VICE has a major hit on their hands with “Dark Side of the Ring.” The series has been hugely successful; 2 seasons of mini pro-wrestling documentaries. It is exactly what it sounds like, some of the darkest and most heartbreaking stories in the history of pro-wrestling.
And it is absolutely fantastic.
Evan Husney and Jason Eisener (yes, the director of “Hobo with a Shotgun“) have created 16 total 1-hour episodes so far. From stories about the bizarre life of New Jack, to the terrible murders of Chris Benoit, to the heartbreaking death of Owen Hart– stories have spanned multiple decades, companies, and countries. The series is apparently the most popular show in Vice’s history, so a season 3 seems certain.
What will we see? Here are my 5 wish list episodes.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF BAM BAM BIGELOW
Scott Bigelow – known by his ring name Bam Bam Bigelow – is one of the most famous and interesting looking men in the history of wrestling. He was a huge guy standing at 6’4″ and almost 400 lbs, but he was known for being able to do some crazy high flyer moves. He had major runs in the WWF, ECW, WCW, and Japan, including in a legitimate fighting tournament. He had tattooed flames on his head and a comic book villain look about him with skills to back it up.
But three moments in Bigelow’s life make him worth of a documentary. His biggest moment in wresting was in a Wrestlemania main event against NFL star Lawrence Taylor. That’s kind of like if John Cena headlined Wrestlemania against Tom Brady. Somehow in 1996 he ended up in a mixed martial arts match in Japan, being a completely untrained fighter and quickly losing. Then towards the end of his life he saved a family from a burning home and disappeared to Florida, dying of a drug overdose. That makes for one interesting life.
THE INSANE HARLEY RACE
For most folks under 30, they’ve never heard of Harley Race. He is what you’d imagine every wrestler in the 60’s and 70’s looked like: a big dude who looks really strong but isn’t a body builder who has been in about 50 real fights at local bars. He was apparently legitimately a tough person. He managed to take a hell of a beating and live into old age.
Oh, and he was completely insane.
The stories of hard-living Harley Race – before he became the family friend WWF King Harley Race – are legendary. In Kansas City he supposedly pulled a gun on Hulk Hogan while Hogan was pooping, threatening him for being in the wrong “territory”. That same day he tried to set the wrestling on fire. He would also famously start a fight with an entire biker gang alone. He was such an insane, tough jackass that even Andre the Giant was afraid of him.
THE PLANE CRASH THAT MADE RIC FLAIR
Ric Flair was once a bloated, old school wrestler dude. He looked like a linebacker that entered into a ring to beat people up. He had sort of short, dark hair. He had a power lifter body. He was absolutely not the Nature Boy Ric Flair.
On October 4, 1975, Ric Flair and several other wrestlers were in a horrible plane crash. The pilot was killed. Then wrestler Johnny Valentine was paralyzed. Several other wrestlers were injured. Ric Flair was so severely injured with a broken back that he should’ve never wrestled again. Ric Flair managed to lose a lot of weight, stopped taking bumps on his back, dyed his hair blonde, and had to start a wrestling style that was more ground based and cowardly to protect his back… And the modern era of wrestling entertainment was partly made due to a deadly plane crash.
THE CURSE OF WRESTLEMANIA VI
Here is a list of everyone who competed at Wrestlemania VI who isn’t alive right now: Andre the Giant, Dusty Rhodes, Earthquake, Miss Elizabeth, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Macho Man Randy Savage, Sapphire, Jim Neidhart, Sensational Sherri, Dino Bravo, Jimmy Snuka, Rick Rude, Ultimate Warrior, and Big Boss Man.
Here is a list of everyone who competed at Wrestlemania VI who is alive right now: Ax, Smash, Haku, Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Marty Janetty, Brutus Beefcake, Brett Hart, Rick Martel, Koko B. Ware, Boris Zhukov, Tito Santana, Nikolai Volkoff, the Barbarian, Sato, Tanaka, Jim Duggan, Ted Dibiasi, and Akeem.
Notice anything here? About half of the people from Wresltemania VI are dead. This is famous because the percentage here is statically much higher than even other sports-related occupations. Many of the people who have died would be in their 50’s or early 60’s now, not exactly old age. Even counting the handful of deceased wrestlers from this PPV who were expected to have passed of health or old age regions by now, really only Andre the Giant, Sapphire, and maybe Jimmy Snuka and/or Dusty Rhodes could be removed. Even Dusty Rhodes would only be in his early 70’s today.
Many of the late-80’s to 1990 PPVs have an extreme and saddening loss of life, and that’s just sad for the fans and the families of those who passed way too young.
THE LITERAL RESURRECTION OF THE SANDMAN
ECDUB! ECDUB! ECDUB!
If you grew up in the 90’s in the the northeastern US, there were no people cooler than the ECW wrestlers. The toughest guys and best in ring performers around hung out in ECW at various times throughout the 90s: Chris Jericho, Taz, Rob Van Dam, Sabu, Tommy Dreamer, and Mick Foley. The most over and popular ECW wrestler with the coolest entrance in the history of pro-wrestling was the hard drinking, hard partying man known as the Sandman.
James Fullington became the Hardcore Icon Sandman through matches full of blood, beers, and cigarettes. He was involved in some of the best feuds and matches in history, including a brutal feud with wrestler Raven. Sandman also famously overdosed, may have died, went to the hospital, and still managed to get to a wrestling match somehow. Imagine spending your career getting busted open with barbed wire, dying, still wrestling, AND sadly outliving many of your peers. Heck, Sandman was still wrestling last year at age 55.
The thing that makes wrestling so interesting is that, for decades, it was the place where the craziest and the toughest people alive would go to try and make as much money as they could while partying and fighting nonstop. Even when pro-wrestling became mainstream in the late 80’s and 90’s, there was still an entirely underworld of drugs, violence, and people living with injuries and pain constantly.
That’s a recipe for some real, fascinating, human stories.
“Dark Side of the Ring” season one is available to stream on Amazon here.