When he was 15 years old, Nigel McGuinness painted his face like the Ultimate Warrior and attended SummerSlam at London’s Wembley Stadium – a pivotal experience that solidified his dream to one day be a top wrestling star.
Nearly two decades later, he embarked on a retirement tour – the swan song of a 12-year wrestling career that was universally lauded by die-hard fans, yet always fell frustratingly short of mainstream success.
Although the London-born McGuinness is widely considered to be one of the most talented in-ring performers of his generation, a combination of bad timing and bad luck left his dream of WWE stardom unfulfilled and, eventually , abandoned.
It was a 12-year journey of emotional peaks and valleys that McGuinness has conveyed in a documentary released this month called The Last of McGuinness, which has earned resoundingly positive reviews so far.
“The response has been really amazing,” McGuinness tells WrestleNewz over Skype from his Los Angeles home. “The feedback has been so positive.”
So far, that feedback has been coming primarily from wrestling fans – many of whom likely contributed to the $32,000 Kickstarter campaign for the film, which reached its funding goal in just three days – but McGuinness hopes the film will have an even wider appeal.
“When people who aren’t wrestling fans see it, I think maybe I’ll get a different perspective,” he says. “I think there are a lot of good messages in it that apply to a lot of people, even if they’re not wrestling fans.”
McGuinness is currently in the process of shopping the documentary around to film festivals in the hope that its deeper themes will resonate even with audiences who might turn up their noses at professional wrestling.
When McGuinness began work on the film, he envisioned it as a chronicle of his retirement tour and an explanation of why he vanished from in-ring action in 2011 (rumors had swirled about concussions and infectious disease; we won’t provide spoilers here). Once the cameras started rolling, however, the project went in directions McGuiness hadn’t foreseen.
“I went on a very big emotional journey, not just a physical journey, in making the documentary,” McGuinness says. “I realized certain resolutions as I was making it, and I think it put me in good stead to move forward.”
During his wrestling career, McGuinness was in a perpetual tug-of-war with himself, torn between enjoying his many successes – he held the Ring of Honor World Championship, travelled the world, got national TV exposure in TNA and was immortalized as an action figure – and always yearning for more.
In 2009, Pro Wrestling Illustrated ranked him sixth in its annual PWI 500 rankings, putting him ahead of many of the wrestlers he once idolized. His talent took him to Japan’s famed Korakuen Hall and to a hometown show in Wembley Arena. He shared the ring with the likes of Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and his other childhood idols.
Yet amid all the acclaim and stellar matches, a WWE contract remained his Holy Grail, and it always seemed just beyond his fingertips.
“I had a great, great experience in wrestling – travelling the world and meeting a lot of wonderful people. But I didn’t make a whole lot of money and I’m still not recognizable on the street, which, when I was a kid, was one of those things I really wanted. I always wanted more.”
Though largely inspired by Colt Cabana’s light-hearted Wrestling Road Diaries documentary, The Last of McGuinness has been described as a powerful tear-jerker by a number of reviewers – like a documentary version of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler.
But McGuiness isn’t looking for any sympathy. He insists that “life is good,” in large part due to the support and encouragement he received in making the film.
He is now pursuing other avenues of entertainment in California — dabbling in stand-up comedy, auditioning for acting roles and pondering his next film project.
“I’m here in Los Angeles, having a wonderful time, taking it day by day,” he says. “I don’t have to eat every three hours and go to the gym five days a week. If I want to eat pizza, I eat pizza. I’ve got a big belly and I don’t care – I’m keeping it. It’s all good.”
For the moment, he’s busy shipping DVDs of the film to fans who supported the project from the get-go, and cheered (or booed) him throughout his years in the ring.
“I wouldn’t have had a career without the fans – the real fans, who really understand the art form of professional wrestling,” he says.
“These people dug in their pockets. That’s what touched me. Some could only afford a few dollars, but they gave it to me because they believe in me and they believe in professional wrestling.”