Heniff’s WWE Evolution Review: A Her-storic Night

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On Sunday night, WWE presented the Evolution pay-per-view from the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.

In what was billed as the pinnacle of the “Women’s R/evolution” movement in WWE, we saw the “Diva’s Era” and the “Women’s Era” collide in a Raw Women’s Championship match between Nikki Bella and Ronda Rousey. We saw the climactic next chapter of the bitterly personal feud between Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair for the SmackDown Women’s Championship.

And after her upset win at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn IV, Kairi Sane defended her NXT Women’s Championship against one of the “Four Horsewomen” of MMA, former champ Shayna Baszler.

Trish Stratus and Lita vs. Alicia Fox and Mickie James

Right from the opening notes of Trish and LIta’s theme songs, you could tell the crowd was all-in for this show, giving huge ovations to the WWE Hall of Famers. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see the past meet the present between one of the best women’s wrestlers in WWE history in Stratus and a performer many have referred to as “mini Trish” in Bliss. While Fox was a logical replacement for the five-time Women’s champion, Bliss’ absence was felt in the ring during this bout.

That being said, this match was very-well booked and a great choice for the opening contest with James, Fox and Bliss threatening to leave only for Trish and Lita to throw them back in, Bliss taking advantage of attacking Lita when the referee’s back was turned, and Trish and Lita teaming up for multiple call back tag team moves to Team Xtreme. Considering both women had not wrestled outside of the Royal Rumble in January in roughly a decade, I thought Lita and Trish were more than able to hold their own, especially Trish. A few botches here and there, but a good match to get electricity flowing through the Nassau Coliseum.

Winner: Trish Stratus and Lita  |  Time: 11:05  |  Rating: 2.5 Stars

20-Woman Battle Royale

Admittedly, I would have liked to have seen women like Ember Moon, Asuka and Nia Jax get their own match and storyline for this pay-per-view. But, adding them to this number-one contender’s battle royal added a bit more intrigue than just an ensemble cast collection of talent fighting it out. This had all the spots and gimmicks from the “battle royal” toolbox of years past, in no particular order:

  • Mandy Rose knocking out her partner and friend Sonya Deville
  • The stare down between the two biggest competitors in Nia and Tamina
  • The multi-woman suplex spot
  • The Ivory and Carmella dance-break
  • Zelina Vega hiding until near the very end, only to come up short
  • The final stand-off between the giant Nia and the smaller, faster Ember Moon in a David v. Goliath moment

Between seeing some old faces again and seeing a fun collection of talent and spots, this culminated into a fun 20-woman battle royal. I was pulling for Ember to win out, but giving Nia another potential run at the title should be an interesting pairing for a potential rematch with Ronda.

Winner: Nia Jax          Time: 16:10     Rating: 2.5 Stars

Io Shirai vs. Toni Storm

Shirai and Storm are two of the best women’s wrestlers to come out of the Eastern hemisphere. And they’re both a great pair-off of styles, with Storm being more of a technical striker than Shirai, and Shirai being more of a high-flyer than Storm. Shirai has every bit of Rey Mysterio’s influence in her in-ring work with her springboard dropkick and high-flying moonsaults. Cole, Phoenix and Young put over both women extensively throughout the match, and every word of praise was earned. Both women are all but guaranteed to be on NXT U.S. here in the next few months, with the hope that they’ll add their talents to the main roster soon. Although I thought we’ve seen better performances from both women in the past and wished they would have gotten more than 10 minutes, this was the best match of the night so far and a great cap-off to another successful Mae Young Classic tournament.

Winner: Toni Storm    Time: 10:20     Rating: 3 Stars

Bayley, Sasha Banks and Natalya vs. The Riott Squad 

I’ll fully admit I let out an exhaustive groan when I saw this match was announced for the card early last week. Am I happy that Bayley, Sasha Banks, Natalya and Ruby Riott, four of the best workers on RAW, get a spot on the Evolution card? Absolutely, I am. But am I happy they’re placed in a meaningless, six-woman tag match that we have seen in some way, shape or form on RAW going back to the spring? Hell no. I’m happy for the women but I’m disappointed in the lazy booking of just throwing six women together into one match just because it’s three faces up against three heels.

That being said, this match had a good bit of action and felt-very fast-paced throughout. These six have been touching each other since April when the Riott Squad debuted on RAW (attacking Bayley and Sasha, actually). These six have great chemistry and created a lot of great near-falls throughout the match. The tease spots of Sasha bumping into Bayley’s pin attempt and Bayley taking the brunt of Riott’s splash of the top rope was a nice call-back to their tumultuous relationship history. The final finishers at the end paying tribute to their heroes (Bayley hitting a Macho Man elbow drop and Sasha hitting an Eddie Guerrero-esque five-star frog splash on Morgan) was a nice, heartfelt moment that I’m sure made the women’s nights. Good, but not great. 

Winner: Bayley, Sasha Banks and Natalya   Time: 13:10     Rating: 2.5 Stars

Kairi Sane (C) vs. Shayna Baszler

WWE has done a great job handling Baszler since her debut at the Mae Young Classic last year. She is arguably the most sadistic, cerebral wrestler on the women’s roster since Kharma in the early 2010’s. Her humerus stomp on Kairi’s arm and twisting Kairi’s injured arm like a pretzel is one of the best storytelling devices on NXT. Shayna and Ronda are close to Pentagon-Jr.-levels of arm-torture. And for a white-meat babyface like Kairi, this was a perfect set-up for a “Can she overcome the odds?” story structure in-ring. Kairi would jump back on offense and basically work the rest of the match with an arm tied behind her back from Shayna’s attack earlier in the match.

Going into this match, I picked Kairi to retain the belt because I thought there was some possibility of Shayna getting called up to the main roster sometime soon. But, I very much enjoyed getting the Four Horsewomen of MMA involved at the end of the match and trying to call-back to the finish from Takeover: Brooklyn IV. It appears we may have a Four Horsewomen of MMA stable coming to NXT, and I for one can’t wait for what the next few months of television have in store for us.

Winner: Shayna Baszler         Time: 12:10     Rating: 4 Stars

Becky Lynch (C) vs. Charlotte Flair

As I’ve said in my previous reviews of Hell in a Cell and Super-Showdown, Becky and Charlotte have the benefit of near-perfect, in-sync chemistry with one another. While those two matches felt crisp and were very good in their own right, I thought they didn’t fully represent the personal bitterness these two have for each other. The story is that Becky lost her cool and found a new mean streak after Charlotte won the belt at SummerSlam. After beating her longtime friend and Horsewomen compatriot at Hell in a Cell, Becky realized that she could hold her own against “the Queen” and she should have done this sooner. Charlotte, feeling betrayed and hurt after the weeks of barbs and attacks from her former friend, should be willing to do whatever it takes (and use whatever is available around her) to defeat her former friend for the most valuable possession on SmackDown Live: The SmackDown Women’s Championship.

And boy, did these two make the most of this story. This 25-minute match has already been regarded by many as one of the best women’s matches in WWE history. And I fully agree with them. The Lass Kicker and the Queen of SmackDown Live absolutely destroyed each other in far-and-away, the most physical match on the card. The duo made great use of the pile of chairs, tables, kendo sticks and ladders at ringside. Charlotte wowed the crowd with a top-rope senton onto a prone Becky on a table. The two fought through the Long Island crowd and found creative ways to inflict pain to their opponent (I.E., Charlotte locking-in the Figure 8 while wrapping Becky’s legs through a ladder).

Through high-flying spots, brutal weapon attacks and a consistent 25-minute assault that never let up once, this is the match all fans were hoping for when Becky turned on her friend back at SummerSlam. Sasha and Bayley have Brooklyn I. Now, Becky and Charlotte have Evolution. This was, without a doubt, one of the best matches of both of their WWE careers, and one of the best matches of the year to date.

Winner: Becky Lynch  Time: 28:40     Rating: 4.5 Stars

Ronda Rousey (C) vs. Nikki Bella  

Ronda was within seconds of breaking Nikki’s arm quite a few times in the beginning of this main event, but would let her go back to her corner in a bit of mind games tricks. Nikki and Brie did a great job of essentially making this a two-on-one match in creating an equalizer helping fight one of the toughest people on planet Earth. Trying to crush Ronda’s head like a grape with the steel ring post was as good of a way to curtail Ronda’s momentum as you can find. All in all, I thought this match was entertaining and kept my attention, mostly by trying to figure out if any outside interference would sway the decision one way or the other. I was surprised that Ronda picked up the win clean-as-a-sheet in the ring, but thought it was a satisfying conclusion to the Ronda-Bella storyline. It now appears that Ronda-Nia II will be on the slate potentially for Survivor Series, and if it will be anything like their first match-up at Money in the Bank back in June, we’re in for another clash of the titans. 

Winner: Ronda Rousey           Time: 14:15     Rating: 3 Stars

Overall Thoughts: I’ll give WWE credit for making this show feel “unique” and different from any other pay-per-view right from the get-go with an original stage set-up and the kick-off song from Lzzy Hale and Nita Strauss. The darkened lighting made it feel like an NXT Takeover show and made all the focus of the night on the competitors in the ring. That being said, I really enjoyed this show. I thought it would be a little slow, a little clunky and just a little off going in. Thankfully, like most of my predictions before tonight’s show, I was wrong. This three-plus hour event was well-paced, incredibly fun and well-balanced between drama and action. Match of the night honors obviously go to Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair in their Last Woman Standing match with special honors to Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler. This was a show that consistently got better as the night went on, a welcome change from a company that seems to have their best matches in the middle or the beginning of the card on most pay-per-views. WWE Evolution will go down as one of the most enjoyable pay-per-views of 2018 and as a smashing success. 

Final Evolution Rating: 4 Stars

About Author

Editorial Writer for "Hot Takes and Hot Tags" and WWE Pay Per-View reviews on ProWrestling.com. Follow me on Twitter at @john_heniff