A Review of Netflix' Wrestlers
Wrestlers, the new seven-part docuseries, is the best thing I’ve seen on Netflix. Director Greg Whiteley raised the bar with his stellar Last Chance U series, and he surpasses it with Wrestlers.
As the title suggests, Whiteley chronicles the up and down, rough and tumble existence of professional wrestlers. In Wrestlers, indie wrestling promotion OVW (Ohio Valley Wrestling), located in the Louisville area, takes center stage. It’s a no-frills, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation, a world away from the glamour of the WWE and the AEW.
It’s a good night for OVW if the turnbuckles work, and the wrestlers receive gas money. They do it for the love of “the sport,” and the squared circle is the one place where they feel like they matter. And… if they kill it at OVW, there’s a chance they can make it to the big time. John Cena and Dave Bautista are OVW alums.
As far as pro wrestling, it has all been documented before in one form or another, but not like this - with the Whiteley touch. Whiteley is a gifted storyteller with a nose for nuance. Whiteley gets the wrestlers to open up and go to some dark places on camera without feeling exploitative. When the wrestlers do grapple, it means so much, much more than a predetermined match. And Whiteley’s expert camera crew makes the action look terrifically cinematic. Lastly, there are some wonderful montages set to music. Styx’s Come Sail Away has never sounded so good. Ditto for Bowie’s Major Tom.
Unlike other indie promotions, OVW produces a weekly television show, which is expensive. Indeed, at the start of Wrestlers, the television show is on the cusp of shutting down. As a Hail Mary, partners with means have been brought in. The most outspoken partner is Matt Jones, a popular sports radio talk show host. Jones means well, but he rubs some of the wrestlers, including OVW’s leader, Al Snow, the wrong way with his aggressive demeanor.
Snow is a familiar name to wrestling fans. In his heyday, Snow was known for his schizophrenic character who communicated with a plastic mannequin head. Snow and Jones have their share of disagreements. Snow wants to wrestle with poignant storylines. Jones’ priority is getting eyeballs and butts in the seats. Amid all this, Jones is dealing with a serious health issue, and Snow is playing the stone-faced high school principal with OVW’s motley crew of grapplers.
Hollywood Haley J and her mother, The Amazing Maria James, are two of the most compelling wrestlers featured. They’ve had their issues. Haley spent much of her youth couch surfing because her mother was locked up. Now, she has a boulder on her shoulder and a mission to make the WWE. When these two face off against each other in the ring, it’s art imitating life - or vice versa. Either way, it’s powerful stuff.
I’m no fan of spoilers, so I won’t say how it all ends. However, Whiteley brings Wrestlers to a satisfying end, while still leaving viewers wanting more. Wrestlers is more than deserving of a Season 2.