Gabe Sapolsky talks Daniel Bryan, ROH, "Summer Of Punk," Paul Heyman's influence, more
The Two Man Power Trip of Wrestling Podcast recently spoke with Evolve and Dragon Gate USA's Gabe Sapolsky to promote his upcoming lineup of shows including Evolve 38 this Sunday from Deer Park, New York. The event features Drew Galloway vs. Roderick Strong in the first ever Evolve Steel Cage Match.
In the near 50 minute interview Sapolsky discussed his career spanning his time working as Paul Heyman's assistant in ECW, the creation of Ring of Honor, the early champions and standout talent of ROH, past booking decisions, his booking philosophy, WWE's treatment of talent, his relationship with Daniel Bryan and the upcoming events Evolve, Dragon Gate USA and WWNLive.com events. They sent us the highlights below, you can download the full interview on iTunes or by visiting their website.
What was Paul Heyman's influence on you while working for ECW?
Paul was extremely gracious and generous with teaching and always open to questions and receptive to helping me learn and giving me those lessons.
Especially booking lessons, he taught that you always want to accentuate the strengths and hide the weaknesses, present something different and that's what I am actually trying to do with Evolve right now, we've changed the format of the Evolve shows where we are doing like 6 matches on a show and having less guys but absolutely no filler on the show and everybody is working at an elite level and we are going to show this on March 8th in Deer Park, NY.
Any stories we haven't heard about Paul Heyman?
I'm sure there is a bunch and a large reason I know them and was able to grow and climb with the company was because I was quite trustworthy and when things were told to me and I was told things were going to happen, I put them in the vault and didn't run around saying to everyone, "oh Paul said this and this is going to happen" I will keep that confidentiality for now and I will plead the fifth here (laughs).
What was it like creating Ring of Honor?
ECW had closed its doors and I was a big part of the RF Video business at that time and when it closed down RF Video needed a product to replace it. Basically we were sitting around and we thought about trying to find another product and (Rob) Feinstein had tried and was somewhat successful in doing that but it never truly replaced ECW.
For us ECW was like going to college and going to Grad school on how to book and how to promote and basically I walked into the office one day and said why can't we do this ourselves and that is where the idea for Ring of Honor came from, simply to supply a product that RF Video could replace what they had lost with ECW.
What was behind the creation of the code of honor?
That was another Paul Heyman lesson, you need to make things your own and you need to go in a different direction from everybody else. At the time, everybody was trying to be an ECW ripoff and everybody was trying to be hardcore.
It was like when ECW started doing the hardcore, that was a new direction and different from what everybody else was doing. So the idea behind the Code of Honor was to say we are different, we are not going to do the hardcore, we are not going to be an ECW rip-off. The Code of Honor immediately separated us from everybody else and made a statement that we were something new and fresh.
It also played to the strength of the wrestlers that were available to us at the time; The Low Ki's, the Bryan Danielsons, Samoa Joe, CM Punk, The Briscoes they weren't the ECW type of hardcore wrestler they were a new generation that was doing a new style and a new thing. It was wrestling based, so the Code of Honor played into their strengths and established that we are going to be a WRESTLING promotion.
Were you planning with ROH to become the next ECW or become a stand-alone wrestling company?
The goal isn't always to be another wrestling company. You don't want to clutter the landscape; you want to add to it. I've always been one to want to change it for the better. The goal was to fill that void left by ECW and be something new and different and to be something fresh and exciting and to be able to grow it for years and years.
Where do you see yourself as compared to other legendary bookers in wrestling history?
I don't see myself anywhere in the same league as a Dusty Rhodes or a Paul Heyman, I was fortunate though because Heyman had learned from Terry Funk and Dusty Rhodes who learned from Eddie Graham and Bill Watts and I was fortunate to learn all that from Heyman. That is something that is hard to do at this time. There really aren't any bookers there are just writers.
On the Indy scene you have bookers but they simply are learning from the Internet. It is just a different age and time. I was just fortunate to be in the right spot and have the right talent.
Discussing ROH's early World Champions specifically here starting with the first in the promotions history, Low Ki. What went into Low Ki being selected as the first champion?
When you look at Low Ki, you see something that is different. He looks different, he is very innovative, he was incorporating MMA elements before others were, he's a high flyer which was a direction we were going in back then, he is also a very powerful striker and kicker.
He is very realistic and that was the kind of elements we wanted to push right away in ROH, so it was only natural that he would become the first champion and to me the first champion is a very important spot. You want it to be a guy that people look back on in 10,20,30 years and it's a guy that made a mark in the business and he is the guy that started with us there.
Joe was an extremely important guy in making the title and making ROH something different. He is as important a figure as anyone else in making ROH history being able to accomplish many new things.
Take us back to Final Battle 2004 and Samoa Joe vs. Austin Aries and Aries shocking title victory and the response it garnered live, did it go as you had planned?
Obviously you are nervous going into it because we had so much into Samoa Joe's title reign and the fans were so emotionally invested in it and it was time to make a change and you are just hoping that if you have him lose the belt and it doesn't go well then you just wasted it.
All that time Joe was champion and all of the fans emotional connection to the whole thing. Which was kind of the situation WWE had with the Undertaker last year at WrestleMania and you saw the response that got. You trust your gut and I knew in my gut Austin Aries was the right guy but you still have that voice in the back of your head that says is this the right guy? Is this the right timing? Is this the right moment?
When it went as well as it did and you felt the crowd, being there the crowd as the match built and the finish sequence happened you felt it build and when he hit the brain buster everyone said "this is it, this is it" and everybody knew what was coming, they knew it was the perfect moment.
CM Punk's title victory and subsequent departure during the "Summer of Punk":
It was everything coming together perfectly. We were able to get (Christopher) Daniels to come back and since Punk was leaving we got the most of him leaving and he was gracious enough to volunteer to stay for a few months if we put the title on him and to do some business and leave the company strong.
You get lucky sometimes and the wrestling GODs smile on you and all the right things come together and of course you have CM Punk, one of the best performers to come through the business in the last decade so you had him to execute everything and that made things very east too.
I wish we had iPPV back then because I would love see what our iPPV numbers would have been for that whole series of shows.
How about Punk and his WWE run and how it ended?
He is a guy who knows how to play the politics and when to stand up, which is the right guy to be in the WWE. He of course has the natural talent and charisma and the fact he rose as far as he did was no surprise whatsoever and I am glad that he got everything he earned and deserved over the years.
Can you talk about your relationship with Daniel Bryan (Bryan Danielson) and where his career has gone since leaving ROH?
I have more good things to say about Bryan then anyone else. Being not only a hard worker but also a quality person. He is one person who does not forget where he came from and he remembers who was there for him back in the day even though he did more for me then I ever did for him. He made me. He made my reputation as a booker. He would have made it to where he is as a wrestler whether I ever met him or not.
At the same time he realizes our relationship and when the time came and he could help us out when he was let go by WWE he called me up and we offered him a price and he did those Dragon Gate and Evolve shows for us and when I was fired by ROH he was one of those guys who was like, "well what can we do" in starting something which did end up becoming Evolve. He was a guy that really came to my side, and that just speaks to the kind of person he is.
I swore I would never go to a WrestleMania unless I was working one (and I never tried to work one) but last year at WrestleMania 30 about 2 hours before show-time it kind of dawned on me what was going to happen and thankfully I have some connections there (WWE) and I was able to secure a ticket and I got in by the hard camera.
I walked in about 5 minutes into that opening match with HHH and I actually had tears in my eyes when he beat HHH because I knew where he had come from and the times he almost quit and the injuries and the pain he had been going through that led to that moment and when he won the belt I am so happy that I witnessed that in person.
Being able to grab talent released from WWE for Evolve and Dragon Gate USA?
If WWE is going to hand over this great talent then I am not going to argue with them and take it. With Drew Galloway (McIntyre) as Evolve Champion he has been able to put the company on his shoulders and be not just the performer he has been in the ring, he's put it (the title) on TV overseas and defending it all over the place, he really has turned the belt into something and seeing the quality person he is, it's fantastic and I just can't say enough positive things about Drew.
I think he will get the opportunity to get back onto a bigger stage one day but for now I think he can showcase and his feature exactly what he is doing for us. WrestleMania weekend he is wrestling PJ Black (Justin Gabriel) and we are not putting any restrictions or limits on them. We are telling them to make WWE regret not doing this match on WrestleMania and they are both hungry and ready to showcase that. As long as I have access to this great talent then I am going to present them in the best light possible.
Do you have any goals left in the business?
Take the style of wrestling we enjoy and grow it. Grow Evolve, grow WWNLive and the big thing is going into the future with WWNLive's Roku Channel and it really is only the beginning. We have so many ideas with fresh things we can do and with your support we can continue to grow it and anyone listening can give our upcoming events a chance.
This Sunday March 8th out of Long Island, New York and of course the three shows as part of theWWNLive.com Experience WrestleMania weekend and you can go to WWNlive.com for details on those.
For tickets you can go to DGUSA.TV and I am so proud of the product we are presenting and the changes we've made to our formats and the roster we have right now, it is going to all grow with us.
Gabe also discussed whether he would he ever go to WWE, being featured on WWE DVDs, the CZW vs. ROH Feud and much more. You can download the full interview by clicking here.