Rise, Fall and Legacy of Chris Benoit

Before I begin with this article, please read my disclaimer before making comments on my articles.  In addition, for this particular article, I especially emphasize that I am still stunned and mystified as to why he committed such heinous crime, and I am not sympathetic towards him for that; however, the crime occurred while I was recovering my own psychiatric issue around that same period, thus I have no way of avoiding this topic. Thank you.

For someone who follows the industry of professional wrestling on television and on internet for the last 22 years (my entire time I have been in the United States since June 29, 1989), I must have watched at least 200 wrestlers performed in a weekly basis, and while it has been fun to watch them performing in a 18-to-20-feet wrestling ring with various storylines between good and evil, David vs. Goliath, speed vs. power, etc., I have also witnessed some of the most violent matches during the early 2000s in WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) programmings, and one particular superstar who had been so entrenched into this industry made the unfortunate distinction of making a morning headline news with a double murder suicide occurred over a three-day period ending on June 24, 2007, and with the consistent rumor of slim possibility of his induction to WWE Hall of Fame, I have dedicated this article in discussing the life, death, and the legacy of Chris Benoit.  However, this article is not intended to change the way people thinking of what happened on the days that led to the death of Chris Benoit and his wife & son,  instead, try to find several instances by breaking down each of those footage to explain what and how he did that contributed to the demise.

Prior to what happened on the weekend of that weekend in June 2007, Chris Benoit was considered to be one of the best technical wrestlers in the business until his death, with his overall mat-wrestling and submission-style moves, and without a shadow of anyone’s doubt from those who had the opportunities to perform with him, that had he not committed such heinous crime, he would have been either a candidate or inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame in the past few years or in the years to come – alongside his late friend Eddie Guerrero, who died of a heart failure that was caused by years of substance abuse – and other great superstars like Hulk Hogan, Buddy Rogers, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels,  André the Giant, and many others.  From his early days trained by the Hart family “Dungeon” to his days in Japan’s New Japan Pro Wrestling, and then Extreme Championship Wrestling, World Championship Wrestling, and eventually World Wrestling Entertainment, his rise to fame had also led to his demise.  So why he tossed away his career and did what he did that weekend is perhaps one huge mystery we may never know; however, looking back at some of his in-ring actions throughout his career might yield clues as to how he reached his final days on Earth.

If there is one top rope maneuver that I dare to say could be the focal point of what happened to Benoit’s brain that was eventually diagnosed posthumously of CTE  (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), a progressive degenerative brain disease that can be found in individuals who have subjected to multiple concussions and other forms of head injuries incurred during the play of contact sports over a long period, would have to be his diving headbutts from the top rope.  If I remember correctly, he used that aerial technique emulating “Dynamite Kid” Tom Billington – with the exception of not using his hands to protect himself from the impact.  In his WWE profile DVD Hard Knocks: The Chris Benoit Story (which I still have a copy of it to this day – but never dared to watch him again), he once mentioned that he was knocked out in his initial try of the move.  In spite of that “misadventure”, he kept using it even in his final week of performance on WWE program called ECW – even though he had been beaten by his opponents who had caught him either by surprised or just moved away from being hit by Benoit.  Thinking back on some of the matches I watched in other DVDs that WWE had produced with him in, which took me long enough to finally realize that he must have been knocked unconscious at least in a weekly basis, particularly those when he missed badly as his head landed on the mat (which doesn’t really provide too much protection as the mat is only about 2 to 5 inches thick at best).  At that point, he could barely move and cover his opponents with their shoulders down, and many times he actually lost a lot of matches that way.  Two of more glaring examples of that maneuver performed happened to be diving down from the top of the steel cages: first, he was involved in a match against Jeff Jarrett as part of the latter’s third part of “triple threat theatre” match in WCW around late 1999; and the second had to be part of the rivalry against Kurt Angle (who is now performing in Total Non-Stop Action Wrestling promotion in the stateside) in 2003, in which he climbed to the top of the cage and dove down towards Angle in a prone position – after Angle landed hard on the mat with a failed attempt of a moonsault.

Another instance that might contribute to CTE had to do with his head constantly clashed into the top turnbuckle (with corner pad) with little stops in his momentum when he was sent by his opponents to the corner, which was exacerbated when his head subsequently collided with the head of his opponents although I should mention this often happened in Stampede Wrestling in Canada, WCW (World Championship Wrestling) and WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).  Even though his head may never had actually run into the turnbuckle pad, the whiplash certainly could have contributed to that as it’s considered as part of injuries less serious than concussions (“sub-concussions”) incurred during the play of contact sports.  One thing I forgot to mention in the previous paragraph is that WWE has a tradition of using heavier support on the ring structure, and it often becomes a disadvantage for smaller wrestlers like Benoit as it yields less springs to avoid injuries.

The last maneuver that might contribute to the disease is with his constant performance in superplexes from the top rope in many of his WWE matches.  From what I have remembered witnessing some of most memorable matches Benoit was performing, he had done at least one superplex per match.  While it may have looked fine in WCW, same could not be said in WWE matches, unfortunately.  In fact, one of those maneuvers led to his fusion of his neck in June 2001 that ended up sitting out for the entire “Invasion” storyline, and didn’t come back until May 2002.  Even though he had tried not to take such hard hits in years since, the damage had already been done.

From the research I have been doing while writing this article, the symptoms of CTE includes dementia such as memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression which may appear within months of the trauma or many decades later.  With that said, from what I remembered through interviews with Chris Jericho and friends of Benoit, they have mentioned that Benoit had lost tracks of  the next scripted moves whomever he was performing with.  In addition, from what I have mentioned from the above statements, which he had been injured and operated on with his neck.  Once those issues combined with his son Daniel’s slower physical development, Benoit became even more frustrated at home and eventually committed that heinous crime/tragedy.

The fuel of speculations erupted upon the discoveries of their bodies, and during the initial days of the investigation, the focus was centered around possible steroid and HGH/testosterone abuse, thus coining the term “roid rage”.  However, after further review led by his former colleague and Harvard graduate Chris Nowinski, who had been doing researches in other athletes’s brain including those from former NFL players like Mike Webster, Terry Long, Andre Waters, Justin Strzelczyk and Tom McHale with Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist who found Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, upon contacting Benoit’s father Michael Benoit.  Further test was conducted by Julian Bailes, the head of neurosurgery at West Virginia University, and the test unveiled how disturbing that disease infested in Benoit: results of the test showed that “Benoit’s brain was so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient, with an advanced form of dementia, similar to the brains of four retired NFL players who had suffered multiple concussions, sank into depression, and harmed themselves or others.”  After all those tests were done, Benoit was subsequently cremated in a very private ceremony with little knowledge of what had occurred with the remains.

Once the details of the crime emerged shortly after the controversial tribute show on the fortnight, Vince McMahon, the owner of WWE, proclaimed that no further mentioning of Benoit’s name and declared the entire company have distanced themselves of his achievements; in other words, the status of Persona non grata” is etched into Benoit’s career, which essentially joined the names of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Pete Rose of being banned from their involvement in their sport – except that in Benoit’s case, unlike Jackson & Rose, all records in WWE with his name attached were totally expunged, thus deemed him ineligible for Hall of Fame nomination for life.  In addition, due to the initial suspicion in steroid abuse, WWE has since initiated a “Wellness Policy” that has led to multiple suspensions and releases, among the notables is Rey Misterio Jr., Jeff Hardy, and Montel Vontavious Porter (formerly Alvin Burke, Jr. before changedto Hassan Hamin Assad due to his conversion to Islam).

As I mentioned before, I was on my own recovery from my psychiatric episode when I heard this particular news.  In fact, even though my psychiatrists has not even made such diagnosis as of this moment, I might actually have this disease as I have received multiple hits on my heads from my father and my own punches in the past few years  before converting to Christianity.  So yes, looking back at this incident has made me realize that not only we should not be harming ourselves and others, but also not to feel guilty seeking psychiatric help through your friends, family, doctors, or even pastors at church.  As for my opinion on Chris Benoit, his heinous crime that led to the surrounding controversies have completely overshadowed his accomplishment as a professional wrestler, and I don’t blame WWE (or any other organizations, in fact) for their decision to omit his achievements from their records (with perhaps may be an exception of briefly mentioned in WWE Encyclopedia), as well as a failed recall attempt from Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame with only 58% of votes calling for removal, 2% short of 60% needed to confirm his name being removed.  On a very personal note, I would say that the next incident similar to Benoit’s crime would put a permanent end of following professional wrestling – in spite of how much I have enjoyed the promos from the performers, which I am reduced to such following in that manner only.

Until then ….