In the past few months, WWE has quietly released a new documentary web series entitled Formerly Known As. The bi-weekly episodic series is shot more like PROGRESS or EVOLVE mini-documentaries that the two indie promotions have become famous for, diving into the emotionally charged (both highs and lows) backstage world of the performers beyond their WWE personas.
It began on April 19 of this year, when they released the first episode, “How Tyler Black Became Seth Rollins”. For indie purists who have followed the career of Rollins pre-NXT, seeing WWE acknowledge Rollins’ former indie name was intriguing. What resulted was an 8-minute documentary that saw Seth Rollins return to Donahue, Iowa, the small town where his wrestling career was born. In under ten minutes, you are introduced the indiest of indie beginnings of a man who would become a 2x World Champion in the WWE. It traveled through his entire career, covering all the indie stops, including footage from many of those independent promotions. It was an interesting look at how Colby Lopez found his name on the independents, literally and figuratively.
Two weeks later on May 3rd saw the episode “Before He Was Woken, Matt Hardy Was High Voltage”. While Matt Hardy has become one of the most well known mainstream wrestlers in the world over the past two decades, often we forget that he started in the backyard wrestling indies of Cameron, North Carolina. It becomes another 8-minute look into an underground wrestling scene of the 90s that is often looked down upon for its more deathmatch incarnations – but there were backyard promotions, like OMEGA, that became the breeding ground for much of the aerialist moves we see in today’s modern indie style.
If anyone deserves to be looked at her beginnings, it’s Bayley. The self professed “WWE Superfan” gets a 12-minute look at her beginnings in an industry born out of a lifelong obsession, in the third episode, “How Bayley Started Her Career as Davina Rose” on May 17th. It’s exactly the story you would expect from the stories we’ve heard through commentary, but Bayley emerges as one of wrestling’s true underdog stories.
The Social Media savvy wrestling fans really started to take notice of the series with May 31st’s episode, “Harper’s Journey From Indie Darling To Bludgeon Brother”, that followed current Smackdown Tag Team Champion Luke Harper from his beginnings in Rochester, New York. Of all the episodes so far, this one seemed to touch people with a different sense of wonder – since his NXT debut, Harper has always been more of a silent brute. Seeing him as a “real person” and seeing his genuine passion for the industry and how he began, struck a lot of people right in the feels. And it’s always fun to see Brodie Lee again.
The latest episode, “Ruby Riott: Formerly Known As Heidi Lovelace”, was released today, and again, showed an honest and different tale of an indie veteran who found her passion late in life, but jumped in head first. The hard times that ultimately helped her find Heidi Lovelace‘s voice (and name) to her sheer joy of landing in the WWE, it uncovers a far different side of Ruby Riott than we see on Raw each Monday.
One would wonder if perhaps the impetus for this series was the critically acclaim for the short piece that the WWE did on NXT Superstar Kassius Ohno, revealing the true value of the Formerly Known As Chris Hero to the company (and the industry), and showing the encyclopedic wrestling mind that Ohno possesses. If you didn’t catch it first run, it’s worth the watch.