Saturday night, the ECW Arena hosts its final wrestling show before being turned into a priced-out-of-any-indie's-budget concert hall. Of all the companies that have promoted shows in that building, it might seem curious on the surface that the promotion holding the final card there is EVOLVE. The Gabe Sapolsky vehicle has run 9 shows in the past, exclusively in North Jersey and Manhattan prior to this foray into the soon-to-be former home of Philadelphia independent wrestling. Common sense would dictate that Chikara, ROH, CZW or a reunion show with all the different former ECW wrestlers coming back for one final hurrah would be the obvious choice.
However, the thing about EVOLVE that makes it work as the closer is that man in charge. Sapolsky was the guy behind the curtain in ROH's salad days, at the time when they were considered the best wrestling company in America in terms of critical quality, if not the world. Sure, he had a lot of help from the cadre of talented wrestlers who were under his watch, guys like CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Claudio Castagnoli, Chris Hero, Samoa Joe, Homicide, Colt Cabana and the Briscoes just to name a few. One could argue that anyone could create compelling-seeming stories with those guys as the cast. Then again, look at ROH now. They have a roster stocked with some choice talent (Kevin Steen, El Generico, Eddie Edwards, Jay Lethal, those same Briscoes, Michael Elgin, Adam Cole, Kenny King and Rhett Titus to name a few), and they're taking much more of a beating among fans and critics alike.Meanwhile, Gabe's twofold booking responsibilities with both EVOLVE and his initial project, Dragon Gate USA (which recently merged under one umbrella) are growing in acclaim. Again, talent has a whole lot to do with it. Chuck Taylor, Ricochet, Uhaa Nation, Sami Callihan, Johnny Gargano and AR Fox, in addition to all the established Dragon Gate Japan stars who come over, are again a fantastic roster for any promoter to use. That being said, the pattern of storytelling here seems to me to hearken back to a modus operandi that Sapolsky has adopted since his days working for the original ECW. It's a mix of comedy, hardcore action, technical wrestling, strong personality and attitude. Working with Paul Heyman as closely as he did, it's not surprising that a lot of what his boss espoused rubbed off on him, well, except the lack of accounting prowess, which I think we can all be thankful for not being passed down.
With that knowledge in tow, maybe it is a propos that EVOLVE is the last company to run in the hallowed Arena. Since Heyman himself is busy doing God knows what in the television and MMA fields, Sapolsky is the last real link to the spirit of ECW that remains. In addition to booking his companies as an evolution of what ECW might have become if it were better-managed financially, he also has close ties to many former wrestlers. Guys like Sabu and 2Cold Scorpio have been associated with his projects in the past, and he's already announced that Joey Styles and New Jack would be a part of the proceedings Saturday night. They won't be the only alumni who'll be showing up.
That being said, Sapolsky knows that it's not just the past that should be celebrated. Saturday's card is packed with matches featuring the up-and-comers and established stars of the independent wrestling world. Matches like the one between Gargano and Ricochet are as much a tribute to the memory of ECW and the Arena as appearances by any number of former wrestlers and personalities. ECW was all about pushing the envelope, developing the next stars and reinventing those men whose prior characters' shelf lives expired.
Either way, independent wrestling, not only in Philadelphia, but in the United States, is losing an important venue, a piece of its history Saturday night. While most people, myself included, would rather see the ECW Arena remain open and as the main venue for wrestling in the City of Brotherly Love, if it has to close, then I'm glad EVOLVE will be the promotion running the final show. It's not that it's the only company that is appropriate to close the place down, but outside of Chikara, it's clearly the one that will have the best odds on giving the occasion the most justice.