Sports drama documentaries have had a resurgence in recent times. Netflix has released countless documentary series and movies in this genre to help people understand the amount of training, time, and investment that goes into making this one athlete or team world-famous. Wrestlers, directed by Greg Whiteley, is about a bunch of wrestlers from an organization who make sacrifices for the sake of their passion and entertainment.
Wrestlers is a seven-part documentary series that talks primarily about Ohio Valley Wrestling Gym, which is the starting point for many wrestlers who want to make their passion a serious profession. The Ohio Valley Wrestling Gym, also known as OVW, is run by ex-WWE fighter Al Snow, whose real name is Allen Ray Sarven. He talks about the amount of work that he and his team put in to entertain the audience, which loves watching their favorite wrestlers fight. OVW is the birthplace of many WWE champion wrestlers, which makes it a grooming ground for those who want to be noticed by the bigger leagues. The company is the only wrestling organization apart from WWE and AEW that still has some credibility. Men and women are still keen on being a part of the spectacle, and this show provides them with a platform that no other organization could.
What Is OVW?
OVW is a popular organization in Louisville. The company is running at a loss, and it is implied that Al Snow’s passion and old-school thought process are a hindrance to the financial growth of OVW. This is where Matt Jones and Craig Greenberg come in and invest in OVW, which was a big part of their childhood. Craig is a regular businessman, while Matt Jones founded Kentucky Sports Radio and was the prominent radio jockey on it. Though the two of them are excited about joining OVW and working with Al Snow, most of the old members, which include the staff and the wrestlers, are not happy with the changes the duo is trying to bring. Most of them are of outdated ideology and have joined OVW purely out of passion. Matt Jones and Craig make the OVW sound like a money-making machine. They want to incorporate new strategies to sustain the organization and bring in more cash than before.
The clash of the old guard with the new one was bound to happen because most of the staff followed Al Snow and his methods. With Matt and Craig joining the team, it takes a lot of time for them to understand that they are all working towards the same goal. Matt Jones and Craig eventually get into the good books of the wrestlers, Al Snow, and the rest of the staff. Matt and Craig introduce The Big One, a summer tour involving all the wrestlers of the OVW. The entire team will travel across the country to publicize OVW. The finale of the show is designed to be a spectacle that will draw in a massive audience. The outcome of this first summer tour will decide the fate of OVW.
What Are The Stories Of These Wrestlers?
Wrestlers also introduces the audience to many athletes who do not come from wealthy backgrounds. Some of them have loving and supportive families who understand their passion for the sport. Meanwhile, many other wrestlers come with the baggage of trauma, abandonment issues, drug abuse problems, and anger issues. They find solace in wrestling because it helps them channel their energy into something more productive.
Each episode talks about various kinds of hardships that the wrestlers go through professionally and personally. In addition to that, the makers take the audience through the country fairs they take part in. The country-fair matches also boost their confidence.
Why Is There Fake Storytelling?
The audiences are introduced to something called elaborate storytelling, created and written from scratch. The wrestlers will have to act out the script to engage the audience. Many growing up watching WWE have memories of kids arguing with friends about whether the hardcore actions showcased in these matches were real or not. Thankfully, the illusion is broken, and it allows us to see wrestlers in a different light. They put their bodies through a lot for the sake of entertainment. Both men and women surrender everything just to make sure the audience stays invested till the end.
The seven-episode series also speaks about two prominent female wrestlers, Hollyhood Haley J. and her mother, Maria. Maria is an ex-wrestler who now works with Al Snow. Maria has had a turbulent time living as a single mother. She admits to having sold drugs to financially support her kids, for which she went to prison. She speaks about her anger issues and how wrestling helped her discover herself. Haley, on the other hand, is also a single mother with narcotics abuse issues, but she is trying to be a professional in her game and a responsible mother as well.
The mother-daughter duo goes through ups and downs throughout the series. There is also a subplot about the two of them getting into the ring to project a fake rivalry during the summer tour of The Big One. This was done to attract the attention of the fans.
The makers of the show also talk about an Indian wrestler named Mahabali Shera, whose original name is Amanpreet Singh Randhawa. He speaks in the documentary about facing a lot of hardships back home, but how working with WWE and OVW gave him a purpose. He goes through his own set of issues in the form of injuries, but that does not bring down his positivity until the end of this season.
What Happened In The Last Episode?
Wrestlers Season 1 ends with the finale of “The Big One” summer tour at OVW. Matt convinced Al Snow to return to the ring as his most famous stage persona and defeat Shannon, the other wrestler. The entire setup leading up to the last few minutes of the finale is rousing. Al Snow also talks about why he has wanted to be a wrestler since the age of fourteen. He also does not consider this his final match because he still has a lot to give to the new wrestlers who are keen to join OVW. OVW is Al Snow’s legacy, and it cannot be considered passé and old-school.
Matt also gets Al Snow to speak on his radio show, which was indeed considered a big deal for both. Al Snow was cheered on and supported by the audience and his staff at OVW while he was in the ring with his opponent. This proves that Al Snow and OVW are still loved. The tour was indeed a success. Matt and Craig ended up retaining plenty of the staff because of their dedication to making The Big One summer tour an achievement.
Review: Is The Series Worth Watching?
Greg Whiteley’s Wrestlers is indeed a nostalgic trip down memory lane. When it comes to sports documentaries on Netflix, Untold Swamp Kings is the latest series on the streaming platform that did not leave a lasting impression on the audience. The main reason could be that the content in it is USA-centric, and the pop culture references did not work well with audiences outside of America. Wrestlers on the other hand is something the audiences from around the world can relate to.
The Wrestlers have a good start where the staff of the OVW and the wrestlers speak in detail about their struggle with anger and how wrestling helped them channel all of their emotions in the right direction. The makers also take us through the brief history of wrestling to help us understand why it was started in the first place. There is a lot of exaggeration when it comes to talking about this sport and the violence associated with it.
The makers of Wrestlers bank on the nostalgia factor because a lot of the target audience of this show has grown up watching WWE on television. A quick walk down memory lane hits the sweet spot when you combine it with the songs of that decade, making the show engaging. The direction is raw and authentic, but it also comes across as inconsistent in certain parts. The narrative in the screenplay kept repeating itself, and this hampered the viewing experience.
The writers also speak in depth about the struggles, successes, and defeats the wrestlers feel almost every day. This allows the viewers to see them as human beings who are willing to put themselves out there. The pressure they put on themselves is tremendous, and all of this is showcased in the most realistic manner, which is sad and melancholic at the same time.
There is so much talk about sacrifice and giving up on personal lives. This gives a lot of leverage and importance to violence. At one point, the OVW was considered a family-oriented show where married couples brought their kids as young as eight to watch grown men beat each other up. Calling OVW a kid-friendly show is taking it a notch too far. Children’s minds are malleable and soft, and making them watch such shows might have a lasting impact on them. The female wrestlers are also treated equally. There is an undercurrent of female empowerment running through this documentary. Most women had to take control of their lives to sustain themselves financially. The camerawork in the documentary series is astonishing. The camera takes the audience through the private spaces of the wrestlers to help the audience understand their vulnerability. There is also the subject of how the pressure of the job also affects men. Matt Jones speaks about having anxiety and panic attacks and how he deals with them. ‘Men, too, get emotional and overwhelmed’ narrative works.
The length of the show is what hampers the viewing experience. Each episode could have been 20 minutes shorter. This would have made the narrative tighter instead of the makers going with the “beating around the bush” tactic. Wrestlers, despite its shortcomings, ends on a happier note. Give it a watch if you loved watching wrestling while growing up.