EVOLVE 81 recap: The man of the hour

Given that there’s so much going on in Orlando that hasn’t been streamed live or released for consumption yet, it’s probably premature to declare anyone the standout performer of WrestleMania week.

But still, it’s hard to believe that anyone has had three matches as good as Keith Lee has had. His week began against Ricochet on Thursday night at EVOLVE 80 and continued hours later opposite Lio Rush at Joey Janela’s Spring Break. On Friday, Lee again put on the best match at EVOLVE 81 against Donovan Dijak.

Lee has been fortunate to face opponents who can enhance what he does in the ring. Ricochet was the perfect matchup for him to show his power and athleticism. Rush was just as motivated to prove himself. And Dijak is another one of the most impressive big men on the indies.

Unlike the previous night, Lee was victorious at EVOLVE 81 in what was a total showcase of his abilities. At one point, Dijak went for a flip to the outside, but Lee mostly caught him as they fell backwards to the barricade before transitioning into an apron powerbomb.

Lee finally connected with a moonsault that he’d been trying to hit all match, but Dijak kicked out. They traded chokeslam attempts, then Lee hit his Spirit Bomb for the win. Lee showed respect to Dijak after it was over, and both put in memorable performances.

While Lee and Dijak grabbed everyone’s attention, the main event was a strong contender for the show’s most memorable match. Ethan Page and Darby Allin went at it in an insane anything goes match, with Allin gaining the advantage in their rivalry when it was over.

Allin may be the most insane wrestler in the world. He was bloodied early on as Page took control, including throwing him into a bunch of chairs on the outside and hurling him into a wall. Allin was later attempting to climb a massive ladder when he got sidetracked by Page’s Gatekeepers, leading to Page slamming him off the ladder through tables that were set up outside of the ring.

Page hit a package piledriver between two chairs, but Allin wouldn’t quit and kicked out. The Gatekeepers attempted to get involved, which brought out Priscilla Kelly as she tried to get their attention. Austin Theory entered the scene to fight them off. While the action went into the crowd, Allin wiped out The Gatekeepers with a dive off of a balcony while he had a trash can covering most of his body.

Back in the ring, Allin clobbered Page with trash can shots until Page landed on a table. Allin climbed the ladder and hit a splash through the table for the victory.

Nothing else was quite as memorable as those bouts, but Matt Riddle and Fred Yehi had a solid semi-main event. Yehi worked over Riddle’s neck for much of the match, with Lenny Leonard alleging on commentary that Riddle had injured it the night prior. Yehi defeated his Catch Point teammate after countering a Bromission attempt into the Koji clutch. Riddle tried to reach for the ropes, but passed out as the referee called for the bell.

Catch Point left the scene mostly united, though there was some dissension within the group earlier in the night. Tracy Williams, Chris Dickinson & Jaka teamed up to beat Jason Kincaid, Austin Theory & Sammy Guevara in a six-man tag match, and it was Dickinson and Jaka who won it with a doomsday device chokeslam while Kincaid seemed to be on the verge of tapping out Williams.

Jaka got on the mic to ask about a tag title shot against Williams and Yehi for him and Dickinson. Williams told Jaka to focus on their match against the South Pacific Power Trip at the WWN Supershow on Saturday, but Yehi said that they deserved a shot and would be getting one.

Larry Dallas then arrived to announce Williams and Yehi vs. Dickinson and Jaka for the EVOLVE Tag Team Championship on April 22nd in Queens, New York.

After being laid out by Michael Elgin the previous night, Zack Sabre Jr. opened EVOLVE 81 where things had left off by calling out Elgin for the opener. Despite seemingly granting Elgin a title shot on Thursday, Sabre’s EVOLVE Championship wasn’t on the line. But he was still able to get the win by trapping Elgin in a pinning situation after Elgin seemed to have the advantage in the closing stretch.

Lio Rush then came out to the ring to say that he wanted his upcoming match against Sabre at EVOLVE’s next set of shows to be for the title. Sabre told him to hold his horses since he still has to defend against Mark Haskins at the Supershow, but said that he’d put his belt on the line once he does.

Drew Galloway interrupted them, telling Sabre not to disrespect the championship and chiding Rush for looking ahead of their match, which was up next.

It was announced that the winner would get a title match at the next set of events in New York, and Galloway ensured that would be him by hitting a huge swinging Future Shock DDT and a piledriver to get the win.

In the only other match on the card, Timothy Thatcher couldn’t keep any momentum that previously winning his first match since losing the EVOLVE Championship brought. Thatcher was pinned by ACH following a brainbuster, then threatened to fire Stokely Hathaway if he can’t get him into the WWN title match at the Supershow.

Final Thoughts —

Lee vs. Dijak was a strong contender for best match of the week so far. Page vs. Allin was everything that it should have been and is worth seeing if you like that type of hardcore style. Most of the other matches were good, but those were the two highlights.

The EVOLVE vs. PROGRESS Supershow on Saturday night should mix things up a bit by adding some people who aren’t usually on EVOLVE cards. Sabre vs. Haskins, ACH vs. Pete Dunne, Dickinson & Jaka vs. Travis Banks & TK Cooper, and Page vs. Jimmy Havoc all look pretty interesting. The WWN Championship elimination match (with Galloway, Riddle, Yehi, Williams, Parrow, and Jon Davis) should be fun as well.

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EVOLVE 81 results —
Darby Allin defeated Ethan Page in an anything goes match
Fred Yehi defeated Matt Riddle
Tracy Williams, Chris Dickinson & Jaka defeated Jason Kincaid, Austin Theory & Sammy Guevara
ACH defeated Timothy Thatcher
Keith Lee defeated Donovan Dijak
Drew Galloway defeated Lio Rush
EVOLVE Champion Zack Sabre Jr. defeated Michael Elgin in a non-title match

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