Don’t be scared off by this, wrestling fans, but Wrestlers, the new seven episode series on Netflix, is perhaps the least wrestling focused docu-series to date, and is a terrific watch for that very reason. On the heels (no pun intended) of the the recently released Monster Factory on Apple TV+, Wrestlers now arrives with a similar feel. Both feature a look at the lives of up-and-coming and came-and-went wrestlers training and working the indies for a big break; both feature an experienced leader shepherding them along their paths; and both wind their way towards a big show at the conclusion of the season.
That’s not to suggest that the latter modelled itself after the former, because the timing for that simple wouldn’t line up, but there is a sort of “Armaggedon/Deep Impact” synergy between the two shows. Also, both are slick productions that each bring a little different style to their shows and, ultimately, watching one doesn’t mean you should skip the other — one of them just happened to hit the airwaves first (just as Deep Impact did in 1998).
Slam Wrestling presents here a micro-review of each episode, without giving away big-moment spoilers, and direct you to Netflix if you’re intrigued enough to catch the full story (and, for the record, you should be).
Episode 1: Ohio Valley Wrestling
The opening minutes offer a crash course in wrestling history and philosophy, as experts like writer David Shoemaker weigh in on the place of pro wrestling in the entertainment landscape, from the Gold Dust Trio to the golden generation of Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) graduates featuring John Cena, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, and Dave Bautista.
Once the WWE moved on from using OVW as their developmental territory, shifting to Florida where they would eventually grow the NXT brand, Al Snow stepped in to keep OVW alive as all other WWE farm system promotions disappeared from the map.
Thriving may not be the right word for OVW under Snow’s command, but it has legs that sound like top company brags with 1200 consecutive episodes of live TV. Snow’s drive is to promote the future, and he introduces us to his main cast of wrestlers: Mahabali Shera, Cash Flo, Reverend Ronnie, Leila Grey, Hollyhood Haley J, Freya the Slaya, Mr. Pectacular, Eric Darkstorm, Amon, and the Amazing Maria.
Snow takes a moment to explain that for a wrestling match to work we need a babyface we can cheer for and a heel that’s opposing them, but he may well have been describing the set-up for the series as we meet OVW co-owner Matt Jones. He expresses his love for the promotion and for Snow, but acknowledges that Al’s strengths are his creativity rather than his business sense.
Jessican Sarven, Snow’s wife, explains how Jones and Craig Greenberg came into the fold, investing into the constantly struggling OVW to build it up. There’s a meeting between all managers as Greenberg spells it out simply: they need the company to turn their financial fortunes around.
There’s some footage of Jones butting heads with the wrestlers and Snow. Several of them talk about the fact that the co-owners, having never taken a bump, aren’t trustworthy. Snow adds that they don’t know how wrestling works, suggesting therefore that wrestling storytelling is an otherworldly entity that can’t be understood by outsiders.
After a shift in focus to some of the wrestlers’ backstories and how they made their way to OVW, all eyes are on the ring as the company begins a build towards an end-of-summer event they’re calling The Big One, including real-time back-and-forth between Snow and Maria as they call a match between Haley J and Jada – and sometimes without a functioning monitor at times.
In the closing minutes, if you’ve never heard Snow’s explanation of the original, sexual meaning of the term “pop,” well then you’ll find it here.
Episode 2: Cheap Heat
Al and Jessica, along with a couple of the OVW wrestlers, are watching a WWE show on TV and looking back to when wrestling was, well, better in their opinion. Snow goes on a sentimental journey looking back on his early run in the WWF, from Avatar to New Rocker, having been in the business for 15 years and feeling like he’s floundering. Then, he says he picked up a styrofoam head and was off to the races.
Enough with the past, though, as we run with Haley J and Darkstorm, discussing their relationship while working out in the gym. At his age of 36, compared to hers of 22, Darkstorm says he’s seen how the business can ruin lives, including his own, but that her naivete is refreshing.
With an upcoming PPV, Snow challenges the wrestlers to get the word out to draw a profit. He breaks the down the math that they need 500 PPV buys at 14.99 to bring money in, so ideas like Haley J losing a hair versus hair match to convince people start getting tossed around.
Shoemaker returns with his historical perspective, paralleling the rise of TV and pro wrestling’s place in the journey. “Wrestling doesn’t exist without television,’ he says, in what may sound like a bold statement, but it really means that today’s wrestling business model doesn’t exist without it.
Another meeting of the co-owners, minus Snow, has them trash-talking Al’s struggles to modernize the selling of the product. They say, often, that these are things they just can’t say to Snow because he needs to think his old-school ideas are working. Well, that’s awfully staged to put yourself on camera saying something that you can’t tell your business partner, when they’ll be watching the movie, too.
Classic rock supports the first day of OVW’s summer tour, and the title of the episode comes from Jones introducing a local-flavoured football rivalry into the ring, which Snow says means nothing to the broader audience they’re trying to reach. Cheap heat that means nothing, he says in fact.
We spend some time with Bryan Kennison, lead announcer, prop master, camera operator, talking about how he and podcast partner Steven Johnson became jacks of all trades at OVW after meeting Al for their show. As Snow meets with wrestler after wrestler who are pitching wild ideas for their future storylines, Jones and Greenberg meet with Kennison and single him out as needing to demonstrably improve paid attendance over this summer for them to justify keeping him on.
A long night’s filming of a cinematic match with horror elements takes a small crew until the wee hours in the morning, ahead of a golf scramble that Jones uses to bring his wrestling crew to a non-wrestling man audience and grow the brand — including Cash Flo offering chops to those who want them.
The emotional hook of the episode, easily, has Kennison on the phone with his son apologizing for not making it to him before their time is up and the boy heads off with his mom.
The weekend PPV goes off well enough, production-wise, with far more empty seats than Snow would like, while Kennison describes the WWE and AEW product as a Michael Bay movie, while OVW more cerebral like The Squid and the Whale. We meet his wife, Ashley, while he gets the numbers from Fite TV that they had less than a hundred buys for the show — a real downer.
Episode 3: Faces & Heels
The road show continues at the Poke Sallet Festival in Harlan, Kentucky, where OVW sets up their ring. It’s a little focus on small-town America in this opening, with hard times and the loss of the coal mining life filtered in between action in the ring.
We follow Jones on a first date with Norma, who cops to being a Ric Flair fan while he goes on about his radio personality and that focus continues for a while. Jones admits that having been a lawyer, being on radio, running a restaurant — they’re accomplishments that he has to move on from and find the next thing to conquer. OVW is proving a challenge.
In the midst of a successful night, Maria has to pick up Jake Lawless from the police station, who earlier that night was picked up for being caught doing drugs in the parking lot outside of the show. He ends up crying in Maria’s arms when it fully dawns on him what this means for his position at OVW, which might be finished.
The crew gets access into Lawless’ house as he sits in the bathroom, vomiting, dealing with the aftermath of the drugs with Heather Hamilton, his partner, taking care of him. She lays everything out for the camera, explaining how hard it is to see how Jake’s body taking the beating it does, and that his dependency on drugs was partly his reaction to them losing a child five years prior.
A run of more wrestlers from the company and their personal trials, many of them constantly on the thread of whether they can continue wrestling and maintain day jobs, bills, and their bodies, follows.
Jones makes a pitch to Snow about getting a sponsor, with the first opportunity being a drink brand, and it was looking promising until Lawless’ arrest. The bitterness continues between Jones and the OVW crew, with Maria picking on his habit of setting up a show but leaving before it starts, which she says is greatly disrespectful, among many other complaints about how he runs the business and interacts with people.
There’s some “He said, he said” stories from both Jones and Amon, as both tell different stories about what was said between the two of them on a phone call. It’s a long sequence that ends with Matt suffering an extended seizure on camera, with the shot retreating to a distance and not showing his face, but not stopping the shot either.
It’s a stunning moment that has everyone drop every bit of fight in them and surround him to take care of him.
Episode 4: Get Over
After the ending events of the previous episode, it feels strange to jump right into another story, but the show must go on. It’s Shera’s turn to share some of his life, starting by sharing the perks of his fine car, his religion, and his desire to establish himself before marrying.
Jones is back on camera, on the radio from home, explaining his seizure due to epilepsy. He says he’s not embarrassed but it bothers him how other people react to it. This leads to a look at his youth, introducing his mother and stepfather and his desire to gain Al’s respect.
There’s a certain change of attitude on Jones’ part, or at least change in approach, to how he started off at OVW and how he can pick his battles and help out, with now 36 days to go before The Big One.
He presents some news in a meeting that he’s had a text conversation with Tony Khan, and there might be an opportunity to get OVW wrestlers onto AEW Dark or Elevation. There’s some amusingly whimsical music played over an introduction of Tony Khan. Snow’s not hot on it, primarily because he wants someone like AEW to come to OVW looking for their wrestlers, not OVW going out and asking to be on shows.
Meanwhile, the crowds are getting better for OVW. Snow heaps more praise on Shera, and a sequence of his in-ring work puts him over even more. He sees the potential in Haley J, but says she has to grow up an awful lot.
He gathers the troops and lets them know they’re taking Cash, Omar, Kal, Luke, and Freya to AEW Dark. It comes with a warning that they’ll be watched and that nobody can derail this for the whole company — which makes Haley J think was meant for her and that she’s not going to Dark because she’s been caught smoking weed on outside the facility.
Next up is a discussion between Snow and Jones about bringing in James Storm to face Shera, with the question being whether Storm’s $600 fee will result in bringing in more money than that. There’s more focus on Shera from his dedication to his family, his introduction to wrestling through TNA/Impact, to his short tenure with WWE, and finding a home in OVW.
Haley J, still smarting about being left off the AEW trip, gets a call to do some work with WOW, where she and Maria are headed to wrestle a couple of matches. Haley reveals to the camera that they agreed to this without talking to Al about it, so we’ll see where that goes.
Just before the match-up between Storm and Shera, Snow makes the call that he wants Storm to take the title and let Shera chase him over the summer to get it back. Snow talks about how some wrestlers wear a loss in their entrance, and he has hopes that Shera won’t give any of that away.
Their match is given significant time, until a superkick puts Shera down and gives Storm the belt. Shera is nothing but appreciative to Snow backstage, and he expressed his trust in the story.
From that high, Snow catches wind of Maria and Haley teaming up for WOW, and he’s none too pleased about how that will make their feud in OVW look.
Episode 5: Mother
It’s WOW time, as Maria gets re-acquainted with some of her connections, but Haley J has momentarily lost her voice — a killer for her character. Her boyfriend, Darkstorm, gets the camera for a while, and continues his visually cool but amusing bit where he does most of his interviews hanging out of the open window of his parked car on a shady street at night.
Shera has a video chat with his mom, being sure to hide the sling for his arm after he dislocated it while wrestling Storm. It puts a big hurdle in front of him, Snow, and Storm to continue their push throughout the summer.
Haley and Maria are back, as the documentary crew presumably didn’t have much freedom to film their adventures at WOW. They start ramping up towards a blow-off match, with Snow refusing to finish with a deathmatch which he says is an excuse to not be a good wrestler. Maria, though, who has a history of deathmatch wrestling, sees the value in her daughter trying to beat her at one of her own games.
At the same time, Jones proposes that Al get back in the ring for The Big One (21 days away now), which he says he’ll consider if it will do business.
As Maria watches a hard-hitting women’s match with stiff shots from the back with Al, she steps out to help settle the tension between the two wrestlers after landing legit hard shorts on one another. Haley J says as an aside that her mom is always helping other people, and not spending as much time helping her as she could. Is it a shoot, part of the character? Sounds like both.
The crew extends the family story, bringing Maria’s mom Tina into the show. She describes her daughter as a big handful, making a lot of trouble. Haley’s youth was troubled in different ways, leaving home at 16 and not cool with her mom being on the road for wrestling and in jail. She reveals she skipped school, did drugs, and casually drops that she was raped at the age of 15 and the fall-out from that at school caused her a lot of trouble.
The night of the mother/daughter match arrives, and it is most certainly looking like a deathmatch set-up. Looks like Snow lost that argument. The match is almost played out in real-time, and the emotion is certainly compelling for both the characters and the wrestlers. If you’re into deathmatches, you should like this bit a lot.
Episode 6: About Face
It’s about the fans at the start — starting with a young fan named Gracie, seven years old and super vocal as a fan. The OVW crew is out and about in the streets of Nashville, handing out flyers for a free show on SummerSlam weekend.
Above and beyond the action in the ring, there’s a wedding proposal from Luke Kurtis to Leila Grey, which seems to stun the other wrestlers watching more than anything — and even brings a tear or two from the legendarily stoic Al Snow.
Meanwhile, the battle continues between the creative product and the revenue, as Jones and Greenberg meet with a bunch of the crew to update on their financial losses, currently sitting at $180,000. The push to make The Big One a great show and a moneymaker is on, maybe including Snow getting back into the ring again.
Jake Lawless is back in the office, clean and sober since his incident, and Snow is mad at him but says to give it some more time to commit to his sobriety and check in again. Lawless checks in with Haley J and Darkstorm, chatting and accepting a toke of weed, which seems self-defeating at this point.
Shera gets some news in rehab that he most definitely didn’t want, which is that his shoulder needs at least three more weeks to heal, and The Big One is only twelve days away. At the same time, Maria and Haley are heading back to WOW as the show approaches, which still bugs Snow something fierce.
Things are getting heated between Darkstorm and Haley, too as he fears she’s leaving him and an argument gets to a point that he put his hands on her (this is told to us, not shown), and Maria now reveals in an interview that their relationship is toxic, and Haley confirms that they’re working their stuff out together. Part of that stuff, for her, is leaving OVW.
Snow, for his part, finally agrees to get into the ring, and just wants to be sure he won’t embarrass the business.
Episode 7: The Big One
We open back in Nashville with fans lined up to see Ric Flair’s, ahem, last match, and a lot of them are happy to see Snow. He watches the match, enjoying the crowd reactions as much as anything. Snow catches up with a lot of wrestlers, including Rey Mysterio with an amusingly blurred out face and no mask.
It makes Snow look back once again at his WWF run, reminiscing on some bad decisions that he wished he could fix, but recognizing, as everyone has to at some point, that all of his successes and mistakes have led him to a life he’s happy with.
Three days until The Big One, and Al is on with Jones’ radio show, laying old-style promo zingers to his opponent for the event, and having a lot of fun doing it. Cash Flo checks out his AEW match with his family, and he’s happy with the shot he had for exposure, but is more excited about where OVW is headed.
The final episode becomes so wrapped up in The Big One that it almost feels like a promo package for the show itself. Then, it actually just feels like the PPV at time.
The fans are lined up around the parking lot and the seats are looking good and filled. There’s a surprise return by Haley J to a big response — backstage there’s a kiss between her and Darkstorm. Snow and his partner, Doug Basham, get in the ring and look more than good enough for at least one more match.
It all ends probably as you would expect, with a mannequin’s head in the ring and Snow bouncing up and down like a spry Attitude Era wrestler. The after party brings everyone together in a celebratory mood, drinks on the house from Jones, and a humble Snow thanking everyone for helping him out in the match.
There’s a closing moment for pretty well everybody we’ve spent time with, and it’s amazing to see how well the show made you feel like you knew so many people well after just seven episodes. As opposed to Monster Factory, which felt like it was setting up for a second season (and didn’t get one), Wrestlers feels like a finished tale. Of course, if it does business, then who’s to say Snow doesn’t have one more, one more match in him?
Find Wrestlers streaming now on Netflix.
- Sep. 13, 2023: The Netflix Effect: OVW packs the house with a turn-away crowd
- Sep. 13, 2023: Before they were on Netflix: The trading cards of OVW’s wrestlers
- Sep. 6, 2023: OVW stars are ready to shine in Netflix’s Wrestlers
- Aug. 21, 2023: Netflix to air Ohio Valley Wrestling series
- Aug. 21, 2023: Netflix’s ‘Wrestlers’ photo gallery
- Slam Wrestling’s Al Snow story archive