Dark Side of the Ring examines Moolah’s marred legacy

As engaging as wrestling can be, sometimes the stories from behind the scenes can be just as captivating. Viceland’s six-episode docu-series, “Dark Side of the Ring,” explores both sides of the business, focusing on the most controversial stories of the golden age. The final episode premiered last night, and it centered around the legacy of The Fabulous Moolah.

Moolah, real name Mary Lillian Ellison, has been an increasingly polarizing figure in women’s wrestling over the last few years. Producer Evan Husney, and director Jason Eisener, attempt to paint an unbiased picture of the wrestling legend in 44 minutes. The result will vary depending on how much you know about the subject going into it.

If you’ve seen a docu-series before, you’ll notice they use some of the same tools. It starts with an obligatory montage of Moolah’s life, which quickly shifts from praise to vitriol to set the premise.

First, the installment introduces the audience to Mary Austin, Ellison’s daughter, and only child. Then, we meet her trainee, Selina Majors, who wrestled as Bambi. Both women act as proponents for Moolah for most of the episode.

The first seven minutes or so does a good job of setting up the premise. There’s a glimpse into what made the WWE Hall of Famer a trailblazer. Then the series briefly mentions Mildred Burke and Billy Wolfe to establish Moolah’s need to set up a wrestling troop modeled after theirs.

This aspect deserved more screentime. There is so much history around their differing approaches, and how they change the industry.

However, they understandably needed to spend more time on what makes the subject so divisive. Starting with the backlash caused by the Fabulous Moolah Battle Royal, leadindg up to WrestleMania 34, was appropriate. It’s was recent so it was a good way to hook viewers who remember the announcement, and the eventual name change.

This transitioned into an introduction to the family of Sweet Georgia Brown. She was famously one of the first African American women wrestlers and Moolah’s student. Her son, Michael McCoy, and daughter, Barbara Harsey, helped to create a chilling depiction of their mother’s tragic story.

The scenes were effective. However, it felt like Moolah’s defenders attempted to make then-husband, Buddy Lee, the scapegoat.

Dark Side of the Ring
Credit: Viceland

Former wrestler, Princess Victoria’s accounts of Ellison’s ruthless and manipulative behavior were more incriminating. She portrayed her one-time trainer/booker as a cheat, who cut her career short. Her segments were the most heartbreaking and engrossing because Victoria gave such a compelling recount of her time working with Moolah.

Next, Wendi Richter discussed her feud, and real-life friction, with The Fabulous Moolah. It was a good way to drive home the way she influenced a new generation of wrestlers.

Notably, this act raises the question: Did Ellison’s ego stunt women’s wrestling when it was primed to become more popular than ever? It was also interesting to see how the issue of equal pay, which is still prevalent today, possibly halted Wendi’s momentum.

In the end, some of Moolah colleagues urged us to remember her as an icon. Even, Princess Victoria and Richter acknowledged her contributions to the business.

It was necessary to create an objective depiction, but the episode lacked a definitive stance on the matter. Maybe this chapter was meant to merely scratch the service, leaving the audience to draw their own conclusion. With this in mind, the series didn’t dissect any of the allegations well enough to give them more validity.

Otherwise, “Dark Side of the Ring” presented viewers with a fascinating look at the history of women’s wrestling. It’s worth a watch if you don’t know much about The Fabulous Moolah and the eras she was active in. If you’re a fan, you’ll enjoy some of the guests or famous wrestlers mentioned like Jim Cornette, Mae Young, and Leilani Kai.

There wasn’t enough a wrestling footage at times, but that was possible a rights issue. With that said, the shadowy reenactment scenes added a distinct aesthetic to the episode. It was a nice visual juxtaposition when presented alongside the bright and grainy footage from the original matches.

Overall, there’s a lot to like about “Dark Side of the Ring.” Even though it feels like it should be longer, there’s just enough there to pique interest in a complex subject like this. The series doesn’t answer many of the larger questions about The Fabulous Moolah’s legacy, but it well-crafted and entertaining, nonetheless.

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