For Gabe Sapolsky, no pro wrestling venue will ever match the atmosphere of the original Elks Lodge in Elmhurst, Queens.
"It was absolutely insane," said Sapolsky, who worked as a ringside cameraman for ECW in the late 1990s when the "Mad House of Extreme" was one of the promotion's regular stops. "The fans were piled on top of each other in that building. At some shows, there were literally fans standing in the stairwell, who couldn't even see the show. They just wanted to be in the building."
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Sapolsky hopes to create similar magic this Saturday night when he brings his Dragon Gate USA promotion to the new Elmhurst Elks Lodge at 8220 Queens Blvd., just next door to the old building.
The event, headlined by Johnny Gargano defending his Open the Freedomgate championship against Mount Sinai native and former WWE star Trent Barretta, kicks off a two-day swing through New York that includes a show at the Brooklyn Lyceum on Sunday night.
Coming off some down years for independent wrestling promoters, Sapolsky predicts a big 2014 for DGUSA, which features a combination of top unsigned American talent and stars from Japan's Dragon Gate.
"Our plan is always to serve a niche that wants new stars, innovative wrestling and basically wrestling based on athleticism," Sapolsky said.
The downside of creating those new stars is that bigger wrestling promotions tend to take notice, swoop in and sign them away. Solomon Crowe, Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn are among the DGUSA regulars who have signed with WWE in recent years.
"It's the nature of the business. It's tough to see them go, personally, but our job is to always create new stars and keep that pipeline going," Sapolsky said. "I'm always happy to see a talent go on and be able to make enough money to take care of his family."
Watching homegrown talent go on to the big shows is nothing new to the former Ring of Honor co-founder, who helped cultivate stars including Samoa Joe, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. WWE acknowledged Sapolsky's contributions in a recent story on its website.
"I saw a 203 number from Stamford on my phone, so I picked up and it was WWE.com wanting to do this article," said Sapolsky. "I think it's a great thing, and I think it's something that they should continue to do. When you look at the guys who are on top there and are running with the ball . . . they all came from Dragon Gate USA, Evolve and other various independents. So they need this pipeline as well."
Chief among those stars is Gargano, whose nearly 2 1/2-year reign with DGUSA's top title dwarfs even Punk's historic 13-month WWE title reign from 2012 to 2013. Still, Sapolsky said he doesn't think lengthy title reigns should be the rule for wrestling promoters.
"You can't have one very long title reign after another, because then the fans know that the title's not changing tonight. It needs to happen sometimes so that they can believe it can happen at any time," Sapolsky said. "It's more a testament to how well Gargano has done as our champion."
Also keeping WWE on Sapolsky's radar is the company's new network, set to launch Monday. Sapolsky said the WWE Network could have major repercussions, both good and bad, for independent wrestling promoters like him.
On the plus side, Sapolsky said the web-based network will help condition fans to non-traditional forms of watching wrestling, such as the Internet-exclusive pay per views DGUSA regularly runs.
"I think the negative of the network is that it's at a very low price point. So fans are going to expect all that content for just $10 a month, which is just absolutely impossible for somebody like us to offer," Sapolsky said. "It's kind of like Wal-Mart coming to town and putting the local hardware store out of business."
Tickets for the "Revolt 2014!", which will also be streamed online at WWNLive.com, are available through the DGUSA web site.