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February 7, 2024


Even though the Academy refused to acknowledge it, The Iron Claw, the tragic story of professional wrestling’s famed Von Erich family, was one of the best films of 2023. Frankly, I’m not at all surprised it was so good. The real-life, behind-the-scenes stories from the world of professional wrestling are a treasure trove of good storytelling and something we need to see more of on our screens. On the documentary side, we have the excellent Dark Side of the Ring on VICE TV, as well as 1999’s Beyond the Mat, but for narrative storytelling, these true stories are mostly ignored for some reason.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I have compiled a list of pro wrestling tales that are most worthy of gracing the big screen or a prestige miniseries on the small screen. There may be just four listed below, but there are so many to choose from; so many, in fact, that I might even write a Part Two at some point down the road.


Kurt Angle's story is a little different than most because it’s not specific to pro wrestling. It’s the story of what it takes to become a sports icon. Admittedly, much like his contemporaries, Angle has dealt with marital troubles, injuries, addiction, and legal issues, including five separate arrests for driving under the influence. That isn’t the story we're telling.

Before entering the WWE, Angle was a successful and renowned amateur wrestler. In fact, he has been heralded as the greatest shoot wrestler of all time, and is one of four people to complete the Amateur Grand Slam by winning the Junior Nationals, NCAA Championship, World Championship, and an Olympic Gold Medal; the latter of which he astonishingly won with, as Angle put it, a broken freakin’ neck.

So, let’s not dive into the cautionary tales that we’ve seen time and time again. For Kurt, his inspirational rise through the amateur ranks to Olympic glory, followed by his transition to professional wrestling (where he became one of the best technical wrestlers of all time, by the way) is more than enough. Everyone loves a sports story about driven athletes who reach the mountaintop, and Angle’s career has that in spades, from beginning amateur wrestling at 7-years-old to being inducted into the International Sports and WWE Halls of Fame despite the real physical pain that comes from fighting in the squared circle.


At its core, this is the story of two men: Chris Benoit, the intense and consummate professional who kept to himself; and Eddie Guerrero, the charismatic showman. The pair became best friends while following very similar paths, with both working around the world as independent wrestlers before passing through ECW, WCW, and, eventually, the WWE.

The focus here should be on Guerrero. Following a car accident shortly before arriving in the WWE, Guerrero became heavily addicted to painkillers and alcohol, resulting in a dramatic downward spiral. He fractured relationships with his wife, his children, and his friends. When he was arrested for DUI, he was released by the WWE. He seemed destined to become another “what if?,” something that happens too frequently in the industry. However, after numerous attempts to sober up, Guerrero finally got clean, presumably thanks to the aid of Benoit. He got his family back, his job back, and was able to make it to WrestleMania, the WWE’s flagship event, alongside his best friend Benoit, both of whom ended the show holding championship belts in a confetti-filled celebration. Flash forward a year from this feel-good moment, and everything changes. Although Guerrero’s story is ultimately one of redemption, his past indiscretions came back to haunt him. At 38-years-old, he suffers a fatal heart attack in his hotel room. It was sudden, and few were as devastated as Benoit. Flash forward again… two years later, seemingly out of nowhere, Benoit murders his wife and seven year old son before taking his own life. No one truly knows the specifics of what led to this tragedy, but a combination of concussion history, performance enhancing drugs, grief, and alcohol are all believed to have played a part.


As much as the story of the Von Erichs is legendary and filled with tragedy, the story of the Hart Family is just as expansive. Yes, the biggest tragedy – and the one most of those uninitiated to wrestling might be aware of – is that of Owen Hart, who fell to his death due to a rigging accident during a live pay-per-view, but there is enough tragedy in this family to create an entire miniseries.

You have Stu, the patriarch and one of the most influential men in the history of wrestling. He not only raised 12 children with his wife of 53 years, but he founded and operated Stampede Wrestling, one of the more well-known promotions in the days of the territories. All 12 children became affiliated with wrestling in some way, making it the family business. Stu would train wrestlers out of his basement, affectionately known as The Hart Family Dungeon, where he would beat the hell out of them while showing them the ropes en route to becoming superstars of their own.

The most successful of his children, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, is regarded as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. A whopping 32x professional wrestling champion, he spent years on top of the wrestling world until leaving the WWE for rival WCW, which resulted in the infamous Montreal Screwjob.

As a result, he wasn’t in the building for the untimely passing of his brother, Owen. Owen, for his part, was beloved by many and known for his practical jokes. Although his talent was undeniable, he never had a true breakthrough to the top of the card. For whatever reason, the WWE never saw his full potential. The story of his accident will sadly be what he’s remembered for, as the aftermath includes the potential crime scene not being preserved while the show continued. Since this was in 1999, most fans were left wondering what happened….was it real or part of the storyline?...since there was no social media to alert the viewing audience to what had actually taken place.

That doesn’t even touch on the extended family. Both “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith (deceased at 39 years old) and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart (deceased at 63 years old) are notable wrestlers that married into the family. Both “Dynamite Kid” Tom Billington (deceased at 60 years old) and Brian Pillman (deceased at 35 years old) were considered as part of the family by the Harts. There are a range of stories to tell from this sprawling family tree, all of which could make for a fascinating narrative feature.


In his prime, Jake “the Snake” Roberts was known for both his intimidating-yet-reserved promo style and for bringing Damien, a live python, to the ring with him. Later in life, he has been known for his issues with addiction and severe health concerns, likely stemming from the years of abuse he put his body through, be it in the ring or from a bottle. It’s his early life, however, where the true tragedy takes place.

Roberts' father, Grizzly Smith, may be most well known as a hulking, 6’10, 350-pound wrestler from the 60s and 70s, but he was also a confirmed pedophile.  According to Roberts, he is the result of Smith raping the 13-year-old daughter of his then-partner. Later, after a forced and failed first marriage, Smith’s horrifying pattern of sexual abuse continued with Smith’s second wife, as well as Roberts and his siblings. Roberts’ sister, professional wrestler Rockin’ Robin, claims Smith began sexually abusing her when she was eight years old.

It’s safe to say that Smith was a genuine monster, and for Roberts, his upbringing greatly attributed to him becoming one of the heavier substance abusers in wrestling. As the years went on and continuous failed attempts at sobriety piled up, Roberts grew to a near immobile 300lbs. He battled muscular cancer, near-fatal pneumonia, a brain abnormality, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. His name rose higher and higher on the list of the presumed “next one to go.” However, at 68-years-old, Roberts is still alive and kicking, making for a tale of perseverance and, unlike many of these stories, one with a happy ending. 

Thanks to fellow wrestler Diamond Dallas Page’s unique yoga regimen, which has been a saviour for many a wrestler, Roberts was able to finally defeat his demons, and he has been clean and sober for the past 12 years. A life that seemed destined for tragedy ends up a beacon of hope that, no matter what you’ve been through, you can make it through to the other side. That sure sounds like the makings of a film script to me.

Photo Credits: Photo 1 - ESPN; Photo 2, 3, 4 - WWE

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