Dark Side of the Ring Review — “The Killing of Bruiser Brody”

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Hi folks! I’m a little late getting around to writing about this, but better late than never, right? After noticing Dark Side of the Ring airing on Vice in the UK, I clicked away on my remote and set as many episodes to record as possible.

The numbering for the episodes differ compared to how they originally aired in the US/Canada, so they may not be in the same order. With that said, the first is titled “The Killing of Bruiser Brody”. These reviews will not detail the content in explicit detail, although I’ll try to highlight the key points. More so, they assume you have already seen it and would like to know how it was received by someone else. Where possible, I’d like to add any further relevant information they may have overlooked or excluded.

“The Killing of Bruiser Brody”

This was a remarkable way to be introduced to the series, as I already knew the gist of the mystery surrounding Bruiser Brody’s unexpected death. I knew there were many questions left unanswered, and my biggest hope was that someone could enlighten us from a first-person perspective. After being introduced by hardcore legend Mick Foley (who was a perfect choice to host), the graphic showing of the bloody nature of 70s/80s wrestling made me feel uneasy.


I remember pining for blood and gore after the Attitude Era, but when you look back at how violent wrestling was… it makes you question why we want wrestlers sacrificing their bodies in this manner. Do we really need to see guys stabbing each other with forks? Or brutally beating opponents to a pulp, just because they don’t like ’em or want to keep up their portrayal of being a monster? But we have to remember the world was very different back then, and many people thought wrestling was real.


It had to maintain the illusion to sell tickets, and wrestling hasn’t been the same draw since the lifting of the curtain. Yes, it’s a million times safer, but it’s not as alluring because it feels scripted with no sense of danger. Bruiser Brody epitomized the brutal, violent approach, paving the way for the likes of Mick Foley and others who made a career working the hardcore style. He wasn’t just about violence though, Bruiser Brody was a character, and he dedicated himself to it as much as anyone has before or since. Frank Goodish at a wrestling event didn’t exist, because the transformation took place the moment he walked through those arena doors.

Friends & Family

The hardest part to digest here are the feelings from Brody’s friends & family. You can tell how it still hurts considerably thirty years later, and there will probably be no closure. Especially for Barbara and Geoffrey, Frank’s widow and son. While they have a garage full of some of his old stuff, Geoffrey’s comment about wanting some personal justice, and Barbara refusing to name Gonzalez, you can tell how much it pains them. It’s not enough to have some of his belongings.


They have always deserved a proper police investigation in to this incident, but the chances of it ever happening is slim to none. Dutch Mantel is a witness of what happened elsewhere, while Tony Atlas was in the thick of it. I felt really sorry for Atlas here, because this story has been with him for a long time and he couldn’t do anymore than he did. He was a true friend to Brody in his final moments, and I bet he spent years wondering what he could have done differently.


Could he have saved Brody? Was it possible to get some proper justice and find Gonzalez guilty? They explained how the police didn’t think any of it was real, and clearly there’s some corruption going on here. Abdullah The Butcher, while he was called upon to comment on the situation, we know that his word couldn’t be entirely trusted. Atlas and Mantel sounded genuine, but Abdullah lying about his whereabouts (Atlas accused him of this) is fishy. Why was his account of going to a meeting in a hotel room different to Tony’s? His explanation told me he was worried about being dragged in to this situation, if it would ever go to court in the future.

Dark Side Of The Ring

Corruption

Early on, Mantel and Atlas explained some of Jose Gonzalez’s motivations. Losing his baby (drowning in a pool), not liking Brody, and the fact Brody would buy in to World Wrestling Council and fire him… you can understand why he’d be upset. But we all know that no matter what, it’s never enough reason to kill someone. I think there’s a degree of racism going on here. Those who were said to be involved (Gonzalez/Carlos Colon/Victor Quinones) were Puerto Rican’s who didn’t want to lose any business to an outsider.

Despite Brody’s money, he would have pushed his creative ideas and enforced decisions they didn’t want. So it was a desperate move, but Gonzalez was more than willing to go through with it. And then there’s the way the police force and the hospital treated the situation. Could they have been paid off by Colon? The owner of WWC had to look like he was an innocent bystander, but his power as the promoter of Puerto Rico’s biggest promotion may have persuaded them.

It’s impossible to say, but the way they handled the situation isn’t normal. Sadly, these are questions which may never get concrete answers. It’s telling when Mantel, Atlas, Abdullah, and a few others left Puerto Rico immediately after; they were fearing for their lives. There was never any proper trial. Gonzalez was never found guilty or innocent.They never called Atlas to testify. The entire thing stinks of corruption.


Dark Side Of The Ring

Presentation

How Dark Side of the Ring showed the incident’s events was so well done it made me feel a touch of anxiety. So I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like to live through that. It’s understandable for everyone involved to get as far away from it as possible. The images of Tony Atlas punching through a wall, lifting Brody on to a stretcher, and taking a doctor to see Brody by force… it’s so graphic and detailed it’s hard to doubt.

The way he tells his story is so genuine, while Colon and Gonzalez refused to comment. This could be the way the story will always be remembered, with nothing shared from the other side. And when someone claims to be innocent, surely you’d come out and say this is false? If you were Colon or Gonzalez, why would you shy away and not try to prove your innocence? The avoidance speaks volumes. Was it really in self defense? And where was this “fan” who apparently stabbed Brody before he got to the locker room? Why keep a show going when a “fan” stabs one of the wrestlers beforehand? It makes little sense.


Dark Side of the Ring presented Gonzalez as the killer, yet he’s offering his services for children’s birthday parties on social media? How does that work? Regardless, I have to give it to the creators for reenacting these events with actors filling in for the wrestlers; and doing so in a blurry, grainy fashion so we can’t see the faces. I also like the way it ended, with Abdullah laughing at a classic Brody promo.

Dark Side Of The Ring

What The Episode Didn’t Tell Us

There wasn’t much insight in to what Carlos Colon or Gonzalez has said about it in interviews. Colon says he had no idea Brody & Gonzalez had heat, otherwise he would have sorted it out. He also doesn’t recall Brody asking him to look after his family while he on the floor after the stabbing. After further questioning, he says this subject makes him sad and doesn’t want to talk about it no more. They didn’t cancel the show because he and everyone else was confused. He refused to answer several questions, responding with “I don’t know”. They kept working with Gonzalez because he wasn’t found guilty and the promotion couldn’t be prejudice toward him.


In an interview with Jim Cornette, Savio Vega explained what happened from his perspective, confirming much of what Atlas & Mantel said, while also sharing some of Gonzalez and Colon’s comments. He also shared what it was like to work with the promotion in the aftermath.

On Dark Side of the Ring, there weren’t many recollections about the way Brody worked with other wrestlers. It’s known that he was sometimes uneasy for promoters to negotiate with, considering he’s a monster who needed to win most of the time. In the third video below, Al Snow describes the time when he and a partner had to work a handicap match with Brody. And while Brody was vicious to those who didn’t sell as expected, he was respectful to everyone else.

It should also be noted that Brody was trained by Fritz Von Erich (the patriarch of the Von Erich family). Fritz was known for several questionable promotional tactics in his WCCW promotion; like faking a heart attack and exploiting his son’s deaths. Could he have inherited some bad habits?

Chemistry

At one point, the Dark Side of the Ring states Brody once destroyed Invader #1 so badly in the ring, his head was shaped like a pumpkin. Also, apparently there was always something “off” in their matches, like they really hated each other. However, when you watch some of their encounters, the work looks pretty reasonable. There’s some stiff shots here and there, and Brody doesn’t always sell, but that was common for him. They had a bunch of spots they worked in to their matches, but nothing looks heated. The fact they’d often travel around in the car together, means there’s more than meets the eye.

While there may have been some liberties taken on both sides, they were always professional enough to work together. If there was a match where Brody had “destroyed” Gonzalez, it certainly wasn’t televised. It’s funny that there’s no time frame given (apparently it was in the WWWF? But Vince Sr wouldn’t allow that), nor is there anywhere stating when Brody injured Gonzalez. I wish there were more details about the one match which apparently planted the seed of motivation in Gonzalez’s head.

Babyface Push & Stabbing Angle

Just to add insult, they pushed Jose Gonzalez as WWC’s biggest babyface a year after Brody’s death. This coincides with many comments stating the promotion had planned to push him as their next big star; which wouldn’t have happened had Brody gained control and fired Gonzalez. Colon admitted in the interview above, that his business suffered a great deal afterwards. This tells me that pushing Gonzalez as a face despite everything that happened, compounded the already questionable practices of the company. No one wanted any part of that; including several of the American wrestlers who helped to build the territory up throughout the eighties.

Also Read: Tony Atlas on an Altercation with CM Punk, Bruiser Brody, and More

In 1990, Gonzalez was scheduled to have a run with FMW’s mega star and booker Atsushi Onita. As some may know, FMW was extreme long before ECW was thought of, so Onita was full of crazy ideas. Only on this occasion, he went a step too far as he faked a stabbing to his abdomen during a press conference. This mimicked the Bruiser Brody stabbing, and as they were in Japan… the idea was to generate some crazy heat on Gonzalez. And he got some heat all right… to the point Gonzalez was denied access to Japan and the angle had to be dropped entirely. But despite it never going ahead, it remains in history as one of the most disgusting promotional tactics ever.

The Sad Truth

Brody’s work in the ring was sometimes harsh. His negotiations with promoters could be hard ball. However, most of his co-workers say he was a good guy overall. As a legend in the business, he was generous in helping out the territories. He’d look after guys if they let him know and were being professional. He was certainly not deserving of being stabbed, and there’s no evidence to suggest Gonzalez fought back in self defense; nor that a fan did it before he got to the locker room.

There’s so many holes in the story, and the manner of which Colon and Gonzalez remain silent about the incident is telling. And yet, while there’s so many witnesses and the case could be reopened, it likely never will because it’s too late. How do you prove something that happened over thirty years ago? Especially when you can’t find the murder weapon and no one actually witnessed the stabbing? The only person who will ever know the actual truth is Gonzalez, but he will never admit to anything. The truth will go with him to the grave, and Brody’s friends & family will never get justice.

Conclusion

We can say the legend of Bruiser Brody will never die, but his demise will never be fully revealed. And that’s what makes this Dark Side of the Ring episode emotionally disturbing. It could not get much darker than this, and hopefully nothing like this ever happens again. I wish Frank Goodish’s family all the best. Tony Atlas, Dutch Mantel and Abdullah The Butcher have had to live with this for decades. It saddens me to know they’ve had to carry it with them.

Bruiser Brody died with a picture of his son in his hand. He was a family man and that was taken away without warning. In the video below, you can listen to a rare interview of Brody talking normally about his life and on several aspects of the wrestling business. With that said, I haven’t seen all the other episodes yet, but I think this is up there as one of the best. If you’ve never seen Dark Side of the Ring before, I highly recommend you to see this one first. Thank you for reading!

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