Dragon Gate USA presents it's next two shows this weekend, with it's Detroit area debut, "Untouchable 2012" on Saturday night in Taylor, MI, and then the 3rd Anniversary Show in Chicago, IL on Sunday night. Both shows are available on WWNLive.com with three different pricing options, starting at $9.99, you can get signed up at WWNLive.com by clicking the picture above if you'd like! DGUSA Vice President Gabe Sapolsky took some time to sit down with Two Spot Monkeys and talk about the upcoming shows, the past few years in Dragon Gate USA and EVOLVE, and so much more.
1. First off, Happy Anniversary and congratulations on wrapping up 3 years and kicking off year 4! When we chatted a year ago, one of the themes from our conversation was the roster being all on equal footing in terms of “original” Dragon Gate talent and “homegrown” stars. What do you think has been the biggest or most successful growth for Dragon Gate USA/EVOLVE in the last year?
Gabe: Thank you very much. We are only here for our 3rd anniversary because of the support of everyone reading this and we greatly appreciate that. To answer your question, I think our biggest growth has had to do in the iPPV area. We are really proud of the fact that our iPPVs have grown, and that we have been able to deliver a quality service. The last time we had a major problem was in January and that was only a 5 minute delay based on a human error that will never happen again. Besides that we have had great, uninterrupted streams including on the EVOLVE tripleshot in June and EVOLVE doubleshot in May. The $1.99 DGUSA iPPV on Wrestlemania weekend was a huge success for us. I assure you that we will continue to work our hardest to make WWNLive.com even better. It will continue with live iPPVs this Saturday and Sunday. I'm especially excited about the one this Sunday because we are in the traditional wrestling Sunday night PPV timeslot for our anniversary show. That's huge.
2. It was Thanksgiving time last year when the announcement was made that a “union” between DG USA and EVOLVE was established that would allow them operate more in conjunction with each other. Has that worked as you hoped for, in terms of a more consistent product, stronger storylines and the ability for more growth & development of the roster?
Gabe: Yes, definitely. I feel it has been a huge boost for our storyline and character development. An example would be the Sami Callihan vs. AR Fox feud, which carried over in each promotion. I think Johnny Gargano has really benefited as Open The Freedom Gate Champion as it has given him more title matches and helped him build momentum. It's been a lot of fun and very rewarding to be able to book with this continuity and it'll continue this weekend and beyond.
3. Along with the above opportunities and growth, WWNLive.com is the source for wrestling iPPV’s. Has that been part of the successful business model in terms of profitability? How do you grow and better what are already doing to make it more of a destination for wrestling fans?
Gabe: I can't emphasize how important the growth of WWNLive.com has been. It has been a game changer. Things have changed. People want things immediately and now. WWNLive.com has given us the ability to put 90% of our shows on live iPPV and deliver that. We are able to do it affordably for the customer with three pricing options on our live iPPVs starting at just $9.99. I mean when you think about it, it's a great deal. You used to have to pay $20 plus shipping for a DVD and wait a few months to get it. Now you can watch a show live as it happens for just $9.99. You can't beat that.
4. Is there something from DG USA/EVOLVE or someone that you are particularly proud of in terms of development over the last year?
Gabe: Well, I think it's clear so far how much pride I have in our iPPV service at WWNLive.com. As far as talent development goes I can be here all day talking about how proud I am of our entire roster. Johnny Gargano has really led the way as Open The Freedom Gate Champion. He has completely grown into that role. It's something I always tried to do booking wise when I was at ROH. I always wanted to take a guy that was on the cusp of getting to the next level to make champion, and then I hoped he would grow into the role of champion and then you'd have a new star. Samoa Joe did it. Austin Aries did it. Bryan Danielson did it. Nigel McGuinness did it. Now we are seeing Johnny Gargano do it in DGUSA. He has led by example in and out of the ring in becoming the face of the company. The moment with the little girl in Concord, NC at EVOLVE 14 was something special and shows what kind of person Gargano is. I have to admit sometimes you sit there and get upset about the small crowd, but then you see how much the show means to just one person and it makes everything worth it and Gargano gave us all that moment at EVOLVE 14. That's what it's about. I could go on and on about our roster, but I'll just focus on Gargano here.
5. On the flipside of that, what has been the biggest or most frustrating challenge of the last year?
Gabe: Excellent question and I don't have to think for more than a second to answer. It's been finding a home. We lost the former ECW Arena in January. The Ace Arena was shut down last year. BB King's in Manhattan didn't invite us back. They were happy with the crowd size, but said we didn't sell enough food or drinks at our shows to justify having us on the deal we had, which was an incredible deal. Wonderland Ballroom in Revere, MA also changed ownership and we can't get back in that building. So basically we lost all the accessible, affordable buildings in the Northeast. This has led us to trying new markets like North Carolina and Florida, which haven't drawn the biggest crowds. It's the crowd that makes the show. A good, lively crowd can make a good show into a great show or a great show into show of the year. I feel we've had some awesome shows this year, but we have needed slightly larger crowds to take them to the next level and really get some buzz going. You can see this on our DGUSA Miami shows, where we had nice sized crowds that really took the shows to the next level. If we had some homes in the Northeast we could build the crowds to that level. Right now we are working on finding something and I think doing that is the next key to our growth. Don't get me wrong though, the fans that have come to our shows have been great and really supportive and we truly appreciate that.
6. How has the transition to a full-time iPPV booked product changed you as a booker or promoter? Are you able to find or hit a “groove” when everything is live and there is little to no room for error or misstep?
Gabe: It's been amazing as a booker and promoter. The ability to have all the angles and character development seen live as it happens has been a huge advantage. It puts the pressure on everyone to deliver and perform at their best. It's not well known, but we used to edit things on the older ROH shows like crazy. Now we don't have the luxury of doing that and everything has to click live. That pressure drives everyone to perform better and makes everything more exciting.
7. WrestleCon 2013 was just announced for WrestleMania weekend next year. How did the concept come up and what kind of opportunity do feel this provides for the many companies, wrestlers, vendors and fans that will attend?
Gabe: I feel this is the culmination of a lot of great relationships that we have been built since the start of DGUSA. I'll admit I was in a bubble when I was with ROH, but since that time I have been lucky to build relationships with a lot of great promotions and the people behind them. Sal Hamaoui, my partner in DGUSA and EVOLVE, was then instrumental in putting this all together. This is going to be the biggest weekend in independent wrestling history. We saw an opportunity to bring all these promotions together at a great location on the biggest wrestling weekend of the year. Everyone was really cooperative and helpful in putting it together. It's an incredible opportunity for each promotion to put their best foot forward and blow people away, for wrestlers to showcase their stuff to wider audiences and pick up a lot of bookings, for fans to see five unique brands and for vendors to have a Black Friday type of weekend during a normally slow period of the year. It's a win for everyone involved and I'm so excited for this. I really can't wait.
8. Dragon Gate USA returns to action this weekend for the first time since the Miami show, in Taylor, MI on Saturday, 7/28 and then Chicago, IL on Sunday, 7/29. What does it mean to debut outside Detroit and return to Congress Theatre, where you’ve had some great DG USA memories? If fans cannot make it to either event live, WWNLive.com offers the events on iPPV and recently created various pricing options for all events. Can you explain those options/tiers and how that came about?
Gabe: We've heard from the fans in the Detroit area and Michigan for a while now asking for DGUSA. Now we are delivering so hopefully the fans will give us a good turnout and make the show a success. I'd love to be able to go back and even bring EVOLVE and with the right support we will. I'm really happy to have our anniversary show at The Congress Theater in Chicago. That building and Chicago has been a home to Dragon Gate USA since the second show. We have had some incredible events and memories there and it is only fitting we celebrate our birthday there. We are putting both events this weekend on live iPPV. We offer three pricing options to make the shows as affordable as possible. For $9.99 you can watch the live showing. For $14.99 you get the live showing and then unlimited On Demand access. For $24.99 you get the live showing, unlimited On Demand access and then the DVD when it is released. That's really the best deal when you look at potential savings. We feel that these three options offer everyone a great deal and make iPPV very affordable, especially compared to DVDs or cable PPV.
9. Johnny Gargano has a big weekend ahead of him, with arguably his toughest Open The Freedom Gate Title defense against Akira Tozawa on Saturday and then an “I Quit” Match against Chuck Taylor on Sunday. Acknowledging his unfortunate injury earlier this year, has Gargano met the call that you had for him after dethroning YAMATO last November?
Gabe: Yes, Gargano has risen to the role of champion both in and out of the ring. A champion is more than the best wrestler in the locker room. He is someone who leads by example in the locker room and in the ring. Gargano has worked incredibly hard to spread the word of DGUSA and EVOLVE, be a guy who tirelessly does media, gets in better shape and improves his wrestling. In addition, his matches have delivered. That's what makes a champion and Gargano has met the call. Gargano vs. Tozawa was incredible when we had it last year in Chicago, I think it'll be epic with the title on the line this Saturday.
10. Speaking of YAMATO, he makes his United States return for the first time since he lost that time and much of this weekend’s excitement centers around his matches with Ricochet and Jon Davis (two very different opponents/styles). What are the “hype points” for those matches?
Gabe: I think it revolves around three simple things. YAMATO was an incredible champion and had an amazing 2011. Now he returns for the first time since dropping the belt and he wants his top spot back. Ricochet is one of the most exciting wrestlers in the world. He has risen as a top player in Dragon Gate and DGUSA. This is one of those no hype marquee matches. It speaks for itself. Jon Davis is having a breakout year with his matches against Fit Finlay, Low Ki and then in Style Battle. He has a storyline where if he loses (a match), he walks away. He is definitely the underdog against a guy of YAMATO's stature. The question is if he can win. I think the bottom line is everyone who knows these three talents knows that these will be two very different types or matches and both have potential to be completely awesome.
11. Another really significant match is the Decision Match for the Open The United Gate Tag Team Titles, pitting CIMA & his choice of AR Fox as partner vs. Ricochet & his choice, fellow World-1 International stablemate, Rich Swann. There is a lot at play in this match, between the CIMA & Ricochet relationship and the “teacher-student” connection as well as the history between Fox and Swann that spans both DG USA and EVOLVE. With all of those elements and possibly others, what do you see as the tipping point in this match? Additionally, with the previous hiccups connected to the titles (injuries, scheduling conflicts) how do you view this “re-boot” and set the tone for consistency in the tag division with teams like The Scene, Super Smash Brothers or even YAMATO & Shingo Takagi from Dragon Gate as potential contenders?
Gabe: I really like the fact that this match is in Chicago. The Congress Theater is where Ricochet broke out of the pack as CIMA's tag team partner. Now we have AR Fox teaming with CIMA in that building in a similar situation. On that note, Ricochet and Rich Swann have the potential to be the best tag team in the world. They have worked out a lot in Japan and have incredible chemistry. I think the video promo they sent in last week shows how well they have clicked. This is a chance to make two, new, incredible tag teams and really heat up our tag team division along with the Super Smash Brothers, The Scene, D.U.F., Gentlmen's Club and I look forward to seeing how Zero Gravity has progressed over the past year this weekend. Also, we have El Generico and Samuray Del Sol teaming up for the first time this weekend and they could instantly click and be one of the most exciting teams in the world. This will be a huge weekend for rebuilding the tag division.
12. MASADA makes his Dragon Gate USA debut this weekend. What lead to that addition and how do you see him as part of both DG USA and EVOLVE? Along with that debut, El Generico, Samuray Del Sol have also been great additions to the product. Is it ever fair to say that talent-wise the promotion is as strong or stronger than it ever has been before? What match is “under the radar” ahead of this weekend that fans should pay close attention to?
Gabe: I've wanted to work with Masada for years, but we just never connected. I've always been intrigued by his talent. He is unique, he stands out and he's a guy that you wouldn't want to get in a fight against. Really, with the loss of Brodie Lee and Silas Young, it has opened the door for Masada to walk in and make an immediate impact. He's ready to take the ball and make the most of this opportunity and he's at the point in his life and career where he's not going to let anything stop him. Our roster is really deep now and it will only get deeper. El Generico has been a great addition this year. He is an elite talent and we are lucky to have him. It has given us the chance to put on some really fresh, incredible matches. Samuray Del Sol will be the 2012 breakout star. The rest of this year belongs to him. As far as an under the radar match this weekend, Super Smash Brothers vs. Arik Cannon & Pinkie Sanchez on Sunday in Chicago jumps out at me. We have a stacked card that night, but I really wouldn't be surprised if this one steals the show.
13.DG USA and EVOLVE are very active through social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) along with with e-mail blast DG USA/EVOLVE alerts and the WWNLive E-Mail Magazine. Feel free to list those specific ways that fans can stay more connected to the products and how do you continue to be ahead of the curve with those opportunities to market the product and wrestlers?
Gabe: I think in this day and age you really have to bring your message directly to the fans. You can't sit back and wait for people to come to your website anymore. We have really put a lot of emphasis on our DGUSA/EVOLVE Alerts email blast. I love the concept there. You deliver the news right to people's inbox and they can read it instantly on their phone, ipad, laptop, whatever. You can sign up for it under the left menu at www.DGUSA.tv. I am also very active on Twitter @BookItGabe and at www.Facebook.com/BookItGabe. I value all your feedback and am very interactive on those forums. I hope you will sign up for our email blasts, follow or like us. We do protect your email and won't give it to anyone. We respect the fact you trust us with it. I hope to hear from you on Twitter and Facebook.
We'd like to thank Gabe for taking the time to sit down and talk with us here at Two Spot Monkeys! Be sure to check out the two live iPPV's this weekend at WWNLive.com! If you don't have an account yet there, just click HERE to get signed up and order!