There’s never been a better time to be a grapple fan. Gone are the days when the sport was confined to Sunday afternoon TV and worshipped by grannies who were surprisingly vociferous in their enjoyment. Now the slams and shenanigans have turned into something closer to pure entertainment, a spectacle hyped to the max all for the benefit of the audience. So the stars have to be a lot more than fighters: charisma and stage presence are just as essential.
Which makes wrestling tailor made for the screen, big and small. TV’s Glow, which follows a group of women wrestlers, is set for a third series, while this week sees the arrival in cinemas of Fighting With My Family, based on the true story of a Norwich-based wrestler with WWE ambitions. And inevitably wrestlers often take the leap from the big ring to the big screen, most recently Ronda Rousey, WWE’s biggest new star who actually originates from the world of IFC. So far her screen credits include the likes of Fast and Furious 7, The Expendables 3, and, more recently, Mile 22.
Here are some of the other big-name wrestlers who have made the jump to the silver screen.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
They don’t come much bigger than The Rock – for box office appeal, paychecks and sheer personality – and he also puts in an appearance or two in Fighting With My Family, as well as being an executive producer, which will no doubt help with the film’s appeal on the other side of The Pond. Such is the power of his name. But it wasn’t always like that. His acting career got off to a shaky start, with the likes of The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King. But that’s all behind him and he’s worked hard to become the guy, with a range that runs from Fast And Furious to the upcoming Jungle Cruise. His singing voice isn’t too shabby either, as we all discovered in Moana. Versatility is the name of the game and he’s got it in spades. No wonder he’s one of the highest-grossing actors ever.
All-American Cena always looked destined for an acting career and that’s how it turned out. Like The Rock, he got off to a bumpy start, opting for action movies like The Marine and 12 Rounds. They weren’t great, but a decision to re-invent himself as a comedy actor has proved to be a goldmine. Appearances in Trainwreck and Sisters showed off his comic timing to full advantage, and a nice line in self-deprecating humour didn’t do him any harm either. He’s since moved on to voicing the title role in animation Ferdinand, played to his strengths, ie getting the laughs, as the soldier flummoxed by Bumblebee and makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in Fighting With My Family. It’s back to all-action roles for his next few movies, but hopefully they won’t be devoid of laughs. It’s what he does best.
Cena’s one-time rival for the WWE Championship, Bautista first put his toe in cinematic waters with films including The House Of The Rising Sun and Riddick. His return to the ring after several years lasted only a few months because of a little film called Guardians Of The Galaxy. Nobody was expecting much from it, but the outcome was the surprise hit of the year. You could describe Bautista’s acting career in much the same way. A Jaws-style villain in Spectre, a replicant in Blade Runner 2049 plus more appearances as Drax, he’s proved he’s more than just a bruiser. He’s even ventured into low budget movies, such as Bushwick and Final Score – not big hitters at the box office, nor his finest hours, but they show he’s not afraid to stretch himself as an actor. Unsurprisingly, he’s now joined the ever-growing cast of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune.
Lenny who? Cast your mind back to Francis Ford Coppola’s legendary The Godfather and the menacing hit man, Luca Brasi. Vito Corleone’s bodyguard and all-round enforcer who met a brutal end was Montana’s most memorable turn. Before that, he’d had a long wrestling career, going by various names such as Chief Chewacki and The Zebra Kid. His huge build and dark eyes made him the perfect choice for a character looming silently in the background, exuding menace. And it helped him carve out a career on TV and in films, including Steve Martin’s The Jerk, but he was only ever remembered for one role.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
Not the most obvious choice to make the leap from the ring to acting, Austin managed to translate his wrestling character to the big screen with more than a little success. Doling out justice and vengeance in ass-kicking, Texan style is his trademark, playing villains in the likes of The Expendables and even headlining B- movie offerings like The Condemned and Damage showed that he and his icy stare were surprisingly at home in the movie world. He even tried his hand at comedy alongside Adam Sandler in Grown Ups 2 and, while he now concentrates on a wrestling podcast and other ventures, his acting career was better than anybody could ever have predicted.
Fighting With My Family is released in cinemas on Wednesday, 27 February.