Considered by many historians as the greatest technical wrestler to ever lace up a pair of wrestling boots, Chris Benoit was a fan favorite beloved around the world. From his technical prowess to the smashmouth brawls, Benoit seemed to have a God-Given gift; understanding every standpoint of the business. He had better psychology inside of the squared circle than most, and was exceptional inside the ring. He could cut a decent promo and put a lot of butts in seats. Benoit got his start in his homeland of Canada, working under the legendary Hart Family in Calgary. He then jumped to Japan before finally coming to the States working for WCW and ECW. In 2000, he made his WWF debut with three of his best friends in the business (Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko); and in 2004 he won the World Heavyweight Championship in the Main Event of WrestleMania 20.
A little more than 3 years after, tragedy struck the World of Professional Wrestling when one of its most popular stars no-showed a Pay-Per-View for the first time in his career. Shortly after being drafted to the ECW brand in June of 2007, he was scheduled to face CM Punk for the ECW World Championship at Vengeance: Night of Champions. Much to the confusion of the crowd, John Morrison came out to face CM Punk because Benoit was nowhere to be found. The WWE sent a few people over to his house, as nobody had heard from him in around 3 days. It was there where they found Benoit hanging on his weight machine dead, alongside of his wife and autistic 7-year-old-son.
As police weren’t quite sure what had happened, they immediately informed the company. The company held a tribute show for Benoit the next night on Raw (its flagship program). No fans were allowed in the venue, and it was simply the company’s stars from all three brands telling stories as a tribute to the Rabid Wolverine. The very next day it was ruled as a double-murder/suicide.
So there you had it. One of the Pro Wrestling’s greatest icons had turned into one of its greatest tragedies. How is it that a devoted “Christian” just turned around and did this? How did a childhood hero for many (including myself) up to that point do that? I know that for me, when I found out, I was devastated. Chris Benoit touched so many peoples lives, and then turned around to do that. It’s shocking, it’s tragic and it’s downright terrible.
The next night on ECW, the show opened with Vince McMahon. McMahon, who rarely appeared on the show (outside of his tenure as its champion), went on record to explain what had allegedly happened in the Benoit Household and that you’d never hear the name Chris Benoit on WWE TV ever again. 10 years later and they have yet to mention Benoit’s name since that broadcast.
One of the first things they did with Benoit’s body was do a head check. Benoit’s history of concussions prior to the incident were well documented. They had discovered that at the time of Benoit’s death, he had the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer Patient. Benoit, age 40, beat up his head so much from steroids, numerous chair shots and headbutts from high heights that it completely destroyed his brain at a young age. It opened up the eyes of a lot of people considering that one of the most popular athletes on the planet went so insane because of how much his concussion history messed up his brain. The brain was sent to Christopher Nowinski, a former Pro Wrestler who turned into the founder of the CLF (Concussion Legacy Foundation). He examined Benoit’s brain and documented repeated untreated concussions that led to an unstable mental state. He also had CTE at the time of his death, with damage to all 4 Frontal Lobes.
The incident prompted WWE to instantly change not only their concussion protocol, but also their talent wellness policy. As soon as steroid abuse speculation arose, they banned dozens of prescription medication and illegal substances. The WWE was not the only one to take notice, as major sports organizations like the NFL started to be more protective of concussions as well. This completely changed how the NFL did things. Things got even more out of hand when Jovan Belcher, former Linebacker of the KC Chiefs, murdered his girlfriend in a murder-suicide. This also prompted Major League Baseball to get even more serious about PED testing. Baseball already had numerous problems regarding steroid scandals dating back to the early ’90s, but implemented testing in 2005. In 2007, following Benoit’s death, they cracked down ever more on steroids. They tested more often and made it mandatory. They, much like the WWE, banned a lot more substances as well. The NFL has put rules in place to limit the amount of blows that players take to their head and many former football players are going to get their brains examined. Benoit had a lasting affect on not just pro wrestling, but sports as a whole.
For many fans, Benoit is still one of their all-time favorite wrestlers. On the other side of the coin, Benoit is for many fans a wrestler that they can’t watch because it makes them uncomfortable. I’m somewhere in the middle. Benoit was one of my all-time favorites when he ended his life. Afterwards, however, I crossed him off of that list. As time’s passed, he’s found his way back on that list. Every time I watch Chris Benoit, it’s rolls through the back of my mind. His WCW run makes me uncomfortable moreso than his WWE run, as his manager was Nancy Benoit. But the more I watch, the more I fall in love with his pieces of art all over again. The longer it is, the more comfortable I get. You cope as time moves on. I’m pretty much over it. Many fans have had conspiracy theories from the start, and that adds another chapter to a perhaps ruined legacy.
Every show that’s been uploaded to the WWE Network that has Benoit is on there in its entirety. You can watch almost all of his career at this point on the Network. So for fans that can separate business and real life, enjoy. Benoit gave us some of the most memorable matches in the history of professional wrestling, and it’d be wrong to not credit him that.
All photos Courtesy of the WWE