This week, we are taking a deep look at the EVOLVE promotion with Rewind-A-Wai covering its inaugural event from January 2010.
On that first show, there was a lot of interest regarding Gabe Sapolsky’s newest promotion just over a year after his exit from Ring of Honor and months into his role with Dragon Gate USA. The promotion came around at a unique time when the UFC had galvanized the professional wrestling audience and was re-educating fans on selling fights through unique personalities and taking elements of the pro wrestling they grew up with but having a legitimate contest.
Through these trends, EVOLVE attempted to separate itself from the pack with a heavy emphasis at the start on win-loss records, uniform theme music, the top independent talent domestically and abroad, strict adherence to the rules, and an attempt to bridge the gap of the best elements fans appreciated from all genres of combat sports and amalgamating them into its version of professional wrestling.
Our review of EVOLVE 1 will be available Tuesday evening for all members of the POST Wrestling Café.
We spoke with the voice of EVOLVE, Lenny Leonard, who was there on January 16, 2010, for the introduction of the new concept and reflected eleven years later in this exclusive chat with POST Wrestling.
POST Wrestling: How was the concept of EVOLVE pitched to you, and how did you react to the ideas?
Lenny Leonard: We were already doing DGUSA when Evolve began, but the plan was originally Bryan Danielson and Gabe coming up with the concept of transitioning pro wrestling to a more realistic hard-hitting style. Bryan talked about not liking the fact that wrestling in WWE, the indies, and even Japan hadn’t changed a great deal, and he was hoping to create a platform to show the world how talented these young guys on the indies were.
I was excited as I have always gravitated towards the sports presentation of wrestling more than the entertainment side. I think I have always tried to present the shows I called as close to a real sports style as I could. I loved Gordon Solie’s and JR’s style of announcing when I watched as a fan, and I definitely think I emulated that style.
POST: What are your recollections of the vibe the day of the show with Gabe Sapolsky’s new concept?
Leonard: It was exciting. I remember writing a blog that week about the show. I had mentioned a line I loved from the Sopranos. Tony is in therapy and mentioned how he was starting to feel the best days were behind his business and how it was “good to be in on the ground floor” but he came too late for that. I thought that it was a chance to be in on something from the ground floor and it was cool. I was getting to work with some guys I knew well, and others that I had only seen on tape but really liked.
POST: With a heavier sports feel and presentation, did you approach the show any differently from a commentary perspective?
Leonard: I don’t think so. I think as I mentioned because that was my preferred style it played to my strengths. The one change was just getting used to calling it with someone new, as I hadn’t worked with Leonard Chikarason much so we just were trying to make sure we could find our groove quickly.
POST: What comes to mind ten years after the fact, of the promotion’s first main event involving Kota Ibushi and Davey Richards?
Leonard: I remember that when Davey was on, and his heart was in it, he could be as good as anyone, and Ibushi was a big test. He had just started building the legacy we see now, but you could tell he was special. I think at the time, not being able to have Bryan (Danielson), Davey was the right guy to step in.
They went at it HARD…it was a tremendous first main event and really set the tone for a lot of what was to come over the next ten years
POST: How does this card and some of the ideas hold up in your estimation today?
Leonard: I think a lot of it holds up. Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish was a great opener and really was the template for the early Evolve style of match.
I think the wins and loss records were a good idea but we executed it poorly, I think AEW has done it right with how they use it.
Most of all I think the talent that was highlighted shows one of Gabe’s real strengths, and that is identifying people who are close to being ready for a big stage and helping them get there.
Thanks very much to Lenny Leonard for taking the time to chat about EVOLVE 1. Be sure to follow him @WWNLennyLeonard.