Historically Speaking: A Crippling Look Back

Columns, Top Story

“History will absolve me.” – Fidel Castro

The Opening Chapter
This column is all about history. Usually I look back at events from years gone by, and I look back at them with a sense of fondness. I like to look back at events that helped shape wrestling history. Well this week I’m quite short on time, but I do want to take a look back at an event that is already shaping wrestling history despite it happening only a year ago. And usually I look back at things with fondness, but even a year later I can only look back in despair.

Yes folks, this is going to be one of the first of what I imagine to be a glutton of articles across the ‘Net about Chris Benoit and the events that happened the weekend of June 22-24, 2007.

I can still remember the day like it was yesterday. I came home right at 7 pm, forgetting that RAW was going to be a three-hour show that evening. I quick turned on USA Network and the first thing I see is the Finger Eleven “One Thing” music video WWE produced back when Benoit was World Heavyweight Champion. I got that pit in my stomach and immediately sat down on the bed without seeing an “In Memory” image or hearing anyone say the words. I then ran over to the computer and had my brother, who was using it, quick log on to wwe.com to see if my fears were true. They were; the wrestling world had lost another brother.

I sat there and watched the three-hour empty arena tribute in a sense of shock. I didn’t check the Internet at all during the show, so afterwards when I logged on and saw that there was a probable case of double murder and suicide, it threw a huge monkey wrench into what we had just seen. That night the Internet wrestling world was absolutely abuzz. Everyone and their mother were throwing out their opinions and thoughts on what had happened. All I can say is that thank God some of the major newsboards (including IP) didn’t have comments as a regular feature yet.

As for myself I had just graduated in mid-May and was currently unemployed and on the job hunt. So needless to say I didn’t do a thing Tuesday or Wednesday of that week, but rather I just stayed glued to the computer screen, as new updates, rumors, theories and accusations popped by the minute. I think my favorite theory from all that mess was that Sherri Martel, who had just died the week before and/or Kevin Sullivan had something to do with the deaths.

Meanwhile the news and entertainment media created a proverbial shit storm out of the whole mess. The 24-hour news networks devoted their quiet June days to Benoit. Every aspect of the entire ordeal was dissected and re-dissected. The first hours and days were devoted to just the shock of the case, combined with the unraveling thoughts and news. Then talk shifted to every other thing they could think of. Chris’ son may or may not have had Fragile-X syndrome. Pro wrestling is a brutal industry that can lead to life-altering physical and mental injuries. There were the consequences of a child being killed by a father. Then the fall out of Chris being a role model and hero to millions of people who watched him on television or saw him live in person. There were revelations of Chris’ personal life with his friends, co-workers and his immediate family. He fought with wife constantly, and apparently never got over the untimely death of his best friend Eddie Guerrero. And of course, there was the talk about drugs and steroids.

Every talking head had his/her own analysis on the situation. Everyone quickly formed opinions and it soon became a media circus. Pro wrestlers and former pro wrestlers came out of the woodworks in droves trying to re-find their fifteen minutes of fame. Men who had out of the public spotlight for years, men like Steve Blackman, Brian Christopher, Marc Mero and Marc Bagwell all of a sudden had opinions of their “friend” Chris and had a worldwide platform to broadcast to them.

Dr. Phil Astin, Benoit’s personal doctor, was pretty much thrown under the bus and took a beating in the media. He was placed under house arrest, had all his professional records seized and pretty much lost all credibility in the medical field, as well as gaining a nice criminal rap sheet.

As would be expected, World Wrestling Entertainment took a sound thrashing in the media. They quickly distanced themselves from Benoit, pretty much absolving him from history like he was never there. The company was on the defensive and spun their story as well as everyone else was spinning their own stories about the tragedy. They claimed Benoit was a “monster” that wasn’t in the right frame of mind. He was stressed about his family, and he became a different person. According to WWE, they had nothing to do with Benoit state of mind or well-being. They looked to drum to their standing by getting harsher with their Wellness Policy and ended up suspending ten men in late summer for various drug violations. They also offered to pay for drug or alcohol rehab for anyone who has ever worked for the company, an offer men like Jake Roberts, Scott Hall, Sean Waltman and Ron Simmons took the company up on.

Yet a year later, has that much really changed? Athletes in WWE are still getting caught for Wellness violations. The company is still pulling stupid stunts to try to pull in lost viewers. Other than Randy Orton winning the World Championship from a nameless opponent, and one of the greatest matches of WrestleMania being erased from history, things seem like business as normal for the company.

As for the in-ring talent, Montel Vontavious Porter gained a measure of wisdom and on-the-job training from his months long rivalry with Benoit while Johnny Nitro became a mid-card joke on RAW into a budding superstar after the infamous no-show at last year’s Vengeance. Benoit’s new role of player coach for ECW has now fallen to Kane of all people.

The Perspective
It’s hard to believe that it has been a year already since all that drama has unfolded. Benoit has become a punch line in the media while remaining non-existent within WWE canon. Crusades against drugs and steroids in wrestling and sports in general still have led to no tangible results. Former WWE talent Christopher Nowinski has spearheaded the Sports Legacy Institute to raise awareness of head injuries in all forms of athletics. But still chair shots remain and professional wrestling chugs along business as usual. The actions of that weekend still remain fresh in everyone’s minds, and only time will tell how this tragedy is shaped through history’s eyes.

For this week the vault is closed…

Linked to the Pulse
Ivan calls for a change in the commentary style in WWE.

Scott Keith is back with his old Mailbag of Doom.

Vinny shares his experience of watching WWE on the Armed Forces Network.

This Day in History
I figured if we are talking history around here we should pay homage to what has happened on this very day in the years gone by. It will either make you long for the old days or be happy for what we have now.

1948 – The current NWA formed in Waterloo, Iowa
1986 – Antonio Inoki defeated Dick Murdoch in a tournament final for the IWGP Heavyweight title
1993 – The Steiner Brothers defeated Money, Inc. for the WWF Tag Team title
1994 – WWF King of the Ring was held at the Baltimore Arena, Baltimore, MD
1999 – Nick Gage defeated John Zandig for the Combat Zone World Heavyweight Title
1999 – Justice Pain defeated Lobo for the Combat Zone World Ironman Title
2000 – Gerald Brisco defeated Crash Holly for the WWF Hardcore title
2000 – Pat Patterson defeated Gerald Brisco for the WWF Hardcore title
2000 – Big Vito defeated Johnny the Bull for the WCW Hardcore title
2001 – The Dudley Boyz defeated Chris Benoit & Chris Jericho for the WWF Tag Team title
2002 – NWA-TNA debuts on PPV
2002 – Ken Shamrock won a 20 man Battle Royal for the NWA Heavyweight title

1936 – Jim Browning died of a pulmonary embolism
1938 – Wahoo McDaniel was born
1973 – Lou Marconi was born
1979 – Billy Reil was born

The Assignment
It’s important to know your history to know where you have come from and where you are going. Back when Nova was in charge of the WWE developmental system he implemented mandatory history assignments for the students of the developmental territories so they would know pro wrestling’s history and they would learn just how many moves Nova created and apparently the best ways to get on-line prescriptions. I feel Nova had a great idea there and every week I will assign a book or DVD for you to check out and learn from. They are not only educational, but very entertaining.

Yeah it’s not happening this week. I barely remember the past two and a half weeks, I’ve been so busy. I only remembered I had a column to write this afternoon, so I don’t have any Assignment for you.

Mark was a columnist for Pulse Wrestling for over four years, evolving from his original “Historically Speaking” commentary-style column into the Monday morning powerhouse known as “This Week in ‘E.” He also contributes to other ventures, outside of IP, most notably as the National Pro Wrestling Examiner for Examiner.com and a contributor for The Wrestling Press. Follow me on Twitter here.