Arts & Entertainment

Corrigan: From Owl to owner

Gabe Sapolsky discusses being a Temple student then turned wrestling promoter.

johncorriganNo matter whose hand is raised in victory on April 6, WrestleMania XXX will forever be remembered for the plot twists leading up to the “Great Granddaddy of ‘Em All.”

Randy Orton became the undisputed WWE World Heavyweight Champion.

Batista returned after four years of dabbling in Hollywood and mixed martial arts to win the Royal Rumble.

CM Punk quit.

Triple H jockeyed between benevolent boss and ruthless dictator, finally settling on the latter and agreeing to step back in the ring to reclaim his throne – and maybe double dip on that Mania payday.

Daniel Bryan joined the Wyatt Family, attacked its patriarch in a steel cage, was denied entry into the Rumble, was screwed in the Elimination Chamber, hijacked “Monday Night Raw” and now has a chance to challenge for the gold in the main event.

And throughout this testosterone-raging roller coaster, wrestling fans criticized the company’s direction, proposed alternative storylines and shared their fantasy lineups for “WrestleMania.”

It’s fun to place yourself in Vince McMahon’s shoes and contemplate what matches would be most exciting to watch.

For instance, I’d love to see Nathan Jones vs. Camacho, but maybe that’s just me.

While the rest of us tweet our gimmick concoctions to Seth Mates, one Temple grad actually has the power to run a professional wrestling organization as he wishes.

As a matter of fact, Gabe Sapolsky runs two: Dragon Gate USA and Evolve Wrestling.

A Boston native, Sapolsky pursued his higher education in Philadelphia due to Temple’s renowned journalism program. Writing for The Temple News and the sports information department, the future wrasslin’ booker broke into the business his senior year.

“When [Extreme Championship Wrestling] opened up, I wrote a letter to [owner] Tod Gordon asking if I could write a newsletter since I was a journalism major,” Sapolsky said. “He didn’t get letters like that, so he accepted me and gave me a chance. Since I lived in Temple Towers, I would hop on a couple of buses to South Philly for the shows, which back then were every six weeks or so.”

To gather information for the newsletter, Sapolsky was granted access into traditionally forbidden territory: the locker room.

“I credit the skills I learned from my public relations, marketing and sports journalism classes,” Sapolsky said. “The first thing I did was get background on everybody as far as their high school and college experience. That way I could have articles written about the wrestlers in their various local newspapers to get us publicity.”

By the time Sapolsky graduated in 1994, ECW had expanded to the point of building an office above Carver W. Reed – Gordon’s jewelry store on 10th Street. Handling ticket sales and promotional duties with then coworker and now Extreme Rising Champion Stevie Richards, Sapolsky eventually gained the attention of ECW’s booking genius, Paul Heyman.

“Heyman would spend hours on the phone with me at night explaining why certain things were done,” Sapolsky said. “I had no idea when I would use all that stuff. At the time, I was just a very good listener.”

When ECW went bankrupt in 2001, Sapolsky finally had the opportunity to apply Heyman’s lessons.

“I was working for RF Video and a major part of their business was selling videotapes of ECW shows,” Sapolsky said. “So we looked for other promotions and nothing really came close. Then we realized we had the knowledge from ECW to do it ourselves and that’s how Ring of Honor was born.”

Originally “intended to be just a once a month local promotion,” ROH has grown into arguably the No. 3 pro wrestling company in the United States. From 2002 until 2008, a large part of ROH’s success stemmed from Sapolsky’s innovative direction and matchmaking, as evidenced by the industry’s premier media source Wrestling Observer awarding him Best Booker four consecutive years. Bryan, CM Punk, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and many other of today’s stars flourished under Sapolsky’s guidance.

Unfortunately, his vision for the company conflicted with owner Cary Silkin’s, and Sapolsky left ROH to take up his current positions as vice president of Dragon Gate USA and co-owner of Evolve.

“During my time in ROH, I built up a strong list of contacts, including a huge company in Japan known as Dragon Gate,” Sapolsky said. “The promoters were looking to expand into the United States and came to me with the idea of running a show. But I suggested they start a whole promotion over here to showcase the Japanese talent. In the meantime, I discovered a ton of American talent, so that’s how Evolve came about.”

Without a television platform for West Coast fans to check out the action, Sapolsky started a third business, WWN Live.com, to stream Johnny Gargano, Ricochet and the rest of the top independent talent via Internet pay-per-view.

With such a demanding schedule, it’s inevitable that Sapolsky’s creative juices dry up.

“During the ROH years, I didn’t know how to handle burnt out,” Sapolsky said. “Those are the times when you need to step away and give yourself a breather. My breather is my 4-year-old son Jack. Whereas my entire life used to be wrestling, now it’s just a part of my life.”

Despite managing his own companies, Sapolsky has been closely following the road to “WrestleMania” just like us armchair bookers because he’s also rooting for the leader of the YES Movement.

“’WrestleMania’ season is a very exciting time for me personally because Daniel Bryan was in the main event of the first show that I booked for Ring of Honor,” Sapolsky said. “I had a 10-year run with him and consider him a friend. I’ve seen how hard he’s worked to get this moment and I’m very happy for him.”

If you’ll be in New Orleans for “WrestleMania,” join me for all the festivities: the Hall of Fame, WWE Axxess, and oh yeah, Dragon Gate USA’s trifecta.

“It’s a huge weekend for us, too, because we’re playing to a worldwide audience,” Sapolsky said. “Since fans come from all over the world for ‘Mania,’ many come to our shows because it’s the one time of the year they get to see us live.”

John Corrigan can be reached at john.corrigan@temple.edu.

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