MIKE JOHNSON AND ROH BOOKER GABE SAPOLSKY DISCUSS THE ROB FEINSTEIN INCIDENT AND THE FUTURE OF ROH
To say that the Ring of Honor name has been tarnished is the extreme understatement of the year. The promotion's sterling teflon image came crashing down unceremoniously with the revelation that founder and owner Rob Feinstein was caught on the Philadelphia NBC affiliate's 11 PM newscast coming to a home allegedly to meet with an underage boy for sexual purposes. With Ring of Honor having built quite a buzz for themselves over the past two years, poised to enter new markets and a major show scheduled within the shadow of Wrestlemania XX next weekend, the timing of the incident couldn't have been more dramatic had it been scripted by a Hollywood screenwriter.
Following the outrage over the incident, the initial statement from Feinstein, followed 24 hours later with an announcement that he had been dumped from not only Ring of Honor but the affiliate video company he founded in the early 1990s RF Video, left Ring of Honor in an unfamiliar position; that of being heavily criticized by the online community that had for the most part embraced their product.
With the most trying time of Ring of Honor's short history ahead, Booker Gabe Sapolsky discusses the most stressing week of his life, Rob Feinstein's departure, rumors of whether Rob is truly gone, where ROH hopes to go from here, and more.
MIKE JOHNSON: Obviously it goes without saying that this has been a really crappy week for ROH. When was the first indication there was an incident with Rob Feinstein that you knew of?
GABE SAPOLSKY: He called me.
JOHNSON: When was this and did Rob tell you what the situation was initially?
SAPOLSKY: Wednesday morning and he told me everything when I arrived at the office.
JOHNSON: Do you mind discussing your initial feelings when you learned?
SAPOLSKY: I'd rather not discuss that kind of thing simply because I don't want to relive that moment now.
JOHNSON: OK. So, obviously you saw the newscast and the footage of Rob.
JOHNSON: Did you think the company had a fighting chance of surviving at that moment? Its been two years of growth and the hardest issue had seemed to be making sure DVDs were out timely, and now this. Two very different worlds. What was going through your mind seeing this with a show a week away?
SAPOLSKY: At that moment I was in tears and didn't know what to think. I was hurt, angry, I don't even know that words can do justice to how I was feeling. It will always be one of the lowest moments in my life. I couldn't think of the company surviving or the show at that moment.
JOHNSON: There's been a lot of talk about how ROH has handled the situation. Rob released an initial statement the morning after the newscast saying he was stepping down while the allegations were ongoing. The next day it was announced he was removed from the company and Doug Gentry was named President. The first question on most fan's minds were how Feinstein could be out from the companies he founded so quickly. Do you mind going into the decision making that went into his removal from ROH and RF Video?
SAPOLSKY: We are distancing him from ROH and RF Video as fast as we can. We realize that for people to support us and believe in us they have to be assured that Rob Feinstein is not benefitting from either company in any way, shape or form. We are doing this as quickly as possible. Rob will not benefit from ROH or RF Video in any way now. We will have more proof next week as the legal work gets completed. I should say that I'm not privy to all the business info but that is what I know. Rob is gone. He's not benefitting from either company. It's that simple. We wouldn't have it any other way.
JOHNSON: The obvious next question now then is If Feinstein has been removed, who owns Ring of Honor and RF Video now?
SAPOLSKY: The fact is that Rob has been a minority owner in ROH for a while and has not backed the company for a year. I'm not going to say who owns it now because we are still figuring out how to handle everything, but we will prove to people that when you support ROH or RF Video, which will soon be renamed, you are not supporting Rob.
JOHNSON: How do you feel about those online who say that Rob isn't gone and the pair of announcements are a smokescreen to protect the company while Rob stays in the background? When do you plan on showing any documentation regarding the changes?
SAPOLSKY: From my understanding we will have something to show people next week. Rob is gone. That's not a lie. That's not a smokescreen. I'll say it again- he is not benefiting from either company now. We are doing everything as fast as we can to get documentation on that.
JOHNSON: Do you think the initial statement from Rob about stepping down "while the allegations were ongoing" came back to bite ROH in the ass? It seemed like everyone took that as Rob would be gone until the heat died down. Even now the announcement that Doug Gentry, who has been long associated with Rob was met with criticism by some. Do you think it could have been handled different looking back over the last week?
SAPOLSKY: We've handled everything as best we can considering the circumstances. We are all mentally beat up. We are all hurting. We are doing the best we can to let people know Rob is gone and as the days pass we'll have more concrete proof. We are trying our best and this has been tougher than anyone can imagine unless you go through it. We are trying to fight and stay tough and get through this. There are lots of good quality people that need ROH and RF Video and depend on it myself included and we are determined to go on and not let something that has nothing to do with us or ROH or RF Video stop us. It is very difficult.
JOHNSON: I've been asked by some readers why ROH hasn't come out and derided Rob for the incident or apologized to their fans. Obviously you've been under a ton of stress the last few days, but do you think ROH as a company owes the fans an explanation or is it a personal issue that Feinstein needs to resolve? Do you think its fair for some of your fans to want that from ROH?
SAPOLSKY: You've said it right- it is a "personal issue" with him. It has nothing to do with ROH and RF Video or the people that work for both companies. I'm not sure what the people want to hear from us. We are so overwhelmed with everything. Rob is not with us and he doesn't benefit from either ROH or RF Video. That is what is the important point. That is what we are stressing. We have known Rob for years and years. I've known Rob since 1993. This has been difficult for us personally and professionally and I'm not about to start throwing insults around now. I'm focusing on pulling through this and moving on and making sure no one gets even more hurt.
JOHNSON: How do you feel about people making this an ROH issue then? The website that was involved in the situation has made it clear that they intend to target ROH and RF Video as long as they believe he is profiting off the companies.
SAPOLSKY: It's really disheartening people would make this a ROH issue. I understand why they are. They don't want any of their money to go to him and it won't. There are a lot of good people that depend on ROH for money, for exposure, for a good place to work. There are a lot of good people that take pride in what they've built here at ROH. It makes me sick that all these people have to suffer due to something that has nothing to do with ROH or RF Video. It was a personal thing. I understand their concerns, but you have to realize when you support ROH you support all the good people that have given so much of themselves to build this place. If Rob was involved our locker room would leave. It's that simple. He's gone. This is not an issue that should affect ROH. We have all worked too hard and sacrificed too much.
JOHNSON: Other than Bobby Heenan, have there been any other issues with talent over the situation?
SAPOLSKY: None. Everyone is committed to making ROH work. We have all given too much to just lose it over something that has nothing to do with any of us. We all take a lot of pride in what we've done. I'll take our 35 shows and put them up against any 35 consecutive shows any promotion has ever produced and we all take pride in that and feel we have accomplished and built something and we are determined not to throw it away for nothing.
JOHNSON: There were rumors of issues with the Rexplex as well. Was that true and if so, have those been resolved?
SAPOLSKY: Everything is a go for next week and we will put on the most emotionally charged show you'll ever see on March 13th at the RexPlex in Elizabeth, NJ. This is going to be a night no one will forget. We all have a lot of emotions we need to get out and you'll see that in the ring.
JOHNSON: The ROH message board was removed from the ROH website. Is it coming back anytime soon?
SAPOLSKY: It would need to be monitored 24 hours a day now and monitored very closely and we don't have the man power for that now so probably not. It's a shame because that was a great forum for everyone to voice their opinions and thoughts on ROH. In the meantime if someone feels they want to say something to us we have set up ROHvoice@aol.com for them to email and let it out.
JOHNSON: How do you feel about the criticism of Doug Gentry, who obviously has a long association with Rob being named the new President of the company? Do you think that because of that long relationship, it's given people reason to doubt?
SAPOLSKY: Doug was the best candidate for the job. It's as simple as that and there is no reason to read a lot into it.
JOHNSON: How are your responsibilities changing as a result of Rob leaving the company?
SAPOLSKY: We aren't sure yet. We are taking everything one day at a time. We are just doing what needs to be done to move forward.
JOHNSON: Have you spoken to Rob after everything went down? You have had a long friendship; where does that stand?
SAPOLSKY: Yeah I've spoken to Rob. I'd rather not discuss my feeling towards him. Rob was there for me when ECW went out of business and gave me a job. He gave me creative control of ROH when I was just known as a guy who sold programs at ECW. No one would have given me that chance but Rob. Rob and I have been through a lot together. I always remind myself of those things, but I'm not going to get into all my feelings.
JOHNSON: So what's next for Ring of Honor? What do you think it will take to fix the blemish on the company? Can it be done?
SAPOLSKY: I think people just have to realize that Rob is not benefitting from ROH at all. This was something that had nothing to do with ROH or anyone that works for and with ROH. I don't know what's going to happen next. I know we are determined to try to blow everyone away with the most incredible show ever next week. I know we will deal with everything one day at a time. I know we will not roll over and we will fight our best to go on because we aren't going to let ROH go down for something that had nothing to do with ROH. We have a long road for it and we are going to keep trying our best. We love this too much to say goodbye.
JOHNSON: Why should fans still support ROH and RF Video with their money?
SAPOLSKY: Because no one is getting rich off ROH and every dime counts. You only benefit everyone who gives their all to ROH and RF Video when you support us. I realize why everyone is concerned and I don't want to sound like a broken record, but Rob is not benefitting from either company at all. We have all given our lives to this project. We have all sacrificed. The fans have invested their time, money and emotions to ROH. I make my living from ROH. You might see the guys in ROH in other promotions, but you know that ROH is something special to those guys and you always see that extra effort in a ROH ring. There is a reason for that. It is because this is something special and we will do our best to keep it that way.
JOHNSON: What do you say to the fans who have learned of this situation and washed their hands of the company? Is there anything that can be said to them at this point?
SAPOLSKY: I just hope they give us another chance because there are a lot of good people trying to make this work and that is who you are supporting.
JOHNSON: Do you ever foresee Rob returning to either company in any capacity?
SAPOLSKY: No way. There won't be either company if he returns.
Mike Johnson can be reached at Mike@PWInsider.com.