Perhaps the most amazing ongoing news story in recent memory has been the amazing turnaround in the physical and mental health of Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Scott "Razor Ramon" Hall. Both broken down and almost the poster boys for drug addiction in pro wrestling, they've turned their lives around thanks to their good friend Diamond Dallas Page.
All three former wrestlers are profiled in a segment about Page's "DDP Yoga" fitness program in a segment airing on this month's episode of HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel." On Monday, HBO provided me with an advance screener of a work-in-progress version of the episode, which debuts tomorrow night, August 20th, at 9 p.m. ET and PST.
Legendary sportswriter Frank Deford hosts the report, which I thought was very well put together. Deford was easily the best choice of the "Real Sports" contributors for this story, as he's historically taken pro wrestling seriously, even subscribing to Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
I'll get the obvious out of the way: This segment is produced for the average "Real Sports" viewer and covers ground that hardcore wrestling fans will largely be familiar with. Having said that, it doesn't mean that you won't get anything out of watching the story—It's well worth checking out.
I think long-time fans may get the most out of the discussion that grows out of an early comment Jake Roberts makes to Deford: he explains that when he was very young, he learned to be a convincing liar as part of a survival instinct.
When Roberts talks about his childhood or his father Grizzly Smith, it's a chilling moment that carries a lot more context for wrestling fans than it does for the average viewer. The segment also goes a long way to explain a surprising admission he makes to Deford that I won't spoil.
As for Hall, there's a sense of joy and amazement that comes with seeing him sober and healthy. I literally cannot get enough of Scott Hall right now; it's just a thrill to see him come out of his shell and thrive.
The segment doesn't delve as deeply into his emotional issues as it does into Jake's (or even as deeply as ESPN's "E:60" did when it profiled Hall), but he looks and sounds like a completely different person— one who knows this is his last chance. Not just his last shot to get healthy, but also to develop a strong relationship with his son Cody, which is explored in the piece.
Finally, there's the lynchpin of the story, DDP. Stories about DDP Yoga often cover his salesmanship more than his friendships with Hall and Roberts. "Real Sports" took a different tact, focusing on the DDP who's giving back: Most of the time is spent on his altruism, with just one quick mention of the DDP Yoga DVD set that Page sells.
Since Page has always been a big self-promoter, it's something of a fresh look at him for wrestling fans, as well. DDP presented by Deford is a guy who found something that healed him physically and mentally, who realized he could apply it to his friends in need and who acted accordingly.
He doesn't charge for the daily DDP Yoga classes at his house, presumably because he knows the word of mouth is a lot more valuable. He's shown to be the consummate good guy, and after seeing what he's done for his friends, it's hard to disagree with that assessment.
If I have one nitpick about the story, it's that I would've liked to have seen Hall and Roberts asked just what, aside from the pain relief the DDP Yoga gives them, that they think helped them become sober.
Was it the support system of a safe environment with a long-time friend who knew what they were going through? Was it some kind of spiritual fulfillment from the Yoga?
(To be fair, it's possible this is addressed in an Internet-exclusive clip or in Deford's in-studio sit-down chat with Gumbel, which had not been completed in time for inclusion on the screener)
Still, that's a minor quibble: This is a really nice, uplifting story, and it's well worth your time.
The August 2013 edition of "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" premieres tomorrow at 9 p.m. ET and PST on HBO. It will be replayed through September 11th and available on HBO Demand through September 16th, in addition to being viewable on HBOGo.