With a 40-year career and 16 world championships, Ric Flair is highly regarded as one of the greatest in the history of professional wrestling. So, it’s no surprise the ESPN 30 for 30 film about the iconic figure, premiering Nov. 7, is highly anticipated. Adding even more intrigue to the documentary look at the life the “Nature Boy,” inside and outside the ring, is knowing how close he came to losing his life in 2017.
30 for 30: Nature Boy is just the latest high-profile documentary feature to be done on a wrestler, or on the industry overall. There have been dozens of docs chronicling the unique business that combines the athletics of sports with the showmanship of various forms of theatrical entertainment.
Ahead of the upcoming Ric Flair 30 for 30, here are seven other pro wrestling docs that fans need to check out.
Beyond the Mat — I, much like other fans in 1999, actually went to the movie theater to catch Barry Blaustein’s 1999 project on the big screen. The film peeled back the curtain and was given unprecedented access to superstars of WWE and even Vince McMahon himself, as well as the now-defunct ECW. Among the subjects followed included Mick Foley, Terry Funk, Jake Roberts and a newcomer in Darren Drozdov. Throughout, the film delves into the often-harsh reality that comes for those who choose this career choice. If you haven’t seen Beyond the Mat, it’s a fascinating watch that captures this particular era of wrestling.
Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows — Paul Jay and his crew follow the legendary Bret “Hitman” Hart as he contemplates the decision to leave WWE for WCW in 1997. Viewers see the Hall-of-Famer interacting with colleagues and family at home. There is also the highlight of Hart working with his family one more time before a raucous hometown crowd at Canadian Stampede. However, things take a controversial turn when Hart loses to Shawn Michaels in the much-talked-about "Montreal Screwjob" at Survivor Series. Hart's exit from WWE is still talked about because of how it helped change the landscape of the business, and Wrestling with Shadows effectively chronicles his decision.
The Unreal Story of Professional Wrestling — I think what makes this documentary a favorite for me is the fact it gives a nice Readers Digest history of pro wrestling from ancient times until the mid-1990s, one of its peaks in popularity. Another rare aspect of the A&E production is that you see footage and insight from WWE and WCW. It wasn’t one or the other. This was also interesting because at the time of the documentary's filming, WCW was the number-one organization right as WWE was beginning its dive into the “Attitude Era.”
The Resurrection of Jake the Snake — It wasn’t long ago that Jake “The Snake” Roberts was on death’s door, losing a decades-long battle with his demons. That was, until friend Diamond Dallas Page reached out to him. This documentary shows the struggles Roberts went through to repair the relationships in his life. Along the way, DDP adds fellow wrestler Scott Hall, also grappling with issues, to the mix. They each help each other, leading to the telling of a powerful and inspiring story of redemption and triumph.
Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss and Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling – Women’s wrestling is experiencing new heights today. But before the likes of Charlotte Flair, Natalya, Trish Stratus and Lita came onto the scene, there were the original trailblazers who looked to make their mark in a man’s world. The Fabulous Moolah, Mae Young and Penny Banner are just some featured in this 2004 film, which brings some interesting perspective to these ladies of the ring from the 1940s throughout the decades that followed. Those who wonder why WWE decided to name its recent all-female tournament the Mae Young Classic can find a reason or two in here.
GLOW: The Story of The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling – Speaking of women’s wrestling, this doc presents another side of the genre. Any fan of the GLOW series on Netflix should check out this film, which explores how the original show garnered such a following in the 1980s into the 1990s, to the extent where many of the stars began appearing on popular shows of the time such as Phil Donahue's talk show. The 2012 release also follows up on many of the performers. Seeing Emily Dole (a.k.a. “Mt. Fiji”) reuniting with cast members despite struggling with medical problems may spur a tear or two.
The top ladies from the heydey of the original GLOW wrestling league.
WWE NXT Behind the Curtain – WWE’s developmental system continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and this ESPN E:60 production from 2015 takes an inside look at how the sports entertainment juggernaut fosters talent and turns them into superstars. Here, Ray Leppan, who used to wrestle for WWE as Adam Rose, strikes a chord with his story caring for a son with a rare abdominal birth defect. Cameras also chronicle others including Corey Graves and Xavier Woods on their respective journeys. Knowing how successful they would become, with one now a prominent commentator on WWE and the other a part of the multi-time tag champion New Day, should bring a smile to your face.
Of course, there are tons of other documentaries that are worth checking out if you want to get your pro-wrestling fix. An earlier one I Like to Hurt People is more of a hybrid doc/comedy with Andre the Giant and others. The documentary on the "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase called The Price of Fame is hitting select theaters on November 7 and looks compelling.
The incredible life of the legendary Andre the Giant will be the subject of an upcoming documentary on HBO.
WWE has also produced a great selection of releases on superstars and the history of some celebrated promotions like World Class Championship Wrestling and ECW, which can be found on WWE Network. I also highly recommend the WWE 24 series on there, produced with the same feel as the ESPN 30 for 30 productions.
30 for 30: Nature Boy premieres November 7 at 10/9c on ESPN.