Last Saturday, EVOLVE put on the final wrestling show at the famed ECW Arena in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Over the years, the Arena has become arguably the most beloved building in all of wrestling, at least in the United States. The legend surrounding the former bingo hall has grown into a part of independent wrestling lore, even long after the demise of the promotion that put it on the map.
Ring of Honor, Combat Zone Wrestling, CHIKARA and Dragon Gate USA have all done their part towards making sure the legend of that building on the corner of Swanson and Ritner did not go away when ECW closed down in 2001.
Strangely enough, the tenth EVOLVE show marked the promotion’s first time in the Arena, though the promotion’s co-founder Gabe Sapolsky has certainly made quite a notable mark between the walls of the Asylum Arena, as it has been known in recent years.
It seemed very fitting that the final shows in the Arena would be a double header featuring a matinee from CZW, who have run more shows than any other promotion in that building, and Sapolsky’s EVOLVE.
EVOLVE 10 proved to be an enjoyable send off for the venue. The final segment did turn out to be rather controversial though, but we’ll get to that later.
The show kicked off with a huge surprise, Low Ki made his debut for EVOLVE and absolutely wrecked Larry Dallas’ big man, Ahtu, with one of the nastiest rolling kicks to the head I’ve seen in a wrestling ring. Ahtu looked to be legit knocked out but Low Ki hit him with another kick for good measure before finishing him off with his Warrior’s Way double stomp from the top rope.
After the match, Low Ki informed everyone that he was in EVOLVE and Dragon Gate USA full time and he wanted his profession back. He referenced Taz by saying “Beat me if you can, survive if I let you.” The addition of Low Ki to the roster of EVOLVE and DGUSA is huge and the potential match ups leave my mouth watering.
There was some really solid in-ring action on the show. Cheech and Cloudy, formerly the tag team Up In Smoke, had a really entertaining back and forth battle which stemmed from their split at the previous EVOLVE show.
Jigsaw and A.R. Fox nearly stole the show with an awesome match. Both men looked very impressive, showcasing just how athletic the EVOLVE roster can be. Jigsaw picking up the win over the red hot Fox came as a shock and hopefully it leads to bigger things for Jigsaw as a singles competitor.
Above: AR Fox launches onto Jigsaw
Throughout the night, the ongoing feud between Fox and Sami Callihan intensified. After losing to Jigsaw, Fox was subjected to some taunting from Callihan.
Fox returned the favor when Callihan wrestled Bobby Fish in the semi-main event later in the evening.
Fox stayed in Fish’s corner for the match and wound up playing a pretty big role in the finish, distracting Callihan long enough for Fish to lock in his Fish Hook submission. Callihan tapped and Fish earned his second win in EVOLVE.
After the match, Fox got in Callihan’s face and handcuffed his own hands behind his back, attempting to goad “The Death Machine” into attacking him while defenseless, which would surely lead to a suspension under the promotion’s rules.
Callihan could only walk away frustrated, though later in the night he would appear to get the last laugh.
EVOLVE 10 also feature two really entertaining tag team matches. In fact, the Super Smash Brothers vs. the Ronin duo of Chuck Taylor and Rich Swann might have been my personal favorite match of the night. It was just a highly competitive, back and forth, entertaining tag team match. Plus, for a second there, I thought Chuck Taylor legit killed Player Dos with the Awful Waffle.
The Scene, Caleb Konley and Scott Reed, picked up a victory early on in the show, defeating the team of Alex Reynolds and John Silver in a very solid match. I’m not very familiar with Reynolds or Silver and I haven’t been a huge fan of The Scene thus far, so this one was pleasantly surprising.
It seems as though Konley and Reed are starting to gel together as a time and suddenly I’m a lot more interested in seeing what comes next from them.
Jon Davis also squashed Kyle Matthews and then called out Fit Finlay for disrespecting him at the last EVOLVE show. This whole segment just served to make Davis look like more of a bad ass than he already does and sets up a fight with Finlay and that is perfectly ok. When that match does happen, it’ll be a real slugfest.
Johnny Gargano made his first defense of the Open The Freedom Gate Championship by defeating Ricochet in the main event of the EVOLVE portion of the show.
A few days have passed since the iPPV and it has been revealed that Gargano went into the match with a back/pelvis injury that he sustained earlier this month. It goes to show just how much heart Gargano has.
Above: Johnny Gargano has Ricochet all tied up
This match against Ricochet at the final wrestling show in the history of the ECW Arena was so important to him that he fought through the pain, admittedly probably not the best decision, and still put on a very good match.
There were a few botches and mistakes that seemed out of place for someone who is usually as crisp in the ring as Gargano, so I had a feeling something wasn’t right with the champ. After the match, which was a highly competitive nearly 25 minute long encounter, Gargano could not get up off the mat.
He had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance after the show and as of this writing, no updates have been given as to what exactly the injury is or how it may affect Gargano. Here’s hoping it’s not anything too serious and that the champ makes a speedy recovery.
The final segment of the show was a tribute to the Arena, featuring the likes of Joey Styles, Tod Gordon, J.T. Smith and Gary “Pitbull #1” Wolfe. The happy reunion was interrupted by DJ Hyde and a gang of CZW wrestlers.
As soon as they came out, I could already hear “Natural Born Killaz” playing in my head. Balls Mahoney hit the ring first and tried to take the CZW guys down by himself, but the numbers game soon became too much for him. Then, finally, the Ice Cube/Dr.Dre classic began blaring over the sound system and New Jack and his garbage can full of weapons made their way to the ring.
It was 1998 all over again in South Philadelphia. New Jack and Balls cleared house and the crowd was eating it up. Out of nowhere, Justin Credible hit the ring and attacked New Jack for some reason. This brought out Sabu from the back and all of the sudden we had ourselves a match.
Gargano vs. Ricochet might have been the last advertised match in the Arena, but it was only fitting that the final match wound up being Sabu picking up a victory over one of the original ECW’s most despised heels, Justin Credible, with a top rope Arabian Facebuster through a table.
Sabu took the microphone and appeared to be ready to cut a promo, then Sami Callihan hit the ring and things got a lot more controversial than folks were expecting. Callihan laid out Sabu with a beer bottle and launched into a scathing promo, downplaying the significance of the Arena. Fans threw garbage into the ring at him. The mood of the building totally shifted. The lights went out and the show was over, so much for the happy ending.
Judging by the reaction on Twitter, the decision to give Callihan the very last segment in the ECW Arena did not sit well with many fans. I wouldn’t count myself among them though.
It seems as though the fans that are so upset about the way the show ended basically feel that way because they wanted a happy ending. They don’t see why Sapolsky would put all that pressure onto Callihan’s shoulders. They feel like it was a disrespectful way to end the Arena.
Sure, we all would’ve loved to see some more old faces from years past. I would’ve been so excited if guys like Raven, Tommy Dreamer, The Sandman and Shane Douglas could’ve been there for the sendoff, but how many times have we seen them all do the reunion thing already?
Instead of going down that beaten path once again, Sapolsky did something a bit daring, he put a ton of stock into one of his top rising stars. It’ll be interesting to see how the story of Sami Callihan progresses from here.
All in all, EVOLVE 10 was one of the more entertaining events in the promotion’s short history. It certainly did more to progress storylines than just about any other show the promotion has given us to date.
With the debut of Low Ki, the beginnings of the Swann/Taylor tag team championship quest, the set up for a return for Finlay and the emergence of Sami Callihan as a top heel, there is a lot of look forward to coming out of EVOLVE 10.
Full credit to Snap Mare for the pictures of Fox vs. Jigsaw & Gargano vs. Ricochet