Dot Net Interview: DGUSA/Evolve booker Gabe Sapolsky discusses the strengths and struggles of his promotions, new talent, departing talent, and upcoming Evolve Tripleshot in Florida
Dot Net staffer Zack Zimmerman conducted the following interview with DGUSA vice-president and Evolve co-owner and booker Gabe Sapolsky. Evolve will be running shows in Orlando, Florida on Thursday May 30 (iPPV on May 31), Jacksonville, Fla. on Saturday June 1, and Ybor City, Fla. on Sunday June 2. Tickets and details available at DGUSA.TV. Ordering info available at WWNLive.com and at the bottom of this article where you'll find information on the Evolve 24-hour special. (Ends Tuesday 5/28 at 6pm).
Zack Zimmerman: What are some of the similarities and differences between booking and operating a company like ROH from 2002-2008 and DGUSA/Evolve from 2009-present?
Gabe Sapolsky: That's a really tough question, there are many differences between then and now. I mean both personally and in the business in general. Personally, I was young and naive when we started ROH in 2002. Now having all this experience has made some important differences in how I handle daily activity. As far as the business goes, I just think there were more fans to draw from in the boom period of the early/mid 2000s. The advances in the internet and especially the rise of social media has completely changed customer service, how to gain attention, how talent gets over and is presented and how to promote. It's safe to say the two eras are radically different. At the same time, you ask for similarities and what it all comes down to is if you have an interesting, compelling brand that brings excitement, you will have a successful promotion. It doesn't matter what era you are talking about, that will always apply.
ZZ: Can you talk a little bit about the challenge that comes along with operating a promotion without a steady schedule or home base?
GS: I feel the number one thing that has hurt us is not having that steady home base. We thought we had a few venues that could be it, but things just didn't work out. Now the WWNLive Family has The Orpheum in Ybor City, FL, which is a great venue in a really fun area. It has hosted EVOLVE, FIP and SHINE. We are back there Sunday for EVOLVE 22. I believe we do have a pretty steady schedule. We are running shows every 8 weeks or so and this allows us the opportunity to build up really big double and triple shots. I am happy with the schedule, I do wish we had a consistent Northeast venue to run every 6-8 weeks. We are still working on that and I feel it will help us create a lot of buzz if we can build an audience in one location.
ZZ: Is there a chance for DGUSA/Evolve to find a home and settle into a consistent schedule in the future?
GS: That is our goal and we hope to find that venue. We work on it all the time. We will return to New York City on July 27th in Queens and July 28th in Manhattan so hopefully that can be the start of a regular home. New York City is such a key market. It's been frustrating not being able to go there and Philadelphia lately.
ZZ: Is there still the ability to make a comfortable living in independent wrestling compared to contacted talent and employees of the larger companies?
GS: It depends on who you are and how much you hustle. You can't sit back and wait for the living to come to you. You need to take it. When you talk about larger companies if you are talking about WWE, well the most money by far will always be there. No one will ever compete with the kind of money WWE can offer. After that, it seems like there is a big drop off to everywhere else.
ZZ: Sami Callihan has been an integral component of the DGUSA/Evolve roster in recent years. What are your thoughts on Sami and what his future may hold?
GS: I am really proud of Sami and feel very lucky to have been able to work with him for the past several years and now call him a friend. I really respect him because when he started with us I really didn't see that much in him. Then he worked his ass off, made the most of every opportunity given to him, kept making more of bigger opportunities, grew to be a leader and asset outside the ring and in the locker room and he made himself into an integral part of DGUSA/EVOLVE history. I respect that so much and am very happy for him in his future opportunities.
ZZ: FIP (out of Florida) has resurfaced as a promotion in the past year. You've been involved with them in the past, how much involvement do you have down there now?
GS: Nothing really, except a little help with promotion and recommending talent once in a while. I enjoy FIP and feel they have really had some strong shows. It's nice to sit back and be able to watch the iPPVs as a fan and see some new talent in bigger spots really go all out to try to make their names.
ZZ: What wrestlers have you found to be "locker room leaders" both during your time with ROH and presently in DGUSA/Evolve?
GS: There have been a few and they have all lead in different ways. CIMA is a great locker room leader now. He is one of the best in the world and has a great eye for talent and always tries to make new stars. Bryan Danielson was a quiet and very respected leader. I don't think he really liked the leadership role, but he was always so highly respected that he led by example. CM Punk and Samoa Joe were two more hands on leaders back in the day in ROH. Now it's nice seeing some of the newer stars rise as leaders like Johnny Gargano, Ricochet, Jon Davis and Rich Swann. It's a lot of fun watching these guys finding themselves and growing into that role. I also think Brian Kendrick can be a leader of all of independent wrestling and that he has a lot to teach and offer everywhere.
ZZ: WWNLive has a really strong track record when it comes to iPPV quality. Are you happy with things as they are, or would you like to find other platforms to present on, such as Xbox/Playstation, Netflix, or OnDemand?
GS: Thank you and yes, it is a priority for us. We are going to have a Roku Channel soon, we are in the final stages of that. From there we plan on expanding as much as possible to as many other platforms as we can. iPPV is the future and we want to be at the head of it with WWNLive. We actually have our 1 hour Roku Channel preview show avaiable to watch now at YouTube.com/DGUSAdotTV. We will do more things like this in the future. I do want to note that the iPPVs at WWNLive can be seen already on your iPhone, iPad, Droid device, Xbox360 and Playstation 3.
ZZ: Because shows are often aired live or uploaded promptly to WWNLive, there seems to be a lack of emphasis and importance on DVD release time. Is that something you guys are looking to improve, or do DVD collectors just need to be patient with that aspect of the product?
GS: I would not call it a lack of emphasis and importance, it is more of a lack of human and financial resources. We are a small mom and pop operation so we had to decide where to put our resources and we built WWNLive and iPPV. However. DVD production is something we are looking to improve. We know there is still a strong DVD audience out there and they are important to us. We realize that there is a devoted DVD audience and we will serve them with the highest quality DVDs we can. We have two DGUSA shows deep in DVD production now and we just came out with three new EVOLVE DVDs. Things are moving along in a positive direction when it comes to releasing DVDs.
ZZ: What is the thought behind having the Young Bucks challenging the DGUSA and Evolve champions respectively in singles matches at Evolve 20?
GS: It is something different to help make the iPPV stand out. Both Nick and Matt Jackson are excellent wrestlers. Nick and AR Fox just tore down the house on a show in California. EVOLVE 20 this Thursday in Orlando gives us a chance to showcase that match and put some emphasis on the EVOLVE Title. Then having a match like Matt Jackson vs. Johnny Gargano gives us a chance to have another unique champion vs. champion match that could potentially steal the show. Also, the Bucks going back to Orlando is significant and this gives us a chance to really showcase them throughout the card.
ZZ: The Evolve 21 lineup has an "international challenge" type of feel to it, are you looking to do more themed shows like this or did it just work out that way?
GS: I always like to have some kind of theme, even if it's subtle. It makes every show slightly different and gives each show a different purpose or something unique to highlight it. We are really proud of the talent roster for this weekend. We are bringing wrestlers from all over the world who bring those different wrestling styles to EVOLVE. Giving the show a USA vs. The World theme let's us shout that out and put the emphasis on all the diversity. It makes the show "pop" to me on paper. I think this show will really showcase what our new vision is for EVOLVE and we get to do it on live iPPV at WWNLive this Saturday night from Jacksonville.
ZZ: Evolve 22 will be live on iPPV and will feature challenges for both the Freedom Gate and United Gate Championships. However there is also some newer talent coming in for those shows. Can you talk a little about the futures of guys like Brian Cage, Los Ben Dejos, and Tommy Taylor?
GS: We hope to give this a "supercard" type feel in the traditional wrestling Sunday evening PPV timeslot with those two huge title matches. At the same time, we look at this as an opportunity to feature some new talent. It's no secret we are going to lose some talent to WWE. I don't sweat this because I have seen some of the biggest names in wrestling come and go over the past 11 years. I look at this as an opportunity. It is a chance to let new talent steal the show and make their reputations, which in turn keeps the product fresh. Brian Cage is a big, strong dude. He brings a different element to anyone else in the company. Besides Jon Davis, he walks right in as the strongest guy in EVOLVE. Tommy Taylor is a guy who just needs a break. His European influences make him stand out on our roster. Dos Ben Dejos have really looked great in FIP. They are the definition of a well oiled tag team machine. I really can't wait to see what all these talents bring to this weekend.
Rapid fire thoughts:
-Johnny Gargano: True Champion
-AR Fox: Exciting
-Jon Davis: Underrated
-Caleb Konley: Next Chapter
-Chuck Taylor: Star Qualities
-EITA: The Future
-Tomahawk TT: The Future Part 2
Evolve is running a special 24-hour deal. If you plan on ordering Evolve 21 and 22 6/1-6/2 on live iPPV, pre-order both and email "EVOLVE iPPV Double Header" to firstname.lastname@example.org for a $5 rebate. If you plan on watching all three shows 5/31-6/2, pre-order all three and email "EVOLVE iPPV Spectacular!" for a $10 rebate. You will have unlimited VOD accesses to these events as well. Emails must be received by 6pm on Tuesday May 28th. Ordering info available at at WWNLive.com
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