“This is Wrestling: The Joey Ryan Documentary” is not “another” wrestling documentary. It’s a heartfelt portrait of a character or a man. In following Joey Ryan, James Agiesta is offering an ode to wrestling, its traditions and history, the respect he creates between competitors and fans, and a plea for equality between genders in this art wrestling is.
SteelChair Mag was privileged to have the European exclusivity on the review of his documentary, but it wasn’t enough. We were honoured to share a candid and generous chat with “This is Wrestling: The Joey Ryan Documentary” director James Agiesta and Joey Ryan himself. It was midnight in Paris, but time stopped in that Nygma night…
James, why did you choose to do a documentary about wrestling?
James Agiesta: “I always wanted to do a project on the wrestling world. I’ve kind of always worn my fanship on my sleeve, as it were. I work in television, I produce television shows here in the United States and I was always used to get questions like, “if you love wrestling so much and you work in TV, why don’t you work for WWE?” I know some people who worked there and I’ve heard burying stories and then, on top of that, like I enjoy wrestling so much, I wouldn’t want to risk working there and maybe getting a sour taste in my mouth after the fact. So I just kind of decided I really wanted to step into this world of independent wrestling because I felt like there are a lot of great stories to tell there, and Joey’s in particular really stood out. It kind of just came from there, my love for wrestling and wanting to do a project and kind of just deciding who I was going to pick up and do it on my own.”
Joey, what was your reaction when James came to you with his project?
Joey Ryan: “I had lunch with James and it sounded great. Of course, I hear a lot of things in wrestling, a lot of pitches and a lot of different ideas that never really happen. But James was decided to take on the task, it wasn’t going to hinder my wrestling at all, he was just going to follow me around and shadow me and do it all himself. It was just about me being me.”
Did you put yourself some limits right from the beginning, subjects you would not be talking about?
Joey Ryan: “Everything was pretty open. We didn’t want to hide anything. We didn’t want any issues that might come up.”
James Agiesta: “From the filmmaker standpoint, I mean Joey was fantastic in that regard. There was never a moment where he was like ‘hey, let’s not shoot this’ or ‘let’s not cover this.’ Joey is a complete open book in this story and I’m very appreciative of that. In this instance, absolutely nothing was off the table.”
Joey, you say in the documentary you’re an anti-tradition guy. Honestly, the guy I saw in this documentary is probably one of the most traditional men in this business, on the way you care, on the way you are committed to your character and make people happy.
Joey Ryan: “Some of the things that I execute in wrestling are very non-traditional, they push the balance and the limits of professional wrestling but, since that, professional wrestling is storytelling or an art form. And I am very much traditional in that sense where I want everything to be in something and I want everything that values to the guys. So, in that sense, I’m very traditional but maybe some of the things I execute in the ring are not traditional.”
James Agiesta: “I do think, in the world of professional wrestling, there are some that would believe Joey is kind out of the norm and other people would love it. Some people aren’t into it. I think what you said is a part of that, this storytelling experience was kind of showing as Joey does
subscribe to a lot of the traditions of professional wrestling and, at his core, his character and what he does for the fans absolutely are a very traditional path. I’m happy you picked up on that kind of part of the story.”
Joey and I are the same age, so we grew up watching the same wrestlers that he was watching, and ECW. I come from a world where wrestlers were characters, it was a world of make-believe. Then ECW came and broke all the norms. We can easily ask ourselves what is the norm now.
Joey Ryan: ” Because I know how emotionally connected I was to the wrestlers that I look up to and I kind of to perform similar to them, I want people to be that emotionally connected to me. I’m trying to emulate what they did.”
Like you’re both stating in the documentary, people need to create controversy from something that is absolutely not controversial.
Joey Ryan: “Wrestling is successful when it becomes risky or a little bit controversial. I mean the idea itself of wrestling is a fight. This fight or this wrestling move can be controversial in itself. You don’t want wrestling to seem like normal, you want everything about it to seem larger than life.”
The intergender wrestling side of what Joey does is seen by many people as controversial but, in the documentary, it is not shown as something that bad. James, you show a very good side of it in in the way Candice (LeRae) and Joey are teaming and feuding.
James Agiesta: “That’s a big part of Joey’s story. When you hear Candice talk about him and his influence in intergender wrestling, I think that helps hammer home kind of a bigger part of Joey story than just the dick flip or even the time he spent in TNA. Joey was obviously so open to doing it, supporting the female wrestlers and helping them come up. Getting Candice into PWG is really, in this era of wrestling, a huge deal that I don’t think a lot of people understand how influential that ended up being, to really grow up on the independent scene. Now you even see some not quite intergender stuff on WWE programming but at least some mixed matches, as they call it. I think it’s Joey’s impact that is helping to possibly launch this whole new intergender wrestling into a new level of exposure and that was frankly wonderful to see it as we were kind of putting this project together.”
Joey Ryan: “I think intergender wrestling seems controversial to the wrestling fan because I think the mainstream audience sees wrestling as entertainment. In movies or on TV, you have a lot of strong female characters that fight their own battles. The mainstream audience doesn’t think of equating wrestling with domestic violence. It’s only something when the wrestling fan starts overanalyzing wrestling and they start finding things that are things that can be controversial, even if there aren’t controversial, because they are dissecting wrestling with a magnifying glass. Intergender wrestling is creating more heroes, more villains, more stories, which is good for the business.
Is Joey Ryan a good guy or a bad guy?
Joey Ryan: “I don’t always act like a good guy but, sometimes, the audience treats me like a good guy, so it’s a good place to be in because people are connected to the character.”
Was it important for you to create Bar Wrestling, your own promotion?
Joey Ryan: “In the industry, the more is the better. With Bar Wrestling, I wanted to create an environment where you don’t have to necessarily come to every show and you don’t have to follow the storylines. You can just come, relax and have a good time. The show starts, it ends and usually there’s no carry over to the next one. That was important to me because I do a lot of shows where there are a lot of storylines and a lot of characters. In the indies, there’s no TV, you can’t follow it, you can’t watch or DVR it. So I just wanted to create a show where the show begins and ends that same night.”
The list of wrestlers in the end credits is just impressive. Do you realize the extraordinary career that you’ve had because you probably wrestled everybody in this business? James, do you also realize that Joey was that important in this business?
James Agiesta: “I think it was really eye-opening as we kind of went down a journey. We filmed it over the course of two years, we travelled all over Europe and the United States. In getting to know Joey’s story, you know more about his past and his presence, the amount of amazingly talented people that he’s come across. What I always found impressive was, in a lot of the locker rooms, before matches, during shows, lot of folks would come to Joey for guidance, advice. I think that speaks volumes to his level of talent and the amount of respect he has in the industry, that so many times people bounce ideas off him. It was really eye-opening and I definitely did my best to not get super excited around wrestlers that I was a big fan of. I tried to keep an even keel as a filmmaker but they were definitely moments where, internally, I was pretty ecstatic being around so many talented people, including Joey obviously.”
Joey Ryan: “The best thing about the documentary is James doesn’t really make his presence known. I think it’s more genuine. I think the way people are talking in conversation on the documentary is genuine because it was almost like James was one of them, with the camera. Nobody had to stop being themselves.”
James Agiesta: “I just did my best to blend in and fall away.”
We talked about Candice but you really are someone who is doing everything he can for women equality in the business.
Joey Ryan: “I mean it’s definitely something I’ve lived by my whole life, whether it’s in wrestling or in any other part of the world. Not only in intergender but sexuality or race, I try to treat everyone as equals and I try to promote everyone as equals. The more I got into wrestling, I noticed a lot of the promotions didn’t treat female wrestlers equally and a lot of them got misused or mishandled. Especially seeing it with Candice and seeing her struggles, it really opened my eyes on stuff that needed to be said in wrestling.”
James, was it your goal to go behind the character and unveil a completely different Joey, in the sense of a true gentleman and a real wrestling fan?
James Agiesta: “I really wanted to make a wrestling documentary that was unlike any other wrestling documentary out there. I did a lot of research, watching tons and tons of documentaries, everything I could get my hands on. A lot of wrestling documentaries have a kind of a dark tone or a ‘rise and fall’ to it. In getting to know Joey, he’s just a different kind of guy, like he’s got a unique path. A lot of people outside of just knowing what WWE is has no idea that this world exists. The goal was just to present a wrestling documentary that just had a completely different feel and I hope we accomplished that. We wanted this to be strictly Joey’s character, indirectly this kind of the story of this new golden age of independent wrestling and intergender wrestling. So we kind of made that choice of not going down that road of sitting down with family and the whole life and home life.”
Joey Ryan: “To me, the documentary isn’t special because it’s just my story, who I am, so it’s kind of boring to me because it’s my own life I live every single day and I see every single day. But to hear some reviews people have given so far, including yours, I thought it was because of the character, and I care about a lot. That is kind of cool that now my personality is also getting to shine a little bit more here.”
With Mick Foley, Tommy Dreamer, X-Pac and Cody, we can see and hear three different generations of wrestlers acknowledging what you are doing.
Joey Ryan: “Having the respect of my peers, not only people I grew up admiring, it’s really cool. Everybody was so willing to give their honest take on me or take on my wrestling. Like James said earlier, it’s kind of a testament to the reputation I’ve built in wrestling. Those guys want to help out, those guys do respect me, that feels very good to me.”
James Agiesta: “I jumped on trees, mostly in terms of Mick Foley. I’m originally from Long Island, he’s from Long Island. He’s always been one of my favourite wrestlers because I’ve probably watched hundreds of his matches in my lifetime. Getting to meet with him and work with him and have him be supportive of the project and kind of emphasize that respect level for Joey was really a thrill to me.”
Do you think ‘All In’ changed something and gave you more credibility?
Joey Ryan: “All In proved the wrestling audience was ready for something that was not WWE and, on an even deeper note, that independent wrestling does have a huge following and it does reach a lot of people. I think that’s a lot to do with social media now and a lot of people being able to access the footage instantly. All In kind of was an accumulation of all those things happening at the same time.
This documentary sounds like a tribute to your character. You’re currently doing a farewell tour. Will a page be turned very soon? Is something about to change for Joey Ryan?
Joey Ryan: “The documentary is a nice tribute to the character, whether the character stays or goes away. As far as what the future is going to hold, I can’t really plan for that stuff because a lot of that has happened to me and a lot of doors that have opened just because I wasn’t planning for them. If I have a certain goal in mind or a certain destination in mind, I might miss other opportunities that are coming my way too because I’m too focused on one goal, so I just try to stay open. I really couldn’t predict the future. I’ve had a lot of support over the years from fans, I don’t want to disappoint them, but I think they also believe in me to do, wherever I go. The doors are still open for Joey Ryan to exist, whether in WWE, AEW or wherever I’m rumoured to go.”
What was your reaction when you saw the final version of the documentary?
Joey Ryan: “I think it was really well done. We’ve got a lot of footage, so it must have taken a long time to piece together what they wanted to put in or what James and Katie wanted to put it. The fact that it comes out and tells such a complete story that is easy to follow, you don’t even feel like an hour long. I thought that was really cool that they were able to bring that story to life.”
James Agiesta: “We were admittedly nervous showing it to him for the first time because you never know how someone’s going to react when they see their story being told. We sat down with him, watched it and he genuinely seemed to like it. As filmmakers, we went through a lot of different versions as we started putting it together in terms of what goes where and how do we tell this story. We’re very pleased with how it ended up, we’re very proud of it.”
@FrenchNygma wants to thank Joey Ryan, Katy Dierks and James Agiesta for their kindness and trust in this project. Very Nygma thanks to Mr. Deathman for his unconditional support…
All pics, screencaps and videos courtesy of James Agiesta, Katy Dierks, and Joey Ryan.