When is an independent promotion no longer independent? Evolve may have unwittingly found the answer.
By Michael Melchor, Executive Editor
It has long been accepted that Evolve Wrestling has become the NXT to NXT. Many big names the company had employed – Roderick Strong, Chris Hero, Matt Riddle, Keith Lee – were pipelined straight to the Performance Center and onto the Network.
The writing had been on the wall for quite some time. As far back as January of 2016 – almost three years ago – Triple-H could be seen backstage at Evolve events.
— Triple H (@TripleH) January 24, 2016
When it was announced that Club WWN would be airing Evolve matches that featured NXT talent and the door was opened for NXT stars to win Evolve Championships, it should have come as no surprise. The foundation had already been built.
Evolve was seen as a feeder system for WWE. In return, evolve now has exclusive access to NXT performers to appear on its shows.
As Evolve has enjoyed eating out of WWE’s hand, it has also felt the backhand of the corporate giants.
While having NXT performers on its shows was no surprise, the announcement that Impact Wrestling tag team champions would wrestle for the company certainly was. Evolve announced that LAX – Santana and Ortiz – would be wrestling on the next set of shows.
The bigger shock – and the problem with this scenario – came when evolve announced the opponents for LAX. The Impact Wrestling World Tag-Team Champions were set to take on AR Fox and Leon Ruff.
However, this was a 3-way match. The other opponents in the match would be current Evolve Tag-Team Champions – and WWE NXT competitors – The Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins & Montez Ford).
The next night, LAX were scheduled in a six-man match, partnered with Austin Theory, against The Street Profits and Darby Allin.
While Evolve was looking at the best interest of its fans, a situation that was nearly doomed from the beginning was exacerbated. Evolve had put the impact champions against a WWE team.
In a new age of cooperation, this sort of thing would ideally have gone off without a hitch. And should have, really. But some of the old problems and politics are still alive and well.
For what could be a myriad of reasons, Impact Wrestling pulled LAX from the Evolve shows. They may not have wanted their tag team champions put in a position to look weak in losing to an NXT team. They may not have wanted their tag team champions put in a position to anger a bigger company by winning, either.
Interestingly enough, this weekend Impact Wrestling stars did wrestle for another WWE affiliate, Progress Wrestling. LAX was in the UK this weekend where they battled the team of Calamari Catch Kings (Chris Brookes & Jonathan Gresham) yesterday, earning a shot at the Progress Tag Team Championships today. As an added bonus, Impact Wrestling’s newest female star Jordynne Grace competed against Toni Storm of NXT UK over the same set of shows.
What has to be noted here is that none of the members of CCK or Aussie Open are under a WWE (NXT UK) contract. Toni Storm is, but is not the current NXT UK Women’s Champion.
Unless someone has a first-hand account of the situation, we do not – and may never – know the circumstances surrounding why LAX was withdrawn from the Evolve shows. But it can be surmised that Evolve’s “big brother” has something to do with it.
It’s one thing for Impact talent to wrestle against the stars of Lucha Underground or on WWE-affiliated shows when there are no championships present. It’s another matter entirely to pit champions against champions under the shadow of the biggest company in the world. The same company that would rather take over the world then share it.
While it may or may not be fact, the perception is that Evolve Wrestling is now beholden to World Wrestling Entertainment. And perception, in this business and many others, is everything.
Who is to blame for The LAX / Evolve situation is almost immaterial (though, to be fair, it was Impact who withdrew their champions from the shows). Had the matches gone on as scheduled, either Impact Wrestling or WWE would have walked away with a black eye.
Evolve’s problem lies in that last sentence. They would not have been seen as the ones suffering any fallout from the scheduled matches. It would have been WWE, despite the fact that this was not a WWE event.
Because, if Evolve is a pipeline to WWE and employees NXT talent on its shows, the belief is that Evolve is – officially or not – a WWE property.
That is why, despite the newsletters and other communication from the company going out of its way to proclaim differently, Evolve may no longer be seen as an independent company. Given what we know about WWE’s plan of “global localization” and the control it has begun to exert over NXT UK, it is safe to assume that WWE has that same control over Evolve.
If that is indeed the case, Evolve may as well be owned by WWE. And if WWE has that much influence and control over Evolve, then Evolve is now dependent on WWE to survive. The antithesis of independence.
So, When is an independent promotion no longer independent?
The answer, unfortunately, may be: when you’re Evolve wrestling.