The Moss Covered, Three Handled Family Gredunza

The death of professional wrestling

I don’t want to make it seem like I’m overstating by naming this column “The Death of Professional Wrestling.” I’ve thought about what to title what I’m about to write four the last four days. I’ve read every single article I could find that’s been published this week in regards to this story. I’ve noticed—and noticed with alarming lack of surprise—how accepting everyone seems to be. That’s not to say that everyone’s “fine.” For once, there wasn’t any ink spilled in the “this is ultimately a good thing” category, and I can bet that very, very few positives will come out of this situation. In fact, the only positives that even could come from this is more ammunition for those who wish for the end of this circus. For once, I can’t completely disagree with them.

Chris Benoit is, as of five days ago, a murderer. Before then, for the past twenty years, he’s been constantly noted as one of the sharpest wrestlers of all time. At least in terms of technical acumen, there were very few who could even match him. While not terribly charismatic in terms of verbal skills and “acting,” (this is precisely why more people know Hulk Hogan, despite the absolute polarity in terms of wrestling skill) Benoit was far more valuable to the wrestling world than any other “sports entertainer.” The reason for this is very simple—Benoit brought undeniable legitimacy to the “sport” this website dedicates itself to, and that’s why we unabashedly referred to him as “our lord and saviour.” He could seemingly do no wrong. Not only was he a solid company man, never once refusing to lose to anyone, but was also capable of making every other wrestler look better simply for being in the same ring. Throughout the years, he held just about every title there was to win. He has been a staple of prime time wrestling in the past ten years, and WWE is going to have an incredibly difficult time editing his visage out of their canon.

Most importantly, Benoit never once disappointed us. No matter what company he worked for, no matter what spot on the card he was on, and no matter what opponent he faced or what lame storyline he was in (thankfully, the majority of Benoit’s plot had to do with wrestling as its core) at no point in time did we falter in our appreciation for his work. This kind of respect has never been bestowed upon any other wrestler for as long a period as this. Benoit was the one wrestler that I could see working for any promotion, wrestling any wrestler, working every kind of style, and impressing everyone along the way.

I’ve mentioned this in previous articles. There are two kinds of wrestling fans; those who come for the stars and the spectacle, and those that come for the wrestling. For the second kind of fan, Benoit was the one to study. He didn’t really sell t-shirts, but the chance of Benoit having the most entertaining fight on any given card was almost a sure deal. Above the direct enjoyment, though, one can’t deny that Benoit was bullet proof from wrestling cynics. I’ve shown the Benoit DVD to many people, and the response is never negative. In an art form that is so easily mockable by those who don’t “get it,” Benoit was a rock. Absolutely nobody—not even now—can look at the Benoit library and say that any of that was “wrasslin.” There simply isn’t a better professional wrestler, and this is the reason that wrestling is dead.

Oh, sure, wrestling won’t go away. The business is too big for any single person to destroy it. And from here on, Benoit won’t be mentioned or shown for obvious and very understandable reasons. Chris Benoit is reported to have killed his wife and child, and this is something the business has to try to get away from. This is not WWE’s fault, and it isn’t something we can say is even pro wrestling’s fault. The epidemic of wrestlers dying before 50 is definitely a serious issue, and it in all likelihood has everything to do with a ruthless schedule and unrealistic physical expectations that have been placed on the wrestlers by the fans, their company, and themselves. But most of the deaths from the last ten years have been drug related. Most have been culminations of years of publicized drug abuse and mental instability. Benoit was the very first case where a stringent “good guy” that everyone—literally everybody—respected and admired took a complete 180-degree turn with his life.

I want to say that I agree with everyone else on the website that I hope everyone’s okay and that we should move on and eventually get better. But I really can’t. I can’t look at wrestling the same anymore. I don’t know if I want to. Benoit’s death will probably mark no point in macro wrestling history, but it should. It should mark a point when WWE realized that wrestling, like every other form of entertainment, requires an off-season. It should mark the point where the subject matter strewn about in the 10 hours of wrestling we watch every week changed. It should mark the end of steroid abuse, unrealistic physical strain, and political and on-screen injustice. But it won’t. Because Benoit is a murderer, his entire body of work has been tarnished. Because Benoit is a murderer, no lessons will be learned from his death. The press will blame “roid rage,” WWE will disavow all mention of Benoit, internet columnists will write a week’s worth of op eds, and in a few scant weeks, everything will go back to normal.

But, if there’s anything positive about any of this, the small things will change. Perhaps some unnecessary moves—such as the flying head butt straight into neck surgery—will be banned. Perhaps the young kid who idolized Benoit will take it all a little less seriously. Perhaps people who think that wrestling is just gay men in underwear will think a little harder about how serious it really is. Either way, pro wrestling is currently very, very dead. At least, until the apathy takes over and we return to our regularly scheduled pap.