One of the more intriguing ideas in the wrestling DVD genre lately is Kayfabe Commentaries Guest Booker series. The first volume had Kevin Sullivan rebooking the WWF expansion in 1984 and the most recent edition has critically praised Gabe Sapolsky of Ring of Honor booking the WWE's new ECW show from its inception in the Summer of 2006 to the first PPV, December to Dismember. Right from the start you will notice that the production values go above and beyond what anyone should expect from a wrestling shoot DVD. As far as I'm concerning there are two groups head and shoulders above everyone else when it comes to state of the art audio and video presentation, Big Vision's Ultimate Insider series and the Guest Booker series. We're talking multiple cameras and sharp on-screen graphics working together as polished final product.
It is interesting that Sapolsky gets to rebook the ECW relaunch as he was personally involved in the original incarnation of ECW back in the 90s. Starting low on the totem poll putting together the ECW program, Gabe worked hard and eventually moved up in the company. Who can forget Stevie Richards describing the worked names that he and Gabe worked under while answering the ECW phones during the Rise and Fall of ECW DVD? After ECW folded, Gabe became the booker of the Ring of Honor promotion and quickly became regarded as one of the most intelligent bookers wrestling has seen in recent memory, going so far as to win three Wrestling Observer Booker of the Year awards. Sapolsky combines the best of Paul Heyman and Jim Cornette - who have two completely different approaches when it comes to the philosophy of wrestling – in one exciting package.
"Part of booking is being an editor."
Gabe discussed that he likes people bringing their ideas to the table, but one of the key jobs of a booker is being able to sift the good ideas from the bad and add your own unique twists onto the ideas that work. For this project to work, Gabe noted that he would update ECW, but keep the core fundamentals of the old company, including the emphasis on the Heavyweight title, TV title, and tag titles. Gabe would have held off on house shows, but if the ECW concept catch on, touring could end up really hurting the independent promotions out there.
"You have the extreme name, so you have to live up to that."
Gabe stressed that it would be in the in-ring product that would separate the new ECW from the huge amount of wrestling already available on TV. Gabe would scale down expensive stuff like the TitanTron and pyro while using that resource for more productive things like possibly obtaining some licensed music, one attribute that really made the old ECW stand out from the others. When musing what his roster would be, Gabe asked himself, "what's gonna make this different than RAW or SmackDown?" This is important, as the current ECW has pretty much thrown that out the window and has become just a watered down version of the two main WWE shows. Before picking the guys, Gabe gives a caveat that none of the ROH/FIP crew would be available to use. That's probably good to note as McMahon and Johnny Ace would probably have a heart attack if Gabe tried to put Jack Evans or Rocky Romero on their TV. Gabe also kept his "fantasy booking" grounded in the real world by acknowledging that he couldn't just cherry pick the best people from RAW and SmackDown. He would probably be allowed one big name from each show (much like Big Show and Kurt Angle were given over to ECW last year) and then would be forced to choose from among the scraps.
"(I want) guys who want it, not those who see it like a step down like Kurt Angle."
It was interesting to listen to Gabe choose his two big names and lay out exactly why he chose them. Gabe also made his picks on who would come over as part of the ECW Originals and who he would choose from the WWE castoffs. Laugh now, but Gabe gave his plans for a guy like Val Venis and I for one would love to have seen it play out on a larger stage. Gabe also talked about his distaste for wrestling agents, but acknowledged that a TV production such as ECW would need some and put Tommy Dreamer and Paul Heyman in that role. Heyman would also be an on-screen commissioner, a role WWE fans are accustomed to seeing and "no one brings more credibility." Amen to that. Gabe then described who he would use for his TV announcing and ring announcing. Let's just say that long time ECW ring announcer Stephen DiAngelis is probably a little steamed right now.
After intricately going through the entire roster, Gabe went through his six month booking plan for the Heavyweight title. Unlike the current "Creative" that seem to book by the hour, Gabe took what he wanted to see on the December PPV and worked his way backwards to get there. It is this type of approach that made a show such as ROH/CZW: Cage of Death ultimately so satisfying. Gabe is able to weave various storylines in and out of each and providing great mark-out moments for fans as he sees the much larger picture while providing small glimpses at a time. This very same approach would be applied to the new ECW and Gabe talked about the one big match he would base his promotion around. It would be this match that the entire six months would be building to and I think many viewers will be surprised at who the main heel Gabe puts all the heat on. This Superstar gets the ECW Raven treatment with the "dog and pony show" of lackeys and valets.
"Under the right circumstances, you can do a lot of title changes."
That seemingly blasphemous statement came straight from Gabe's mouth, and seems to contradict what we have seen over the past decade in WWE and WCW, that being constant belt changes making all the belts seem insignificant. Sapolsky explained what he meant by the statement and then described how he would use that approach with the ECW Tag Team division and I'm more than half convinced it would work. Gabe also gave the two tag teams he would push that would be ECW's version of the old Midnight Express/Rock 'N Roll Express feud.
"The fundamental part of ECW was that they were characters who were relatable."
I think the above statement is Gabe's way of saying why guys like the Boogeyman would not be on his ECW. That said, Sapolsky did defend last year's use of The Zombie, and I agree, that was a bit of inspired genius. After going through the various angles in the tag team division, Gabe moved on to the TV title division, otherwise known as the "Matt Hardy division." This is where Gabe's statement rings true to me as Matt Hardy has this certain attraction to the fans that a guy like the Sandman had in the original ECW. It doesn't matter how badly Matt is pushed, he still has a strong fanbase and always will. Who knows what would happen if someone actually had the balls to give Matt a real push and see if any of the millions of disenfranchised fans would make their way back into the fold.
Keep in mind that throughout all of this we are getting constant updates of how the December to Dismember PPV was shaping up. This was the very same PPV that died a horrible death last year in the buyrates thanks to a half-assed booked show that, if I remember right, was well under the usual PPV time of two hours and forty five minutes. Now that the Heavyweight, Tag Team, and TV title divisions were booked, Gabe talked about his various undercard angles that fill out the rest of the lineup. A key guy to build around would be none other than CM Punk, who would bring along the ROH "honor" concept as he would be trying to earn the respect of the ECW originals before a well booked heel turn down the line. Sapolsky gives all the details for his plan and I loved it just as much as the Punk stuff he did with Tommy Dreamer in ROH. Punk would go on to fight another well known ECW original in a Stairway to Hell match at the PPV and after all of Gabe's plans, this would have been one match I would have paid to see… and it would have been the fifth match from the top!
OVERALL THOUGHTS: I enjoyed the original Guest Booker DVD with Kevin Sullivan, but the series took a big leap up with Gabe and is one of the most interesting DVDs in recent memory. This is a DVD than anyone who would like to see how a booker's mind operates, as Gabe brings his notes to the shoot and goes through each step in insane details. Grounded in reality, Sapolsky shows exactly how cool the Guest Booker concept can be and really whets my appetite for future editions. Gabe gives both the Big Picture along with detailing all the little things that help separate all the angles and matches we fondly remember with the ones we desperately try to forget. This is not just a fantasy booking DVD, it is more like a look back with a "what might have been" using a guy who can clearly score a touchdown when given the ball.
It can't be stressed enough that the production values on this DVD really separate it from the pack. You also have to love the sign on the back cover that Gabe is holding. It shows right away that there is something in the original ECW that Sapolsky respected, without taking himself too seriously, and wanted to bring that to the newer version rather than just shitting on the fans. After you watch this DVD you'll want to hop into the DeLorean, hit 88 MPH and head back to last summer and do everything you can to get WWE to "do it right." What's next in the pipeline? Eric Bischoff booking the Mat Rats we never saw? Jim Cornette booking the NWO invasion? Court Bauer booking the first year of TNA? I have no idea what the answer is, but I can't wait to see it. CLICK HERE for more information on Guest Booker with Gabe Sapolsky.
Derek Burgan has been writing for the Wrestling Observer/Figure 4 Weekly~! family since October, 2005. He previously worked as a Punjabi prison guard. If you have any questions, corrections, feedback, comments and ideas, he can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE TWF "MENTAL WELLNESS TEST!"
With Christmas just around the corner, what better way to spend your few remaining dollars (left over after the seemingly infinite line-up of fucking pay-per-views ) then on the following "quality WWE merchandise!" After all, if they don't move this stuff, and fast, stockholders just might get time to figure out what "plummeting domestic buyrates" means!... and well, I don't think they need to tell you what that means! (Seriously. They're not telling you. Everything is fine! Ahem.).