Grappling with darkness
Review: The Dark Side of the Ring
Given its carny origins, it should not be surprising that professional wrestling has a dark underside. And yet, as Viceland’s new documentary series reveals, there is much that remains surprising and alarming. Over the course of six episodes, The Dark Side of the Ring explores some of the best known scandals that have engulfed sports entertainment. From a sheer human interest standpoint, their exploration of the people who comprise this unique industry, and some of the darker sides of human nature that they reveal, this series should prove to be interesting to a wider audience.
From the story of pioneer heel Bruiser Brody’s brutal murder at the hands of a promoter to the sex slavery ring operated by long-time women’s champion The Fabulous Moolah, The Dark Side of the Ring explores a number of stories that will be familiar to fans and shocking to newcomers. And yet, the show manages to keep surprising.
The Dark Side of the Ring manages to shed new light on a number of explored stories. For example, the show reveals that the WWE’s writing team came up with the idea behind Montreal screwjob, in which Bret Hart lost the WWE title to Shawn Micheals after a referee called for the bell, despite Hart being booked to go over. The exact person responsible remains a matter of conjecture, however, with multiple parties trying to take credit. The show’s producers have impressive access to the people involved at the heart of the drama and controversy, with interviewees ranging from WWE Producer Bruce Prichard to Hulk Hogan’s ex-wife Linda Bollea to Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer.
Viceland’s usual high production values extend to the editing and the way that the series is shot. This is one of the best-made wrestling documentaries since the likes of 1998’s Wrestling With Shadows.
There are times when the series wades through a lot of unedifying material. Episode six explores the controversial career of the Fabulous Moolah, a woman who wrestled and trained other women from the 1950s to the 2000s. Many of the women she trained now claim that she pimped them out as one of the requirements of her support. The episode is particularly hard going, but makes for an fascinating exploration into how people can remember the same imperfect human being in conflicting, even contradictory ways.
For all of the problems that the show reveals about the industry, there is plenty of levity and important lessons along the way. As is so often the case with such a strange industry, many of the anecdotes and stories are hilarious (as an example, check out Dutch Mantel’s story about wrestling a bear).
While there are a few takeaways for Christians, perhaps the fourth episode is the one where this is most obvious. Although episode four does not consider the subject matter in detail, the remaining Von Eric, Kevin, has long been open about how his Christian faith has sustained him following the loss of all of his brothers. The same episode mentions how the Von Eric family was known in Texas as a Christian family, and that this led to extra pressure on them during their struggles with drugs and the law. This may be the consequence of a triumphalist theology that expects that Christians never struggle in life.
Season One of The Dark Side of the Ring is streaming now on SBS On Demand. You can access it here.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor