Recently on WWE.com, Paul Heyman listed 10 “Paul Heyman Guys.” It seems to be the cool thing these days, in this exclusive club of individuals that associate themselves with the man known as the "Creative Rabbi," the man widely regarded as one of the best talkers and thinkers in the history of professional wrestling, the patriarch of ECW, the man who ushered in a wave of change in the wrestling landscape in the 1990s.
One name that wasn't included in that list, (let's call him Paul Heyman Guy No. 11), is Gabe Sapolsky. Some reading this may not know who he is, but he has influenced pro wrestling a lot more than you think.
Let me present you with a list of luminaries: CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Samoa Joe, PAC, Antonio Cesaro, Kassius Ohno, Sara Del Rey, Evan Bourne. All of these stars are currently with WWE in some capacity (except for Joe, who is with TNA). At one point in time, many of their most high-profile matches and moments were organized by Gabe Sapolsky. After years of steering the ship at Ring of Honor, the Philadelphia native is the vice president of an exciting pro wrestling outfit called Dragon Gate USA.
Simply put, the guy has a knack for sniffing out the world's best talent in the pro wrestling business. Today, it's in the red-canvassed ring of Dragon Gate USA, an affiliate of Japanese mega promotion Dragon Gate, where fans stateside can see the very best of the next generation.
My first introduction to Gabe and Dragon Gate came in 2010, at their first event in Toronto. I had heard so much about him and was eager to leave a good impression, so I put my wedding DJ skills (I use that term loosely) to good use and played music man for the event, making sure every wrestler had their theme blaring on their way to the ring. One year later, when EVOLVE (another promotion Gabe runs) came to Toronto, I was invited to join veteran voice Lenny Leonard on commentary. Lenny is terrific and we got along great. With Lenny unable to make recent events due to starting a new job and tackling on that responsibility for the time being, Gabe asked me to do commentary for three events: Nov. 2 outside Boston, Nov. 3 outside Philly and Nov. 4 in Long Island.
The fun began on the ride up. I had the pleasure of sharing the road with the Super Smash Brothers (Player Uno and Player Dos), who I found to be two of the more creative guys in the industry. Really, their tag team, infused by video game references and eye-catching offense, is worth taking time to check out. The only low point of the trip was riding through Vermont, which, as it turns out, is rather boring. I apologize to anyone from Vermont reading this ... but I'm sure you also agree.
I have a lot experience with feeder systems. I did commentary for many seasons with the Ontario Hockey League, the league responsible for the most amount of young players which eventually make it to the NHL. I have spent three years with the Score Fighting Series, which has seen several fighters win fights and move on to the UFC and Strikeforce (Antonio Carvalho, Chris Clements, Nic Denis and Jordan Mein are just a few examples). I've even been involved with the indy wrestling scene in Canada for eight years, but Dragon Gate was truly an all-star lineup of those who you could truly bank on getting a serious look from WWE in the near future, or are developing a cult following.
Take a guy like Jon Davis. He's got the size, the look and the intensity, making him a great villain. To me, he has the best entrance in wrestling right now. He walks out, stares a hole through several members of the audience, takes his time, has brooding entrance music. It's the whole package.
Then there's Sami Callihan. Rumors has been swirling that WWE has already expressed an interest in the “Callihan Death Machine,” and why not? He is the most intimidating guy under 5-8 I've ever shaken hands with. From his look, to his demeanor, to the way he sells in the ring and his intensity, in my opinion he is the best unsigned non-heavyweight wrestler in the landscape today.
How about el Generico? He has a cult-like following. I've never seen him have a bad match, and it feels like he never phones it in. The fact that he's not already signed to WWE is a shame. That is, if that's what he wants to do.
So many more guys whose names I have omitted from this article (and likely get heat because of it) are in such a great position because they work hard and put on a terrific show.
Match of the weekend for me was a fatal fourway elimination bout Sunday in Long Island for the Open the Freedom Gate championship between champion Johnny Gargano, Akira Tozawa, AR Fox and Ricochet. The latter two perform some acrobatics I haven never seen before -- in the first two minutes of their matches that often last 20-plus minutes! (Imagine what they are doing at minute 11 or 12). Akira Tozawa was wildly popular with the crowd and is part of the Dragon Gate Japanese contingent, which also includes Genkio Horiguchi, Ryo Saito, EITA and the icon of Dragon Gate, CIMA (who I learned proudly wears the Greek flag on his attire in honor of his wife, who is of Greek decent). Johnny Gargano is part of the talent-rich Ohio wrestling scene (which also includes Callihan, Matt Cross, Gregory Iron. In WWE, Dolph Ziggler and The Miz are Ohio natives). Gargano is all heart in the ring and is a terrific face and voice for the company.
It was a pleasure playing a small part in these wildly entertaining shows, and I thank Gabe for the opportunity. Due to his reputation, I'm flattered that he would want me to be a part and provide commentary on the shows (which air on iPPV at WWNLive.com and will be released on DVD in the future). I will be happy to return for future events. In the meantime and in between time (by the way for those asking, that is a respectful shout out to Ed Whalen, which I proudly use weekly on TV to honor his legacy in pro wrestling), I highly recommend you check out Dragon Gate USA if you never have.
More information on Dragon Gate USA can be found at www.dgusa.tv.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun