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The Best Professional Wrestling Documentaries

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by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published January 19th 2019
Pro wrestling documented visually
I've got weird friends…

Okay, it's no secret to those who know me that I am a huge fan of professional wrestling. However, unlike most nerds, I've actually been in a wrestling ring, been hit with a chair, bled for my art. I was not very good at what I did, but I had fun and I could take a beating well. In wrestling parlance, I was what is known as a 'jobber'. But for a while it was my obsession. I have seen every WCW, TNA, ECW and WWF/WWE pay-per-view up till 2013, and I watched every wrestling documentary I could get my hands on. Yes, sad, but I've fallen out of this obsession in recent years. Chris Benoit in 2007 started my slide out of wrestling joy; the death of Randy Savage compounded it. And I'm old. But I still don't mind the odd viewing or three…
moonsault, wrestling, professional, launch, upside down
This is me, mid-moonsault, upside down... seriously...

Anyway, after recently talking about a recent cheap shop purchase, some friends went to their local cheap shop and suddenly I have 6 wrestling DVDs added to my collection… Yeah, thanks, guys…

I have watched them all.

But it did get me thinking about the best wrestling documentaries I've seen. Nowadays, nearly every documentary is produced by World Wrestling Entertainment to promote one of the 'superstars' or some concept they have, or is just a collection of matches without actually telling a story behind them. Or else the story is secondary to the images of the in-ring action, or is a bit of a 'puff piece'. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing: the Randy Savage set is essentially just a bunch of matches, but it's Randy Savage so it is awesome. Anyway, I thought to myself – if I was going to tell someone about wrestling using documentaries, how would I do it?

Unfortunately, the best documentaries do tend to highlight the worst of wrestling. They show the humans behind the sport, and the obsession wrestlers have for putting their bodies through hell for nothing more than entertaining a crowd. They are stories that are tragic and yet filled with a joie de vivre missing in so much of modern life. It is also what made the film The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke so brilliant – it was not an exaggeration, but a look at a life that could have been any of too many guys I've met…

That's quite the introduction! Sorry… (tl;dr)

So, these are my favourite 5 wrestling documentaries (or series, as you shall see). Most documentaries come out of WWE simply because they own most of the video libraries in the USA and Canada, and so have access to so many matches, but not my favourites. These are, in general depressing, and yet still celebrate the pseudo-sport call professional wrestling. Is wrestling fake? Watch these and decide for yourself…

The Triumph And Tragedy Of World Class Championship Wrestling (2007) and Heroes Of World Class (2006)
WCCW, logo, wrestling

These two tell the story of the Texas promotion World Class Championship Wrestling, run by the Von Erich family, and which was poised to rival the WWF at one stage. And then the Von Erichs died one by one until only one was left – Kevin. He appears in both docos. The 2007 one is the WWE version, the other an independent documentary. The glory of the promotion is tempered by drug use, death, politics and, ultimately, closure. It is essentially the story of a family as well as a wrestling promotion; it is a story of obsession; it is a tragedy and it is real. Just amazing.
Freebirds v Von Erichs – the feud that carried WCCW for years

Bigger, Stronger, Faster (2008)

This documentary is more about the obsession with looking huge and the steroid use that helps it. But considering the documentary maker is the brother of a wrestler, and it all stemmed from learning about Hulk Hogan's own admitted steroid use, and wrestling features prominently, I have included it here. Because it is a singularly great documentary. It talks about steroid use, and advocates for it almost. But the film is also a sad indictment on our image-obsessed culture; it's not just women who worry about how they look to their own physical detriment. The film asks, "Why?" but there is not really an answer.
There is a tragic aftermath. Mike Bell, brother of Chris Bell who made the doco, died in 2008 and became the springboard for Bell's documentary Prescription Thugs, about addiction to prescription drugs, also worth watching.

Andre The Giant (2018)

What makes this HBO documentary about one wrestler better than most others about an individual? It's because Andre the Giant was, quite literally, larger than life – everything he did was large, drinking, living, everything. It tells the story of a remarkable man who was a wrestler, an actor and a world-known superstar. The subject was not just known in wrestling circles – his name could conjure up mental images even in people who do not follow wrestling. And, while this is a fine celebration of his life, it is not without its sadness as well. There are glaring omissions – quite a few guys were not fans of him in or out of the ring – and his relationship with his daughter feels skimmed over, but his alcohol consumption and physical ailments are not shied away from. Still, pretty comprehensive, and what a life!

The Rise And Fall of ECW (2004); Forever Hardcore: the Documentary (2005); Barbed Wire City: The Unauthorized Story Of ECW (2013)
ECW, logo, wrestling

These three documentaries detail the rise and fall of Extreme Championship Wrestling, a promotion that revolutionised professional wrestling at the end of the twentieth century. The 2004 one is the 'official' WWE product, the 2005 one is almost a response to the first, created by Jeremy Borash, who was with TNA, (in opposition to WWE at the time – wrestling can be as complicated as a soap opera in its backstage politics); the 2013 one is centred on Shane Douglas' attempts to bring ECW back to life. Between the three of them and their own internal biases, you get a pretty good impression on what ECW was like and about. I was not a fan of ECW as a promotion at first – hardcore wrestling was never my favourite style – but they did have some awesome matches at times, and they were booked superbly; and, yes, I still saw all their PPVs. They could make anyone look like a superstar, an art that is lost. However, these documentaries made me re-appraise their product and I can now see them for what they were – something different in a staid landscape.
Collage of ECW moments Potentially not good for kids!!

Beyond The Mat (1999)

The best wrestling documentary ever, from Barry W. Blaustein and featuring Mick Foley, Terry Funk and Jake 'The Snake' Roberts. Between the three of them, we see a wrestler hitting the peak of his career (Foley), ending his career (Funk), and unable to let go of the past (Roberts). Foley's risk-taking is scary. I mean that in a legitimate "oh my God!" way; you watch his Hell In A Cell physical aftermath and can't help but wince. Funk's longevity is inspiring, though, at the same time, concerning; watch his discussion with his doctor about his knees. Roberts' demise is tragic, sad and truly horrible. Was this the basis for The Wrestler? But some scenes are shocking. Watching Noelle Foley (now working with her dad!) on tears as Mick is beaten over the head again and again with a chair is heart-rending. Watching Roberts unable to talk to his father or daughter is so incredibly depressing. And watching Funk unable to let go is tragic in itself. Why am I a fan of this? I don't know – but I have watched in numerous times. This shows how 'real' wrestling is. And yet I still wrestled for years after seeing it. A brilliant piece of documentary making.
beyond the mat, wrestling, documentary, mick foley, terry funk, jake roberts

Now, most of the wrestling shown in these may not resonate with fans of the modern product, but as articles of history, of where wrestling has come from, you will be hard-pressed to find any better.

This gives rise to a question: Do you want to see any articles on professional wrestling? If so, what would you like? And, as usual, any comments, etc. are always welcome.

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