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Cook’s Tale of the Tape: EVOLVE 131 vs AEW Fight for the Fallen

We’ve got two pretty big shows coming up on Saturday night, which has slid under the radar and become the best night for pro wrestling again lately.



We’ve got two pretty big shows coming up on Saturday night, which has slid under the radar and become the best night for pro wrestling again lately.

People my age & over know all about World Championship Wrestling, Saturday Night’s Main Event & WCW Saturday Night back in the day, but the sport of kings has been taking that night back recently. It started with the NXT TakeOvers, then AEW & New Japan joined in the fun here recently. And you old school ROH fans know that the Saturday shows were always the A shows of a weekend.

This Saturday’s going to be pretty big. AEW is presenting their Fight for the Fallen event in Jacksonville with some pretty interesting matchups. Meanwhile, WWE has decided to let their Double A affiliate, EVOLVE, have their 10th anniversary show air live on the WWE Network. Correctly, they figured that a semi-indy fed booked by Gabe Sapolsky would have a better chance of making a dent in AEW’s streaming numbers than anything else they could throw out there.

Which card should you spend your Saturday night watching? That’s why I’m here with the Tale of the Tape!

Women’s Singles Match

EVOLVE: Brandi Lauren vs. Shotzi Blackheart

F for the F: Brandi Rhodes vs. Allie

I’m a big Shotzi Blackheart fan. She works hard and has green hair & a punk style and I’m a fan of it. She’s howling like a wolf and I dig it. I looked up Brandi Lauren and she was in TNA at some point and I have no memory of it. Larry Csonka’s reviews of her recent EVOLVE efforts don’t give me much hope.

Allie is pretty great. She managed to get herself over in Impact Wrestling during a time when nobody was getting over. Because she was a great worker. She delivered when it mattered. Whether you want to call her Allie or Cherry Bomb or whatever, she’s been one of the best workers on the distaff side of things since she broke in. Brandi Rhodes isn’t as much of a natural. She’s had to work at it, and she probably started too late to be one of the best female workers of all time. The lady works hard though. She’ll likely come up short here because Allie needs to be the person AEW’s women’s division is built around, but Brandi will bring the fight.

Advantage: F for the F

Top Featured Tag Team Match

EVOLVE: Eddie Kingston & Joe Gacy vs. AR Fox & Leon Ruff

F for the F: Cody & Dustin Rhodes vs. The Young Bucks

I love me some Eddie Kingston. He’s one of the best talkers this business has seen over the past two decades. Unfortunately for him but fortunately for us, most of his career has been unproduced. I also love me some AR Fox. That guy can do some incredible things. His Lucha Underground stint showcased it for those that didn’t know, and when I watched some of his CZW stuff years afterward I wondered how he didn’t get signed by somebody.

I’m not as big on Young Bucks matches as some are, but they’re an incredible team. I am huge on Cody & Dustin. The Rhodes Family isn’t as big as some wrestling families, but if you want to talk about quality over quantity, they’ve got it over most. Anything they’re involved in, I’m all about. Cody is awesome, & Dustin is still incredible after however many years. They both got the gene for story-telling from their old man & use it in different ways. Cody has probably thought about this match since the moment he met Nick & Matt Jackson, and I expect them to have the best match on Fight for the Fallen. Cody’s streak of having the best match of a show he’s on will continue.

Advantage: F for the F

Match Featuring A Man Named Adam


F for the F: HANGMAN ADAM PAGE vs. Kip Sabian

We’re talking about two Adams that I’m buying all the stock of. Page looks to be the future top guy in AEW and I’m all about it. He’s got the look, the understated charisma, and he can deliver in the ring. He carries himself like he’s a Rhodes or a Windham, so I’m all about building a promotion around him.

But I would also build a promotion around Adam Cole. The guy’s had it ever since he stepped into a ring. Wherever he goes, he becomes a top guy because he is the top guy. He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Shawn Michaels since Shawn Michaels. If I was booking NXT, I would keep the NXT Championship on Adam Cole until the second he gets called up.

Basically, the choice here comes down to opponents. Tozawa is awesome & I’ve never seen Kip Sabian wrestle.

Advantage: EVOLVE

Match Featuring Two Guys Smarks Like

EVOLVE: Drew Gulak vs. Matt Riddle

F for the F: Kenny Omega vs. Cima

Omega vs. Cima seems like a Japanese dream match. A guy that made it to the top of New Japan and reinvented their main event style taking on the guy that trained most of the people in the secondary promotions. I have no doubt it will be pretty great.

I’ve already seen Gulak & Riddle go at it on a random NXT episode. It was absolutely amazing. Two guys that knew how to technically wrestle putting on a freaking clinic. It was GRAPPLEFUCK at its best. I know Riddle is the favored son in some circles, but from where I sit, Drew Gulak just might be the best wrestler in the world today. Add in Riddle with his oddness, and it can’t possibly suck.

Advantage: EVOLVE

Best Match I Can’t Find A Parallel For

EVOLVE: JD Drake vs. Austin Theory

F for the F: Frankie Kazarian & Scorpio Sky vs. Pentagon Jr. & Rey Fenix

I saw a lot of Austin Theory on The Wrestlers, and he seems like a good kid with a world of potential. I’ve never heard of his opponent. On the other side, you have the two most exciting Mexican wrestlers against two American veterans that will know how to put them over while being fun at the same time. This isn’t really a fair comparison.

Advantage: F for the F


EVOLVE: 2300 Arena, Philadelphia

F for the F: Daily’s Place Ampitheater, Jacksonville

Advantage: Everybody marks out for the ECW Arena. The bingo hall at Swanson & Rittner. That place has seen so much wrestling that the history is ridiculous. I’ve watched so many shows from that venue that I couldn’t even begin to tell you the best or worst matches. I can understand why Gabe would mark out for running a show there.

I get more enjoyment from shows in different places. My favorite ROH venue ever is a tent they held a show in when they got kicked out of a venue while still having KENTA booked. KENTA in a Tent-a was pretty awesome. This AEW venue is something connected to the Jaguars stadium and also shares space with a practice facility. If I’m going to see pictures of crowds, I’d like to see them in unique places.

Advantage: F for the F

Probable Announcers

EVOLVE: Lenny Leonard

F for the F: Excalibur, Jim Ross, Alex Marvez or maybe GoldenBoy?

I’m higher on the AEW announce team than most. Exaclibur does a good job of carrying things no matter who he’s with. JR seems more emotionally invested with AEW than he has with anything else he’s called in ages. Marvez wasn’t great in the first thing he called ever, but I’m sure GoldenBoy is on AEW’s speed dial.

EVOLVE has Lenny Leonard. Apparently Ron Niemi joins him on occasion, but it’s mostly Lenny. I always liked Lenny on ROH shows before he got replaced during the HDNet era. Simple commentary is the best for me, and Lenny brings that.

Advantage: EVOLVE

Level of Importance

EVOLVE: It’s their 10th anniversary celebration, available to more people than ever. Sapolsky calls this their Barely Legal, which sounds ridiculous to me. But I’m older & more bitter than the people on his roster. They may buy in. Either way, it’s the biggest show in the company’s history. They need to deliver.

F for the F: The proceeds are going to victims of gun violence. That’s a bigger deal than anything else I typically mention in my columns, and if this “feud” took away from those proceeds I would feel guilty. I doubt it will, as it’s the gate in Jacksonville going to the cause, and not anything from streaming. If you live in Jacksonville, go to the show.

These AEW shows leading up to the TNT debut are tests. Which are important in their own right, but not the most important show in the history of a company that started in 2010. If EVOLVE delivers here, they could get some more WWE Network & developmental love. If they tank, Gabe might not even get a job for himself. AEW is in the trial & error phase here, EVOLVE can’t afford any errors.

Advantage: EVOLVE

Sticking It To The Man

EVOLVE: Gabe might try to tell you otherwise, but he’s totally co-opted now. So is my good friend TJ Hawke. He’ll tell you otherwise as well, but they’re all serving at the behest of the man.

F for the F: They’re bringing money to victims of gun violence. People that give money to WWE are giving money to gun violence.

Advantage: F for the F

Final Score: F for the F 5, EVOLVE 4

It’s a close call, don’t get me wrong. But at the end of the day, AEW’s Fight for the Fallen gets the edge over EVOLVE’s 10th anniversary celebration. People will try to argue otherwise, but the numbers never lie.

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Cook: Don’t Bet Against Greatness

It’s a mistake that’s easy to make, but it’s an equally important lesson to remember. As Steve Cook says: don’t bet against greatness.



Tom Brady Super Bowl Trophy

It’s a mistake that’s easy to make, but it’s an equally important lesson to remember. As Steve Cook says: don’t bet against greatness.

It would take at least a thousand columns like this one to explain the biggest mistakes we pundits make. I use the phrase “we” because I’ll never sit here and tell you I’m infallible. I make more mistakes than I care to remember. Today, we’ll talk about one that I’m guilty of pretty often.

Too often, we don’t give greatness the benefit of the doubt.

We jump to quick conclusions when the greats of a genre do things that don’t seem in character, or are different from what we’re used to. We don’t consider the idea that maybe these people, who have already accomplished many things in life, might actually have a better idea what they can do to improve their future than we do.

Hard to believe, I know. This past weekend saw great success for two of the most successful people in the world of sports & entertainment. They serve as perfect examples of my hypothesis.

Example 1: Tom Brady

Tom Brady

For years, I have resisted the idea of calling Tom Brady the Greatest Quarterback of All Time. I never like crowning current stars the greatest of anything, as it disrespects the people that came before them. Unless they just accomplish so damn much that it’d be silly to deny them the honor. Sometimes, people get GOAT status that don’t really deserve it. They seem to be on pace to get there, but never make the jump.

Tom Brady made that jump a long time ago. There isn’t really a metric people can use to sell him short at this point. He’s at or near the top of every significant passing category in league history. There’s also the number of Super Bowls won, and number of rings/titles/championships always wins any sports argument, regardless of the sport. It can’t really be denied at this point.

The one thread people had to hang on to? Bill Belichick. The Patriot Way. Brady & Belichick formed a dynasty together. The other players & assistant coaches always changed, but Tom & Bill were always there. Which provided a bit of drama over the past few years whenever we needed something to talk about. Who was responsible for the success? The answer was obviously a little bit of both, but it was always a big debate.

Brady went to Tampa, and some folks thought it might not work. Many talking heads went on about how Tom was just going to Tampa because he wanted out of the cold weather. He just wanted to have fun for the last couple years of his career. They didn’t think that he could do these things and also win championships.

He’s one game away from doing just that. Are you going to bet against him? I’m not!

Example 2: Vince McMahon

Vince McMahon Laughing

How many articles have you read questioning McMahon’s mental acumen? Especially over the past several years as he’s advanced in age? It seems like everybody has dismissed the old man as a fossil that needs to step aside and let the kids run things.

We think we have evidence for this theory from WWE television. I’ll admit it, Raw most weeks is thoroughly unwatchable. You may disagree, but I’m the one typing this thing up. SmackDown is a little bit better, but Raw’s ineptitude overshadows it for the most part. Then there’s NXT, which most people seem to agree goes downhill the more that Vince pays attention to it.

A good percentage of the Internet wishes that Vince would step aside and not be all over everything.

This places us on the opposite side of most investors, who don’t watch the shows religiously, if at all, and don’t get inside knowledge from the dirt sheets & message boards. What they know is that Vince McMahon is the most successful promoter in wrestling history, and that he knows how to make a lot of money. Which, most would argue, is a lot more important than the quality of the shows one produces.

McMahon has shown an ability to make the right business moves at the right time. 1984 was the right time to go national and wipe out the territories, cable television expanding wrestling program reach made it only a matter of time. Vince was the first one to jump.

The late 1990s when the company was at a mainstream acceptance high was the right time to go public. You didn’t see him trying it in the early 1990s when he was fighting off various scandals and the company was at a mainstream acceptance low. Once people forgot about the steroid & sex stuff and saw how popular the Superstars of the time were, it was time to buy in.

Streaming was the wave of the future when WWE Network started becoming a thing. It was the culmination of nearly thirty years of Vince McMahon collecting nearly every bit of wrestling footage he could. He wanted to own wrestling & create his own history, then he wanted to get everybody else’s history too. He got most of it. There’s stuff sitting in the WWE archives that still hasn’t seen the light of day, and maybe it never will. Everybody and their brother has some kind of streaming service now. WWE was there before most, and now they got the chance to cash in from a media company trying to bolster their own streaming service.

Now, McMahon’s business record isn’t perfect. We know about the WBF & the XFL (twice). We remember how WWE wasn’t the original name. The early 90s scandals have been mentioned. And as major UFC and boxing events have shown, Vince was too quick to give up on pay per view. Left some money on the table there.

Every businessman makes mistakes. Its how they recover from those mistakes that matters. McMahon always comes out of his smelling like roses. There’s never really a long-term negative effect afterward. Vince got Dwayne Johnson to buy the XFL. His attempt to compete in bodybuilding led to no hard feelings. We all eventually got used to saying & writing “WWE”.

All those things we get mad at about Vince? They don’t keep most of us from watching his programming. Which is why WWE is so valuable to media companies. WWE has an audience that it can’t scare away, no matter what it does. People will follow them from USA to Fox to Spike TV to the WWE Network, whatever’s got some of that sweet content.

So the next time somebody wants to tell you that Old Man Vince is out of touch and doesn’t get it anymore…ask that person the last time they deposited a billion dollar check. If it was sometime in the last week, then they might have a point.

I might not be in love with most of the wrestling Vince McMahon produces these days. Are you going to bet against him making money off of it? I’m not!

Do not bet against greatness. More often than not, you will lose.

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Andrew’s Top 5 Matches: Week Ending 1/24/2021

Well even on a quiet-ish week, all of the bigger NA companies get a version of representation and even AJPW found their way into the Top 5! Let’s see what we’re working with!



Well now, we didn’t have much that really stood out on North American television, but we did get a few additions from All Japan Pro Wrestling!

Last week’s voting was pretty cut and dry, NXT UK: NXT UK Championship: Walter (c) vs A-Kid, managed to control the voting narrative. Now we get this week, and it’s definitely a little more interesting.

Which match will get the most support? Let’s find out!

Quick Top 5:

  1. AJPW New Year Wars Final Round: Triple Crown Championship: SUWAMA (c) vs Shotaro Ashino
    Rating: **** 1/4
  2. AJPW New Years Wars Final Round: World Junior Championship: Fuminori Abe vs Koji Iwamoto (c)
    Rating: *** 3/4
  3. WWE Raw: Ricochet vs AJ Styles
    Rating: *** 3/4
  4. IMPACT! Private Party w/Big Money Matt Hardy vs Beer Guns (James Storm & Chris Sabin)
    Rating: *** 1/2
  5. NXT: Fight Pit: Tommaso Ciampa vs Timothy Thatcher
    Rating: *** 1/2


Honorable Mentions:

  • NXT UK: Dave Mastiff vs Rampage Brown
    Rating: *** 1/4
  • NXT: Imperium vs Lucha House Party
    Rating: ***
  • WWE Raw: Asuka vs Alexa Bliss
    Rating: ***
  • AEW Dynamite: MJericho vs Sammy Hager vs Santana & Ortiz
    Rating: ***
  • NXT: KUSHIDA & Leon Ruff VS The Way
    Rating: ***

4t. NXT: Fight Pit: Tommaso Ciampa vs Timothy Thatcher

From Mitchell’s Coverage:

The ref checks on Thatcher but Thatcher grabs at Ciampa over the ref’s back! Ciampa uses the leverage for WILLOW’S BELL!! But Ciampa can’t win off a cover, he wants to know if that knocked Thatcher out! The ref starts a count, Thatcher is still conscious but he has to get up before 10! The count is 5, then 6! Thatcher uses the cage and drags himself up at 9.9! But Ciampa CLOBBERS him, underhooks, but Thatcher spins out to throw EuroUppers! Ciampa forearms, they’re brawling back and forth with fury! The fans are fired up as Ciampa CHOPS but Thatcher tackles him into steel!

Ciampa throws elbows, has a facelock, and he RAMS Thatcher into steel! FAIRYTALE ENDING!! And then a SLEEPER HOLD!! Ciampa wants Thatcher to pass out, but Thatcher fights up! And scoops Ciampa to RAM him into the steel! Thatcher gets Ciampa in a sleeper hold of his own, but Ciampa uses the corner to go up! Thatcher shoves Ciampa into the corner! Thatcher CLUBS Ciampa over and over and over, then has the leg trapped in the girder! HANGING STRETCH MUFFLER!! Ciampa shouts in pain, he TAPS! THATCHER WINS!!

Winner: Thatcher Hanging Stretch Muffler


4t. IMPACT! Private Party w/Big Money Matt Hardy vs Beer Guns (James Storm & Chris Sabin)

From My Results:

Fast paced as expected, but early on we see Tony Khan and Jerry Lynn walk out to sit at ringside and watch the match. Storm didn’t slow down too much, which is surprising since aside from his brief stint back in Impact at the end of 2020, we saw him tagging with Eli Drake in much slower, less workrate dependent matches.

Private Party were their usual high flying, fun having, break dance inspired flourishes to some offense we’ve seen for years. Beer Guns had a cool tandem move with Sabin Sunset Flipping from outside in, Quen rolled right into the Backstabber from James Storm. Lots of signature spam, a few dives, highlighted by a nice Fosbury Flop from Quen.

Sabin looked to be setting up for the finish, when Jerry Lynn hops the familiar guardrail, grabs Sabin’s foot while Matt Hardy distracted the ref; and Private Party hit Gin & Juice for the heel tactic upset! Interestingly, Private Party still comes off as great babyface kids who are being swindled by scummy adults. So they aren’t playing heel, but everyone around them is doing it for them.

Winner: Private Party via Gin & Juice


2t. WWE Raw: Ricochet vs AJ Styles

From Mitchell’s Coverage:

Ricochet is frustrated but Omos is relieved as Styles survives. Ricochet fireman’s carries but Styles fights out. Ricochet mule kicks a leg then back flips into the DEAD LIFT GERMAN! Bridging cover, TWO! Ricochet grows further frustrated but he watches Styles stand. Ricochet runs out from the corner but Styles dodges. Styles runs in, Ricochet elbows back, QUEBRADA into a LARIAT! Styles gets Ricochet up, SNAP BRAIN BUSTER!! Cover, TWO!! Styles fireman’s carries Ricochet for USHIGOROSHI! Cover, TWO! Omos says it’s alright but Styles is still surprised Ricochet survives!

Styles goes to a corner, goes to the apron, and takes aim. Styles springboards, but Ricochet hits the RECOIL!! Both men are down, Ricochet crawls to the cover, TWO!! Styles survives and Ricochet is beside himself! Ricochet goes to the corner, climbs up top, but Styles trips him up! Ricochet lands hard on his stomach and flops to the apron! Omos coaches Styles as Ricochet drags himself up. Styles goes to the corner, brings Styles up, but Ricochet hotshots! Ricochet aims, slingshots, but into Styles’ suplex, that rebounds off the ropes! Into the STYLES CLASH!!! Cover, Styles wins!

Winner: AJ Styles via Styles Clash


2t. AJPW New Years Wars Final Round: World Junior Championship: Fuminori Abe vs Koji Iwamoto (c)

Iwamoto has finally started to blossom as the Ace of the current Junior Division. Fuminori Abe on the other hand, is a freelancer who can do anything and everything. This should be a great test for the Junior Ace, since Abe can hit you from every conceivable angle.

There’s a brief period of feeling out we saw the versatility of Abe. He delved into a little bit of his comedic side with the long set up on a Penalty Kick to the back, but he also snapped off some great Frankensteiners and high spots. He also worked over the upper body well to try and go for his signature Octopus Hold, but Iwamoto was able to get the rope break.

Iwamoto’s saving grace was his Judo background. A few Dropkicks to get distance and just catching Abe with multiple Judo Throws, set up beautifully for the Koko no Geijutsu, because it is also a fast snapping Judo Throw, but he uses the ropes for the added momentum to make it a finish.

Smooth as butter, and only rated under a 4 because of how fast the match was. If it had a longer build or another back and forth, this could’ve been epic. But it was still a damn great match.

After the match Cima challenged via video.

Winner: Koji Iwamoto via Koko no Geijutsu


1. AJPW New Year Wars Final Round: Triple Crown Championship: SUWAMA (c) vs Shotaro Ashino

Suwama’s hand picked opponent because of their similarities. Ashino being the former ace of Wrestle-1, a disciple of Keiji Mutoh and an accomplish amateur style wrestler; this all rings true with Suwama. So we get part two of the Mutoh’s favorite son challenge!

This match did have a few of the same issues as their first one, since a slower mat based style doesn’t resonate well with no crowd or a muted crowd. Suwama did keep up with Ashino for the most part, and the match had many similar elements as the first match. Ashino worked over the Ankle and went for the Ankle Lock; where Suwama showed he could counter most of it and apply his own submissions.

Smartly, Ashino did his best to avoid the Last Ride Powerbomb, which is how he lost his first challenge, and force Suwama to dig deeper. Ashino was explosive with German Suplexes, but he fell into the SANADA trap. Ashino drags Suwama to position him from the corner, even commentary is confused since Ashino is no high flier, but Ashino goes for the Mutoh Moonsault, and hits nothing!

After the miss it felt like Ashino was looking for something he didn’t have to take down Suwama. Suwama did have to pull off numerous Backdrop Drivers and finally the Backdrop Suplex Hold to retain the title. A very solid defense that built off the previous matchup, and would’ve been much better if the mat wrestling didn’t feel like it dragged because of the world situation.

Kohei Sato comes out after to challenge.

Winner: Suwama via Backdrop Suplex Hold



Now I’m really intrigued at how this vote will shake out. A few matches from the lesser view AJPW, a match from Raw, a crossover with AEW & Impact and a gimmick match from NXT.

My vote personally will go to Private Party vs Beer Guns, because this is the first interaction that really does feel interesting for the invasion/war/crossover/takeover whatever story. Great use of former Impact talent, great screwjob and ideally should lead to bigger things. Plus it’s nice to see a younger/undercard team like Private Party getting their star elevated a bit.

Do I think any of these matches touch the first week of the year? No, not at all. But they weren’t stinkers, so let’s make the month interesting before Royal Rumble!

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