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Dragon Gate USA & EVOLVE Discussion/News/Review Thread

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Dragon Gate USA and EVOLVE Wrestling are Gabe Sopolsky's little projects after he was booted out of ROH. They've sort-of merged recently, with EVOLVE shows really just being DGUSA events without the Japanese Dragon Gate wrestlers. Both have actually been discussed and reviewed in the ROH thread but, since it looks like they're going to stick around, I guess they deserve their own thread like ROH, PWG, CZW and everything else and that wasn't really the place for them.


Dragon Gate USA is the mix of US indie wrestlers and imported Dragon Gate stars, running since July 2009. They started off with a 'proper' nationally televised PPV deal, which lasted two years, but that's since been abandoned and they now run iPPVs as part of the World Wrestling Network and DVD tapings. They fly the DG stars over a few times a year, where they will typically promote triple-header weekends to get the most out of them while they have them. I personally have been working through the 'proper' PPVs but can't say I've been too convinced to pick up the rest of their stuff yet.


EVOLVE was supposed to be SERIOUS SPORT OF PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING project, based on a 'pure athletic style' where wins and losses matter (I guess Gabe Sopolsky's vision for ROH?). It held its first show in January 2010. They started out as purely a DVD series, but they too have moved over to iPPV.


Erm, news? Well, EVOLVE 10 is apparently on iPPV from The Arena in Philadelphia this weekend, featuring Johnny Gargano defending the DGUSA Open the Freedom Gate title against Ricochet. It's a notable event since it is the very last pro wrestling event that is going to be held at the old ECW Arena before it is torn down for redevelopment into something a lot more swanky very shortly. They are doing some kind of 'Hardcore Farewell' tribute because of this, featuring JOEY STYLES.


I've never actually seen anything from EVOLVE, thinking it didn't really sound like my cup of tea, but I've recently been lent the first 6 shows on DVD (comprising their entire first year of operation), so may as well give it a shot. With that said:




EVOLVE 1 - Ibushi vs. Richards (16 January 2010 - Rahway, NJ)




Yeah, told you I was behind. This should be interesting. Or not. We'll see.


On first look, the whole presentation of this DVD looks very similar to ROH. The packaging, the style of the graphics, everything. The match listing on the bout tells me that there are a positively horrifying ELEVEN BOUTS on offer on this single show. Better get cracking, then. The whole idea of this being presented as a serious, athletic sport is evident right from the start. There are backstage videos showing people training while pulling MEAN faces and mentally preparing, and clips of wrestlers explaining what motivates them to wrestle. Both 'fighters' enter to the same music before receiving in-ring introductions while facing off (this is a stupid idea, since it robs wrestlers of distinctiveness and a chance to show off individuality and character right from the start). Winners are interviewed in the ring Joe Rogan-style immediately after their match. Any storylines are based on in-ring competitiveness and win-loss records. The first bout on the disc (Pro Wrestling NOAH's Bobby Fish vs. Davey Richards' protege Kyle O'Reilly) appears to be about setting the stall out for what to expect, with two dudes in kickpads exchanging kicks and working for MMA submission holds. Hmmm. As the contest develops, however, it rapidly becomes any other US indie undercard match, complete with flashy high spots and head-drop finish.


Subsequent offerings of Chuck Taylor vs. Cheech Hernandez, Arik Cannon vs. Ricochet, Dark City Fight Club (John Davis & Cory Chavis) vs. Aeroform (Flip Kendrick & Louis Lyndon) and Mercedes Martinez vs. Niya display none of the pseudo-MMA of the opener but, just like that first bout, they are also rushed-through-as-quick-as-possible sub-5 minute contests that cram in so much fancy stuff that none of it is given chance to sink in and what you have seen is instantly forgotten. Truthfully, this is less the 'pure, athletic sport of professional wrestling' and more reminiscent of MTV's Wrestling Society X. Except without the explosions and tits.


Silas Young vs. Brad Allen is a longer match, but that is no positive since it is really, really dull. So far, the most interesting point of the event has been me spotting UKFFer cobystag sat in the front row with his missus. Not too impressed so far.


The problem with everything being presented as a straight-up, no frills wrestling match is that you have absolutely no reason to care who wins. The emphasis on win-loss records will change that but, by it's very nature, it will need to be several shows in before that starts adding a bit more extra interest to proceedings and especially outcomes (as is now being seen in Dragon Gate UK), since it is only then that what you are seeing can start to have meaning and repercussion.


The show finally gets somewhat better with Jimmy Jacobs vs. Kenny Doane. Sure, the bout itself isn't anything special by any means, but at least it is better paced and has an element of personality and star power. The conclusion of this one brings Tommy Dreamer to the ring to put over how much he loves professional wrestling and to endorse the EVOLVE product and wrestlers (does that a lot, doesn't he?). Dreamer then gets into a confrontation with Jacobs, seeming to set Jimmy up as the lead antagonist in the new promotion.


The event continues with Johnny Gargano vs. Chris Dickinson (who?!). It's another short affair but, aside from the inherent problems described above, isn't too bad. Gargano definitely has something and this bout appears to be a showcase for him. The UWFI-esque strikes-n-submissions worked shoot style then returns for the next one, as BattlArts and ZERO-1 star Munenori Sawa takes on TJP (the new 'GSP'-inspired name for TJ 'Puma' Perkins). This is a really good example of how this style can work for a Western audience by introducing familiar pro wrestling elements. The result is a fascinating and exciting mat battle which manages to keep your interest. Continuing the theme of this show turning a corner, another worthy addition is a Chikara guest match of Gran Akuma, Icarus & Brodie Lee taking on Mike Quackenbush, Hallowicked & Frightmare, a format previously used to good effect in CZW, PWG and IWA Mid-South. This is one of the only bouts on the entire show given time for everyone to get their distinct roles over to the audience, making for a much more entertaining spectacle than the majority on offer here. Good fun.


The main event of EVOLVE 1, as given away by the title of this release, sees explosive Japanese junior heavyweight flyer Kota Ibushi square off with aggressive US indie darling Davey Richards. These two did meet in ROH a few years back in a contest met with rave reviews at the time (though not as good, as I recall, as Ibushi's match with El Generico that same week). It's no secret that this bout was therefore designed to the main selling point of both the live event and this DVD release and, accordingly, on this show packed full of short, quick matches, it is granted around 20 minutes to reach its potential. It is a very good match indeed, particularly down the spectacular closing stretch, but it does all seem to be following too strict a pattern and falls short of being the sensational world class effort it is obviously trying so hard to be. Incidentally, this whole promotion was supposed to be built around Richards, but just after this show he signed a contract with ROH, meaning EVOLVE and DGUSA dropped him and he never appears again.


In summing up, while the show does get better as it goes along, there is little of substance to recommend this DVD. The Sawa/TJP, Chikara tag and Richards/Ibushi contests are more than adequate, but the serious sports presentation doesn't really connect with me, and the key elements present in their product that would make it connect will only start playing a real part a few shows down the line. For that reason, I'm not willing to give up on the promotion just yet, since I do see potential in what they are doing, if it is done in the right way.


Full show results:

<-- click on 'spoiler' to show/hide the spoiler

Kyle O'Reilly pinned Bobby Fish after a brainbuster


Chuck Taylor beat Cheech Hernandez with the Awful Waffle


Ricochet beat Arik Cannon with a 630


Dark City Fight Club (John Davis & Cory Chavis) beat Aeroform (Flip Kendrick & Louis Lyndon{L}) with Project Mayhem


Mercedes Martinez beat Niya with a Northern Lights Bomb


Brad Allen beat Silas Young with a face-first slam


Jimmy Jacobs beat Kenny Doane with a guillotine choke


Johnny Gargano beat Chris Dickinson with a twisting face-slam


Munenori Sawa beat TJP by submission with an octopus hold


Mike Quackenbush, Hallowicked{W, Sky High} & Frightmare beat Gran Akuma, Icarus{L} & Brodie Lee


Davey Richards beat Kota Ibushi by submission to a kimura


[close spoiler]

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I've always wanted to give EVOLVE a go, but their legion of internet blackshirts reporting links to EVOLVE for instant deletion in exchange for marky pieces of tat have meant that I've never been able to track down any of their stuff.


Given my current abject poverty and the fact that I just simply don't shop online, means that unless someone's willing to furnish my PM box with some uploads on sendspace (It'll be gone before they even get a chance, thanks to the week's limit), I'm afraid EVOLVE are snookered in commanding my interest.


DG USA, same thing although they're easily available. That's out of pure laziness on my part.


So, yeah, massive fucking hint there. If no-one will partake, then EVOLVE can go stick it. I'd be more inclined buy the DVDs if I could actually bloody watch some of it beforehand, and Gabe's Gestapo-esque filehunt isn't going to instantly make me want to blindly buy EVOLVE DVDs instead of the 45 zillion WWE DVDs on offer.

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EVOLVE is a bit of an indy curio at the moment. When it was announced it was pitched as ROH #2, which clearly hasn't happened. The problem is that with Gabe's involvement in DG:USA EVOLVE cards are few and far between. There's been some good stuff - EVOLVE 5 was a must-see show - but a lot of dross to wade through also. Here's what I made of it all...



Evolve 1 : Richards vs. Ibushi

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EVOLVE 2 - Hero vs. Hidaka (13 March 2010 - Rahway, NJ)




Two months after it's debut event, EVOLVE returns to Rahway in New Jersey for another ELEVEN matches. What is immediately noticeable upon starting the DVD is that the crowd has shrunk massively since EVOLVE 1. While there was a respectable few hundred in there for the first show, this time there looks to be about 40 fans in an empty sports hall. This is explained in live commentary (which comes from Lenny Leonard and Leonard F Chikarason) as being due to a massive rain storm in the area which has closed roads and prevented many people getting there. The format of the show is very similar to that of the first, what with a US indy star taking on a Japanese indy star in the main event, a Chikara multi-man tag match in the semi-main position and a shit load of really, really quick singles matches and a tag underneath.


The DVD starts with a pretty poor 4-minute Brad Allen vs. Chris Dickinson bout, and continues on a downhill slide as Gran Akuma vs. Brodie Lee, Aeroform vs. Up In Smoke, Kenny Doane vs. Caleb Konley and Hallowicked vs. Kyle O'Reilly are all completely unremarkable in any way. Just like the first show, this lot are less wrestling matches and more just a collection of rushed, soulless spots. So much happening in such a short space of time that none of it has even a remote chance to register. By far the worst on offer, though, is a dismal Women Superstars Uncensored title match between Mercedes Martinez and Sumie Sakai. This is just cack.


A jewel hidden among the undercard mess, however, is a cracking little effort pitting Chuck Taylor against Ricochet. At around 10 minutes, this bout has time to develop nicely and allows you to become interested in what both men are doing. Ricochet is reminiscent of Pac in that he has out-of-this-world high flying ability, but also has great pacing and knows how to incorporate the aerials into a logical, progressive match. In that same vein, I also enjoyed Claudio Castagnoli's EVOLVE debut, against fellow NOAH gaijin Bobby Fish, which is one satisfying hard-hitting heavyweight fight. Post-match, they also set up Taylor vs. Castagnoli for EVOLVE 3, which is notable as this is the first time this promotion has done something that actually has me interested in seeing something in particular on the next event.


Staying with the disc's positives, Jimmy Jacobs vs. Johnny Gargano is a decent match that is heated and competitive. There's some kind of grudge here, which is the source of the extra spice, but it isn't particularly well explained. The honours for the best undercard match, though, goes once again to the Chikara guest match. This time, it's a simply stunning elimination tag match featuring duos of The Colony, The Osirian Portal, Hallowicked & Frightmare and Mike Quackenbush & Jigsaw. This captures a near-perfect blend of pacing, action, excitement, colourful masked cartoon characters, cool moves, crazy dives and more, making for a spectacular overall package.


I've noted similarities to EVOLVE 1 throughout this review, and that theme continues with the main event of Chris Hero vs. Ikuto Hidaka being given by far the biggest focus of the show and allowed the entire last half-hour of the disc to tell its story. At first, the obvious size difference between Hero and Hidaka seems ridiculous, but you soon forget about that as they draw you in to their slow burn battle, using all of the time well. There is something quite captivating about watching Hero following through with his chosen game plan and methodically dissecting his opponent piece-by-piece, and your attention is rewarded as the bout builds to a super conclusion as Hidaka tries to find inner strength and fight back. A very good match indeed.


There is no doubt that EVOLVE 2 is a DVD of two halves. 6 of the 11 matches can be completely written off as insignificant wastes of your time, but it has to be said that the other 5 are pretty damn good. The result is that this is a stronger and better show overall than EVOLVE 1 and that the good stuff on offer is worth checking out. I'm still not entirely convinced by the promotion, but I'm becoming more interested.


Full show results:

<-- click on 'spoiler' to show/hide the spoiler

Brad Allen beat Chris Dickinson with the 'Nail the Deal'


Gran Akuma beat Brodie Lee by submission to the Rings of Saturn


Up In Smoke (Cheech & Cloudy) beat Aeroform (Louis Lyndon & Flip Kendrick)


Kenn Doane beat Caleb Konley with a top-rope leg drop


Kyle O'Reilly beat Hallowicked with a brainbuster


Chuck Taylor beat Ricochet with the Awful Waffle


Claudio Castagnoli beat Bobby Fish with a diving European uppercut


Mercedes Martinez beat Sumie Sakai to retain the WSU World Championship with a fisherman buster


Jimmy Jacobs beat Johnny Gargano by submission to a guillotine choke


4-way elimination tag:

The Colony (Fire Ant & Green Ant) eliminated by Hallowicked

Hallowicked & Frightmare eliminated by Jigsaw

Mike Quackenbush & Jigsaw eliminated by Amasis

Winners: The Osirian Portal (Amasis & Ophidian)


Ikuto Hidaka beat Chris Hero with a high kick


[close spoiler]

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EVOLVE 10 Results



Low Ki def Ahtu


Didn't think he would work for Gabe again. Not holding out hope for a return to ROH at the 10th Anniversary Show now



That was the kind of big surprise/treat for the 10th anniversary that I was expecting, who knows he might just do things without a contract, he's a big enough draw to throw demands out like that I guess. Any news on the other returns or old faces for the Evolve arena show? what was attendance like as this is the biggest show Evolve have ever done innit.

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Huge write up nicked from PWI Insider



-Joey Styles, Balls Mahoney, and New Jack are all here signing autographs before the show starts.

-There are scheduled to be several surprises throughout the evening.

-EVOLVE will easily shatter their attendance record tonight as there is a line down the block of people trying to get into the show.

Larry Dallas comes out with Ahtu, who has an open contract tonight and will face a mystery opponent, and it is indeed a surprise!


Ahtu vs Low Ki

Ki floors Ahtu right off the bat with a rolling front kick, and Ahtu is out. The fans chant Low Ki

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That Soprano's-esque ending to the show (E10 seen as E9 was reviewed directly above) does sound amazing. They put over Callihan huge and I'm sure a lot of people weren't expecting the show to end like that and were expected a Tommy Dreamer and/or Sandman to put down Callihan to end the show.


2012 could really be his year.

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Apparently Johnny Gargano legitimately injured his back last, and was taken away from the Arena in an ambulance

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Well I dropped a tenner on the show and stayed up for it. Pretty par-for-the-course EVOLVE show from the few i've seen. Certainly nothing outstanding. Fish-Callihan and Ricochet-Gargano were decent but there were afew throwaway/squash style matches (Uhaa vs Pinkie, Ki vs Ahtu, Davis-Matthews).


I was gonna' mention Gargano getting injured. Not quite sure what did it, but he lay on his back for awhile on the apron afterwards, before being escorted to the back. He was walking very slowly. Hope it's nothing serious.


Low Ki legit KO'ing Ahtu about a second into the match was quite the LOL moment

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*Sigh* I suppose I might be seeing some of ^^^ in a year or so....


Until then:


EVOLVE 3: Rise or Fall (1 May 2010)




The third instalment in the supposed athletic sports league, again coming from Rahway, New Jersey. The DVD casing again tells me that there are a massive TEN matches crammed into the 2 hours 20 minutes running time, so I'm immediately expecting the same format of rushed, pointless undercard matches with a more impressive top few bouts.


Quite pleasingly, the first couple of contests on offer seem intent on proving me wrong. Sami Callihan vs. Adam Cole sees two men make their EVOLVE debuts. It is a quick one, but it's a good showcase for Callihan (someone I haven't taken to on limited previous viewings) and the bout is reminiscent of a perfectly acceptable early 1990s TV squash. Better than this is Johnny Gargano vs. Ricochet, a battle of two of EVOLVE's most impressive performers so far. As you might expect from previous showings, this is an entertaining back-and-forth affair, perfectly incorporating the high-flying into a good story.


Unfortunately, the DVD can't keep up this unexpected positive. Mercedes Martinez vs. Brittney Savage is intended to keep the storyline alive where dominant Martinez is built for more notable opponents, but is sloppy and completely forgettable. A 3-way tag of Up In Smoke vs. Aeroform vs. Team Beyond takes things further, as skinny guys in crap gear perform over-choreographed sequences, over-contrived routines, pointless flips and other unrealistically fancy offence in a horrendous mess of a match. Jon Moxley, who is now Dean Ambrose in WWE developmental, makes his first EVOLVE appearance next. Unfortunately, his opponent is the abysmal Drake Younger and the resulting bout is long, dull, and completely bereft of any highlight whatsoever. The show gets back on track somewhat with Bobby Fish vs. Chris Hero. It isn't quite as good as Fish's bout with his opponent's regular partner Claudio Castagnoli on the previous show, but it is still a very good competitive encounter and the best match on the disc so far.


Some of the highlights of the previous 2 EVOLVE DVDs so far have been the multi-man Chikara guest matches. The closest to such a thing on this show is a 4-way singles tilt featuring Chikara products Gran Akuma, Hallowicked and Brodie Lee together with JAPW's Chris Dickinson. Dickinson is a bit crap, but this doesn't stop the match itself ending up to be rather enjoyable. Next up, TJ Perkins returns to EVOLVE for the first time since his terrific UWFI-style bout with Munenori Sawa at EVOLVE 1. His opponent this time out, the ultra-green Kyle O'Reilly, is obviously no Sawa, and his offence looks a bit goofy at times, but the pair actually assemble a decent, tidy little match. The penultimate contest on the DVD pits wins leaders Jimmy Jacobs and Brad Allen against each other. It isn't a bad match, but Allen's complete lack of outward personality makes it difficult to be interested in anything he does.


...and so to the main event. Like EVOLVEs 1 and 2, the DVD is capped off by a splendid singles headline offering, this time coming courtesy of Claudio Castagnoli and Chuck Taylor. Big strong Claudio vs. talented small guy has proven a winning formula on many previous occasions, and this is continues that tradition. What is notable about from his EVOLVE bouts against Taylor here and Bobby Fish last time is that Claudio is looking totally world class, head and shoulders above anyone else in the indies and absolutely ready for the next level of his career. Chucky T more than holds his own and continues to impress, with the result being an eminently watchable example of high quality good old professional wrestling. Indeed, they completely drew me in, and I'll admit to nearly being moved from my seat at the thrilling finish.


In closing, this is a more well-rounded show from the upstart promotion than the other 2. Sure, there is still a lot of shit in there, but there is plenty of good stuff too and as a whole package this is an enjoyable DVD release. The complete lack of crowd heat during some bouts, however, is a clear indication that the whole 'pure sports', wins vs. losses approach has not yet fully connected with the audience, just as I stated with the first show. In order for this concept to truly work, the 'storylines' have to be based around what wins and losses will actually mean for the wrestlers in a way the crowd has be able to see, recognise and understand. The 'feuds' have to be based on in-ring competitive rivalries with repercussions for winners and losers. It's very much a work-in-progress at the time of this show, with wrestlers' records not really coming into play in terms of card position or match-making. Still, they are keeping my interest for the time being and I'm willing to see how it develops.


Full show results:

<-- click on 'spoiler' to show/hide the spoiler

Sami Callihan beat Adam Cole by submission with the Stretch Muffler


Johnny Gargano beat Ricochet by sudden-death countout (both men failed to beat the 20-count outside the ring but, since there are no draws in EVOLVE, the first wrestler to make it back into the ring was declared the winner)


Mercedes Martinez beat Brittney Savage with a fisherman buster to retain the WSU World Title


Aeroform (Flip Kendrick{W, Spiral Tap} beat Team Beyond (Zane Silver{L} & Chase Burnett) and Up In Smoke (Cheech & Cloudy)


Drake Younger beat Jon Moxley with 'Drake's Landing'


Chris Hero beat Bobby Fish with a rolling elbow


Brodie Lee beat Hallowicked, Gran Akuma and Chris Dickinson{L, Truck Stop}


TJ Perkins beat Kyle O'Reilly by submission to a figure-four deathlock


Jimmy Jacobs beat Brad Allen by referee stoppage with the guillotine choke


Chuck Taylor beat Claudio Castagnoli with the Awful Waffle


[close spoiler]

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