A few weeks into January and a pattern has emerged. Each and every week without a major wrestling event, the co-hosts of the At Odds with Wrestling podcast assign each other some classic wrestling to watch and discuss the following week. This year appears to have a two themes, and one of them looks to be wrestling related movies. This year we watch this film produced by the Rock and WWE Films, a look at Paige’s life, Fighting with My Family.
Coincidentally, back on Christmas or Thanksgiving my uncle asked me if I had watched this movie. He has a wall of physical media, plus tons to stream, and probably watches at least one movie every night if not two or three. He was shocked that I had not watched a wrestling connected movie that he had. I decided to not point out that I’m sure the only reason he watched this movie is because he was most likely having a Florence Pugh marathon. Again, showing my ignorance, I think the only reason I am familiar with Pugh is thanks to her work in Black Widow and Hawkeye (“Kate Bi-shop”). All the stars aligned to give me a reason to finally sit down and watch this film.
And it’s a really good movie. I mean, not life changing or should have won every Oscar good. But for a WWE movie it is without a doubt the best one they’ve had any connection with. The wrestling is secondary, the story of the family comes first. Also, while there are wrestlers that make appearances in the movie it is not an excuse for wrestlers to act (and get a SAG card which entitles them to much needed insurance that WWE does not provide). The family is portrayed by actual actors who put their all into their roles and take what could have been a phoned in Lifetime level movie and turns it into something well worth the time and money to experience.
Now I’ll often break down the homework in way too much detail, as my magnum opus on Ready to Rumble weeks ago proves. However, I heard so much good about this movie I wanted to just sit down to watch and not worry about constantly taking notes. So if something is missing or out of order, forgive me for enjoying myself.
The movie is about Saraya Knight, who we knew most well as Paige in WWE. She’s a young girl, just at adulthood, and figuring out what is next in life. A life that’s a bit different than the ordinary.
Saraya and her brother Zak wrestle for their father’s local independent wrestling company. Their mother was a wrestler, and actually named Saraya after her character. Later this becomes a bit of an issue for Saraya as she isn’t sure what her wrestling name should be. I wouldn’t say the family is blue collar, I would say they’re no collar. Sleeveless shirts or shirtless grinding away at this dream of running a successful wrestling company and every day wondering if today is the day to go back to shitty jobs. Or crime. Crime was an option in the past and keeps popping up as a half joke for the future.
While the parents may be struggling Zak and Saraya are slowly becoming pillars of strength for the youth. They drive around and pick up the other kids to go to wrestling school. When the other options are crime and drugs it gives an outlet and a sense of community where there is none.
Zak gets his girlfriend pregnant and the Knight family decides to have her parents over for a getting to know you dinner. The Knights show off their ways and we get some family history. It’s all very funny but Saraya and Zak also have a look of realization in which they wonder if they’re trash. With perfect timing tonight is also the night that the WWE calls. They have received Saraya and Zak’s promo tapes and are extending an invite to try out at the next show in England.
Try out day is upon us and the Knight siblings run into the Rock backstage. They keep bothering him and Rock cuts a promo on them then immediately turns it off. Rock wishes them well and it’s time to go train with Vince Vaughn. Hutch Morgan (Vaughn) is the WWE representative who scouts new talent and helps them along. I think the closest example especially for this time frame is probably William Regal. There’s plenty of jokes along the way because some of these prospective wrestlers clearly have no shot. Everyone tries out and Morgan says he will read off a list of those who will get a chance to go to NXT to train. Saraya is the only one moving on. Her brother pretends to be excited for her but clearly his heart is broken. Saraya tells Morgan she’s not going without her brother. Hutch gives her ten seconds to take that back and she caves right at 9. It’s a fine line between supporting someone else’s dreams and sacrificing your own.
The story splits into two tales. Zak is spiraling downward in his depression. He keeps sending tapes to Morgan. He’s distancing himself away from his girlfriend and newborn. He’s ignoring the kids. He’s getting into fights. His dream died and he doesn’t know what to do so he drags every other part of his life down.
Meanwhile, Saraya is feeling out of place in NXT. She’s surrounded by these beautiful women and feels like while she’s not as pretty she can at least out wrestle them. However she learns that these women have zero wrestling skill and were hired for other reasons. She has a chip on her shoulder and is now viewing every other woman as the enemy. She gets accidentally hit in a match and shoots back. Morgan dresses her down in front of everyone for this. Saraya starts to become depressed and does everything she can think of to be like everyone else instead of being herself. Hair dye, tanning, clothing change. But also extremely confrontational towards the other women. I guess when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail. Or, for the parts not shown in this film, when all you want is to get hammered everything looks like a rail.
Saraya is at what she thinks is her lowest point during the last NXT training before a Christmas break. She’s dead last among the women. She doesn’t give up, but she doesn’t get back up. She goes home for Christmas and wrestles a match for her parents. Now, I find myself wondering if this is a thing WWE would allow but it doesn’t matter. The point is to further the plot with this match. Saraya tells her brother that she’s going to quit and he has now reached his lowest point. Here he is spiraling downward because he didn’t get the same opportunity she did and now she’s giving it up. Zak snaps and decides to shoot on Saraya during their match. Their parents see what’s happening, and so does Saraya but the options are limited. It’s family, there’s a crowd, and she needs to keep herself safe. Zak pins his sister and celebrates his victory to the boos and disgust of everyone.
Backstage Saraya confronts her brother and he tells the whole family she’s a quitter. He leaves. Saraya ends up back home crying in her room. Sometime later we learn that Zak never came home. I’m fully expecting him to be dead. No, he’s at a local bar starting fights because he’s not quite at his personal bottom yet.
Zak and Saraya pull themselves together over the next couple days. What was missing most was each other. They both needed someone to support them because they could no longer support themselves. Saraya reminds Zak that while he might not be TV famous, he’s famous in their town and these kids need him. He can’t be an icon but he can make a difference in a lot of lives. Zak reminds Saraya that she was hired because she’s different so stop trying to look and act like everyone else.
Zak starts training the kids again and being a better father and husband (or boyfriend, I don’t know if they’re married by now or not). Saraya comes back to NXT with her punk rock look and tells Morgan she’s not quitting and she’s all in. She apologizes and starts to work with the other women. She trains harder than she did before. She’s no longer thinking that she knows everything just because she was a local star. Morgan looks to be impressed, and happy that Saraya finally found that it factor that he knew was in there.
The women have a well received tag match and Morgan announces that everyone still here will be going to WrestleMania. The movie really does a great job of showing how big Mania is, and I swear from certain angles it was like a million seat arena. Saraya and the girls are in catering. There’s a silly bit with Big Show and Sheamus. Again, not a whole lot of shoehorned in wrestling cameos in the movie. Morgan wants Saraya to come with him. She’s confused and fearing the worse. Saraya is led to a private room, one of those expensive boxes for rich people to watch sporting events, and a moment later the Rock comes in. Rock asks her to call her parents and tells them and Saraya that she will debut on WWE Monday Night Raw tomorrow night, and she will face the Divas champion. Everyone is blown away and excited. Rock says he saw something in Saraya way back during her try out and he’s been keeping an eye on her ever since.
Now, the movie has to be a movie and there’s only so much time. But we as wrestling fans see a big gap here. Nothing about her career in NXT. Winning the NXT Women’s title. And her fight against AJ Lee, but played by Thea Trinidad (Zelina Vega), is filmed like a shoot. I wouldn’t be surprised if Saraya was told at Mania she was debuting on Raw. But she was definitely told she’s winning the title before the match so her and AJ can plan things out.
Anyway, at Raw and Saraya is having a panic attack. It’s all too much and she doesn’t know if she can do it. With perfect timing, her brother calls. He reminds her of all that they have been through together and he’s with her tonight too. It’s a heartwarming moment and I’m sure there are some siblings in the world who view this movie as a mirror of their own relationship. Saraya gets up and heads to the ring.
Most of these scenes look great because they were filmed at Raw. The lights, the crowd, the energy. It’s all there in wide shots. However the close ups look like they were quickly filmed on a phone and spliced in. I understand Pugh wasn’t wrestling and close ups are needed, but these aren’t good ones. Also, apparently Tessa Blanchard was Pugh’s wrestling stand in? I think she may have eclipsed Paige for worst career path.
Paige freezes when she’s out there and only snaps out of it after AJ Lee beats her up a bit. Paige fights back and wins the match with her brother’s finishing move. She gives a speech to the fans embracing being a freak and in this version of the tale for the first time saying this is her house.
Everyone celebrates and is happy. Paige celebrates with her new best friends. Rock and Morgan look like proud fathers. Paige’s actual father is crying. It’s all a beautiful tale.
As a movie it’s honestly one of the best wrestling themed movies ever. Maybe the best one. Because the wrestling story is secondary. Take out wrestling and this could be about a kid in any sport, or acting, or anything – with the same jealous brother and crazy but supportive family story. Pugh is a far better actor than, say, David Arquette, and does a lot to elevate this movie. For wrestling fans, sure there are things we can nitpick. Things aren’t quite true, that’s not quite how wrestling works, etc. But does it matter? Every documentary ever is skewed and while this is based on a true story it’s not meant to be Gospel truth. To just watch it as a movie with wrestling it’s a great way to spend an evening.
I don’t know about anyone reading, but many of us single wrestling fans will ask, what is the perfect way to get a new girlfriend to watch wrestling? There are many answers, but I want to put this movie into the conversation. I think the young lady of interest could be talked into watching a movie, enjoy this as a movie, and have questions about wrestling after which could lead to watching more shows.
Finally, everyone has made comments or jokes about Paige over the last few years. She’s made mistakes, she doesn’t pick good boyfriends, and she’s had a long list of bad things happen to her. But this movie reminds me and hopefully others that there was a young girl who loved her family and loved wrestling and just wanted to be happy with that. While wrestling mourns Jay Briscoe, the community is also worried for Kevin Nash, Amari Miller, and others who are battling physical or mental pain privately. I may not be a fan of every wrestler, but I appreciate the sacrifices they’ve made to their bodies and their lives doing something I’ve never had the skills or courage to do myself. Fans can be more supportive. We can all reach out to people more. Just for the heck of it. You never know who is sitting there collapsing on the floor that can get up thanks to your well timed call.