Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece, and solely expresses the opinions of Mike Hogan. These opinions are my own and not the views of Rajah News. Some opinions expressed may seem radical, and many of you will disagree with my opinions--and that's fine. Trigger Warning: murder, suicide, Mike Hogan.
Listen Up, Slapnuts: In Defense of Chris Benoit
Welcome one and all to the debut of my new column, Listen Up, Slapnuts! First and foremost, I want to point out that this is an opinion piece. I both encourage and look forward to discourse with y'all in the comments! Give me feedback, give me your thoughts, dare I say it...give me your hate!
This week I want to talk about Chris Benoit, namely his absence from the WWE Hall of Fame, and Vince McMahon's efforts to digitally remove Benoit from their video archive.
A Legendary Career
We all know how Benoit's story ended. It was tragic. We're not here to dispute that fact, or glorify his death. I know there are conspiracy theories, and have been since his death, that he was murdered and it was a frame job. But regardless of those widely-held theories, what happened the weekend of June 25th, 2007 was a tragedy. There is no disputing that fact. The wrestling community lost one of its brightest stars, quite possibly one of its best technical wrestlers, in one of the most horrific ways possible. But you all know the story, and that story is the only one told nowadays when the Benoit name comes up. His final three days of life have overshadowed decades of an incredible, talented career.
And that is what we're going to focus on this week. The career of the Rabid Wolverine, the Canadian Crippler, the Pegasus Kid...Chris Benoit.
I remember seeing one of, if not the, final matches of his career. A house show. The man was stellar in the ring. In front of a crowd of perhaps five hundred folks, he never phoned it in. It was a house show, and I've seen my fair share of matches with top-tier stars who show up and do the bare minimum. Kevin Nash comes to mind. But Benoit treated the match as if it were WrestleMania. He hit all the high spots. He soared through the air and hit his diving headbutt. He hit picture-perfect German Suplexes.
The man was a legend in a group of performers who themselves would become to be known as legends. Hardcore Holly went on record to say that Benoit was one of the "kindest human beings you would ever find." Chris Jericho has said more than once that Benoit was an incredibly loving father and family man. Montel Vontavius Porter, better known as MVP, who was mentored by Benoit, has praised Benoit's work ethic, the dedication to his craft, and his willingness to work with the younger generation (notably, unlike Hulk Hogan). We all know Eddie Guerrero loved Benoit, and to this day Eddie G is still remembered for his dedication and kindness. Stone Cold Steve Austin has gone on record to state that while what Benoit did was unforgivable, Benoit was still one of the best wrestlers he'd ever met and he loved Benoit. Fellow Canadian Bret Hart, who's known for being highly critical of other wrestlers' skill sets, also praised Benoit's talent and work ethic.
He was so highly touted by Hart, in fact, that Bret hand picked Benoit as his opponent in one of the final matches of his storied career--and in tribute to Bret's late brother, Owen.
The list goes on and on. Benoit was widely loved in the industry by practically everyone, even Vince himself, until his death. But we'll touch on that later.
Benoit has helped put on some of the best technical matches in the Attitude era of wrestling. While he didn't win the Money in the Bank Ladder Match at WrestleMania 21, he stole the show by selling an injured arm, even convincing viewers and audience alike. His work helped bring attention to this new kind of match and it's quite possible that without his efforts, the mediocrity of the other performers in the match may have not led to MitB being its own popular, yearly PPV event.
For those of you who were watching during the Monday Night Wars era, you probably remember the incredible rivalry between Benoit, Diamond Dallas Page, and Raven that culminated in a triple threat match for the United States Championship at WCW Uncensored 1998. While he did not win, his work rate helped sell the match, which featured DDP hitting a top rope Diamond Cutter on Raven onto the announce table in what was considered a rarity back then--back when people weren't regularly going through the announcer's table. As incredible as that spot was, it was the work of Benoit that kept the match paced just right so that the crowd remained on the edge of their seat.
We could go on and on--I could mention how, exactly, Benoit became known as the Canadian Crippler (an ECW match against Sabu); the unforgettable and exciting WCW best of seven series with Booker T that culminated at the Great American Bash; the clinics in technical wrestling he put on against Bret Hart in the Owen Hart Tribute match back in '99 and against Kurt Angle at the Royal Rumble back in 2003. We could point out how Benoit and his Radicalz cohorts--Malenko, Guerrero, and Perry Saturn--would jump ship to the WWF the day after Benoit tapped out Sid Vicious to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship.
And who can forget WrestleMania 20 where, at Madison Square Garden in front of a sold-out crowd, Benoit defeated both Triple H and HBK to win Big Gold for the second time. If you missed it, you should watch the match, especially the ticker-tape celebration at the end that saw best friends Benoit and Guerrero celebrating together in what was one of the most emotional moments in wrestling history.
The list goes on and on. Benoit took on the world--he fought everywhere around the world, and he fought all the big names. Jushin Thunder Liger. Jericho. The Steiners. Al Snow. Malenko. Sabu. Guerrero, Jericho, Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig, DDP, Booker T, Hart, Jeff Jarret, HHH, the rock, HBK, Angle, the Hardys, the nWo, RVD, Rey Mysterio Jr., Cena, Lesnar. So many more, both Legends and Hall of Famers amongst the ranks of those to fight against and fall prey to the Rabid Wolverine.
Benoit's accolades are just as incredible as the list of Legends he took on. He was a member of the Four Horsemen. He won the ECW tag titles with Dean Malenko. He won multiple titles and tournaments in NJPW. He was a two-time WCW world tag team champion, a three-time WCW TV champion, a three-time United States Champion (twice in WCW, once in WWF). He has the very rare distinction of being both a WCW Triple Crown champion and a WWF Triple Crown champion. He held the WWE tag team titles with Angle; he was a four-time Intercontinental champion. He won the Royal Rumble in 2004. He was a two-time World Heavyweight Champion, holding the title in both WCW and WWF. The list goes on and on.
Chris Benoit had one of the most storied careers in wrestling history, has held more titles than many other Hall of Fame entrants, and has fought against or with almost every notable name in the industry from the last quarter century.
It's time to let Benoit into the Hall of Fame
Chris Benoit was 40 years, one month and 3 days old when he died. He lived 14,644 days. During his first 14,641 days, he lived a life that amounted to something truly legendary. During his final 3 days when the effects of steroids that he used to help him perform at a peak level to entertain the fans, combined with the effects of alcohol, and an incredibly severe case of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) to all four lobes of his brain, when his brain was as damaged as an 85-year-old suffering from severe Alzheimer's disease, when this perfect shitstorm of hell overtook him...he committed something unimaginable and unforgivable. We know from the countless investigations and hundreds of pages and articles on it, that at some point he came to his senses. He prayed over his family, situated Bibles with them, and took his own life, utterly devastated by grief at his own action.
Those three days were the definition of tragedy. No one disputes that.
But 3 days out of 14,644 should not erase the other 14,641 days.
Benoit deserves a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame. We all know the Hall of Fame is a joke; it's more akin to an "alumni club" than a true wrestling hall of fame. People are chosen for induction based on spreading out popular names for cheap pops for future classes, not based on merit or skill like a professional sport's hall of fame. There is no excuse for not including Benoit.
We know from multiple reports that Vince McMahon was livid at Benoit after his death--not for dying, nor for taking the lives of his family, but for causing Vince a PR nightmare. During an era when increased scrutiny was coming on the WWE regarding drug use and abuse, and marquee wrestlers such as Eddie Guerrero and Curt Hennig and many others were dying incredibly young due to drug abuse, the Benoit tragedy gained national attention on a much higher level than any other wrestler's death at that time. Countless news organizations did specials covering the event; even recently, 13 years later, Dark Side of the Ring did a two-episode special on Benoit. To Vince, Benoit did the one unforgivable sin--he made Vince look bad. And because of that fact, Benoit will never be allowed in the Hall of Fame. Because of that fact, Vince has done his very best to remove all traces of Benoit from the company. He's done everything, from excluding Benoit matches on the WWE Network, scrubbing Benoit's name title and image out of some matches that couldn't be left out of programming, to removing all mention of Benoit from the WWE website and record books. And it's a shame.
Many other WWE Legends have been inducted despite horrible vices and crimes. Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, was indicted and arrested for the murder of his girlfriend in 1983 (due to dementia, which should be noted is what Benoit was suffering from at the end of his life, he was found unfit to be held for trial). Ric Flair is a notorious alcoholic, womanizer, and rumors have persisted of domestic violence for decades and was involved in road rage incidents in the 90's. Steve Austin, one of the biggest names in WWE history, was a known racist (he keyed "congratulations, *RACIAL SLUR HERE*" on Ahmed Johnson's rental car after Ahmed won the IC title) and has a record for beating his then-girlfriend Tess Broussard as well as his ex, Debra. Beloved Booker T spent almost two years in jail for the armed robbery of a Wendy's in his youth. Future hall of famers the Hardyz have been plagued with domestic violence (Matt) and multiple arrests for DUI (Jeff). Hall of Famer Verne Gagne body slammed a 97-year-old man in the nursing home they lived in; the injuries led to the victim's death--but Verne Gagne was never prosecuted due to dementia. Sunny, aka Tammy Lynn Sytch, who was a blonde bombshell during the Diva's era and was inducted into the HoF in 2011, has been arrested nearly a dozen times--including five times in a four week period--for various crimes, ranging from burglary, assault and DUI. Two-time Hall of Fame inductee Scott Hall murdered a man while working as a bouncer in an Orlando nightclub.
The Hall of Fame, home to celebrities and wrestlers who were never even legendary beyond simple nostalgia, is rife with murderers, abusers, and other criminals. So why not Chris Benoit?
After all, 3 days out of 14,644 days should not erase the other legendary, incredible career that spanned decades during the other 14,641 days.
That's it for the first ever "Listen Up, Slapnuts." You can email me at Mike@Rajah.com or reach me on Twitter @MikeHulkHogan.