WWE entered its historic inaugural all-women's pay-per-view show looking to make a statement about how far it has come in the advancement of how it presents female wrestlers. Instead, WWE Evolution may have provided a new template for how main roster PPV shows are presented. With a perfect mix of legends, current superstars and promising developmental wrestlers who could very well be the future of the company, the card was nothing if not spectacular in terms of action and booking. But even more, the show felt like a hybrid of everything good about WWE's product as a whole without the extra main roster additives that often spark customer fatigue.
The broadcast both looked and felt different from the start with a presentation that undoubtedly had NXT patriarch Paul "Triple H" Levesque's fingerprints all over it. The card was lean (just seven matches), the crowd was hot, and the overall feel was classic and simple, allowing the in-ring product to be the focal point. In some ways, it felt like a cross between a high-end house show and an NXT TakeOver card with the crowd dimmed out, no oversized Titantron or stage and an early ending to boot. WWE was also smart to get the legend cameos and more comedic elements out of the way early, giving way to a very gritty women's wrestling product that was highlighted by a brutal last woman's standing match.
The raw emotion showed by many of the participants proved how important this card, held inside the Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, was to those who had only dreamed WWE would give this kind of showcase to its female performers. Yet the larger takeaway may have been how well the actual product resonated with viewers at home and how Raw and SmackDown may be wise to model much of what we saw on Sunday night.
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WWE Evolution results, grades
Trish Stratus & Lita def. Mickie James & Alicia Fox via pinfall: An injury to Alexa Bliss relegated her to ringside duties after cutting a pre-match promo. The match, which provided plenty of nostalgic moments for the very vocal and energetic crowd, built toward a hot tag to Stratus, who rekindled the fires of her legendary rivalry with James. The finish, however, was unavoidably sloppy as Trish hit James with Stratusfaction, but Fox was noticeably late running in to break up the pin. Not only was James on camera yelling for Fox to get there, the referee purposely held up his hand to avoid counting James out as Fox dove in. Lita hit Fox with a Twist of Fate before landing a Litasault on both heels. James followed with a Chick Kick on James for the 1-2-3. Grade: C
Nia Jax wins the 20-Woman Battle Royal: What started somewhat slow and sloppy in order to give time to the many legends taking part turned into a great piece of business down the stretch as WWE women of today were given a strong spotlight to shine. The booking was strong as Jax stood tall in the end following fun standoffs against both Tamina Snuka and Ember Moon. After her victory, Jax was emotional amid a series of "you deserve it" chants from the crowd. She wished luck to Ronda Rousey and Nikki Bella in their title match later in the night but said her entire focus is the Raw women's championship.
The match began with a disrespectful promo from the IIconics that saw the veterans in the match team up to eliminate Billie Kay and Peyton Royce first. The match continued the comedy later on as Carmella called for a dance break and was joined by Ivory, who lasted until the final five and turned in the top performance among legends. The 56-year-old WWE Hall of Famer even hit a splash off the top rope on Jax. Chants of "N-X-T" filled the arena as Moon and Asuka had fun standoff which led to Moon eliminating her. But the match appeared to come down to Moon and Jax, who were both tied up in the ropes as Moon tried everything in her power to eliminate her much larger friend. Zelina Vega, who was never eliminated and hit outside the ring, ran in and thought she had eliminated both. Vega's celebration was premature, however, and Jax paid a nice tribute to Andre the Giant in the WrestleMania II battle royal by eliminating her via press slam onto Snuka outside before tossing Moon -- the clear fan favorite in the match -- over the top rope. Grade: B
Toni Storm def. Io Shirai via pinfall to win the 2018 Mae Young Classic: Credit WWE for giving the future of its women's division such a large platform as Storm and Shirai, both seemingly intent on stealing the show, nearly did just that. The only criticism is that they weren't given enough time to showcase even more of their incredible talent. Storm, the 23-year-old native of Australia, and the 28-year-old Shirai, already a star in Japan, were lacking nothing in terms of intensity, stiff offense and high-flying spots. The athletic Shirai hit a springboard dropkick to knock Storm off the top rope before landing a breathtaking moonsault onto the floor to pop the crowd. Shirai later paid homage to her hero Rey Mysterio Jr. with a 619 before landing a springboard sunset flip that nearly won her the match.
The finish came after Shirai's Asai Moonsault landed on Storm's knees. Storm then followed with her second Storm Zero of the match, this time securing the 1-2-3. Both wrestlers hugged afterwards in an emotional scene as they were presented with flowers by Stephanie McMahon and head NXT women's trainer Sara Amato. Triple H was also on hand to present the Mae Young Classic trophy. Grade: B+
Natalya, Bayley & Sasha Banks def. The Riott Squad via pinfall: The storyline regarding the often rocky friendship between Banks and Bayley remained a common theme throughout this high-energy match. An early pin attempt by Bayley on Ruby Riott after a backstabber/Bayley-to-Belly suplex combo was broken up when Liv Morgan shoved Banks on top of Bayley. Later in the match, Bayley proved willing to sacrifice her body for her teammate later on by laying on top of Banks in order to absorb the impact of a Riott splash off the top rope.
Natalya paid homage to her late father Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart early by teaming with Banks for a Hart Attack. Later on, she attempted a double sharpshooter on Riott and Sarah Logan. The finish saw Bayley and Banks reiterate just how in sync they really can be. After Natalya hit Riott with a powerbomb again paying homage to her father, Bayley hit her with an elbow drop (homage to "Macho Man" Randy Savage) before taking out the remaining Riott Squad members with a suicide dive. Banks then followed with a frog splash off the top rope to honor her idol Eddie Guerrero and get the pin. Grade: B-
NXT Women's Championship -- Shayna Baszler def. Kairi Sane (c) via submission to win the title: Baszler, the former MMA women's pioneer, became NXT's first two-time women's champion as WWE took a major step forward in the formation of MMA's Four Horsewomen. Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir, former training partners of Baszler and Ronda Rousey in UFC, recently signed WWE developmental deals and played a big role in the finish of the match thanks to their strategic placement in the front row of the crowd. Baszler, who lost to Sane in the finals of the 2017 Mae Young Classic and lost her NXT title over SummerSlam weekend, relied on the assistance of her friends as the entertaining feud added another fun chapter.
After Sane hit a splash off the top rope and onto the floor, she backflipped Baszler onto Duke and Shafir in the crowd. Duke pulled Sane's hair and ate a spinning backfist. Shortly after, Shafir ate a spinning backfist of her own after climbing the apron to distract Sane and prevent her elbow drop finisher. The distraction led to a choke attempt from Baszler that was countered with a pin attempt by Sane for two. But with the referee's back turned, Duke landed a cheap shot which sent Sane into a second Kirifuda Clutch attempt. Sane passed out to lose via technical submission. WWE using the showcase of Evolution to form together Baszler and her friends could mean a Rousey heel turn won't be far off. Grade: B
SmackDown Women's Championship -- Becky Lynch (c) def. Charlotte Flair to retain the title (Last Woman Standing): Brutal, violent and nearly perfect. In what has already been a memorable feud between two of WWE's most important members of its current "women's revolution," former best friends Lynch and Flair took things to an entirely new level. The duo set new standards in terms of high spots, physicality and outright carnage for a main roster women's match in what is undoubtedly in the conversation for best WWE match of 2018, regardless of gender.
In the first women's match of its kind in WWE main roster history (Asuka and Nikki Cross put forth an NXT version that was nearly as good in 2017), the match was a car-wreck of epic proportions for all the right reasons. Lynch escalated matters early with a Kendo stick attack. Soon, both wrestlers filled the ring with chairs and a ladder and hit particularly stiff slams onto both. Flair then applied a creative Figure Eight leg lock using the ladder to help wear Lynch down and force a tap that wasn't recognized due to the match's stipulation.
Flair went on to hit a moonsault onto a table that never broke so she went back to the well and hit a swanton bomb off the top rope that shattered both Lynch and the table. Things then escalated considerably on the floor. Lynch landed a leg drop through the German announce table from a ladder high above. After Flair defiantly screamed, "That's all you got," Lynch buried her under multiple types of chairs and a table only for Flair to power out and barely beat the count of 10. The finish came when Lynch intercepted Flair's moonsault attempt and powerbombed her from the top rope through a table on the floor. Flair attempted to beat the count but collapsed to her knees at 10 to end the match. Grade: A+
Raw Women's Championship -- Ronda Rousey (c) def. Nikki Bella via submission to retain the title: With a co-main event so good it left you wondering whether WWE made the wrong move in not putting Lynch-Flair on last, the main event competitors were left with an almost impossible task of "can you top this?" They nearly got there. At the very least, Rousey and Nikki (with a strong supporting performance from twin sister Brie at ringside) put forth likely the best match they were capable of and one that had intensity and good storytelling. Rousey delivered plenty of payback throughout for the Bellas having turned on her in recent months and was forced to fight off Brie's constant distractions. Yet not only has Rousey created a reputation throughout her short time in WWE as someone who can elevate her game to an even higher level on the brightest stage, the reason this match was so good was because Bella essentially did the same. Considering the foundational storyline of what made the build so good was that it paired the standout wrestler of WWE women's past against the dominant and athletic force of the revolution era, both did well to represent their specific sides.
This night was all about the dramatic change to WWE's presentation of women as a whole, however, which meant the ultra-popular Rousey needed to win. She was put over strong by a series of hard judo slams, including one where Brie attempted to interfere and was scooped up on top of her sister's back as Rousey flung both across the ring. Rousey finally eliminated Brie by throwing her over the announce table. After Nikki then recorded near falls following an Alabama Slam counter and her Rack Attack 2.0 finisher, Rousey landed an insane spot to set up the finish. Rousey hit some form of a small package suplex off the top rope and never let go of Nikki's arm so she could quickly apply her armbar to produce the quick tap.
After the match, Nia Jax watched Rousey celebrate from a backstage monitor, likely signaling a rehashing of their brief summer feud now that Jax earned a shot at the title by winning the battle royal earlier in the evening. The broadcast ended with Rousey receiving a hero's welcome from the locker room at the end of the ramp before a unified group hug sent the broadcast off air in a historic night. Grade: B+
WWE Evolution highlights
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