Year in reviews are still going on, right? Enjoy the third installment of The Year of Wrestling in Pop Culture.
This year, things were kind of slow on the wrestling episode front for television shows. BUT with regards to television shows about wrestling, everything was coming up Milhouse. In January, Univision premiered the outrageously fictitious bio series of lucha legend Blue Demon. Even Blue Demon Jr. (Blue Sr.’s adopted son) condemned the show for the liberties it’s taken with his father’s life story.
While debuting in October of 2016, Japan’s Tiger Mask W (which you can catch on the paid streaming service Crunchy Roll, or for free on Tubi TV) concluded its 38 episode run in July with a new kind of masked Tiger. Hint: some say Tiger Springer started the joshi revolution. Plus, there were all the cool New Japan Pro Wrestling tie-ins, like animated versions of the Bullet Club and Kazuchika Okada.
But the show about wrestling that really stood out and grabbed everyone’s attention, plus some critical acclaim here and there, was Netflix’s homage to women’s wrestling in the 80’s, GLOW. With Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, and Marc Maron leading a misfit crew of wannabe actors and other aimless wanderers, GLOW has not only served as a much-needed depiction and proponent of the women’s wrestling scene, but as an empowering vehicle for women everywhere.
There was also talks of premium cable channel Starz developing their own wrestling show called Heels. The drama would be set in the world of independent pro wrestling and focused on two brothers vying for their deceased father’s wrestling promotion. There was even news that
pro wrestler MMA fighter, CM Punk, tested for the role of one of the brothers. However, the show’s been put on hold for now. Here’s hoping someone finally gives it the green light, so we can finally see Punk return to the ring. Even if it’s fake. Wait…
As far as an actual wrestling episode of a television show, the USA Network/WWE synergy that’s brought us many a wrestler cameo on Psych, worked its magic this year by having Luke Harper appear on the USA Network’s new show, Damnation. It’s basically the role Luke Harper was born to play. The character essentially is Luke Harper, where the character of Luke Harper would make the most sense as a wrestler. In a carnival in the 1930’s out in the Midwest. And, as usual, Harper does a great job in his performance. Why’s this guy stuck with Erick Rowan, again?
On the reality show front (something that’s not covered on this site, or ever will be), Kenny King did his best to branch out the Kenny King brand and hopefully attract new fans, while being a contestant on The Bachelorette. Brandi Rhodes, proving that she should’ve been one of the original cast members of Total Divas, continued her post-WWE success by landing a spot on the Atlanta spin-off of WAGS. This is pretty crazy considering her husband is Cody
Rhodes, a professional wrestler. Here’s to the many instances where the validity of Cody’s profession will be brought up for dramatic effect.
In late night news, Stephen Colbert skewered the WWE’s decision to trademark 3:16. And, per usual, the art of the wrestling promo was parodied on The Late Show. Even with Jesus Christ cutting the promo, it’s amazing how the stereotypical 80’s Hulk Hogan wrestling promo has still endured as the go-to wrestling monologue after all these years. But when you have John Cena’s fourth-wall breaking snarky promos it’s kind of easy to see why these 80’s promos are still the most reliable for parodies.
The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, returned to host Saturday Night Live in May, and actually delivered a follow up to his original wrestling promo sketch he did with Bobby Moynihan. Again, Koko WatchOut deliverseven more psychological damage to his opponent Trashyard Mutt ahead of their big WrestleMania match.
An insurance company from the Netherlands thought it would be a good idea to cast Hulk Hogan, as Hulk Hogan, in one of their commercials. Maybe news from the U.S. travels really slow to the Netherlands. I’m also not really sure what they’re pushing in the commercial, but I’m really hoping it’s not casual racism.
Perhaps the best produced piece of television about professional wrestling this year came from ESPN’s 30 for 30 special about Ric Flair. Even my friends who hate pro wrestling sat down to watch it. At least, for a little bit. We all know the best wrestling documentaries come from WWE, but that’s usually because they have an endless archive of footage to use. They’re also one-sided. ESPN’s 30 for 30 series has proven to be an engaging documentary series breaking down important moments in sports history, and highlighting sports figures, without revising said moments or figures. The Ric Flair episode showed us wrestling fans what many of us already knew, that Ric Flair was always the man, in and out of the ring. Which took an emotional and financial toll on the Nature Boy and his family. But like all good documentaries, there was still enough hope and redemption at the end to restore our faith in Ric Flair as a legend in the business, and not just another cautionary tale.
In what might beat out Body Slam or Ready to Rumble as the movie with the most amount of wrestling cameos, In the Ring was announced by the The Hollywood Reporter to star Kurt Angle and Tommy Dreamer as rival owners of their own respective wrestling companies competing for a network TV contract. How do you predetermine that outcome with so much on the line? The movie is based on a story by its director Tony Lee, and wrestlers, Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian a.k.a. The Addiction. As mentioned, it stars almost every wrestler not contracted (or previously contracted) by the WWE.
The Hanna-Barbera/WWE relationship pumped out another animated movie: The Jetsons & WWE: Robo-WrestleMania! Once again, the joint cartoon featured WWE wrestlers you expected to be in the movie, like Roman Reigns, and a couple of head-scratchers, like Alicia Fox and Stardust.
Other notable wrestling movies were mostly independent or foreign films. At least some people see the entertainment value of pro wrestling representation on the big screen.
Dynamite Wolf was a stand out film at the Osaka Asian Film Festival Indie Forum. It’s a coming of age story about a young boy named Hirota who, like many of us, falls in love with pro wrestling after seeing that one bigger than life personality that gets him hooked. In this case, it’s Dynamite Wolf, who may or may not also be the local homeless man who’s been teaching Hirota the art of wrestling.
Although originally released in November 2016, in Canada, Chokeslam appeared to have crossed over into the States in 2017. Mostly through Video on Demand. It aims to perfect the genre that Just Another Romantic Wrestling Comedy missed the mark on, with a story about a deli clerk who gets a second chance to make an impression on his high school sweetheart when she returns for their 10 year reunion. That high school sweetheart is also a pro wrestler. The movie stars Silicon Valley’s Amanda Crew, the guy who’s most known for playing Ryan Reynold’s annoying brother in Just Friends, and a few wrestling cameos from Mick Foley, Lance Storm, Harry Smith, and Impact Wrestling’s Laurel Van Ness.
Heel Kick! is a mockumentary about two loser backyard wrestlers (is that still a thing?) who decide to go pro, but put in about as much effort as one would expect from two out of shape slackers. The movie features cameos from a few Canadian independent wrestlers, but the most recognizable name is Laurel Van Ness, playing herself (Chelsea Green).
Signature Move is kind of like The Big Sick, if it was centered on a lesbian love story and had pro wrestling as a back drop instead of the world of stand up comedy. But seriously, while it does explore the same cultural and religious hardships that The Big Sick focuses on in having a Pakistani person, Zaynab, with a strict Muslim parent, going against traditional cultural/family values while falling in love, it adds another obstacle by making this a gay relationship. Of course, the addition of Zaynab pursuing pro wrestling probably makes things even more complicated. As most people look down on it. Surprisingly, Laurel Van Ness doesn’t make a cameo in the movie. In fact, there are no significant wrestling names on the IMDB cast page except for… Ox Baker Jr.?
Unlike Heel Kick, Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana is a straight up documentary, and really looks to be way better. I remember reading about this documentary back when it was first released in 2015 and tripping out on how the story itself unfolded like some elaborate wrestling storyline. The Seattle Semi Pro Wrestling (SSP) outfit is as gritty as Hoodslam, but not as committed to the actual wrestling part of the gig, as they don’t perform in a ring, they just use a stage. But they do go all out with their weird characters, which includes a guy named Ronald McFondle and The Banana, respectively the two protagonists. With Morgan Spurlock slapping his name to it, it’ll only be a matter of time before this documentary starts popping up on one of the major streaming services.
Now onto the one wrestling movie most wrestling fans were talking about in 2017 for a variety of reasons, Fighting with My Family. The 2012 documentary The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family, which featured the Knight family (including WWE’s Paige) and detailed the family’s involvement in the business, apparently caught The Rock’s eye and he decided to wield his Hollywood power to finally make the one type of movie us fans have been waiting for him to make, a wrestling movie.
In a matter of seconds, it seemed, major British actors were attached both behind the camera and in front of it, like Stephen Merchant, Nick Frost, and Cersei fucking Lannister herself, Lena Headey. As for familiar wrestling names involved, Tessa Blanchard is the stunt double for Florence Pugh a.k.a. Paige, and Thea Trinidad a.k.a. Zelina Vega will play the part of AJ Lee, keeping true to AJ’s Latina heritage. Filming of the wrestling scenes took place on various episodes of Raw and SmackDown Live. Despite real-life Paige’s ups and downs both professionally with the WWE, and personally with ex Alberto Del Rio and other crap, it has done little to derail the movie from moving forward and, more importantly, from keeping Paige from doing what her and her family do best: wrestling.
The other major wrestling movie to make headlines, and that many thought would never see the light of day until he was probably dead, was the speculated Vince McMahon bio pic tentatively titled Pandemonium. Seeing as The Hollywood Reporter, well, reported on it and included names, like the team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa as directors, who also happen to executive produce the award-winning NBC drama, This is Us, it was clear that this wrestling movie has a better chance of being made than the supposed Chris Benoit movie. And in typical McMahon revisionist fashion, there were already reports that the script was insanely inaccurate, and well, just insane.
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Van Morrison was sued by Billy Two Rivers, a legit Native American wrestler that I overlooked in my Native American wrestler post for the Art of Gimmicky series. Apparently, Van Morrison and his record company used a picture of Billy Two Rivers throwing an opponent to the mat for his album Roll with the Punches. But it seems the biggest error on Van Morrison and his record company’s part was using a picture of a wrestling hold being applied and not of someone actually getting punched. They eventually came to their senses.
Boston band Palehound released a music video for their song “Flowing Over,” from their album A Place I’ll Always Go, which includes some grappling thanks to the women at the Boston League of Wicked Wrestlers, or BLOWW, as we’ve come to find out is a very popular acronym for a women’s wrestling league, as Step by Step and My Name is Earl has taught us. The video pays homage to everyone’s favorite era of women’s wrestling, 80’s GLOW.
Rapper Open Mike Eagle dropped a pretty cool wrestling-themed video of his own to his wrestling-jargon titled song, “No Selling (Uncle Butch Pretending it Don’t Hurt)” from his album Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. While the video showcases Southern California indy talents The Human Tornado (a.k.a El Snowflake) and Trauma duking it out inside the squared circle with Open Mike pulling triple duty as manager, announcer, and referee, the video also embodies the song’s message of not outwardly expressing shitty stuff getting to you.
The wrestling universe of Street Fighter, and to a greater extent Capcom, expanded even more with the Street Fighter V: Wrestling Special comic that was released on Free Comic Book Day. The main story showcased Rainbow Mika and the rest of the wrestlers from the Iwashigahama Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling league. And yes, there’s a short story in there about Zangief.
Chido Comics, the production team behind the Lucha Underground comic series that coincided with season two, decided to create a Joey Ryan comic book with the help of Kickstarter. And if you’re expecting sleaze, lollipops, lots of baby oil, and dong grabbing, Joey Ryan: Big in Japan kind of has that. I mean, I’m sure it’ll build to it. Here’s the story preview pulled from the Kickstarter page:
“Joey Ryan was pro wrestling’s king of sleaze – until five years ago, when a match gone wrong left his tag team partner crippled and one of his opponents dead. Now he spends his days looking for answers at the bottom of bottles in Tokyo bars. But when he hears that his old nemesis is back in town, he decides it’s time to get back in the ring. And there’s only one way they can settle their score – in a Japanese Death Match!”
Another comic book that’s found a lot of success thanks to its Kickstarter campaign is Michael Kingston’s Headlocked. The fourth volume of the series, Headlocked: The Hardway, picks up with main character Mike Hartmann still in the Texas developmental league learning under the tutelage of Dr. Destruction. It also promises to reveal what really happened the night that Hartmann was left beaten, bloodied, and blackballed from wrestling. Of course, Kingston once again delivered on guest contributors, this time having Mick Foley, Cody Rhodes, Ric Flair, and Kenny Omega share some stories for Kingston and collaborator Michel Mulipola to bring to life on the page.
Probably the best news to come out this year with regards to comic books and wrestling was BOOM! Studios announcing a team up with Kingston and Mulipola. The duo, along with Samoa Joe, crafted the backstory that led to Samoa Joe’s debut on the WWE main roster. A subsequent issue featuring AJ Styles’ Royal Rumble debut will also be done by them (without Samoa Joe). If things work out for the Headlocked crew, maybe I’ll be writing about them under the television section in a future installment of The Year of Wrestling in Pop Culture.
Finally, and sadly, Image Comics’ unique and gritty Ringside series ended its run with its final issue in December. Having only read the first volume, in which a grizzled mat legend is forced to do some things he’s not proud of to save a former lover, Ringside proved that there were still many different and interesting routes creators can take in telling a story set in the world of professional wrestling. And judging from what I read regarding the ending, creators Joe Keatinge and Nick Barber remained true to the story’s dark and grim tone up until the end.
Much like Street Fighter V introduced some alternate wrestling attire for Zangief, Tekken 7 upped the ante and actually teamed with New Japan Pro Wrestling to give players access to Bullet Club and Chaos t-shirts as alternate attires. But the best tie-in was easily giving King, the masked feline luchador, Kazuchika Okada inspired ring gear and Okada’s finisher, The Rainmaker, as part of King’s moveset.
The latest installment of the Fire Pro series, Fire Pro Wrestling World, was released on PC to the joy of many hardcore wrestling nerd gamers. In little time, players utilized the game’s updated and incredible customization tool to give us customized wrestlers we wanted and never knew we needed. Fire Pro Wrestling World created even more buzz when they not only announced that they were releasing the game on PS4 this coming summer, but outdoing Tekken 7 by actually working with New Japan to officially add the NJPW roster onto the game. Here’s hoping this game’s success lights a fire under the collective asses of 2K Games to finally start improving the WWE 2K series.
And that wraps up 2017’s year of wrestling in pop culture. Here’s to more wrestling (both good and bad) in our pop culture in 2018.