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BANKIE'S HOT TAKE #58 - The Jeff Peterson Memorial Cup 2009: A Precursor to EVOLVE


I love researching the history of independent professional wrestling. There is nothing like discovering moments I never knew about or rediscovering memories I thought I’d never see again.


A big proponent of that process is Archive.org, which preserves a lot of old websites that have been snapshotted over time and remains in the ether. One night, I researched a site called DeclarationOfIndependents.net, to see if it was still up in any form.


Let me tell you: my mind was blown.


The DOI, created and run by Sean “the MiC” McCaffrey, was the hub for all news regarding independent wrestling. Every company, no matter how big or small, had information posted about them, from ROH and MLW to USA Pro Wrestling, ICW, and Jersey All-Pro Wrestling. The website was so successful that “the MiC” was able to make and sell a shoot interview series, as well as an opportunity to promote for Women Superstars Uncensored, a women’s wrestling promotion that he owned until the Summer of 2012.


On that evening, I was able to shift through years of old articles, when I came to the Fall of 2009. I saw a posted headline regarding content from an old Myspace blog from one Gabe Sapolsky.


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In 2009, Sapolsky was in the middle of a transition stage of his pro wrestling career.


A year earlier, after “Ring of Homicide 2” at the Inman Sports Club in Edison, NJ on October 25, 2008, Sapolsky was fired from Ring of Honor as booker. Previously Paul Heyman’s assistant in Extreme Championship Wrestling, Gabe had been the head creative force behind ROH from Day 1 on February 23, 2002. He revolutionized the independent wrestling scene with a unique vision, mixing all different styles of wrestling under a formula called the “Code of Honor”.


For Sapolsky and his wrestlers, ROH was a blank art canvas, and they were able to create their paintings inside of the squared circle. The state-of-the-art wrestling helped progress the industry forward into the 2000s.


After 6 1 ⁄ 2 years of booking, Sapolsky took a well-deserved break, recharged his batteries, and jumped back into the game by the Summer of 2009; becoming the Vice President of Dragon Gate USA, the American home for Dragon Gate Pro Wrestling. With the original events getting critical acclaim from fans and journalists, Sapolsky and Sal Hamaoui, founder of the World Wrestling Network, were looking to create another vehicle for their thriving entity, presenting a new vision on how professional wrestling should be presented going into 2010 and beyond.


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On November 9, 2009, a video on YouTube was posted with independent wrestling standout Davey Richards, with different camera angles and interspersed static transitions, stating the following:


“IT”S TIME FOR DAVEY RICHARDS TO EVOLVE.”




Later that day, on Sapolsky’s Myspace blog, the follow post was uploaded:


EVOLVE wrestling is here!!!

After several months of preparation EVOLVE is here. What is EVOLVE? We urge you to keep checking www.EVOLVEwrestling.com to watch this new promotion grow, develop and evolve before your eyes. All we'll say now in this blog is that the partnership of Sal Hamaoui, Davey Richards and myself is behind EVOLVE.


With EVOLVE picking up steam as a new alternative in independent wrestling, Sapolsky continued his hype, promoting EVOLVE 1 would take place at the legendary Rahway Rec Center in Rahway, NJ on January 16, 2010. So in the middle of November, a building block would be put in place to establish what the new promotion would be like.


ENTER THE 2009 JEFF PETERSON MEMORIAL CUP TOURNAMENT.


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Jeff Peterson began his pro wrestling career in 1998. Trained by Simon Diamond and mentored by Jim Kettner, Jeff performed for the East Coast Wrestling Association in Delaware. His home base, however, was out of the state of Florida, performing on any independent wrestling show he could.


In 2000, Jeff was diagnosed with leukemia and fought the good fight for nearly two years. On April 4, 2002, with him in remission, Peterson returned to the ring for ECWA on April 4, 2002, and defeated Ruffhouse Rivera.


Sadly, his cancer came back shortly thereafter, and he ultimately succumbed to the illness at the age of 21 on November 29, 2002.


However, the fight that Peterson gave, as well as the love many had for him, provided the inspiration for an interesting endeavor. The promoters of NWA Florida and IPW Hardcore organized the first ever Jeff Peterson Memorial Cup tournament on May 16 & 17, 2003. Independent wrestling icon Reckless Youth won the inaugural Cup, defeated a young Roderick Strong at the Florida WrestlePlex in St. Petersburg, FL.


Over the next five years, the tournament became a staple of Florida independent wrestling. A who’s who of names would go on and win the prestigious Cup; Justice (2004), TNA’s Chris Sabin (2005), Milano Collection AT (2006), Chris Hero (2007), and Erick Stevens (2008).


In 2009, the JPC would be the proving ground for what EVOLVE would become.


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A few days prior to that year’s tournament, which was to be held on November 20 & 21 in Brooksville and Crystal River, FL respectively, Gabe Sapolsky posted this paragraph to his blog on Myspace:


I’m heading down to Sal’s in Florida this weekend. I used to make these exhausting 20 hour trips to Florida bi-weekly or so for production. Now, after about 13 months, I’ll be back again. It’ll be a lot of fun, but I’m going for work as I’ll be helping out at the Jeff Peterson Memorial Cup.


Sapolsky continued on.


You can call this a precursor to EVOLVE. Everyone will be given a chance to make an impression and create a buzz for themselves. Every match has promise. This could lead to an invitation to compete in EVOLVE. I know I eagerly look forward to seeing all these guys perform live.


In a later blog, Sapolsky stated that he had “actually booked the tournament”.


With that knowledge in mind, I knew that it would be a must-buy for me. I had to purchase that DVD.


Yet, it was damn near impossible to find. It wasn’t on eBay, Highspots, or any wrestling store or streaming property. On sheer luck, I found a relatively unknown auction site called Mercari which had the DVD available. It was used, but it didn’t matter to me. I made the purchase and got it within a week.


I loved the vision behind the Jeff Peterson Memorial Cup 2009. Like the others, it was a 16-man, single elimination tournament; however, the catch was that there would be four men representing their respective independent promotions.


Those four promotions were:


COMBAT ZONE WRESTLING - Based out of the Philadelphia area: a staple of the independent scenes

PERFORMERS: Drake Younger, CZW World Champion

Scotty Vortekz, Former CZW Tag Team Champion

Egotistico Fantastico, Former CZW Junior Heavyweight Champion

Jon Moxley, Breakout Star


AAW - Based out of Illinois; run by former evil ECW referee and member of the New and Improved Carnage Crew in ROH, Danny Daniels

PERFORMERS: Shane Hollister, Former AAW Tag Team Champion

Silas Young, Former AAW Heritage Champion

Arik Cannon, AAW Heritage Champion

Johnny Gargano, Breakout Star


HYBRID WRESTLING - Based out of Freemont, Ohio

PERFORMERS: Dave Cole, HYBRID Champion

Louis Lyndon and Flip Kendrick, High Flyers

Marion Fontana, Breakout Star


FULL IMPACT PRO - Based out of Florida; Host promotion for the Cup

PERFORMERS: Brad Attitude, Florida Heritage Champion

Chris Jones, Former Florida Heritage Champion

TJ Perkins, World Traveler

Davey Richards - FIP World Heavyweight Champion


Here are the results of the entire tournament, with my personal feedback after each match.


FIRST ROUND


Louis Lyndon defeated Marion Fontaine. (These two really set the pace of the entire tournament with their speed and styles. Made me want to see more of both, especially Lyndon.)


Johnny Gargano beat Chris Jones. (Knowing Gargano’s personality from his “Johnny Gargano Power Hour” on YouTube at the time, he was highly entertaining to me here. Also Jones, who was known to me due to his matches in FIP during 2008, shined as well.)


Silas Young defeated Dave Cole. (The pre-Last Real Man version of Young stood out, especially with his handstand slingshot moonsault that impressed the crowd. Also, seeing Cole here before his great run with Beyond Wrestling in the early 2010s was a treat.)


Jon Moxley pinned Brad Attitude. (The future Brad Allen was gritty as Hell, but even here, you saw the fingerprints of the “Lunatic Fringe” in WWE with Moxley’s performance. He was a star from Day 1.)


Shane Hollister beat Flip Kendrick. (This one shocked me. I geeked out when Flip nailed a 450 splash with a corkscrew. However, the vastly underrated Hollister survived with a victory.)


TJ Perkins beat Arik Cannon. (TJP won with a unique Cloverleaf and overcame the cult favorite, the mohawked bad-ass Cannon.)


Egotistico Fantastico beat Scotty Vortekz. (The two CZW standouts laid it all out there. And I will not lie that I sensed a hint of El Generico in Fantastico.)


Davey Richards submitted Drake Younger. (The FIP champion overcame the plucky CZW champ with a Cloverleaf. You could see how incredibly aggressive Richards was here. I also always forget how good Drake was, especially after seeing him as a WWE referee for years.)


SECOND ROUND


Richards submitted Fantastico. (This felt like an old school ROH style match. Richards tapped out the masked performer with a Cloverleaf for the second straight match.)


Perkins submitted Hollister. (After back-to-back matches with a Cloverleaf submission, I was truly expecting Richards and TJP to have a battle of the Cloverleafs in the semi-finals.)


Gargano pinned Lyndon. (Gargano, in this tournament, reminded me a lot of the rookie Kurt Angle in a character sense.He was weasley, conniving, and a bit of a petulant brat. It worked for him very well against Lyndon.)


Young beat Moxley. (Both men laid it out there with all that they had, but Young picked up the duke after his handstand slingshot moonsault.)


SEMI-FINALS


Richards submitted Perkins. (Both men tried their Cloverleafs, as I expected, but Richards dug deep into his arsenal and tapped out Perkins with a Kimura lock.)


Young beat Gargano. (Gargano’s weasley ways could not overcome Young’s offense. This was a very fun match.)


FINALS




Richards submitted Young. (After a grueling series of matches for both men, an exhausted Richards and Young dug down deep; however, Richards channeled another level and hooked on the Cloverleaf for the win and the Cup.)


Here are some extra notes I got from watching the DVD.


  • There was no commentary for any of the matches. It did its purpose and put all focus onto the wrestling, which was for a unique viewing experience. I did wish that Lenny Leonard would’ve been there to call the main event, for my own selfish purposes.

  • All first round matches had a 30 second promo from each competitor, which quickly showcased their goals and hopes for the tournament itself.

  • Davey Richards actually had Tony Kozina and a young Kyle O’Reilly accompany him to ringside for a couple matches.

  • Night 2 was a more festive night than Night 1. Crystal River really brought the noise and the passion.


During the winner’s speech at the end of the night, Richards closed out the night with some positive words:


I will give credit where credit is due. All of you could have won this. All of you are the next generation. And together, all of us…will EVOLVE.


EVOLVE was officially here.


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The feedback to the JPC was very positive. Gabe wrote of it in his Myspace blog weeks later:


I have to admit…it became a dry run for EVOLVE. It was a golden opportunity to see the new talent live, learn their strengths and weaknesses and to test some things out.


Sapolsky continued on.


I looked around the locker room and saw a bunch of wrestlers I was just becoming familiar with. It was clear that they had the same qualities of those guys that were in the ECW and ROH locker rooms on those first nights. They were all young, hungry, determined and ready for a new opportunity and stage. They will get that with EVOLVE.


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At EVOLVE 1 on 1/16/10, several of the participants in the 2009 Jeff Peterson Memorial Cup actually wrestled on the card: Perkins, Cannon, Young, Kendrick and Lyndon (as the tag team Aeroform), Gargano, and Attitude. Richards main evented the show, defeating Kota Ibushi in a classic. Moxley made his way a few shows later and instantly became a featured performer.


Sadly, due to a contract dispute between Richards, ROH, and WWN, the EVOLVE and Davey Richards association ended after the first show. With Richards as the face of the promotion, Sapolsky had to retool and redevelop EVOLVE’s creative direction.


There was a silver lining, however. Within a few years, Johnny Gargano would become Mr. WWN, becoming the DGUSA Open the Freedom Gate champion, EVOLVE Tag Team champion, and remained on top for the majority of his time in EVOLVE. Gargano became EVOLVE’s first big star, and worked very hard putting the promotion on his back.


EVOLVE wound up lasting ten years, closing down in 2020 due to the pandemic. The promotion helped make streaming a viable option, including establishing a new way to distribute content for all of independent wrestling. On July 13, 2019, EVOLVE became the only independent promotion to ever stream live on the WWE Network with their 10th Anniversary Show. Also, EVOLVE was able to find its own niche, constantly changing their philosophy and continuing to bring in the best young, unproven talent in the industry.


Gabe Sapolsky, while booking EVOLVE, became a consultant for NXT in 2017. After being let go in January 2022, Sapolsky returned to WWE in September, this time consulting with Triple H on the main roster. Also, Sapolsky has kept his ear to the independent level, mentoring young performers with seminars and his popular Twitter Spaces via his Twitter account @BookItGabe.


Love him or hate him, Gabe Sapolsky’s fingerprints and vision for professional wrestling has influenced the entire industry to this very day.


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The Jeff Peterson Memorial Cup 2009 opened up fans to a new era of independent wrestling. A third of the names in the tournament have become well known and successful; none bigger than Jon Moxley, who became WWE and AEW World champion. Although it might have been a precursor to EVOLVE, the JPC 2009 set the stage for the future of professional wrestling in general.


EVOLVE or perish.


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Before I close it out, I want to give a shoutout to Sean McCaffrey, who I’m not even sure knows that most of his wrestling archives exist on Archive.org. His website was crucial to this article. Follow him on X at @NYCtheMic and visit his current website at http://BlueCollarBlueShirts.com, which has links to his blogs and books based on New York Rangers hockey.


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History lives here with the Hot Take. #BANKONIT


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