[Event Recap] ‘EVOLVE 131’ – 10th Anniversary Celebration, Cole vs. Tozawa, Theory vs. Drake

Date: July 13, 2019
Venue: 2300 Arena (Philadelphia, PA)
Commentator: Lenny Leonard

EVOLVE 131 is the official 10th anniversary celebration of the company and it’s…on the WWE Network? With an NXT Championship match in the main event? That can’t be right, I must have huffed too much paint this morning.


  • EVOLVE CHAMPION: Austin Theory
  • EVOLVE TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS: The Unwanted (Eddie Kingston & Joe Gacy)


  • Josh Briggs vs. Anthony Greene (**1/2)
  • FOUR-WAY FREESTYLE: Sean Maluta vs. Curt Stallion vs. Stephen Wolf vs. Harlem Bravado (**1/4)
  • Anthony Henry vs. Arturo Ruas (***3/4)
  • NO-DISQUALIFICATION: Shotzi Blackheart vs. Brandi Lauren (***)
  • Babatunde vs. Colby Corino (**)
  • The Unwanted [c] vs. AR Fox & Leon Ruff for the EVOLVE TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP (****)
  • CATCH POINT REUNION: Matt Riddle vs. Drew Gulak (****1/4)
  • WINNER TAKES ALL: Austin Theory [c] vs. JD Drake [c] for the EVOLVE and WWN CHAMPIONSHIPS (****)
  • Adam Cole [c] vs. Akira Tozawa for the NXT CHAMPIONSHIP (***1/4)


-Opening video highlights all of the WWE stars that have appeared in EVOLVE over the years, including comments from folks like Cesaro, Apollo Crews, and its co-creator Daniel Bryan. None of them are actually wrestling on the show though, don’t get excited.

Lenny Leonard welcomes everyone inside the ring, which is also full of various wrestlers/valets. I won’t pretend I know who they are. Leonard bails from the ring so this opening match can get started.

Josh Briggs grabs the mic to say he’s taking his opportunity RIGHT NOW.

Josh Briggs vs. “Retro” Anthony Greene [w/ Brandi Lauren]

Briggs throws Greene around the ring to start, Greene dodges a corner splash and gets floated to the apron. Briggs pulls in right into a backbreaker. Greene catches Briggs off-guard with a rana, Briggs responds with another backbreaker and a standing splash for a two-count. Briggs signals for the Chokeslam, Greene creates distance. Lauren grabs Briggs’ foot, leaving him open to a kick from Greene. Action moves to the apron, Briggs goozles Greene, Greene fights off and knees him to the floor. Greene takes flight, Briggs goozles him mid-tope suicida and chokeslams him on the apron (the hardest part of the ring, Rellik is Killer spelled backwards). Back on the apron Greene superkicks Briggs and gives him a receipt with a cutter on the apron. Back in the ring Greene connects with a twisting crossbody for the 1…2…Briggs kicks out. Greene stomps Briggs in the corner and stomps the left knee, Lauren getting in a right hand while the ref is distracted. Greene with a lateral press, leg hooked, but Briggs kicks out once more. Greene with a jawbreaker followed by a neckbreaker for the 1…2…Briggs kicks out again. “RETRO SUCKS!” from the Philly crowd.

Briggs counters a suplex with a release suplex of his own, Greene charges into a back elbow and gets sent to the floor. Greene runs back in and connects with a leaping clothesline (Undertaker-style). Briggs runs right into a “glancing blow” of a superkick. Briggs responds with back-to-back Yakuza Kicks and back-to-back backbreakers for the 1…2…Greene kicks out just in time. Greene with a single leg pickup, Briggs kicks him away which Greene cartwheels out of. Greene charges, big boot from Briggs followed by an inverted splash mountain into a sit-out slam for the 1…2…Greene kicks out and Briggs can’t believe it. Greene kicks Briggs, which only makes him angry, as does a step-up enzuigiri. Greene with a belly-to-back suplex followed by a crucifix-looking driver for the 1…2…Briggs kicks out, Greene transitions into a single-leg crab. Rope break. Greene rolls through a missed 450 and sends Briggs into the buckles with a roll-up. Greene goes to the top, Briggs decks him with a right hand. Lauren hangs onto Greene’s feet to stop something from happening, ref ejects her. Greene gets on Briggs’ shoulders and connects with a SUPER VICTORY ROLL for the 1…2…Briggs kicks out! Greene with a couple of superkicks, Briggs blocks the third and hits a Go to Hell. Greene flips out of a Chokeslam and sweeps the legs, Briggs escapes the crab. Briggs goozles, Greene punches out, Briggs goozles, Greene punches out, Briggs goozles and hits a chokeslam into a power bomb for the 1…2…3!

Josh Briggs defeated Anthony Greene via pinfall (11:50)

  • Briggs and Greene were motivated and they left it all out there to the best of their abilities. A good opening match from two guys I’ve never seen before. (**1/2)

-A video look at EVOLVE Tag Team Champions The Unwanted as well as their challengers for tonight, the team of AR Fox (eyyy he’s still kickin’!) & Leon Ruff.

“The Unwanted Savage” Sean Maluta vs. “The Lone Star” Curt Stallion vs. “The Leader of the Pack” Stephen Wolf vs. Harlem “Globetrotter” Bravado

First one to get the pin wins this one. Wolf goes after Bravado while he tries to take his shirt off. Stallion rolls through a sunset flip from Maluta and connects with a double stomp for a two-count. Bravado grabs Stallion from the apron, Stallion dodges and Maluta knocks him off the apron. Maluta with a suplex/neckbreaker, Stallion rolls out and now it’s Wolf’s turn. Wolf dodges a corner splash and connects with a springboard splash. Bravado drops Wolf from behind, Stallion lights him up with chops but gets dropped with a big boot. Wolf takes flight with a tope con hilo on Bravado. Maluta then wipes them out with a senton, Stallion finishes them off with a splash of his own. Everybody getting their sh*t in. This feels like a WWE match. Maluta tries to get a running start, Bravado holds the ropes open so he tumbles to the floor (NICE). Bravado decks Stallion with a right and hits a flatliner/DDT combo on Stallion and Wolf for a two-count on the latter. “YOU STILL SUCK” chant from the crowd. Bravado with a belly-to-back suplex on Wolf, Wolf kicks out of the lateral press at 2. Maluta knocks Bravado off the middle buckle with a right hand. Superkicks for the other competitors. Wolf and Stallion, the faces I guess, work over Bravado and Maluta in opposite corners. They both cover separate guys for a two-count. Time for Wolf and Stallion to duke it out.

Everybody hitting everybody, Wolf does a 619 back into the ring into a lariat on Maluta. All four men are down. Bravado with a Death Valley Driver on Wolf, who rolls out of the ring. Stallion with a neckbreaker on Bravado, Maluta flies in with a codebreaker on Stallion. Wolf hits Maluta with a Blue Thunder Bomb and heads to the top. Bravado crotches him from the apron, Maluta clubs him off and goes for a Superplex, Stallion runs in with an inverted Spanish Fly. Bravado hits Stallion with Angel’s Wings, and Wolf hits Bravado with a shooting star press for the 1…2…3!

Stephen Wolf defeated Sean Maluta, Curt Stallion, & Harlem Bravado (9:20)

  • Chaotic as expected, but also weirdly WWE-like in the way it was structured with people leaving the ring so others could get their shine. Maybe that’s also an indie thing, I don’t know. I enjoyed it for what it was but I wasn’t particularly invested outside of the fact HARLEM GODDAMN BRAVADO IS STILL AROUND IN 2019. (**1/4)

-Profile on Anthony Henry.

Anthony Henry vs. Arturo Ruas

These guys don’t like each other apparently and it shows as they go RIGHT AT EACH OTHER when the bell rings. Ruas goes for the armbar, Henry gets to the ropes to force a reset. Henry with a series of strikes into a waistlock takedown. He goes for an armbar, Ruas clasps his hands to prevent it and counters into one of his own. Ruas grabs a single leg, Henry with a series of ground and pound rights. Ruas with a flying bodyscissors takedown, Henry goes back to an armbar attempt but again the fingers are clasped. Ruas deadlifts Henry up and breaks the hold with a slam. Ruas with a series of jabs into a lateral press for a two-count. Henry’s nose is f*cked up, these guys don’t know this sh*t is fake. A dazed Henry tries to sweep the legs, Ruas easily sidesteps him. Henry with a victory roll into a double stomp followed by a spinning heel kick. Henry kicks off Ruas to climb himself to the top rope, leading to a missile dropkick. That was cool. Henry with a belly-to-back suplex that Ruas takes on his neck, followed by another suplex, quickly transitioning into another armbar attempt. Ruas shifts his weight to stack him for a two-count then rolls to the floor. Henry doesn’t care and hits the motherf*cker flush with a flying knee off the apron. Ruas dodges a running corner kick, Ruas with a series of body shots and a cartwheel into a kick for the 1…2…Henry kicks out. Henry with a sleeper, Ruas backs him into the corner, Henry reapplies and Ruas once again backs him into the corner. Henry misses a penalty kick, Ruas with a kick into a bridging German suplex for the 1…2…NOPE.

Henry catches the leg mid-knee strike, kicks his leg out of his leg, and connects with a knee strike of his own. Henry to the top, Ruas with a hail mary of a right hand. Henry escapes a Superplex attempt with a headbutt and connects with a double stomp to the back. Henry follows up (after an initial miss of the buckles) with a Tornado DDT and a double stomp from the top for the 1…2…RUAS KICKS OUT so Henry transitions right into the Ankle Lock. Henry and Ruas stop going for submissions and start slugging it out. Henry wins the shootout, screams, then gets DROPPED with a spinning calf kick for the 1…2…3!

Arturo Ruas defeated Anthony Henry via pinfall with a spinning calf kick (9:48)

  • NOW THIS IS MY KIND OF SH*T. Henry and Ruas beat the hell out of each other, mixing pro wrestling and MMA in the right amounts to make this fun. I loved it. Henry probably has the bigger star potential but I found Ruas way more interesting to watch. The way he moves feels really unique. (***3/4)

-Recap of the feud between Shotzi Blackheart and Brandi Lauren.

Shotzi Blackheart vs. Brandi Lauren

Bell rings and Natalia Markova immediately attacks Blackheart from behind. Lauren hangs back as Markova wrecks Blackheart with a spinning X-Factor. Blackheart fights back with a series of strikes and a 619. Blackheart drops Markova with a missile dropkick that sends her to the floor. Lauren checks on Markova, Blackheart flattens both with a tope suicida. Blackheart sets up a pair of chairs and kicks Lauren before she can get hit with a third. Blackheart picks the chair up and Lauren sends the steel into Blackheart’s face with a baseball slide, in turn causing her to fall back onto the other two chairs. DANG. We’ve got four chairs set up now, Blackheart blocks a suplex but gets sent into the post. Where did Markova go?!? Lauren talks trash, Blackheart with a superkick that sits her on ANOTHER chair, and Blackheart hits a running dropkick. Blackheart brings Lauren to the apron, Lauren sends her into the post and hits a power bomb into the apron. “KEVIN OWENS” chant from this dork crowd as Lauren covers Blackheart for a two-count. Blackheart ducks a clothesline and connects with a rolling elbow and a standing enzuigiri. They end up on the apron again, Blackheart goes for something or another but Lauren dead weights her and they awkwardly tumble, SILENCING the crowd. Jesus nerds, it wasn’t that bad.

Back to the four chairs, Blackheart sets up ANOTHER DAMN CHAIR on top of them. Blackheart seats Lauren atop this chair tower, Anthony Greene interrupts so she kicks him off, then GOES F*CKING HEAD-FIRST INTO ALL OF THOSE CHAIRS WITH NO ONE TO CATCH HER FALL. JESUS F*CKING CHRIST SHE LANDED ON HER HEAD. Greene rolls Blackheart into the ring and Lauren covers for the 1…2…NOPE?!? Greene can’t believe it either. Greene hands Lauren a kendo stick, Curt Stallion comes out to brawl with Greene to the back. Lauren wrecks Blackheart with a whole lot of kendo stick shots then covers for the 1…2…3.

Brandi Lauren defeated Shotzi Blackheart via pinfall after a series of kendo stick shots (9:49)

  • Some jank in this one for sure, but props to Shotzi Blackheart for almost goddamn killing herself with that chair spot. That’s one of the craziest bumps I’ve seen in quite some time and it should have ended the match, not the kendo stick stuff. Goddamn. Match was good overall, had too much interference but that’s life. Somebody check on Blackheart though, I’m surprised she walked out of there. (***)

-Video hypes upcoming EVOLVE shows in the ensuing months.

Babatunde vs. “The Unwanted Son” Colby Corino

Corino tries a couple of strikes, but Babatunde is YUGE and feels nothing from this puny man. Babatunde throws Corino across the ring. Sean Maluta shows up at ringside to back his Unwanted stablemate. Colby tries to take advantage of the distraction, Babatunde goozles Corino onto the apron and slaps Corino in the chest so hard I’m pretty sure he’s legally dead now. Corino catches Babatunde off-guard with a running knee and distracts the ref so Maluta can get a shot in as well. Corino with a springboard senton on Babatunde as he re-enters the ring, he covers but Babatunde emphatically kicks out. Corino launches himself at Babatunde, who goozles him into the corner. Babatunde with an avalanche in the corner followed by another open-hand strike. Babatunde drops one hell of an elbow on Corino followed by a Warrior Splash for the 1…2…3.

Babatunde defeated Colby Corino via pinfall with a Warrior Splash (3:11)

  • This amounted to a squash match but a goddamn entertaining one as Corino did his best impression of a tackling dummy for Babatunde’s offense. He made Babatunde look like a monster, and I’m all aboard that hype train now. THAT CHEST SLAP, MAN. (**)

Eddie Kingston and Joe Gacy interrupt Babatunde’s celebration. Kingston introduces everyone to the members of The Unwanted. Corino leaves to the back to lick his wounds as Kingston lays into Babatunde for getting more opportunities than the Unwanted members have because he played football and he’s tall. Kingston vows to take Babatunde out and take his spot. Their attack is interrupted by AR Fox & Leon Ruff, who hit stereo tope suicidas on their opponents.

The Unwanted (“The Unwanted King” Eddie Kingston & “The Unwanted Maniac” Joe Gacy) [c] [w/ Sean Maluta] vs. AR Fox & Leon Ruff [w/ Ayla & The Skulk] for the EVOLVE TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP

Chaos ensues as the bell rings, Ruff flattening Kingston and Gacy with a senton. Fox follows up with an INVERTED 450 SPLASH, and goddamn. So many kicks from Fox and Ruff on Gacy leading to a German suplex for the 1…2…Kingston breaks it up. No tags are necessary for this match apparently. Fox accidentally hits a cutter on his own partner, Gacy with a brutal Ace Crusher on Fox. Kingston and Gacy make a pancake out of Ruff in the corner followed by a double elbow for the 1…2…Ruff hands Ruff off to Kingston who hits a super powerslam for the 1…2…Ruff kicks out again. Fox runs in and eats an STO from the champs. HARD chop followed by a series of headbutts from Kingston. Kingston with a middle-buckle Superplex into a power bomb from Gacy for the 1…2…Ruff kicks out again! Fox re-enters the match, Kingston drops him while Ruff and Gacy fight on the middle buckle. Ruff DDTs Kingston, Fox with Lo Mein Pain on Gacy for the 1…2…UNWANTED KICK OUT. Kingston drops Fox with a backfist, Ruff tries a crucifix on Gacy but Kingston peels him off and gets turned inside out with a suplex/lariat combo for the 1…2…Ruff continues kicking out and frustrating the champs.

Gacy sets up a table on the floor behind one of the ring posts as Kingston climbs the middle buckle. Fox knocks Gacy silly with Coast to Coast and Ruff hits the Ruff Ride on Kingston but, uh, no cover? Ruff flies over the ring post and puts Gacy through a table, Fox with a 450 on Kingston for the 1…2…3!

AR Fox & Leon Ruff defeated The Unwanted [c] to win the EVOLVE TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP when Fox pinned Kingston (8:20)

  • A chaotic sprint of a tag team match that I had a hard time keeping up with but loved regardless. Both teams had tremendous tandem offense, Unwanted brutalizing their challengers while Fox & Ruff using their prodigious high-flying moves to counter it. That was…that was a lot. But it was exciting. (****)

Fox, Ruff, and The Skulk celebrate by dancing (some good, some Macarena).

-Video recapping the history of Catch Point to set up the next match.

-A host of folks in Catch Point hoodies surround the ring, then line the entryway for the Catch Point leader himself, Drew Gulak, to make his EVOLVE (and hometown) return. He’s still rocking the Cruiserweight Championship though, which is not on the line.

“The Original Bro” Matt Riddle [w/ Curt Stallion] vs. Drew Gulak

Riddle brings Gulak to the mat, Gulak grabs the head an they roll around the ring. Riddle goes for an armbar, Gulak quickly escapes and goes for an Ankle Lock but Riddle escapes and they reset. Riddle with a waistlock takedown into a hammerlock as Leonard recaps the history of Catch Point and the feud between these two on commentary…and also hypes Gulak’s match with Nese on the Extreme Rules Kickoff tomorrow night. THAT’S SO WEIRD TO HEAR ON AN EVOLVE SHOW. Riddle escapes the Gu-Lock attempt and tries to cave in Gulak’s chest with a series of kicks. Gulak comes off the buckles, Riddle makes him pay with a knee strike followed by a back splash for one. Riddle goes for the Bromission, Gulak quickly counters out and they bail to opposite corners of the ring. Gulak with a suplex into a lateral press but Riddle kicks out at one. Gulak applies a cravate and brings Riddle to the mat with a snapmare into another one-count. Gulak chops the back (DUDE) and applies a headscissors. Riddle escapes and Gulak NARROWLY dodges the penalty kick. Another reset.

Gulak wrenches in a side headlock, they trade holds and Riddle hits a power bomb for a two-count. Gulak blocks a knee strike and connects with a power bomb for the 1…2…Riddle kicks out and Gulak immediately transitions into a single crab. Rope break and both men struggle to get to their feet. Riddle lights Gulak up with chops followed by a ripcord knee for the 1…2…Gulak gets the shoulder up. Riddle connects with another senton and goes to the top, Gulak quickly climbs and hits a belly-to-back Superplex for the 1…2…Riddle kicks out! Both men get to their knees, Riddle lighting Gulak up with chops and a forearm. Gulak grabs the leg, Riddle breaks it with a series of kicks followed by a penalty kick to the chest for the 1…2…Gulak kicks out again. Gulak with a couple of headbutts, Riddle escapes a full nelson and counters into a Bromission. Gulak slips out, Riddle transitions to a Triangle choke and Gulak gets to the ropes to break it. Riddle kicks out of a small package and makes Gulak pay with a series of strikes and a Fisherman buster for the 1…2…Gulak kicks out again! Gulak bails to the apron, Riddle applies a sleeper in the ropes and Gulak drops down to send him throat-first into the top rope. Riddle recovers and hits a deadlift German suplex that GULAK TAKES ON HIS NECK AND SHOULDER. JESUS CHRSIT. Riddle tries to follow up with a Pheonix Splash but Gulak counters with the Gu-Lock. Riddle slips out and hits the Bro Derek (sigh) for the 1…2…3!

Matt Riddle defeated Drew Gulak via pinfall with the Bro Derek (13:38)

  • Riddle once again defeats his former Catch Point leader. GREAT match, lots of hard-hitting action and smooth counter wrestling from both men. Felt like a real knock down drag out fight and a pleasure to watch. (****1/4)

Gulak asks for a house mic and says Catch Point was founded on competition, opportunity, and respect. He tells Riddle he respects him and they shake hands/hug. Catch Point pose for the EVOLVE nerds out there. Gulak introduces himself to Curt Stallion, and says he hopes Stallion is up to the task of facing Riddle on tomorrow’s EVOLVE show. Riddle and Stallion fist bump.

-A look at EVOLVE Champion Austin Theory and WWN Champion JD Drake.

Bryan Idol is introduced to be the special guest ring announcer, as apparently EVOLVE wouldn’t be what it is without him. I don’t even think the crowd knows who he is, to be honest. Idol coughs into the mic repeatedly as a “SHUT THE F*CK UP” chant emanates from the crowd. Before he can actually speak the lights go out…and when they turn back on PAUL HEYMAN has replaced Idol! PAUL HEYMAN HAS RETURNED TO THE ECW ARENA!!! Crowd chants “ECW!” and “WELCOME BACK!” and other niceties. Heyman introduces himself and the crowd chant “THANK YOU HEYMAN!” as he chokes out that he’s honored to be back home. Heyman says he doesn’t do guest appearances and wasn’t invited to come to EVOLVE 131 since he always turns these things down, but he asked to be here. Heyman sh*ts on someone in the crowd heckling him, then says he asked to be here tonight because EVOLVE is the future and he wants to know more about the future of the industry. Heyman is going to ring announce the next match because five years from now people are going to watch this match and point it out as the moment everyone knew the industry was going to evolve. A great and impassioned speech from Heyman, nice to see him break away from the BRAAAAAAAAAAAAWK stuff every now and then.

Austin Theory and JD Drake make their entrances, Heyman handles the in-ring introductions after remarking that EVOLVE has pyro while WWE doesn’t. HA.

Austin Theory [c] vs. “The Blue Collar Badass” JD Drake [c] for the EVOLVE and WWN CHAMPIONSHIPS

Dueling chants for both men as the bell rings, but not on the hard cam which is disappointing. Both men block finisher attempts. Theory dodges a clothesline and connects with a dropkick. Theory ducks another clothesline but this time it’s Drake who connects with a dropkick and Theory bails to the floor. Drake charges, Theory catches him before he can fly with a forearm. Theory misses a forearm and hits the ring post, Drake adds insult to injury with some hard chops. They fight into the aisle, Theory counters a piledriver attempt into a backdrop on the ramp. Ref tells Theory there are no countouts in EVOLVE and to get him in the ring. That’s good to know, thank you. Theory trash talks Drake and rolls him in but only gets a one-count and is mad about it. Theory chops Drake, who no-sells it and drops him with one of his own. Theory clobbers Drake to the mat and connects with a snap suplex for a two-count. Straitjacket-type chinlock applied to wear the WWN Champ down. Drake escapes with slaps, Theory catches a kick and connects with a belly-to-back on his bigger opponent followed by a standing Moonsault for another two-count. Theory berates Drake for taking 15 years to get where he is while Theory only needed 3. Drake absorbs a series of forearms, saying Theory can’t hit him harder than life has (LAME). Theory drops Drake to one knee with a host of short clotheslines, Drake blocks another and drives himself and Theory to the mat with a clothesline of his own.

Theory charges, Drake connects with a slam and both men are down once again. Theory with a rolling thunder dropkick followed by a corner splash. Drake dodges a double stomp, pulls Theory out, and connects with a right hand as Theory ricochets off the ropes. Ow. Drake rolls Theory in, Theory rolls back out and Drake makes him regret it with a tope suicida. BIG MAN GOT HOPS. Drake slams Theory and hits a Vader Bomb for the 1…2…Theory kicks out. Drake sets up for another, Theory climbs up but gets dropped with back elbows. Drake comes off the middle buckle with a leg lariat (?!?) but misses the follow-up cannonball. Theory with a rolling thunder blockbuster for the 1…2…Drake kicks out and Theory’s nose is busted open. Theory goes for Ataxia, Drake uses his weight to power out, seats Theory on the buckle, and damn near caves his chest in with a chop. Theory slips out under Drake and tries a power bomb but it’s stopped with a right hand. Theory clubs Drake from behind and PICKS HIM UP FOR for three seconds around the world for the 1…2…Drake kicks out again! Drake with a backdrop counter, Theory catches Drake with a boot, Drake counters a rolling thunder into a STONE COLD STUNNER BAYBAY followed by a corner cannonball and the Drill Bit for the 1…the 2…the NOOOPE THEORY KICKS OUT. Drake with a Moonsault (?!?) for the 1…2…THEORY KICKS OUT AGAIN.

Theory and Drake get to their knees and trade forearms and chops. They get to their feet, Theory with a flurry of offense, Drake lands on his feet during an Ataxia attempt and connects with a clothesline. Drake misses a Moonsault, Theory with three superkicks into Ataxia for the 1…2…3!

Austin Theory [c] defeated JD Drake [c] via pinfall with Ataxia to retain the EVOLVE CHAMPIONSHIP and win the WWN CHAMPIONSHIP (16:22)

  • Like with a lot of the other EVOLVE matches this one was intense and hard-hitting, with Theory and Drake going all out (ahem) on their WWE Network debut. Theory being only 21 and this good is goddamn criminal and he deserved the win here, but Drake was no slouch either. Looking at Drake I expected a hoss brawler like Dick Murdoch and while that was in there too he also had some hops and I was happily surprised by how good his Moonsaults were. A big man getting the full rotation is rare. A bit of a bummer they didn’t get to main event over the NXT Championship match, but that’s the price to pay for being on the Network I guess. Yet another great match in a row, this show has been FIRE since Henry/Ruas. (****)

Theory celebrates with the belts for a moment then grabs a mic. Theory says everyone knows that EVOLVE is where it’s at and throws the WWN Championship to the mat. Theory says he’s the measuring stick and standard of EVOLVE and people will have to go through them if they want to chase their dreams. The lights go out again and when they return Josh Briggs is in the ring. Theory turns into Briggs, who drills him with the Chokeslam. Briggs grabs the EVOLVE Championship and holds it above his head, signaling that he will be Theory’s next challenger.

-Video takes a special look at Josh Briggs. Briggs says he got into wrestling because it’s one of the only legal ways to get into a fight with someone, which is a dorky AF thing to say. EVOLVE and the crowd seem real big on this guy, but that opening match is the only time I’ve seen him and I’ll need to see some more to get on that wavelength.

Akira Tozawa makes his entrance for the main event and Leonard points out he only had one match for EVOLVE, he was more of a Dragon Gate USA guy. I’m glad SOMEBODY is acknowledging it. Also I miss DGUSA so much, guys. So much. That was the one indie I really kept up with back in the early 10s. Adam Cole makes his entrance and the CROWD GOES NUUUUUTS, Leonard mentions Johnny Gargano by name as the only other triple crown winner in NXT history. Hmmm. In-ring introductions for that big fight feel.

Adam Cole [c] vs. Akira Tozawa for the NXT CHAMPIONSHIP

Tozawa with a wristlock, Cole rolls through and reverses. Tozawa sweeps the legs and grabs a side headlock, wrenching it in time with the “BAH” chants. Cole with a back heel trip and now he’s in control with a side headlock. Tozawa flips out of a suplex attempt, ducks a clothesline, and applies an Octopus in the center of the ring. Leonard mentions Cole got his start in Philly and had his first-ever pro match in this very building. Nice bit of history. Lenny Leonard is great. Tozawa goes to the top, Cole trips him and Tozawa falls to the mat, the back of his head hitting the top turnbuckle on his way down. Cole hammer throws Tozawa into the buckle, then poses for the crowd to show off his strength. Cole drives a pair of knees into the spine and applies a reverse chinlock. Tozawa escapes, Cole stops a follow-up with a back elbow to the mush. Cole tells Tozawa he’s going to be NXT Champion forever, Tozawa slaps him. They trade forearms, Tozawa catches Cole in a fireman’s position. Cole tries to elbow out but Tozawa keeps it going with a slam followed by a baseball slide to the face that sends the champ to the floor, leaving him open for a tope suicida. He tries for another, Cole takes a powder so Tozawa reassesses and connects with a senton from the apron. Tozawa takes a moment to get his leg unstuck from the barricade, then hits a missile dropkick in the ring for the 1…2…Cole kicks out.

Cole with an enzuigiri followed by a lung blower for the 1…2…Tozawa kicks out. Tozawa runs into a pump kick, Cole follows up with an ushigoroshi for the 1…2…Tozawa kicks out again. Cole and Tozawa trade forearms, the latter winning the shootout and bringing Cole to one knee. Tozawa charges, Cole with another pump kick. Tozawa shakes it off, both men trade kicks, Tozawa with a right hand, Cole with a superkick, and both men flop to the mat. Cool exchange. Tozawa and Cole jockey for position on the buckles until Cole gets knocked off with a forearm. Tozawa flies at Cole, who hits him with a superkick followed by a neckbreaker over the knee for the 1…2…Tozawa kicks out again! Cole says he’s over this match and brings the NXT Championship into the ring. Johnny Gargano shows up at ringside, Tozawa rolls up the distracted Cole for the 1…2…NO. Tozawa with a snap German suplex, Cole fights out of a second. Cole ducks the first enzuigiri but not the second, Tozawa with a flying senton but Cole counters with the knees and hits a Panama Sunrise followed by the Last Shot for the 1…2…3!

Adam Cole [c] defeated Akira Tozawa via pinfall with the Last Shot to retain the NXT CHAMPIONSHIP (13:17)

  • A good match that had the unfortunate spot of following THREE great matches in a row. It was an impossible task to measure up, and they didn’t, but this had some fun spots from both guys. Gargano showing up to continue the NXT feud was fine, and understandable, but also very not needed jank at the end. Cole retains unsurprisingly and the NXT Championship gets the main event treatment, but it really should have been Theory/Drake in this spot. (***1/4)

Gargano and Cole argue over the NXT Championship as Tozawa is treated like an afterthought in the background. Ouch. Cole bails from the ring to avoid a physical confrontation, giving the crowd one more “ADAM COLE BAYBAY!” before leaving. Gargano checks on Tozawa then asks for a mic. Gargano appreciates the chants but tells the crowd to cheer for Tozawa instead. Gargano says he was at the very first EVOLVE show back in 2009 in this building and here he is 10 years later, this time on the WWE Network. This tells Gargano two things: he’s getting old and pro wrestling in 2019 is pretty freakin’ cool (no arguments to either). Gargano says back in the day they used to close these shows with a very specific question. He asks Tozawa if he remembers and allows him the honor: “Did you enjoy the show?”. A “YES!” chant from the 2300 Arena. Someone WOOs for like ten seconds and Gargano asks the crowd to give him a round of applause. He asks for another and gets another long WOO. Gargano says they’d be nowhere without the FANS, and asks for one more thing: support EVOLVE and the future of pro wrestling. “EVOLVE WRESTLING” chant, Gargano thanks them for letting him live his dream and coming back, ending by saying he loves the fans and EVOLVE Wrestling. Gargano raises Tozawa’s hand and Leonard signs off by thanking everyone for watching…and hyping WWE Chronicle: Ricochet which is airing next on the WWE Network. HA, that’s great.


FINAL THOUGHTS: The first two matches gave me pause but once Anthony Henry and Arturo Ruas were beating the tar out of each other EVOLVE 131 caught fire and stayed on fire for the rest of the show. Tremendous matches and moments throughout the show, from Shotzi Blackheart almost dying in one of the craziest spots I’ve ever seen to a frenetic tag team match that was wall to wall action, everyone brought their A-game and really helped EVOLVE stand out as a company. I have to imagine that this has turned some folks unfamiliar with EVOLVE into fans of the product, and both companies got what they wanted: EVOLVE got exposure and WWE Network got an absolute banger of an exclusive show. I hope they run more shows on the Network, but that’s mostly for my bank account. Anyway EVOLVE 131 rocked and if you missed it due to AEW airing a show at the same time, I urge you to check it out.

  • MATCH OF THE NIGHT: Matt Riddle vs. Drew Gulak
  • MOMENT OF THE NIGHT: Shotzi Blackheart dives head-first into a tower of chairs and somehow survives to fight another day. That was a Mick Foley-level bump in 2019 and I’m still shocked to have seen it and that it didn’t cause any permanent injury.

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