Larger-than-life professional wrestling personalities have given fans endless entertainment with Hulk Hogan body slamming Andre the Giant and The Undertaker "rising from the dead."
But it's a profession that comes with a lot of bumps and bruises — and not just in the ring.
It’s the life not seen on TV that caught the eyes of producers and close friends Evan Husney and Jason Eisener. It was their love of wrestling as children that gave them the idea to explore this unknown life.
“We noticed that this world is so rich with these undiscovered stories, and it's such a fascinating world because you have characters that lived two lives," Husney said. "People who, especially in the 80s, had to live their gimmicks and had to maintain that facade in and out of the ring, and then go home and be dad or mom or whatever, and that to us was just super interesting.
“There's no other realm of sports or even entertainment that has that component."
That curiosity led to the creation of “Dark Side of the Ring." The show premiered on Vice TV in April 2019 and instantly became a hit in the wrestling community. Two years and 16 episodes later, the show is set to begin its third season May 6.
"Dark Side of the Ring" has stayed true to its name in exploring the dark realities of wrestling, including the death of Owen Hart and the double-murder and suicide of Chris Benoit. But the show is not all about tragedy. The two creators also want to celebrate the subjects of their stories.
“We didn't want episodes to just end on just being dark. We wanted there to be some reason for some hope or something for people to learn from in the end,” Eisener said.
While WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley narrated the show’s pilot episode and enjoyed it, he didn’t feel comfortable continuing knowing how dark the series would get. All Elite Wrestling star Chris Jericho later became the narrator.
“I've had 30 years of experience doing this, so I know a lot of the stories and I know a lot of the guys involved so I can come at it more from than just kind of a James Earl Jones voice aspect," Jericho said. "It's almost coming from somebody who lived through it as well, and I think that kind of translates to the product on screen.”
The upcoming season will focus on subjects such as The Ultimate Warrior, Brian Pillman and the Collision in Korea, with commentary from those past and present in the business.
The flagship wrestling company, World Wrestling Entertainment, has no say in the series, allowing some with decades in the business to speak their unfiltered truth for the first time.
“Nobody has fished in these waters,” said longtime announcer Jim Ross. “And I hope that we get to do plenty more.”
Finding out who some of the biggest performers actually are means understanding their separate lives. The days of wrestlers being known as solely the persona in the ring are gone.
Austin Creed, known as Xavier Woods in WWE, created his “Up Up, Down Down” gaming channel where he and coworkers step away from their in-ring personalities. Countless other wrestlers have podcasts and go by their legal names on social media rather than their stage names.
It wasn’t long ago when wrestlers had to do everything they could to market their product.
“Because wrestling has existed in its own island, this island of misfits, your regular person doesn't give it the same credence they would in other forms of sports or entertainment because it exists in a gray area between the two,” Husney said.
The fact that wrestling exists in this area of not knowing whether to call it a sport leads to what wrestlers say are common misconceptions about their profession: They are dumb jocks performing fake moves. The matches may be predetermined, but not everyone can do it.
“You really make a kind of a deal with the devil when you commit your life to this,” said AEW star Jon Moxley, also known for his time in WWE as Dean Ambrose. "We're really risking our bodies through artwork.”
“You can be in front of 15,000 people and have them chanting your name and then you know, two hours later sitting alone in your room with nothing to do. You know, it can weigh heavy on your mind,” Jericho said.
In the past, performers had to live their character in and out of the ring to keep their mystique alive, which Husney said didn't allow them to feel or deal with real emotions . That, mixed with the amount of travel and pain, has significant psychological impacts on these performers, and it’s not limited to their careers. Many former wrestlers have filed lawsuits against WWE for failing to protect them from repeated head injuries that led to long-term brain damage.
“The abuse these guys are putting themselves through and have been for decades, they are risk takers on different levels,” said Diamond Dallas Page.
“The toughest thing for ex-wrestlers is to try to find something that makes them feel the way they did when they were in the ring, and you compound that often with damage that we've may have taken to the head. It makes depression a real problem among ex-wrestlers,” Foley said. “We don't get thought of as regularly as the bigger or more traditional sports.”
The way each of these concerns is addressed in "Dark Side of the Ring" is why these wrestlers think it’s good for the sport.
“Like I say, what happens outside of the ring sometimes is much more riveting than what happens inside the ring,” Jericho said.
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jord_mendoza.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Dark Side of the Ring' and its impact of professional wrestling