By Oliver Saenz
As a storyboard artist, as a wrestling promoter and owner, and most recently as a member of cinema, Gary Yap continues to leave his mark on the world. From Emmy-nominated work on The Simpsons and King of the Hill to the still-controversial subject that is EPIC Pro Wrestling, Gary Yap sat down for a personal interview that soon turned extremely candid…but extremely insightful and especially heart-felt. My name’s Oliver Saenz, I go by the handle of PdW2kX, and I’m delighted to bring you the exclusive and hopefully long-awaited interview with Gary Yap, including a huge announcement that will likely bring some flare back to SoCal.Note: due to the length of the interview, it will be posted in three different parts over the next few days.
EPIC Pro Wrestling: High Hopes, Rough Starts, Missed Chances, Abrupt Ends
Were you always a fan of professional wrestling, or was it an acquired habit?
I’ve been a wrestling fan my entire life…and I’m OLD. Shit, when I watched wrestling as a kid, there were three major promotions – the AWA, the NWA, and the WWWF. Do you know how much it kills me to talk to Markus Riot nowadays, drop the name Antonino Rocca, and have him just look at me with a blank stare? Horrible. But I digress.
When did you first envision yourself running a pro wrestling promotion?
Although I’ve been a wrestling fan my entire life, I never seriously considered running a promotion until around 2001/2002. I remember going to an XPW show back in 2001 called “Redemption”. I went with a guy I worked with on “King of the Hill” named Chris and he was going on and on about how we should start a promotion blahblahblah. Yeah, it was fun to bullshit about, but it would always go in one ear and out the other with me.
Who was your earliest contact in the world of professional wrestling?
That would have to be Disco Machine. His wife-at-the-time was working as a stripper with a woman whom I was dating at the time. Small world, huh? My girlfriend-at-the-time had mentioned to Disco’s wife that I went to see these wrestling shows at the Grand Olympic Auditorium every month and Disco’s wife replied that her husband was scheduled to wrestle at the next event.
What happened then?
So at the next show – I think it was XPW’s November 2001 show (I forget what it was called) – I go with my girlfriend-at-the-time and during the Super Dragon vs. Disco Machine match, she’s drunk off her ass (because that’s what you do at an XPW show – or ANY wrestling show – in my opinion), and she’s completely shit-talking Dragon. And by shit-talking I mean she’s yelling at the top of her lungs about how much he sucks and going on and on to the point where it’s really fucking with him, especially because everyone else in the fucking building is pro-Dragon. So after the match, he rolls out of the ring and goes straight up to her and gets in her face. Excalibur runs over and is holding him back because Dragon is furious! The funny thing is that all of this was captured and aired on XPW-TV, as well. I think it’s on the XPW DVD, too. So anyway, Dragon gets to the back and Disco tells him that the chick yelling at him was a friend of his wife’s and at that point, it all clicks for Dragon, at which point he proceeds to laugh his ass off hysterically. Kind of. Okay, so I actually made up that last part but I’m gonna just tell myself that’s how it went, anyway.
[Editor’s Note: Super Dragon laughing is as rare as Chuck Norris crying. Sorry, it had to be said.]
When did you begin to really think about opening a pro wrestling promotion?
It wasn’t until 2002 – at an XPW show called “New Year’s Revolution” – where it became a little more real for me. We were at the show, drunk off our asses (do you see a pattern here?), and having fun. At intermission, New Jack comes out and goes on and on about how he needs to see some titties before he can leave the ring. So there’s the crowd, pointing at my girlfriend in unison to fulfill that request, which she proudly offers to do, provided she be allowed to do it in the middle of the ring. I gotta admit, it was pretty funny seeing her get a bigger pop than anything else on the show at that point. Eventually, she was contacted by someone at XPW about being brought in for something. I really don’t remember who it was or how many times contact was made. Back then, not only did I drink a lot, but I smoked a lot of pot, as well. We (and by we, I mean my girlfriend-at-the-time and I) both did. It’s all kind of a blur. She was shown on XPW-TV a few times but after a while we both came to the realization that XPW’s offers were nothing more than veiled inquires on how far she was willing to go for a ‘shot’ to be in XPW. That was the end of that.
All told, what really led to the formation of EPIC Pro Wrestling?
The bottom line was that I was pretty sprung for the woman I was with back then. Being a stripper, she was obviously the type of woman who craved the spotlight. Being whipped (along with having – at that time – a very unhealthy Superman complex), I wanted to give her that spotlight that she craved. It’s the type of relationship that’s doomed to fail from the start, and eventually did down the line. Man, Dude, you have no idea how this sounds to me after the fact. Reflecting on my life back then is such a surreal experience nowadays. I was such a mess. Anyway, between the friendships that I had made with Disco, Dragon, Excalibur, and others who really wanted to stretch their wings in the business and the fact that I wanted to give my woman-at-the-time an opportunity to be seen, as well, the seeds were firmly planted in my head. Maybe – just maybe – we COULD pull off something similar to what my friend, Chris, had made reference to back in early 2001.
Did you ever have any thoughts about becoming a wrestler yourself, or was it straight to management?
I had always wanted to wrestle and had planned on going to school for it before life kind of just…happened. I know what you’re saying – “What the fuck does that mean?”
Well, what does that mean?
The fact of the matter is that I was a single dad, raising a daughter alone, working a full-time job on a network television show, and drawing freelance on the side, as well. Shit, it was hard enough for me to find free time to masturbate, much less train full-time. Don’t get me wrong, I wound up finding the time to masturbate, but let’s be honest – training takes MUCH longer than masturbating. Unless you’re masturbating while stoned watching porn, which could take hours. Ahh, good times.
Do you feel as if you should have trained?
Looking back now, I find myself ALWAYS doing the whole hindsight is 20/20 thing. You may see that a lot in this interview. And yes, I should have trained. Even if I never made use of the training, the gesture alone would have made a difference in eliminating the money mark stigma that I naturally and justifiably came into the business with.
Would you be willing to go over the history of EPIC?
Y’know what? I’m not sure we have the time. Whenever you get involved with a subculture as interesting (at least in my opinion) as pro wrestling, there winds up being so much that’s worth talking about that I could go on for hours. Besides, I’m simply dictating this interview. My assistant is actually typing it as I speak and if I went on and on like I could (and sometimes do), I think her fingers would start bleeding. I can give you some of the highlights, though.
In that case, how did you go about learning the SoCal scene?
Disco gave me a lot of videos to look at from various SoCal indies. He not only introduced me to smaller promotions like MPW, UPW, and RevPro, but to some of the best and brightest wrestlers that SoCal had to offer, as well – TARO, Mr. Excitement, Rising Son, Joey Ryan, the Havana Pitbulls (then known as Los Cubanitos), Shogun, etc. I did my best to soak up everything like a sponge. Yes, in retrospect, I should have soaked a little longer, but that’s beside the point.
Was EPIC specifically started as a stand-alone promotion, or was something else originally in the works?
Originally, we wanted to run under the RevPro banner. The promotion hadn’t run a show in a while and we thought it would be a good way to keep the fed alive. However, in attempting to do so, I learned my FIRST RULE in professional wrestling: Promoters are completely unable to work together. Period. Are there exceptions? Of course. Every rule has exceptions. However, we’re not talking about the few exceptions here. We’re talking about the norm. And the norm will ALWAYS be that promoters CANNOT work together. No matter how much lip service they pay to other promotions or what fronts they put up for the fans about solidarity – they will ALWAYS eventually butt heads over who to push, who not to push, who’s a draw, who’s not a draw, blahblah freakin’ blah. Sad but true.
Was there anything besides the “first rule of wrestling” that helped cause tension?
The owner of RevPro, Ron Rivera, apparently had a lot of heat with Excalibur, which I didn’t understand.
In my opinion, Excalibur is one of the smartest, funniest, most well-read and articulate persons I have ever had the privilege of knowing. If that wasn’t enough, I give him full credit for introducing me to “Aqua Teen Hunger Force”, which I will ALWAYS be grateful for! Did he and I butt heads in EPIC? OF COURSE! But it was irrelevant, because good ALWAYS came out of it. I loved the guy dearly, still do to this day, and probably should express that to him more often than I do. Can you believe that before EPIC, he was NEVER given the chance to really TALK on a mic?
[Editor’s Note: Now that’s a damn shame. Much love to Excalibur. (b’-‘)b]
Aside from Excalibur, did you have any other “pet projects” in mind? As in, anyone else you specifically wanted to focus your shows on?
We wanted to build a lot around Dragon. It’s safe to say that I thought (and still do think) the world of Super Dragon. Aside from him, though, we wanted to use a lot of other wrestlers who – at the time – weren’t being given the chance to really shine in SoCal. Guys like American Dragon, Joey Ryan, Disco, Excitement, Scott Lost, B-Boy, the Pitbulls, Lil’ Cholo, and even the Messiah, who had disappeared from SoCal after being fired from XPW. Despite having a pretty strong local core, we knew that we would also need some marquee names to bring in the casual fans. That’s where guys like Sabu, Jerry Lynn, and New Jack came in. In addition, we also wanted to bring in wrestlers who weren’t necessarily draws, but had enough of an internet following to give the company a national feel and strong word-of-mouth. That’s where guys like Mondo, Ruckus, Trent Acid, and Tony Kozina came in.
In regards to the early history of EPIC, why did you decide to name your federation “EPIC Pro Wrestling”?
The name EPIC originally started off as an acronym for Elite Pro International Collision, which was Paul T’s idea, based on a title idea for what would become the first show on June 16th, 2002.
What is Paul T like?
My earliest Paul T memory is of meeting with him at a Japanese restaurant in Santa Monica and trying to convince him that I knew what I was doing not only when it came to wrestling, but – more importantly – when it came to eating with chopsticks. Plus, he introduced me to edamame, which I eat like candy nowadays. I don’t know why I felt the need to say that, but it IS true.
So, what were some of the company’s high points?
Creating the Friday night television show and having the entire crew over to watch the first episode on June 7th, 2002. I’ve since learned that I love the idea of creating a wrestling television show even more than running a live event. We were all new at this, yet still managed to put together something that was more entertaining and unique in 30 minutes than other SoCal feds were doing in an hour. Even my girlfriend-at-the-time did a decent job hosting the show, which surprised a lot of people. I also loved working with Sabu, whom I consider a Living Legend. Other people whom I should mention who were great to work with were Joey Ryan, Super Dragon, Disco Machine, and – as I kinda stated before – Excalibur. They made it fun for me.
What were the low points?
The politics. The bullshit feuding between companies. Dealing with venues can be a real headache, too. Especially when you THINK you’ve found a venue that really works for you, only to have them jack up the rent month after month. I guess that’s their way of saying ‘go away’ without really coming out and saying it, right? Another low was sometimes dealing with the boys. God bless ’em all, but there was something said by Kevin Kleinrock a while back that went like this – “Tom Byron, who was Rob’s partner with Extreme Associates, always said that porn girls were the biggest primadonnas in the world … until he met professional wrestlers.” A-fucking-men to that statement. The egos on some of the boys were unbelievable. I would see guys who didn’t even work outside of SoCal act as though they headlined a Wrestlemania. Shit, I STILL see that to this day. Aside from all of that, the only other thing I can think of is how the last show went – or rather – how the last show DIDN’T go down.
For those that are unaware, there was a lot of controversy over the last EPIC show. It was a major show, with huge names and potentially fantastic matches, but it never came to pass. What happened?
November 17th, 2002 should have been our biggest show yet. However, the simple truth is that my lack of planning (or rather, my lack of having a solid back-up plan should anything fall through) caused the show to be cancelled at the last minute.
What was your initial reaction and reasoning after the show was cancelled?
This is from something that I wrote back in 2002 regarding the matter –
“A FRIEND of mine (not a business partner or company) agreed to absorb the costs of renting the Los Angeles Entertainment Center . We wanted a really nice venue to run in for this show because of its importance. All he asked for was at LEAST half of the costs BACK at the gate. The rest would be something that I would eventually pay off to him on the side. I’ve known this guy for over 24 years (since we were in the 7th grade together) and I would’ve trusted him with my life. When I didn’t hear from him a few weeks before the event, I began to worry. It wasn’t like him to leave me hanging. Then again, although he HAD done me favors before, he had never been asked to do something of this magnitude. Not being a wrestling fan/believer, I guess he never really took it that seriously, after all.
But on Wednesday the 13th he called me from Las Vegas and said he’d bring the payment, in full, to the Valley Ball/EPIC party on Friday night because he was going to be out of town until then. The venue was getting antsy and I couldn’t blame them. I spoke to Susan at the LAEC and she said she would still hold the date.
Friday night at the Valley Ball, when my “friend” didn’t show up at the Friday night Valley Ball/EPIC party, I knew I was in trouble. I hadn’t spoke to him since Wednesday and the show was right around the corner. When I talked to Susan at the LAEC, she said that as long as I got there TONIGHT, it would be okay and the date would be taken care of. When that didn’t happen, I went into full-blown panic mode. I left a message with an LAEC personnel member late Friday night, telling him to let Susan know that the money had fallen through BUT I was in the process of getting it from elsewhere and that IF it would NOT be good enough, to PLEASE call me back ASAP so I could MOVE the show, if needed.
On Saturday the 16th, I made as many calls as I could to come up with the entire venue payment, but ultimately, could only come up with almost HALF. To be safe, though, I found a few other venue options that we could switch to at the last minute, if needed. I even went so far as to put a $500 deposit down on another beautiful (albeit much smaller) venue IN CASE we needed to go that route (a deposit I subsequently lost). It was now late Saturday night and I must’ve been crazy because…
When I woke up on Sunday morning, I came to the decision that NOBODY was going to be willing to drive into another city to see a wrestling show, especially when they could just go back home and watch a WWE PPV. The second venue I had obtained last night (and placed a deposit on) was about 30 miles away from the LAEC. In addition, the person who agreed to lend me half of the venue costs last night decided that wrestling wasn’t really a “smart” thing to invest in and pulled it away from me at around 10:00am as I was out the door to go pick it up. BUT the LAEC had NOT called me back yet so I figured that MAYBE I could get there, talk to them, and try to arrange some kind of deal. To all those who are now yelling at me for NOT just canceling the show THEN, I’m telling you – I honestly thought it was STILL salvageable! I mean, C’MON! Messiah’s return! Ultimo Dragon! It HAD to happen! Worst case scenario, I would just relocate the show to another venue/park/parking lot a few blocks away. Yes, I now had NO money to bargain with but, to be honest, I’ve never let that kind of thing stop me before! We got to the LAEC and were informed that the show would NOT be happening there, NO MATTER WHAT! I offered everything I could, including my car, all in hopes of JUST DOING THE SHOW! When it was painfully obvious that the show would NOT happen there, David Getz (who met me there) and I began our search throughout the area, hitting up parks, lots, hotel conference rooms, the Los Angeles Convention Center, warehouses, etc. all the while making cell phone calls and, to my surprise, actually finding someone else who would pay for whatever we found, within reason.
So now we had venue money. All we needed was a venue. On a Sunday. At the last minute. Yeah, right. We TRIED, though. Dave and I were so driven and determined to find SOMETHING but, as you can see, were unsuccessful in doing so.
When we arrived back at the LAEC, I was given the option of going to either the Legion Hall or the Anaheim Marketplace. The Legion Hall was closed and getting a hold of Legion Hall Larry is sometimes a tough thing on a Sunday. I left a message anyway. It was around 3:30/4:00pm and I examined my options:
1) The Marketplace – ugh. No disrespect to the Marketplace but…it’s the Marketplace. Everyone else was up for it, though, and I was DEFINITELY the minority of the bunch. Simply put, I did NOT want to go to the Marketplace. I would rather have cancelled the show. The ONLY people who agreed with me were Messiah and Hailey. Hell, the LAST place Messiah wanted to make his big “return” was at a Swap Meet! I felt like there would be NOBODY, outside of maybe 30 or so people, who would’ve made the transition/drive anyway. If it were a “normal” show, that would’ve been one thing, but it was supposed to be SPECIAL! The Marketplace wasn’t/isn’t SPECIAL! To those who don’t understand what I mean by that, I’m sorry. I really don’t mean it disrespectfully but I understand if it comes off that way.
2) Move the show to Monday the 18th – This was something that I actually wanted to do more than anyone else. I figured I could get the Legion Hall on Monday since nobody ever uses it then (although, granted, it wasn’t guaranteed). I asked around and everyone seemed less than thrilled about it, stating that nobody would show up. I reiterated that practically nobody would show up to Anaheim tonight either! Besides, a number of workers wouldn’t be leaving until Tuesday, so it was actually something doable if we really wanted it bad enough.
3) Cancel the show – This seemed like, unfortunately, the way it was going to go by 4:00pm. Sorry, but that’s how I felt. Maybe it’s because I was tired of looking around all day and just felt defeated. Maybe it’s because I was just fed up. I don’t know.
In the end, we chose to go to the Marketplace. I felt that, although it was something I did NOT want to do, the majority had spoken. We told everyone to head on down there and the show would start at 8:00pm! We also FOOLISHLY thought that Martin would be able to get the place without any problem. He had not arrived at the LAEC venue yet so we were not 100% sure of what the outcome would be but C’MON! It’s MARTIN, right? Shit, he runs that place! If anyone can do it, he can! Alas, after he arrived and was briefed about the scenario, he couldn’t. And it wasn’t from lack of trying, either, ’cause he TRIED! It just wasn’t going to happen. Not that night.
Night came. I apologized to the guys who remained there as best I could. It was REALLY hard looking at all of those faces. I felt like I wanted to die.”
Looking back on it now, how do you feel about those words?
I look back at what I wrote and feel so many different emotions that it’s hard to express. I feel embarrassed about how I handled everything. I feel ashamed at the way I said such disrespectful things about the Marketplace, especially because Martin Marin (who still runs his World Power Wrestling promotion out of there every single weekend) did what he could to HELP me. Yet there I am, talking about how shitty his venue is and how it doesn’t ‘deserve’ EPIC. Man, what a prick.
What would you like to add to those words?
What I DIDN’T address back in 2002 was about how there was a lot going on in my personal life, as well, and how those situations played a vital part in my failure to race back out and repair EPIC. A lot of it has been speculated about. I’m not stupid. I also know that people LOVE dirt. However, I’m going to have to take the high road here and say that a lot of that really isn’t important anymore. Ultimately, it’s done and dwelling on it won’t change anything. I have a really good life now and the last thing I wanna do is dredge up anything negative. Besides, I promised all of that stuff to Barber – HA!
[Editor’s Note: Damn, that’s the best part of an interview! Hateful shoot-comments that do nobody any good and only serve to open old wounds! Oh well.]
Was there any fallout between yourself and those that “helped” bring EPIC to an end?
Almost 8 months after the 11.17.02 debacle, I managed to finally get in touch with the ‘friend’ who was supposed to help me out with the 11.17.02 show. We talked about it. I vented and – ultimately – decided to forgive him, get over it, and move on with my life. However, we don’t speak anymore.
Who’s truly at fault for EPIC’s demise?
The long and the short of it is that I fucked up. I can’t blame anyone else BUT me. I made a series of bad decisions that resulted in my company closing up shop. The end.
What did you do after EPIC?
I’m not gonna lie. I sat around feeling sorry for myself for a while. I became bitter. Cynical. I felt very alone. I eventually gave my blessing to Joey Ryan when he called me one day and said that he, Dragon, Excalibur, Disco, Scott, and Top Gun were going to run a few shows of their own because it seemed like I wasn’t going to come back any time soon. They even honored me by naming their fed after a phrase that I used in my interview for the “America’s Most Wanted” piece on Billy’s attack, when I said that the world of indy wrestling was about as “guerrilla” as it gets. That was pretty cool.
How did EPIC’s closure change your personal life?
I stopped drinking. I stopped smoking pot. I eventually went back to King of the Hill. I did my best to slowly pay off the debts that I owed because of EPIC’s demise.
Did you become friends with anyone pro wrestling related after the fall of EPIC?
I became close to Veronica Caine and Webb, which was an unexpected surprise, especially given the whole XPW/EPIC feud. They were two people who helped me through a pretty dark time in my life. Like Excalibur and Disco, I probably should’ve told them at the time how much their friendship meant. Little things like that have become SO important to me over time, y’know?
Have you kept in contact with them?
I was fortunate enough to see Webb recently at a BigPro show in Newhall , California , that was – sadly – a tribute show to the late Dynamite D. I took that opportunity to say everything that I wanted to say to him. In addition, Jonathan Barber was instrumental in getting me back in touch with Veronica, whom I also took the time to thank for everything that she did for me back then. I apologize for digressing again. It’s starting to feel a little too Dr. Phil, huh? Next.
Did you ever have any doubts that you wouldn’t be welcomed back?
Honestly, I wasn’t even sure that I WANTED back in. I simply didn’t feel as though I deserved it. We had an incredible thing going with EPIC, y’know? I mean, go back and read what people were saying about us BEFORE November 17th. It was staggering. We had the support of the fans, wrestlers from everywhere wanting to work for us, and a buzz that was spreading like wildfire. Then poof. Gone. Because of ME and my decisions.
What brought you back into the fold?
That nagging feeling. That feeling that I had unfinished business in the world of pro wrestling. I needed closure, y’know? But I had no idea HOW to go about getting that closure. My personal life had taken a significant turn to the point where I didn’t feel as though I could really even run another show. Not with the same crew, at least. I hope people can read between the lines there because I’m not quite sure how else to politely phrase it.
Have the nay-sayers ever clouded your judgment?
Look, I’m always going to have my share of detractors. Anyone in the public eye always has them. Some of those detractors have very good reasons for not liking me. However, a lot of those detractors are just people who hate for the sake of hating. Mick Foley once said that his 1998 “Hell in the Cell” match against the Undertaker will forever be known as his Lake Chappaquiddick incident. November 17, 2002 – also known as “Wrestling Roots 2002” – will always be mine. By the way, if you don’t know what the Lake Chappaquiddick incident is, go Google that shit. The fact of the matter is that I could put on a hundred free shows for the fans over the course of the next year using the greatest talent in this business, donate all of the DVD money to handicapped orphans, and still be considered an asshole. That’s just the way it is. I guess that brings us to Pro Wrestling WAR and what would be – in my opinion – my redemption.
Part 2 Coming Soon.