Beyond The Mat (1999) has enjoyed worldwide success and is considered by many to be the greatest wrestling related documentary of all time. The film is directed and narrated by comedy writer and lifetime wrestling fan, Barry Blaustein.
Our first glimpse of Blaustein’s travels takes us to the headquarters of what was once known as the World Wrestling Federation. This grabbed my attention straight away. I have always wanted to pay a visit to Titan Tower. Vince McMahon explains what the company is about while arrogantly sipping on water. He comes across rather unlikable here and is seen directing the backstage vignette of the Dude Love strut, which would air later on RAW in preparation of the Dude’s debut. Jim Johnston also makes a brief appearance in the film, demonstrating how he composes entrance music. Back at Titan Tower, Darren Drozdov sat with company bigwigs; Jim Ross, Vince and Shane McMahon. Vinnie Mac justified that since Droz was able to regurgitate on cue, it was only natural that his character be named ‘Puke’.
He then encouraged poor Puke to… well… puke. Vince shouted, “he’s gonna puke”, followed by that annoying yak yak laugh, which left me traumatized even though I’ve heard it a million times. I’m sure Mr. McMahon is a great guy and is certainly the best thing to ever happen to the wrestling business, but in this documentary he does himself no favours.
Once the cameras were done at Titan Tower, Blaustein took his crew to the All Pro Wrestling (APW) school in Hayward, California. The facility was run by promoter, Roland Alexander.
He was keen to introduce new students to his school and offered advice on healthy eating. Roland, a rotund man, was quick off the mark in asking how soon these guys would make a $500 commitment. Sounds like a great guy, right? Two of his most promising students were Tony Jones, who worked at Visa and Mike Modest who moved dead bodies at the local funeral home. You may remember Modest from his short stint in WCW in 2000. The Vince McMahon of APW felt that these two men were ready for the big time after years of training and performances at their monthly shows. At the show seen on the documentary, one wrestler looked like he was ready to kill a fan after he was spit on by said fan from the balcony.
Tony Jones revealed that he would get a $25 pay off from these shows and somewhat hinted that sometimes it was for free! Meanwhile, Roland Alexander was bragging to Blaustein’s camera that his men were being paid well. Wait, it gets better. Modest and Jones received try outs with the WWF. In this scene, Jim Cornette was seen giving the guys advice on what and what not to do. The top WWF Superstars could be seen in the background mingling before RAW. During their try out, Vince McMahon noticed Jones’ botched fisherman’s suplex and commented that work was needed. Jim Ross and Jim Cornette were impressed with Modest’s finishing manoeuvre and seemed excited.
Good old JR gave the guys some advice after the match and Mick Foley greeted them in the dressing room. Of course, Roland was nervous. Yes, he cared for his students, but what was hard for me to digest was that if Jones or Modest were signed, he would receive 10% of their earnings. Roland Alexander sadly died at age 59 last year.
Terry Funk was next on the agenda. We see him starting the day with his emergence out of bed. At this time, his ECW days were in full swing. Barry Blaustein pondered how somebody so tender outside the ring could be so brutal inside it. I wouldn’t have expected to have seen Terry’s daughter getting married on the film, but it wasn’t much to shout about. This in my opinion was just to accentuate Funk’s “tender” side. Terry’s wife Brandi expressed that she had wanted him to retire in 1990, yet here he was about to main event ECW’s first pay-per-view.
As Terry’s story surrounds his involvement in ECW, it was a no-brainer that there would be some depth to what ECW was. Blaustein explained that the hardcore wrestling promotion had a loyal audience and that it was produced in a quiet suburban house in New York. Joey Styles could be seen standing in front of the infamous ECW banner, as ECW owner Paul Heyman directed his announcing while momma Heyman did the ironing. Backstage at the ECW arena, preparations were being made for that evening’s Barely Legal PPV.
Heyman demonstrated his passion and was seen giving a pep talk to his roster from half way up a staircase. The main event saw Terry Funk win the ECW Championship in front of a rowdy and approving crowd. Following the match, the champ was in bad shape, but sipping a beer nonetheless. Beyond the Mat played clips of the man who is middle aged and crazy during his Japanese death matches with Cactus Jack (Mick Foley). What I found amusing was that when the two were sitting together in front of Blaustein’s camera, Terry said that he found it stupid that the more you hurt each other, the more money you make and the more money you make, the better the friends you are. They saw the funny side of it too.
Barry expressed that the wrestler he found the most normal was Mick Foley. When the camera followed Foley, it showed what a family man he is. This was probably the most heart-warming moment of the film.
His daughter Noelle made sure to let everyone know that her favourite word was “nipple”. Foley’s young children found it confusing at times and wondered if their dad was really hurt. Mick was quick to reassure them that he was okay and that he practiced his moves several times. Although not an ideal situation, I felt that Mick and his wife Colette did the best they could here to keep their kids guarded from the punishment he takes. Blaustein did say that he was concerned about Foley one time, when he received a message from the ‘Hardcore Legend’, who was quite clearly incoherent.
One person Barry had always wanted to meet was Jake Roberts. Many commented on how good Jake “The Snake” Roberts was and could be again, if he could control his demons. Vince McMahon said that he didn’t know at times whether he could separate the character from the person. Roberts in recent years had built such a bad reputation that he was quite open with a promoter that he wouldn’t wrestle unless he was given some crack on arrival!
Jake told Blaustein that the person in the mirror was the person he hated most in the world. Jake was followed to a show in North Platte, Nebraska, where he showed just how low he had sunk. I found it awfully tragic when Jake opened up about his personal life. His mother was thirteen when he was born. His father had raped her while he was involved with her mother.
During the film, Jake goes to visit his father and the two are visibly distant. His father mentioned that Jake was born out of love – a disgusting statement if ever I’ve heard one. During the Snake’s time in the film, he also met with his daughter who carried huge resentment toward him for his years of absence. She was so nervous about meeting him alone that she brought a friend. Although they loved each other, neither knew how to act in each other’s presence.
It was a shame when Jake came to the realisation that he had been as bad of a father to his daughters as his father had been to him. Later in the documentary, after meeting his daughter for five minutes after four years, Jake was supposedly doing crack in his room. He was once again honest about his drug habits and made it clear that he didn’t feel sorry for himself, because he’d asked for everything he was given.
Barry Blaustein’s documentary featured a cameo from New Jack. Blaustein didn’t expect to bond with him, but he did. New Jack revealed that he was once a bounty hunter and had been the cause of four justifiable homicides. He made no secret about being a violent person, but did show some charm when he took the news well that he failed to win an acting role, which I’m positive was done for the benefit of the documentary.
In September of 1997, Terry Funk wrestled his last match… until his next one. His retirement show involved many of the ECW stars, Mick Foley as Mankind and WWF Champion Bret Hart. Prior to the show Funk could be seen promoting the show in the local area of Amarillo.
Dennis Stamp, a legend from the old Amarillo territory, was upset that he hadn’t been booked on the show, so much so that he basically cut a promo about it. Terry was oblivious to his hurt and was surprised when Stamp told him he wouldn’t be attending. Good old Funk offered him the chance to referee the main event between him and Bret. Throughout Beyond the Mat, Terry came across as a really nice guy. At his retirement show, he was given a lifetime ECW Championship belt and was celebrated by his peers. Bret reluctantly beat Terry.
The final part of Beyond the Mat journeyed back to January 1999, where Mick Foley would be dropping the WWF Championship to The Rock. Mick had the whole family in tow and the backstage scene was another chance to see what goes on behind the curtain.
While Mick was reassuring his son Dewey that he was going to be okay, The Rock came over to provide further reassurance and asked Dewey about his trip to Disneyland. In seconds you had the amazing image of: Foley, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, who had joined them with Shane McMahon. You could spot an innocent looking Stephanie McMahon sitting by her father too. Like with Wrestling with Shadows, it’s amazing that the WWF allowed the camera’s backstage. Still, they signed the deal and they couldn’t go back on it… even if they tried.
Something I found really strange is that when The Rock was talking to Blaustein’s camera, he sounded so much more southern than he usually does. During Foley’s match with Johnson, his Mankind character takes a brutal beating that included multiple chair shots to the head. Mick’s wife and two children were sitting in the front row and were completely traumatized by the experience. A cover version of the song Stand By Me played as the camera focused on poor Noelle and Dewey. I’m man enough to admit that it brought a tear to my eye. The song added to the emotional images on screen and it certainly drew me in.
After the match, all of the wrestlers in the backstage area applauded the wounded Foley. His family breathed a sigh of relief when he was able to talk to them and even make a lighthearted joke to Colette. It had been a tough night for all of them. Vince McMahon, who had been through his own war on that night, thanked him for his hard work.
A few weeks after the Rumble, Barry Blaustein went to visit Mick at home, where he watched the footage of his wife and kids getting upset. He expressed his feelings of guilt and said that he didn’t feel like he was such a good dad anymore after making them feel like that.
At the conclusion of the documentary, we found out that Mike Modest and Tony Jones had never heard back from the WWF, Roland’s school was still open (but the monthly shows had to stop due to building violations), Terry Funk walked back into a wrestling ring just three months later, Jake had spent time in prison over the failure to pay the right amount of child support, Darren Drozdov went on to become Droz instead of Puke, while ECW were working on acquiring the rights to air a new weekly show.
The WWF had gained so much steam over the course of 1999 that they went public on the New York Stock Exchange. Before the end credits, it was revealed that Droz had been in an accident during a match that left him paralysed. This happened three weeks after the completion of this film.
The film shows a real truth to the wrestling business and thanks to the WWE/F, we were able to see some amazing footage. ECW offered the same opportunities to viewers. Sometimes, Beyond the Mat was funny, sometimes it was sad, but most of all it was entertaining and is among the very best in wrestling documentaries.
Retro Review Rating