak and Thatcher are too similar in their grappling style) maybe experiences like it created the hate from the fans. Creating the sense that Thatcher is bland and that bland isn’t worth it.


Fortunately, Sabre Jr. and Thatcher built and delivered a solid match for the crowd at Evolve 79 in La Boom and those watching at home. The match blended speedy and powerful strikes with signature submissions just right, and the crowd took to it. The tension of Thatcher retaining sparked the fire of that chant, which the crowd volleyed back and forth with its inspirer:

OH! THAT-CHERRR IS GARRRRBAGE!
OH! ZACK-SABERR JUUUU-NNNIOR!
OH! THAT-CHERRR IS GARRRRBAGE!
OH! ZACK-SABERR JUUUU-NNNIOR!
OH! THAT-CHERRR IS GARRRRBAGE!
OH! ZACK-SABERR JUUUU-NNNIOR!

The chants filled the room and took the moment to another level. Almost to that point of John Cena vs CM Punk at Money in the Bank 2011. Not that high up, but close.

And then when Thatcher eventually tapped out to Sabre Jr.’s laboriously-long-titled submission (Hurrah! Another Year, Surely This One Will Be Better Than The Last; The Inexorable March of Progress Will Lead Us All to Happiness), I didn’t buy it.

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I kept asking the people around me how it would be reversed. But Thatcher tapped, his time was over.

The crowd was apoplectic when Thatcher tapped out. Not just because this was something they wanted and may not have expected, but because Stokely Hathaway was having a nervous breakdown in the aftermath. Stokely clutched the title tight, and tried to refuse Thatcher taking it from him, to give to Sabre Jr.

The moment was pure delirium for more than just the crowd and the end of Tim’s reign. I was over-the-moon happy for ZSJ on a personal level. Repeated encounters I’d had with the guy left a very positive impression upon me, but he grew even higher in my opinion by taking a humane political stance.

In the aftermath of Shitbird President Trump’s xenophobic executive order against immigrants, Sabre Jr. released a shirt for sale that reads “This Wrestler Armbars Facists”) and gave all of his proceeds ($2,400 as of March 1) to the ACLU. I bought one immediately, and felt an even stronger bond with the Brit.

After winning the title, Sabre Jr. took the mic and declared (somewhat randomly) that pro wrestling should be a place for everyone. It was of course a good thing to say and a nice high-note to end the night on, but it took our focus away from the title change from Thatcher to ZSJ. Also, the placement of that line, between the finish and the setup for future matches with other wrestlers, took away.

As trashy as Timothy Thatcher may be, he’s no bigot, and neither is anyone in Evolve, so it rang a little oddly, ricocheting off the walls at zany angles, not raising the room to a higher plateau. The fervor of the room stayed at this level, though. That was the boiling energy of the end of Thatcher as champ. That the people would no longer be cursed by his plainness.


What Evolve does next with Thatcher is unclear, but it certainly ended on a fantastic moment. The title change also sets up a big-time main event for WrestleMania weekend, with ZSJ going up against fellow fan-favorite ACH. It’s also an interesting friend vs. friend match, as the end of Evolve 77 showed the bond between them and Chris Hero, who addressed ACH as “Albert.”

ZSJ also plans to fight in New Japan this year, which makes him an even more valuable champ for Evolve. He can bring the title to the east and give Evolve that prestige by successfully defending it there.

And as much as I will gripe that it shoulda been Yehi, he didn’t leave La Boom empty handed, but with a feud against the white-hot Matthew Riddle. A feud that could lead to Yehi being back in contention for the Evolve title.

A Yehi win would have also been explosive, but that’s the great thing about a truly detestable villain: you don’t always need the right hero to topple them.

Don’t Miss This 4 (1/27 — 2/2)

WWE Match of the Week:

AJ Styles vs. John Cena for the WWE World Championship

Royal Rumble 2017, Sunday, 1/29

John Cena and AJ Styles have the best in-ring chemistry of any two singles wrestlers today, and this match cements it. If somehow you haven’t seen this match yet (and I don’t know how you’re reading this if you haven’t) turn this on now. And if you have, go back and watch again.

Remember how I said all the moves in the world couldn’t make me love Omega vs. Okada as much as everyone else? Cena working heel was such a surprise (well, not when you look back at his promo from SmackDown Live’s go-home show) and glued my eyes to this match. Further, the story of Cena emptying his bag of tricks (and the unspoken story of Cena working in an indieriffic style) make the moves mean something, rather than just looking impressive. This wasn’t Vince’s Cena, this was Cena the wrestling nerd.

It’s worth noting that for once a WWE main roster PPV out-did an NXT TakeOver, but it’s unfortunate that the stellar match from Roderick Strong and Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas on TakeOver: San Antonio got overshadowed by Big Match John and Some Guy From Georgia, but that’s how the weekend filled out.

Non-WWE Match of the Week:

Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Chris Hero

EVOLVE 77, 1/28 

Finally, I get to talk about an Evolve match in this piece. And let me tell you, this one’s fun. While its ending is on the predictable side (as Hero’s last match before he returns to WWE, it’s expected for him to “go out on his back”) there’s enough false-finishes to make you second guess conventional wisdom.

Evolve set this match up with a promo on the previous night where Zack Sabre Jr. said “When I finally beat you in an EVOLVE ring, then Chris Hero can stay, and ‘Kassius Ohno’ can piss off back to Florida" with that finally emphasizing that Mr. Death By Elbow has had the Brit’s number for a while now. Of course, Lenny Leonard emphasized this on commentary, but it helped tell the story for those in attendance who may not have known.

The match itself worked me so well because it gave Sabre Jr. a chance to emphasize his striking ability, giving his offense some dimensionality. From the running boot near the beginning to the forearms at the end, Mr. Armbar is getting to show depth. Thinking about the WWE style, it’s also nice to watch Hero get one last change to work so brutally, with elbows from here to eternity and every kind of piledriver he could think of.

You can watch Evolve 77 on FloSlam.

WWE Segment of the Week:

Unexpected Backstage Footage

NXT, 12/1

And from A Hero’s Farewell we naturally transition to Ohno’s Return. I went into this past weekend wondering how Nakamura will lose the title (it’s felt like Roode’s win was in the cards for a month), if the appearance of Kassius Ohno at an NXT taping to suggest he’s coming for Nakamura’s Title was to be canonical. Now, it seems like that footage will be tossed away forever.

I give so much preamble because I don’t want to spell out what happens here, just to tell you to find it and watch. I started this episode late and knew something was going to happen but not like this. Which makes it something I’d like to recognize. WWE surprising me, the rarest of rarities.

No video to share of it here, just open it on the network, and enjoy this. The rest of the episode is good for moments too, such as the post-Rumble interview with Tye Dillinger but especially that farewell package for Corey Graves , which had me feeling emotions. I didn’t get to watch WWE 24: Wrestlemania Dallas prior to writing this, but since that’s a documentary, it didn’t feel like it necessarily fit. I hear the Big E & Xavier ❤ Kofi stuff is excellent, though.

Non-WWE Segment of the Week:

A Hero’s Goodbye

EVOLVE 77, 1/28

By this point, you’re probably able to see how fond I am of Chris Hero, but this segment worked both for EVOLVE as a promotion and for the individual performers, as humans.

Those with more old fashioned sensibilities may not like this segment, as it’s an even more transparent version of the MSG Curtain Call, but as a fan of each guy, I sure dug it. From Hero talking about how he met Zack Sabre Jr. and saw the kid coming up to asking who Zack Sabre Sr. is, we got a chance to see them appreciate each other for how they bring out their best.

Then, to have ACH come out and hear Hero reveal what the A stands for, and to see him appreciate the two competitors, was also great. Around this time you see the other talent lining up to make their goodbyes, and you think about what Hero means to the independent scene. That maybe he’s their hero too.

Lastly, though, the setup of the championship title picture, starting by Hero calling Stokely Hathaway the valet of Tim Thatcher, has my brain buzzing. ACH nominating himself as a contender worked, as did Hathaway laughing them all off. Thathcher himself, though, tied it all together with his appearance and a single gesture.