"It's all about putting smiles on faces." Those are the words of WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley as he explains his view of professional wrestling's ultimate goal. The former WWE Champion, who is often regarded as the king of hardcore due to his ultraviolent matches, says this after falling victim to the dreaded "dick flip," a comedic finishing maneuver in which pro wrestler Joey Ryan flips his opponents using nothing more than the power of his penis.
Ryan is the focus of the documentary This Is Wrestling, but truthfully, the hour-long film is about more than just one wrestler on the independent scene. Instead, it's a deep dive into the world of professional wrestling itself. As the movie traces Ryan's career from his days as a rookie to his independent scene stardom, This Is Wrestling--and Ryan himself--spends a lot of time examining the state of the wrestling industry and those that helped form the self-proclaimed "King of Dong Style."
What the documentary says about wrestling is something that might be hard for some fans to digest, particularly those who don't know much about sports entertainment outside of what WWE offers up every week. Among the world of independent wrestling leagues, there is a multitude of wrestling styles and characters. That means there's truly something for everyone, regardless of what you consider to be "good wrestling." It goes back to Foley's quote above, that what wrestlers do is about putting smiles on faces. While the athleticism of professional wrestling can be downright incredible, the entertainment aspect of sports entertainment always reigns supreme. If you don't entertain the audience, chances are you won't make it very far.
And it's Ryan finding what it is that makes him an entertaining performer that makes This Is Wrestling so compelling. It takes a village to help Joey develop his "Famous Dick Wrestler" character, with everyone from Japanese grappler Danshoku Dieno to indy star Drake Younger to current WWE NXT wrestler Candice LeRae contributing to Ryan finding his confidence and channeling his inner sleaze. And he makes a point of singling out every single person who helped him on the journey to his current character.
The beauty of the character Ryan puts on display is that his sleaziness is rather charming. The goal, every time he walks to a ring, is to make sure the audience has the best time possible, regardless of what he's doing. This is especially evident when the documentary addresses his former tag team with LeRae--dubbed the World's Cutest Tag Team.
Traditionally men and women don't team together or fight each other. Bucking tradition, though, Ryan and LeRae became a beloved and respected team on the indies beginning in 2013, at a time when women weren't getting as much of a spotlight as the men. In some ways, the team was a precursor to WWE's own women's evolution that continues today.
In their matches, LaRae was treated as an equal to any man in the ring and had the skill to back it up. But at the end of the day, like Ryan himself, LeRae's goal is to entertain. "We're like Disneyland," she tells him as they figure out how to work a fan's marriage proposal into their match. "I feel like we're like Disneyland, and we're making dreams come true."
And that sums up the era of wrestling Ryan is thriving in to a tee. In many ways, it's the purest form of fan service. Thankfully, the cameras that followed Ryan for the documentary--which is directed by James Agiesta and executive produced by Katy Dierks--were able to capture this extraordinary time in the industry and Ryan's career.
My only real gripe is the length of the piece, which is just over an hour in running time. I would have loved to watch something twice as long. The sit-down interviews Ryan does throughout the film plainly show that the man behind the character, Joseph Meehan, doesn't have much in common with his wannabe '70s porn star alter ego. A bit more of a look into who Ryan is when he's not wearing his wrestling boots could have given even more insight.
Additionally, while the film deals with some of the realities of the wrestling business--including planning out matches, making yourself bleed, and the drug issues that plagued the industry in years past--there's so much more to explore. Then again, perhaps that material would be better left to a piece that isn't focused on a single person.
This Is Wrestling is made for fans of sports entertainment. Still, the way it handles its subject and the world it examines should be easy enough for those who know little-to-nothing about sports entertainment to get a little insight into how this weird world works.
This Is Wrestling: The Joey Ryan Story does not yet have an official release date.