The history of professional wrestling has evolved over time – from its early incarnations as strongman competitions in carnivals, to smoke-filled contests at arenas and armories, to its immediate acceptance in early television, to the advent of pay-per-views and whole dedicated television networks devoted to the sport.
But during that history, there have been some very scary stories that permeate the world of professional wrestling. Athletes have died, in many cases, in very horrifying ways. Others have seen their souls punctured, or their careers ruined, by one tiny miscalculation in the ring.
That makes the Vice series Dark Side of the Ring so fascinating. The show gathers these wrestlers, managers, promoters and historians together, and they recount stories of some of the sport’s painful moments. Past seasons have covered the murder-suicide of Chris Benoit and his family; the tragic accidental fall and death of Owen Hart; the murders of Bruiser Brody and of Gino Hernandez and of Dino Bravo; and the sordid tales behind the Montreal Screwjob, the “Brawl for All” and the cocaine-fueled UWF.
That being said, the show has returned for a third season, with new episodes to premiere next Wednesday with the two-part story of the life of Brian Pillman. A former pro football player, Pillman developed a wrestling persona as “Flyin’ Brian” Pillman, able to hold his own with the likes of gymnastic wrestling powerhouses like Jushin “Thunder” Liger, as can be seen here.
Later on, however, Pillman modified his character as a “Loose Cannon,” the kind of wrestler who might not follow the scripted nature of the sport, and might say or do anything at any time, whether anyone was prepared for it or not. He would later move to the WWF (pre-WWE), and have an electric angle with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, in which Austin tried to break into an injured Pillman’s home, and Pillman chased him off with a pistol.
Unfortunately, Pillman’s long career included several personal demons – heck, he wrestled most of his WWF tenure with one of his ankles actually fused to a single, immobile point – and he would later pass away in a motel, just days before a pay-per-view event.
This is electric. And the two-part Season 3 opener of Dark Side of the Ring will feature Pillman’s long career and short life.
This year’s run of episodes will feature stories about the rise and fall of The Dynamite Kid, the Ultimate Warrior and Grizzly Smith (father of wrestlers Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Rockin’ Robin), as well as the “Collision in Korea” (the time a wrestling company actually hosted matches in North Korea), and Combat Zone Wrestling veteran Nick Gage. Be warned, this next video is not safe for children or for work.
I’m just going to say this. The fact that Dark Side of the Ring is talking about these stories, and getting the major players involved to speak about these stories, is incredible. It’s these moments when you realize that the stories themselves are larger than life, and in many cases, were even more compelling than the on-screen wrestling angles that these men and women potrayed.
Dark Side of the Ring airs Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m. on Vice TV.