Once upon a time, I was a fan of Chris Benoit; a big fan, in fact. Long before I’d abandoned the big leagues for the indy scene, I became something of a workrate fanatic, so a guy like Benoit, known for stiff realism between the ropes and a decided leaning away from promos, was right up my alley. Benoit was a legitimate tough guy who was trained by the family of one of my very favorite wrestlers of all time, and a in a peer group with some of the best in the business. What wasn’t to love? Until…
TODAY’S ISSUE: My first look at Chris Benoit since the unthinkable happened.
I once wrote an entire column dedicated to his half-year as the WWE champion, I owned his “Hard Knocks” DVD set, followed his career closely from ECW through WCW and WWE, and even got a hold of some of his puro stuff as Pegasus Kid/Wild Pegasus. Yes, I was certainly a big fan indeed. But then one weekend in late June two years ago, the unthinkable happened. At first when the story of tragedy in Benoit’s life surfaced it seemed like another sad wrestling tale, and that Benoit would be joining his fraternity brothers Owen Hart and Eddie Guerrero in a Heavenly federation. In fact, WWE produced a wonderful memorial show that Monday night on RAW and I remember thinking, “Whatever else he does that I personally believe to be wrong or questionable, and no matter how self-serving it all might be, Vince McMahon certainly does put on a classy tribute show.”
I’m certain McMahon regretted rushing to produce that memorial show because as it aired, more shocking and grizzly details of the horrors that occurred at Benoit’s home came to light, and a pit formed in the collective stomachs of grieving wrestling fans around the world as sympathy for Benoit and family turned into denial, then rage over his disgusting acts of clearly premeditated evil, and a sense of despair as one of the greats of our beloved industry devolved into a worse villain than anything ever portrayed in a pro wrestling storyline. After the truth came out, WWE systematically wiped him out of existence where their company history was concerned. I wasn’t sure this made the most sense for the modern era, a time in which it’s pretty difficult to remove information from pop culture, what with the Internet and other forms of data readily available to anyone with a will to seek it out. However, I knew that I myself would never again look at Benoit’s acts of fake violence, which were intended to entertain, in the same light.
I didn’t create a personal policy against ever watching Benoit matches or scour my endless hours of wrestling footage in a calculated effort to eliminate any and all references to the man once ironically known as The Crippler, but when he did happen to be involved in a show I was watching, I simply couldn’t stomach the sight of him. I skipped past anything involving Benoit and haven’t even so much as intentionally looked at an image of him since the details of his crimes surfaced.
This week, out of pure morbid curiosity over how I’d feel about watching Benoit in action again, I took a look at the 2004 Royal Rumble match. Keep in mind, this wasn’t an effort to forgive and forget, nor was I hoping to just “enjoy the action” and ignore what I know to be true. This was nothing more than a personal psychological experiment, like revisiting the scene of a trauma from years earlier. I merely wanted to know what I would experience when observing Benoit in the limelight once again, verbally praised by the commentators while dominating his opponents and beginning the greatest push in his storied career. Would I shudder in revulsion at his every move, or would I be indifferent after over two years had passed? Would I be angry watching him pretend to maim his opponents, and would I even be able to watch the entire match? With a bit of apprehension, I decided it was time to find out.
Seeing Benoit enter the ring first and hearing JR and Tazz talk about how the cards had been stacked against him by storyline authority figure Eric Bischoff made me uneasy right off the bat. The aggressive look in Benoit’s eyes seemed awfully creepy, and I was happy when then-Intercontinental Champion Randy Orton make his way to the ring so the focus would move off of Benoit for a moment. This was going to be difficult. Benoit always worked a stiff, quick, and vicious style which once greatly appealed to me. But watching him tear into Randy Orton didn’t feel quite right.
As the Rumble match continued, I could see the face of poor Nancy in my mind and I thought about the restraining orders she’d been forced to file against Benoit, and then remembered back to how bizarre their love affair was to begin with, coming on the heels of a wrestling storyline turned real-life drama between Nancy’s husband at the time, Kevin Sullivan, and Benoit. How odd that Sullivan, who always portrayed a raving lunatic in wrestling, would feature so prominently in my thoughts as I witnessed Benoit, who some would consider a legitimate psychopath, performing simulated acts of violence on my television screen. It was truly an uncanny feeling.
I didn’t make it ten minutes into the match when I decided it was too unsettling to continue. I want to be clear – I don’t have anything against fans who are able to compartmentalize Benoit’s performances from his real life and still appreciate his in-ring efforts. But as for me, I don’t enjoy watching this man throw punches, kicks, diving head-butts, suplexes, or other offensive maneuvers anymore. I am uncomfortable seeing him grimace in mock-hatred at an opponent, hearing announcers rave about how devastating he is, and listening to his “victims” screaming in pretend pain. It just doesn’t sit right with me now, knowing what he did and whom he did it to.
So as quickly as that experiment began it ended. I won’t be watching any Chris Benoit matches again, and I’m completely at peace with that. There’s no reason for me to ever try again now that I know how strongly I still feel about it. I guess that’s never going to change for me, and rightfully so; the man did horrible things to his own wife and child, then took the coward’s way out himself. I have no need to watch him pretend to hurt anyone anymore.
Vin Sanity is not categorized as a psychological disorder… yet.
p.s. – “We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell.” – Oscar Wilde
The original version of this syndicated column, titled Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic, appears each Monday morning on Pulse Wrestling.
Elsewhere on Pulse Wrestling this week…
Chris Morgado debuts his Column With No Name.
Paul Marshall takes you to the iMPACT! Zone in another Total Nonstop Weekly.
Michael Johnson covers the independent scene in This Week In Indies.
Finally this week, the American Dragon takes the plunge. Read about how Bryan Danielson has signed with WWE.