After The Most Recent Dragon Gate USA Show in Milwaukee, Things Will Never Be The Same Again!
Sunday, September 26th was a turning point for Dragon Gate USA.
The roller coaster ride actually began the previous Thursday night. I plugged in my headphones at about 9pm and prepared to do the "detail" booking for the Dragon Gate USA event in Milwaukee. I always wait until right before I leave on a trip to add a few intricacies to the show. My phone vibrated and it was Jay from Mondo Lucha, who had done an excellent job as the local promoter. I immediately heard despair in his voice.
There was a real sense of urgency in Jay's voice. "The ring just canceled on us."
Those are just about the last words you want to hear 60 hours before bell time. After a few seconds of being upset and angry, it was time to get focused and just get a new ring. We still had time. Jay and I made a few late night phone calls, but things would pretty much have to be handled on Friday. Fortunately, our Milwaukee show was Sunday afternoon, so it was likely that there would be an available ring somewhere.
We secured some possibilities on Friday morning before I headed out my door for the airport. As soon as we touched down at O'Hare, I anxiously hit the "power" button on my phone expecting good news. The only voicemail was from someone saying they had a ring, but they couldn't get a truck. "How can that be?" I kept thinking, "Doesn't UHaul have any trucks?"
So, back to square one.
After a few more nervous hours, we were put in contact with someone that I never heard of. That's always comforting. Hey, by this time, I was thinking "Beggars can't be choosers."
As I arrived at the AAW show in Berwyn, IL on Friday night, the pressure was off. We had a ring for Sunday afternoon. I asked around the AAW locker room about the guy with the ring, and he received mixed reviews. Many had no idea who I was talking about. Those that did said he would at least be dependable. That's all I cared about. Dependable. I needed a ring. Just please get me a ring for Sunday.
Things seemed under control Saturday night as Dragon Gate USA presented the "Untouchable" pay-per-view taping in Chicago. RICHOCHET (THE SUBJECT OF MY LAST BLOG) hit a home run in his semi-main event spot. I won't spoil what he did, but the move he hit at the end of the match might be the greatest physical achievement I've ever seen as a lifelong fan, promoter and booker. The Chicago crowd seemed to agree, and rewarded Richochet with a thunderous ovation that lasted for several minutes. The night was a success.
We packed into the mini-van and hit the road for Milwaukee. As I drifted off to sleep, the only thing on my mind was that I wanted to see a ring truck at the building when we arrived at 10am, which was only four hours before bell time.
Of course, that didn't happen.
We sat around the intimate Miramar Theatre and waited. 10:30am passed. Anxiety started to build.
Phone calls to the ring guy go straight to voicemail.
We hit 11:00am, and no returned calls or texts. The pressure mounts. I start considering the fact that I would have to resign as DGUSA Vice President if we don't have a ring. That responsibility falls on me and there is no greater failure I could imagine to the Japanese stars who have traveled across the world to be in Milwaukee for a show I was producing, and there's no ring. I would just disappear, disgraced from the business I love.
We start to think "what can we do for Plan B," , if one is even possible. In the back of my mind, I'm still holding out hope against hope for the truck to just pull up at any moment. That hope was the only thing keeping me from going into a full fledged panic attack. Then I receive a text from an associate of our ring guy at about 11:30am, 90 minutes before doors were supposed to open.
"After the show last night we were jumped by a group of guys outside. (Our ring guy) got bopped with a bat or a club in the head. He just woke up in the hospital freaking out not knowing what happened."
My first thought was "is this really happening?"
I felt my heart sink into my stomach.
The reality was that the ring wasn't coming. There was no show. I thought of the fans who drove hours to be at a Dragon Gate USA show. I thought of the wrestlers that were counting on the payday. I thought about all the travel, work, preparation and plans for this event.
I walked outside to see Bryan Danielson, Jimmy Jacobs and a few others arriving. Depression swept over me. We just lost Bryan's final creative collaboration with me. After over eight years with Bryan, this is how it was going to end.
I showed my business partner Sal Hamaoui the text, and took a moment to be alone. Then I pulled myself together. Sal and I jumped on the phones. We made calls to everyone we knew. Soon some of the wrestlers joined us in reaching out to every contact they could think of.
In the meantime, I stepped outside to the fans that were lined up waiting for the show, and started explaining the situation to them. I even showed the text on my phone to anyone that wanted to see it. The only thing you can do here is have total transparency to your customers and hope they will work with you. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day out, the kind of afternoon where you actually look for an excuse to go outside.
The crowd was understanding.
Time to get back on the phones.
One local promoter took the opportunity to say "I told you so" and rub it in our face that we didn't book his building and partner with him. Another told me that I never did him anything for him, so he wasn't about to do me any favors. We kept hitting dead ends as the clock ticked.
Then CIMA said that we didn't need a ring. We could go to Home Depot and get some padding, and that would be enough to put on a good show. Bryan Danielson loved the idea, figuring it would make a good story one day. I started thinking of some wacky thoughts. A shoot style tournament? A demonstration? A show of wild brawls?
Sal came bursting into the room. "We have a ring and it's 15 minutes away," he shouted. One of the local wrestlers hooked us up with a lucha promotion. But we had no ring crew.
Then something incredible happened.
Almost on pure instinct I yelled "we need bodies to help!!!" The following moment, we saw a team come together for the first time.
Everyone from Japan's biggest stars to the independent veterans to the local hopefuls ran to their cars and piled into mini-vans to go get the ring. Only it was a false lead. The ring was actually 90 minutes away and once again there was no truck. However, this showing of unity just made us all more determined to make this show happen.
Let me back up for a moment. The DGUSA locker room always felt a little divided. We had the Japanese stars. We had some independent veterans. We had some up-and-comers. The shows were great, but it was more like an all star collection of talent rather than a cohesive unit. We were trying to change that by committing to building homegrown stars, which I have written about in past blogs.
It took this adversity to really unify everyone.
After some begging, pleading and a substantial payday that blew our budget into the red, we finally secured a ring at the last possible minute.
Dragon Kid, one of the most revered veterans, was in his mask, pulling the steel frame of the ring out of the truck with Johnny Gargano. Drake Younger was carrying in boards with CIMA, the founder of Dragon Gate. Jimmy Jacobs was giving some local hopefuls direction. Our Champion BxB Hulk was lugging a ringpost into the building with Gran Akuma. Mike Quackenbush, a true independent veteran, was overseeing things in the theatre to make sure YAMATO, Brodie Lee, Shingo, Chuck Taylor and Arik Cannon were putting all the pieces in the right places.
The locker room had become a TEAM.
Finally, we were ready to go. I went outside and told the fans, "The ring is up!"
They popped and were in a great mood. They had just witnessed the same thing I did. They saw everyone put their egos aside and work their hardest to make this event happen. They were just as pumped as our now unified DGUSA locker room.
Thanks to everyone's hustle we started about 90 minutes late. No one seemed to mind. The camaraderie, adrenaline and feeling of perseverance paved the way for perhaps the greatest show in DGUSA history.
That's no promoter hype. That's what I experienced.
I may have hit some of my lowest points during those few hours, but in the end I have never been so proud to be a part of something. Everyone in DGUSA stared adversity in the face and responded with leadership, passion and drive. The collection of talent in the DGUSA locker room is now a TEAM with momentum.
We will peak just at the right time. We will present our first live iPPV on www.GoFightLive.tv on October 29th. I've booked somewhere around 350 shows, and I'm approaching this one with a chip on my shoulder. In fact, so is the DGUSA team.
I'll explain more about that, next time.
Gabe Sapolsky is the VP and head creative force behind Dragon Gate USA. The promotion will present its final live events of 2010 on October 29th in Fall River, MA for the live iPPV and October 30th in Rahway, NJ for a cable TV PPV taping. Go to www.DGUSA.tv or call 267-519-9744.
CLICK THE VIDEO BELOW TO SEE THE RAW FAN FOOTAGE
OF THE DRAGON GATE USA CREW UNLOADING THE MIRACLE RING!
THE HEYMAN HUSTLE'S VERY OWN TRAINED MONKEYS ARE PROUD
TO PRESENT THE TOP 15 STORIES OF THE DAY, ALL CONVENIENTLY
LINKED HERE FOR YOUR REVIEW. NO NEED TO SURF THE WEB, WE
DID ALL THE HARD WORK FOR YOU. JUST PICK A PIC AND CLICK!