In 2009, several months after Colt Cabana was released by WWE while Bryan Danielson (now Daniel Bryan) was about to sign with them, they were joined by Sal Rinauro for a road trip of the northeast and midwest United States that started with a Ring of Honor TV taping and Philadelphia and ended with Danielson's farewell ROH appearance in New York City. The entire trip was filmed and then edited down to two hours and forty minutes for the recently released "Wrestling Road Diaries" DVD, which is available at ColtMerch.com and WrestlingRoadDiaries.com. It is available as a single disc with just the movie for $20 or with a extra bonus disc for $25. I received the double disc version for review and was floored by how good it is. This is in the upper echelon of wrestling documentaries and official wrestling DVD releases in general.
Hotly anticpated ever since an amusing teaser video was posted on YouTube on the first day of the trip, we follow the trio of friends everywhere, whether they're in the car, the ring, the locker room, or out an about. Their itinerary includes an HDNet TV taping, a seminar in a small wrestling school, a show in some sort of dragon-themed amusement park, the ROH wrestling school, Danielson's sister's house, the Manhattan Center, and all stops in between, including a record store near Yale University and a farmer's market. Throughout, the camaraderie between the three is clear, as they're constantly able to find ways to make the others laugh or keep them busy throughout the monotonous road trips.
While it's a fairly long documentary (as in only 10 minutes shorter than "Hoop Dreams") the editing/pacing is excellent and it never feels like overkill. In the end, it feels like it was just about as long as it should have been, and the hour-plus of deleted scenes on the bonus disc seem carefully picked for maximum enjoyment.
Talking head segments with the wrestlers do a good job going over the differences between working a major ROH show, a Chikara show, and a wrestling school show in a tiny, intimate space. In the small space, the comedy spots may be louder and specific fans may get singled out. In Chikara, the comedy is more outrageous with Cabana playing baseball in the ring. In ROH, Cabana still does comedy, but in a more plausible, wrestling-based way.
While just anyone watching would know (or figure out) that things turned out ok, there's a little bit of a dark cloud hanging over the proceedings. Danielson had just undergone his WWE pre-hiring physical examination, which turned up some potential red flags in an elevated liver enzyme count and a possible heart issue. Obviously, any major problems are cleared up in the end and Danielson keeps a good attitude throughout, but you can tell he's worried about both his health and his employment prospects.
There's a lot of stuff packed into the documentary so I'll try to keep this from getting long, but there are a lot of different things to enjoy throughout. The seminar in Connecticut and trip to the ROH school bring up some interesting topics, like how Danielson hates how the only hold you ever see countered with a push into ropes is a headlock. To keep the next generation of wrestlers from annoying him, he teaches them how to do it off of an armbar. He also teaches the finer points of the cravate (AKA the 3/4 chancery, it's the hold that starts off the snap mare and Diamond Cutter). I got a kick out of that because I have an irrational love of that hold, which has become more and more prominent over the last decade as more young wrestlers became fans of the European style.
The non-wrestling outings are equally a blast to watch and vary wildly in content. They include:
- The trio relaxing at Danielson's sister and her husband's house, where she tells them how Bryan got his teachers to let him skip class so he could work to make money for wrestling school.
- Cabana and Rinauro engaging in a heated watermelon eating contest to entertain the Danielson siblings on the side of the road.
- Danielson stopping to buy records whenever possible, whether he's checking out a shop near Yale University that he loves or combing through a Goodwill store's selection. The Goodwill outing also includes Rinauro trying on some sort of mascot outfit that was for sale. Its presence is so random that this scene is one of the highlights of the DVD. Especially since Cabana nails him in the groin while he's wearing it.
The climax of the DVD is Danielson's the weekend of ROH shows that served as a farewell to Danielson and Nigel McGuinness (now Desmond Wolfe in TNA), ending with a match between the two. It's a bit weird to watch this now. Both were expected to go to WWE but McGuinness went to TNA after reportedly failing the physical, only to be shelved indefinitely after a year for another medical issue. We see the highlights of a very physical match, followed by the backstage footage, which comes off a bit ominous. On one hand, Bryan is walking around and happily talking to everyone, seemingly no different from the fun guy we've been watching for hours. On the other hand, Nigel isn't the cheerful guy trying to show off his card tricks. He's a wreck. He's slumped in a chair with an ice pack on his head and seems like he barely has the strength and/or wherewithal to hold a conversation. It doesn't come off as a deliberate editing choice, but the scene feels eerily prescient. In light of what's happened since then, it comes off as the only downer of the DVD.
Given the pricing, I see no reason not to buy the 2 DVD version if you're picking this up. That extra $5 gets you over an hour of deleted scenes, Cabana on The Wrestling Roundtable video podcast, a Wrestling Roundtable video blog of the Manhattan Center show, and the trailers (but not the teaser, which surprised me). If you like the movie, you'll surely enjoy the deleted scenes just as much, and the Roundtable compliments the documentary well.
Overall, this release is a big thumbs up, blowing away any previous independent wrestling documentaries. Cabana has talked of Wrestling Road Diaries becoming a series if this release is successful, which I'd love to see if they can keep the quality this high. If you're a hardcore fan of pro wrestling, especially an indie fan and/or a fan of one of the three wrestlers featured, I have no doubt that you will love this DVD. Highest possible recommendation. Hit up ColtMerch.com or WrestlingRoadDiaries.com to pick it up. Also check out WeLoveColt.com for Cabana's weekly Art of Wrestling Podcast where you can hear him chat up his peers.