The sport has drama, showmanship, and gender equality as the film Fighting With My Family proves. Yet, because its working class, its marginalised, writes director Stephen Merchant
In 2014, after years of struggle, a working-class British woman, aged just 21, was awarded the highest honour her profession can bestow, live, in front of 20,000 people and a television audience of millions.
The Guardian didnt report it. In the days following, there were no laudatory profiles, no in-depth interviews, no op-eds about her stratospheric success in a male-dominated world.
Saraya-Jade Bevis, known professionally as Paige, is a World Wrestling Entertainment superstar. She began her career wrestling with her family in small venues across Norfolk, before climbing to the top of WWE, the billion-dollar US sports entertainment empire, to become the youngest ever Divas champion, the wrestling equivalent of heavyweight champion of the world.
I like to think Im culturally aware, but I had never heard of Paige. And I dont blame the Guardian, or the other broadsheets; they have no duty to report on any entertainer (professional wrestling is as much performance as sport). Nevertheless, it is interesting to compare the attention Paige received with that conferred on other British performers.
In the past 18 months, Claire Foy and Olivia Colman have deservedly won major awards for their brilliant portrayals of English queens. Both wins came with lengthy interviews and profile pieces in the quality newspapers, plus countless mentions on BBC TV and radio.
I have worked with both these actors and they deserve every plaudit and column inch that comes their way. But acting, like pro wrestling, is another branch of show business. Foy and Colman have been rightly celebrated for cracking the US and conquering Hollywood, so why not Paige, who cracked America and conquered WWE (the Hollywood of wrestling) three years earlier?
Over the years, Paige has featured in the Sun and other British tabloids, but the respectable middle-class media has largely ignored her. Why? Is it because Paige is a brash, blue-collar girl from East Anglia with heavy eye makeup and goth-rock stylings? Is it because wrestling is dismissed as frivolous, silly pantomiming for the great unwashed the same people who probably voted for Brexit? Is the reason you have never heard of her good old-fashioned snobbery?
I only found out about Paige three years ago, when I was contacted out of the blue by Dwayne The Rock Johnson. A former WWE superstar, Johnson was working in London in 2012 and one night in his hotel room happened to catch a Channel 4 documentary about Paige and her family. (I love picturing this scene. In my mind The Rock is chilling in a Travelodge, hes just finished the free shortbread and an episode of Grand Designs, and on comes this film )The Bevis family are flawed, rowdy and rough around the edges, but love one another deeply, and wrestling almost as much. Mum, dad, son and daughter all wrestle, and in 2010 the siblings got the chance to audition for WWE. It was a once-in-a-lifetime shot at making the family dream come true, but only Paige was signed; her brother, Zak, was left behind. What happened next almost tore the family apart.
Having come from a wrestling family, Johnson was riveted by Paiges story and later became tangentially involved in her career. Realising her story would make a great film, he reached out to me to write the script. (I suspect Johnson only has two Englishmen in his phone me and Jason Statham and he clearly realised that what I lacked in charisma and muscle definition, I made up for in typing speed.)