As a wrestling fan, I’ve always been fascinated by the inner workings of the business. Wrestling is so alien and yet, often so familiar, and there have been some wonderful documentaries over the years that have shown us just how human the “larger than life” superstars of pro-wrestling often are.
Whereas Beyond the Mat showed off the careers of several wrestlers at very different points in their careers, Wrestling Road Diaries is a deeper, much more lighthearted dive into the world of independent wrestling. It’s sort of the Animal House to Beyond’s The Graduate.
The stars of the DVD are Colt Cabana, an Indy fixture who had a cup of coffee in WWE but is lately turning heads with his podcast “The Art of Wrestling,” Sal Rinauro, an independent ‘enhancement’ talent, and Bryan Danielson, perhaps best known to fans these days as World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan, who is weeks away from signing his second (of three) WWE contracts.
Wrestling Road Diaries is, at times, oddly schizophrenic, but in a good way. While much of the focus of the feature is on the amusing fraternity relationships the three have developed with their wrestling compatriots, the real center of the piece is Bryan Danielson, and his struggles as he copes with his fears during what would wind up being one of the biggest weeks of his life.
There are a few really touching moments during the Diaries, where the audience sees Danielson at his most vulnerable. In the time leading up to his contract signing, he gets the dreaded “elevated liver enzymes” which causes him to reflect on his life with some surprisingly candid conversations with the camera about his fears for his health, his career, and his future. There’s also a very sobering moment in which he laments the future of the business while attempting to train some inattentive students.
Danielson’s story is very nicely set off against the story of Nigel McGuiness (formerly TNA’s Desmond Wolfe), who also has dreams of a WWE contract, that we know ultimately go unfulfilled. Seeing it knowing what we now about the careers of both men makes this storyline all that much more intriguing.
Cabana’s role in the story is more of the comic relief. If you’ve ever listened to his show or seen his matches, you know he’s hilarious, and it doesn’t change here. It’s unfortunate, I think, that he doesn’t let his guard down a little more, especially considering that he opens the Diaries with a fairly emotional statement about his time in WWE.
But what we get from Colt is silly and a lot of fun. The road stories, sleeping at a fan’s house, merch tables, there’s a lot to love about these sections. Just with the caveat there that he is very much Colt Cabana the character throughout the DVD, and if you don’t appreciate the gimmick, then you will likely get annoyed by him quite quickly.
I do feel that there’s an interesting story to be told with Sal Rinauro, I’m just not sure that this was the DVD to do it. His part in the production is very minor, as he’s mostly just around to react to Colt and Bryan, which he does a fine job of. It’s just too bad that he didn’t have more to add here.
If you get the 2 disc version of the DVD, you also get over an hour of deleted scenes. Most of these scenes were clearly cut because they stretched the narrative of the film a little thin, but they’re almost all amusing in one way or another. It includes more footage of Danielson from the training session and a special appearance by former WCW legend Van Hammer.
There’s also an interview with Cabana on the “Wrestling Roundtable” a Public Access looking program with two public access looking hosts. I’m assuming they were somehow involved with the production of the DVD, otherwise it seems like a bit of an odd fit, because it’s comparatively poorly put together. But it does allow Cabana to talk a little bit more about his short lived WWE career.
And then there is an ad for the DVD. They’re very well put together and give you a nice little taste of what the DVD is all about. Which would be nice if you hadn’t just watched them. But still, it’s nice that they included a little extra on the bonus features.
Overall: 4 of 5
If you’re a wresting fan, you owe it to yourself to check out Wrestling Road Diaries. It has a little something for every wrestling fan, and it’s one of the most honest portrayals of the backstage atmosphere in wrestling to date.
It’s an interesting addendum to the current careers of both Daniel Bryan, WWE World Heavyweight Champion and Colt Cabana, iTunes sensation, and, for what it’s worth it’s a good primer for some Indy guys to look out for as they pass through various promotions.
It’s almost a shame, because both Colt and Bryan have stories to tell that are worthy of full length DVDs, but I feel like only Bryan’s story really gets any meat here, while Colt (and to a much, much lesser extent, Sal) exists outside the narrative, playing comic relief, But sometimes, I guess, a documentary doesn’t have to be all narrative all the time, and while what we get isn’t exactly Beyond the Mat or Wrestling with Shadows it serves to fill a different, but still necessary position in the wrestling documentary oeuvre.
The DVD is currently selling for $20 ($25 with the second disc) at http://coltmerch.com/.
Also, it’s worth noting that Cabana recently announced that they’re currently filming a second DVD staring himself, Cliff Compton (WWE’s Domino) and Luke Gallows (WWE’s Luke Gallows) that sounds like it’s going to err more on the “comedy” side, which sounds entertaining, but not particularly enlightening.