Gabe Sapolsky may be one of the most influential people in wrestling that you’ve never heard of. Unlike many bookers/backstage workers in the business, Gabe has never had the desire to soak up the spotlight in front of the camera or write himself into the storylines unlike other bookers (here’s looking at you Vince Russo!)
Gabe worked for years with ECW and was with the company until it’s last breath and was also the mastermind behind Ring of Honor and is now the promoter of the innovative and rapidly growing DragonGate USA and Evolve (with Bryan Danielson) promotions.
Gabe took time from his extremely busy schedule to talk to us about his time in ECW, creating ROH and DGUSA and other topics in this lengthy and fascinating interview. Enjoy!
So Gabe, how did you break into the wrestling business?
I was finishing up at Temple University in Philadelphia when ECW was starting. I wrote Tod Gordon an actual letter asking if I could help out in anyway and do a newsletter. Back then things were different since there was no internet and Tod probably didn’t get a lot of letters like that. He accepted my offer and the rest is history.
We’re you always a fan? What leagues did you watch when you were younger?
Yes, I was a big fan growing up, especially of NWA on TBS and World Class.
Did you ever have any aspiration to wrestle yourself? Did you do any training?
That’s a good question. No I never had any aspiration to wrestle. While most kids were cutting promos in a mirror and dreaming of wrestling, I was fantasy booking. It was the side of wrestling I always wanted to do. I did train with JT Smith for a day just to see what it was like and ended up with a concussion! I threw up everywhere. That was it for me. lol.
Many bookers like to eventually write themselves into story lines (Vince Russo being the major example). have you ever considered become an on screen character?
No, never. I always wanted to be a behind-the-scenes guy. I never wanted to be talent. It was the booking side that always fascinated me.
You got involved in ECW in 1993, before Eddie Gilbert had left and Paul Heyman became head booker? How did you get involved with ECW?
It all started with that letter to Tod Gordon. My first show was actually the first show Heyman took over as booker. I only spoke to Gilbert for about 30 seconds in my life.
When you met Paul, did you sense everything different about him? Could you tell he was going to make such a huge impact on pro wrestling?
I just remember thinking Paul was kinda crazy. He had this energy about him. I was really intimidated for about the first six months I knew him. Then I think he realized I wasn’t going away and our protege/mentor relationship began.
Before working with Paul, had you any other or similar ideas on what direction to take ECW?
I had no ideas back then, I was just along for the ride and trying to enjoy it for as long as I could. I never dreamed it would last for seven years.
What duties did you have with ECW?What role in the booking did you play?
I played absolutely no role in the booking. I just kept my mouth shut and ears opened and tried to learn as much as I could. I did any job that was asked from handing out flyers to handling tickets to answering the phone at the office to running to the martial arts store and getting Sandman his Singapore cane! I did anything that was asked of me.
What were the highlights of your time in ECW?
There are so many highlights. It was just a great, fun time. I can’t think of a better way to spend my 20s. Traveling, seeing so much great wrestling, making friends I still have today, it was a blast.
When ECW closed down, you must have been worried about your financial security? How were you feeling at this time?Did you enquire with any of the other promotions, e.g WWE, about work?
It was really a sad and depressing time. I had no idea what I was going to do with my future. I never tried to work for WWE.
You next worked with RF video?How was that experience?
It was good for a while.
What eventually made you decide to start ROH with Rob Feinstein?
We felt we had some new ideas and concepts and there was a lot of great talent that was underutilized. RF Video needed a new promotion to tape and film to replace the ECW fan cam series so we figured we would just do it ourselves and start ROH.
ROH mainly avoided the hardcore style of wrestling made famous in ECW. Was this a concious decision? Why the dramatic change in direction?
Yes, it was definitely a conscious decision. At the time everyone was trying to recreate ECW or even taking hardcore to more violent levels like CZW so we had to go in a different direction to stand out.
What are your personal thoughts on hardcore wrestling?
It has its place just like every type of wrestling. I’m not a fan of freak show hardcore where its just a bunch of glorified backyarders going out there and scarring and maiming each other. However, hardcore wrestling definitely has an important role in wrestling.
ROH was where talent such as Evan Bourne, Low Ki, Samoa Joe, Nigel McGuinness and most famously CM Punk were introduced to the public. It must give you a huge sense of pride to know you discovered these guys and gave them a chance?
We just supplied a different stage for them and they made the most of the opportunity. Now I just look back and think that if we had some big money or TV behind us where we would all be now with that talent roster.
Being ROH champion carried a huge amount of pressure,as fans expected them to steal the show night in, night out. What criteria did a wrestler need to meet to be given the belt?
He had to be a quality person that you can trust with the belt. He had to be a strong person that knew what the role of champion means. Obviously, he also had to be a great wrestler.
What were your feelings on being released from ROH?
How do you think I felt?
Sorry, that was a bit of a stupid question.You next launched DGUSA. How did this come about? How familiar had you been with Dragon Gate in Japan before forming DGUSA?
I had a good relationship with the Dragon Gate office due to their involvement on ROH shows. They had approached me about running on Wrestlemania weekend in Houston. We then put some numbers together and realized we could run a full fledged promotion.
I actually attended the first anniversary DGUSA show at the Arena this past July and was blown away by the in ring action. What is it about this style of wrestling that attracted you?
Well, exactly what you saw. The Dragon Gate wrestlers are easily among the very best in the world. I’m not just talking about the top 3-4 guys in the promotion, I’m talking about up-and-down the roster. They also have so much charisma, personality and they are all unique from each other so they can really connect to an audience, even with language barriers. The work ethic among them is incredible too and that is a very important thing.
What DGUSA talent do you see becoming bigger stars in the future?
I think everyone will just grow and become bigger stars as DGUSA grows. I mean they are all already huge stars in Japan. As the American audience sees more and more of them they will just become bigger stars here. I really think that includes the entire Japanese roster. I think on the American side we have really developed a core roster and we are seeing many of these talents turn that corner right before our eyes like Jon Moxley, Ricochet, Johnny Gargano, Chuck Taylor, Brodie Lee, Arik Cannon, Drake Younger just to name a few. Then we have guys like Jimmy Jacobs, the team of Mike Quackenbush & Jigsaw, Gran Akuma, Hallowicked, all who are already established. Last weekend in Chicago and Milwaukee was a particularly huge weekend for Moxley and Ricochet. They are really becoming stars and turning that corner right before our eyes. This is my favorite thing in wrestling. I can’t wait for people to see the “Untouchable” pay-per-view in November to see Ricochet really become the man.
The old ECW arena seems to be a popular arena for DGUSA events. What is it about the Arena that keeps you going back to it?
There is so much history in that building. It is so great to walk into it and remember everything that has happened there. The location is great too. Every diehard fan in a 10 hour radius knows how to get there.
What projects are you working on to help DGUSA expand throughout the States?
The big thing right now is our live iPPV deal with http://www.GoFightLive.tv with the first one being on October 29th from Fall River, MA. This is a huge thing for us and I think the wave of the future. I’ve booked over 300 shows and I consider this the most important one I’ve ever booked. There are so many new booking possibilities with a live worldwide broadcast.
Is there anychance of a TV deal?
Never say never to anything.
You also created EVOLVE wrestling. What sets EVOLVE apart from DGUSA?
DGUSA is focused on a mix of the Japanese and American talent. Since the Japanese talent have so much focus in DGUSA, we wanted more of an opportunity and stage to showcase the American talent. There is so much great talent out there right now. We also had some new ideas and concepts to modernized wrestling. Pro wrestling really needs a fresh, new presentation and we feel we have that with EVOLVE.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
Right now the first thing that comes to mind was the last DGUSA show, which happened on September 26th in Milwaukee. We had major problems with finding out that our ring was no showing about 90 minutes before doors were supposed to open. The entire locker room from the biggest stars from Japan to the upcoming American talent bonded together and worked as a team to make sure we got a new ring, and we got it set up quickly. It was really special. All throughout ECW and ROH I’ve never seen a team effort like that. Then after all the stress and drama they went out there and gave the fans an incredible show. It’s something I’ll never forget and I’m proud to be a part of it.
Your entrepreneurial spirit in setting up not 1 but 3 promotions that have become succesful is extremely admirable. What tips do you have for budding entrepreneurs?
Get ready for a lot of hard work and unforeseen problems.
Thanks Gabe for such a great interview!
To see why DGUSA is creating such a buzz in the wrestling world, be sure to check out their iPPV Bushido: Code Of The Warrior on October 29th, which is headlined by a mouth watering clash between Open The Freedom Gate Champion BXB Hulk vs Shingo.For more on DGUSA, check out DGUSA.net and for more on EVOLVE, make sure to visit Evolve Wrestling.com