Sunday, June 25, 2017

RAW (June 25th, 2007): Benoit

Warning: This post focuses on a series of events in the wrestling industry whose effects are still being felt to this day and may contain material that may be unsettling for some readers. Given how people will feel or have felt about the subject matter of this post, it's only fair to me to suggest that discretion is advised and if you choose to comment on this post, I implore to keep it clean and keep it respectful. Thanks.

WWE Monday Night RAW
Corpus Christi
June 25, 2007

(Heads up: I'm going all over the place here, so bare with me. It's going to be a bumpy ride.)

Today marks the tenth anniversary of an event that has reshaped the wrestling business... and not necessarily under the best of circumstances.

It was on this day that professional wrestler Chris Benoit committed suicide after killing his wife Nancy and young son Daniel, no-showing a WWE PPV taking the place that same night in which he was an active part of. The news broke the following Monday morning when local authorities found all three dead in their home. WWE, upon hearing the news, cancelled their usual edition of Monday Night RAW and replaced it with a three-hour tribute to a man who was once considered to be one of the greatest technical wrestlers in the sport and a celebrated champion. By the time the show concluded, the harsh truth would come out and suddenly wrestling was under the heaviest of scrutiny, with a media circus pointing figures and governments jumping in on the matter.

This post is not a recap of that whole affair; there are other places which provide a more than detailed account of what happened as well as numerous books written on the matter. Nothing I write or say can add to what has already been documented and dissected. Besides, that's only background fodder for what I really wanted to talk about... and that's the Monday Night RAW tribute show that aired on June 25, dedicated to celebrating the life and career of a man who was once considered one of the greatest technical wrestlers of all time... the last such tribute to a career that would forever be overshadowed by the dark reality that would unveil itself in a few short hours.

That episode, by the way, is NOT on the WWE Network... nor will it ever be.

Those looking for the June 25th edition of RAW will instead watch a Best Of edition, featuring a number of championship matches over the past year. Any semblance of the show that originally aired has never officially seen the light of day since its initial inception in 2007.

Truthfully, I can't recall how I felt when I first heard the news that the Benoits were found dead in their home. It's funny because I can clearly recall how sad I felt when news broke that Eddie Guerrero had passed away and while I thought Eddie was an entertaining guy and a talented wrestler in his own right, I always found myself gravitating towards the all-business, almost cold intensity of a Chris Benoit. A man born in Montreal but trained in the famed Hart Dungeon in Calgary, travelling the world and earning accolades and respect from his peers. A man deserving of at least one shot on top due to his tenacity and intensity.

But I'm digressing from the point here.

I remember watching that episode live on Monday night, expecting a tribute show similar in vein to what WWE had done for Owen and Eddie; no storylines, just wrestling and some eulogies. But this wasn't even that; instead, it was more of a best of clip show with some eulogies spread across. I've watched the first couple hours of it before heading off to bed, but I had programmed the DVD recorder to record the whole show so that I could watch the rest of it the next day when I got back from work.

I wake up early Tuesday morning and check my e-mails. Before going for a shower and getting ready for work, I take a peek at the wrestling news sites to check for any updates on the Benoit thing. And it was at that point when I read about the horrible truth.

I ended up finalizing the DVD-R with the show and when that was done, I took the disc out of the recorder, quickly labeled the disc, stored it in a slip, and put it aside. Over the course of several years, it was stashed away in a desk drawer before eventually fading away into obscurity, never to be seen again... or so I thought.

The past month has largely been spent doing clean-ups around the home and digging through old shit to see what's worth keeping and what isn't. This includes going through DVD-Rs of material that had a desperate need to be properly filed and organized. So I'm going through these discs and I find a bunch of material that I had forgotten I had. DVD-Rs full of first-time PPV recordings. These are eventually stored in their own DVD book thing.

Then, as I continue digging through old stuff, something catches my eye... a DVD-R with a quickly written Chris B. Tribute written on it.

I stared in disbelief... All these years... it's still here.

I set the disc aside on a table - making sure to place it in an empty DVD case. Later that night, with the insomnia kicking in big time, I pop the disc into the DVD player and I start watching the show.

It opens with an empty arena shot with Vince McMahon standing in the middle of the ring. A somewhat disconcerting visual at the time, considering one of the main stories on RAW was McMahon killed via exploding limo - and this is why we should be glad there's a PG rating. Anyway, Vince McMahon is standing in the middle of a WWE ring and in an empty arena, where he speaks to the television audience informing them of what has transpired with Benoit and his family; a vague account considering the details had yet to be leaked out. He would then tell us that the following three hours would be a lookback at some of Benoit's career moments, along with superstar eulogies and snippets of his DVD documentary.

But first, we have a video montage of Benoit.

For the next three hours, viewers would be treated to snippets from a Chris Benoit DVD as well as a selection of Benoit's finest matches, including the Wrestlemania XX main event where he won the World title from HHH. In addition, the show would feature comments from various wrestlers and talent sharing their memories of Benoit, either as a person or as a wrestler. It was a tribute to one of their own who met a rather peculiar demise... and once the details were out, it would be the last time the world would see the man in any semblance of a positive light.

I'm watching this show for the first time in years and as I'm watching the show, I'm left feeling a bit awkward and confused as to how I would approach writing about this program. Should I comment on the material that was being shown or do I gloss over the details? Do I try to turn this into a proper review and figure out how something like this could be reviewed or do I just do what I usually do and offer my feelings and observations on the matter?

As it turns out, none of those questions needs be answered because... really, what's the point?

I don't write wrestling reviews; I write musings. Whatever comes to mind at the time - whether it's credible or critical or otherwise - I put to digital paper, as it were. There's no critical point to these writings; just one's personal thoughts and reflections. And honestly, when I watch these matches... I see good matches, I see some spots that make me flinch... notably any diving headbutt in the history of the universe... but there's no real emotion here. I'm mostly numb on the matches, but I'm able to watch them somewhat.

Here's a checklist of matches and eulogies. Skipping over the DVD bits.

First match is the final moments of Benoit's 2004 Royal Rumble win.

Steve Austin shares thoughts, followed by thoughts from JBL, Joey Styles, and Taz.

This leads us to the next match, Chris Benoit defeating Elijah Burke (you might know him best as Impact Wrestling's Pope) in the semi-finals of the ECW World title tournament that ended up being his final match. I didn't get ECW until a couple years down the line, so I never saw this match. It was alright.

CM Punk shares some thoughts.

Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler talk about Benoit's tenacity, leading us to a match from WCW Hog Wild '96, where Chris Benoit faced off against Dean Malenko.

Dean Malenko shares some thoughts.

We then get the closing moments of a cage match between Benoit and JBL, who was reigning U.S. Champion at the time.

More words from Stephanie, Chavo Guerrero, and the ECW crew before we get an early 90s match between Benoit, wrestling under a mask as the Pegasus Kid, taking on Japanese wrestling legend, Jushin "Thunder" Liger.

More thoughts from William Regal.

Next match was the match between Benoit and Chris Jericho for the Intercontinental championship.

After another montage and a few more words of memoriam, we end the show with the Wrestlemania 20 main event where Chris Benoit defeated World champion HHH and Shawn Michaels in a triple threat match to win the title. Ending on the moment where both Benoit and longtime friend Eddie Guerrero, who was WWE champion at the time, embraced each other and celebrated their climb to the top of the mountain in the middle of MSG while confetti fills the air and the New York crowd cheers them on.

There used to be a time when I could watch this match and that ending. I used to say that the final moments of the show was more difficult to watch for the sensitive type. You could actually read my thoughts on the show here if desired, but the point is that back when I wrote that, I could watch the match and enjoy it. And you know what? It's still a good match that I can sit down and enjoy... but the instant that match ends with the tap-out, I wait ten seconds and I turn the match off. Because it turns that while I can watch the match, when it comes to the ending, I'm left with such a morbid state of mind that it just makes me depressed.

What was once a high point in the career of two men only serve to remind people of what once was before everything went to hell. And as years pass, that ending is the one thing I found myself  more unwilling to actually watch all the way through. So on this watching of this show, ten or fifteen seconds after Benoit wins the match and the title, I turned the show off, slipped the disc back in the sleeve, and then spent several days trying to figure out how I'm going to write this. And then I wrote that bit you've just read.

The night after RAW went on the air and after news of the double murder-suicide became apparent, Vince McMahon would appear on an episode of their relaunched ECW show, addressing the Chris Benoit tribute and alluding to the horrible truth that was discovered. He would also mention that there would be no further mentions of Mr. Benoit for the rest of the show.

Truer words were never spoken, as from that point on, WWE began a systematic purge of anything related to Chris Benoit. His profile no longer at, his matches locked away never to be seen again, his accolades all but deleted, his name never mentioned in any future material. WWE even went so far as to re-record commentary for a match on a PPV to remove any mention of Chris Benoit, almost as if the man never existed. It is a brazen move of such seismic magnitude that is still being felt today.

On occasion, WWE touts Randy Orton's first World title win as historical due to being the youngest World champion in history at the time... but one detail they never mention is the man Orton beat for that championship. Did Orton beat Abeyance himself? No, he beat... that guy.

Watch the Monday Night Wars series and go to the part where you have the Radicals jumping ship from WCW to WWF; Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko, and... well, who else was there? As far as WWE is concerned, there was no one else. It was just those three and no one else... but no matter how hard you try, you can't completely eliminate him. He'll find a way through the cracks; either through footage that they can't edit around or through matches that are on the Network but are made so difficult to search that you'll be hard-pressed to believe they exist.

But they do exist.

Perhaps the most glaring example would be Wrestlemania XX. The main event being Eddie Guerrero successfully defending his WWE championship against Kurt Angle... except that wasn't the main event. It wasn't even second-to-last; that was Undertaker vs. Kane. The actual main event for the match was Triple H defending the World Heavyweight champion against Shawn Michaels and... some other fellow in a three way dance. In the end, HHH tapped out to a submission finish, but it was Shawn who won the belt... it was him.

Is it any wonder why ten Wrestlemanias later, we'd have another triple threat match that saw Daniel Bryan Danielson defeat Batista and Randy Orton (via submission to Batista, no less) to win the WWE World title in a moment that was eerily reminiscent of that moment which no longer exists in WWE canon?

The name may not get mentioned on WWE TV, but it still gets mentioned on the various podcasts, whether it'd be the Steve Austin show, Talk is Jericho, or Killing the town, and still regarded as one of the best wrestlers of his time despite his unfortunate end. Kurt Angle usually brings him up as one of those guys he always had good matches with. How hard it must be for Angle that his best work in WWE is with a man who is all about deleted from WWE canon?

It amazes me that people are still asking to this day if there was any chance of Chris Benoit being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame... as if there is a glimmer of hope that WWE would recognize his reputation as a great worker rather than his final days. I can recall reading multiple blog posts where Jim Ross would constantly remind people of the reasons why it would never happen... nor should it.

People can talk about how so-so deserves to be in the Hall of Fame despite whatever reason, but when it comes to Chris Benoit, there's no argument. He has no place in the Hall of Fame. Because despite all his accomplishments, despite all his accolades, and despite all the incredible matches and moments that he has given to the sport of professional wrestling, all of that will forever be overshadowed by what happened in the final moments of his life. Just bringing up the name of Chris Benoit is bound to elicit a number of reactions, more negative than positive.

Think about this; if WWE is willing to distance themselves from Hulk Hogan or Jimmy Snuka when their legal troubles were brought to the forefront, what makes you think they would even consider having anything to do with Chris Benoit? It would be a public relations nightmare. And while some cases might seem a bit ridiculous, in this case, I have no qualms of this man never being inducted. It shouldn't even be a possibility.

And here's where I get awkward and talk about whether this show is worth watching... after all, this is what this whole write-up was supposed to be about.

From a historical standpoint, the Chris Benoit Tribute show is the final time that the man is mentioned or even glorified for his accomplishments in the wrestling business before being filed off from the history books (or at the very least, WWE canon). But from a purely content driven context, this show is not worth watching. Aside from the superstar eulogies and the in-between talks among the commentary teams, this is just snippets from the Chris Benoit DVD, Hard Knocks, that you could probably find on eBay for ridiculous prices.

As for myself, now that I've seen the show again for the first time in years, I can slip the DVD-R of the show out of my video player, back into the Archive books, and never look back because I've sated my curiosity on this show. Chances are I don't see myself watching this show again until, maybe, a decade later.

If we even get that far...

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