QUEENS, NEW YORK & SOMERVILLE, MA — The vast world of non-WWE wrestling was on full display this past weekend when Gabe Sapolsky’s EVOLVE promotion and the United Kingdom’s Progress Wrestling put on an incredible display in doubleheaders on Saturday in New York and Sunday in Massachusetts.
WWE talent, including “Gentleman” Jack Gallagher, Tyler Bate, Trent Seven, Mark Andrews, and WWE United Kingdom champion Pete Dunne, were integral parts of the shows, which also included independent wrestling sensation Matt Riddle and Germany-based wXw’s super heavyweight Walter.
Despite the excellence in the ring, the prevailing theme on Saturday night in Queens was the heat and humidity. The building was sweating as a reported 1,500 people packed the Elmcor Youth and Adult Activities Center.
“We were in full regulation and complete compliance with everything,” said Sapolsky, who was directly responding to contrary reports. “The building was fully staffed, and there was an EMT, ambulance, and a doctor, which is all required by the New York State Athletic Commission.
“It’s always our goal to give the best we can to the paying customers, and the people there had super-high energy for the shows and the atmosphere was incredible.”
Progress’s voyage to the United States was also a success. The promotion has a fluid working agreement with WWE that allowed the weekend matches to feature WWE talent, most notably “Gentleman” Jack Gallagher and Bate, and their talent also worked the Saturday afternoon EVOLVE show and Sunday matinee for Drew Cordeiro’s Beyond Wrestling. Progress world champion Pete Dunne, who is also the WWE U.K. champ, was injured during a show on Friday night and was not cleared medically to compete during the Progress shows. Dunne still interjected his flair throughout each show, though he and the company were both disappointed he was unable to wrestle.
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Progress is the hard indie rock of the pro wrestling scene, and co-owner Jim Smallman felt this weekend’s shows captured the spirit of his promotion.
“I can’t get around the fact that so many people in the U.S. know who we are,” said Smallman. “We’re so grateful for the support. It’s genuinely the coolest thing. Everyone seems to be super-enthusiastic about everything we do. Wrestling is cool, and that’s what we’re all about. All I want is a culture of wrestling fans who realize we all have wrestling in common, and that really came across in New York and in Boston.”
Significant personnel moves also developed this weekend. Timothy Thatcher confirmed he is parting ways with EVOLVE, while Stokely Hathaway has officially re-signed with the promotion.
“I’ll be going to Germany with wXw for this remainder of 2017,” confirmed Thatcher. “This weekend was my last set of shows with EVOLVE, which is a great company. I love being here, but wXw is a wonderful place and Europe has been a great home to me in wrestling. My home in the United States is EVOLVE, so there is always the possibility I will be back.”
Hathaway, who also managed Moose during their time together in Ring of Honor, impressed EVOLVE owner Gabe Sapolsky on his first night with the promotion, which has opened doors for his expanded role on and off camera.
“EVOLVE has given me every opportunity I’ve ever wanted in professional wrestling,” said Hathaway. “Nothing was for certain when I started here on April 1, 2016. Gabe told me that I’d be part of EVOLVE if I knocked my first promo out of the park. As soon as I did that promo with TJ Perkins and walked back through the curtain, Gabe said, ‘Welcome to the family.’ Since then, I t’s been one opportunity after another, and this is where I want to be.”
The weekend also included the Sunday matinee in Somerville, Mass., with Beyond Wrestling, which was followed by an evening Progress affair. Beyond delivered WWE-bound Donovan Dijak’s final match with the promotion, which was a battle against Progress star Walter.
“I made sure that I wanted to have some of my last dates with Chaotic Wrestling, Northeast, and Beyond Wrestling, which are the places I cemented myself as a pro wrestler,” said Dijak. “Massachusetts will always be my home, no matter where I go next. I haven’t announced anything, but it seems like everyone already knows where I am going.
“I started wrestling at the age of 25, so I knew I had to make up a lot of ground real quick. That’s always been my goal: put out my best effort, no matter what, and continue learning and continue to improve. I have the mindset at the beginning of every match that I am the best professional wrestler in the world, and I hope I can one day achieve that goal.”
The lowlight of the weekend came when emerging Progress star TK Cooper fractured his right ankle on Saturday night, but everyone in the building had no choice but to recollect themselves and focus their collective attention onto independent wrestling sensation Matt Riddle.
Riddle is a former UFC fighter who was fired by UFC president Dana White, mainly over his predilection for marijuana. Riddle has quickly excelled in pro wrestling, achieving more in the past three years than some do in an entire career.
“Matt Riddle is one of the best in the business,” said Sapolsky. “He is a freak when you get down to athletic ability, and he is years ahead of the curve in terms of his ability to learn and grow as a performer in such a short amount of time. Riddle is also an extremely intelligent individual, which is evident in the way he’s been able to combine MMA and pro wrestling, making himself his own unique character.”
Riddle continued his run of unparalleled success in the indies with a magnificent main event on Saturday night in Queens, defeating super heavyweight Walter for the Progress Atlas championship.
“That match was intense,” said Riddle. “We had the crowd in the palm of our hand. New York City is basically where I got my start with EVOLVE 49, and I wanted to take advantage of that main event opportunity.”
Walter, who is from Vienna and stars for both Progress and Germany’s wXw promotion, noted that there was an instant chemistry with Riddle because of their shared vision of a wrestling match.
“I work a physical style, and I was very pleased with the story we told,” said Walter. “I like to tell a story with the physical elements of wrestling and cut back on high-flying and crazy spots. I prefer the fundamentals at a very intensive level. It’s all about how you tell the story, and Matt Riddle also prefers to tell his story with simple elements instead of going crazy, so we have good chemistry. We’ll see what happens in the future, but I am looking to reclaim my title.”
The victory over Walter allowed Riddle, who is also Sapolsky’s WWN champion, to become Progress’ first-ever two-time Atlas champion.
“I can’t wait to go to England,” said Riddle. “The marijuana is really good in some places in England, but not as good as Germany’s, who somehow get theirs from Amsterdam, but I want to go back to England and defend my Atlas championship.”
Sapolsky took a risk this weekend, delivering an EVOLVE show on Saturday with no promos. There were also no major angles, like an attack after a match, even though EVOLVE is known for its storyline progression at every show.
“We let the wrestling have the spotlight all to itself,” said Sapolsky. “Chris Dickinson and Jaka had another great match as a tag team, and Austin Theory really delivered against Mark Haskins, which was an important match for him. Saturday was all action and no talk, and I was very happy with the results. It felt like a show you’d see during WrestleMania weekend in terms of atmosphere and vibe, and that’s a huge compliment to the fans there.”