We've all seen fans of professional wrestling: They board
airplanes in flip-flops, enter court wearing tank tops, ask
barbers for "mudflaps," brain boyfriends with hubcaps, enjoy
smoking Luckys and eating at Stuckey's, have the IQ's of larva
and new wives named Darva, and multiple exes raising kids named
for Texas (Houston, Austin, Tyler, Taylor, Kirby, Kyle and
One such family of fans appears in Beyond the Mat, a riveting
pro-wrestling documentary that opens in theaters in 50 cities on
March 17. (It already has been showing in Charlotte and
Memphis.) The husband, with his hockey hair and prescription
Blueblockers, is the Unabomber police sketch come to life. His
wife has wrestling slogans Magic Markered across her chest,
while the couple's adolescent daughter has similarly adorned her
own bare midriff. All three are at ringside in North Platte,
Neb., hoping to catch the jaundiced eye of the famous wrestler
and crack addict Jake (the Snake) Roberts.
"She's gonna live here the rest of her life and have seven kids
and seven husbands," says Roberts, with a world-weary
prescience, after meeting the girl. "My god, I could be mayor
next week.... They'd execute the one they got and put me in
power. I'd be dictator-mayor. And they'd love it. That's what
really scares you." Soon after the interview, Jesse Ventura was
elected governor of Minnesota.
But whereas Ventura wore feather boas in the ring, the Snake
wears actual boas. To call this man's life a train wreck would
do a disservice to the railroad industry. He's an Amtrak
catastrophe, the Hindenburg calamity and the Valdez atrocity
rolled into one pot-bellied fiftysomething. Roberts was
conceived, he says, when his father--former pro wrestler Grizzly
Smith, who also appears on camera--raped a 13-year-old girl.
Roberts's sister was apparently murdered. Their kindly
stepfather was accidentally electrocuted in his own attic. No
wonder Roberts, who was once the top drawing card of the World
Wrestling Federation but now performs "independently," unwinds
with rock cocaine in Ramada after Ramada. "My whole life is one
gruesome, horrible thing after another," Roberts concedes in the
film, while giving the impression that things could be
fractionally worse: He could be a wrestling fan.
Mat was made by an unabashed pro-wrestling enthusiast,
screenwriter Barry Blaustein (Coming to America). But besides
him, we're left to wonder: Who exactly are pro wrestling fans?
They're certainly legion: Three of the top 10-rated programs on
cable television are wrestling shows, and WWF superstars The
Rock and Mick (Mankind) Foley have two of the top 10 books on
The New York Times best-seller list. Of course Celine Dion has
sold 100 million albums, and I don't know a soul who owns one of
them. Wrestling poses a similar paradox.
"I could care less who wins, I could care less who loses," Jim
Ross, the WWF's senior vice president of talent, tells Blaustein
on camera. "As long as we got an ass every 18 inches, I'm a
You do get one of those every 18 inches in Mat. There's
Roberts's former employer Vince McMahon, the oiled,
orange-tanned overlord of the wildly popular WWF, which has
petulantly barred advertising for Mat from its TV programs.
(McMahon is shown in his office, commanding an aspiring wrestler
to vomit on cue into his wastebasket.) There's promoter Roland
Alexander, who, when questioned about reneging on payments to
wrestlers, explains, "You have to be a prick in this business."
Everywhere is Roberts, whose simultaneous addictions to
pharmaceuticals and group sex have left him with an
inexhaustible wealth of untoppable anecdotes.
There is much more to recommend in Mat--midgets milling about in
tights, men bum-rushed into barbed-wire fencing, wrestler Jerome
(New Jack) Young talking of his four (four!) justifiable
homicides--but it's Roberts who leaves the viewer slack-jawed
and staring. Unlike a wrestling referee, you'll be unable to
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO