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Ring of Honor like Broadway: Sapolsky
By TJ MADIGAN - Calgary Sun


In the late '90s, there were three different grappling groups fighting for a piece of the multi-million-dollar wrestling market. There was Vince McMahon's WWF, Ted Turner's WCW and Paul Heyman's fringe group, ECW.

Today, the names may be different but the industry's hierarchy still looks pretty much the same.

The WWF has become WWE and is still the top dog in the wrestling world. WCW has folded but TNA quickly stepped up to take its place as the leading alternative for grappling fans.

Ring of Honor (ROH) has emerged as the heir apparent to Heyman's throne and, while the name may not ring any bells with casual sports viewers, the group has alreadly cemented its spot as the promotion of choice for hardcore mat fans.

ROH's head booker, Gabe Sapolsky, sat down with the Calgary Sun to explain how a small indie company in the northeastern U.S. grew into a worldwide cult phenomenon.

"I compare it to Broadway," Sapolsky said. "WWE and TNA are like TV stations that throw a million shows on the air and hope some of them are hits. ROH is like Broadway, where the actors and, in our case, wrestlers, come to perform their art in its purest form."

The in-ring action is the key selling point in Ring of Honor, while the soap opera aspect of modern pro-wrestling takes a back seat. Some of ROH's most famous matches have run for more than an hour, with names such as CM Punk, Samoa Joe and Austin Aries regularly participating.

"It's a place where the athletic side of pro wrestling is emphasized," Sapolsky said. "We take the best athletes that are out there and we put them in the ring with no limitations and no restrictions.

"We basically cut them loose and let them do their thing."

Although ROH has clearly taken a few pages out of the ECW playbook, Sapolksy insists his group is an entirely different animal.

"We have a lot of the same qualities as ECW, as far as the work ethic, the family atmosphere in the locker-room and the rabid fan base but you're not going to see what you saw in ECW, like the constant hardcore style or the beer drinking.

"Ring of Honor rose out of the ashes of ECW but we didnt want to be another ECW imitation. We wanted to fill that void but do it in our own style."

The style caught on with wrestling hardcores, most of whom follow the promotion by mail-order DVDs. Ring of Honor has never had a major TV outlet and they run shows primarily on the East Coast, so most fans have to log onto the company's website (ROHWrestling.com) each month and order the latest instalment.

The DVDs run like an episodic series, broken down into chapter points so that new fans can join in and catch up quickly. It's an intriguing formula but obviously a good one, since the company not only turns a profit but shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.

"Our owner isn't a billionaire and we're not here becuse we have a million dollar backer throwing money away," Sapolsky said, not-so-subtly refencing his big-budget competition.

"We're a self-sustaining company and at the rate we're going now, we'll be in business forever."

But the company is still open to new ideas, such as its first national TV clearence. ROH will soon launch a weekly show on The Fight Network, Canada's 24-hour combat sports channel, running head-to-head with WWE's Monday Night Raw.

"Fans will definitely see a different product than they're used to with WWE," Sapolsky said. "They'll see some great wrestling and they're not going to be stuck with any long Diva Search segments. If Canadian fans want to give us a chance during a commercial break, I think they'll be hooked and will gladly come back for more."

RELATED LINKS

  • Feb. 16, 2005: 2004 a year of triumph for Ring of Honor


    Visit the SLAM! Wrestling store!


  • Lots of Ring of Honor DVDs!