June 25, 2007

I don't believe this...

It was announced today that Chris Benoit, long-time professional wrestler, and his family, were found dead in his home in Georgia... and unlike the "death" of Vince McMahon a few weeks ago, this isn't fake. Instead of RAW tonight, the WWE is showing a three-hour retrospectice of his career... and they've only done that a couple of times before.

Benoit started his real career in Japan's NJPW, under the name "Wild Pegasus". He won the Super J Cup, which brought the best non-heavyweight wrestlers throughout Japan together to find out who was the best.

Of course, it was pre-plotted, but he was put over such luminaries as Jushin Liger, Gedo, Black Tiger, and the Great Sasuki, which meant he was probably the best pro wrestler in the world at the time.

After that, he moved on to ECW here in the US, where he took the name "The Canadian Crippler", a nickname that stuck with him for the rest of his career. He teamed with Dean Malenko to win the ECW Tag-team Championship in 1995.

His next stop was WCW, where he joined the infamous Four Horsemen along with Ric Flair, Arn Anderson and Brian Pillman (who's death a few years back was one of the first WWE retrospectives). It was also at this time that he met his wife-to-be, Nancy... who was married to WCW's booker (the man who decides who would win or lose) and wrestler, Kevin Sullivan. They had both a real-life and an in-ring feud. Another memorable "high"light of his career was when he wrestled Bret Hart as a tribute to Hart's brother, Owen, who had died due to an equipment malfunction.

A year later, he jumped to the WWF with Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero, who died in 2005. This was a huge thing in professional wrestling circles, as it really spelled the beginning of the end of WCW. He won a tag-team championship with Chris Jericho (another NJPW alumnus). He missed a year due to a neck injury (2001-2002).

It was at WrestleMania XX that he won the single greatest match I have ever seen, however, when he finally became the WWE Heavyweight Championship in a 'triple-threat' match against Shawn Michaels and HHH. I saw WrestleMania XX at a Hooters, along with maybe 50 others, and when Benoit put the "crippler crossface" submission hold on HHH, the place went completely wild... and it got even louder when HHH tried to roll out of it, but Benoit kept the hold on somehow. When Triple-H tapped out, finally, I was not the only person yelling at the top of their lungs.
Benoit celebrates at WM XX
As a rule, I don't purchase DVDs from World Wrestling Entertainment, but that one, I bought the minute it was out. That match wound up being chosen by PWI (Pro Wrestling Illustrated, the most respected pro wrestling periodical out there, because it has NO ties to any of the companies anywhere) as the runaway winner of "Match of the Year" for 2004.

A few months later, I stopped watching pro wrestling (though I did occasionally download legendary matches from Japan), but the last show I really watched was right here in Duckburg... and I was in the audience when he was the surprise tag-team partner of Eugene. When his theme music hit, the crowd went absolutely berserk. I wasn't too far from the entry ramp, and I know he saw the "Wild Pegasus" sign I brought (I really was a wrestling geek), as he pointed at it as he came down.

And now, he's dead, and all we currently know is that the Atlanta police have said that 1) he wasn't shot, and 2) he called the WWE to tell them that he wouldn't be able to work on Monday because his family was ill and "they were spitting up blood", which is really creepy.

Benoit applies the Crossface.

I don't believe this.

UPDATE 1042pm: Fox News is reporting that Atlanta police are investigating the case as a murder/suicide, with Benoit killing his wife and son on Sunday, then himself on Monday. If this is the case, I can't imagine why.

UPDATE 1045pm: I gave it some thought, and for all you non-wrestling fans, here's something that'd cause Bernie Ecclestone to have a stroke: I'm going to compare recent WWE/F wrestlers to recent F1 drivers, by popularity.

Michael Schumacher would be Stone Cold Steve Austin... incredibly popular, despite some nasty tendencies.
Fernando Alonso would be The Rock... the 'face', almost as big as Schumacher.
Kimi Raikkonen would be The Undertaker... big name, big drawing power.
Felipe Massa would be Chris Benoit... the favorite of a certain group of fans (in Massa's case, the Ferrari tifosi. In Benoit's case, the 'smart' wrestling fan.)

ANOTHER UPDATE 1055pm: Mallory Mehling, the best wrestling writer out there (and the person who talked me into starting The Pond, way back when), writes for World Wrestling Insanity, where she reviews WWE RAW, the Monday night show. She's been kind enough to allow me to post her closing commentary for tonight's three-hour retrospective... click below to read. The news coming out of Atlanta today was devastating. Chris Benoit and his family were found dead. Surely it couldn't be true. But sadly, it was. Most viewers tonight are probably numb. Many are in tears.

And the viewers who are just learning the horrible news probably feel like they've been kicked in the stomach. Not Benoit! Not his family! How could it be?

At this early stage, we're all looking for answers, and we're all clinging together in our grief.

The end of WWE's excellent tribute showed the culmination of Benoit's 18-year odyssey. He'd won the World Heavyweight Title at WrestleMania 20 and he was living his dream. The last scene of the show was a tribute in itself--Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero, best friends, each with a title belt and living their dream in the ring at Madison Square Garden. That was such a happy moment. Both are gone now, but we won't forget either one of them.

Eddie Guerrero (L) and Chris Benoit

This was an enormously emotional show, both for the fans watching and for the superstars sharing their thoughts and their tears.

Thank you to WWE for letting us remember--and grieve for--Chris Benoit. We loved him, too.

And may the Benoit Family rest in peace.
-Mallory Mehling

Posted by: Wonderduck at 01:42 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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1 There was a short time during college where I was exposed to a lot of professional wrestling. I've never been able to take it seriously or get into the storytelling, but when all your other co-habitants are hopelessly obsessed with it, there's really no escape.

In that short time, Chris was being heavily scripted towards the villain side, but I do recall they were beginning to move him in the goodguy direction towards the end of my exposure. He always seemed to be the little guy hitting above his weight.

Posted by: Will at June 26, 2007 06:39 AM (SOx9v)

2 We're getting leaks out of the Atlanta police about what happened. One leak, reported this morning on CNN, was that Benoit killed his wife and kid and then hanged himself.

A different leak I saw somewhere else said that the wife killed the son, then phoned her husband and told him something that made him come home. In a rage, he strangled her, then wrote a note explaining what had happened before hanging himself.

I think we're going to have to wait a long time to get an official story; it's a tragedy no matter what it was.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 26, 2007 06:50 AM (+rSRq)

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