There’s a show on the VICE channel called Dark Side of the Ring, which is absolutely phenomenal. It looks at historic moments in professional wrestling, gets as many people as it can to talk about those moments, and gives a no-nonsense, no-filter recap of the story. Like, for example, here’s their overview of the infamous 1997 “Montreal Screwjob,” where then-WWF champion Bret “Hitman” Hart lost his title to Shawn Michaels on a pay-per-view event in which the match ended mid-bout.
Dark Side of the Ring is well-written, it’s well-annotated and there’s plenty of stories in pro wrestling to tell. The show will enter its third season with new stories, and has plans for two spinoff shows, Dark Side of Football and Dark Side of the 90’s.
VICE has worked independently of the major player in the pro wrestling world, WWE, to make these programs. And although WWE historical footage is shown on Dark Side of the Ring, the series has not been able to interview any WWE stars that are currently under contract with the company.
So what does WWE do when it sees how popular Dark Side of the Ring has become?
They make their own Dark Side of the Ring show, natch.
Now, remember, WWE controls everything within their company. They’re not going to release something unless it shows a slant or an opinion as dictated by the big boss, Vince McMahon. If you’re in good standing with Vince, there won’t be any nasty video documentaries denigrating your career. Piss Vince off, and you get DVD’s like The Self-Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior, which was released during a time when that wrestler was in litigation with the company.
See, here’s the thing. Stories are told by the storytellers, and WWE is a master in controlling the narrative. How in-depth these WWE Icons shows will be or not be, depends on that person’s standing within the company.
Example. There’s an upcoming episode on Davey Boy Smith, the British Bulldog. One of the greatest pound-for-pound wrestlers out there, and one of the most decorated grapplers the UK has ever produced. But are they going to talk about the massive drug and steroid abuse? Or the fact that in his greatest match, the SummerSlam pay-per-view in England, he was so winded after the first three minutes that his opponent, Bret Hart, had to essentially orchestrate the entire match to keep Smith looking good? The Beth Phoenix episode looks as if it’s a “I can prove that a woman can do anything a man can do” story, but does it also discuss the holy hell she went through to get there, or is it WWE-sanitized?
There’s also what looks like a convergence episode, in which the storylines of Dark Side of the Ring and WWE Icons intersect, and that would be the story of Elizabeth Hulette. The petite, demure manager / wife of Randy “Macho Man” Savage later moved in with pro wrestler Lex Luger, and suffered from physical and drug abuse before she passed away at the too-young age of 42. There’s hints that WWE Icons might talk about the Luger-Elizabeth relationship, which was already featured in its unvarnished view in Dark Side of the Ring‘s episode on Elizabeth’s relationship with Randy Savage.
I’m simply saying here … WWE Icons may appear to be a comprehensive documentary, but it’s still the view from the storytellers’ perspective. And there’s no way that WWE is going to show anything that’s detrimental to one of their superstars, unless it’s either so flippin’ obvious that the story must be told (the situation with Rodney “Yokozuna” Anoa’i’s morbidly obese weight gain), or they want to show it as some sort of redemption arc (which I think they’re planning with the episode on Rob Van Dam, the charismatic martial arts / gymnastic superstar who got bounced out of WWE for enjoying too much of the weed).
I’m just hoping that these documentaries might really tell us some great, untold situations and capture our attention, and hopefully NOT sanitize and scrub away the seamy stories like they’re some kind of pro wrestling poison.
Then again, there’s always the third season of Dark Side of the Ring. I hear this one will have episodes featuring the career of Jake “The Snake” Roberts (definitely a man of many highs and many lows), as well as the “Conflict in Korea” (where WCW wrestlers did a wrestling tour in North Korea). That should be some fun stuff.