May 16, 2011
At some point in our lives, we all make horrible mistakes.
Granted, these mistakes aren’t necessarily designed to be malicious, but by the time we realize
we made an error, the damage has already been done. . .
and in some cases, it’s irrevocable.
Maybe you didn’t forward that one phone call to your mom, and you didn’t find out your aunt died from a tantric sex mishap until after
her funeral. Maybe you lied on a job application and royally screwed up an entire independent business venture
with your ineptness and inexperience, forcing several innocent entrepreneurs to subsequently go on welfare. Or hell, maybe you had a brain fart on a exam and accidentally started a race war
at your college because you mistakenly reported James Earl Jones
as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassin. The point is fairly obvious here: our fleeting screw-ups
continue to haunt us, long after the initial
of us never find ourselves creating gargantuan
errors that totally mess up the lives of scores of people.
Sure, we may skip jury duty or get caught cheating on an introductory Spanish placement test, but for the most part,
we rarely find ourselves in the Miles Dyson in Terminator 2
position of being responsible for the effing up
of a multitude of human lives. In the corporate world,
however, such instances are pretty much a dime a dozen,
as poor managerial decisions have resulted in obliterated lives
for millions of people. Lest we forget the lifetime achievements of Jamie Kellner (the man that killed WCW and Monstervision
), Kenneth Lay of Enron fame, and whoever
that dingleberry was that decided to launch The Sega Saturn without
telling retailers - all world class
ass-bags that ended up negatively
influencing the lives of millions of people,
all because of sole instances of bad judgment.
And for the WWE (and really, the entire industry of professional wrestling), there probably hasn’t
been a bigger executive
screw-up than the evening of June 25, 2007 - a landmark event that not only brought the pseudo-sport to a screeching halt, but an event that totally changed the way the business was branded, organized and (especially) presented as a product.
Oh, 2007, such a magical time to be alive.
We Americans were just a few months away from the greatest economic collapse our nation had seen in seventy years, and we could all sleep well knowing that The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
were world champions of hockey. While I was dicking around in junior college, the pro wrestling landscape was going through something of an identity crisis.
ROH, featuring these guys named Danielson and McGuiness, had just scored PPV television, while TNA had just scored Kurt Angle, Vince Russo, and some
form of Thursday night cable TV. And then, there was the unquestioned 800 pound gorilla
of the industry, the mighty, the merciless, the majestic World Wrestling Entertainment.
For a good two years now, the WWE was having a problem with its two biggest stars.
Although the kids and teenage girls that can’t pass algebra loved them some John Cena
and Dave Batista
, the hardcore fans and the mainstream media
weren’t just getting behind them. More people saw the live-action Yogi Bear movie than they saw box office disaster “The Marine”, and finding a non-fan
that knew who
Batista was was about as likely as finding someone that enjoyed
“Spider-Man 3” - clearly, the ‘E was having some trouble scoring the much coveted media publicity.
Oh, they tried
. They had a match between two actors portraying Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump, but shockingly, that didn’t get people to take notice of their concomitant doings.
Then, they had Donald Trump risk has trademark Troll Doll coif
in a match at WrestleMania. Sadly, that didn’t
get people talking about the WWE, either. So, after a lengthy boardroom chat, the powers-that-were at creative came up with a brilliant marketing idea
: They were going to fake the death
of the owner of the company.
Now, the end outcome of the angle
was never really fleshed out. Apparently, the demise
of Vince McMahon
was supposed to be an epic, summer-long whodunit that would somehow
coincide with that year’s Summer Slam PPV. Although it’s never been officially
confirmed by the WWE, it’s generally regarded that the original
plot line had Vince getting blown up by, of all people
. . .
The cast from “Jackass”.
And no, I am not making that up.
Now, it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense
to tie an entire promotion around a convoluted storyline that involves a bunch of pro wrestlers battling ex-reality TV stars to avenge their boss’s murder. . .especially when the film “Jackass 2” came out a year earlier,
not to mention the fact that the TV series
had been canceled since 2000
You could say it was a really dumb
attempt at corporate synergy. You could bring up the failure of all of the post-”Jackass” related shows since the end of the original program’s first run, or the fact that an angle involving Steve-O and Umaga from earlier in the year went over with the crowd about as well as “Mein Kampf” sales in Miami Beach, or the fact that TNA tried the EXACT SAME TIE-IN several months prior to absolutely NO success, but you know how the WWE brass is
: when they get behind something, it’s going to take hell and high water
for them to change their plans - even when they basically gave away their grand plans several months in advance, as a promo that ran in June 2007 CLEARLY said that the “Jackass invasion” was a go fo that year’s Summer Slam.
And so, around late May, the wheels slowly started grinding into gear. The “character” of Vince McMahon was shown on television as a guy that was obviously
losing his grip on sanity, and his on-screen demise
was televised on a June 18 broadcast. . .a broadcast which also involved a talent draft,
which resulted in a number of wrestlers being unceremoniously
demoted, including a long-term employee by the name of Chris Benoit.
The controversial fallout
from the angle was pretty much instantaneous. In an act of unprecedented (well, not really
) asininity, the WWE actually sent letters
out to company stockholders telling them that the owner of the company had died.
The SEC, not surprisingly, was not amused.
Even so, three
regularly scheduled WWE events went on in the wake of Vince’s death
: An episode of ECW on Sci-Fi (which featured Benoit’s brand
debut), an episode of Smackdown!,
and a Sunday PPV event entitled Night of Champions.
From the get-go, inquisitive fans wondered what would happen to the angle if something truly tragic
happened during its run. For example, what if Vince McMahon really did die
? We actually got a small taste of just that, when Sherri Martel died just days
before the “Vince-Is-Dead” angle officially commenced. The line between real-life tragedy
and manufactured tragedy was becoming increasingly blurred
by the WWE, and I think just about everybody
went into the storyline with a bit of anxiety
. Even so, the storyline was full steam ahead,
as the June 25, 2007 edition of RAW was to be a three hour program that furthered
Circa 2007, I was a little Smark shit bag, so after every PPV, I liked to hop on my old ass CRT computer and check out the latest newz
from Dave Meltzer and his sundry band of quasi-journalists.
While scouring “reader feedback” from Night of Champions, I found out that Chris Benoit, really the model of professionalism, had no-showed
the PPV. Benoit was scheduled to take on CM Punk for the ECW championship at the event, and for Chris to miss a house show,
he’d have to have been on a respirator. A lot of fan boys looked forward to that bout, and several were highly pissed
at “The Rabid Wolverine” for skipping town, including one now-kind of-embarrassed reader that said “Benoit better be in a hole six feet under” for missing the show. It was an unusual occurrence to be sure, but it wasn’t totally
out of the norm. As of 6 p.m. on 06-25-07, I went into that evening’s broadcast of RAW assuming that the focal point of the show would be more tomfoolery about the chairman of the company being killed off
(according to the MELTZ, the WWE wanted
to record fans “eulogizing” Vince prior to the program - you know, because irony is one rich bitch, after all
And then, I flip on over to the USA Network at 8 p.m., Eastern Standard Time.
The program itself begins rather innocuously with that old “What the world is watching” intro video. And then, approximately 21 seconds into the show, we get this
. . .
Very, very few times in my life have I been rendered speechless, but as soon as that
image hit my television screen I almost hit the floor.
It was a major shock because I had been on the Inter-Webs just a few hours before the show, and read nothing
about Benoit’s death. Hell, I pretty much lived
in the same town as Benoit, and I didn’t hear anything
on the local Atlanta news affiliates about it, either. This was one of those out of left field surprises that nailed me in the gut like a sledgehammer, a moment that quite literally
knocked the wind out of me. Seeing that
was sort of like getting a late night phone call saying your old kindergartner teacher had gone on a four state murder spree. . .which would soon prove to be a tragically ironic
In an empty Corpus Christi arena, Vince McMahon breaks kayfabe and tells the audience at home that Chris Benoit, as well as his wife Nancy and son Daniel, have all died. And then, in a statement that sounds absolutely inconceivable
in hindsight, the “WWE Chairman” says the following:
“Their bodies were discovered this afternoon in their new suburban Atlanta home. The authorities are undergoing an investigation.. . .we here in the WWE can only offer our condolences to the extended family of Chris Benoit, and the only other thing we can do at this moment is tonight, TO PAY TRIBUTE TO CHRIS BENOIT.”
OK, so now,
this seems about as big a blunder as one can imagine
- essentially, the equivalent of screening “I Spit On Your Grave” at a counseling session for rape victims. There really isn’t anyway
the WWE can do any more
P.R. damage to themselves than this
. Shit, Pepsi had an easier time avoiding the bad pub
when their sodas were poking people with AIDS needles and severed toes back in the early ‘90s. Electrocuting fans at the biggest show of the year? That’s surmountable. Airing a faux suicide bomber
attack the same DAY as the London subway bombings? Well, it’s going to be a hassle, but it’s doable. But airing a tribute show to a dude that OBVIOUSLY just slew his entire immediate household, while the blood hasn’t even dried on the upholstery yet? That, my friends, is the kind of thing you’d label as a WORST CASE SCENARIO event in a Public Relations case. I imagine the owners of the Fukushima Plant to have a less bumpy road to winning
back public support than the WWE did after this thing hit the air.
To be fair, this was really a lose-lose scenario for the WWE. The company had a three hour program lined up that evening, and if they HAD gone with the show as planned, they just would’ve received media flak for doing “business as usual” when one of their star performers had just went Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” on his wife and kid. As a guy with some
experience in media production (meaning, I’ve played around with Final Cut Pro. . .once), I can tell you - it takes a major act of God
to get a major conglomerate to give the A-OK for a live program cancellation.. Seeing as how the ‘E had literally minutes
to fling something together, from a structural standpoint,
they really didn’t have an option. Even so, with all of the reports flooding in (not to mention, oh my god, the absolute unavoidable obviousness
that it was a double homicide-suicide), you have to imagine who in their right mind
would trudge forward with a tribute show to a dude that is clearly a wife and son killer
. It would be like ESPN running a “tribute” program to OJ Simpson, or following up a To Catch A Predator
re-run with a movie by Roman Polanski. It’s just. . .argh, my brain.
Needless to say, the aftermath
of the infamous “Benoit Tribute” RAW forever changed the trajectory of the WWE, and by proxy, the professional wrestling industry. Due to all of the bad publicity from the show, the WWE HAD
to make a number of alterations to their business model, the very least of which was erasing
Chris Benoit from the history of the company. Because of the Benoit fallout, the company decided to change its standards for content (essentially, kicking off the TV-PG
era), and forcing a couple of guys to eat the shit when it came to company drug testing (which eventually led to the destruction of Ken Kennedy’s career
). Without question, that
episode of RAW was the biggest screw-up in WWE history, and a sour note that has been all but eradicated
from wrestling history.
That is, until I found my VHS copy
a couple of days ago.
Four years removed from the episode, the industry is an entirely different beast, and since we here at TWF pride ourselves on maintaining the integrity of the historicity
of the industry, I’ve decided to break out the VCR and give this infamous piece of wrestling lore
a thorough combing. For all of you modern fans
that are in search
of the moment that forever turned the tides of North American professional wrestling,
this show right here is your proverbial Ark of the Covenant
Now, who amongst thee are ready for the most AWKWARD recap in the long, storied history of this website? Get ready, muchacos and amigas, as the ROCKTAGON (not-so-proudly) presents: The “Benoit Tribute” Episode of RAW!
Following Vince’s lugubrious introduction to the show, we’re greeted with a video package (swiped form the “Hard Knocks” DVD, if I remember correctly), as that “If I Traded In All” song plays over the footage. Cue a brief scene of Benoit celebrating with his wife and children following his World Heavyweight Championship victory at WM 20, which sours my stomach like a bag of Gummi Worms washed down with a sixer of Old Milwaukee Light. A lengthy sliver of the “Hard Knocks” documentary plays, while a number of Benoit’s family members and childhood friends say things that even in context,
sound pretty foreboding and ominous.
Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross are at their announce desk, and all I can say is “holy crap, does J.R. have an enormous
head or what?” I mean, I guess it’s always been that way, but it’s been a really long time since I’ve seen him on TV, and my initial reaction upon seeing his mug here is the urge to hollow out a pumpkin and put a candle in it. He also has this ability to make words come out of his mouth without actually
mowing his mouth. I’m not making a cheap cerebral palsy joke here, I’m just saying that the dude looks
like an animatronics beach ball,
and I’d be a lying S.O.B. if I said I didn’t
kind of want to put a quarter under his chin to see if he sings me a song like one of those robots at Chuck E. Cheese’s.
We jump straight into Royal Rumble 2004. Actually, we jump straight into Royal Rumble 2004 after
entrant #30 (Bill Goldberg) enters the fray.. Goldberg makes quick work of Charlie Haas, Billy Gunn and Little Guido (well, maybe not as quickly as CREATIVE
did them in), and who storms the ring to exact a little vengeance
? Why, none other than BROCK FREAKING LESNAR, who I hear has had some mild
success in the world of mixed martial arts lately. Goldberg calls Lesnar “a son of a bitch”, which allows Kurt Angle to quickly toss him out of contention. The final six consists of Angle, Benoit, Jericho, RVD, Big Show and John Cena. Truth be told, that’s not a bad little cast right there. It would make for an interesting game of 3-on-3 with a half court, at the least.
Everybody gangs up on Big Show, but he’s doing the “I’m a big bastard and you can’t eliminate me” shtick that’s been a staple of the Rumble since the days of Big John Studd. Cena and RVD get eliminated. Jericho gets choke slammed out of the ring. Angle tries to German Suplex Show, but Show uses the massive expansion powers of his ass to throw him back a good five feet (no, really
). Back to back Angle Slams from, well, Angle
. Angle locks in the ankle lock, but ends up getting eliminated by Show in the process. If for some dumb ass reason you didn’t know
this by now, the story of the match was that Benoit had been in the bout for WELL over an hour. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Benoit’s stay here is still the all time record holder for longest Rumble performance, but don’t hold me to it. According to Taz’s commentary, “sometimes you got to put your balls on the table”. Boy, I wish the staff at Red Lobster heard him say that before I got kicked out last week. Benoit locks in a front headlock (technically, a guillotine choke from the chancery position), and you know the rest
Stone Cold Steve Austin is our first interviewee of the night. He said that one of his all time favorite matches is that one he had against Benoit in Edmonton in the spring of 2001. If that’s the one Raw match I’m thinking of (the one where the Hart family was ringside), then yeah, I’d vouch for the awesomeness of said match. Secondly, when exactly did those Von Dutch shirts go out of style?
Call me obsessive about the details, but I never precisely pinpointed when that brand fell off the radar.
Commercial break. When we return, a portion of the “Hard Knocks” documentary is playing. Benoit talks about his adulation of “The Dynamite Kid”, a borderline psychotic technical wrestler that according to Bret Hart, was a pill addicted mega-alcoholic that enjoyed farting in cramped elevators and shooting rabbits while his children played in the sandbox just a few feet away. In hindsight, yeah, that probably should’ve told us something.
Transition to Michael Cole and JBL. Cole said that the only thing Benoit was more passionate about than wrestling was his family. . .
Yeah, you’re going to be seeing that image a lot
during this article, I assure you. Meanwhile, JBL said that he would rather be kicking back having a cocktail with Benoit and Chavo Guerrero, which to me, sounds like an AWESOME set-up for “The Hangover 3”.
John Cena said that his first instinct was to celebrate the life of Chris Benoit. I guess the second instinct would have been to mull the peculiarity
that his entire household is dead and he’s hanging from a Body By Jake machine like a strung pear, but apparently, we all had to wait a couple of hours before we could put two and two together.
Commercial break. We’re back, and that segment from the “Hard Knocks” DVD detailing Benoit’s ECW days rolls. Well, if there is a glimmer of hope through this tragedy, it’s the fact that it allotted Too Cold Scorpio more cable television time then he’s had this last decade combined.
Joey Styles and Taz reminisce about the good old days of 1994, and Styles says it’s kind of ironic that Benoit had recently been drafted to ECW 2.0, since that’s where his U.S. career began (Ed note: Unless you count the fact that Benoit was in WCW in 1992, of course.) Damn, even when it comes to honoring a double murderer, the WWE STILL has sour grapes against Ted Turner.
Now we come to Chris Benoit’s last match ever, an ECW title eliminator the week before against Elijah Burke (who, for the eight of you that still regularly watch TNA, now goes by the namesake of. . .well, I’m pretty sure it’s something stupid, whatever it is.) The very first thing you hear out of Styles mouth’ is “Mr. McMahon would have wanted the show to go on,” and SHIT, is that ever a creepy thing to hear. The match itself is your standard 2007 Benoit match, with lots of excellent mat work early and a couple of really, hilariously stiff slaps and chops thrown in to teach this Burke kid a thing or two. Burke eventually goes on the offensive, and the match turns into a UFC-lite throw down. You know, at the time, I thought WWE was really in the turd tank as far as mat wrestling went, but this stuff is actually a lot better than I recall it. Then again, they’re not showing matches featuring the Boogeyman or that one chick that had the plastic tumor on her face, so maybe, it is a bit of selective amnesia
on my part. Benoit makes a comeback with a million billion suplexes, as Burke’s “wisdom beads” fly across the ring. Benoit goes for the flying head butt, Burke puts up the knees, and Benoit gets a mouthful of patella, which according to numerous IWC conspiracy theorists (read: retards), is what CAUSED Benoit to go ape shit and slay his family. Joey Styles gives credence to the claim when he says, and I quote, “That must have rattled the mind of Benoit!
And shit, here I was thinking it had something to do with him being demoted from The Four Horsemen to Raw. Hey, is Nancy Grace still on TV these days? Well, if so, eff her
So anyway, Burke gets a leg sweep, while I weep over the fact that I never got a chance to try one of those Raw Nation energy drinks. I always kind of figured it was nothing but the hyper caffeinated liquid run off of those old ass WWF Superstar Ice Cream Bars, and that’s what I choose
to believe until my dying day. Burke goes for “The Burke Express” (a fancy way of saying “a running knee strike in the corner“), Benoit dodges it, and “The Crippler” locks in the Sharpshooter for the victory.
CM Punk cuts a tear stained promo, calling Chris Benoit “his hero”. The opening intro from Vince earlier in the evening replays, so you get to relive all of the awkwardness in case you missed the first hour of programming.
Jim Ross wants Benoit’s surviving children to know that “he was a great man” and that they could always be proud of him. All I can say about that is. . .damn.
Just to make things even more uncomfortable,
everybody is staying in kayfabe
, too, so there’s this pervasive sense of detachment that just makes everything
seem forced and repressed. And then, in one of the most surreal moments ever, the very next thing you hear
is the sound of Dusty Rhodes talking a mile a minute as J..R. throws it to the Malenko / Benoit match from Hog Wild 1996. Now this
is old school. Can you imagine a PPV airing in front of literally tens of bikers
in the modern era? I mean, shit, not even TNA has the ass-backwardness to do something like that, and this was a company being bankrolled by Time god-damned
Warner at the current. LOL when Bobby Heenan says they’re wrestling in front of a crowd of 250,000. Anyway, this is a really good match, with Malenko and Benoit basically doing a re-make of the legendary Malenko / Guerrero bouts from ECW circa 1995. The bout isn’t as good as those matches (which for my money, is the absolute BEST wrestling got in the U.S. during the 1990s), but it’s still really enjoyable, as long as you have tolerance for things like “in-ring psychology” and “selling holds”. Yeah, a tall order for you kids these days, I know
. After a hyper abrupt commercial, we join the match in progress. Yeah, I figure if they showed the whole thing, people may tune in expecting WWE, see technical wrestling,
and get confused.
Anyway, while Malenko and Guerrero put on a four snowflake plus affair, I would like to call your attention to the insightful analysis
of a YouTube user by the name of WWEfan275, who tells us all how it REALLY happened that fateful weekend at the Benoit Camp:
“maybe someone broke in his head beat up chris benoit and his family and the person who beaten up chris benoit so much that he had brain damage and the murder druged his wife and kids and when they looked at chris's head he had brain damage and brain damage is known for people to act bad but really he just got braindamage from someone who killed him”
Well shit, that pretty much solves the case for me. At least this kid had the common decency to refrain from pegging Kevin Sullivan as the real killer, as so many an Internet conspiracy theorist (and even GERALDO god-damned Rivera) believe. I mean, really, “The Task Master,” a triple murderer? That dude couldn’t even book more than three concurrent storylines, let along figure out the intricacies of committing mass murder. The dude probably couldn’t even get past the doorknob without deciding that it needed to be a “Prince of Darkness” homicide, and by the time he found a burlap sack, the police would’ve already been called.
Dean Malenko cuts a Martin Landau accepting an Oscar length eulogy for his fallen comrade. Malenko gets bonus points for dropping the most obscure name of the night (Scott Norton?) AND taking time out of a freaking eulogy to remind the audience at home that he was the inventor of the Crippler Cross Face. Isn’t that sort of like taking credit for cooking the food that somebody choked to death on?
Commercial break. We’re back, and Michael Cole and JBL are chatting it up. Bonus huevos points for JBL, who takes the time to bury Benoit’s mic skills one more time. Cue a 2006 steel cage match from Smackdown! For the United States Heavyweight Championship. Yeah, I never saw this one before. You know, I always liked the Smackdown! Set better when it had those funky looking onion rings on stage instead of that goofy ass fist and faux shattered glass. That sort of feng just doesn’t shui with me, I guess. All you really need to know about this match is that it contains a botched top rope German Suplex where Benoit gets flattened because JBL is too pussy to take a bump on his shoulders. It was an all right bout, I suppose, but why it was selected for a career-best retrospect, I’ll never figure out.
And that’s a nice segue into a Stephanie McMahon promo. Like Cole, she makes the unfortunate mistake of telling the audience at home that Benoit was “passionate” about his family. I guess “passionate” is an industry euphemism for “homicidally bat-shit about”, then. I really don’t know what’s worse about her little memorial, the fact that she uses it to put over her husband, or the fact that she makes it a point to demonstrate how much Benoit loved his children. I guess this is one of those rare occurrences where the nut huggery of Triple H is actually the lesser of two evils. And is it just me, or does Stephanie have the absolute largest set of shoulders ever in the history of anybody?
If you want to feel bad, I mean really, really bad, you need to check out Chavo Guerrero’s tribute. The fact that he’s even on camera after receiving God knows what from Benoit via text message is pretty damn cringe-worthy in and of itself, but as he attempts to yammer on and on about Benoit’s career, things take a hard turn into uncharted levels of uncomfortable-ness. This thing is heebie-jeebies town right here, amigo.
A much needed commercial break ensues. When we return, Tazz throws us into the middle of, of all things, a 1990 New Japan match with Benoit (rocking the U.S.A.-inspired tights as “The Pegasus Kid”) taking on Jushin “Thunder” Liger. This is a rip from the “Hard Knocks” DVD, so we have the aural pleasure of listening to Tazz and Michael Cole do the re-dubbed play-by-play. Tazz has in inordinately difficult time saying the phrase “The Pegasus Kid, Chris Benoit” (typically, spitting out permutations like “The Pegasus Benoit” and “Chris the Pegasus Kid) while Cole goes on and on about how the Japanese don’t have turnbuckles. If you did a shot every time Tazz used the adjective “big-time” during this thing, you’d probably keel over from blood poisoning.
An obviously distressed William Regal calls Benoit “the absolute best”. Of course, he never tells us what he was the “absolute best” at, which means that around 10 p.m., the suits at WWE must have put two and two together and realized they really screwed the pooch on doing this tribute show.
And Vince’s opening spiel replays again. A brief segment from the “Hard Knocks” DVD plays where Benoit talks about his childhood adulation of The Dynamite Kid. And at this juncture, it dawns on me just how much Benoit resembles B-list actor William Sadler. You know, that dude from “Demon Knight”, remember?
After a quick Google search, I figured out the guy is probably best known for his roles in “Die Hard 2” and “The Shawshank Redemption”, which also means “boy, is my finger EVER off the pulse of mainstream pop culture”. J.R. and Lawler shoot the breeze some more, and even namedrop then-WWE exile Chris Jericho. Joey Styles gets a quick word in, and then, Edge gets the opportunity to voice his opinions on Benoit’s passing. Edge said that there were three people he felt as if he could always turn to, and two of them were “gone now”. Of course, he doesn’t say who his still living confident is, but if you ask me, a misguided two year stint in TNA is pretty much the same thing as being six feet under, am I right?
. Michael Cole and JBL welcome us back to the program. The same montage from earlier plays, only this time, with a different, and if you can believe it, lamer song playing in the background.
Commercial break. Now it’s Triple H’s turn to pay tribute to the Rabid Wolverine. Trips recalls a time when Benoit made a rookie do one thousand squats in the locker room. If you’re looking for the abridged transcript, it would sound a little like this: “Blah, blah, blah, respect, blah, blah, blah, earned, blah, blah, blah deserved, blah, blah, WrestleMania 20, blah, blah, something about seeing Benoit down the road.” Um, does that count as a spoiler? If so, it certainly gives new meaning to the phrase “Hell in a Cell”. . .
So anyway, the show concludes, as you’d assume, with Benoit’s World Heavyweight Championship victory at WrestleMania 20. At the time, this was considered the greatest main event bout in WM history, so let’s see if it has the same allure almost a decade after the fact.
I don’t know about you, but about ten minutes into this thing, all I can think about is just how much Shawn Michaels’ selling pisses me off. The dude takes two Germans and acts like he’s a cat trying to claw his way out of a rock-filled potato sack, and on the third, he does his best Terry Kiser from “Weekend at Bernie’s” impersonation. Oh my god, is his shtick making me want to punch my laptop.
Final commercial break of the evening. Jerry Lawler gives us a carpe diem speech, advising the viewers at home to tell their family that they love them. Not going to lie, I’ll got just a little misty-eyed on that one. J.R throws us into the conclusion of the bout, which in the most horrific of ironic coincidences, involves three bloodied and battered bodies on the canvas. I don’t think I have to remind anyone reading this how this one ends. Odds are, you’ve seen it a thousand times, and if for some stupid as reason you haven’t, hit the YouTube PRONTO, because it’s one of the most iconic scenes in the history of professional wrestling.
One more memorial spot, and it’s a fade to black.
Four years later, it’s still a show that makes me feel a whirlwind of emotions. Surprisingly, a lot of the old wounds got ripped anew here, which is something I really didn’t think would happen. Over the course of the last three hours, all I could think about where all of his awesome matches in ECW, WCW and the WWF, and that made me feel all sorts of sad. Really, was it just ten years ago that we were watching this guy tear it up with Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle? Was it really just fifteen years ago that this dude was kicking ass in WCW, throwing Kevin Sullivan around a women’s bathroom for my amusement? And hell, those kids that were born the same year I remember watching Malenko and Benoit beat the hell out of Pez Whatley and Norman Smiley are old enough to vote now. If I didn’t feel like a decrepit sack of dookie earlier, I sure as heck feel that one at the current.
Unlike a lot of dildos on the Internet, I’m not going to give you some long-winded diatribe about the nature of Chris Benoit, or his legacy as a performer. Look, I’m no criminologist, nor am I neuroscientist, and neither is anyone you’ll find on the Wrestle Crap message boards.. I don’t know why Benoit decided to go Michael Myers that one summer afternoon, and I’d have to be one smug son of a gun to even attempt to go into something that nuanced and, most importantly, beyond my scope of knowledge. Benoit was a terrific wrestler, and he was a guy that, in all empirical likelihood, killed his wife and child. I’m sorry, but having some dude that writes a newsletter give your matches a lot of stars doesn’t override the fact that you’re a double murderer. I mean, shit, OJ had a Heisman and starred in all three Naked Gun movies, but you won’t be seeing that in his obituary column. Watching this show isn’t “bittersweet” in the slightest: instead, it’s all bitter, with a nice bowl of disenchantment on the side for dipping.
If you’ve watched any form of WWE programming over the last four years, you’ve felt the aftermath of this show. Chair shots and blade jobs became a thing of the past, and that pestering “Wellness Policy” finally got enforced. The WWE became a more “family-friendly” product, and for all intents and purposes, the very existence of Chris Benoit has all but been eradicated from the history of the company.
The media circus of four years ago doesn’t seem that long ago to me. Watching wrestlers on Larry King talk about the tragedy, including a SUPER Botoxed Marc Mero waving around a list of dead wrestlers, became a nightly occurrence for the better part of a month, and I was never able to look at that one bendy Chris Benoit action figure in my closet ever the same way again. And if you’re wondering why a 21 year old college kid had a Stretch Armstrong doll modeled after a pro wrestler in his possession to begin with, it’s none of your DAMNED business.
It’s been four years since this thing aired. It’s been seven since Benoit won the World Heavyweight Championship in Madison Square Garden, eleven since he made his debut in the WWF, and damn near twenty since I first saw him wrestling on Clash of the Champions. . . and it still doesn’t feel all that long ago to me.
And at the end of the day, that’s something that’s way sadder than just about anything else I can think of when I think about Chris Benoit.
Send feedback to James Swift