Knockout: The Other Side of the Ring (2021)-Reviewed

The wrestling industry has always had a “woman” problem. That is to say, the wrestling industry, until very recently, hasn’t always treated the women in the sport as equal to the men. As it’s grown and evolved over a century, women in wrestling have always been depicted as less than. Whether it was the constant objectification in match stipulations like “Bra and Panties” wherein the combatants strip each other down or being given a two minute match on a three hour show, women wrestlers were forced to simply make the best of their terrible placement in the hierarchy. 

Over the last few years, a groundswell to give the women more time and better storylines began with WWE fans and the women themselves speaking out via Twitter. Dubbed “#GiveWomenAChance”, the movement was deafening and  led to the women finally being given their due. From their own pay-per-view, to expanded roles to eventually major stars Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey main-evening Wrestlemania, the biggest show of the year, the women in WWE were getting their moment. 

While all of that is objectively a net good, WWE is, as usual, was behind the times. Many corners of indie wrestling have long put an emphasis on women’s wrestling. Companies like Shimmer and Women of Wrestling have spent the better part of a decade and more highlighting hundreds of talented women.  Where the major companies were failing, these places were havens for a side of the sport that was just as good, and often better than their male counterparts. 

Seeking to tell this story while highlighting some of the women involved is new documentary The Other Side of the Ring from director Jeremy Norrie. Focusing on four women: Katarina Waters, Shelly Martinez, Delilah Doom and Geta Rush, the doc allows the women to share their stories and in doing so provides a little bit of a history for women’s wrestling in the process. It’s a needed piece in a much larger landscape. 

As a film, unfortunately, it’s not particularly interesting visually and never really escapes its PowerPoint-like presentation. Structurally, it doesn’t fare much better. As a beginner-level entry point for either new fans or fans who only watch WWE, it’s a decent primer for the wonderful world of indie wrestling. More seasoned fans may struggle a bit because the film spends a lot of time telling you things you already know. 

This experience is rather frustrating as it spins its wheels repeating itself over and over again. You get the sense that this could have functioned better as a podcast (something I’m extremely reticent to ever say) because there’s really not much here to draw the eye when they begin to glaze over. Film is a visual medium and documentaries aren’t exempt from that. No one is asking for stunning camerawork or a third act plot twist but something to break up the monotony would be appreciated. 

Light on budget and acting more as a slideshow with intermittent talking heads, the doc finds its footing by letting the women talk. Despite the repetition, you’re won over fairly quickly by all four wrestlers and their strong personalities. Two act as well traveled, jaded vets (Waters and Martinez) while the other pair are newer faces, still finding their way in the indie scene (Doom and Rush). Doom, for her part, has been wrestling for almost a decade but the nature of the business being what it is, still hasn’t had a major break. 

Waters, who fans may remember as Katie Lea Burchill from her brief stint in WWE, and Martinez provide some excellent insight into an industry that’s given them major ups and downs. Both hold nothing back when speaking on disappointments but are never bitter. Their candor makes for terrific storytelling and offers an honesty around a business that isn’t always up front. If you’re a longtime fan you’re likely aware of how poorly Impact (formally Total Nonstop Action) and WWE handled Martinez’s career so it’s nice to see that she’s landed on her feet and is in a good place. Geta Rush’s optimism and embracing of her status as superhero of sorts gives the film a much needed jolt. She loves the competition and inspiring children. It’s a wonderful dichotomy against a more cynical side of the business can often instill in its stars. 

The film’s star, however, is Delilah Doom. Funny, exciting and ball of energy, she’s effortlessly engaging any time she’s onscreen. Her presence ultimately makes the whole endeavor worth it because she, more than anyone else, embodies the current spirit of indie wrestling. Giving the viewer context into the many different organizations and connections to the current product in the big leagues, Doom is a joy to watch. Her character is an 80s inspired fitness guru and based on her real life personality, you can absolutely see how she’s gotten over with the fans. Just an eminently watchable star. 

While The Other Side of the Ring isn’t offering up anything too exciting or even torrid for those hoping for a tell all, it’s a breezy watch filled with insight and anecdotes. It’s only the tip of the iceberg as far as women’s wrestling and the forces that have held it back for so long goes but as a starting point, you could do worse. If nothing else, it provides die hards a chance to catch up with old faces and introduces them to new ones while offering new fans a brief crash course. You’ll be in and out about as quickly as your typical Bill Goldberg match but you might learn a thing or two along the way. Watch it for Delilah Doom. I suspect we’ll be hearing her name over and over again in the years to come. 

-Brandon Streussnig