Genre: Wrestling Documentary/Docudrama/Medical Documentary
Year Released: 2017
Running Time: 24 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Eddie Dennis: A 5 Year Old’s Dream, The British Wrestler, Smack Em Up, Fighting With My Family, Zion, South Pacific Power Couple
-Road Back to Malice is streaming on Vimeo.
-This review was written several months before the #SpeakingOut allegations. I have edited this post to remove the mentions of some of the names who are among the accused in the original draft such as Jimmy Havoc, Jack Sexsmith, and Marty Scurll. I’m glad there are wrestlers calling out others for these atrocities and I hope these wrongdoers get punished.
-Flash Morgan Webster is from Brynmawr, Wales. It’s a small rural town with just over five thousand five hundred people living there. The other famous people from that same town are wrestler Adrian Street and Marina Diamandis who’s the lead singer of Marina and the Diamonds.
-Wrestling Fan Bonus: There were plenty of cameos and various appearances throughout this documentary. “Wild Boar” Mike Hitchman and Mark Andrews get some interview time. However, there were some sightings of TK Cooper, Dahlia Black, Zack Sabre Jr., Mark Haskins, Pete Dunne, and Trent Seven.
-Music Fan Bonus: Music plays a HUGE part of Flash Morgan Webster’s gimmick and it shows with several aspects of his move set which contain tons of references to UK music. There’s the Britpop Drop, Modern Knee, Rudeboy Block, Baba O’Riley Buster (The Who [Shame on One Direction for ripping off that song in “Best Song Ever”!]), The Strangler (The Stranglers), Eton Rifle, and Shadows Over Malice which are references to The Jam. Speaking of which, his entrance theme used to be “In The City” from that same band. Also, his last words in the documentary are “I’m going to tear it apart.” He was referencing the song “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division and he has a shirt that parodies one of their albums.
-Flash Morgan Webster has won multiple titles across different federations. In Attack! Pro Wrestling, he was the Attack! Champion and the 24/7 Champion. In RevPro, he held the Undisputed British Cruiserweight Championship. He was also the King of Chaos Champion, Hope Kings of Flight Champion, Dragon Pro Tag Team Champion with Wild Boar as The 198, and most recently held the NXT UK Tag Team Championships alongside Mark Andrews as the South Wales Subculture. The last championship was a first of sorts. South Wales Subculture were the first Welsh wrestlers to win WWE gold in that company’s history.
-Film Buff Bonus: There is a picture in Webster’s house where him and other wrestlers cosplay as the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange.
-Webster was an art and PE teacher before he became a wrestler full-time. Yeah, really.
I never thought I would do this again, but I reviewed yet another pro wrestling documentary on Iridium Eye. This certainly happened mainly because Wales is blowing up in the wrestling scene. WWE’s NXT UK developmental system has scooped up a handful of Welsh wrestlers for their company, but some have made notable achievements this year. Some of you may remember Eddie Dennis from my review of A 5 Year Old’s Dream late last year as he won the Progress Unified World Championship back in September which is his first major singles title. Only a couple of weeks before, South Wales Subculture made WWE history for winning the NXT UK Tag Team Championships by defeating English tag team Grizzled Young Veterans (the inaugural and reigning champions at the time) during a triple threat match in Cardiff. Welsh Twitter blew up with pure joy and the tag team were featured on BBC Wales not long after their title win. What I didn’t know was that one half of those former champions had a documentary made about him when he was still in the UK and indie scene.
That wrestler is none other than The Modfather of Professional Wrestling: Wales’s own Flash Morgan Webster.
Road Back to Malice documents the life of this aforementioned wrestler dealing with recovering from losing one of the biggest matches of his life. Flash Morgan Webster (real name: Gavin Watkins) faced English wrestler Zack Sabre Jr. in Progress Wrestling which hosted a WWE Cruiserweight Classic qualifier match where the winner gets a spot in the tournament for a shot at the Cruiserweight Championship for the biggest company in wrestling. During the match, Webster fractured his shoulder and injured his ankle while fighting against Sabre Jr. He lost the match and a spot for the tournament. The damage done to his body was enough to require surgery and for him to be sidelined in the ring for over ten months. Before that, Webster narrates his interest into getting into becoming a pro wrestler as he grew up in a poor family in Brynmawr which was heavily recessed due to steel mines being closed for decades now and he was raised by his mom and grandparents. Even as a child, he enjoyed being on stage and dressing up as different characters. After discovering wrestling on TV, he got into backyard wrestling which causes him to meet a friend and fellow wrestler Mike Hitchman or who would eventually be known as Wild Boar who owned a ring in his family’s backyard. Since his teenage years, he honed his craft in backyard rings, to a wrestling school, to eventually wrestling across multiple European nations and America. He eventually came up with the Modfather character due to growing up on modern jazz, Northern soul, and old-school Britrock in addition to liking that fashion style. In the meantime, Webster does his best to recover to get back to doing what he loves even if it meant going to rehab as he wonders if he could be a wrestler again.
It was an unexpected discovery, but there were good things in this documentary. The visual production is great as it uses high-quality camera work, some cinematic elements, archived footage, and various pictures as one splendid assemblage. There was a great mix of footage such as the clips with Webster’s backyard wrestling days, various indie matches in and outside of his tenure at Progress, and the footage of his rehabilitation worked very well. I didn’t expect there to be a medical aspect, but it made perfect sense and didn’t detract from the other storytelling going on. One could argue that the emphasis on the recovery getting equal screen time with the wrestling action made the narrative even stronger as it makes the viewer care about Webster. There was a minimalist soundtrack which wasn’t distracting and helped the more dramatic elements with the medical scenes for a good portion of the film. I have to give Webster props for creating an original gimmick on the world of pro wrestling. His affinity for 60s and 70s mod culture, the fashion, and the music played into the creation of this character since he said he used to be a bland high-flyer. In a world over-saturated with steroid freaks, nu metal, and generic hard rock, his image and entrance music really stands out from so many others which is a great touch. Sure, some people may gawk at his look and claim he looks like he walked off the set of Quadrophenia or (God forbid) thinks he looks like Austin Powers, but Webster has a unique thing going for him in that field. Originality matters here. There was a human element there as Webster doubts if he could ever wrestle again and even gets visibly depressed while typing on his laptop or sitting on the couch with a sling and a cast. The stereotype would be that a wrestler would be so overconfident while thinking they’re the best in the world, but his turmoil shatters that stereotype as well as him being well-spoken. Besides his road to recovery, there was a healthy amount of wrestling footage that wasn’t too much or too little. There were multiple scenes dealing with his match with Sabre Jr. in Progress, but there were more scenes showing off some of his moves like him inventing the Eton Rifle or showing clips here and there. That was a good choice.
It is interesting reviewing Road Back to Malice several months after watching Eddie Dennis: A 5 Year Old’s Dream since I see parallels to both and those documentaries have things that are actually greater in hindsight. Let’s look at some of those similarities.
1. Both Webster and Dennis are Welsh wrestlers.
2. Both of them are currently signed to NXT UK.
3. Both have won titles in Attack! Pro Wrestling (Attack! and 24/7 Championships) and Pro Wrestling Chaos (King of Chaos Championship).
4. Both are former teachers in their past day jobs.
5. Cardiff-based wrestler Mark Andrews is a mutual friend and tag team partner to both of them while also winning tag team gold with him. Dennis and Andrews were the members of FSU while being the inaugural, longest reigning Progress Tag Champs in addition to being Progress’s first Welsh champions while Webster and Andrews as South Wales Subculture are the 2nd NXT UK Tag Champs and first Welshmen to have championships in WWE.
6. Both of their respective documentaries involve major injuries and were filmed while they were recovering from their wounds for months.
7. TK Cooper is seen in both documentaries. There are also scenes involving the images of Mark Andrews and Pete Dunne (Although in Road Back to Malice, Andrews is interviewed and there’s footage of Dunne wrestling in Progress while A 5 Year Old’s Dream has Andrews and Dunne in picture form).
Relax, I’m not going to play the rip-off card. The real life issues wrote the stories themselves so to speak, so I can’t fault them for that. The whole doubting aspect of Webster wondering if he should continue with his passion made for natural drama, but given his recent success in NXT UK, this documentary becomes a stronger watch in hindsight to show how far he’s come in his pro wrestling career. That did increase my score a bit knowing about recent developments in The Modfather’s life in his full-time job and I’m not just talking about the scene where he returns to Progress while getting a standing ovation before he walks into the ring.
Road Back to Malice does take an impact of a Baba O’Riley Buster at times though. While it was great when he talked about his gimmick in a short amount of time, I wish he could’ve devoted at least a minute to talking about that character and how it stands out or how the music and subculture affected him. Some of the interviews and cameos felt a bit like wrestling fan pandering. The interview and footage with “Wild Boar” Mike Hitchman makes sense given their friendship and with him regularly seeing Webster in rehab while also helping him to shake off the ring rust after not practicing his craft for ten months. However, the random cameo shots or the brief Mark Andrews interview footage felt like some lip service even if the latter is slightly more awesome in hindsight knowing he’s Webster’s future tag team partner in NXT UK. I would’ve liked to have seen some more interview footage with the rest of the Watkins family and I think there was a missed opportunity by not interviewing Sabre Jr. when it came to the aftermath of that match. Speaking of the interviews, it definitely relied a ton on talking head shots. For everyone else, it looked like typical documentary or news shots, but Webster’s interview shots involved a close up of his face staring at the camera while there’s a white background behind him. They could’ve changed things up a bit with the talking elements and how they were portrayed. Also, for a documentary involving a wrestler who incorporates mod revivalist culture in his attire and persona, I’m shocked there weren’t more snippets with some Britrock, modern jazz, or Northern soul other than a clip of “In The City” by The Jam playing over the speakers during his return to Progress. That would’ve been a great touch and was a missed opportunity from a music standpoint.
This documentary involving this stylish cruiserweight wrestler was well worth the twenty-three minutes on Vimeo. The production is certainly wonderful and the story of Webster recovering was certainly sympathetic. It was interesting getting some nuggets of information about his wrestling persona and trying to stand out in a world of cookie-cutter characters and aesthetics in his chosen line of work. The recent aspects of his career made this film stronger from a historical standpoint where his work finally paid off in the indies. I do wish there wasn’t some UK wrestling fan pandering with the cameos and limited interview scenes to fill time. Road Back to Malice was a very good watch as it shows the balance between the real life drama, wrestling footage, and the medical documentary aspects into one seamless watch, so there’s something for most people here.
In mod we trust!
Adjustable Rating System:
Add 1-2 points if you’re a Flash Morgan Webster fan or at least a UK wrestling fan.
Add 1 point if you like medical documentaries.
Subtract 1-2 points if you’re not a fan of pro wrestling.
-Amazing editing and cinematography
-Webster’s story and road to recovery is very strong
–Road Back to Malice is stronger in hindsight given recent accomplishments
-Obvious UK wrestling fan pandering
-Missed interview opportunities and over reliance on talking head scenes
-Lack of mod-related music in the score
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Warning: Road Back to Malice is probably the most tame wrestling documentary I’ve covered kind of like Tales of Masked Men. The violence is limited to the in-ring action, but the main match shown is the Webster/Sabre Jr. one where the injuries happen. Webster talks about how bad his shoulder and ankle injuries were which can make people wince. Besides him saying “hell” once in terms to describing the pain, there isn’t any profanity at all.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Road Back to Malice is property of Adam Williams. The title card is from Vimeo and is property of Adam Williams.