Fighting With My Family is based on the true story of WWE's Paige and her journey to the top of professional wrestling, but Stephen Merchant's film still changed several key things. Written and directed by Merchant, the film stars Florence Pugh (The Little Drummer Girl) as Saraya Knight/Paige, Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) as her older brother Zak, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson playing himself.
Dwayne Johnson spearheaded production of Fighting With My Family after he saw the 2012 UK documentary about the Knight Family called The Wrestlers: Fighting With My Family. Stephen Merchant was not a wrestling fan before he began this project but became one after attending WWE shows and spending days with the Knight family at their wrestling shows in Norwich, England. Merchant also sent Florence Pugh and Jack Lowden to train as wrestlers at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. While the actors perform some of their own stunts, Tessa Blanchard, a pro-wrestler and the daughter of wrestling legend Tully Blanchard, was the stuntwoman who performed Paige's more challenging wrestling moves.
The best film about professional wrestling since Darren Aronofsky's Oscar-nominated The Wrestler, Fighting With My Family should please WWE fans and non-fans alike with its entertaining rags-to-riches tale. Merchant strived to be as authentic to Paige's story as possible, but he made many creative decisions in order to clarify her WWE journey and to benefit the film's narrative. Here's what Fighting With My Family changed from Paige's real-life story.
- This Page: Paige's Real Life & How The Film Changed Her NXT Career
- Page 2: The True Story Of The People Paige Met In Fighting With My Family
- Page 3: Changes To Paige's WWE Debut & What Happened After The Movie Ends
Paige's Real Family And Wrestling Background
Fighting With My Family is set between 2011 and 2014, and is overall quite accurate with its portrayal of the real-life Knight family. Paige (real name Saraya-Jade Bevis) was born into a family of professional wrestlers. Her father "Rowdy" Ricky Knight (Nick Frost, who sports a beard the real Ricky didn't have in 2011) is the founder and promoter of Norwich, UK-based World Association of Wrestling (WAW) along with his wife "Sweet" Saraya Knight (Lena Headey), a renowned female wrestler. Their eldest son is Roy Knight (James Burrows), who wrestles as Zebra Kid; Roy is Ricky's son from a previous relationship and is the half-brother of the siblings Zak, who wrestles as Zak Zodiac, and Saraya, the only daughter, who wrestled as Britani Knight in WAW before becoming Paige in WWE. It was the entire family's dream that both Zak and Saraya would make it to WWE.
The film portrays Roy as being in prison after he failed his own WWE tryout; in real-life Roy was not incarcerated and actively wrestled along with the rest of family. Merchant wrote Roy out of much of the film in order to emphasize the relationship and conflict between Zak and Saraya. Otherwise, Fighting With My Family has fun portraying the low-budget world of independent British wrestling where WAW puts on shows in convention centers and halls in front of dozens of paying customers.
In real-life, Britani was the biggest draw and top star of the family, especially once word got out she signed with WWE. In addition to WAW, the Knights also wrestled and won championships in many countries, including the United States, with Britani and her mom "Sweet" Saraya becoming tag team champions in the U.S.-based, all-female SHIMMER promotion in 2011 before Britani left for WWE. Zak was the male star of the family who also booked matches behind the scenes, and he did run the training school and taught at-risk teens how to wrestle. Amazingly, Fighting With My Family's portrayal of Zak teaching a blind teenage boy to wrestle is also true; the real Zak did impressively develop a system to teach a blind kid how to move in the ring and to wrestle by using sound and touch.
Saraya passed her WWE tryout at the O2 Arena in London in April 2011 and received her contract in September 2011, a longer time than in the movie. While the film depicts Saraya and Zak getting their tryout (and meeting The Rock) at Smackdown Live; in reality, WWE wouldn't rebrand Smackdown as a live show until 2016. When he failed his tryout, Zak was told by WWE to add "two stone" (about 28 pounds) of muscle and try out again, but he injured his knee in the interim and still wasn't picked. Though he never received a WWE contract, Zak has wrestled for WWE as enhancement talent; he has appeared on WWE television during their UK tours and he continues to wrestle in and promote WAW shows.
How NXT/WWE Works And How The Movie Changed Paige's NXT Career
Fighting With My Family changes and simplifies many aspects of Paige's career in NXT, mainly to smoothen the story for general audiences. In reality, Paige did not go to NXT when she signed with WWE; in 2011, WWE's developmental territory was called Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW). This was where Saraya trained and received her new ring name, Paige; according to the film, she named herself after Rose McGowan's character in Charmed. WWE rebranded FCW as NXT in 2013 and, under the leadership of WWE Executive Vice President Paul "Triple H" Levesque, launched a hugely successful initiative to turn NXT into both a developmental system and a new touring brand for WWE. In addition, WWE opened their state-of-the-art Performance Center in Orlando, Florida in July 2013, which didn't yet exist when Paige arrived in FCW, though the film portrays Saraya training at the WWE PC from the beginning.
Today, most future WWE wrestlers train in and perform for NXT first, often for years, before being called up to the main roster. They not only learn WWE's style of wrestling but also the technical details of how to perform for the TV cameras and the audience at home. The film accurately depicts the type of training wrestlers receive in NXT, including numerous drills, workouts in the ring perfecting moves, and "promo class", where they learn to give live interviews on the microphone. Fighting With My Family's boot camp-style training scenes nod a bit to the fact that before NXT was rebranded as WWE's developmental arm, from 2010-2013, NXT was actually a quasi-reality show for wrestlers hoping to get to the main roster where they would participate in often-humiliating game show-like contests and would be mocked by the announcers. Paige never participated in that version of NXT, but her opponent at the end of the film, A.J. Lee, was a popular contestant before she earned her way to the main WWE roster. Just like in the film, the NXT roster is indeed invited to WrestleMania and watches the show from backstage; some also get to participate in background roles on the show.
Fighting With My Family depicts Paige as uncertain in the ring and on the microphone to dramatize the difficulty of making it in NXT and to portray Paige as an underdog misfit. While she did face challenges like injuries and homesickness, in real-life, Paige was already a polished performer who was hugely popular with the fans and she was an obvious star with surefire WWE main roster potential. Her goth look and unique sex appeal were different from the glamorous WWE Divas of that era and she was billed as "The Anti-Diva". After FCW became NXT, Paige became the first NXT Women's Champion; she defended the title in a highly-praised match against Emma in the first NXT Takeover pay-per-view, NXT Takeover: Arrival, in February 2014. After she won raves for her PPV match, Paige's WWE call-up was assured and happened only two months later.