Larger than life characters, flashy gimmicks, iconic catch-phrases, bewildering feats of strength, death-defying acrobatics and all that spandex. What’s not to love about wrestling!
Pro wrestling has been a part of my life for almost 20 years; I’m a bit of a fan. My origin story with the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) started back in the early 2000s, when my younger brother and I would religiously tune in to weekly episodes of Raw and SmackDown.
We both had our favourite superstars. My brother connected with the storylines of the young up-start tag team partners Edge & Christian, but I found a love in Shawn Michaels. Better known by his upwards of 10 nicknames, The Heart Break Kid, The Icon, The Showstopper, The Main Event… I’ll stop there. You get the picture – he was dashing and daring and one of wrestling’s biggest names with arguably the best finishing move in the business, ‘Sweet Chin Music’.
Fast forward a few years and I’ve seen live shows at Madison Square Garden and Brooklyn’s Barclay Centre, and last year joined 100,000 fellow Aussie fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Super Showdown event. There’s nothing else quite like a live wrestling show with its backstage melodrama mixed with matches that have strangers banding together in the aisles rejoicing for their hero’s achievements or commiserating over devastating defeats. Combine those elements with stadium rock theatricality (think fireworks, vivid light shows and heavy metal anthems) and you’ve got yourself an unforgettable night of sports entertainment.
Secrets and scandals revealed
SBS VICELAND’s new documentary series Dark Side of the Ring obviously caught my attention (and not just because Shawn Michaels features prominently in one of its early episodes). Co-creators and wrestling fans Evan Husney and Jason Eisener have cast a light on this unique form of show business to illuminate some of the more shadowy chapters from wrestling’s past. Over six fascinating episodes, previously untold stories from the Golden Age of wrestling during the 70s, 80s and 90s are given the popular true-crime genre treatment with first-hand accounts from some of the biggest names in the industry including ‘Mankind’ Mick Foley, last surviving Von Erich brother Kevin Von Erich, ‘Dirty’ Dutch Mantell, Eric Bischoff, Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart, Wendi Richter and many, many more.
It was a thrill to see these recognisable faces stare down into the barrel of the camera while giving their hot takes on shocking secrets and iconic controversies like ‘The Montreal Screwjob’ (this particular episode revolves around my man Shawn Michaels as he found himself at the epicentre of all the fourth-wall shattering drama).
Going into this series I had no idea about the number of mysterious deaths that befell multiple superstars and the unsolved murder mysteries that would have even the most avid Nordic Noir fans intrigued. It has certainly been a wild few decades inside and out of the ring.
Dark Side of the Ring pulls back the curtain on pro wrestling in a way I have never seen done before, revealing the unique and sometimes dangerous crossroad of fantasy and reality that exists beyond the hallowed ‘squared circle’. The series’ creators wanted to make The Thin Blue Line meets wrestling, and have done so expertly – taking cues from documentarian Errol Morris with their dreamlike and very noir-ish re-enactments of key moments that anchor every episode.
Whether you know a little or a lot or even nothing at all about professional wrestling, this visually dynamic documentary series will hook you with every intrigue-laden episode.
Do you smell what The Rock is cooking? A glowing review
Even Dwayne Johnson, the world’s biggest actor and certainly the most successful post-wrestling star of all time (sorry Hulk Hogan – I still love ‘Mr Nanny’) is a fan of Dark Side of the Ring. The megastar aka The Rock took to Twitter praising the doco-series, and the filmmakers responded in kind with what I’m taking as a formal invitation to speak about his own experiences in the second season *fingers crossed*. There are likely countless more stories just begging to be told, and I for one will be there from day dot ready to binge them all again.
Fans are hopeful for a better future
WWE is an extraordinary global phenomenon, beloved by generations of fans but as Dark Side of the Ring confirms, it’s not without its fair share of controversy. Just as it was during the Golden Age of wrestling, scandals still pervade the industry today – Last Week Tonight with John Oliver dedicated an episode recently to the issue of absurd and dangerous employee contracts as well as the distressing spate of early wrestler deaths. Wrestlers continue to put their bodies and minds on the line for audience entertainment and as a fan, I hope doco-series like this one will help highlight and resolve some of these serious issues at play.
Dark Side of the Ring focuses on controversial moments in history but thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom. By looking back, there are lessons that can be learned and optimism gained through this knowledge of the past for a brighter future where wrestlers’ safety and wellbeing are put ahead of selling a storyline.
Season 3 of Dark Side of the Ring airs on SBS VICELAND Sundays at 10PM.
Dark Side of the Ring is now streaming at SBS On Demand.