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Dark Side of the Ring Remembers the Time That Pornographers Ran a Wrestling Promotion

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Extreme and Obscene: Rob Black’s XPW

Dark Side of the Ring
Extreme and Obscene: Rob Black’s XPW Review

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect topic for Dark Side of a Ring than Xtreme Pro Wrestling (XPW), the independent wrestling promotion from around the turn of the Millennium that took the ethos of mid-’90s ECW and the WWF’s Attitude Era, and added one more element: That was essentially operated as a West Coast offshoot of Extreme Associates, a porn production company, but once ECW got a TV deal, XPW was left on their own. 

Sure, WWE had Val Venis, a character who was supposed to be a porn star. But XPW was run by actual, real-life pornographers. 

The episode, “Extreme and Obscene: Rob Black’s XPW,” goes through the whole sordid story of XPW, which featured some memorable wrestling from ECW veterans, but collapsed relatively quickly amid all sorts of legal woes. 

XPW was founded by Rob Zicari, also known as Rob Black, who had been a porn business entrepreneur for a while before turning to wrestling. Extreme Associates’ porn was on the subversive side, even by the standards of the time, and the sexual content in XPW made the lowest moments of sexism in the Attitude Era look like nothing. Rob Black also did the Vince McMahon/Eric Bischoff thing in which he both owned the company and played an on-camera villain character. 

And there wasn’t exactly a firewall between the two companies. They shared an office — with employees of the wrestling company sharing a workspace with nude adult performers. David Marquez, the guy who produced XPW’s TV shows — a guy with an award-winning news background — was asked to edit adult videos with some extremely questionable subject matter. 

Indeed, wrestling has a long history of being sleazy and disreputable, and if you don’t believe me, I invite you to watch all of Dark Side of the Ring up until this point. Small-time indie wrestling, even more so. But not many federations have been quite so mafia-like, as illustrated in the incident when the wrestler known as Messiah had his thumb cut off by assailants- in an assault, the documentary implies, was done at Rob Black’s direction. 

Extreme and Obscene: Rob Black’s XPW
Image: Vice

There are some fun details, including that New Jack was given hundreds of porn DVDs by the company; New Jack, who died in May, is interviewed on camera, with the episode dedicated to his memory. We also learned that the company, very much illegally, forged insurance documents for at least one event. It might have been wise for that guy to check on California’s statute of limitations for insurance fraud before admitting that on camera. 

Black and Borden did not participate in the documentary, and we quickly realize why: While Black was never charged in connection with either the thumb assault or the insurance fraud, but he was prosecuted by the federal government on obscenity charges, after publicly challenging then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to come after him. This put him in league with the likes of Hugh Hefner, Larry Flynt, and Al Goldstein, other pornographers-turned-free speech martyrs, though in Black’s case he likely did much worse stuff than produce bad pornography. 

The prosecution left Black and Borden unable to continue XPW, and they ultimately served a year each in prison. But in a shocking twist ending, it turns out Rob Black is now… running a hamburger stand, and is happily married with kids.

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Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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