If you’ve made it this far into Dark Side of the Ring or indeed wrestling as a whole and you don’t realise that yes, wrestling is predetermined, but at the same time, presents a very real danger to the performers, then how did you make it this far?
This episode focuses on the quote “worst idea in all of wrestling” end quote, the Brawl for All, a tournament held within the then WWF to determine who was the most legitimate tough guy in the locker room by making them box. Ignoring the philosophical question that within the canon universe why competing in a different sport would in any way make them more legitimate than you know, a wrestling contest.
The episode is mostly concerned with getting into the mind of why Vince Russo started the idea purely because he wanted to prove JBL wrong when he was running his mouth claiming he was the toughest guy in the locker room but also, who thought it was a good idea to break the entire mid-card?
The most consistently referenced talking heads in this episode are former WWE writer and legitimate dickhead Russo, his longtime nemesis, former WWE writer and legitimate dickhead Jim Cornette, former WWE commentator Jim Ross as well as three of the men from the tournament: Charles ‘The Godfather’ Wright, Darren ‘Droz’ Drozdov, and Bart ‘Bart Gunn’ Gunn.
The fascinating core of the episode is that they actually do a very good job of selling the Brawl for All, especially in a segment where they run down the different fighting backgrounds of each man, it explains how people could get drawn into it because it feels almost like we’re heading into Enter the Dragon, as if there’s something more on the line for each man’s style, beyond the golden gloves, $75,000 and the promise of a feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The interviews with eventual winner Gunn, talking up his tough childhood bullying and how he was the underdog going into the tournament give this the feeling of one of those narratives that if this were a sports film, you almost say it was too obvious that he’d go on to win the tournament. Droz, now a paraplegic, provides a bittersweet warmth to his recollections of a time just a short while before a tragic accident put him out of action. Wright predominantly talks about how he could have done better if he’d taken the series more seriously and smoked less weed, and I believe him, no one, except maybe Kanyon, was on Wright’s level.
When the episode focuses on the actual tournament action itself, it loses some of the momenta, becoming a hint repetitive, but this also works to hit home how many of the matches were a mess of people injuring each other by just knocking each other out. That said, the post-tournament coverage involving what should have been the start of something big for Gunn was instead stalled by people who were irritated that in a tournament where they hadn’t pre-determined the winners that someone they hadn’t picked to win, had.
As much as the outside context of both men’s online persona makes it hard to sympathise with either man, the focus on the lifelong blood feud between Cornette and Russo adds an effective structure to the episode. It asks a lot of questions about that line between performance and reality that wrestling ever skirts, but wisely, the episode doesn’t have the answers for them, so doesn’t try. And by focusing on the stories of Gunn, Droz, and Godfather, it succeeds not by exposing some great controversial underbelly to the wrestling industry but by remembering that the true reason wrestling works is the human element.
The Brawl for All airs on Vice TV UK tonight at 10 PM.
All images courtesy of Dark Side of the Ring Facebook and VICE TV, and Video courtesy of Vice TV YouTube.