Professional wrestling is not a meritocracy, as much as the industry is keen to sell itself as one. If you’re a fan, you’ve probably at the very least heard of talented performers being held back, not allowed to ‘get over’ with the audience by management. If you’ve been into the sport for a while, there’s a good chance you’ve had some sort of minor meltdown that your favourite characters are continuously under-utilised, or under ‘pushed’ into the spotlight. I hear you. We all know there is no brass ring.
If wrestling was really about performance value and mastery of skill-set as opposed to merchandise sales and box office drawing power, then Scott Hall, William Regal, and ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper would’ve won multiple world championships each on the big stage. Some guys and girls have everything the business needs, but little-to-none of what it wants, and ultimately, there’s just not enough room for everyone to shine in the bright lights. This familiar tale is the basis of The Wrestler: A Q.T. Marshall Story.
Q.T., real name Michael Cuellari, is a trainer at The World Famous Monster Factory wrestling school in New Jersey, serving as a player/coach, constantly refining his own skills as well as helping prepare the stars of tomorrow. Approaching 30 years old, he’s terrified he’s missed his shot at the big time. When we meet Cuellari, he works predominantly for his step-father’s tool company. A day job is commonplace for independent wrestlers, to support themselves financially while pursuing the dream. Describing himself as a ‘re-stocker’ with all the enthusiasm of literally anybody who feels their calling is elsewhere, he needn’t really go into why this isn’t for him. The opening montage of ‘Q.T.’ competing between the ropes has said enough.
We’re quickly introduced to Michael’s colleagues at the Monster Factory, and the current crop of hopefuls (familiar faces Matt Riddle and Punishment Martinez/Damian Priest) learning under them. Everyone has their game-faces on in anticipation of the same thing… a visit from WWE Hall of Famer turned talent scout, Gerald Briscoe. The ‘testimonial’ portion here is interesting, where contemporaries and friends alike are interviewed, because they all kind of say the same thing regardless of connection. Michael is passionate, technically gifted on the mat, and honest to a fault. What’s the problem?
The story of Michael’s career as Q.T. seems easily definable from the outside. He’s been told consistently not to be disheartened by setbacks, and that he has a long road ahead of him in which to rectify the elements of his game that maybe aren’t so strong/marketable etc. Iron out the kinks and we’ll hire you, is the gist. The problem is the consistency of that advice, because at some point, it stops containing “You’re young, you have time”. A few people in the documentary refer to the upcoming WWE tryout as Michael’s ‘last shot’, well aware that wrestling is a young man’s game (for the most part, but for greater insight into the discrepancies here see Beyond the Mat) and that to make the those extra zeros on your pay cheque, these companies want somebody with a lot of miles left to return their investment.
Having had a less than stellar run with Sinclair televised promotion Ring Of Honor in his only brush with the top promotions, Q.T. has a point to prove. Especially since a few interviewees hint that he may have been more concerned with the destination than the journey, and became unmotivated once his foot was in the door there. The potential for history repeating itself, and possibly a new reputation as a coaster, must be crushed. Now against the clock, the veteran grappler must learn from his mistakes and focus down the crosshairs like never before.
Frank Zarrillo’s The Wrestler: A Q.T. Marshall Story depicts the brutal journey ahead of anybody lacing up a pair of boots for the first time. The true stinger here is not in watching a talent completely fail to make it, it’s in watching them almost make it over and over again. You never want to see the “nearly man” stories, they’re just deflating.
This documentary escapes my pigeonholing as such, by being incredibly insightful on a ton of aspects of professional wrestling’s inner workings too, and by the upheld quality of the interview segments. I’m particularly fond of the contrast between the clips of Michael entertaining crowds in his ‘God’s Gift’ attire, and then having to answer to his mother’s scepticisms at the dinner table.
As for the ending, well, I know there’s a good one not included, but I knew that before I’d pressed play. Unfortunately, as I knew no different, I couldn’t tell you whether or not that altered my viewing experience, but I was all too happy to recall it when the documentary was over.
These days Q.T. Marshall works for TNT’s All Elite Wrestling company, the second largest in the US, and as yet unfounded at the time of filming. If that doesn’t make this whole ordeal sound Hollywood then nothing will.
He actually did it. Not what he had wanted, but definitely what he needed.
The Wrestler: A Q.T. Marshall Story is out now on Amazon Prime Video.