POLLOCK'S REVIEW - "The Ultra-Violence of Nick Gage"

Originally published at POLLOCK'S REVIEW - "The Ultra-Violence of Nick Gage"


“I’d rather die a good way than a bad way”

Dark Side of the Ring presented “The Ultra-Violence of Nick Gage” as its second episode of the season profiling Nick Gage’s problems with drug addiction, loss in his family, and several prison stints.

It was a sobering end to the documentary with Gage (Nick Wilson) sharing that, “I feel like I’m going to die sooner or later”. He didn’t offer that theory to elicit sympathy but rather to acknowledge the miles put on his body, living a hard life and having the understanding it comes with a cost.

This was the most in-depth look at Gage that has been produced with analysis on the loss he has suffered from his parents passing away and his older brother Chris (wrestler Justice Pain) dying a few years ago when he jumped off a bridge in New Jersey.

It may have been the series’ smallest number of interview subjects, limited to Gage and his long-time girlfriend Sondra, GCW promoter and close friend Brett Lauderdale, AEW wrestler Jon Moxley, and David Arquette.

Lauderdale was essential given how long he has known Gage and stuck by him throughout the many highs and lows of his life while also being candid with his frustrations when Gage made mistakes. Moxley came off as someone in awe of the man, mesmerized by the crowd connection he has cultivated stating that Vince McMahon would kill to have one of his performers that replicated his ability to forge that bond.

They went through Gage hitting rock bottom after his mother died and on the verge of homelessness when he robbed a bank with the camera footage identifying his face clear as day. Moxley had one of the best lines of the series noting, Gage always wore a bandana to the ring like he was robbing a bank, the one time he didn’t wear it was the day he decided to rob a bank. Gage was sentenced to five years after turning himself in and pleading guilty to second-degree bank robbery. He made parole in 2015 but returned after a violation for attempting to falsify a urine sample with Lauderdale alluding to other issues going on and served an additional two years.

Today, Gage is a cult figure and the symbol of Game Changer Wrestling. His story is one of immense struggle – some self-inflicted and others losses that he’s been forced to confront. In some ways, his is a story of redemption – of someone that committed a crime, paid his debt to society, and was welcomed back by a small subset on this island known as deathmatch wrestling. For those minutes, the internal pain subsides while inflicting the literal version onto himself.

The Arquette match is hardly an endorsement of this genre and I felt it came off horribly when it occurred and didn’t feel any better about it hearing their recollections. Arquette acknowledged he was in over his head, serving as a late replacement for Joey Ryan, in a deathmatch against Gage at GCW’s L.A. Confidential in November 2018. Arquette stated he was willing to take weapon shots but requested Gage not cut him. If that was true, Gage violated their pact slicing his forehead open with a pizza cutter. The major spot was the light tube that accidentally sliced a portion of Arquette’s throat, which led to the match falling apart, Arquette snapping, and being thrust to the mat and held down for an abrupt three-count. The match was a mess and no party came off well from it. Gage stated he has not spoken with Arquette since it happened and called him a “crybaby”, somewhat protecting his aura during this portion of the documentary.

The documentary footage is extremely graphic at times, mainly from the Tournament of Death with Thumbtack Jack in 2009 where Gage had an artery sliced from a light tube and flatlined on his way to a hospital via helicopter. It was somewhat intuitive of the industry mantra, that even as Gage was potentially bleeding to death, the cameras kept rolling on him until Gage himself shut down the documentation.

But for me, it’s the emotional toll that Gage was willing to let the audience see that was most revealing. On Twitter throughout the day, there were countless stories of in-person encounters painting Gage as a legitimately caring individual that would go to great lengths for his fanbase, which came through in the doc as he was extremely moved by the letters he received during his prison stay.

From the loss of his mother that was clearly a life-changing event, the reality of his immediate family all deceased but him, and the chilling reminder he wakes up when he walks outside and sees the bridge where his brother leaped off and died. This was as raw a subject as you’re going to find, who laid his life on the table for forty-four minutes and essentially said, ‘make of this what you will, it’s my life’.

Nick Gage has a connection and appeal because of his ability to share his shortcomings, to fall and pick himself up, and present himself as authentically as one can. It’s what draws people to the likes of Nick & Nate Diaz and parallels with Gage – someone that lives by a code and whose words come straight from the gut and hit you with an authenticity few possess.

While some will dismiss Gage based on their aversion to his type of performance art, it’s missing the larger picture and the ultimate goal of the art, connecting with that audience that lives and dies with your words and actions. It’s that same dichotomy between life and death that appears to be the high wire that the man walks every single day. In one moment, he laments that he knows he’s going “to go out young”, while in the next breath acknowledging, “I’m 40 years old and I’m still going fucking hard.”