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June 24th, 2007.
That date will forever be etched into the memory of wrestling fans the world over.
June 24th, 2007 isn’t remembered for the right reasons. It wasn’t a date where someone won a prestigious championship title or the beginning of a ground-breaking angle or storyline.
It’s a date that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
It’s a date that cast a dark shadow over the sport of professional wrestling.
Sunday, June 24th, 2007, was the date where Chris Benoit murdered both his wife and son, before taking his own life.
This isn’t a blog designed to get people talking or to make a name for myself. If you’re looking for something like that then you’ve come to the wrong place. It’s simply just me sharing my thoughts on one of the darkest days in professional wrestling.
In all honestly, the name Chris Benoit hasn’t crossed my mind in some time. Every time I hear or think of his name it fills me up with sadness.
I’m no psychiatrist or anything but I believe that bottling up emotions or feelings is unhealthy. That’s why I think it’s important for me to talk about Benoit.
My Introduction to Benoit
I first became aware of Chris Benoit in 1998, the year where I began to watch World Championship Wrestling (WCW) on a regular basis. I’ve been a fan of WWF/ WWE since December 1988, so WCW was a nice alternative. I was attracted to them because the roster had guys that I grew up watching in the 80’s/ 90’s. That was the attraction of the company which kick-started their glory years of 1995 -98. Alongside those guys I was impressed by their other stars, guys like Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio Jr, Dean Malenko, Booker T, Chris Jericho, Raven, and Chris Benoit.
I remember it being an episode of Thursday Thunder when I first saw Chris Benoit wrestle. Can’t remember who his opponent was, but regardless of who he was wrestling I became an instant fan of his.
I don’t know what is about Chris but he just seemed to stand out from the rest of the pack. There was something about it. You see, back in 1998, wrestling was going through a change of ‘attitude’, if you will.
In a business full of outlandish, colour gimmicks or over the top theatricals, Chris Benoit was one of the few who treated wrestling like a sport. He was nicknamed ‘The Crippler’ because his arsenal of submission holds could potential cripple his opponent. He was a no-nonsense wrestler who wowed everyone with his technical prowess. He was passionate about his craft and was one of the few guys who really gave a shit about entertaining the fans. That is why his matches were always the highlight of the show.
I never met Chris Benoit but I’ve seen him wrestle live twice and he was outstanding in both of his matches. He received a standing ovation at both shows. It makes me sad just thinking about it.
When Benoit joined the WWF in 2000 (along with Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko, and Eddie Guerrero), me and my friends were ecstatic and instantly began to think up of dream matches that he could have. Finally, Chris Benoit had arrived at the biggest wrestling promotion in the world! My favourite memories as a wrestling fan include the standing ovation Benoit received at the 2003 Royal Rumble, his victory in the Rumble match the following year and the time he finally won the big one at WrestleMania 20. I remember it being a WrestleMania house party that a friend was hosting where we all stayed up to watch the pay per view. Those final few moments when Benoit had the cross face locked in on Triple H, my God, we were at a fever pitch. We were all screaming “TAP! TAP! TAP!” at the television screen. When Hunter finally tapped, and Benoit was declared the new World Heavyweight Champion, we went crazy. We were jumping around, high-fiving and hugging each other with tears in our eyes. The waterworks were really turned on when he hugged his friend Eddie Guerrero (the WWE Champion) in the middle of the ring.
Now those memories are tarnished.
when Triple H tapped out to the cross face and Benoit was declared World Heavyweight Champion, we jumped around the place, hugging each other with tears in our eyes. Chris Benoit had finally reached the top in professional wrestling, and when he hugged his friend Eddie Guerrero, I cried like a newborn. Now, all those memories are tarnished. I can’t look at them again in the same light.
Sunday, June 24th, 2007: WWE Night of Champions
In 2007, I was 20 years old and living away from home with five of my friends. We move into the flat in 2004 and the first thing we did above all else was to install the internet and get (chipped) cable so we wouldn’t miss out on the WWE.
We also made it a priority to stay up to watch all the pay per views live. In the case of June 24th, it was the WWE Night of Champions pay per view. There was this stupid storyline going on at the time where Vince McMahon was killed after his limo exploded at the conclusion of Monday Night Raw. We were just shooting the shit and throwing out possible ideas of who done it.
The conversation then turned towards a match that was scheduled to take place between Chris Benoit and CM Punk. The news broke earlier in the day that Benoit had to withdraw from the show due to a family situation. He was replaced by John Morrison.
Family comes first. That’s understandable. We just hoped that everything would be okay and that we would get the Benoit/ Punk match sometime down the line.
How wrong were we!
Tuesday, June 26th, 2007
Monday Night Raw is aired live in the UK at 1 am in the morning, so we would record the show and then we’d all watch it together the next day.
On that particular day, I had to go to the library to return some books. The temptation of finding out who killed Vince McMahon was too strong. I had to look up the results.
I hopped on over to ‘Promotion Wars.co.uk’ to find out who killed Vince McMahon.
Instead, I saw this:
“RIP Chris Benoit”
My blood ran cold. My jaw dropped to the floor.
I thought it was a cruel joke. Why would someone say these horrible things about Chris Benoit? I didn’t want to believe it. I get asked if I thought his death was part of the McMahon storyline. Nah, never. Benoit doesn’t strike me as the sort of guy who would want to partake in a dumb storyline such as that, and even if it was, it didn’t make sense for someone like Benoit to be part of it. As much as I didn’t want to believe what I was reading was true, it was as real as it comes.
There was even an official statement from WWE (as well as TNA, ROH, and New Japan). A comment from a user stood out:
“Chris, Nancy, and Daniel Benoit found dead in their home”
Oh my God! His wife and son are dead too?
This was too much. I read through the topic, trying to make sense of it all. Then, as I read on, I read a sentence that almost made me throw up:
“Chris Benoit committed a double murder- suicide”
This was beginning to be too much to handle. I still goose bumps to this day whenever I remember reading about how he was said to have strangled his wife and son and leaving Bibles next to their bodies.
I didn’t know what to say or do. The guy that I idolised from the age of 11 had killed his wife and son before taking his own life. I just rang one of my flatmates and told him what had happened. He didn’t believe me, but I convinced him to go to WWE.com. He did and he literally dropped his phone in disbelief.
That evening was a strange one. We watched the now Chris Benoit tribute show in silence. We went from taking the piss over Vince’s death to watching a teary-eyed Vince McMahon paying his respects to Chris Benoit. (At the time, the WWE were unaware of what really happened, it was all revealed moments after the show.)
We didn’t know what to make of it. Something didn’t add up. Chris Jericho admitted in his second autobiography that he thought Benoit had killed his family. I’ll always remember William Regal saying that there was always more than meets the eye when it comes to Chris Benoit. He too suspected that something wasn’t right.
According to reports, WWE personnel were told to attend the show dressed as if they were attending a funeral. Imagine how they would have felt when they found out that someone had died for real.
That evening was a complete blur. We were grasping at straws, trying to figure out what really happened. Surely Benoit didn’t commit those horrible crimes, but facts are facts. Chris Benoit killed his Wife and Son and we were all in denial. Thinking about that day still sends chills down my spine, even after ten years.
It still saddens me to think that one of my idols (and former 3rd favourite wrestler of all time) committed such act but the saddest thing to come out of all this is that a 7-year-old boy, an innocent child, will never grow up. He’ll never be able to enjoy life the way all of us are afforded that luxury because of what society gives us. And why? Because his father smothered him to death with a pillow. I just don’t get it. I can’t even find an excuse that is acceptable.
I’m afraid we’ll never know what really happened. A lot of different theories have been brought up. Facts will be hard to come by. The media has used steroids as a reason because it will sell papers and get people talking about that “dirty, evil wrestling business”. I’m sure the media didn’t talk about the head injuries that wrestlers suffer or the schedule they are forced to work. The wrestlers in WWE talk about performing 250 days a year as a badge of honour. Other sports don’t do that. They’re right. The problem is other sports don’t lose 60 wrestlers under the age of 45 in the last decade. Wrestling does. Something needed to be done.
In 2008, WWE adopted a PG rating for their product and haven’t looked back since. Chair shots to the head, various blows to the head, and chokeholds have been barred and show no signs of ever returning to the product. A stricter approach with handling concussions are in effect where a wrestler can only get clearance if they are 100% healthy, and trainees at the Performance Centre are required to train on a crash mat and to wear a crash helmet before they can progress to train inside of a ring. These steps are set in place to make sure that nothing like this will ever happen again.
10 years on
Since the truth came out surrounding the death of Nancy and Daniel, Vince McMahon announced that the name Chris Benoit will never be used again on WWE programming. The name of Chris Benoit was been wiped from the record books. His reputation of being of the best in-ring performers has been shattered forever. They’ll be no Hall of Fame induction, no ‘Best of Chris Benoit’ DVD set, no Mattel Flashback action figure, no appearance in future WWE video games.
If a fan brings a sign with his name on it security will take it away.
The kids of 2007 who are now teenage wrestling fans will never know him as one of the best in the business or the guy who inspired others to get into the business, they’ll simply read about him on the internet as the crazy guy who killed his family. What a shame!
What is also a shame is that it’s very unlike that his son David Benoit will ever get to wrestle for the WWE. They could always change his name but the guy looks so much like his father, plus what’s not to stop fans from chanting Chris Benoit or bringing Chris Benoit signs to the shows. I hope I’m wrong about this.
Vince McMahon deserves a whole lot of credit for the way he handled things during what was a difficult situation. It hasn’t been easy, but he’s been a rock for the company during a time where people are finding it hard to function. Some people have blamed Vince for what has happened. Those people need to remember that it isn’t Vince who is a double murderer, Chris Benoit is. Vince was just his boss, and possibly his friend too; people who blame Vince for what has happened are just idiots.
One of the reasons I love the wrestling business is because it is fantasy. It has always been there for me during the good times and the bad. The escapism it provides us is the reason many of us, especially older fans like myself, still watch it. I could watch Monday Night Raw, Smackdown Live, or a random show from the 80’s/ 90’s and forget about the troubles going on in my personal life. Sometimes, the fantasy becomes too real just as it has in this instance.
My Final thoughts.
To me, Chris Benoit is no longer one of my favourite wrestlers. I can never go out of my way to watch one of his matches or find any enjoyment in his matches. He’s a murderer, plain and simple. He’s the man who erased a lifetime’s worth of memories for an act that was totally inexcusable. To Nancy and Daniel, I hope they rest in peace. As for Chris, I have nothing else to say except that I will do everything in my power to forget that you ever existed. That’s the only thing you deserve.
Thank you for reading, and please take care of yourselves as well as your loved ones and always remember to tell the people that you love just how much you love them.