5 things I learned watching Dark Side of the Ring

I love wrestling as a kid and now in 2024 while it still holds a smallish yet special place in my heart, I’ve come to learn I actually like the stories, adventures and lore behind the scenes than what happens in the squared circle more often than not.

Then came along the excellent Vice series Dark Side of the Ring that really ripped back the covers and forced me to discover that my fuzzy wrestling memories were a lot darker than I could ever imagine. Even savagely bleak at times.
Still that hasn’t stopped me getting right into things (and onto Who Killed WCW which is equally as good!) and today I’m going to share my 5 big take aways after watching many stories of wrestlers and wrestling in general going completely and utterly off the rails…

Things learned from Dark Side of the Ring #5 – The full details of Brutus the Barber Beefcake’s accident.

You’re doing a top job there…Mene Gene!

FILED UNDER: Dark Side of the Ring stories

So in the early 90’s my dad bought me a book all about WWF wrestlers (I can’t remember the cover but I’ll bet my last dollerydoo it had Hogan on the cover) and I partially remember the entry about Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake and the parasailing accident, his facial reconstruction surgery and eventually being able to see a familiar face looking back at him when he glanced in the mirror.
The actually details of what happened have been a mystery to me until now. He was on the receiving end of a double knee from a parasailer taking off right to the face which completely shattered his skull from the nose on down and required 16 hours and bits of titanium to put him back together again. As B Brian Blair explains in the Dark Side of the Ring episode, he was ‘right in the line of fire.’

What I also didn’t learn until watching the episode was how supportive Hulk Hogan was when he found out about the accident, rushing to his friends bedside so he could hear a familiar voice when he came out of his medically induced coma. What a great friend.
Although given Hogan’s love of spinning some of the wildest non factual tales ever, if you ask him he’d probably tell you he was there when they operated on Brutus (Ed) and provided a couple of surgical tips that saved the day.

I was also unaware of how many times he’d been resurrected into a new gimmick over time – I was aware of Brutus naturally, Acolyte in WCW and Zodiac recently (FRIEND?) but Man with No Name? Terrible. Butcher? Hilarious! But apparently there were so many more…

Things learned from Dark Side of the Ring #4 – Some of the biggest monsters were the better dads

FILED UNDER: Dark side of the Ring highlights

Don’t get me wrong, Dark Side of the Ring often presents us with some of the worst dads in the wrestling world. We’re talking scummy wrestlers with families that would get abusive (usually from addictions), cheat on their spouses, pretend wrestling was real to terrify their kids and in some cases do some really twisted stuff that would cause mountains of trauma and abuse (usually resulting in charges/jail time) yeah we’re looking at your grave Girzzly Smith.
I knew the world of wrestling was seedy as all get out already but some of the things revealed in Dark Side of the Ring really opened my eyes.

However once in a blue moon we’re introduced to wrestling dad’s that were the complete opposite of the monsters they portrayed when the bell rang. They were big, they were mean, the were on the the road constantly and yet when they were home they were full on cuddly teddy bears. They’d be there for their kids when they could be (which wasn’t east given the gruelling schedule most of them were on) and cultivated some kind of family semblance when away from the spotlights. Were they perfect examples? Nope, it’s doubtful many wrestlers would be. But seeing the family photos and hearing from their kids how much they’re missed was heart warming in the midst of so much wrestling doom and gloom on my small screen.

The giant sized Bam Bam Bigelow and Earthquake are prime example, especially Quake (aka John Tenta) who looked like a big gentleman who bought tickets to a wrestling event and accidentally came home with a career. His story of life as a sumo was excellent (I’d heard a little about it but this ep goes into great detail) but whoever gave him the gimmick of ‘Shark’ later on in his career complete with face paint seriously needs to take a long hard look at themselves (pictured above looking sorry for himself behind Zodiac). I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t seen this Dark Side of the Ring episode yet but we do get to see a lot of his family life and there’s the happy dad who looks so at home with his family and yet creates such a contrast with the man mountain literally ready to sit on you in the ring. (Jake the Snake’s story of how his pet snake Damien was great.)

Bam Bam Bigelow had a skull with more ink on it than all the books in my local library. He was the size of a truck, looked like an angry bounty hunter all the time (which he was once) and yet could move like a man with half his size. There were drug problems, he had a criminal record, drugs ended up taking his life and yet when you watch his story on Dark Side of the Ring, he did look like a pretty cool and caring dad when he was at home. His kids miss him dearly and I read that his ex wife signed a deal so any royalties from WWE he was still earning past his death went to his kids which is amazing.

I was friends with Bam Bams son Shane when we were kids and in HS. Played little league with him up until we went into HS. His father would coach sometimes as an assistant and was always chill and cool with the kids. Soft spoken as hell with us.

We played some rich snobby towns all star team to try and rep NJ for the LLWS and some asshole couple tried starting shit with him and made fun of Shane, who was a heavyset kid. Bam Bam didn’t do anything. I think that shocked people because of what he was known for and his look. But yea, he just was chill and ignored it and told his son to as well, colorfully I mind you lol.

Down_Rodeo_ on Reddit

Things learned from Dark Side of the Ring #3 – The ECW Locker room was one big party but the XPW one was a porn set

FILED UNDER: Dark Side of the Ring stories

Yeah I’m a Paul Heyman guy and I have been since the late 90’s when I caught site of a bootleg ECW tape being played on a small TV in a comic store and stood there amazed at how much darker things were than the almost cartoon like wrassslin I’d been watching til then. It was rough, it was wild, in my mind it lived up to the name of Extreme Championship Wrestling.

What I came to find out later was how much went on in the ECW locker room which of course Paul Heyman would ‘plead the 5th about.’ Now that it’s glory gritty 90’s days are over (as is that pretty lacklustre ECW reboot from WWE) there’s plenty of shoot interviews about what really went on – a tonne of booze naturally, plenty of pills (‘Pills to get you to sleep, pills to get you awake again, pills for the pain’, lots of the harder stuff and plenty of anticipated shenanigans in a locker room full of pissed and whacked out guys having huge amounts of fun (I can’t imagine even a shade of that happens nowadays in a WWE locker room though.) It’s covered in both the Sandman and New Jack Dark Side of the Ring episodes – Beer, coke, ring rats and the Blue World Order – probably best nobody took a camera to it long after each show was over.

We’re taking over!

But then came porn producer Rob Black who created XPW which was influenced by ECW (and originally a working agreement with Paul Heyman) but dialled up to 11. With a foot in both the adult entertainment world and entertainment for adults world (wrestling) Rob decided it’d be best for them to meet – which meant that while the wresting went on at the front of house, the cameras rolled in the back where ‘performers’ got just as worked up and sweaty.

‘“it was more of a turn on to see someone fully clothed”

Yes apparently it wasn’t uncommon to walk into the back of XPW and stumble through a porn shoot. Porn stars became wrestling valets (I don’t think it went the other way though), performers like New Jack were sometimes paid with DVDs from Rob’s filthiest work, there was plenty of blood and guts in the ring and things even spewed into life outside as one wrestler Messiah had his thumbs cut off in a home invasion (still managed to get one of his attackers in an arm bar which is super impressive given the circumstances) that other wrestlers allege Rob had some involvement in.
Basically the place was bloody, sleazy and absolutely bonkers. No wonder it was such a captivating episode.

Things learned from Dark Side of the Ring #2 – Even after all this time the behind the scenes, the power of Hulkamania still runs wild, brother.

The talking heads on the Brutus the Barber Beefcake episode of Dark Side of the Ring continually point out that wherever Hulk Hogan went, Brutus the Barber Beefcake wouldn’t be too far behind. Which I get completely, if a mate of mine opened the door to a much higher paying gig I wouldn’t say no, the general consensus that I was riding their coat tails or not. It’s the old adage of not what you know, but who you know and this has worked for Ed/Brutus/Man with no name/Acolyte for decades.
(Eric Bischoff describing having to hire Brutus to keep Hulk happy as ‘Hogan Tax’ will never not be funny though.)

What’s not implied in this Dark Side of the Ring episode but well known in wrestling circles is that Hogan has a lot of friends he found work for that aren’t Ed/Zodiac/Butcher, Brutus was probably the most famously known hanger on. This is evident when nobody all of sudden can explain why Hulk went cold over Brutus due to something to do with Ed’s wife – given the massive level of reveals in the average episode, it’s interesting that nobody can seemingly explain it (or don’t want to in fear of annoying the golden goose.) Even though he’s not active in the biz anymore (that I know of), are his inner circle still wary of not getting a call up when he suddenly has a big idea?

This blog post doesn’t work for me, brother!

As for ed’s wife, perhaps she openly questioned the legitimacy of something he said? Maybe someone in Metallica has an answer.

Things learned from Dark Side of the Ring #1 – Drugs are bad, mmmmkay?

FILED UNDER: Dark Side of the Ring tradgedies

Oh god, where do I start with this last one? Chris Colt tripping on LSD in a cage match, suddenly seeing giant spiders trying to get in, proceeding to climb the cage to escape the critters and then punching on with the nearest audience members?

Chris Colt - Dark Side of the Ring

The Sandman overdosing in a public bathroom and then being revived to make to wrestle that same night?

A zombie like Matt Borne trying to take B Brian Blair’s eye out at a bar?

New Jack high on coke…well, being New Jack?

Dark Side of the Ring S02E03: The life and crimes of New Jack – Terrifying and hilarious!

Drugs and wrestling mixing isn’t anything new by any stretch of the imagination but you’ve probably never heard how rampant it truly was until some of the wrestlers involved or their friends shared it with the camera in Dark Side of the Ring (or of course the wonderful world of wrestling podcasts..)
From steroids and growth hormones to make you look like a tank. stuff to get you going to stuff to calm you down to whatever you needed to make it to the next show, from snow to somas, percocets to military grade painkillers, someone somewhere in these episodes drank it, sniffed it, injected it, had an endless prescription for it or found some other insane way to get high with it. Usually backstage and on occasion before they went out to wrestle.

And if that seems glorious to you, play the game of ‘How many of the heavy drug users in Dark Side of the Ring are still kicking today?’ – I’ll give you a hint, not many.
(Although it didn’t kill him, Terry Gordy’s overdose on the plane ride caused irreparable damage and he was never the same since.)

We’re talking in some cases decades of abuse to maintain not just a killer physique needed to appear larger than like but on top of that just to keep going, living through horrendous pain and injury to make it to the next show and for a lot of cases, the next paycheck.
Sometimes it’s not the drugs that kill them but what happens when they’re on them at the time like being behind the wheel or blacking out somewhere dangerous.

Buff made it through but not without some wild adventures along the way

I watched some pretty dull drug education videos back in my high school days (I say videos, I hail from educational days long before the release of DVDs) but I’m thinking they should just throw that box out the window and make students watch the entire Dark Side of the Ring series to show them the heights of success but also the crushing and deadly effects of drug use.

It pretty much reminded me why I don’t do drugs. It also reminded me why I’m not so keen to be a wrestler anymore. But it’s seriously enthralling viewing – thank you Dark Side of the Ring on Vice TV!

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