If you are reading this, then you know the basics of the story.
Longtime readers of this blog definitely know the appreciation I have from professional wrestling, dating back to my days as a “Little Stinger” following WCW in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The events of the past several days jolted the wrestling world, as fans search for answers and observers look to point fingers.
I’ve got a lot on my mind, as it relates to this tragedy, and I’m sure I’ll let them unfold over several entries over the next period of time.
Professional wrestling is different from other forms of entertainment. It asks you to shed your disbelief in a way that an action movie never really could. It demands you to invest yourself in the characters in a way that a soap opera really can’t do.
For me, enjoying the show is not about believing the grapplers are “really” fighting. We all know they aren’t. When you listen to music, you know it has been edited, tweaked, synced, and altered. But you appreciate it just the same. The entire presentation is given with a wink of a knowing eye anda sly grin.
No, my enjoyment in wrestling comes from two major areas:
1) Enjoying the performance art. Go see West Side Story at your local high school. Then see the original movie. Much different, right?
2) Connection with the performers and characters. Some readers may know what my profession is. I don’t want to get into that, but it has afforded me the opportunity to meet many WWE superstars. These men and women develop their personas and characters over time and the best ones allow you to grow with them. I met Chris Benoit about 10 years ago in Baltimore. Since then, his character has undergone no major changes. Silent, technical professional. He sucked me in – I was able to connect with his character.
Unlike other TV programs, wrestling TV, because of it’s naturally episodic nature, HAS to be original and (preferably) live. On Monday night, WWE was scheduled to run a 3-hour extended show pushing their #1 storyline at the time, “Who Killed Mr. McMahon?” Just hours before that show was to air, word broke that Chris, his wife and son were all found dead.
WWE immediately cancelled the TV taping, sending performers and fans home. Instead, they used that 3-hour block to 1) have Vince McMahon introduce the show at the top of each hour, explaining that the storyline was a story and that this was real and 2) run matches and clips from the long-ago produced Chris Benoit DVD.
Seriously, could they have done anything else?
Last night, I was watching MSNBC, FOX News, and other outlets as they questioned WWE for paying tribute to a murderer. However, that fact hadn’t come out yet and they had a 3-hour major cable channel window to fill.
One of their major stars was found dead, no details were available, so they did the only thing they really could do: pay tribute to his career.
At the beginning of Tuesday’s ECW on Sci-Fi broadcast, Vince McMahon again addressed the viewers, this time to recognize that more facts had come out since Monday evening and that his company was starting to heal tonight by entertaining the fans. John Cena, their top star, led off the show with a terrific match against the new ECW champion Johnny Nitro. Many people speculate that on Sunday night’s Pay Per View show, Benoit would have won that ECW title.
Right now, the hot topic of discussion is the role steroids may have played in the incident. I won’t even touch that until the reports come back, but it is definitely worth discussing in the proper forums.
So what are we left with?
The Benoit immediate family is gone. The extended family left with broken hearts and countless questions. They must be questioning themselves, as well. What didn’t they see? What couldn’t they have known? I can’t even begin to imagine their pain right now.
The WWE lost one of their top stars, a technical marvel that brought a sense of tradition, respect, and athletic validation to their product. Their locker room is left without a quiet leader, who by all accounts led by example and actions, which spoke so, so loud.
Fans are left confused. I have never heard or read of any fans saying, “Yeesh, that Chris Benoit puts on AWFUL matches! I hope I never see him again!” Like many fans, I proudly owned countless Benoit matches, including the 1996 Great American Bash classic Falls Count Anywhere match between Benoit and Kevin Sullivan which exploded all over the Baltimore Arena. Ironically, it was during that time that Benoit began his relationship with Nancy, who was married to Kevin Sullivan at the time. For a decade, that has stood as one of my favorite 20 minutes of entertainment, one that I joyfully popped into the DVD player several times a year.
When an entertainer goes bad, can you every truly enjoy their body of work again? And is it OK to feel guilty for ever enjoying it in the first place? These are the questions fans are asking themselves right now.
In the wrestling world, fans excuse a lot. Drugs, booze, domestic abuse, marital infidelity…it’s hard to name a top wrestling star who hasn’t at least climbed towards that Mount Rushmore of issues.
For me, it’s all too new…too fresh.
There are certain events that define the world. JFK’s assassination. Dropping the Atomic Bomb. 9/11. These are events which forever alter the world. There is no going back.
In no way am I comparing the Benoit case to those three globally horrific moments in time.
However, in the wrestling world, this is the biggest story ever.
One of the greatest wrestlers of all time murdered his wife and son then took his own life.
The world of professional wrestling will never be the same again.