Gabe Sapolsky of Evolve and Dragon Gate USA Talks Bryan Danielson’s Return to WWE and the Indies

Here’s Gabe Sapolsky courtesy of The Heyman Hustle:

“Evolve” Wrestling’s Gabe Sapolsky Opens Up and Exclusively Lets You In On The Ups and Downs Going Into A Big Event For A Small Company!

I have to admit that the Sunday of Summerslam was a pretty lazy one. Until the phone rang at about 7:20 that evening.

The tranquility of an afternoon with the wife and our 9-month-old baby watching baseball and playing games was shattered. The voice on the other end said, “don’t tell anyone this, but you know Bryan Danielson is at Summerslam and in the main event tonight?”

It wasn’t surprising that Bryan was back in WWE. We all figured it would happen in the fall or winter. It was shocking that he was back NOW. Suddenly, I realized I hadn’t heard from Bryan all week. Then I remembered that we had him booked on three September shows. We already had advertising out built around Bryan. The short conversation ended and I called Bryan, getting his voicemail. I’m used to rolling with the punches. We had somewhat relaxed expectations regarding our relationship with Bryan. We knew he wasn’t going to be around long, but we also knew every appearance he made was a huge boost to the promotion and to the style we’re promoting.

However, how do I explain this to the Dragon Gate office after all the advertising was done, especially after the Davey Richards debacle? How do we make up for all the advertising with Bryan on it? How do we replace Bryan, especially since fans have already bought tickets specifically to see him?

Fortunately, I didn’t have to answer those questions. At 1am after a long, long night I reached Bryan. He said he would be at all three September dates. We were lucky. If DGUSA was one week earlier, or EVOLVE one week later, we would have lost him because of the WWE pay-per-view that weekend.

So, you wanna be a booker? This is just one evening in the life of being an independent wrestling booker and promoter.

This will be the first in a series of blogs Paul Heyman has given me the opportunity to write here on THE HEYMAN HUSTLE. I am hoping the blogs will document the ups and downs of this profession in perhaps the most critical month of my career. You can even say this blog is 17 years in the making. I started working for Paul in September, 1993 for a little unknown Philly based promotion called ECW. I rode that fun, educational, unbelievable ride to the very end. From there I created the Internet’s darling Ring Of Honor in 2002. I sailed that ship until owner Cary Silkin wanted more control in October 2008. 15 years in and I was at the very beginning again.

The opportunity arose to form Dragon Gate USA, the American branch of the wildly athletic, cutting-edge Dragon Gate promotion in Japan in early 2009. We held our first event just over one year ago. During this time I talked regularly with Danielson about some new concepts. We felt there was room for a promotion where new talent and styles were given the spotlight. He even came up with the name EVOLVE for this company. Bryan signed with WWE before Evolve got off the ground. A promotion isn’t about just one person, so together with Sal Hamaoui I launched EVOLVE last January.

But here we are, the first week of September, and I’m feeling a wave of emotions. Excitement. Anxiety. Pride. Anticipation. We are in the make or break month for these two relatively new independent wrestling promotions. This is when we fortify our foundation and create buzz going into the extremely important holiday season. There are a lot of forces against us: the economy; dwindling interest in pro wrestling; UFC being the cool thing; a glut of competition; downloading; All these culprits form a perfect storm that pound us everyday. We have lucked out in one big way though. The Wrestling Gods have smiled upon us and returned Bryan Danielson, now better known as Daniel Bryan in WWE, to the independent wrestling world for this pivotal month.

It hasn’t been an easy year. Every turn has been a struggle. We know we aren’t alone in this. People have less money to spend. The first thing they cut is their entertainment budget. You need to eat. You need a roof. Your wrestling DVDs are a luxury. However, for every setback, there has been a positive sign of growth. We took our lumps, dusted ourselves off and stepped forward. We will continue to do that.

It has all led to this month. September 10th will see the Dragon Gate USA premiere of “Enter The Dragon” on pay-per-view. September 11th will have the biggest EVOLVE card yet in Rahway, NJ. Dragon Gate USA will then return to Chicago and debut in Milwaukee on September 25th and 26th. This is the kind of month that can build momentum, pave the way to the future and make us financially strong. On the other side of the coin, more money woes and shows that don’t quite hit could mean the death knell. The stakes are really that high. Fortunately, we have Bryan Danielson to rely on to bring these shows “home” and ensure our audience leaves with the knowledge we do everything we can to give a 1st rate presentation.

This means that booking the shows starts with Bryan. We have three final matches with him. There are only three more times that we have the privilege of seeing him with the creative freedom that can only be allowed and encouraged in independent wrestling. Bryan is no doubt the best wrestler in the world, but even the best in the biz has parameters placed on him in WWE. No knock on them. That’s their way, and it works for them. But not for independent wrestling. It’s just a totally different mindset, one in which Bryan flourishes like no one else can. So who to put him against?

The answer for the September 11th EVOLVE card came easy. Bryan watched EVOLVE 1 on DVD and was blown away by Munenori Sawa. Hey, anyone viewing his match against TJP on the debut EVOLVE card would feel the same way. “I want to work Sawa,” Bryan said to me on the phone. Easy. Done.

It’s no surprise that Bryan wants an opportunity to step in the ring with Sawa. This is the only opportunity to put this match together. Sawa is Danielson’s Japanese counterpart. He wrestles the Bachi-Bachi “strong” style (kicks, suplexes,submissions) for his home BattlArts promotion. Bryan’s training at Randy Couture’s school will come into play here. Sawa is approaching this as the biggest match of his career. That’s no hype or promoter talk. That’s the truth. He is a fan of Danielson. He knows this could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to work with him. Sawa is incredibly creative, personable, athletic and fearless. Just look at this unusual and unique video he produced to try to draw interest to this match HERE

Bryan will perform for most likely the final time of his career in the promotion he named. The phone call I received on Summerslam night turned out to be a positive one. The fact that we have Bryan Danielson on one final EVOLVE show in a match against Sawa makes everything bigger. Everyone on the EVOLVE card on September 11th will have to make the most of this spotlight. This is our chance.

Gabe Sapolsky is the co-founder and head creative force behind EVOLVE Wrestling and Dragon Gate USA. More information on Bryan Danielson’s final scheduled appearance for EVOLVE can be found on the promotion’s website or by calling (215) 519-9744. Next week, Gabe takes you even further behind the scenes as the pressure mounts going into the live events.

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