For years, Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) has been a legendary institution, pumping out developmental talent such as John Cena, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar and Batista. But, even though the Louisville indie wrestling business is a revered organization — currently creatively run by former WWF Attitude Era superstar Al Snow — it has struggled financially, making it an intense and vibrant subject for the seven-part Netflix docuseries Wrestlers, which follows OVW’s quest to stay alive. The doc premiered on Sept. 13, and is currently streaming on Netflix in its entirety.
Here are a few overarching takeaways without spoilers.
1) The documentary takes on the sport’s deepest question right away
What draws people to professional wrestling, in terms of both the competing athletes and the fans watching? Wrestlers is poetic and thoughtful with its conclusions. It explores how pro wrestling is a reflection of society and “fantasy fulfillment” for the fans.
And not only do you get to know the current stars of OVW, but, more importantly, the reason why they wrestle. It gets into their passion and purpose. Their wants and desires. Their highs and lows.
It also addresses the sacrifices they make on both their bodies and their personal lives.
You can’t help but appreciate their passion, and the passion of the fans that support them.
2) It dives into the business struggles of OVW.
One of the main threads of the documentary is that Ohio Valley Wrestling was losing money, and there was immediate pressure to change that. The doc follows the lead-up to a big pay-per-view event where the organization needs to turn a profit. The tension between the owners and the wrestlers is front and center.
Ohio Valley Wrestling is owned by a group of investors led by well-known radio show host Matt Jones and current Louisville mayor Craig Greenberg. While both are in the documentary, it’s mostly Jones who interacts with Al Snow and the wrestlers.
“If we don’t start doing better, there won’t be an OVW,” Jones says early on in the documentary.
In some respects, Jones is the heel of the show, but there are also reasons to empathize with him. The thing that makes Wrestlers great above anything else is that it effectively shows how complicated people are. People have bad days and good days. They change, evolve, dream, collapse and rise. That’s the documentary’s heartbeat.
3) The personalities are magnetic, especially HollyHood Haley J.
HollyHood Haley J and her mother, Amazing Maria — another wrestler and also the OVW head of female talent — have a dramatic story both inside and outside of the ring. The complicated relationship is ever-present, whether they’re wrestling in a deathmatch in character or having a basic conversation in real life. And the true magic is how it intertwines. There are a few moments when the cameras are rolling where the lines between fiction and reality blur.
There are also so many other great storylines, including how genuine Ca$h Flo is, the heartwrenching struggles of Jake Lawless, Shera moving halfway across the world to follow his dream, the big personality of Matt Jones and, obviously, the incredible charisma of seven-year-old superfan Gracie.
4) Al Snow is a storytelling genius and a guru.
Even though he’s been in the industry for decades, it’s obvious that he’s still obsessed with the sport. He’s the primary storyline writer for Ohio Valley Wrestling. He sits in front of a monitor backstage with a headset during OVW shows, making decisions in real-time, fixing problems and giving the announcers lines to say. Snow clearly doesn’t care about personal recognition at this point, and is super humble, but has an immense love for Ohio Valley Wrestling. The respect that he has for the wrestlers and that they have back for him is obvious. Snow uses years of grizzled wisdom to spin knowledge.
More importantly, people trust him.
5) It’s pure art.
Wrestlers is beautifully shot, excellently edited and has a dramatic score. It’s an emotional rollercoaster and it has so much style. The biggest takeaway is that it’s a must-watch. The entire documentary is about OVW trying to figure out how to market the company and make it profitable.
The docuseries itself might be the piece of public relations that OVW desperately needs.