WWE began doing business with independent promotion Evolve Wrestling late last year. It eventually led to the WWE Global Cruiserweight Series, a top-notch wrestling tournament which the two parties have been working on extensively.
The first participants announced by Triple H for the tournament include NXT’s Rich Swann, Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano, as well as Zack Sabre, Jr., Noam Dar, Ho Ho Lun and Akira Tozawa from the international wrestling scene. The series will air on the WWE Network starting July 13.
Uproxx favorite Gabe Sapolsky is the man in charge at Evolve Wrestling, which will host qualifying matches for the series alongside Revolution Pro Wrestling and Progress Wrestling. Below, Sapolsky discusses the Global Cruiserweight Series, modern independent wrestling and the developing of WWE talent.
Evolve 61 takes place this Saturday, May 7. Qualifying matches for the WWE Global Cruiserweight Series include Drew Gulak vs. Tracy Williams, and T.J. Perkins vs. Fred Yehi. Tickets are available at EVOLVEwrestling.com. It will be held at La Boom on 56-15 Northern Blvd. in Woodside, Queens. Bell time is 6:30 p.m. If you do not live in the New York area, the event will air live on iPPV at WWNLive.com.
Explain how Evolve’s partnership with WWE came to be.
WWE got into a very progressive mindset when it came to the independents and started looking into where talent was coming from. When they did this, they looked at Evolve and guys like Dean Ambrose, Luke Harper, Kalisto, Neville and several other talents that came from Evolve, and they looked at me personally from my time at ROH when I booked guys like Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and CM Punk going way back… so they looked at the track record and realized it was in their interest to support us and make sure this independent undercurrent of talent keeps flowing.
At the same time for them, they benefited from having this pipeline of talent. So, there was a natural synergy there and it made a lot of sense. It’s giving us a great deal of exposure and getting the talent ready to go for them and perform on a big stage. The relationship started slowly and is still slowly developing… we’re all in uncharted waters here, going step by step to see what possibilities make sense, and there’s really no telling what the next phone call or email will bring.
Do you think the Cruiserweight Series will end WWE’s sort of “unwritten rule” of not utilizing independent promotions?
I believe every rule from the past has already been thrown out at this point. I mean, we’re seeing things now that a couple years ago would’ve been impossible. From Samoa Joe being the NXT Champion… it didn’t look like there would ever be a time when he would even be in WWE, to them acknowledging the past with A.J. Styles… these were all things that were unheard of, but WWE has a cutting-edge mindset at this point and anything is possible. They’ve basically taken all those old rules and standards and completely thrown them out the window, which makes this such an exciting time right now for the fans and what makes 2016 such a mind-blowing year.
What’s the biggest thing WWE can learn from Evolve, and vice versa?
The big thing we can learn from each other is how to protect the future of the professional wrestling business, and to do that involves cultivating a new crop of talent all the time, and also changing the mindset of the wrestlers today. A big thing now is safety in the ring. After Daniel Bryan and the concussion issue… it’s our job now to protect the talent, and we do that with the Evolve style that focuses less on stunts and more on actual wrestling and grappling. It’s a huge thing to make sure that people’s careers begin with us and don’t end with us. We’re learning right now what it takes for our talent to end up in WWE, which is where I want everyone to go because that’s where you set up your family for generations, and hopefully we’re opening WWE’s eyes to the styles that are out there.