The Reality of Wrestling: Chris Benoit

The Reality of Wrestling: Chris Benoit
By Phil Clark

“it’s true what they say about heroes, they’ll only disappoint you”—Mike Campbell

I could’ve done this article last week during the media storm that was The Benoit Tragedy, but I didn’t. I didn’t because I wanted to wait until all the facts were in (they all may never be) and everyone else had had their say (most have). What has come after the gruesome details of Benoit’s demise and that of his child and wife is a firestorm directed at The E, Benoit’s doctor, and Benoit himself on topics ranging from what role steroids played in this to Benoit apparently being Hitler. This is my way of putting the pieces together for myself and whoever reads this column, and saying goodbye to one of my favorites.

P.C. Says: I’ll remember Benoit for his in-ring greatness

It happened. We all know it happened and how apparently. Now is the time to reflect and move on.

I am fully aware that anyone writing any type of pro-Benoit column in the last week has been up for ridicule that seems justified. However, what most people don’t understand or still don’t grasp is that anybody talking about Benoit’s achievements in the ring is talking about Benoit’s time in the ring (crazy I know) not what he did outside of it. That is the one true beautiful thing about pro wrestling: they are LITERALLY telling you that they are separate from the real world. And all the shoot comments in the world won’t make that any different. We don’t really know what these guys go through, we don’t really know the day-to-day struggles they endure, we really don’t know anything when it comes to our favorite wrestlers unless we know them personally; that’s the whole point. All we really know is that we see them once or twice a week for a match or an interview and that’s it.

For Benoit this was apparently building for years; troubles at home, GHB, roids, and stress are an ugly mix of ingredients and sadly we had to find out the product of them all. Now it would be fitting for me to eliminate most of the hate that this article will bring to me by saying that I DON’T IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM CONDONE THE ACTIONS OF CHRIS BENOIT THAT RESULTED IN HIS DEATH AND THE DEATHS OF HIS WIFE AND SON. A little long I’ll agree, but it will hopefully get the point across. I don’t condone this (how could I?) and quite frankly it has rocked me and made me question a lot of things. Maybe most troubling and most profoundly, it is another example of how we all may need to take a look at who we look up to and who we admire.

The one thing that troubles me is how much of a shock this was. Now because it happened or how suddenly it happened, but that there was no buildup to this via the Internet. In the Internet age, especially in wrestling, nothing gets past the rumor mills. Yet, in the few years since things cooled down between Benoit and Nancy, you saw or heard nothing about their troubles at home. In wrestling, everyone’s personal problems become news. Think about how quickly we were all informed about Austin beating his wife back in 2002 or the “Airplane Ride from Hell” the same year? Bad news becomes real news real quick in the Internet world and the proof that it’s here to stay is that wrestling companies for the last couple of years have been trying to incorporate any Internet news into storylines. So why no news of Benoit’s troubles? My guess: he kept a lot inside, in this case too much.

Of course, the death of friends could’ve been what finally pushed Benoit over the proverbial edge. Losing Guerrero hurt everyone in the wrestling world, but no one more so than Benoit. What he lost in that death was more than a friend, but a companion, a sort of therapist, and a sort of spiritual guide. Plus, losing a friend of nearly fifteen years to a sudden death with hurt without the added loss. Then, there was Johnny Grunge. Grunge, Benoit’s neighbor, apparently was the referee for the Benoits during the last years of their troubled marriage helping them sort out some of the problems by playing the middleman. Sadly, he died last year from complications of sleep apnea and Benoit not only lost another dear friend, but probably the last thing keeping him afloat.

Here’s my guess how it happened: Benoit went home that weekend for reasons that haven’t fully been made clear but more than likely had to do with the condition of David—he has Fragile X, or maybe not. He and Nancy got into a very heated argument over David and Benoit in a moment of rage (maybe Roid Rage) killed her. Realizing what he had done, he decided to kill himself, but didn’t want David to suffer through the rest of his life with his condition and without parents. So, he waited and finally smothered David before hanging himself.

Is it the best theory? No. But it’s just as good as any theory that’s out there now. The Kevin Sullivan theory is interesting and would make for a good episode of Law & Order, but I seriously doubt that that’s the case here. Could it be? Of course, at this point anything could be possible, hell even the triple murder theory still hasn’t been thrown out by everyone. As of now, all we can do is make theories on what we think happened based on what we’ve got to work with. And even that could be questionable considering the Wikipedia fiasco attached to this whole thing. I don’t think we’ll ever know the full truth. We’ll end up knowing how the action went down via a timeline created by investigators, but past that I doubt we’ll know the why and without a note or motive that doubt may be justified. It is quite sad because without the why, that’s the exact question that wrestling fans, fans of Benoit, people interested in this case, the people working this case, and myself will be asking for a long, long time.

However, this is not how I’ll remember Chris Benoit. The consensus I’ve gotten from reading other people’s takes on this and from going through multiple message boards is that Benoit is scum and his in-ring years are irrelevant, that we can’t separate Chris Benoit the wrestler and Chris Benoit the person. I think that’s a bunch of shit because I just separated them; the wrestler and the person, those are two different people and two different things to look at. In the ring the man was a genius and one of the best at his craft, out of the ring he had many problems that he just couldn’t overcome. Don’t think I’m simplifying this whole thing, that’s just my way of summing it all up.

For twenty years, Chris Benoit was one of the best (and many years the best) workers in wrestling. He was a pillar of excellence and a good example of how to conduct yourself in the ring and in the business itself. Never selfish about jobbing, never selfish about helping a new guy or putting over a new guy, Benoit was a go to guy in any company he worked for. Think of his matches with Jushin Liger, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Kevin Sullivan, The Great Sasuke, Chris Jericho, Shawn Michaels, HHH, Kurt Angle, Steve Austin, The Rock, Rey Mysterio, Edge, Booker T, Finlay, and so many others that I can’t list them all and tell me that he wasn’t the best in-ring worker of the last twenty years.

I can still remember where I was and what I was doing the night Benoit gave Austin ten straight German suplexes. I remember the diving headbutt off the cage to Angle. Benoit refusing to submit to the Brock lock is what made me a full-fledged Benoit fans after so many years of just being a fan of his. The match with Angle at Rumble 2003 had me and a whole room of my friends on our feet yelling at the T.V. in excitement and suspense. And then, there’s Wrestlemania XX. Most people have already denounced the moment, and I do believe it’s incredibly cryptic that both Guerrero and Benoit are dead less than four years after it happened, but for one night two men who had gone through the business the traditional way finally rose above all the political bullshit and stood alone in The Garden with world titles at the biggest show in wrestling. That’s how I’ll remember that night, especially because I was the one guy in the room who thought Benoit would win.

When Charles Barkley said, “I’m not a role model,” it may have been a stroke of genius on his part. Athletes, celebrities, etc. aren’t role models no matter how badly we want them to be. They simply aren’t. They’re doing their job (like a plumber or a carpenter) and trying to be the best or make the most money; just like everyone else. The fact that they have legions of fans and merchandise money are some of the perks of being a pro athlete. But they are not role models. If they’re doing what they want to do and doing it well, why should they care if people like them or hate them or want to be like them? I’m a guy who separates real life and sport by focusing on sport. I don’t care what happens to Kobe Bryant outside of basketball because I don’t know him personally, but I do care if he only scores 15 points in a game. And the same can be said for wrestling. That’s how you separate reality and the stage. So I will continue to watch Benoit matches (they are great matches) and continue to praise Benoit’s ability (it is great ability) because that is how I will remember Chris Benoit: as an extremely talented athlete who wrestled a style very Japanese while being very American who gave the world tons of great matches and great moments. The end of his life, sadly, will be a bad ending to what should’ve been a great story.

For me, it’ll all be about those ten Germans.

The Reality is they’re gone. Chris, Nancy, and David are dead. Bluntly, that’s the story. The shock and sadness has already left me and is replaced by wonder and anger at why it had to end like this. A guy who did so much and seemed to be able to still do so much had a mental lapse and that was it. Eddie Guerrero’s death in 2005 was a tragedy too, but unlike this one, it brought me to tears. Again, I didn’t know Eddie Guerrero, but I still cried. I did because Guerrero’s story was one that we could all identify with: a man consumed with his own demons for life finally overcomes them and becomes a better person for doing so only to die after getting his life on track. That is tragic, that is sad, and considering he was a guy that I had watched since almost the moment he first touched U.S. soil in the ring, it was sad to lose someone you’ve watched for ten years. With Benoit, it is sad because he was one of my favorites of all-time, but the circumstances behind his death have prevented any tears from floating. In the end we have to move on. When news of Benoit’s death first hit me I thought the fan in me had died too. But I have come to realize that a person stops being a fan of something when they have stopped looking for things to like about that something. With wrestling, if you’re a fan, you have to try to stop being one. New Japan is having its best year in years, ROH is ROH and now on PPV, Kurt Angle has two belts, there is still plenty to love about wrestling. So any people who think they are done with wrestling as fans, please, try to find something else before calling it quits.

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