ROH’s Cary Silkin Discusses Firing Gabe Sapolsky, The Wrestler, More

Bill Behrens interviewed ROH owner Cary Silkin. That interview is posted below.

Some may question Cary’s answer to the question about Adam Pierce being the new booker, but I for one believe he gave the right answer. Adam is certainly involved but the book is not exclusively his, as others are helping like Austin Aries, Larry Sweeney etc. As has been reported Adam is not going to the Friday shows in most cases. It has also been well reported that Adam is still involved with the NWA & Big Vision’s TV product, so his eggs are not all in one basket right now, and clearly he is not “exclusive” to ROH, nor are whatever ideas he brings to the table. And honestly why should he make the booker the focus of ROH?…..”booking genus” is over-rated anyway.

The interview follows:

ROH’s Cary Silkin On Firing Sapolsky, New Direction, Production Quality, and “The Wrestler”

As the year comes to a close, 2008 will undoubtedly be remembered as a landmark year for Ring of Honor. It was the year that two of the company’s former top stars won world titles in WWE and TNA, the year that the company first made it to the Hammerstein Ballroom, and the year when the company’s popular, longtime booker was given his walking papers.

As ROH prepares to put on its last show of the year – Final Battle 2008 this Saturday night at the Hammerstein in Manhattan – ROH owner Cary Silkin spoke with me about what the last 12 months have been like for the country’s number three promotion. In this interview, Silkin talks publicly, for the first time, about his controversial firing of Gabe Sapolsky two months ago, as well as about the changes he’s sought in the product, criticisms about ROH’s sub-par production quality, and the company’s prominent role in the critically acclaimed film, “The Wrestler.”

AC: In as much as you want, what can you say about what happened with Gabeâ<80><99>s firing or what your side of the story was?

CS: A lot of it boiled down to simple business and as a company there needed to be some changes. Gabe was a very successful booker for most of his run. I think historically, six years-plus as a booker might be a record. And, you know, things just werenâ<80><99>t working. And it was the right time to make a change. Itâ<80><99>s pretty much as simple as that. He did a tremendous amount of good things in his time, but it had sort of run its course and the change was important.

AC: Were there hard feelings?

CS: I mean, youâ<80><99>re never happy about firing someone. It was a close knit group, you know? Iâ<80><99>m sure there were hard feelings. You feel bad. I donâ<80><99>t know if â<80><9c>hard feelingsâ<80> are the right words, but you feel bad. I mean I was friendly with him. So it was rough, but we all move on.

AC: Whatâ<80><99>s the feedback been from fans? I imagine more than if most companies lost a booker, Ring of Honorâ<80><99>s fans might have been especially attached to Gabe, since he went back to the beginning of the company and I think they really kind of related to him.

CS: I think itâ<80><99>s a vocal minority. The kind of people that are all over message boards and stuff like that, itâ<80><99>s really not the heart of our audience. Theyâ<80><99>re really not the heart of the audience, and those kind of people are going to comment on anything and everything. So this gave them a real opportunity to sound off. But, you know, the fans love wrestling and thatâ<80><99>s what Ring of Honor is about. And when the dust settles, thatâ<80><99>s what were continuing to do ��” to just provide the best possible product.

AC: Did you see it as wanting to go in a new direction, or did you see it as wanting to go back to your original direction? Did you feel that some of Gabeâ<80><99>s booking might have gone a little off course in the last year and you wanted to kind of get back to the fundamentals? Or did you feel it was time to just tear everything down and try something new?

CS: Well, I think the product had become more wrestling move oriented than wrestling oriented. And we have such talented guys and I think there was a lot of redundancy in the matches. You know, itâ<80><99>s funny to think about it because we had so many good shows during his run. But it comes down to dollars to and how weâ<80><99>re drawing and how the DVDs are selling, so we needed to make a change.

AC: Why Adam Pearce? What did you see in him? What do you think he brings to the table?

CS: At this point, we donâ<80><99>t even discuss whoâ<80><99>s booking, or I donâ<80><99>t discuss whoâ<80><99>s booking or whatâ<80><99>s going on in booking. Because itâ<80><99>s not important. Whatâ<80><99>s important is the bottom line product.

AC: As a fan, Iâ<80><99>ll make a couple of observations. Some of these shows were going really long, and you did get a sense that ��” I guess the notion is, if everything is so spectacular it kind of waters down what really needs to be spectacular. So is the move to maybe kind of draw back a little bit on mid-card, under-card stuff, make events shorter?

CS: Yeah, the events ��” It was just a lot of excess. Too many guys. Too many matches. Youâ<80><99>ve experienced it yourself. Youâ<80><99>re burned out sometimes by the intermission. And thereâ<80><99>s a way, whether thereâ<80><99>s a concert or any kind of performance, to be arranged so you donâ<80><99>t get that kind of feeling. And I know in my experience with these shows that weâ<80><99>ve been doing, theyâ<80><99>re much more palatable for the fans, and I think theyâ<80><99>re better.

AC: Are they noticeably shorter now? Whatâ<80><99>s kind of the average Ring of Honor show length in the last couple of months?

CS: Theyâ<80><99>re not extremely shorter, but I think theyâ<80><99>re under three hours as opposed to four-and-a-half hours.

AC: OK. They would go that long. Yeah, thatâ<80><99>s, I imagine, a big improvement. A couple of other things that I guess have changed over the last couple of months that I thought Iâ<80><99>d ask you about – A couple of business deals, one being the Direct TV deal and the other the subscription deal. Can you talk a bit about those ��” what you hope theyâ<80><99>ll bring to Ring of Honor? The subscription deal, in particular, I guess is something that people have been calling for for a while, and yet Iâ<80><99>ve heard some criticisms that itâ<80><99>s not all it could be. Is it sort of a pilot project now? Are you kind of testing the waters to see how much further you can go with this?

CS: Youâ<80><99>re referring to the DVD subscription deal?

AC: Yes.

CS: I mean itâ<80><99>s very simple. You just get a discount and youâ<80><99>re sort of signed up. If youâ<80><99>re a fan, itâ<80><99>s sort of a convenience factor. If youâ<80><99>re the kind of fan thatâ<80><99>s going to want every DVD ��” and we do have a lot of those ��” itâ<80><99>s no different to subscribing to Rolling Stone or youâ<80><99>re favorite magazine and you know youâ<80><99>re going to get them. As a business move, itâ<80><99>s nice to see that people are guaranteeing themselves X number of releases. And thereâ<80><99>s a little bit of a discount for them, so itâ<80><99>s a win for everybody.

AC: Have you seen a little bit of an uptick in sales since you launched the service?

CS: Yeah. You know, people are using it. And itâ<80><99>s a nice thing. Itâ<80><99>s a good thing to offer, and if they donâ<80><99>t want it, itâ<80><99>s no big deal. They get to pick and choose. But thereâ<80><99>s a lot of completists. In our fan base, thereâ<80><99>s a lot of people who want it all so itâ<80><99>s nice to give them the opportunity to subscribe.

AC: Has there ever been thought given to a sort of â<80><9c>less is moreâ<80> mentality? Maybe putting out fewer DVDs? Not putting out every show, and making the ones that you put out kind of â<80><9c>must-seeâ<80> DVDs?

CS: Weâ<80><99>ve discussed it, but right now the way our business model is continuing to operate, thereâ<80><99>s definitely a demand for us to do every show. If we ever announced that, theyâ<80><99>d probably be upset about that too. But right now weâ<80><99>re just continuing with what weâ<80><99>ve been doing the last many years.

AC: How about the Direct TV deal? How big a deal is that? Is that something thatâ<80><99>s already made a difference?

CS: Itâ<80><99>s great, absolutely. We were doing respectably with In Demand and the Dish Network and TVN, but obviously the missing link was Direct TV. Youâ<80><99>re talking about an additional 20 million homes.

AC: Is that right? That many?

CS: And, Iâ<80><99>ve got Direct TV. So, yeah, weâ<80><99>re really excited about that. And the pay per view we filmed in Chicago ��” â<80><9c>Rising Aboveâ<80> ��” which will be the first one thatâ<80><99>s on Direct TV as well as the other outlets, that was the first time we used a professional crew to film it. I think everybody is going to be pleasantly ��” I donâ<80><99>t know if theyâ<80><99>ll be surprised, but theyâ<80><99>ll be pleased with the product. It looks phenomenal.

AC: Well, that was going to be my next question. Iâ<80><99>d be remiss if I didnâ<80><99>t bring this up, because itâ<80><99>s something Iâ<80><99>ve been very critical about, and that is the production quality. Thereâ<80><99>s definitely a feeling by a lot of fans ��” myself included ��” that it needs to look better. And that if Ring of Honor really wants to continue growing and wants to be noticed, then presentation has to be a big part of it. Is that something you agree with? And what have been some of the obstacles along the way?

CS: Not only do I agree with it, weâ<80><99>ve officially done something about it, above and beyond just taping that last pay per view. As of this upcoming weekend, we have a fully upgraded system on our own. Theyâ<80><99>re the equivalent of the cameras used for the last pay per view. Theyâ<80><99>re being used by our staff under strict training, so starting with the Final Battle weekend, the Philadelphia show, the New York show, and every show further on, weâ<80><99>re going with an incredible upgrade ��” the same as you can get on the pay per view. We were well aware of the need for that, but it just comes down to ��” everything is money. But weâ<80><99>re able to do it now, so weâ<80><99>ve done it.

AC: How about issues of sound and lighting and other places where people have been critical?

CS: I donâ<80><99>t know if they should be critical of our lighting that much. I think it was more a camera issue. It wasnâ<80><99>t a lighting issue.

AC: I guess the issue is that a lot of these guys were kind of washed out in the light.

CS: Well, they wonâ<80><99>t be washed out anymore.

AC: They wonâ<80><99>t. OK, thatâ<80><99>s good to know. If some of that available on the Videowire? Can we get a taste now of what the new product is going to look like?

CS: You could get a taste. Thereâ<80><99>s the one Videowire that had a couple of clips from the Samoa Joe-Tyler Black match that was taped in Chicago, which is not part of the pay per view due to the contractual obligations of Samoa Joe. But you get an idea of how it looks. And Iâ<80><99>ve seen the new pay per view, and itâ<80><99>s wonderful.

AC: Because I think there is this tone and feeling among fans that Ring of Honor is struggling in some respects ��” and youâ<80><99>ve brought up issues of drawing and money ��” do fans need to be concerned about the future of Ring of Honor, or do you feel that youâ<80><99>re on pretty safe ground for the near future?

CS: No, weâ<80><99>re definitely on safe ground. Itâ<80><99>s nice to know that the fans are so worried. But, yeah, weâ<80><99>re doing fine. We wouldnâ<80><99>t have done this expensive production upgrade if we werenâ<80><99>t on safe ground. It would be the last thing weâ<80><99>d be doing. So yeah, everything is on target business-wise.

AC: How about in terms of television? Are you still working on it?

CS: Weâ<80><99>re still working on it. Nothing to report yet, but you know, weâ<80><99>re still entertaining a few things. So weâ<80><99>ll see what happens this year.

AC: Was the production upgrade with that in mind ��” kind of, we need to get this looking better if we want to shop it around?

CS: Right, plus, I can say safely without any kind of talk of a boisterous nature, that we do have the best wrestling. So I want to have the best production possible. And the time has come. Itâ<80><99>s overdue, but itâ<80><99>s here now. As good as our wrestling in, Iâ<80><99>d like to have a total professional crew for every show, but itâ<80><99>s just not good business sense. But weâ<80><99>re doing the best we can.

AC: Another thing I imagine is a pretty big coupe for you and something youâ<80><99>re excited about, is Ring of Honorâ<80><99>s part in â<80><9c>The Wrestler,â<80> which people are talking about as one of the best movies of the year and is on a lot of best lists. Thereâ<80><99>s a lot of talk about Oscar contention. I saw it a few weeks ago, and you guys are all over it. Nigel McGuinness is there in a pretty major scene. Necro Butcher is all over it. A few other guysâ<80>¦ The climax ��” really the payoff of the whole movie ��” happens at a Ring of Honor show. The logo is everywhere. Can you talk a bit about that, how big a deal that is for you and how it came about?

CS: Yeah, weâ<80><99>re thrilled. I was talking to Evan Ginzburg, who does wrestling radio, heâ<80><99>s been in wrestling for years.

AC: Yeah, I know Evan a little bit.

CS: He was the liaison between Darren Aronofksy and the wrestling community. And he introduced them to us. The project started just over a year ago when they came to visit us at the Hammerstein. When they came to the Hammerstein ��” upstairs at the Manhattan Center ��” thatâ<80><99>s when Nicholas Cage was still booked to be in the movie, and they brought Nicholas Cage. And I was like, â<80><9c>Wow, this is cool.â<80> We were hoping the whole thing would take off, as far as just getting filmed. And we were happy to just be part of it. I said to Evan last night, and probably they would tell you the same thing, Darren Aronofskyâ<80><99>s a brilliant guy, and they had a decent script and certainly some good actors and actresses, but I think this has gone beyond anybodyâ<80><99>s wildest expectations about how this would be received. So our participation in it ��” which would be exciting even if it wasnâ<80><99>t a hit ��” is very exciting now. And I think itâ<80><99>s just the tip of the iceberg. I mean, itâ<80><99>s really amazing. I saw the movie also. I went to New York Film Festival. And itâ<80><99>s great to see us as the pay off, so to speak. And the guys who have bit parts of the movie, and guys who had some major parts, such as Necro, itâ<80><99>s great. Iâ<80><99>m just really pleased. I think this is certainly a catalyst for us to get our name out there to some people who do not know Ring of Honor. Thatâ<80><99>s the key to the whole thing. We know we have the people who know about us. Thatâ<80><99>s a small world.

AC: Was there a concerted effort to get the name out there as much as you could? I know the layout was not quite what you actually use at the Manhattan Center. It was very heavy on logos everywhere.

CS: No, it was our usual set up.

AC: The stage wasnâ<80><99>t though, right?

CS: Well, they added the ramp. We didnâ<80><99>t know going into it when they were going to film the scenes for the movies, if they were going to let us use our logos and all that. This is in the beginning. I thought theyâ<80><99>d just want to use our set and it would have to be a fictitious name. But, no. They wanted everything to be authentic, including our ring announcer and the guy at the bell, and the security. They really wanted it to be authentic. So for the climactic scene in the movie ��” My favorite scene is where Rourke does his heartfelt speech at the end and heâ<80><99>s holding the Ring of Honor microphone and thereâ<80><99>s that extreme close up of that. Itâ<80><99>s like unreal. But itâ<80><99>s very exciting. So, who knows whatâ<80><99>s going to happen? I mean it might get nominated for best picture also.

AC: I know. Imagine that. Thatâ<80><99>s something that Vince McMahon and Dixie Carter canâ<80><99>t lay claim to ��” being part of an Oscar nominated film.

CS: They were really nice people to work with. You donâ<80><99>t know what to expect. They were really cool people. I didnâ<80><99>t really have a lot of interaction with Mickey Rourke or Marisa Tomei, but as far as the production people, they were really good guys and they made the whole thing a pleasant experience. And I think we did a really good job on our end. We were under pressure to fill up the building and they left it up to us. And it came out looking like a million bucks. So letâ<80><99>s see what happens in the next few months with this movie.

AC: I talked to Darren Aronofsky about how you couldnâ<80><99>t make this movie 20 years ago because there was such a protection of this movie and of kayfabe. A movie that would expose exactly how you blade and how you call a shot, and shows guys in the back going over moves would have been completely unheard of. And here they got all kinds of cooperation from actual wrestling promoters and wrestlers in putting this movie together. Did you have any concerns about exposing the magic behind what you do?

CS: No. Our concern was that we knew it was major motion picture. Iâ<80><99>ve seen Darren Aronofskyâ<80><99>s work and heâ<80><99>s very credible and we wanted to be part of it. I didnâ<80><99>t even think about that.

AC: Did you think the end result was respectful toward the business? Obviously there were depictions of steroids and drug use and what becomes of some of these wrestlers who are down and out and broke. Did you have any concerns about that?

CS: No. I mean, whether itâ<80><99>s pro baseball or football or wrestling, thereâ<80><99>s going to be cases like this. Unfortunately in wrestling thereâ<80><99>s been a lot of guy who lose their money and are like, â<80><9c>Well, this is life. Easy come. Easy go.â<80> We werenâ<80><99>t really concerned with that. We sort of knew what we were dealing with. And the final product he came up with, itâ<80><99>s why I think itâ<80><99>s getting such a good buzz. Itâ<80><99>s the real deal, unfortunately for a lot of guys who were in it. And it worked.

AC: Letâ<80><99>s talk a little bit about looking back on 2008 and the year for Ring of Honor. Some of the biggest milestones I thought you reached didnâ<80><99>t even happen in your company. That was WWE and TNA both crowning world champions that came out of Ring of Honor in C.M. Punk and Samoa Joe. Did you feel that 2008 was kind of the year that you guys around on the national scene?

CS: Regarding Samoa Joe and Punk, itâ<80><99>s like we know that guys are going to move on. Itâ<80><99>s inherent in what the business is and where our place is for now. So I have to be proud. And I think it also says something about the quality of guys who have come through us. And thereâ<80><99>s many of them. You can go down the list ��” Homicide, Alex Shellyâ<80>¦

AC: Evan Bourne.

CS: Right. Thereâ<80><99>s just a huge list. Guys that are still in developmental, like Colt Cabana, and so on and so forth. But, Joe and Punk ��” especially Punk, that was just crazy. I was very proud. I got to also enjoy a great moment at Madison Square Garden this summer where through a fluke I was able tot get a couple of seats right up front.

AC: That was for the cage match?

CS: Yeah. Punk knew I was coming and it was just cool. He acknowledged me. And it wasnâ<80><99>t an ego thing. It was just nice to have him remember. And heâ<80><99>s a good guy and a goof friend, but it went above and beyond. To see C.M. Punk at a sold out house show at Madison Square Garden. I remember back in the day. Heâ<80><99>s a fan of wrestling history and heâ<80><99>d be with us and weâ<80><99>d be back and Iâ<80><99>d be telling him the stories of seeing all the great Bruno matches and the Bob Backlund era. And heâ<80><99>d be like, â<80><9c>Wow.â<80> He wanted to just go to see a show at the Garden, let alone be the feature match in the Garden. And here he is in the feature match. So yeah, weâ<80><99>re very proud of that. And Samoa Joe, also. We just had Samoa Joe back a few weeks ago, as we mentioned earlier. So, yeah, it definitely was a major event this year as part of us, but not within our company. I think another one of our major event for us this year was going downstairs to the Hammerstein Ballroom. That was very exciting. This weekend coming up weâ<80><99>re going to have the biggest crowd in Ring of Honor history base don the presale. And, you know, getting to go to Japan for the second time and working with Noah promotion. Those guys were great and thatâ<80><99>s very exciting. And Nigelâ<80><99>s title run has been great. And, you know, [there has been] a lot of good wrestling this year.

AC: Yeah, itâ<80><99>s definitely been a good year this year. So what else can fans look forward to this Saturday?

CS: Itâ<80><99>s incredible cardâ<80>¦ Me being a fan also, Iâ<80><99>m personally looking forward to the Bryan Danielson ��” Morishima match.

AC: Yeah, those guys are always fantastic together.

CS: These guys have had some incredible matches. And thatâ<80><99>s going to be phenomenal. Nigel and Marafuji is going to be very special. Not to mention, the other tag team with Sasaki and Nakajima against the Briscoes. So those three matches, plus thereâ<80><99>s a host of other ROH stars. Itâ<80><99>s a loaded card. Everybodyâ<80><99>s there. And there are still going to be tickets available at the door as well as on our web site. So we hope to see the fans coming out and weâ<80><99>re going to just keep doing what weâ<80><99>re doing and look forward to the upcoming year.

AC: How about Long Island? I know itâ<80><99>s been a while since you guys ran here.

CS: If you could find us a good building to go to, weâ<80><99>ll come back. Itâ<80><99>s unbelievable. Youâ<80><99>d think you were trying to land a man on Mars trying to find the right building. Weâ<80><99>d be happy to. So if any fans read this and they have a building thatâ<80><99>s reasonably priced and has the right space, please let us know.

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