REVIEW: Free the Narrative (2021)

A Pay-Per-View Event by Fite.TV and EC3

In 2013 TNA Wrestling introduced a new character named Ethan Carter III. he was the kayfabe nephew of company owner Dixie Carter, and fake grandson of dixie’s father Ethan Carter II. Coming in with the insufferable “chosen one” gimmick that one could assume someone would get being born into a millionaire’s family, and basically allowed to call his own shots anytime he wanted meant that he got under the crowd’s skin almost immediately. He ran a large undefeated streak mostly because of a “feud” he had going with a couple of jobbers that combined weighed probably 200 pounds. He was sharp on the mic, witty, and what he lacked in wrestling ability he definitely made up for with charisma. It wasn’t too long before EC3 began actually chalking up huge wins under his belt. He got better and better, eventually becoming perhaps my favorite guy in TNA. After “retiring” Sting, and Kurt Angle, he became the de facto heel in the company and was the man to beat for the longest time. Eventually EC3 became a two-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion among other accolades. Later, he became the big fish in a small pond that TNA could not afford. NXT came knocking, and EC3 jump ship to hopefully greener pastures …..or so it seemed.

EC3’s time in NXT was relatively short in uneventful – he never really got to lay down the roots that many NXT favorites were able to place, and was lost in the shuffle during a disastrous main roster push that saw NXT lose most of its top of the card talent, only to have them do absolutely nothing on Raw and Smackdown. Of all of those talents, EC3 seemed to be singled out right from the beginning as not very popular with Vince McMahon or his cronies. Many suspected that his “burial” (a term in wrestling coined for anyone who has fallen out of the favor of management or is ostensibly being punished) was a typical parting shot on TNA wrestling. At this time Vince McMahon was notorious for offering contracts to top rival company wrestlers, then doing absolutely nothing with them.

It was all left up to speculation as to what actually happened to get EC3 the insane “burial” that he was victim to. That was until 2019 when Jon Moxley, upon leaving WWE himself, shed some light on the insanity happening behind the scenes at WWE HQ. This is an excerpt from an interview he had speaking with Chris Jericho on his Talk is Jericho Podcast.

“[…] then they put me against EC3, debuting from NXT. Great talent, great friend of mine. Excited to work with him. They have EC3 come in as a babyface and defeat me in two minutes. The crowd does not like this, cause it’s transparent what’s happening. And this is not good for EC3 because now he’s gonna get the backlash. So it was an unfair position for him to be put in. So then we get to that weekend and I’m working with EC3 on house shows, now I’m the biggest babyface on the show. I’m a heel, I’m thumbing him in the eye, I’m making fun of the town, it doesn’t matter. They’re violently rejecting him as a babyface and cheering the hell out of me. […] the producers are telling [Vince] what’s happened, and he’s PISSED. Apparently he’s like, mad about this. That like, God forbid, so sorry that the fans, who I’ve busted my ass for years, might be upset at the fact that you want to bury me on my way out. You know, like… sorry, dude, you know? What I’ve given my body up for… Sorry that they have a shred of respect for me that you apparently don’t have.”

Now, under contract with Ring of Honor (ROH), EC3 has also been afforded the creative input and freedom to do things outside of that company. Pretty soon both he and Matt Cardona (another talent that WWE routinely treated poorly, also released during the Covid pandemic) concocted some kind of experimental wrestling pay-per-view called Free the Narrative. It was actually released sometime around the 4th of July, but I just now have gotten around to watching it because I wasn’t sure how I could get ahold of it (Fit.TV is the answer). Now that I’ve started doing more wrestling reviews on my blog, I figured something like this would be perfect for it. So, what is it? Is it a wrestling show? Is it a movie? An experiment? Or a piece of art? The answer for all is “yes”.

“A lot has changed in one year. While they have taken very different paths, EC3 and MATT CARDONA now find themselves on a collision course. Since their public dismissal during a world-wide pandemic, EC3 has asked, even demanded, that Cardona answer a seemingly simple question: “Are you happy?”

EC3 believes the answer goes far deeper than MATT admits, and has tormented CARDONA on social media, his podcast and his YouTube show in a quest for the “truth.” Now, we will finally learn the answer. These rivals will face off at “Free The Narrative,” which is available now on VIMEO and FITE TV. There will be no three-letter companies or corporate wrestling brands—only answers. In addition to this “featured fight,” EC3 has personally invited people you know and people you will know, all of whom are ready to embrace the #ControlYourNarrative movement.

Set to an original score, “Free The Narrative is an entirely independent production that will feature an innovative blend of professional wrestling, cinema, and harsh reality. To “Control Your Narrative” is to “tell your story. At “Free The Narrative” their stories will be told.”

At the very outset of the movie, EC3 is seen in a dingy garage with a wrestling ring flanked by a bunch of men wearing athletic hoodies. He gives an impassioned speech about the ills of society – how we are merely cogs in the grand machine that would know sooner throw us away then do anything to help us when we are being beaten down. He speaks mostly of corporate wrestling companies taking advantage of workers, forcing them to destroy their bodies and then casting them out the moment they do something wrong, or say something that doesn’t jive with the political leanings of said company. Most wrestlers are not millionaires, they’re basically working-class people that happened to be on the low rungs of the entertainment industry, they live paycheck to paycheck just like most of us.

EC3 talks about the importance of “control”, and how it’s important for people to try to control their own narrative and not be told who they are or what to do. One can see that the theme of this movie lies firmly with the anarchistic leanings of something like Fight Club. EC3 is riding the fine line between being a motivational speaker, and a modern cult leader in his delivery. He is relatable, and more than anything else he grabs onto the zeitgeist of the early pandemic era and shows how bad the world can be. He eloquently captures how many have felt these past few years. I absolutely love this new gimmick of EC3’s, it’s almost what WWE wanted to do with Sean O’Hare in the early 2000s when he was “The Devil’s advocate” but had none of the balls that EC3 has here.

One might be mistaken to think that this is merely a movie, or string of promos with maybe one “cinematic match” and nothing more. That is not the case with Free The Narrative, as we are blessed with a full card of wrestling matches, albeit presented in the cinematic manner. The wrestlers featured present themselves as people that have real world issues, they cut great promos establishing their “characters” just like in any wrestling show. They even have entrance themes as you would be accustomed to in any other modern wrestling event, just with a cinematic flair. these are men that might have been pushed out of their old jobs, or had nowhere really to go – but that’s where EC3 comes in. he can mold them into new versions of themselves, perfect versions of themselves.

For better or worse the global COVID-19 pandemic popularized the new match type “the cinematic match” to cover for the fact that not everyone could travel, or mandated limited staffing at venues, or even covering for older wrestlers or ones with injuries. We have been blessed with some great matches in this vein, and some completely egregious garbage as well. To me, this movie is the logical progression of these types of matches – a wrestling event basically told theatrically, as a film. This is the sort of thing WWE would likely love to do, but instead we got magic powers and Vikings vs Ninjas.

The Card

  • Jake Logan vs The Unknown Hand (Percy Watson)
  • Fodder vs Skyler
  • William vs Parrow
  • Moose vs Matt Sydal (The Vision)
  • EC3 vs Matt Cardona

I think one of the more interesting things done here was their answer to typical wrestling commentary. Instead of having a couple of talking heads telling you what’s going on in the match, we have a narrator talking about what the wrestler is feeling, or what their motivation might be from a third person perspective. it’s almost like we’re reading a book about a wrestling match versus watching a wrestling match. It’s a really weird thing, that I’m not sure I’m used to, but in many ways it’s fairly refreshing-I honestly can’t say I’ve ever seen a wrestling show do this.

Perhaps my only real quibble with Free The Narrative is that the matches are somewhat short. You can tell they filmed a full-on wrestling event that was edited down to look like a fight scene in a film. My favorite match due to the build-up, character building, and music was easily William vs Parrow. I thought it was a testament as to what a cinematic match could be, and almost had the appearance of a wrestling-themed music video or something. Speaking of which, the music for this movie is superb and was created specifically for this movie by Tommy Tanx. Speaking of William and Parrow, I hope some of these guys end up doing more moving forward, as I’d like to see more of both. I know Parrow works for NWA now, so I’ll need to keep an eye on him more.

In the main event, EC3 faces Matt Cardona after Carter posed one simple question to Matt – “are you happy?” Both were released by WWE on the exact same day, and both should be at their low points. Cardona surrounds himself with collectibles, has a beautiful fiancé, and seemingly is living his best life post-WWE. But the question still stands – is he happy? EC3 reveals he is not, he hasn’t been happy for a long time, and wants to show Matt that life is more than just material objects. The build-up to this match was awesome, and the match paid off really well. It ranks up there with either wrestler’s best wrestling moments simply because of how different it is.

Honestly, Free the Narrative isn’t perfect by any means, but its literally the most impressive, and fresh wrestling production I have ever seen, especially when you take artistic merit into account. It literally takes the idea of what a wrestling show “should be” and flips it entirely upside-down. If you thought Lucha Underground was rule-breaking, hold onto your hats, because it’s practically Jim Cornette approved in comparison to this. When you see almost 40 years of what a wrestling show IS, like I have, it truthfully hasn’t evolved much in the grand scheme of things. moves may be flashier now, matches may be more stunt-oriented, and there may be more blood, but at its core wrestling is always wrestling. It takes something like this to truly do as its namesake and Free the Narrative to make something completely new.

I know it’s months after the fact, but I literally signed up for Fite.TV just to see this. The service runs smooth and has a solid amount of content, so I might end up keeping it (you can get a free trial). Free the Narrative 2 is out in October, and I can’t wait to see it, as it stars EC3 coming face-to-face with Adam Scherr, The former Braun Strowman.

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