Saturday 7 December 2013

Evolution of the Wolf

Davey Richards' future gets more interesting by the day. A few weeks ago it was revealed that he was to be part of an extended WWE tryout, wrestling on NXT and SmackDown, alongside his tag partner Eddie Edwards. This in itself was peculiar as it hinted at a new way for wrestlers to potentially enter the company or, at the very least, that WWE were showing uncharacteristic flexibility.

But WWE's hiring policies have been dwarfed by the news that Davey Richards and Ring of Honor have parted ways. The reason for the split is an interview given by Richards to British wrestling magazine-website Total Wrestling (never 'eard of 'em). 'The Lone Wolf' trashed the current direction of the promotion he's called home for seven years, stating that the tag titles "don't mean anything anymore", that the booking of the world title has been "substandard and screwy" leading to the championship's devaluation, and that he doesn't care about the promotion's much discussed iPPV woes.

I agree with most of this. The booking of the world championship <has> been shoddy for a number of years. I'm not sure how long Richards believes this has been the case but I think the belt's dropped a notch since Gabe Sapolsky left. There have been peaks in that time, such as the shock victory of Edwards and the reigns of Kevin Steen and Tyler Black, but mostly the title doesn't mean as much as it once did. I feel Richards was a little too hard on the tag belts. They've dropped in meaning too, but not to the same extent and reDRagon have done a good job of providing a focal point this year.

But as right as Richards is he remains an employee. Wrestlers in these situations have to able to tow the company line. The can tactfully acknowledge that things have been better or that they'd take a different approach but they still need to remain broadly positive. Openly trashing the promotion that pays your wages isn't a smart move, and if Richards doesn't understand that (and this episode indicates that he doesn't) he's going to have a hard time in WWE.

On Tuesday morning Gabe Sapolsky involved himself. He tacked on the question of whether or not he should call Richards to a Dragon Gate USA newsletter, also whacking it up (because he's a social media guru) on Facebook and Twitter. Amongst those to send a positive reply was Wesley 'Davey' Richards.

Future challenger to the Freedom Gate title?
The relationship between these two is made out to be more complex and fraught than it is by many people, but it's complex and fraught enough to warrant a brief recap. When Sapolsky first set up EVOLVE he intended to build it around Davey Richards. 'The Lone Wolf', not then as big a name as he is now but still highly regarded, wrestled on the first EVOLVE show (defeating Kota Ibushi in the main event) but never went back. There are two reasons for this. The first is that he was contracted to Ring of Honor and they decided, as was their right, that they weren't happy with Richards working for Gabe's outfit. The second is that Sapolsky told Richards that he'd set up EVOLVE (and Dragon Gate USA, presumably) to put ROH out of business. Richards, not liking the negativity or the goal of putting people out of work, decided he'd rather not return.

This scenario led to Sapolsky referring to "trust issues" when he asked if he should contact Richards. I can see his point: he'd wanted to build EVOLVE around Richards and only found that he was unavailable after the promotion was up and running. But ultimately the situation was of his own making. He knew Richards had a contract elsewhere and gave pretty questionable reasons for starting his promotion(s).

Things are, of course, different now. Richards is a free agent with some time available before he heads to WWE. EVOLVE has become a known entity in its own right, without regular input from Richards. While it’s not a promotion he’s linked with its one held in high enough regard by fans to be a fitting place for Richards to wrestle his farewell indy match or matches, assuming he goes to WWE and does well enough that he never leaves of course.

Sapolsky would be spoilt for choice when picking opponents for Richards. The obvious name at the top of the list would be Open the Freedom Gate champion Johnny Gargano. He’s the man that Sapolsky pits against any outside talent that comes his way because he’s not only the roster’s greatest US-based all-rounder but also but also because he’s become the wrestler that shows are constructed around. That second fact would add something to a Richards v Gargano match: the man who was going to be the centrepiece against the man who became it naturally.

Akira Tozawa, Chris Hero, Chuck Taylor, CIMA, and Ricochet would all have great, headline-worthy matches opposite Richards too. How many we’d see would depend on how many matches Davey worked in the company. I’m hopeful that it happens. Outside of ROH EVOLVE and Dragon Gate USA are the best option to host Richards’ farewell match(es). In a way it’s a shame that he’s heading to WWE: Richards is just the shot in the arm that Sapolsky’s feds need.

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