A wrestling school that helped launch the careers of some of the biggest names in the sport is the subject of a new Netflix documentary series from Greg Whiteley, the creator of Cheer and Last Chance U.
Wrestlers, which premieres September 13, centers around ex-WWE star Al Snow as he helps the next generation along at Ohio Valley Wrestling in Louisville, Kentucky. Snow, who previously appeared as a coach on the reality series Tough Enough, has worked tirelessly to carry on the rich history of OHV from founder Danny Davis.
Names including John Cena, Brock Lesnar, The Miz, Mickie James, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, Dave Bautista, CM Punk, Cody Rhodes, and countless others honed their skills at one point or another there. New stars like “Mr. Pec-Tacular” Jessie Godderz of Big Brother and Impact Wrestling fame among others are featured.
In the show’s seven episodes, cameras follow Snow as he tries to dig the company out of some recent financial woes alongside a crew of up-and-coming wrestlers with big dreams. With the respected veteran forced to sell a majority stake to a group of businessmen including Matt Jones, the new owners have given him the summer to turn things around.
Here Snow opens up about the high stakes chronicled and talks about some of OVW’s biggest success stories.
Was there any trepidation in agreeing to do this project?
Al Snow: I was a little trepidatious because there is an agreement with the audience. We agree not to rub in your face that pro wrestling is predetermined and want you to have a good time watching shows. Everyone here was very open and allowed access, one hundred percent, to the crew in every way. It’s a hard line to walk where you don’t want to overexpose things behind the curtain. I know that’s the popular thing to do these days. You weigh all that with the upside of exposure and awareness and increased interest. That is what won out. Much like when I did Tough Enough and even British Bootcamp, people come to grips with the realities of what it takes to achieve these dreams they desperately think they want. I’m hoping for wrestling fans it gives them an increased appreciation of the wrestlers and talent. For non-wrestling fans, I hope it maybe will pique curiosity and create interest.
You’re given a timeline to turn things around for the gym and OVW. How dire are things during the time of filming last summer?
You’re going to see the reality of it. We’re working on next-to-nothing budgets. Our job is to utilize our television show as a commercial. That’s what a wrestling show is. Sell our product to motivate people to pay for tickets and then generate a television audience to monetize our television show. It’s an ongoing endeavor. We’re still struggling and doing everything we can to make things work and accomplish our goals while trying to produce a television product that looks and feels like a national experience on a regional level. We do what we can to achieve those goals.
Among those featured is Jessie Godderz, who has been a real champion for OVW and recently even made a cameo on Big Brother this season. Who else will we see?
Each brings a different story. Jessie because he has been there on a bigger platform and is back rebuilding himself. There is Ca$h Flo because he has a wife and kids and trying to make it while still pursuing his dream. Haley J because she is so young. Mahabali Shera literally left his home country and homeland to pursue his dreams. I think each has different aspects of what it takes. I tell people all the time if you want to live a life others don’t live, you have to be willing to do things others don’t do. This is a good insight into all that.
It’s fun to see old clips of alums like John Cena, Dave Bautista, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, and others. It drives home the importance of having places like OVW to go.
I’ve had individual experiences with all of them once they made it up to WWE. Cody Rhodes, we really took him from the ground up too…There were so many others that had a significant impact in WWE and the wrestling business as a whole. I think it does prove just how important a place like this is. The real objective of a developmental is to learn how to be a star, an attraction. Learn what makes you special and take that in front of an audience. They get to experience working on TV, which is completely different than it is working on a live event, and live television, which is different than post-production television. There are very few places today that give a person an opportunity to learn all of those skills and walk into a WWE fully prepared from their time in a microcosm of what they’re going to experience.
John Cena certainly made the most of his time in OVW. What do you remember about working with him during his early days after graduating to WWE?
With John Cena, he worked tirelessly. The guy has the record for the number of Make-A-Wish wishes granted. He was willing to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You see the success. Recently we had a movie that was filmed about the life and times of Mildred Burke Queen of the Ring. We had the studio here. They were rehearsing and did stunt coordination at OVW. Charlotte Flair and Andrade came in. Charlotte was originally slotted to have a role in the movie. They were working on some of the stunt coordination. They were here for four or five days. She and Andrade would ask if they could work out, fight train in professional wrestling. This was over and above what she was physically doing in the movie. That spoke to exactly who she is and where she is and how she is. You never stop working, pushing, and trying your best to achieve even more. It’s the same for Cena, Lesnar, Bautista, and others who learned that work ethic in places like OVW.
You worked with Cody Rhodes. What do you make of his success today?
I’m very proud of Cody and not surprised. I could see he had that in him. That drive. I didn’t know where Cody was going to go and what he was going to achieve. That he would be at the level he is at now. I knew he had all the potential to do it though.
Another famous OVW alum is the polarizing CM Punk. A very strong-minded and opinionated person. How do you feel how his return to the ring has panned out?
Most of the wrestlers that you see who really are successful have a very strong self-belief and a very strong will. You can see that in CM Punk on the very first day, he entered OVW. He had both those qualities. You desperately need all that to survive in this business. Not even to thrive but just survive. Having a strong personality and strong opinions and strong will and a strong mind makes for some clashes.
They inevitably do happen. They happen everywhere. Not just AEW. They happen in WWE, OVW, put three letters together with a w. That’s where you as a talent have to learn how to navigate the backstage area. As a promoter or booker, you also have to navigate talent in the backstage area. I know there is still some upheaval with Punk from what I understand and what I’m hearing with personality clashes and things like that in AEW. I hope genuinely they can steer through all this. Everyone goes through growing pains. I hope they can steer clear of all this to not only survive but thrive because the wrestling business and wrestling fans desperately need them to continue to succeed. We need that alternative for so many reasons for the fans, the wrestlers, and the wrestling business in general.
What is your big takeaway from the filming experience and what we’ll see?
I’m excited but trepidatious. When you’re in the public eye and the center of attention, people have to realize you develop a very thick skin. Not all the attention is going to be on you and when it is, it’s not always going to be good. I’m just hoping with this show I’m not the main focus. The main focus I want to be more on the talent that I’m trying to sell every week. I’m hoping it will give OVW and those talents a leg up as far as recognition, awareness, and interest. If by chance, they utilize me to help do that, so be it.
Wrestlers premiere, September 13, Netflix