May has been a busy month for Jim and I and as such, we haven't had the chance to post contributions here at Two Spot Monkeys as much as we would like. That changes today, as I recently had the chance to interview Gabe Sapolsky of Dragon Gate USA and EVOLVE. DG USA has a series of shows scheduled this weekend and I appreciate Gabe's willingness and openness in discussing these upcoming shows and DG USA in general. Don't forget, 2 of the shows this weekend (6/3 and 6/5) will be on WWNLive.com and iPPV. You can order those right here: http://www.wwnlive.com/signup.php?id=219
Now, onto the interview transcript:
1. Have you been able to see the vision you had for DG USA from 7/24/10's "Enter The Dragon - 1st Anniversary Celebration" to now play out as you hoped? Is the 1st year to 2nd year growth what you hoped for?
Gabe: Excellent question. We sat down after our Phoenix shows and began formulating a plan to try to develop a roster of DGUSA "homegrown" stars, instead of going with nationally known, already established names. The plan really went into effect at the 1st Anniversary Celebration show with the match between Johnny Gargano and CIMA and the Freestyle that got a lot of buzz with Ricochet, Chuck Taylor, Arik Cannon and Adam Cole. Brodie Lee also had a big presence and that show also saw the debut of Rich Swann. I will always remember sitting at the merch table with the Dragon Gate office at the CHIKARA show the next day, and we had a long talk about how we had the right talent and now it was time to really push them on an equal level as the Japanese and form one unified roster. This isn't something that can be done overnight. If you move too quickly it comes off as desperate and the fans reject stuff when its shoved down their throat. Instead, we took our time and developed the roster. Now almost one year later I believe a lot of fans see this as one unified roster. None of the "homegrown" guys seem out of place when in a match listing with Dragon Gate wrestlers now. For instance, for Long Island on June 4th we have YAMATO vs. CIMA vs. Masato Yoshino vs. Johnny Gargano. A year ago people wouldn't have bought Gargano in that match, now we don't hear one word of doubt and he seems natural in that match. You see that in matches up and down the DGUSA cards on June 3rd in Boston, June 4th in Long Island and June 5th in New York. So I do believe that means the vision has paid off. We have today's hottest new wrestlers, the top stars from Japan and they are together on one unified roster. I think the fans attending our shows in June or watching June 3rd and 5th on live iPPV at WWNLive.com will see what I'm talking about.
2. What do you consider to be your biggest challenge since beginning DG USA?
Gabe: Really, it's been two major things that have nothing to do with wrestling. The economy and pirating. People just don't have the money to spend like they used to and pirating has really dealt us a huge hit. These are both challenging things we have to overcome. We've tried to do this by giving people great value for their dollar, whether it is by spending extra money on packaging of our DVDs so they feel more collectible, or even having a collectible ticket to our events instead of just a normal ticket everyone throws away. The best way to combat these things is to do your best to earn people's leisure dollar and we will continue to strive to do this.
3. What approach do you take to booking talent with WWE or other aspirations (Jon Moxley/Jimmy Jacobs come to mind). Does that limit your vision or outlook for those wrestlers in DG USA?
Gabe: I have booked with this approach since 2003 or so, and that is to always have the next generation ready. Losing talent is a positive. It opens up new doors. There's only one main event, there's only so many spots on a show. If the same people are in those spots things can get stale. There is plenty of great talent out there, guys that are ready and hungry for the opportunity. It is hard to throw them into the spotlight overnight, but with the right build you can have them waiting in the wings. You look at Jon Moxley. We had a great 18 month or so run with him. Sure, we could have done more, but we had him for a long time. Now that he's moved on that opens up the door for D.U.F. of Sami Callihan and Arik Cannon. Now in June Callihan and Cannon have a program with Mochizuki, which will play out over the course of the whole weekend. This gives all three shows fresh matches that can be tied together with a story. If we hadn't lost Moxley and had to shift directions from Kamikaze USA, there would be no D.U.F., which is becoming a hot act for us. It is all about preparation.
4. What do you consider to be your biggest success since beginning DG USA?
Gabe: I think there are two that are tied. First, making a comeback and pulling off the first show. I thought I was dead after ROH. Then with the help of Dragon Gate and of course all the tremendous support from everyone out there we were able to sellout the Arena. In ROH I really just had to worry about the booking, but on that show I had a lot more responsibilities. In the end, it was probably the most satisfying show I have ever been a part of.
Second is just surviving and creating a unique, exciting brand in this day and age. This is a hard time for pro wrestling. There are fewer fans than ever. Money is tight with everyone. This is not an easy time for any business, nevermind something as niche as independent wrestling. The fact we were able to make the needed business adjustments is something I'm proud of. Taking live iPPV in house with www.WWNLive.com is a huge success. Actually, now that I think about it, that would be it.
5. With the recent addition of WWNLive.com and an in-house iPPV model, how does that influence or affect the product - in terms of growth, positives and negatives?
Gabe: So far there have been nothing but positives. We have gotten excellent reviews on the stream, it has added revenue that helped replace the shrinking DVD market, it let's everyone see your product live as it happens instead of having to wait. You can create immediate buzz. It has been all positive and one day everyone will have internet in their TV and we are at the forefront of that technology. Booking wise it creates a lot of new things you can do since you are live worldwide and people watching don't know spoilers, as they frequently do if they are getting a DVD. Everything with WWNLive.com is positive.
6. Walk me through a typical week before a triple shot or double shot? What are your main focuses set on?
Gabe: There is a lot to do, thankfully I have a great partner in Sal Hamaoui who really excels in my areas of weakness. My main focuses are making sure we get a great week of promotion, particularly with iPPVs to produce now, make sure everything we talked about leading into the show from promotion to setting up the actual show is followed through on. A huge thing is also preparing everyone for the show and making sure we are all on the same page, plus I feel having last minute booking ideas and fine tuning the shows is very important. I could keep talking about this for a while, there is just so much. Usually you have to do your first draft of the following set of shows so you can finalize details on the shows at hand. This is very time consuming.
7. Walk me through a typical day of a show? Are there any unique routines or dare I say superstitions that you keep?
Gabe: I'm not big into superstitions and routines vary just because one day you are traveling in, one day you might already be in a town, one day you might have to drive 5 hours or so. I like to get to the building in early afternoon and just walk through everything that was discussed with everyone leading into the show. Then things get hectic when the doors open just making sure everything is taken care of. It goes from calm to hectic very quickly.
8. BxB Hulk and Dragon Kid were noticeably absent from the Atlanta shows and aren't booked on these shows as well. Do you forsee them coming back to DGUSA yet in 2011?
Gabe: Yes, they will definitely be back. There's just so much awesome talent from Dragon Gate that we like to switch things up. For instance, in June we have Masaaki Mochizuki back for the first time in a year and Susumu Yokosuka on the East coast for the first time since the very first card. Those are two of Dragon Gate's most respected and greatest wrestlers and we haven't had them in for that long, so sometimes you just have to switch things up. PAC has also joined us and I really believe he has developed into so much more than a high-flyer, he is an elite all around wrestler now.
9. Do have a city or venue you favor over others, not due to fans or the ability for DG USA to draw well there, but for personal reasons like site seeing, food or taking in a baseball game or other sporting event when the shows have ended?
Gabe: I like that question, those little things always add to the fun of doing shows. I love BB King's in Times Square for the food and just being in Times Square. I'm hoping to catch the Phillies vs. Brewers when we are in Milwaukee on September 11th. I always love going to new places too, just to see what they are like.
10. If any, what do you consider your sleeper match of the weekend?
Gabe: Keep an eye on Pinkie Sanchez vs. AR Fox on June 5th in Manhattan. These two have been on fire in recently. I think it is hard to call something a "sleeper" match because on paper all the matches look awesome. I was going to say one of Ricochet's matches, but how do you call him vs. Yokosuka or him in a three-way with Chuck Taylor and PAC or him vs. Yoshino a sleeper match?
11. What match(es) on paper are you most looking forward to seeing in the ring?
Gabe: Hahaha, all of them? If I had to pick one, Id have to say it's a tie between the two Championship Challenge Matches. On June 3rd we have YAMATO & Akira Tozawa vs. PAC & Masato Yoshino for the DGUSA Tag Team Titles and on June 5th we have PAC vs. YAMATO. I think both of these can be really epic.
Coincidently, they will be main eventing the two live iPPVs at WWNLive.com. YAMATO is on such a roll as DGUSA Champion. Both his matches in Atlanta are match of the year candidates. PAC is just awesome, I mean I would pay to see him wrestle right now. Anything with these guys is going to be incredible and unlike anything you'll see in any other promotion.
12. With DG USA having a "Birthday Bash Karaoke Party" will you also be singing and what is your "go to" Karaoke song?
Gabe: I only sing Hank Williams' songs and I haven't done that since college. I think we'll have plenty of other great singers so I will stay retired. I know Austin Aries and CIMA are both really looking forward to some Karaoke.
13. Is there anything you want fans to know heading into the triple-shot and 2nd Anniversary Celebration - Closing thoughts?
Gabe: I feel we've come a long way in the past two years. I know our talent gets better every month. The roster we have aren't tomorrow's stars anymore. They have arrived. If you haven't seen DGUSA this year, give it another shot. You can check us out on live iPPV on June 3rd and June 5th at WWNLive.com or get one of our DVDs at www.DGUSA.tv. Our DVDs play and ship anywhere in the world. We greatly appreciate and need your support and we will do our best to earn it. Thank you for reading.
Again, I thank Gabe for his time and openness. If you are not on the East Coast, check these shows out on iPPV. If you are on the East Coast, get to the shows this weekend!!!