I am a long-time fan of professional wrestling. Even back in the days before Wrestlemanias, back when matches were taped at the old Agricultural Building in Allentown, Pa. and syndicated throughout the Northeast on the old WWWF circuit.
So the return of the documentary series Dark Side of the Ring has me totally stoked.
Dark Side of the Ring is a documentary on the VICE network, and features interviews with wrestlers, promoters, fans, relatives, all of them – as they discuss some of the saddest, most frightening moments in the world of sports entertainment. The first season featured the deaths of both Bruiser Brody (attacked after a match in Puerto Rico by a crazed opponent) and Gino Hernandez (whose death still remains a mystery today). There was also an in-depth profile of the relationship between Randy “Macho Man” Savage and his wife Elizabeth, a recap of the sordid life of wrestler / promoter The Fabulous Moolah, the tragic and heartfelt story of the Von Erich family, and the infamous “Montreal Screwjob,” a moment that, nearly 25 years later, still brings up emotions among wrestling fans.
Here, for example, is the episode featuring the history of the Von Erich wrestling family, arguably the greatest wrestling family in the sport. Trust me, you think the greatest Texas pro wrestler was Stone Cold Steve Austin? Kerry Von Erich would have taken him to the woodshed in 5 minutes or less.
If last year’s series never came back, the show itself would be impressive. However, the program returned for a second season, and they’ve gone in for meatier stories this time around.
And by “meatier,” I mean they’re bringing up stories and events that, for many wrestling fans, are difficult to discuss.
For example, there’s an episode featuring wrestler New Jack, who once beat an opponent so mercilessly, even today it’s remembered as the “Mass Transit Incident.” Only watch this footage if you dare, it’s extremely graphic and it shows what kind of a maniac New Jack was in the wrestling ring.
There’s an episode dedicated to the sordid life of Herb Abrams, who tried to run his own wrestling federation – poorly at best – and eventually was found dead in very suspicious circumstances.
There’s an episode that expands on a 20/20 news story from 1984, in which reporter John Stossel tries to determine if pro wrestling is real or if it is staged. At about 9:00 of this news clip, he asks pro wrestler David Schultz if wrestling is fake. Schultz responded by … well, you watch and see.
Dark Side of the Ring will also discuss the lives and deaths of professional wrestlers Dino Bravo (who was apparently murdered in his own home as part of a smuggling deal gone wrong) and Owen Hart (who fell from the top of an arena to his death as part of a wrestling stunt gone horribly wrong).
But the big story for this series involves the life and death of Chris Benoit, his wife Nancy, and their son Daniel.
For many wrestling fans, this was the moment when professional wrestling changed from being an entertaining television show and arena staple, to an uncomfortable and sad commentary on traumatic brain injury and emotional overload. Heck, even after the Benoit tragedy, it took a long time for me to actually watch wrestling again.
The Dark Side of the Ring documentary on the Benoit murders is a two-hour episode, and VICE has made the first episode available for viewing online. I’m posting it here.
Dark Side of the Ring returns tonight at 9:00 Eastern on the VICE channel, with subsequent episodes appearing Tuesday nights at 10:00 pm Eastern. Don’t miss it.