Matt Basilo On Chris Benoit

I know I don’t normally write for the wresting zone of Inside Pulse, but as a lifelong wrestling fan, I need to discuss the Chris Benoit matter. This was originally just going to be an introduction for a television column, but it got so long that I decided to make it a column of its own. Thanks to the Pulse Wrestling guys for giving me the opportunity to vent.

Quite honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever gone through such a wide range of emotions regarding a death, of any sort, in my life. It was probably about 5:45 or 6:00 Monday evening when I hit the “refresh” button while at WWE.com, with the shocking heading that read “Benoit Found Dead.” It struck me as exceptionally odd, only because I had assumed that the events the night earlier, in which it was announced that Benoit was dealing with a family emergency and thus could not compete at Vengeance, was merely a pre-planned angle. I read the article, and was even more astonished to learn that not only was Benoit found dead, but his family was as well.

My first instinct, and one that stuck with me until late Monday night, was that it was carbon monoxide poisoning. I had read in various places that Benoit had told WWE officials that his wife and son were ill, and throwing up blood. The scenario I played out in my head was that Benoit was at a live event, got an urgent call from his wife saying that her and their son were not feeling well, so he rushed home. While at home, all three of them passed away because of the undetected carbon monoxide.

I watched the Raw tribute show, which at the time I thought was handled flawlessly, with that belief. I was nearly drawn to tears as I watched Chris, his wife Nancy, and their son Daniel kissing and celebrating in the ring after winning the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XX. I was in awe as I watched the ending of that match, with Chris and Eddie raising each other’s hands, with their title belts draped over their shoulders, thinking, “both of these guys are now dead.” Or when they showed Chris Benoit’s match against Dean Malenko, with Nancy (as Woman) and Miss Elizabeth at ringside, and thinking “everybody but Dean is now dead.” It was surreal, and very sad.

I also kept thinking to myself, “Well, Benoit’s certainly going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.” I wondered odd things, like how long they’d keep his profile on the ECW Superstars page, remembering that they pretty much kept Eddie’s on the SmackDown page until his official induction.

Following Raw, the news started filtering in that this wasn’t some tragic accident. Instead, it was a horrific crime. As I read at various news sites that investigators believed that Chris had murdered his wife and son, and then killed himself, I was in borderline denial. It wasn’t until WWE.com started reporting that same news later that night that I started accepting it as a real possibility.

Monday night, WWE.com was practically a shrine to Chris Benoit, offering photos, videos, and career retrospectives. Tuesday morning, there was only one reference to him on the main page. Suddenly his bio was gone, all references to him on the Raw and ECW pages were gone. Even TNA removed their condolences from their site. It suddenly felt odd that, hours earlier, the people who knew him best were talking about how much of a family man he was. How he was one of the most liked people on the roster. How Triple H, of all people, said he respected him more than anybody else.

It’s now Wednesday as I write this column, and we’ve found out so much more. It was discovered that Chris had his wife’s hands and feet bound, and that she had suffered a bloody wound of some sort on the back of her head. It is believed that he killed her sometime Friday. Then, sometime Saturday, it is believed that he smothered his son. He proceeded to place Bibles next to each of their bodies, and then took his own life, likely early Sunday morning.

One of the most disturbing parts of all of this is how, likely after having killed his wife and son, he’s talking to WWE co-workers and officials about how his wife and child are ill. Or how they’re at the hospital. For the life of me, I cannot possibly fathom what must have been going through his head. Even now, it’s so astonishing going to WWE.com and seeing the image of Benoit front and center, and thinking, “this man is a murderer.”

Despite having never met Benoit, and to be honest I cannot even remember if I’ve even seen him wrestle live, I just feel very .disappointed. Even just ignoring the utterly tragic aspects of these events, I look at Chris Benoit and I think “what a waste.” It seems like a week ago I was reading on some website how Chris Benoit had a job for life, and how he was basically being groomed for an agents job. Unquestionably, he was a future Hall of Famer. It seemed so odd that, arguably, the greatest technical wrestler of all time, who probably accomplished more than anybody else based solely on his wrestling ability, was going to be a giant blemish (likely the greatest blemish) on the wrestling industry. Any reference to him or any of his matches, whatsoever, would now be avoided at all costs.

I’ve now come to terms, more or less, regarding what Chris had done. Can I watch any of his matches, or read any past article about him, and think anything but “he killed his wife and son”? No, not at the moment, and I probably never will. However, in coming to terms with this, I can’t help but find myself really annoyed about something else entirely: the fact that people, particularly fans (and even more specifically, internet wrestling fans), find the need to place the blame elsewhere.

I recently read a column by Wade Keller on PWTorch (which I typically avoid at all costs. I’ve never seen so many pop-ups somehow avoid a pop-up blocker), talking about the five major talking points of the Benoit tragedy. I’m not sure exactly what it was about the article, but it just irked me exceptionally. It came off more as “five reasons why what happened is not Benoit’s fault.” Of course, I know that was by no means the intention, but it just came off that way. It was roid rage .but if it wasn’t that, it was all those concussions from doing flying headbutts (which weren’t his fault, by the way. WWE had the responsibility to not allow him to do them). But if it wasn’t those two things, it was lack of vacation. Or his son’s illness. Hell, even the category titled “Individual Choice” somehow blames McMahon, and not Benoit. Re-read that past sentence, and you’ll understand why the article bothered me.

When you take a close look at Benoit’s WWE career, it really becomes hard for me see how anyone can blame them in any way. He was never pushed any lower than the top of the midcard. Hell, even when he had to take a year off for neck surgery, he was still the #3 SmackDown pick at the original WWF draft. Think about that: He’d been out for a year, and was months away from returning, and he was drafted before Hulk Hogan, who had just made a monstrously popular face turn. Drafted before Hulk friggin’ Hogan. He then returns and is immediately thrown into the main event feud between Austin and Flair. Additionally, how many times in his WWE career was Benoit without any title whatsoever? And whether he was a heel or face, he was always a very dominant champion.

To all of those people claiming that WWE’s insane road schedule is somehow to blame, don’t forget that Benoit was granted a several month long sabbatical to recover from general wear and tear. He didn’t have a major injury, he just needed time to recuperate. Was he punished when he returned? Nope, he won the United States Championship in his second match back, beating (by submission) the heavily pushed Mr. Kennedy. And he proceeded to hold that championship for over half a year. Don’t get me wrong, if WWE can alter their schedule for the overall well being of their talent, I’m all for it. But, quite simply, the road schedule is not to blame in this particular case.

I touched upon this earlier in the column, but I feel like WWE did an absolutely fantastic job with this situation. Upon finding out about Chris’ death, they cancelled the upcoming show, which was only a few hours away (the one time the show truly did not “go on”) and they abandoned their top angle (the McMahon “death”). Talent was told they could go home, with a few opting to stay back for their testimonials (consider the vast reduction of testimonials for this tribute when compared to Eddie or Owen, despite being a three hour show, and having all three rosters readily available).

Upon finding out what actually happened, they took down all tribute references, but didn’t pretend like this never happened. As of this writing, Benoit is still the featured story on WWE.com. At the same time, they’re not needlessly giving him publicity, having removed his bio, his 24/7 Online section, and all of his merchandise on WWE.com. They also acknowledged their error in running the tribute show before all the facts were gathered (and make no mistake, if they hadn’t run a tribute show on Monday, there would have been a HUGE outcry).

On top of all of that, it was WWE officials who took it upon themselves to alert the authorities of Benoit’s odd behavior when it was brought to their attention, asking that they check his home to make sure he and his family is okay.

I think it’s important that everybody remember that Chris Benoit was certainly in a position that he could ask for time off if the rigors of the road were becoming too much for him to handle. Along with that, as a “lifer,” I can guarantee that if he decided to retire, on the spot he would be given a job as a road agent. Remember, it was a year or so ago that Kurt Angle, who was arguably a more valuable asset in the eyes of WWE officials, was granted his release because, according to him, this lifestyle was too much for him to handle.

I won’t pretend to know what was going on in Chris Benoit’s life that led him to do what he did, but I do know it’s not Vince McMahon’s fault, and anybody who tries to use this tragedy to fight a crusade against McMahon, WWE, or the rigors of the road, are doing a great disservice to the heinous acts committed by Chris Benoit.

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