A lifelong fan of professional wrestling, Koriander takes a look at the lighter side of the squared circle.
A Parallel Universe WCW?
An initial box office bomb which only made back $12.5 million of its $24 million dollar budget, Ready to Rumble has been panned by critics and jaded wrestling fans for decades. The hate from the public for this film has been so heavy that some of the actors from the film have suffered depression and a reduced number of film roles. Even some of the real life professional wrestlers from the film won't even mention being in the film just to avoid the merciless and unrelenting taunting and teasing from biased fans.
But is any of this hate necessary or even justifiable?
Sure, the sexist jokes about the Nitro Girls fell flat even during the era when sexual harassment and kink shaming was all the rage on MTV during this era of depravity, and there are a few gross and silly moments here and there, but that doesn't mean it's ever been acceptable to harass the actors over those segments, especially to the extreme actors such as David Arquette have had to endure since the film and the "sequel" match just 18 days after the box office release, in which he won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship.
What's more is that since the end of the WCW on March 26, 2001, the film has found itself on multiple television stations and off and on streaming services, and it's considered to be a summertime guilty pleasure movie for those nostalgic about the Y2K wrestling scene.
But what makes this exiled Warner Brothers release so captivating as to lend it a second chance for today's wrestling and comedy movie fans?
Well for starters, this movie takes place in an alternate universe WCW.
The main complaint from jilted WCW fans is that the film bares little to no resemblance to real life events that happened in WCW during this time period, but that may have been on purpose.
While no press release has ever stated this outright, the film seems to exist in a floating, completely parallel universe to WCW in the summer of 2000. You can tell just by looking at how the feature is presented:
- Hulk Hogan is long retired. Aside from an old photo of him at the start of the film and a few random crowd shots of people wearing his merchandise, Hulk Hogan is nowhere to be seen. As far as this film is concerned, he retired off screen.
- There is no Eric Bischoff. While this is due to his brief firing from the WCW during production, the film curiously centers around characters from Cody and Lusk, Wyoming, with Bischoff having lived in Cody in real life. In his place is fictional character Titus Sinclair, who curiously looks like an alternate, older, evil version of WWE Superstar Shawn Michaels.
- There is no Vince Russo.
- The fictional Jimmy King is a top tier star, with a gothic king gimmick that curiously resembles a negative image photo of WWE's Jerry "The King" Lawler.
- The WCW is highly profitable with expensive shows planned for years to come, a sad parallel to the real company, which was hemorrhaging money by the time of the film's nationwide release.
- Diamond Dallas Page is a heel. While DDP had been a heel off and on during his early days (he certainly returned to being a villain when he debuted in the WWE the following year), at the time this film was released, he was one of WCW's top babyfaces with a whole line of action figures, dolls, and shirts aimed at children.
- A fictional girl, Sasha, is a long time Nitro Girl. While the Nitro Girls did employ new members when the film went into pre-production, Sasha was not used on WCW Nitro as one of them, and by the time the film debuted, the Nitro Girls were being quietly faded out one by one.
But there's one more little alternate universe quirk that makes this film worthy of a secondary viewing.
Prototypes of the Future
During the scene where Jimmy King tries—and fails—to recruit Bill Goldberg to his rag-tag team, Goldberg is working out right in front of UPW's Prototype.
Or as you may know him today, John Cena.
While he was finishing his training to become a professional wrestler, Cena, who was working at Ultimate Pro Wrestling at the time, appears to be quietly watching the former WCW champion during a workout.
Ready to Rumble hit theaters on April 7, 2000, and just 20 days later on April 27, Cena would win the Ultimate Pro Wrestling Heavyweight Championship from Smelly, holding it until May 24th. Then on October 10th, he would receive his first of three tryouts for the WWE (then WWF), which led to him signing a contract with the WWE the following year in 2001. He would spend the next year as part of Ohio Valley Wrestling's developmental program before officially joining the Smackdown roster for good in June of 2002, just two years and two months after his cameo in Ready to Rumble.
But Cena isn't the only household name easy to spot in the film. Keen eyes during the opening matches of the film and the backstage and party segments just might be able to spot a few stars still on modern wrestling television.
Booker T appears in many scenes just three months before winning his first of five WCW World Heavyweight Championships. He would then go on to win titles in TNA/Impact and in the WWE.
An unmasked Rey Mysterio is easy to spot early in the film, as are Impact's Glenn Gilbertti. It goes without saying that many future AEW stars appear, such as Sting, Konnan, and Tony Schiavone.
The Heart of Wrestling
At the core of Ready to Rumble, in the midst of its slapstick moments, it's risque, sophomoric humor, and its violent scenes, is its heart.
Wrestling fans Gordie and Sean aren't here for the fame and glory in this movie, although they are rewarded with such towards the end of the film.
They're only here to save their favorite wrestler from becoming a sad statistic.
A year prior to the release of this film was the documentary Beyond The Mat, which followed the trials and tribulations of the ECW, WWE, and of AEW's Jake "The Snake" Roberts. Large portions of the film exploited Jake's problems with addiction and his home life. This was a film that forced wrestling fans and the wrestling community on a whole to focus on the dark side of the ring.
In the wake of this, Ready to Rumble follows Gordie and Sean on a mission to rescue their childhood hero Jimmy King, himself addicted to alcohol and having dabbled in other, unsavory vices.
They don't want his money, they just want him to get clean, get healthy, and then get back in the ring and resume his dream, and they are willing to do this at the cost of their regular lives.
Through friendship and tough love, they transform Jimmy King from being an unemployed alcoholic deadbeat to a respected and beloved champion, and in return, they both find the men they are meant to be.
Considering how many dark stories swirl around in wrestling filmography, it's nice to find a film with so much heart disguised as a frat comedy.
With how cynical the world today has become, it's no wonder this Y2K romp finds itself on television every summer.
© 2021 Koriander Bullard