28th May2020

‘Dark Side of the Ring: Season Two’ Review

by Chris Cummings

Dark Side of the Ring from Vice, is a show that delves into the underbelly of professional wrestling, a look at the stories that are, for a variety of reasons, coated in controversy. The first season was great, but the second season, which finished airing just last week with it’s final episode, was even better. Directed by Jason Eisener who created the show alongside Evan Husney, it is an authentic and real peek behind a curtain that is rarely pulled back this much.

With Chris Jericho on board and working as the narrator, these episodes bring many tales to the conversation and each offer insight and opinion from a whole list of relevant names. The episodes included in Season Two were;

  • Episode 1: Benoit – Part 1
  • Episode 2: Benoit – Part 2
  • Episode 3: The Life and Crimes of New Jack
  • Episode 4: The Brawl For All
  • Episode 5: Jimmy Snuka and the Death of Nancy Argentino
  • Episode 6: The Assassination of Dino Bravo
  • Episode 7: David Schultz and the Slap Heard Round the World
  • Episode 8: Cocaine and Cowboy Boots – The Herb Abrams Story
  • Episode 9: The Last Ride of the Road Warriors
  • Episode 10: The Final Days of Owen Hart

Now, in these ten episodes, each clocking in at just under an-hour in length, we heard so many revelations, so many emotional stories from people who were there, who knew those who were the topic of the episodes, who were in some way affected by what happened. I watched every single episode more than once, and again for this review, and am still blown away by both the production, the themes discussed and the honesty and quality of the way the producers of Dark Side of the Ring approached things. It’s done in a classy way, a way that allowed families of people like Nancy Benoit, Owen Hart and others to be present and involved. I respect that a lot, and having people who were close to these situations only adds to the episodes. The information is as honest and trustworthy as it can be because those discussing these matters were at the heart of it.

The season opened up with two episodes about the tragic events that surrounded the death of Chris Benoit, his wife Nancy Benoit and their young son Daniel. These two episodes are harrowing. I knew plenty about the Benoit situation already, but hearing people who were friends with Chris and Nancy as well as Nancy’s family members talk about what happened, is rough going. We hear from Chris’s son David, who is currently on a path to becoming a pro-wrestler himself, and he talks openly about his relationship with his father, how much he loved him, and how bad the whole thing was when it happened. These episodes are must-see, providing a multi-layered look at the murder-suicide, the career of Chris Benoit and the fact that he was very unwell, as well as Nancy, her legacy and how her family want her to be remembered.

Episode 3, which sat down with New Jack and talked about his career, is a dark, gritty and often ridiculous look at a man who has made a career on the controversial and unprofessional manner in which he carries himself. We see clips of his assaults on other wrestlers, including an occasion in which he stabbed another wrestler in the ring during a match. New Jack is a thug and this episode highlights it. Unapologetic and flippant, Jack himself speaks with a lack of empathy that only makes the whole thing worse. It’s interesting, for sure, but I was left with a wish that perhaps this man was undeserving of a spotlight being shone on him, even in this way.

Episode 4 went into the topic of the Brawl for All that WWE hosted back in 1998 on television. A shoot-fight concept thought up by Vince Russo, it resulted in broken careers, broken bones and shortened careers, and the fans didn’t even want to see it. It’s an interesting episode with people like Russo himself, Jim Cornette, Jim Ross and Bart Gunn (the eventual winner of said Brawl for All) discussing the whole terrible idea. It really was one of the most ill-conceived creatives in the history of wrestling, and I had fun with this episode. It was lighter than the previous ones, even though it is certainly a dark spot on wrestling’s past.

Episode 5 looks at the death of Nancy Argentino at the hands of Jimmy Snuka, a controversial question-mark that has hung over the dark side of wrestling for decades. It’s a sad episode with Nancy’s family bringing their thoughts to the situation as well as wrestlers who worked with Snuka at the time. I was shocked at this one, having known less about this situation that others. Very sad but very interesting, in that terribly morose way.

Episode 6, which looked at the death of Canadian wrestling legend, Dino Bravo, was another I knew only little-bits about, so was very interested to see. The assassination of Bravo is talked about here by his close friends and we hear his fellow wrestlers talk about it too, as well as his career, which was huge in Canada but less-so when he finally got to the WWF in the 80s. I remember Bravo fondly from watching wrestling as a kid and it’s a real shame that things got so out of hand for him in his life after his wrestling career stopped. The fact that the case of his death is still open is insane.

Episode 7 looked at the infamous slap from David Schultz where he slapped the side of the head of journalist John Stossel after the journo asked Schutlz is wrestling was “fake”. A big ole no-no at the time, when kayfabe was protected mightily by many in the business, the resulting slap ended up costing Schultz his job in WWE. Stossel, who seems like a weasel in all honesty, went on to get a pay-out from his lawsuit. It’s an interesting episode that shows the lack of respect that the media generally has (and always has had) for pro-wrestling. I don’t know a single fan of the business who won’t be agitated by the way Stossel talks about the profession we love.

Episode 8 looks at Herb Abrams, the late promoter who owned the UWF back in the early 90s. I knew very little of Abrams and the UWF, aside from seeing a few episodes of the show years ago. He was a firecracker of a human being who let his drug use and lifestyle completely saturate his life and cost him a fortune. The UWF, regardless of the huge names who were on board at one point, failed massively, and I thought this was an incredible look at why that all happened. Abrams was a crazy cat and the stories of him are endlessly entertaining.

Episode 9, perhaps the weakest of the season, looks at the career of The Road Warriors. It’s still a great episode, but failed to interest me as much as the others did. We hear from Animal as he discusses how he and Hawk got started, how their relationship was and the eventual passing of Mike “Hawk” Hegstrand back in 2003.

The final episode of the season was about the final days of the late, great Owen Hart. Owen was one of my favourite wrestlers and I recall vividly finding out that he had died. I was about to sit an English GCSE exam when I got a call telling me. I was a fan. I was mortified that it has happened. I mean… how must that have been for his family and friends if it hurt fans so much? The senseless tragedy is looked at in some detail here, but perhaps the most surprising and welcome thing about this episode, and the whole season, is that we hear from Owen’s wife, Matha Hart, and his children, Oje and Athena, here. Owens’ family rarely talk about his death and this is the first time I’ve seen them sit and discuss the matter on camera. Unreal. It’s painful to hear about it happening, and the stories from his friends and family are a mix of heartwarming and truly heartbreaking. Another must-see episode.

Dark Side of the Ring is a really important show. It captured some really horrible situations but allows those close to those situations to talk about them, making sure that history is not forgotten or changed to suit someone else’s agenda. I was blown away by this season, the quality, the range of talking-heads and the way the team dealt with the themes being confronted. I was concerned that there would be a bad taste left in my mouth in certain circumstances but I feel like it was all done with a real level of respect and honesty. If you’re a fan of wrestling or even just a fan of documentary films, then I urge you to check out this whole season. Be ready to cry, seethe, feel angry, sad, frustrated and agitated, and hey… even laugh and smile a few times too. Fantastic stuff.

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