Since its debut in April 2019, Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring series has covered some of the most tragic, painful, embarrassing, and controversial subjects in professional wrestling history.
To date — currently halfway through Season Two — the docuseries has explored the stories of “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth, Bruiser Brody, The Von Erich Family, Gino Hernandez, The Fabulous Moolah, New Jack, and Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka.
Upcoming episodes will shine a spotlight on The Road Warriors, Dino Bravo, David Schultz, and Owen Hart.
The two-part series opener was a detailed and, for many, cathartic look at the Benoit Family murder-suicide that took place in June 2007.
The series has also looked at the ill-fated Brawl for All tournament that the then-WWF held in the late 1990s, as well as the infamous Montreal Screwjob.
Throughout its run, the show has managed to bring a comprehensive look at some stories that have been marred in urban legend, giving both hardcore and casual fans a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, these characters and moments that have defined the wrestling industry over the past four decades.
Looking ahead, there are a number of careers and stories that deserve to be highlighted, both for the contributions they made on professional wrestling, and as cautionary tales to multiple generations of wrestling fans.
Note: It is worth stating that the suggestions below are not meant in any way to glorify tragedies or the terrible circumstances that surround them. Instead, we believe that the topics below would make for compelling episodes of a program that explores, as the name suggests, the darker side of a business that has experienced its share of difficult moments.
Five Dark Side of the Ring Episodes We Need to See
The Ultimate Warrior
While much of this subject matter was covered in WWE’s The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior, there is a tremendous deal of outside-the-ring activity that was left untouched.
Granted, one only has so much time in a roughly 47-minute program, but Warrior’s history is perhaps the most prominent case of a larger-than-life persona collapsing under the weight of fame and conflict.
Since his untimely passing in 2014, WWE has mended bridges with Warrior’s legacy and his family, heralded the former World and Intercontinental Champion as a cherished icon of the squared circle. What gets left out of the revisionist history, however, are the nearly thirty years of tumult that ultimately defined the man’s career.
From Warrior’s controversial political beliefs and his unique philosophy to quarrels over pay, there are plenty of angles the producers could take. If nothing else, however, it would make for an interesting episode.
Jake “The Snake” Roberts
As of this writing, Jake is currently working as the manager and, effectively, the mouthpiece for AEW’s Lance Archer — a pairing that, at least in its early incarnation, has been incredibly effective.
If you had told wrestling fans in 2015, or in 2010, or in 2005 even that Jake Roberts would be steadily holding a prominent role in a major wrestling promotion with a weekly, nationally-television show in prime time, they would have said you were crazy!
During a period between the late 1990s and the late 2010s, Roberts had battled with a plethora of issues, including a well-documented battle with addictions.
This stretch effectively tarnished the reputation of one of wrestling’s most cerebral performers. Numerous accounts over the years suggest that Roberts performed under compromised conditions. One such incident took place during an independent wrestling show in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2008.
In the video below, the late JT Lightning has to force a pinfall on Roberts, who appears unable to perform. He is verbally accosted backstage after the match as well.
Warning: Explicit language in this video
Hopefully Jake is able to stay on the right path and become one of wrestling’s few genuine redemption stories. His saga to this point, however, is one that many people could benefit for hearing.
While likely a name unfamiliar with modern fans of professional wrestling, the story of Mitsuhiro Momota is one that Puroresu enthusiasts know quite well.
Born in what is now North Korea, Momota migrated to Japan and pursued a career in sumo wrestling before effectively bringing the sport of professional wrestling to the country in the early 1950s.
As a way to instill a sense of pride back into the Japanese society after World War II, Rikidozan would defeat visiting American wrestlers on a regular basis. One of his greatest rivals was the legendary Lou Thesz, who had tremendous respect for the man. Thesz even agreed to put Thesz over in a 1958 contest for the NWA International Heavyweight Championship.
As the founder of the Japanese Wrestling Alliance (JWA), Rikidozan introduced the country’s first official promotion. He also trained the next generation of rising Japanese stars, including standouts Antonio Inoki and Shohei “Giant” Baba — the founders of New Japan Pro Wrestling and All Japan Pro Wrestling, respectively.
Rikidozan’s career — and life — were cut shot at the young age of 39 following an altercation at the nightclub with Katsushi Murata, a member of the Japanese yakuza. After a brief scuffle, Murata stabbed Rikidozan in the abdomen and the wrestling star died a week later or peritonitis.
Another tragedy out of Japan, the legendary Mitsuhara Misawa was considered by many to be one of the greatest in-ring perfomers of all time. At the time of his death, Misawa had received more “5-Star” match awards from legendary wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer than any wrestler in history. His run during the 1990s is arguably the best in-ring run of any wrestler, in any promotion, ever.
After competing for years in All Japan Pro Wrestling — a run that lasted from 1981 to 2000 — Misawa had classic feuds with contemporaries like Kenta Kobashi, Toshiaki Kawada, Jumbo Tsuruta, Akira Taue, and Jun Akiyama. He also squared off with other greats like Ric Flair, Curt Hennig, Riki Chosu, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, Stan Hansen, Ted DiBiase, and Terry Funk.
In 2000, he (and much of the AJPW roster) departed to form Pro Wrestling NOAH, where Misawa would compete for the next nine years. During this time, he included names like KENTA, Yugi Nagata, Jushin Thunder Liger, Masahiro Chono, Nigel McGuinness and Samoa Joe to his expansive list of foes.
On June 13, 2009, Misawa took a back suplex from Akitoshi Saito during a tag team match. The match, which was only around the ten-minute mark at this point, was stopped when Misawa became unresponsive. A doctor in attendance and EMTs attempted to revive Misawa, but to no avail.
The cause of death — officially ruled as “cervical cord transection” — is a tragic reminder of extreme levels of danger and physical deterioration professional wrestlers can experience throughout the course of their careers.
The death of Brian Pillman in 1997 is one the biggest tragedies in an industry that already has far too many in its closet. At just 35, Pillman was seemingly entering the prime of his career as a performer.
Before signing with the then-WWF in 1996, Pillman made a name for himself as the athletic, talented, and good looking “Flyin’ Brian” in WCW. A success pairing with “Stunning” Steve Austin as The Hollywood Blondes allowed the former Cincinnati Bengal to show more of the vibrant personality that would define his later career.
Pillman would conclude his WCW tenure with a “worked shoot” program that revolved around his “Loose Cannon” persona — the idea that Pillman was going off script and exposing the business without the approval of the booking staff.
Upon making his way to ECW, Pillman cut a series of edgy promos that built upon his character before eventually reuniting with The Hart Foundation — friends from his early days in Stampede Wrestling.
While Pillman’s death was effectively rules as a heart attack from a previously diagnosed condition, it is the aftermath that often separates this from many of wrestling’s other tragedies.
The day after Pillman’s untimely death, the then-WWF aired an interview between Vince McMahon and his widow Melanie. Prior to Pillman’s death, he had been involved in a storyline where he was involved in a love triangle with Goldust and Marlena (real-life ex-girlfriend Terri Runnels, who was married to Dustin Runnels at the time).
McMahon asks Melanie questions regarding the circumstances (i.e. were prescription medications involved), how the children we handling the situations, etc. The entire situation left a poor impression on viewers and some of those within the industry. Pillman’s own son, who wrestles today as Brian Pillman Jr., has also been critical of the exploitative situation.
What topics do you think would make for compelling episodes of Dark Side of the Ring? Let us know in the comments below.