Happy New Year, Hardway HQniverse!
What a wild 2019 we had. Starting the year on hiatus, we were able to turn over 100 podcasts during the year, develop a lot of fun content in the Professional 3 Blog, test-run the Snuff ‘N’ Stuff Saga video series, and so much more underrated content. The rebirth of Hardway HQ has been a success. Slowly but surely, we are growing our audience and getting to where we need to be.
To kickoff 2020, I’ve decided to pull the trigger on a long term, fun project I’ve been working on as it comes to my passions in both pro wrestling and collecting obscure memorabilia. It’s a vanity project I’ve wanted to attempt for a long time. No time better to it then now.
I am a huge fan of Gabe Sapolsky’s booking for Ring of Honor.
As a fan, I first became aware of ROH through Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Around 2003, I was heavy into collecting PWI magazines, and there were always ads in the back of the magazine for the ROH product. Not savvy to the extremely early days of the Internet Wrestling Community, the “Apter Mags” were my only sense of learning about other wrestling promotions. Seeing ROH’s website advertised, ROHwrestling.com, I decided to give it a gander.
Surprisingly, there was an event scheduled for Elizabeth, NJ at the RexPlex on July 19, which would later turn out to be the first Death Before Dishonor. I was about to get tickets, but my father Big Norm, still not sure about my driving abilities and nervous about me taking my 1989 Chevy Blazer on the New Jersey Turnpike for the first time at age 17, wouldn’t let me go. I was pissed, feeling like I was going to miss out on something special. As it turned out, I did, as I missed Raven vs CM Punk in a dog-collar match, Samoa Joe defending his ROH World title against Paul London in the challenger’s last ROH match, Jeff Hardy’s “unique” one time booking for the promotion against Joey Matthews and Krazy K, and the incredible team of AJ Styles and the Amazing Red. I swore that the next opportunity I had, I would go, no matter what,
Almost 9 months later, ROH ran the day before WrestleMania 20 at the RexPlex on March 13, 2004. In spite of everything that transpired prior to that event (the beginnings of the RF Video/ROH split, Roddy Piper backing out, the unsteadiness of the promotion), I ignored my father’s advice and said “Screw it.” I packed Ed and Tom Scanlon into that Chevy Blazer and drove the 35 minutes to Exit 13 on the Turnpike and went to Elizabeth for “At Our Best”.
It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
“At Our Best” was, to me, the greatest live event I’ve ever watched been. As a now 18 year old, I witnessed a completely different style of wrestling that I was never exposed to. It was a bunch of young, hungry talent, mixed with world traveled veterans, striving to change the perception of what pro wrestling was. Every match on that show, from Six Man Mayhem and seeing Jerry Lynn live, to AJ Styles vs CM Punk with Ricky Steamboat as special guest referee and Samoa Joe vs Jay Briscoe for the ROH World title in a bloodbath, was incredible. I was instantly a fan.
Then, the Scramble Cage match between the Carnage Crew and Special K took place.
All these incredible dives off a platform placed on each corner of the steel cage set up earlier completely took my breath away. Dusty Rhodes entering the cage and giving all the rich kid ravers Bionic Elbows made me mark out HUGE. And when Devito delivered an incredible piledriver off the top of the cage to poor Azrieal through 2 tables, I lost my mind.
I was hooked on Ring of Honor.
I went immediately to the merchandise stand after that match and purchased the Death Before Dishonor DVD from that July. That show kick-started Ed and Tom’s love of pro wrestling once again, but more importantly and selfishly, cinched my mind on what I wanted to do with my life; be involved in pro wrestling.
For the next three years, Ed, Tom, and I attended every ROH show in the area. We also brought other friends along the way, like the legendary Pito, Mike Brody, Alvin, Jason Sex, Anthony from Edison, Nick Reigota, and Dan Murdoch. Throughout the next three years, we saw countless legendary moments. From CM Punk’s title win in Morristown, to KENTA’s debut in Edison, to Kenta F’N Kobashi teaming with Homicide against Samoa Joe and Low Ki AND the ROH vs CZW Cage of Death in Philly, ROH continuously had us hooked on their product.
While others raved about WWE, TNA, and various other Japanese products, I was a true blue ROHbot. I frequently visited the ROH message board and website, watched the ROH Video Wires, and kept up with the product as frequently as possible. More importantly, I started learning about the man who put the shows together behind the scenes: Gabe Sapolsky.
Breaking into the business as an original member of ECW, from handling tickets and camera work to writing programs and being a part of the ECW Hardcore Hotline, Sapolsky paid his dues, ultimately becoming the protege of owner/booker Paul Heyman. After ECW folded in early 2001, Sapolsky would work for RF Video, until the concept of Ring of Honor came along, which had been developed after the influential King of the Indies tournament, held in California. The concept was to simply create content for RF, to sell online in DVD and VHS form. Sapolsky became the booker and, for the next 6 ½ years, would book 205 ROH shows.
I always found Sapolsky’s ability to craft storylines for a wrestling-heavy product impressive. More importantly, I believed that the criticism behind ROH not having angles and characters were completely unjust. Over the years, I learned, through interviews given by Gabe, that the main objective behind the promotion was selling DVDs. And every show had to sell, as per its business model.
Being a broke early 20’s something guy, however, I wasn’t able to purchase many DVDs. I had a few that I was able to enjoy, but I wanted much more and then some. Money was tight, and other priorities triumphed over wants.
By the time October 25, 2008 rolled around, I was already a year into the pro wrestling business at the ACE Wrestling Academy, learning behind the scenes under Mike Morgan. I remember going home from the night’s Action Zone taping at the ACE Arena in Union City and hopping on my laptop around 3 AM to read results from ROH, which happened in Edison that night. Once on the message board, I read the following post stickied to the top of the board:
Ring of Honor is announcing that Gabe Sapolsky will be leaving the company effective immediately. Everybody at ROH would like to thank him for his contributions and wish him well in all future endeavors.
Going forward Ring of Honor will be focusing on the stories and the talent in the ring. The company will have no further comments on this issue or a replacement for Mr. Sapolsky. We would like to thank all of the fans and media who have supported us over the years and look forward to bringing you more great wrestling excitement in the future.
I was stunned. Just one month before, I went to Glory By Honor VII at the ECW Arena in Philly the day after my 23rd birthday and saw an incredible GHC Junior Heavyweight title match between champion Bryan Danielson and Katsuhiko Nakajima (which I had written about HERE) and the second Steel Cage Warfare between the Age of the Fall, Austin Aries & the Briscoes, and the Necro Butcher. The company seemed to rebounding well after rebuilding the roster in 2007, and momentum was high heading into Final Battle 2008 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in December. Sadly, change was needed and ROH went into a different direction.
With the exception of Jay Lethal’s run to the ROH World Title in 2015, the appearances of my friends “Tough” Tim Hughes and LSG, and the Broken Hardys shock return in 2017, ROH never truly felt the same to me. I always felt that the unique vision of Sapolsky’s ROH to other regimes never truly clicked. Granted, the wrestling was always incredible, but the storytelling always just felt a little flat to me personally. In my mind, the glory days of 2002-2008 seemed far and away the best content the company ever put out.
Over the years, I fell deeper into the independent wrestling scene in the 2010s behind the scenes as a commentator, manager, and ultimately booker for Project: Diverge in 2018. Subsequently, I became completely burned out on pro wrestling and started to hate what once was my true passion. By the end of 2018, I stopped watching everything completely and started to swear off wrestling.
Then, that damn Shane Hagadorn suckered me back into it with his podcast.
One day on Twitter in early 2019, I came across a retweet from an acquaintance on Twitter about an old ROH retro podcast hosted by Shane Hagadorn and the “artist formerly known as JSWO on the ROH message boards” Jeff Schwartz.
From my frequent lurking, yet very rare posts on the boards as Heidenreich (I wrote a few Disasterpieces on the board on certain events in pure Heidenreich gimmick), I knew that JSWO was either loved or hated by everyone. However, Schwartz was a die-hard fan of the product, frequently traveling to ROH events all over the East Coast and Midwest. Meanwhile, Hagadorn, the longest ever holder of the Top of the Class Trophy (which I wrote a history on HERE), was not just in front of the camera as a performer and manager, but also a big part of ROH’s behind-the-scenes until his firing in 2013.
I came across the “Ring of Homicide 2” episode in the archives and downloaded it onto my phone. Listening to it while at work, I loved hearing the story of the matches of the card, but more importantly, the discussion of how and why Mr. Sapolsky got fired from the promotion on that fateful night. Hagadorn gave a lot of details with no spin and I found myself hooked on the podcast. 20 episodes over the next two months and an RSS subscription through Apple Podcasts later, I became a regular listener to the show.
Still in my complete burnout of wrestling, I decided to revisit one of my old ROH DVDs for the Hell of it. I popped in “A New Level” from May 10, 2008 at the Hammerstein Ballroom from Midtown Manhattan. After watching the entire show from start to finish, and seeing my buddy Charlie from the 3rd row in his Superman shirt throw his water bottle into the ring after Nigel McGuinness tapped out Claudio Castagnoli with the London Dungeon in the main event, I smiled.
The next day, I popped in “Manhattan Mayhem” from May 7, 2005. After watching the entire show from start to finish, I smiled and reminisced to when I asked Jay Lethal (head trainer of the ACE Wrestling Academy in 2007) if the Double Stomp Cop Killa he took in the main event of that show legit hurt. His response: “No, you mark,” which got a big pop from me then and gets a big one now.
A few more shows later, mixed in with my downloads of An Honorable Mention every week, I became hooked on the glory days of Ring of Honor once again. It was just an awesome alternative to what was out there at the time, and, in many cases, still is today. I absolutely dug it and it kick-started my love for pro wrestling again.
I completely blame Shane Hagadorn, even if he has no clue on who I am and vice versa. Completely his fault.
Around Halloween of 2019, I started to watch the “Gabe’s Book of ROH Secrets” DVD, released by Kayfabe Commentaries a few months after Sapolsky’s firing in 2008. I was enthralled by his plans for ROH going into the Winter of 2008 and his future plans for 2009. I felt, and still feel, that his vision of the future was WORLDS better than what the promotion put out after his departure.
More importantly, one other thing caught my ear. Sapolsky said he booked 205 shows for the promotion during his 6 ½ years. Interested, I went into a deep dive. I pulled up the old ROH results from the ROH website, courtesy of Archive.org, and WROTE DOWN ON LOOSELEAF every ROH show from “The Era of Honor Begins” to the final “Ring of Homicide 2” and counted them out.
Here’s photo proof of my chicken scratch writing on 4 sides of paper.
Seeing this, I started thinking about content for 2020 as it came to Hardway HQ the coming year. Rebuilding the brand from a non-existent 2018 was tough, but the creative juices started rolling again in 2019. Trying to think of ways to bring people to the site, I had a vision on Halloween.
I figured, as a fan of obscure memorabilia, to put myself on a limb and try something different. Something that I’ve wanted to try years earlier, but didn’t have the petty cash funds to attempt. Now, I do.
I decided to start a Saga. A Saga to collect every Gabe Sapolsky booked DVD from his era of Ring of Honor.
It’s insane. An absolute insane concept, you the reader are definitely thinking. An absolute insane concept, me, the writer of this blog, is thinking as well.
What’s the purpose? It’s three-fold.
1: CONTENT for Hardway HQ. I believe by documenting my journey through HQ content, from blogs, podcasts, and video, this will bring eyes and ears to viewers intrigued on whether or not I can pull this off. I’m hoping people will spread the word on this and, perhaps, send me in the right way in hopes of some deals for some DVDs (or VHS, I’m not picky). Taking risks bring eyes and viewers to the site, and hopefully, I can be able to do that with this idea.
2: HISTORY. The “glory days” of ROH, prior to becoming owned by Sinclair Broadcasting in 2011, is still fondly looked back on by all die-hard wrestling fans. There is so much that has taken place during that entire era that has helped transcend ROH to cult-like levels. Plus, seeing the combination of Sapolsky’s booking and the young performers that are carrying the industry today is an incredible piece of history and need to be chronicled and documented.
3: ME. Ring of Honor during that time was a look back to when I loved pro wrestling. When I went through some serious dark times in my life, ROH kept me going, as real as it sounds. I smile thinking on the memories I had with my friends during this time and how strong we bonded over these events. In as many words, it helped my passion for the wrestling business and I’d love to collect them all to see the entire story being told. Sapolsky once said during an interview that an ROH DVD was like watching a movie. I have to agree.
Started in November, I’ve been picking up cheap DVDs off eBay and adding to my small collection that I amassed previously. Altogether, I now have 29 DVDs. Thinking about it now, I have barely scratched the freaking surface. But it seems like a fun venture to try.
Can I accomplish the goal? I will be doing a Hardway Podcast this coming Sunday discussing this a little further.
If anyone can lead me in the right direction and help guide me to ways to get DVDs and VHS of shows other than eBay or Amazon, please email me at Jon@HardwayHQ.com or find me on Twitter @TheJonHarder. I’d love to discuss deals, in case you are selling your collection, or stores out in the open that sells these vintage events.
The DVDs Of Honor saga begins NOW on HardwayHQ.com. This is going to be a fun ride.