“I’ll just say it: We wouldn’t be running EVOLVE shows right now if it wasn’t for the WWE support,” EVOLVE booker Gabe Sapolsky says.
The Velveteen Dream is returning to EVOLVE.
He replaces Ricochet, who had been previously advertised for two dates in March. Due to his increased main roster schedule, WWE preferred Ricochet did not wrestle with EVOLVE.
Therefore, it will be Dream—fresh off his North American Championship win on this week’s episode of NXT—in the ring at EVOLVE 123 on March 15 in Melrose, Massachusetts and EVOLVE 124 in Queens, New York.
“We are thrilled to put Dream in those matches and feel it us a seamless replacement,” said Gabe Sapolsky who is VP of Talent Relations and Creative for WWN, which is EVOLVE’s parent company. “One of the really cool things about NXT talent coming to EVOLVE is that EVOLVE can put on matches you never thought possible. So we’ll make this special for our fans.”
Ricochet, who debuted this week on Raw and SmackDown, will still be at the two shows for his previously-scheduled meet-and-greets.
Sapolsky credited WWE for its willingness to allow stars from its roster to work EVOLVE shows.
“I’ll just say it: We wouldn’t be running EVOLVE shows right now if it wasn’t for the WWE support,” said Sapolsky. “I always say if your promotion isn’t adding something to the marketplace—if you are running just to have shows, but offer nothing different to the fans—then I don’t see the purpose in running. There’s no reason for the fans to support you. We needed the competitive advantage that WWE is giving us. They value the pipeline of talent from the independents. It’s a win-win relationship. I am extremely grateful that we are able to deliver these unique cards with an incredible mix of talent to the fans.”
Sapolsky got his start in pro wrestling as a college student at Temple University in Philadelphia, which also served as the home of Paul Heyman’s cutting-edge Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Lessons learned from his time as Heyman’s personal assistant helped transform Sapolsky into one of the most creative bookers over the past 15 years.
“Bringing something different to the marketplace, that’s a Paul Heyman concept,” said Sapolsky. “Heyman is a master of always evolving, so really the whole philosophy of EVOLVE being a promotion that constantly moves forward is something I learned from Heyman.
“What worked yesterday might not work today, you always have to stay ahead of the curve. Those are all Heyman lessons. Those are all things we strive to do in EVOLVE whether it’s the talent on the roster, the card format, the wrestling style, or any other aspect of the promotion.”
Success in EVOLVE has allowed talent to showcase their worth to WWE, particularly for Drew McIntyre—rejuvenating the “Scottish Stud” after he had already had a run with WWE that ended poorly for both sides—and emerging NXT star Matt Riddle.
Both McIntyre and Riddle had a run as EVOLVE heavyweight champion, and Sapolsky was asked whom among those two will be the first EVOLVE champion to headline a WrestleMania.
“Riddle and McIntyre are in a tight race right now,” said Sapolsky. “McIntyre is in the lead due to his present position on Raw, but Riddle is a one-in-a-billion talent. I do think that NXT is the right place for him now. Give him a year or two to learn and develop at the Performance Center, and there’ll be no stopping him.”
Sapolsky also booked some of the seminal moments of Daniel Bryan’s career in 2010. Both were in a time of transition, as Sapolsky had been devasted after his phenomenal seven-year run as Ring of Honor’s booker had come to an end in 2008, while Bryan’s first run with WWE ended with a humbling dismissal after a misunderstanding—allegedly for acting too violently in the ring during an attack on ring announcer Justin Roberts—on Raw.
“Bryan had ideas for a new promotion,” said Sapolsky. “That’s ultimately how EVOLVE started.”
Nearly a decade later, EVOLVE continues to create new stars, perhaps none bigger than current EVOLVE champion Austin Theory.
“Austin Theory is redefining EVOLVE,” said Sapolsky, adding that Theory is only 21 years old. “Everything clicked for him in January. He figured out who he is. This past weekend at EVOLVE in Atlanta and Charlotte, there was a new confidence and a new charisma.
“Austin Theory is leading EVOLVE now as champion, and he has the potential to lead this industry in the next decade.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.