If WWE is pro wrestling’s version of Major League Baseball, then fans have the opportunity to catch a minor league ballgame on Long Island this Sunday.
EVOLVE, the critically acclaimed independent wrestling promotion recently referred to by Paul “Triple H” Levesque as a “feeder” system for WWE, is coming to the area this weekend, with a two-night stint featuring some of wrestling’s most promising young stars. EVOLVE 49 takes place Saturday at La Boom in Woodside, Queens. Then on Sunday, the company returns to the NYWC Sportatorium in Deer Park for EVOLVE 50. Tickets for both shows are available at EVOLVE's website, www.dgusa.tv, and Sunday’s event will also be streamed live.
“It’s a really cool building — a real intimate atmosphere. It’s always exciting to run that building,” said EVOLVE co-founder Gabe Sapolsky, who boasts of feeling as motivated as during any time in 13-year career as a wrestling booker. “I love our roster that we have now. It’s one of the best rosters I’ve ever worked with — an absolutely tremendous locker room . . . I just feel rejuvenated.”
One more reason for Sapolsky to feel excited about EVOLVE, which he helped create in 2010, is the group’s newfound working relationship with WWE. Although Sapolsky declined to discuss any specifics of the arrangement, the strength of the deal was evidenced by the announcement earlier this week that Sami Zayn, a WWE-contracted performer and standout of its NXT brand, will appear at both New York shows this weekend.
WWE has also featured several current and former EVOLVE wrestlers on NXT in recent weeks, including the team of Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano, and Apollo Crews, who recently signed a WWE deal.
“I love what Gabe does. I love what EVOLVE does. I think that they are one of the sounder promotions as far as how they handle their talent, as far as how they tell their stories, and as far as how they handle their in-ring product,” said Levesque, WWE’s executive vice president of talent, live events and creative. “I do see them as a feeder system. I support them. I supported their shows. A lot of our talent has come through there over the years and they've learned a lot from there.”
Sapolsky said WWE’s newfound interest in the independent wrestling scene is a “motivating factor” for him and all the young talent on the EVOLVE roster.
“Now the people feel like, ‘I’m a smaller guy in the indies. Whereas maybe I wouldn’t have gotten a chance before, now they’re opening these doors,' ” Sapolsky said.
In EVOLVE, WWE has chosen to align itself with a company with a proven track record of top-flight talent. Sapolsky said over the last year he’s worked to polish the EVOLVE brand by running tighter shows with fewer matches and no room for filler.
“Every match means something. Every piece of talent on the show is important. There’s no throwaway matches. There’s no matches that happen and you forget about them five minutes later,” said Sapolsky, who likened his work with EVOLVE to that of a director on a quality movie. “You’re going to get 2, 2 ½ hours of great entertainment. . . . Not one wasted second.”
Among the rising stars who will be part of this weekend’s shows is Long Island’s own Anthony Nese, who credits EVOLVE with giving him his first “big break.”
“Every match is pretty much there to steal the show,” said Nese, of Ridge. “Every match, from the first match, is a match that would main-event a lot of other indie shows. It’s pretty much high intensity all the way through.”