Despite the lack of audiences and any buzz for this weekend’s Backlash pay-per-view, the pro wrestling world had its share of noteworthy rumors in the past few days, specifically the status of Evolve, the independent group under the direction of former ECW front office worker and ROH booker, Gabe Sapolsky. The organization is a part of the World Wrestling Network, an umbrella of organizations, including the now-defunct Dragon Gate USA project and Shine, one of the most well-known women’s groups on the independent scene. According to The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer, the corona virus pandemic, including the cancellation of all the outside events centered around this year’s Wrestlemania, financially damaged the group that was established in 2010. The rumor mill suggest that the league could be sold to the WWE, which had a working agreement with Evolve within the past few years.
There are a few different angles to look at this story, and unfortunately, the further consolidation of the industry probably isn’t a good thing in this scenario. Supposedly, Gabe signed a deal with WWE as a consultant a few years ago, but as far as I know, this hasn’t been officially confirmed or acknowledged. Hopefully, he will have work with NXT or in some fashion in the industry because he has a track record, and it’s always disappointing when someone is put out of a job, especially under these circumstances. Gabe, who developed much of his reputation from his six years as head booker of Ring Of Honor, a time that is usually considered its peak years, has definitely discovered and given the chance for talent to showcase themselves during his time in the industry. Granted, Sapolsky has his critics, but the same could be said for almost every booker in history so that’s nothing new. Some might say that his rise to prominence through ROH was at a time when he had generational talent at his disposal, which is true, but at the same time, he believed in the concept and that belief paid off for the organization.
I always thought his dismissal from ROH in 2008 was somewhat unfair because it was at a time when many of the stars that took the organization to its previously mentioned peak were signed for more money by bigger companies. When the group was still independently owned, ROH simply couldn’t afford to compete with the money that WWE and TNA could offer so when someone got a contract, they departed ROH. The economic crunch of that particular era didn’t help either because it was that much more difficult to sell DVDs, which was one of the group’s main revenue streams at the time. Plus, it’s difficult to make new stars or maintain a buzz after the roster was depleted. It took time for ROH to establish it’s next group of top-tier talent. Ultimately, the economics of ROH weren’t feasible, prompting Cary Silkin to sell the company to Sinclair Broadcasting in 2011. The point being, it’s doubtful Gabe or anyone else was suddenly going to be able to boost ROH in 2008 because of the previously mentioned factors that led to the slump.
When Evolve launched in 2010, many thought it might be the next ROH in some ways because of its association with Sapolsky, and while it had some success, it just didn’t catch lightning in a bottle again. Some of the early shows had sparse attendance and overall, the group didn’t necessarily make major waves until the WWE working agreement was announced, putting a renewed spotlight on it. That being said, Evolve always had a solid product, it was just difficult for it to get noticed from the pack so to speak because of the influx of the industry over the past decade. The WWE deal was undoubtedly helpful because pre-show autograph signings with NXT stars and occasional matches with wrestlers that were under WWE contract helped boost the Evolve crowds.
Make no mistake about it, Evolve had quality shows, but it’s also a matter of it being a niche product by definition. The niche that follows that particular style of wrestling has a realistic “wrestling budget” and with not only, the expansion of New Japan in recent years, but also the addition of All Elite Wrestling to the pro wrestling landscape, there’s more competition for the diehard wrestling fan dollar. Ironically, in some ways, Evolve suffered from the same problem of both ECW and the original ROH. It’s too small to be a multi-million dollar promotion, but it’s too big to be considered some local indy show. It’s big enough to get talent noticed, but too small to afford to keep them under contract.
As much as WWE copyrights, trademarks, and tries to control every aspect that they can of the industry, even they know the value of the smaller groups for talent to be discovered. The major problem for Evolve is that without live events, they have very limited resources to generate revenue because ultimately, the company is fueled by live event content. Without the live shows, they don’t have tickets or event streams to market to their audience. On the flip side, WWE’s TV deal is what allowed them to continue to be profitable, even without a live audience. Assuming Evolve sells to WWE, which makes sense because they’ve already worked with them, including the Network special last year, and because WWE can offered the best price for it, it will probably be the finish of the organization. As much as WWE knows wrestlers need a place to hone their craft,it doesn’t really make sense for them to fund Evolve to stay open when they already have the Performance Center and the NXT brand that is designed for the same purpose. If anything, the tape library, which features content from many wrestlers under WWE contract, is probably the most valuable asset of WWN.
The bottom line is, there’s really nothing good that can come from the sell with the exception of expanded distribution of footage that many fans can eventually watch on the WWE streaming platform. If the entire WWN entity is bought then it will be one less place for wrestlers to get work and exposure. Plus, if Shine folds, it’s also less of a chance for female athletes to make a name for themselves. It can’t be understated how important platforms like Evolve are for the overall benefit of the industry because the discovery of talent is key to success. Keep in mind, Drew McIntyre used Evolve as one of the stages to completely reinvent himself after he was originally released from WWE. McIntyre went from being released after a comedy gimmick to eventually winning the title at the main event of Wrestlemania because of the opportunity he had outside of the WWE to find his character, which is a prime example of how important the independent scene is to the entire industry.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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