For every positive and inspirational story in professional wrestling’s past there are dozens that focus on the darker side of life in and out of the squared circle, and over the past few years Vice TV (formerly Viceland) has done a tremendous job of brining some of the wrestling’s darkest moments to light. That pattern will continue in May 2021 with the return of the critically acclaimed and popular docuseries Dark Side of the Ring. Over the course of 14 weeks, the series will detail the Dark Side of the Ring Season 3 wrestlers and their respective rises in popularity and falls from grace, and if the two previous seasons are any indication, viewers are in for a dark and twisted ride.
If you aren’t familiar with Dark Side of the Ring, don’t worry because I am about to break down the first six stories that will be featured, including the two-hour Season 3 premiere detailing the life and career of the late Brian Pillman, which airs May 6 on Vice TV.
Like many wrestlers of his time, Brian Pillman started out as a professional football player. After three failed attempts at making a name for himself in the NFL and CFL, the former All-American nose tackle out of Miami (Ohio), Pillman turned to professional wrestling, first in the Hart family’s Stampede Wrestling in Calgary and then World Championship Wrestling where he made a name for himself under the name Flyin’ Brian Pillman. While at WCW, Pillman formed a tag team with “Stunning” Steve Austin, who would later become his biggest rival in WWF after both wrestlers went that way via Extreme Championship Wrestling.
In November 1996, well before the official start of the Attitude Era, Brian Pillman and Steve Austin gave the world perhaps the most iconic and infamous moment on Monday Night Raw, the “Pillman’s Got A Gun” angle in which Pillman pulled a gun on Austin as the Texas Rattlesnake broke into his home. Less than a year later, however, Pillman was found dead in a Bloomington, Minnesota motel after suffering a heart attack. He was 35 years old.
Outside of the wrestling world, the name Nick Gage might not mean a whole lot, but those who have followed independent and deathmatch wrestling are all too familiar with the wrestler-turned-criminal who is known for taking part in some of the most brutal and bloody wrestling you’ll see out of 1990s Japan. To best illustrate Gage’s career here’s a fun fact: he is the only professional wrestler to win the three biggest deathmatch tournaments: the Tournament of Death, King of the Deathmatch, and GCW’s Tournament of Survival.
If his name does sound familiar to a non-wrestling audience, however, it could be because Nick Gage was featured heavily in David Arquette’s 2020 documentary You Cannot Kill David Arquette, which shows the match the Scream 5 actor had with Gage in 2019, one that blurred the line between theatre and reality. To add to the Gage’s legacy, he spent nearly nearly five years in prison after robbing a New Jersey bank for gambling money in late 2010.
Collision In Korea
In April 1995 the rosters of World Championship Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling, as well as Muhammad Ali, did something wrestling had never done before nor has it done since: travel to North Korea for a jointly-promoted presenting show. Held at May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea, Collision in Korea was a two-day wrestling extravaganza that still has the largest combined attendance for a show of its kind: 355,000 (though the number is disputed as are all attendance figures in professional wrestling).
While the show was remarkable for featuring two of the biggest names in the business squaring off — Ric Flair and Antonio Inoki — what happened behind the scenes is even more fascinating. On the 20th anniversary of the unprecedented event, Sports Illustrated published an oral history (which is totally worth a read) where WWE 2021 Hall of Fame inductee Eric Bischoff, Scott Norton, Flair, and others, shared stories about the drama behind the scenes and the bizarre nature of the event itself.
The Ultimate Warrior
At one point, The Ultimate Warrior was one of the biggest things going in professional wrestling. But the ego and of the late Jim Hellwig, who legally changed his name to Warrior in 1993, got the best of the former WWF World Champion and the one-time superstar quickly faded away into obscurity and was seen as damaged goods in professional wrestling. And as troublesome as The Ultimate Warrior was in the ring, those transgressions pale in comparison to the comments he made on college speaking tours long after his wrestling career had ended.
Shortly after his April 2014 death, Deadspin published an article showcasing a few of the remarks The Ultimate Warrior had made regarding homosexuality, the death of Heath Ledger, and other topics over the years, all of which go beyond being described as reprehensible. And as the article pointed out, The Ultimate Warrior did tone down his rhetoric in the years leading to his death, but his change in attitude still does not make up for the hurtful language he spewed over the years.
Even if you don’t know anything about Grizzly Smith’s in-ring career or his work behind the scenes in the southern wrestling throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the name because of his son, Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Upon his debut in 1958, Grizzly Smith became one of the most fearsome wrestlers in the squared circle due to his stature (just shy of seven feet) and hard-hitting wrestling style. And over the years, the Texas native traveled the world and worked for notable promotions, building up quite a legacy. His in-ring work, however, has long been overshadowed by accusations made by those in the industry, including his very own son.
Jake Roberts has made several claims about his father over the years, including the 1999 documentary Beyond the Mat in which the professional wrestling icon touches on the alleged sexual allegations against his father. Smith died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2010 after suffering from various medical conditions for a large portion of his later years.
Thomas Billington, aka the Dynamite Kid, was one of the premier wrestlers to come out of England in the 1980s. Dazzling crowds around the world with combination of high-flying moves and hard-hitting ground maneuvers, Dynamite Kid wrestled in promotions like Stampede Wrestling, NJPW, and finally WWF where he became a tag team champ with cousin Davey Boy Smith, aka the British Bulldog. During his tenure in Japan, Dynamite Kid worked extensively with Tiger Mask, earning the first five-star match rating from wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer. But for how great the British wrestler was in the ring, he had quite a nasty side as well.
Upon his December 2018, The Ringer published a retrospective of the late Dynamite Kid that went into great detail about the hatred and violent nature of the man behind the scenes. There are stories of the British wrestler holding a shotgun to his ex-wife’s head (he claims it was unloaded) and countless others regarding his ribbing (pranking) of wrestlers in the locker room, much like the late Owen Hart, another member of the Hart Family dynasty known to be a rabble-rouser behind the curtain.
This is just some of the stories about the Dark Side of the Ring Season 3 wrestlers whose lives will be told in great detail when the popular docuseries returns to Vice TV on May 6.