Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Classic Bite Commentary: June 24th, 2008

(2018 Update: Replaced an older post with an even older Bite commentary.)

So it's been a year, huh? Wow, time sure flies when you're having fun... all the while avoiding the elephant in the room.

For those who aren't wrestling fans and who are trying to forget the whole ordeal, today marks the one-year anniversary of an event which had been considered the biggest tradegy in wrestling history... (and no, I'm not talking about WWE's Night of Champions PPV). It's been no secret that this event has been avoided on the Bite or blog for the past year, other than a brief mention here or there.

So on June 24th, 2008 - reports came in that former WWE World champion Chris Benoit, his wife Nancy (formerly a manager named Woman), and their son Daniel were all found dead. At the time, nobody knew what we know now, so it was decided by WWE to pay tribute to a real dead person as opposed to a fake dead person, which was the original plan (don't ask, man - just look it up). And it was a nice tribute show too - rather than have a bunch of grief-stricken wrestlers compete in matches, they show a bunch of classic Benoit matches and some clips from his DVD release. A nice offering to say the least. Somewhere along the line, I made a little graphic and posted it on the blog. My fair way of paying my respects and tribute to a man who has raised the bar for what a wrestler should be like... eventually, I'd make a similar tribute subsite like I did for the late Eddie Guerrero. Not much, but still a little something.

It wasn't until the next morning that I learned about the news that the whole incident may have been a double-murder-suicide... that is to say, Benoit have killed his wife and kid, then himself. This new piece of information was later confirmed to be true and all of a sudden, people around the world realized they were paying tribute to a murderer. Naturally, people were in shock at this revelation and some people soon became angry or betrayed that one of their own - a man who was friends with many - may have been a monster deep inside. As soon as I got back from work, I took down the graphic and replaced the post with a generic one - or rather a lack of one. I believe I quickly deleted the graphic and no longer have it.

As anyone would feel, I was shocked by what I had just discovered... and somewhat angered by the news. But after a while, I just felt indifferent about the whole deal. Sure, I felt bad for the families who had lost their loved ones, but how could I feel anything for a guy who had been treated as a true wrestling god (bite me, JBL fans) and renowned for his finest work, only to be tarnished by his own violent actions?

Quietly and quickly, WWE removed any mention of Chris Benoit from their sites, shows, and archival collections. A Benoit match was removed from WWE 24/7 presentations, Benoit mentions were edited out of old broadcasts, and anything relating to Benoit was basically taken offline and buried deep within the confines of WWE where no one will ever stumble across them. Meanwhile, anyone with a mic and with a media outlet in quick access did whatever they could to sensationalize the murder, blaming it on the usual steroids, hard drug abuse, and the usual five-hundred reasons that seem pre-scripted for media outlets to pull out whenever a pro-wrestler dies... funny how this doesn't affect any football player deaths, because they don't take as much drugs to participate in such a violent sport.

However, the incident not only caught the attention of the usual media whores, but also caught the attention of the federal government, who decided to launch an investigation into the wrestling industry's means of drug testing and whatnot. WWE already had its own wellness policy in place (established sometime after the death of Eddie Guerrero and constantly improved upon since then), but what about companies like TNA? Or ROH? Or any of the indy promotions? What's being done there? For the moment, nothing has come up, but I'd like to think that the industry is making some effort in preventing this sort of deal from happening again.

Now I'm not here to re-enact the history of this ordeal because that's not the point of this commentary. So let me get to the point.

I had originally mentioned on the blog that my feelings would be made clear on a Bite commentary around that time. As a matter of fact, I already had a piece in the works and almost finished. However, I decided against posting it until all the facts have been cleared (and even stated such in the July 2007 commentary). Now a year has passed. We pretty much know more or less what happened.Well, we have most of the facts out and the verdict is still the same. What are my feelings on the matter? Indifference. Because no matter how you feel about the situation - anger, pity, denial, sadness, betrayal, whatever - nothing is going to change the fact that a well-respected wrestler killed his wife and child before taking his own life. Nothing we do or say is going to undo the events that have transpired, nor will it just go away simply by not mentioning it. All we can do is move on and learn from the past... whatever that ends up meaning.

A year has passed and some people are coping in their own ways. I still stuck around watching the shows, just not as much as I used. I'll still watch some episodes of RAW or Smackdown and I'll catch a couple of the shows. I don't think my following the shows less have anything to do with the tragedy so much as the product isn't worth investing in full time... a discussion for another time. On the other hand, I still catch the new DVDs out and enjoy watching old matches. Even the matches with him...

Which leads to another point I'd like to shoot out at the risk of outcry...

I still have the tribute episode of RAW.

Aired that fateful night under the assumption that tribute was paid to a great wrestler and his family, not someone who had snapped and killed everyone he held dear. People probably will be upset by this revelation (or they could care less), but when I pop that tape in, you know what I see? I see a bunch of great matches from a man who was once considered one of the best in the business. I see the story of a man whose small size would be a detriment in a sport dominated by big men, but managed to work hard to earn a main event spot and even a World championship. I don't see someone who would want to go home and kill his family before committing suicide. I see a great wrestler... even a year after the fact. But do you know what else I see? I see a sample of great matches that will never see the light of day because this really great wrestler who had some of the crispest moves in the business suddenly turned into a monster who destroyed his own legacy by the evil acts he committed.

People will never get over the fact that someone they have respected for their wrestling skill and their great repertoire of matches had been revealed to be something far more sinister. I can say that with absolute certainty because I know a couple guys who would avoid that whole period simply because Benoit was on a show. One of those guys actually picked up the Royal Rumble set (through cheaper means than my own) and got to see the entire package. I asked him if he saw any of the Rumbles from 2000-2007, to which he replied yes. Even though Benoit was on them, he didn't seem to care. He could always skip over the Benoit matches if he wanted to, but over time, he got over the Benoit pity trip and started to enjoy the shows... even the 2004 rendition where Benoit wins the Rumble match (although he stops it at match's end, skipping the post-match celebrations - he says that is still too much for him to digest).

As for the other guy... let's just say he eventually gave up on wrestling completely. It got too personal for him - not only because of Benoit, but also because he winces every time a wrestler performs a high-risk move or even something as simple as a suplex and each of these spots has him wondering how many pain-killers and steroids the guy had to take to endure the pain. There's no doubt in my mind that he's not the only one who feels this way.

I post this commentary not to add more debate on the issue, but to express my own conflicted feelings on the matter. And even after writing this piece, I still don't know how to feel about the matter. Perhaps there is a hint of resentment when I actually find myself enjoying a match featuring him... perhaps I am able to separate the performer from the man behind the mask, which puts me in a very small group of people capable of doing so... I don't know how to feel... but now that I've said my piece, I can certainly let this issue rest and move on... which is not such a bad idea right now.

Don't forget what happened. Don't forgive. Don't endorse. But don't dwell over it. It won't change a damn thing.

Thanks for reading and check back next month.

Sincerely yours,

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