There’s no shortage of wrestling documentaries on the market. From WWE’s self-serving machine to the grim Dark Side of the Ring entries, they churn them out to the fans’ delight.
But there are a ton of low and no-budget indie films from the heart that didn’t have the benefit of major corporations backing and hyping them.
A few of these, sadly, didn’t even get the theatrical or television distribution they so deserved.
Quality Under the Radar Wrestling Documentaries
Here, in no particular order, are some quality wrestling documentaries that may have fallen under the radar but are well worth discovering.
The Last of McGuinness (2013)
Few matches equaled the majestic Nigel McGuinness and Bryan Danielson bouts for Ring of Honor.
They were Dory Funk–Jack Brisco and Ric Flair-Ricky Steamboat-level classics.
And as ROH Champ, McGuinness had as great a run as virtually anyone ever, going move for move with guys who would later climb to the top of the industry like Tyler Black (Seth Rollins).
Frankly, as seen in this film, McGuinness was every bit his equal and possibly even better than the future WWE Superstar.
So, it was a wee bit disconcerting at first to hear Nigel second-guessing his brilliant career.
In this heartfelt doc, he is on his 2011 retirement tour and doing a lot of soul-searching as his career winds down. Since he didn’t make it to a WWE ring, Nigel partly feels like "a failure."
McGuinness on the road is shown respect by peers, promoters, and fans alike and is a well-spoken, insightful, yet tortured Artist.
The film captures his less-than-glamorous life eating in dives and crashing on couches as he moves from city to city, country to country, throughout his final farewell series. But the camaraderie and warmth are also there, and we grasp why he still loves the business.
Ultimately, McGuinness details a poorly timed injury and Hepatitis B diagnosis that stood in the way of his wrestling dreams.
As a film, it’s not exactly slick. There are some sound issues. Background noise and heavy British accents without captions led to a few “What was just said?” moments.
And it could have used some tightening as he does repeat some of the regrets gnawing at him multiple times throughout the film.
Nigel serves as editor, writer, director, and producer. Frankly, someone reigning McGuiness in a bit would have improved an otherwise excellent film.
But the man wears his heart on his sleeve; you’re caught up in his journey and can’t help but hope he finds his peace.
Ironically, McGuiness DID end up working for the WWE as an announcer years after the film’s completion. Hopefully, that brought him some degree of solace.
The Last of McGuinness is a wonderful profile of an all-time great grappler who gave it his all.
In 2019, Nigel McGuinness wrote, “Had a few people ask me about the original doc I made, so I wanted to share it to show where I came from and that as blessed as I am now, it is still the journey we must all aspire to enjoy. The story of someone who never made it, by someone who eventually did.”
He added, “Thank you to everyone for your support over the years.”
McGuinness followed his message by saying fans can watch The Last of McGuinness here.
Fake It So Real (2011)
I listen when the late, great film critic Roger Ebert gives a wrestling documentary 3 1/2 stars and raves about it.
And the man was right.
THIS is one of the five best wrestling documentaries EVER made.
In Fake It So Real, you are dropped into the world of a ragtag bunch of wrestlers. They’re the Millenium Wrestling Federation (MWF) out of Lincolnton, North Carolina.
Most are out of shape, realize they don’t stand a chance of making the big time, and some have never earned a dime wrestling.
But they believe that “wrestling is the great American art form” and are passionate about it. It’s their “escape” from various dead-end jobs and personal problems addressed in the film.
They’re underdogs who know just who they are.
It’s thoroughly poignant and exceptionally well done.
By the film’s end, you feel like you know them and do indeed care and pull for them.
Fake It So Real is currently streaming on Mubi, Fandor, and is available for rental on Amazon Prime.
Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro (2019)
At the heart of it, Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro is about single dad Ian Hodgkinson/Vampiro’s tender relationship with his teenage daughter.
There’s also his heart-wrenching inner battle as he agonizes over still risking it all in the wrestling ring.
You see, with various devastating injuries and some two dozen concussions, fifty-ish Vampiro is struggling.
Director Michael Paszt’s film is at its best when it sticks to the charismatic and vulnerable Vampiro; the backstage dramas between various wrestlers and their legit heat seem to leave more questions than provide answers.
All in all, though, it’s a winning wrestling documentary reminiscent of Beyond the Mat.
And Nail in the Coffin is quite moving, as the man sacrificed mightily for his Art.
Don’t miss it.
Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro is currently being shown on Apple TV and Tubi.
Wrestling Then and Now: The Movie (2002)
It’s a wee bit surreal when a filmmaker pitches you a documentary with you front and center in it.
Well, that’s precisely what happened when West Coast-based Dwayne Walker decided to do Wrestling Then and Now; the title is taken from my long-running newsletter.
He believed the theme of a mild-mannered English teacher surrounded by larger-than-life pro wrestlers would be a winner.
And it is.
Shot on pennies, we met up with many of my friends in the business, and sadly, some twenty years later, so many of them are gone.
Some highlights include the late Mambo King doing great things for kids in the inner city.
Nikolai Volkoff tells of Freddie Blassie encouraging him to embrace his now-legendary Russian character in spite of his hatred for the nation.
We visit Nikita Breznikov, Nikolai’s shoot manager, right after his harrowing cancer surgery.
The worldly Killer Kowalski shares his philosophies of life. He preaches, “What you think you become, what you say you become.”
It’s also a fun peek into the New York-New Jersey indie scene of twenty years ago with Homicide, hardcore icon Lowlife Louie Ramos, beloved Doghouse promoter Bobby Lombardi, and other notables of that period.
It’s all from the heart; give it a shot.
Wrestling- Then & Now is currently available for rental and purchase on Amazon.
The Absolute Truth About Pro Wrestling (2006)
It’s 2006, and WWE Hall of Famer “Luscious” Johnny Valiant is unsure of what’s coming next. However, the one thing he does realize is that a day job is not for him.
But he also has a love-hate relationship with pro wrestling which he states “really took a toll on me emotionally and physically,” and explores acting and stand-up comedy.
Sky Hosoya (Empress Asia) is a wrestler by day, dominatrix by night. She was also a former professional bodybuilder and Golden Gloves boxing Champion.
Hosoya’s not exactly cut out to be a nine-to-fiver and an intriguing subject for a documentary.
She notes, “You get to pack yourselves in a car with five sweaty guys, drive two hundred miles to the matches, and get paid $20. Obviously, I am not in it for the money.”
And college Professor Larry Degaris’ “secret identity” is indie wrestler Larry Brisco. A scholar engaged in the proletarian performance art of pro wrestling. Well, alrighty then, you don’t see THAT every day.
Fascinating folk, one and all, and so is Mark Ezovski’s intriguing, colorful, and well-done film that deserves to be seen by wrestling fans and non-fans alike.
Director Ezovski sums it up, “The Absolute Truth About Pro Wrestling is a film about three individuals following their dreams and living on their own terms. It is a funny, sad, and uplifting portrait of life inside and outside the squared circle.”
The Absolute Truth About Pro Wrestling can be viewed below:
Johnny Valiant: The Wrestler (2005)
On a side note, Nick Oddo’s Johnny Valiant: The Wrestler also does an excellent job of tackling the talented, quirky, colorful, and downright funny Valiant, albeit in a 37-minute short.
This is also well deserving of a watch.
Johnny Valiant: The Wrestler, directed by Nick Oddo, can be viewed below:
There’s a whole world of wrestling docs. Some, like Beyond the Mat, Bret Hart’s Wrestling with Shadows, and 350 Days, have found a worldwide audience.
Yet too many, sadly, are unsung and under the radar.
The fascinating subjects of these films have experienced the extreme joy and pain the business has afforded them. You’ll be enriched and enlightened traveling those endless highways chronicled in these artfully made films.
These stories may also interest you:
- Wrestling Documentaries That Hit The Mark
- Wrestler Movie Appearances You May Have Missed!
- Andre the Giant Documentary: 12 Things Learned (And Facts Left Out!)
- The Wrestler: 9 Surprising Unrevealed Facts About The Film!
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