The best wrestling shows make us feel like we're backstage with the larger than life performers, either in a drama or reality television.
Wrestling has been one of cable’s biggest genres since the start of TBS in the 80s, but shows about the great sport have been few and far between. In the last decade, reality shows, such as Miz and Mrs., and Rhodes to the Top, became more common, with scripted shows finally getting critical and audience acclaim. None of the WWE series exclusive to Peacock are listed here, or Ride Along, Swerved, and The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class would be on this list.
8. Total Divas – (2013 – 2019)
A reality series about female wrestlers, Total Divas is easy to overlook as being filler, but that would be dramatically underestimating the show’s impact on modern WWE. Turning the spotlight onto the women resulted in a massive hit for the E! network, and helped kickstart the “Women’s Revolution,” a grass-roots movement to get female superstars real matches that weren’t just bathroom breaks. While the Bella Twins were the breakout stars of the series, eventually getting their own spinoff, Total Bellas, every star that went in front of the cameras became a bigger deal afterward.
For a few seasons, while John Cena was dating Nikki Bella, the Fast and Furious star was a central part of Total Divas, from his bizarre house rules to his crazy diet. Even if it is a dramatized reality show, fans loved seeing a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making WWE a success, and the real personalities behind the larger then life characters.
7. WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures (2021 – Present)
Part of A&E’s new crop of wrestling-adjacent shows, WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures brings in legends of the sport to talk about their career, and bring on iconic memorabilia. The series features Ric Flair’s robe from the 1992 Royal Rumble, Roddy Piper’s bagpipes, Iron Shiek’s boots, and Mick Foley’s sock. Hosted by A.J. Francis, known better as WWE Superstar Top Dolla, it’s a breezy, fun way to experience wrestling’s past.
Some episodes have legit surprise inclusions, from Chyna’s sister sharing photos of Joanie growing up that had never been seen before to Lanny Poffo bringing some of the earliest footage of Macho Man Randy Savage from the ICW, almost a decade before he joined the WWE (WWF at the time).
6. Tough Enough (2001-2003, 2004, 2011, 2015)
The original WWE reality show, Tough Enough has gone through multiple incarnations, from the first MTV version that ended up bringing in Maven, The Miz, and John Morrison (AKA Johnny Nitro, Johnny Lucha, Johnny Elite…you get the pattern). Designed to show hopeful superstars as they learn what it takes to become a professional wrestler, the series was a smash hit during its original season, but diminishing returns and the fact that every winner was still a very green rookie cut it off from a long run.
Still, the series was a great look at what it takes to be a world-class athlete capable of giving a promo, developing a character, and throwing themself off the top rope onto another human being without killing anyone. WWE refined the formula with the 2015 season, bringing in Mandy Rose, Sonya Deville, Chelsea Green, and The Velveteen Dream (if not for his own demons, he’d be a world champion today.)
5. Hulk Hogan’s Rock’n’Wrestling (1985-1986)
A time capsule of Hulk Hogan’s rise to the top of WWE (then WWF), the mid-80s were when Wrestlemania became a household name, capturing the attention of the brand-new MTV generation thanks to stars like Cyndi Lauper and Muhammed Ali, which included a Saturday morning cartoon. Hulk Hogan’s Rock’n Wrestling featured the faces (good guys) led by Hogan against the heels (bad guys) under Roddy Piper, in the typical 80s cartoon plots, racing cars, dealing with diamond thieves, and the Iron Shiek trying to obtain a driver’s license.
Though it’s a fun throwback today that ended up influencing WWE’s Slam City, it’s still disappointing that the voices are all provided by professionals, including Brad Garret as Hogan, and James Avery as The Junkyard Dog. This is a shame, as trying to imagine Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka in a recording booth trying to get out his lines opposite “Mean” Gene Okerlund is a hysterical visual.
4. Heels (2021 – Present)
Stephen Amell made his name as Oliver Queen on Arrow, supporting a million-dollar franchise in the process, so when he decides his next project is going to be a love-letter to southern wrestling, no one’s going to stop him. Heels is a drama about a family-owned promotion in Georgia struggling to survive, with a pair of brothers, one a heel (Amell) and the other a baby face (Alexander Ludwig), on top of the company. Airing on Starz, the show is coming back this summer for a second season, picking up after the disastrous ladder match to end the first season.
“The Best In The World” CM Punk has a recurring role as Ricky Rabies, another heel wrestler, in a role that his detractors insist isn’t really acting, that’s just who he is. One of the rare shows with no connection to WWE, Heels is a must-watch for anyone that’s seen two performers giving it their all in a school gym before a rabid crowd of 50 people.
3. GLOW (2017-2019)
Amazingly based on a real story, GLOW was one of Netflix‘s hottest shows when it debuted in 2017, giving Alison Brie her first major leading role in the process. Following the rise of the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling (GLOW) in 1985, the series showed a very different side to the business than what the WWE was doing at the time. With all women, a tiny budget, and wild characters, the rise (and fall) of the renegade female promotion was hailed for shining a spotlight on an overlooked ground-breaking promotion.
Best of all, Kia Stevens, as Tamme Dawson, was immediately recognizable to wrestling fans as Awesome Kong, one of the best female wrestlers of the aughts with TNA. Other real WWE superstars that appeared include Carlito and Tyrus, John Morrison (credited as John Hennigan, sadly not Johnny GLOW), Alex Riley, and Chavo Guerrero Jr., scion of the legendary family that trained the actresses.
2. Young Rock (2021-2023)
A fictional sitcom following the life of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the first third-generation WWE superstar, Young Rock managed to hit most of the biggest parts of the company’s history in the process. From the Rock’n’Wrestling Connection to The Attitude Era of the late 90s, fans got to see current stars embody the legends of the past. From Colt Cabana as the Brooklyn Brawler, to Beck Lynch as Cyndi Lauper, and even Grayson Waller living out a fantasy by playing Ric Flair, WWE superstar cosplay has never been done on such a level ever before.
The show included references to performers that never get honored today, including Ken Shamrock and Bad News Allen, giving fans a reason to put up with the weak non-wrestling related plotlines. No amount of WWE nostalgia could save it though, as Young Rock was recently canceled by NBC after three seasons.
1. Dark Side Of The Ring (2019 – Present)
A documentary series that goes deep into some of the fascinating, dark, depressing, and sordid stories in wrestling, Dark Side of the Ring highlighted some of the most infamous non-WWE figures in history, including Nick Gage, New Jack, Herb Abrams, and Rob Black. Unafraid to take shots at the biggest promotion, Season 3 even included episodes on “The Plane Ride From Hell” and Vince McMahon’s steroid trial. The series, which aired on Vice, can be found on Tubi.
Dark Side of the Ring gets the principal players involved whenever possible, from the family of Bruiser Brody to Bart Gunn and Vince Russo, but the best episodes are of course, the strangest. The true story of WCW’s PPV in North Korea, the cocaine-fueled rise of the UWF, and the horrible history of The Fabulous Moolah, a female wrestler responsible for stopping women wrestling from growing in North America, are some of the best episodes of the must-watch series. Other episodes, such as Grizzly Smith (father of Jake “The Snake” Roberts) and the death of Chris Benoit, are so depressing, that they should be viewed only once.