This past weekend saw the presumed conclusion of the Matt Riddle vs. Chris Hero series in EVOLVE. It’s been a hell of a year for both wrestlers, with one the leading candidate for rookie of the year and the other perhaps the best in the world period. As part of the buildup to this WWN uploaded their first contest, which occurred at EVOLVE 57 back in March. At this point in time Riddle was still establishing himself with the EVOLVE crowds. While not a conventional babyface, his sheer charisma was winning people over, especially in contrast to the dour Timothy Thatcher, who’d beaten him the night before in a rather abrupt EVOLVE title match. Meanwhile, Hero was running through everyone put before him in singles competition (his only loss in his own title match with Thatcher) and had just beat the hell out of Tracy Williams the night before.
The match began with much more of an exhibition feel to it than would become the norm, with both men content to grapple and challenge the other to one-up them. After those early exchanges didn’t yield a winner it was Hero who gained the advantage by taking it to the floor, booting Riddle in the face before laying into him with a few knockout elbows. Back inside Hero continued to dominate, dropping a knee on Riddle’s bare feet and wrenching away at his toes. This was heel work reminiscent of Zack Sabre Jr. whenever he’s portraying a more subtle villain. He does nothing illegal, nor anything that actually bends the rules (he can bite the toes until the count of five, ref), he just takes on the role of the “antagonist” in the match because he’s really good at wrestling and he’s just being a little bit of a dick about it. He’s applying the leglock just a bit too much than he actually has to, he’s casually smashing his opponent with a forearm and he’s a bit too happy about it. At one point Riddle made a comeback only for Hero to escape the Bromission and shut him down with another elbow and a giant boot to the face for good measure. And then he grinned. And then he kicked him in the face again just to prove a point.
Every time Riddle started a comeback it was a bit wild and unwieldy which worked for me in this case. The guy’s had his head kicked in, almost literally, he’s gonna do whatever the hell he has to in order to stand a chance. It may be slightly unorthodox but the “orthodox” method goes out the window when you’re in a war and throwing slaps and knees is all you know. Riddle’s first big shot of the match arrived relatively late. Hero pelted him with elbows, bloodying the mouth. Hero paused in between, almost daring Riddle to strike back. He’s a legit UFC fighter, right? Let’s see what you’ve got. So Riddle showed him, first with a fisherman buster, then with a kneebar. Every time Hero was grabbed in these submissions he got to the ropes within seconds which I really liked. This established that Riddle’s submissions were a threat, even to an accomplished technical wrestler like Chris Hero. Hero’s great but against an MMA fighter even he could be in trouble. Also key here is that Hero wasn’t wrestling his way out of these holds. He had to use the ropes. Aside from establishing that Matt Riddle would be a very effective ROH Pure Wrestling Champion, it clearly signposted Hero’s weak spot, if such a thing were to exist.
Riddle’s confidence started to rise at this point. He started slapping at Hero. Hero had bad him bleed and taunted him while he was in charge, now the shoe was on the other foot (strictly metaphorical). The slaps seemed to wake Hero up but Riddle put him down with a springboard flying knee, connecting this time around after missing an earlier attempt. Hero’s obsession towards the conclusion of the match became knocking Riddle out. Kid gloves off, the lights are going out. He hit a piledriver and refused to pin because he wasn’t satisfied. A running elbow strike to the side of the head only garnered a two count and Hero began to show concern. Hero finally attempted a Gotch piledriver but Riddle caught him in a triangle choke and the ropes weren’t there to prevent Riddle from claiming the biggest win of his young career up to this point.
This was an excellent match and very interesting to watch after the conclusion of their three match series because a few things stand out to me. The first is that Riddle has improved considerably over the course of this year, and he was really good at this point. The second observation links to the first, and it’s quite an obvious one that I’d like to write about more in the future: Chris Hero is easily the best wrestler in the world as of this time of writing. Riddle had limitations here, as any rookie would, but it didn’t matter. The match was structured in such a way that these limitations played a part in the story and ultimately added to it. Riddle had the background and “real life” credibility but lacked the wrestling experience, Hero had the pro wrestling credibility and all of the experience but felt he had to prove something to back up the “Knock Out Artist”, and what better scalp to claim? The end result was Hero beating the shit out of Riddle, Riddle showing enough along the way, then Hero’s arrogance causing him to get caught clean in a submission hold to give Riddle the upset win. Simply put, Chris Hero is not a wrestler who is reduced to the level of his opponents, he brings them up to his. If they’re good enough, as is the case with Matt Riddle, they learn from matches with him and stay at that level. As Riddle became more established and more comfortable in the ring the dynamics changed, but as the first chapter in this feud this was a hell of a match. ****1/4