The Price of Fame: “Benoit” revisited

Previously, although I should have said it’s been about 8 years since I wrote my first article about this particular topic, it pained me to say it back then and it STILL pains me to say now, I am still mystified as to how one of the best technical professional wrestlers in the pro-wrestling/sports entertainment (I know some of you must still be hating that term until everything changes) would end up deceiving co-workers, betraying trusts and friendships, tarnishing his legacy by killing his own family in a fit of rage, and put his employer in a “no-win” scenario with the media at-large.  I don’t even remember whether I have heard this conspiracy theory concerning a former booker who ironically “booked himself into a divorce” was the actual killer of this tragedy; however, that theory has never really held much water than it had when it first brought up.  The weird part is that I wouldn’t have brought it all up since I have lost all interests in watching all, not some like a few people may have suggested, of his involvement on home video, let alone on WWE Network, and throughout that time, I still read and hear about a few of this individual’s supporters persist in forcing WWE to put him into the Hall of Fame despite even the Chairman of the promotion, along with its employees and talents alike wouldn’t even DARE to discuss him.  In spite of working to be the best in his profession during his lifetime, the weekend of June 24, 2007, would always be known as the day in infamy.  That individual who I am referring to is, of course, Chris (excuse my language on the following rant) m*****f***ing piece of dipsh*t Benoit.  

https://youtu.be/xEtP3vMElcQ

In order to understand this catastrof***ing calamity, before I digress, there’s going to be some languages that I opted to star out as some of the younger audience may not want to read on, but I’m sure some of you can tell what I’m saying regarding to this matter.  You have been advised! So here’s the reading digest as to what I have dissected the living scrap of each of his matches in my memory.

  1. Chris Benoit was trained at the Hart Family home in Calgary, Alberta, Canada before making his debut at Stampede Wrestling
  2. Joined New Japan Pro Wrestling and was given the moniker “Wild Pegasus” and “Pegasus Kid”, where he met his “brothers-in-arm” Eddie Guerrero, who had a stellar career before his untimely death in November 2005 (more on that later), Dean Malenko, who ironically is the only one in that trio still alive.
  3. Had two short runs at World Championship during the early 1990s before he formally made the jump after having a reign with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
  4. Largely languishing at the mid-card status due to the “glass ceiling” placed due to the willful ignorance and ineptitude in management by one Eric Bischoff via constantly catering to the heavier wrestlers, even when he had finally won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship against Sid Vicious (Sid Eudy) on 1/16/2000, Benoit was done with the promotion and joined the rival promotion, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the following day.
  5. Made his debut alongside Eddie and Dean plus Perry Saturn on January 31, 2000 (note: this was also the darkest day in my life as my beloved grandfather [mom’s father] had a fatal aneurysm on that very morning and had the dubious honor to call the ambulance, went to University of California San Francisco hospital at Parnassus Heights and spent the whole day with him before passing away on two days later), and mangled with DX’s New Age Outlaws within 15 minutes of the debut.
  6. He was immediately thrust into championship run and slowly became the most reliable “workhorse” in the company, earning his accolades including the European Championship, Intercontinental Championship, and Tag Team Championship before spending a full year recovering from spinal/neck surgery in June 2001.
  7. Returned to in-ring action on June 2002 and became Tag Team Championship once again, and after a year-long failed pursuit of WWE Championship, he joined RAW after winning the 2004 Royal Rumble as the first entry into the Rumble match and enjoyed a four-month reign as World Heavyweight Champion for RAW roster before dropping the title to Randy Orton at that year’s SummerSlam.
  8. Rejoined SmackDown roster in 2005, and wrestled for a whole year, during which his longtime friend Eddie Guerrero, a second-generation wrestler from the famed Guerrero family, suddenly passed away in November 2005; in spite of on-screen breakdown emotionally during Eddie’s memorial show, he continued to wrestle before being drafted in the 2007 WWE Draft, however, little did we know, he merely wrestled for the recently-rechristened ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) before inexplicably stayed home during that year’s Vengeance Pay-per-view event, which had turned out to be the worst day in the entire industry as he was found as the culprit and only suspects in the double murder-suicide as all three members of the Benoit family – Chris, Nancy, and their son Daniel.
  9. Despite earlier speculations related to steroids and testosterone level, as well as so-called “roid-rage”, it was discovered that Benoit’s brain, upon extensive autopsy through dissecting and examined through a microscope, resembled those of a near-80s senior.  Private funerals were held separately with Nancy & Daniel’s in public, with Chris’ body was cremated and scattered in his father’s hometown of Edmonton. WWE, upon discovery of the gruesome details of their deaths, placed Chris as “persona non-grata” – somehow, Nancy and Daniel were also on that list even though they were the real victims in this tragedy, and had erased all of his accomplishments from their records, which extended into most of his involvements unless it was something rather insignificant.

I wasn’t intended to, nor would I have ever expected to revisit this matter, since I have made my stance in that article; however, I have also been keeping my eyes and ears open whenever Chris’ former comrades in the ring have made comments about it since WWE has steadfastly refused to discuss at all.  When I saw a trailer of the second season of “Dark Side of the Ring” on VICE about a few weeks ago, after much self-introspection and searching for new topics, I’ve decided to follow up on the original article and provide more contexts into this tragedy than what you saw above in the digest version for the first article of 2020.  Understandably, I have been watching this form of entertainment for almost 30 years, and this tragedy has severely altered my viewing habits, let alone begun dissecting all the past events that would eventually march towards the depths of the abyss. While I am trying to be objective about this issue, I am still baffled and enraged by the extent of his actions that day, to the point that I could with imagine what sorts of reactions the offices at Stamford, let alone those talents who were supposed to perform that night, would have only to discover the details of the tragedy, even Mr. McMahon himself while watching from the back as the details were poured in as the hours went on. I am very certain that they felt the sense of betrayal and disappointment of his actions, along with the anguish of what he had done with such detrimental effects towards not only WWE but the entire industry as a whole.

With that said, though, one thing this particular episode didn’t provide was doing a compare and contrast with the use of swan dive headbutt between those from the likes of Harley Race, D-Von Dudley, Bam Bam Bigelow, and Tomohiro Ishii, and the likes of Chris Benoit, “Dynamite Kid” Thomas Billington (Benoit’s role model), and current WWE wrestler Daniel Bryant (AKA Bryan Danielson).  This point took me quite some time to think hard on as I have never thought of that until recently, and what I discovered through my memory from all those matches I had watched before was that both Billington and Benoit were too light to perform that move, let alone they would do it more than one occasion in the same f***ing match.  In contrast, the heavier wrestlers were able to absorb the damage from that move more because they have enough weights to at least protect their opponents.  There lies the major difference as to why Race was able to live past the 70s and Benoit barely lived around 40 years old.  From my understanding on human biology through my researches and reading of a book called “League of Denial”, written by brothers Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, that normal human was never meant to take hits on the head, let alone taking unprotected chair shots onto the frontal lobe of the skull, much less above-mentioned move at the top rope in the corner.

Two people who were featured prominently in this documentary with their earlier careers, and perhaps my focus was so fixated towards the murderer that I have dismissed them for the most part.  First, of course, was Nancy Benoit (birth name: Nancy Elizabeth Toffoloni), who was better known as “Woman” during her tenure in both ECW and WCW.  She had worked as a model and was brought on my soon-to-be husband, and one of the legendary bookers in the history of pro-wrestling, his name was Kevin Sullivan, the other piece of the puzzle which led to their infamous street fight in 1997 that had continued in the locker room.  What it was supposed to be a fictitious wrestling angle as an on-screen relationship would instead be turned into a real-life extramarital affair?  Nancy was originally part of Sullivan’s “Satanists” valet, which included the late Luna Vachon, a second-generation wrestler from the famed Vachon family, and the late Sir Oliver Humperdink, made her name for the Championship Wrestling of Florida.  Sullivan and Nancy got married in 1985, but their marriage wasn’t exactly smooth sailing as rumors of domestic abuse had been floated around for a number of years.  After CWF was merged with Jim Crockett Promotions, which later became World Championship Wrestling, she was brought in initially as a “fan” of Rick Steiner before becoming the first manager of the tag team “Doom” (Ron Simmons and Butch Reed) after turning on the Steiner Brothers, and later aligned herself with “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and The Four Horsemen shortly after.  She then resurfaced along with her then-husband at then-Eastern Championship Wrestling in Philadelphia along with one Paul Heyman, who was still under the name “Paul E. Dangerously” at certain times, reverted as “Woman”, and managed Sullivan, The Sandman throughout 1994 after Sullivan left in spring that year as he returned to WCW, Shane Douglas for most of 1995 and before finally managed tag team of 2 Cold Scorpio and Sandman from December 1995 to January 27, 1996, before returning to WCW herself.  As the affair with Benoit became legitimate, however, Nancy decided to retired from active involvement and instead focused on starting a family.  

Sullivan, though, continued on with WCW as the manager/leader of factions like Three Faces of Fear with Ed Leslie and Mike Tenta (AKA Earthquake with WWE) before forming a much larger faction “Dungeon of Doom”, which included Ray Traylor (Big Bubba Rogers), Paul Wight (“The Giant” with WCW, and later “The Big Show” with WWE), Haku (went by “Meng” at the time”), Haku’s fellow Tongan “The Barbarian”, Kamala, Bill DeMott (Hugh Morrus), Giant Haystacks (Loch Ness), and a short-run giant wrestler Ron Reis (Yeti).  After losing to Benoit in a retirement match on July 13, 1997, he concentrated on his booking duty, unfortunately, his promotion as head booker after demoting both Ed Ferrara and Vince Russo, who left unceremoniously, made a major strategic blunder by booking Benoit into wrestling for a championship match despite the sorry history between Sullivan and Benoit.  Benoit quit on Monday, January 17, 2000, along with Malenko, Eddie and Perry Saturn, who has since been disappeared from the public for quite some time after his release, and immediately signed with WWE.  Sullivan’s tenure as the booker wouldn’t last long as he was fired at least a week or two before (could be much earlier, I presumed) before WWE purchased WCW in 2001, and officially washed his hands from the Benoit/Nancy business for good.  

The relationship between Benoit and Eddie Guerrero was well documented as both men joined New Japan, ECW, WCW, and WWE at the same time, and they both reached the success that they had longed for all their lives; however, both men were in various forms of pain during their pursuit, and eventually claimed their lives while honing their crafts. Had Eddie been more careful with his choices, his untimely death in November 2005 at Minneapolis wouldn’t have happened as tragically as it was, if not at all, when he died in front of the stretched hands of Chavo Guerrero Jr., Eddie’s nephew, who was told by hotel staff that his uncle had missed the wake-up call a few minutes earlier. For someone who had gone through losing loved ones, in my case was my beloved grandfather back in late January 2000, I personally experience the hopelessness and trauma that came with it, and can last for decades when I keep looping back, on a daily basis. Unlike Benoit, however, I have some assistances from my job to provide psychotherapy treatments; however, he literally lost all senses from the memorial show on, and not even his cohorts in that locker room could have helped him, particularly when Malenko had retired from active participation around that time, Benoit didn’t really have much emotional support, not even Nancy and Daniel. Worst yet, if he couldn’t even stand having time off during his work at New Japan while getting paid to rest up, and resting from his neck surgery in June 2001 after the surgery, how else would anyone think how well he would hold up emotionally when losing his closest friend? If that wasn’t bad enough, consider the following: what if I tell you that he was living within the neighborhood of his contemporaries in suburbs around Atlanta, Georgia at the same time? Ring announcer David Penzer, who has since been his podcast called “Sitting Ringside” in the last year or two, Johnny Grunge, whose tag team The Public Enemy with Rocco Rock, had also wrestled alongside Benoit in both ECW and WCW, William Regal (real name Darren Matthews), who was wrestled under the name Lord Steven Regal in WCW, and 3-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion Diamond Dallas Page, they all lived nearby Benoit, with Regal and Grunge were the closest, as well as others who had also performed with Benoit at various point in time, like Sherrie Martell and Mike Awesome. Then, one by one Martell, Grunge, Awesome, and Rocco all died prematurely in 2006, adding Eddie Guerrero in November 2005, it was all too much for Benoit to take in, especially after Grunge passed away. Adding to it was something that became a recurring issue on Nancy haunting her like the Ghost of the Christmas Past: domestic violence and potential ground for divorce, then adding to this fatal mixture, his rampant use of testosterone and his harshest work ethics that he brought in as discipline from Japan, then mixed up further with close to a full bottle of alcoholic beverage, his “price of fame” would be catastrophic and all his hard work and accolades that were earned would be toppled by one selfish act, and for all those who were affected by his treacherous actions would be dealing with the most vicious form of backlash and virtually everything changed from that point on.

Even though I may be sounding like I am defending WWE for their “draconian” distancing towards not only the tragedy but also revising the company’s wellness policy into the strictest since introduced in the aftermath of Eddie Guerrero, as Chis Jericho has stated in the second part of that documentary, to the point that not even any dosage of painkillers that surpasses the “extra strength” from over-the-counter would be required to be prescribed by approved doctors. However, I also felt that the last name “Benoit” got stigmatized rather unfairly, as evidently as David, Chris’ son from the first marriage as well as Daniel’s older brother, and sister of “Woman”, Sandra Tolffoloni, were also being excommunicated by WWE for an unknown reason despite the fact that both Sandra and David should have never be factored into the tragedy, to begin with, which led to the blowup by Sandra on another unfortunate victim of this event: Jim Ross, former Mid-South/WCW/WWE personnel and current AEW senior consultant. Much like Vince McMahon, Ross was also in shock when heard about the tragedy, and though he may have been the only one sent by Vince at the time, it’s not as nobody in WWE was grieving in their own way, let alone the office and the production crew who were with him when they heard a familiar sound of fury (i.e., the reaction inside Boston Red Sox locker room after the devastating loss to the New York Mets in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series) in profanities all night during post-production. Perhaps Vince was overwhelmed by that betrayal, after all, he had arranged Nancy and Daniel to sit at ringside, watching Benoit win the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XX in New York’s Madison Square Garden, home of New York Knickerbockers (NBA) and Rangers (NHL), that his anger went into “destroyer mode” or “doomsday scenario” and opted to focus on “recovery mode” to protect the business, even if it was done with draconian solutions, though he went overboard on this occasion. The fallout from this tragedy was even more evident as the “TV-14/Ruthless Aggression era” reached the end within a year, and though vocal supporters have demanded WWE to return to that era, over the years since, I honestly believe that the “unprotected hits and excessive bloodlust” boat has long been sailed into the history book, and we all should know who to “thank” for regardless of the sides one chooses, even if it may bring back some elements, it’s never the same again.

As for the media coverage, or should I say, the behavior exhibited during the coverage of the tragedy was rather unsavory and overhyped with sensationalism; unfortunately this wasn’t the only time that Vince McMahon had been confronted with such media scrutiny, as evidenced by the infamous steroid trial, for instance, while most of the media were fixated on whether Vince was indeed the drug dealer as the prosecution claimed. His fortune was turned into his favor as his legal team unearthed shreds of evidence that not only those who had testified in general had used the substance long before joining WWE, so had he, in addition to the entire case was solely predicated on a grudge between Vince and Kevin Wacholz (AKA Nailz) due to payouts related issues that had escalated into using the legal system to cripple, if not destroy McMahon at all costs, on top of that also involved with certain agendas as a conspiracy against him for using the term “sports entertainment” to avoid regulations from athletic commissions. Now, McMahon faced the public scrutiny  Although the federal case against McMahon soon collapsed under its own weight, his exoneration came at the cost of losing two years worth of creative development, his own reputation, as well as WWE, suffered untold damages, let alone losing the veterans and rebuilt their rosters with unproven superstars; even when WWE rebounded and would eventually topple WCW by March 2001, the trial had a negative impact towards the McMahon family. At the same token, though, the sensationalism that was with all of the news media weren’t exactly helpful when trying to discover what really happened during that weekend, and perhaps due to the WWE’s shady past concerning that trial, WWE was stigmatized as “every superstar have taken steroidseven though some like CM Punk has never touched that substance at all. “Road rage”, coined infamously by former prosecutor Nancy Grace, was her theory of what had transpired without all the evidence laid out; Grace, unfortunately, wasn’t the only one who had also made some wild assertions blindfolded, particularly all those commentators from Fox ‘News’ such as Sean Hannity, Geraldo Rivera, and Bill O’Reilly, and they were all been called out by other members of media.

I doubt that I would need to bring up the gory details of how the Benoit family were found in their home, and I would suggest that one would have to take a breather elsewhere if having a weak stomach. I recently heard an interview conducted by Jim Cornette, and he stated that he had to watch it at least three times as the details were so gut-wrenching that he couldn’t stop bursting into tears. I don’t blame both WWE and Sandra as they all became too emotional to think objectively, although Chris Jericho had noticed how Regal delivered his tribute to Benoit’s work. Like I said above, his residence was in the same area as Benoit and his tones may have had foreshadowed what came after. Sandra had met Grunge when he had some visits with them prior to the latter’s untimely death, as well as other contemporaries as both wrestlers as another Chris was also on that tragic news, this time was Chris Candido, whose death was due to complications from a recent hospital procedure. Compounded by other deaths in between, along with the extreme case of CTE in his brain, some levels of alcohol and steroids, along with an extreme case of depression and trauma, everything went south in a flash. Could this tragedy be avoided altogether? Perhaps, only because Nancy had tried talking him out of competing again under Benoit’s emotional condition a year prior, however, Benoit rejected that notion initially. Had the tragedy not occurred, it’s possible for him to work as an agent; alas, the worst was realized. Instead of being celebrated by his contemporaries alongside Eddie, Chris Benoit would instead be shunned by just about everyone except for his diehard fans who still believe that there is a conspiracy amongst the rumors, including above mentioned Kevin Sullivan, who hasn’t been speaking to the Toffoloni family since his divorce from Nancy, nor would he be interviewed for the documentary, and Vince McMahon, who has outright refused to discuss matters although may have been justifiably so for a few days, but why can’t they be talked to after the funeral? I sincerely hope both sides would be in the speaking term eventually. As for Benoit’s Hall of Fame candidacy, nobody with a clear conscience would EVER allow him in, except for treating him as mere footnotes to the lives of everyone else, myself included. “Woman”, however, deserves the honor as no valets could have done a third of what Nancy had established, though I must apologize to the late Luna Vachon, who was her contemporary because she came very close to Nancy only to not have fallen somewhat short for unknown reason.

So, there you have it on my much more detailed thoughts of Chris Benoit family tragedy, and as you can tell that I was dismayed by what he did to his own family and how I heard about the news, and has been equally disappointed by the 90s version of “investigative journalism” and talking heads like Geraldo, Bill-O, Hannity, and Nancy Grace by fixating and oversimplifying the tragedy into merely “roid rage” when there were more than one factors including empty bottles of wines and beer cans inside the garbage can at the crime scene, the mental state of Benoit and the circumstances that led to the tragedy.  Could WWE have done a better job administering their “wellness policy” much sooner by monitoring Benoit much more intently in the immediate aftermath of Eddie Guerrero’s death? Perhaps, but hindsight is 20/20.  Could we possibly forget the performances that had once brought him into prominence? Perhaps not, but erasing Nancy and Daniel while blackballing David and Sandra from the discussion is a bit of a stretch. One can hope we will be able to forgive him like Sandra suggested at the end of the 2-part documentary, but sincerely doubts would be today; and finally, for those noisy neighbors who persists the call to fully reinstate the “good” old “TV-14” “glory” days, perhaps, John Cena was correct when he went ahead of the curve when he has forgone his rapper persona, even though Cena had his shares of brutality received and dished out during the “Ruthless Aggression” era, a year or two sooner when he was drafted to Monday Night RAW in July 2005.  The alternative, however, may not as appealing as those diehards would want either as the ENTIRE professional wrestling industry close down in its entirety, and dragged along mixed martial arts, boxing, and any and all contact sports from rugby to American football, hockey to Australian football into extinction simultaneously.   The choice is yours.  In off-topic procrastination, perhaps the “Ruthless Aggression” would be warranted as my upcoming project.  What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below.  

Until then ….