At SLAM! Wrestling, we are fortunate to have access to some of the finest pro wrestling photographers in Canada and the United States. Chances are you’ve seen them at events, whether at ringside or in the hard camera area at bigger, televised events. Recently, two of our best, the up-and-coming Ricky Havlik and the veteran Brad McFarlin, attended EVOLVE shows on subsequent days in Chicago and Detroit. We asked them to share their experiences and their favourite photos from the cards.

Lio Rush makes his appearance at EVOLVE 85. Photo by Brad McFarlin

Saturday, May 20th, 2017
Summit Park District, Summit, IL

Chicago was buzzing this weekend with pro wrestling fever, but it was not solely on the shoulders of the WWE, in town for NXT TakeOver and Backlash. EVOLVE was making its debut in the Windy City, and I believe it’s safe to safe the promotion made a great first impression.

While I’ve see all of the indy wrestlers compete via DVD or YouTube, what drew me to this EVOLVE show was the amount of talent I had yet to see live.

Keith Lee crashes Donovan Dijak down to the mat. Photo by Ricky Havlik,

Outside of WWE events WrestleMania weekend, the name I kept hearing was Keith Lee, and how he was stealing each and every show. How a man of his size and stature can fly around the ring like he does is incredible. He competed in a hot opener along with Donovan Dijak that set the bar high for the rest of the card.

Lio Rush is high in the air during his bout with Austin Theory. Photo by Ricky Havlik,

Mark my words, Lio Rush will be a major star for years to come. I truly believe there’s nothing he can’t do. Rush and Austin Theory could have easily gone another 10 minutes and I would have loved it. Speaking of Theory, watching him reminds me of the same feeling I had when I watched a young Kyle O’Reilly debut in Ring of Honor. People should keep their eyes out for him.

Kyle O’Reilly runs into Matt Riddle. Photo by Ricky Havlik,

Matt Riddle. Kyle O’Reilly. Main event. While those six words should have you already opening your wallet, let me tell you it was exactly what I hoped for. Two submission specialist who had a crowd in the palm of their hands.

It’s scary to know that I haven’t even mentioned half of the card. EVOLVE is packing that much talent. From a technical wizard like Zack Sabre Jr. to the mysterious mind of Jason Kincaid. EVOLVE provides a tremendous blend of what independent wrestling is and showed me that their future is bright.

(with input from his son, “superfan” Matthew McFarlin)
Sunday, May 21st, 2017
Monaghan Knights Of Columbus Hall, Livonia, MI

First off, let me congratulate EVOLVE for making a successful debut in what is often a tough market, the metro Detroit area. They totally packed the K of C Hall in Livonia, and I’d say there was easily 400 in attendance.

And yes, it was a school night. And yes, it did start at eight p.m. I was groaning over what I thought would be a four-hour night with a late start and a long intermission. But no. The matches started at eight sharp and there was no intermission. After the show was over, the fans flocked to the concession tables. It was a solid three-hour show. They featured just eight matches, but no long timeouts between them. Start… lots of action… finish. I love the concept. Hope they can keep it that way.

There’s a lot to love about Keith Lee. Photo by Brad McFarlin

That out of the way, let’s see what Matthew liked the best: “It was the big man match easily. I’m talking about Keith Lee versus Freddie Yehi. Keith did moves I would expect more from the cruiserweights. When they made contact it was LOUD. The punches were HARD. Not only could I hear them land but the sweat was literally being knocked off both guys. The ceiling was low, and that probably kept Keith from doing more flying stuff. I’ve read that he can do top rope moonsaults and planchas. He didn’t do them here, and I guess a lot of holes would have been knocked in the ceiling if he had.

Zack Sabre Jr. slides to take down Lio Rush. Photo by Brad McFarlin

“My favorite match was Zack Sabre Jr. versus Lio Rush. I expected a lot from Zack because the U.K. seems to be the home for the best talent. And Lio is a star, no way around that. And sure they did a lot of that flip floppy stuff that folks are getting into; but what struck me was how Zack kept it grounded by tying on one B.J.J. move after another. Those leg and arm locks are real; they can hurt you. I think the people actually realize that and they appreciate it. I did, anyways. And best of all, he applied them correctly. I hate with a passion when somebody does a martial arts move and its performed all wrong.”

Ricky Havlik is a Chicago-based photographer that’s been shooting wrestling since 2007.

John (Bradford) McFarlin has been photographing professional wrestling since 1967. Starting with Wrestling Revue and having a long run with the Apter Magazines. After a brief retirement in 2002, McFarlin got involved again when his young son Matthew started showing a “fanatical interest” in the WWE. Nowadays, young Matthew can be counted on to know who wrestled who in which WRESTLEMANIA as well as the names of virtually every top independent wrestler. The elder McFarlin said this about Matthew: “He knows more then I ever did at age 12, and obviously has a lot of access to more information. But what I love about this kid is that he reminds me so much of myself when I was growing up. It’s great that we have this in common.”