How Accurate Is ‘Fighting With My Family’?
Fighting With My Family tells an incredible story of a woman who dreamed of becoming a WWE wrestler and actually made it to the big time in the most improbable way possible — winning the WWE Divas Championship (the top women’s title, at least at the time) on her very first night in the company. That couldn’t be true, could it?
In fact, it is — sort of. And overall, that’s a pretty good way to describe Fighting With My Family: It’s all true, sort of. It is still a fiction film, and as such certain dramatic liberties were taken, including a couple big ones. Let’s break them down. (SPOILERS follow)
All of the broad strokes are accurate. Paige (real name Saraya-Jade Bevis, played in Fighting With My Family by Florence Pugh) comes from a family of British wrestlers: Her dad’s “Rowdy” Ricky Knight (played by Nick Frost in the film) and her mom is “Sweet Saraya” (Lena Headey). Her older siblings, Roy (James Burrows) and Zak (Jack Lowden), are wrestlers too. As in the film, the family owns and operates the World Association of Wrestling (WAW) along with a training school. And, as in the film, both Zak and Paige (who wrestled as “Britani Knight” in her family’s promotion) were recruited by WWE and invited to participate in a local tryout. The WWE gave Paige a contract; they rejected Zak.
If you want to fact check the film for yourself, watch the Channel 4 documentary that the film is loosely based on, The Wrestlers: Fighting With My Family. Fighting With My Family producer Dwayne Johnson saw the film, and decided to make it into a feature.
If you watch The Wrestlers, you’ll see one pretty significant change to the story after Paige and Zak’s WWE tryouts: In the documentary, the WWE accepts Paige but doesn’t give Zak a definitive no. Instead, they tell him he needs to get in better shape. If he can improve his physique, they might give him a second chance.
A lot of the documentary follows the real Zak as he works out, cleans up his diet, gets uncomfortable spray tans, and tries to mold himself into the prototype of a WWE superstar. As in the fictional Fighting With My Family, he doesn’t ever get there, which is probably why writer/director Stephen Merchant simplified Zak’s storyline. Zak getting completely rejected right away makes for a stronger conflict with Paige, who now must proceed to WWE without him.
The Wrestlers documentary shows some of Paige’s life when she moves to United States to work for WWE. Merchant recreates bits and pieces of it in Fighting With My Family almost exactly, like her Skype video calls with Ricky and Zak back in England. Here, though, there are also some changes to the real story, again mostly for the sake of expediency. In Merchant’s Fighting With My Family, Paige goes straight from England to Orlando and NXT, the WWE’s development training program. New signees to the company go to the WWE Performance Center in Florida, where they learn the skills they need to graduate to the “main roster” — the contracted wrestlers who appear weekly on Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live.
Paige went through all of that, but when she first signed with WWE in 2011, NXT didn’t even exist. Instead, she went to WWE’s previous developmental territory, Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), based out of Tampa. She wrestled in FCW for several months before the entire program moved to Orlando. Here’s one of her very early FCW matches.
After FCW, Paige moved to NXT, which is a slightly different place than it appears in Fighting With My Family. The fictional version of NXT looks like a training school for wrestlers, with occasional shows — so that when Paige has debut with WWE, it’s almost as if she’s never had a big match before. In reality, NXT is more like AAA baseball to the WWE’s major league; certainly smaller in scale and crowds, but a working company that regularly produces television and live events. Before Paige was ever the WWE Divas Champion on Monday Night Raw, she was the first-ever NXT Women’s Champion. In fact, she was still NXT Women’s Champion the night she made her Raw debut against AJ Lee (played in Fighting With My Family by current WWE wrestler Zelina Vega).
Making Paige a little more inexperienced puts her into the role of an underdog in that big AJ Lee match in Fighting With My Family — which is kind of silly, because wrestling matches are staged and their outcomes are predetermined so she’s not really an underdog at all, but whatever. In the fiction film, Paige basically gets stage fright and freezes on live television as she comes out to challenge AJ. In reality, Paige looked extremely poised in her debut. If she ever forgot her lines, you wouldn’t know it from the footage:
As you see in that clip, after Paige pinned AJ she made a hasty retreat up the ramp to backstage; there was no dramatic promo in the middle of the ring like in Fighting With My Family. Surprisingly, though, one of the other most fanciful-seeming parts of the movie is actually true: The scene where none other than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson breaks the news to Paige that she is getting called up to the WWE main roster.
In the film, Paige and Zak meet the Rock at their WWE tryout, where he gives them an encouraging pep talk about breaking into the wrestling business. According to the Fighting With My Family press notes, that moment never really took place — but Johnson was the one who told Paige she was headed to Monday Night Raw. Here’s what they say:
A few months later, Johnson introduced himself to Paige at a WWE match in Arizona. He then broke some life-changing news to the young and largely untried wrestler: “I told her she was going to make her WWE debut under extraordinary circumstances,” Johnson hints with a smile.
Paige will never forget the fateful encounter: “I started sobbing uncontrollably because this was my dream becoming a reality,” she says. “Dwayne had to keep passing me tissues because I was such a mess.”
Apparently the real-life version was even more ridiculous, because this was the same meeting where Johnson told Paige he was going to make a film about her and her family. “He said, ‘I’m going to make a movie about [you].’” Paige recalls in the press notes. “And I’m, like, ‘Whaaat??’ It was all very overwhelming. Dwayne kept telling me to relax, but of course I couldn’t.” (In Fighting With My Family, Johnson never mentions making a movie about Paige.)
The last big change to Paige’s story is the stuff you don’t see onscreen, because it took place after Paige made it to Monday Night Raw. While Fighting With My Family ends with the fictional character triumphant, the real Paige’s life has had some ups and downs since that fateful Monday night in 2014. Paige had a successful run with WWE until 2016, when she got sidelined with a neck injury. She returned to action in the fall of 2017, but weeks later she suffered another neck injury, and this one was so serious it forced her to retire permanently from in-ring competition.
Paige is still with WWE; in recent months, she performed the role of the “general manager” of SmackDown Live. And she did have a successful stint wrestling with the WWE. Her role in helping to transform women’s wrestling from eye candy to equals of their male colleagues is arguably even more important than it appears in Fighting With My Family. But the fact that Paige already had to retire by the age of 26 is a pretty notable epilogue to the story. The movie tells a pretty faithful version of Paige’s life — up to a certain point a few years ago.
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