November 13, 2009
An interview with Gabe Sapolsky
Gabe Sapolsky is the current booker for Dragon Gate USA and the former long time booker of Ring Of Honor. I recently had the opportunity to ask him about some of his early experiences in ECW, as well as his thoughts about ROH, DGUSA and the launch of his new promotion, EVOLVE.
GM: You’ve been involved behind the scenes in some of the most influential promotions of recent years – ECW, ROH & now Dragon Gate USA. How do you think your early involvement in ECW helped to shape your wrestling ideals?
GS: I used to say that ECW was like going to college and grad school for what I've been able to do in the wrestling business. Now I saw that ECW was college and ROH was grad school. ECW and Paul Heyman shaped who I am today and taught me so many valuable lessons. You can see influences in my booking and how I run things all over the place. The whole key is the difference between ripping something off and letting it influence you, meaning it inspires you and your make it your own. That was a big lesson from ECW. You can see the fingerprints of ECW all over what I'm involved in, but I hope I've made them my own.
GM: You saw ECW evolve from cult independent status through to PPV and onto network TV – did you have hopes that it would provide a stable alternative to WWF/E & WCW?
GS: Yes we all hoped for that, especially since ECW was so much fun. We wanted that ride to last forever and to just keeping getting bigger and more wild.
GM: What do you think, if anything, could have been done to save it from closing its doors in 2001?
GS: From what little Paul Heyman has said on the matter it looks like the only thing would have been a new television network picking up the product and really getting behind it.
GM: You were responsible for booking ROH from its inception in early 2002 through to October 2008. How much did running it for so long take out of you, not only physically & mentally but also creatively?
GS: It definitely took a lot out of me, but that was mostly my own fault. I didn't know how to balance everything in my life and instead made my life into ROH. It was ROH 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and as a result every other aspect of my life suffered, including my work with ROH because it became draining that way. Now I know how to balance things better, which in turn will keep me fresh and make my work better. Looking back at ROH it was a huge learning experience, especially the lessons I learned after I was fired.
GM: You saw the rise (and rise) of many talents in ROH, most notably CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Bryan Danielson, Nigel McGuinness & Christopher Daniels – well, I say most notably; it’s perhaps unfair to mention them and not others, but they have (or are about to) achieved the most mainstream success of the ROH roster. Are there any moments that stand out during your time in ROH that you are especially proud of?
GS: It's hard for me to pick particular moments, because there are just so many. I am proud of just about everything that happened during my time booking ROH.
GM: You continually evolved ROH from its early days (the code of honor) to where it is now. Did you see that as an inevitable step to achieving more mainstream recognition?
GS: It really all comes down to exposure. I don't think we had to make radical changes to the product, it was about giving the product the right exposure and being something new and fresh on the national scene. You can't get more mainstream recognition if you don't have the money and exposure behind you. It just doesn't work that way in the wrestling business. The changes in ROH happened just out of necessity to the schedule changes, location changes and just the general advancement of the promotion. They were all natural evolutions that had to happen to keep things fresh with how the business model changed over the years.
GM: Do you think you have set an example in using a mixture of North American wrestlers combined with some of the best from around the world that the ‘big’ companies could do with following?
GS: I don't know if something like Dragon Gate USA would work for a mainstream, corporation like WWE, who is trying to dumb down their product for the masses. It's like saying that record labels should present the music of Neurosis to the masses instead of Hannah Montana. Unfortunately, the "big" companies need to appeal to the masses and you have to keep things familiar and simple for them so a roster consisting 50% or so of Japanese wrestlers with outlandish styles and crazy in ring work might go over too many people's heads and not be right for a "big" company.
GM: How do you see the recent, and if things are to be believed future, raids by TNA/WWE on ROH affecting it in the short to medium term?
GS: When I booked ROH my first priority was making sure the next group of stars was ready to take the top spots. It is how we survived all the talent raids. If ROH is doing that now they should be fine.
GM: Would you ever consider an office job with either WWE or TNA if the opportunity arose?
GS: I really don't know. I haven't heard many good things from people in the offices of either company. It might not be worth it. It would depend on what the offer is, but still then it might not be worth it.
GM: Dragon Gate USA has received top plaudits (and rightly so) for its recent PPV’s in the U.S. – the action has been superb from top to bottom. How proud are you of what the company has achieved so far?
GS: I'm very proud as is everyone with Dragon Gate USA. The guys from Dragon Gate came here with a purpose and that's to show they are the best in the world and as you can see by the reviews they have accomplished that. They wanted to make an impact in North America and the reviews have showed that they made their mark. We all wanted to show that we are the premium product and I think we have backed up those words with not just the in ring action, but how the fans are treated and all our products. If you look at our first show DVD, "Open The Historic Gate," instead of complaining about how downloading and torrents were killing sales we spent extra money and put a lot of love and care into the DVD set to make it something people would want to own. We put it on two discs so the picture quality would be top notch. We spent extra money on packaging so it would be something people would feel good about owning. We put on over 90 minutes of extra features including bonus matches so people would really get their money's worth. The thing I'm happiest about is the optional commentary feature. I watched the show about 10 times just in editing and proofing and stuff, when I watched it with no commentary it felt like I was back at The Arena and watching the show for the first time, even though I had seen it so many times. We are all proud of the fact that you can watch this DVD again and again. Even our live event tickets are like collectible baseball cards. I am really proud of all this and we will only continue to improve and show that we are the premium product of wrestling in the United States. The other great thing that we are all proud of is the fact that DGUSA won't kill your wallet or time. We are talking about 6-7 shows a year so if you collect all the DVDs, see every match in the company, every storyline twist, everything, it will only run you about $150 a year. We feel this is a great thing for the consumer.
GM: How far do you think you can help to take the company in North America?
GS: It'll go as far as the fans take us. I believe as long as we keep striving to be the best product and give the people something worth spending their money on that we will grow. We are very dependent on word of mouth and if you give a product that receives great reviews and gets people excited then you will get that word of mouth.
GM: Do you have any more plans to expand into the U.K.?
GS: Well, we would love to, and our DVDs do ship the UK from the DGUSA.tv Store, but as far as live event goes we are just responsible for North America.
GM: Davey Richards is someone who everyone from Jim Cornette to the casual wrestling fan sees as the future of the business, if not the current embodiment of it. Who else do you see stepping up to make their mark on it?
GS: I believe there is a lot of great talent out there. The Young Bucks immediately come to mind. They are just so awesome and talented. They do some amazing stuff and just make tag wrestling so exciting. They really stepped it up on the first DGUSA show as they had the most talked about match on the show. I think you can look up and down the CHIKARA roster too. They proved it on our first show with the show stealing eight man. I go to their shows at The Arena in South Philly all the time and its such a fun show, so easy to watch and everyone just thrives in that environment. I could go on and on, but you will see some more names on future shows that I'm involved in.
GM: Only today (November 9th) you have announced the formation of the EVOLVE promotion. While I don’t expect you to give away all (or any!) of your future ideas for it, what do you hope to achieve with starting this new promotion?
GS: Right now we want to build some intrigue and curiosity by slowly releasing information at EVOLVEwrestling.com. I hope it'll be something new for the fans to follow along and have fun with. With Dragon Gate USA everyone woke up one day and BAM there was all the info right in their face. With EVOLVE right now we want to let the fans see it, well, evolve and develop right before their eyes. We have a great partnership behind it with me and Sal Hamaoui handling the behind the scenes stuff and Davey Richards as the face of the company. I hope everyone will go to EVOLVEwrestling.com and just watch things evolve and have fun with it.
GM: How do you see yourself as having played a part in shaping the business or left a mark on it?
GS: I really don't know how to answer that. I just want to present good wrestling and give people a great night out. I know how important everyone's leisure time and money is. At the end of the show I want people who drove an hour or more to see it and who gave us their Saturday night and who spent their entertainment dollar on us to say "that was more than worth it and I had a great time" and then for them to be buzzing about the show for the next week and have a memory for the rest of their lives. That is my goal.
GM: You’re still young – what do you hope to achieve in the rest of your time in this crazy business?
GS: Pretty much what I said above. I just want to keep presenting a product I can be proud of, that everyone involved can be proud of and something for the paying consumer to feel good about supporting.