“'Wrestlers' tells the story of passion. The passion that it takes to pursue your dreams," Snow tells PEOPLE about the new seven-episode docuseries
For decades, professional wrestling has often been met with one crippling caveat: “...but it’s fake, right?”
In the new Netflix series Wrestlers, streaming now, the showrunners and performers behind the scrappy Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) lean into the condescending critique and willingly pull back the curtain on the reality behind one of society’s most surreal art forms.
“The business has always been the idea of us trying to create this illusion of reality,” Al Snow, the 60-year-old retired WWE wrestler who’s now running the ship at OVW in Louisville, Kentucky, tells PEOPLE. “It’s always been close to the chest and private, so we had some reservations about the series. But by showing so much backstage and being so open, and allowing fans to see the actual people and the challenges they face, it was my hope that they’d get a new appreciation for them. And hopefully, we’d expand the audience for wrestling as a whole, not just OVW.”
Snow, whose real name is Allen Sarven, is adamant that OVW is its own platform – one that’s found success as one of the longest-running televised wrestling shows in the United States, first airing in 1998. But it’s also a “launching pad” for pro wrestlers looking to make a splash in the business, he says.
In the world of pro wrestling, WWE sits alone at the top as the most recognizable brand, longtime wrestling writer David Shoemaker explains in the Netflix series’ first episode. Then outside of WWE, there are a number of low-budget or hyper-local promotions often seen as stepping stones to get to the big leagues of WWE.
Major wrestling stars like John Cena, Dave Bautista, Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, Cody Rhodes and more have all passed through OVW in the early days of their careers, and Wrestlers showcases the daily struggles most wrestlers at that point in their careers face while chasing their dreams and trying to balance their lives beyond the ropes. More than any docuseries before, Wrestlers highlights the stark contrast between life inside and outside the ring.
The series follows Snow, who made his name in WWE in the late 1990s era of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, as he tries to keep OVW’s doors open while doing his best to not sacrifice its presentation. Cameras follow Snow as he hashes out the show’s weekly script, puts out fires between performers backstage, and tries to navigate often insensible input from two outside investors who constantly challenge him to switch things up in order to turn a profit.
Simultaneously, viewers follow the zany cast of wrestlers Snow is so determined to help grow. These include the young “HollyHood Haley J,” an unapologetic troublemaker whose loudmouth gets a rise out of fans as much as it gets her in trouble backstage, as well as grizzled veterans like “Ca$hFlo,” an aging individual with a religious devotion to wrestling.
“Wrestling’s very easy to mock, especially on this level,” Matt Jones, one of OVW’s co-owners says, according to Netflix. “But I think one of the reasons these folks do it is that when they walk through that curtain, whether there’s 150 people in here or 400 people in here, for those moments, every single person in here is going to be watching that individual. For that moment, those people matter. And all human beings just want to matter, right? You just want to matter. They matter. And I hope people see what I think is the beauty in that.”
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Throughout the seven-episode series, the in-ring performers are sometimes interviewed at their day job at Holiday Inn or sitting in their beater of a car – subtle reminders of the long climb superstars like Cena, Bautista, and others have made in their careers.
“Wrestlers tells the story of passion,” Snow says. “The passion that it takes to pursue your dreams.”
And above all, the series gives viewers a glimpse into the real-life of an upstart pro wrestler.
“It’s an art form,” Snow says. “And I hope at the end of the day, people gain an appreciation and respect for what I think has been the most maligned section of entertainment.”
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