Like many of you I will never forget the date June 24th 2007, because it is one of the darkest days in wrestling history. It was the day Chris Benoit inexplicably murdered his wife Nancy, and their son Daniel, before taking his own life in what many describe as a cold, brutal, and cowardly act. This week sees the eighth anniversary of this awful tragedy that many in and out of the business want to gloss over and forget. Sadly it's not as easy as just pretending that Chris Benoit was never a part of wrestling history, because his name is written throughout, and like it or not he is immortalized on WWE DVD, and the WWE Network (I searched his name and it only turned up an old episode of ECW Hardcore TV, but he does appear as part of WCW, ECW, and WWE Pay Per Views and shows without being highlighted). Many fans ask how WWE can continue to celebrate the memory of a man who committed such a heinous and cynical crime, and I'm here to tell you why despite what Benoit did outside of the ring, we shouldn't let his in ring legacy be forgotten.
Now I want to state before I get deep into this and get heat that I in NO WAY condone the actions of Chris Benoit. He is a cold blooded murderer and there is nothing that can change the history of what he did or make it right in any walk of life. But while watching Wrestle Talk TV last night, the creator of the show Alex Shane, a well respected name in the British wrestling industry recalled a story of how Verne Gagne, a wrestling legend in his own right had actually killed someone too. The events occurred in a care home that Gange had been admitted to as he suffered from Alzheimer's, a disease that is the most common form of dementia that sees sufferers forget their surrounds and regress through their life. Gagne body slammed another resident who was in his eighties at the time, which caused the man to die. Is it comparable to what Chris Benoit did? No not in a sense that we believe Benoit meant to commit his crime, but it was later revealed through research on his brain that Benoit had the brain of an eighty five year old with Alzheimer's. What's my point here? Simple. Both Benoit and Gagne killed innocent people. Yet the industry openly celebrates Gagne's contribution to the business and tries to sweep Benoit's place in wrestling history under the carpet because Gagne was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Is that what caused Chris Benoit to commit those heinous actions? We'll never truly know the answer but it gives you something to think about. If people were willing enough to forgive Verne Gagne for actions that he took out of his control then what's to say the same cannot be applied to the Benoit situation?
I mentioned earlier about many people wanting to sweep what Benoit did under the proverbial carpet, and there's nothing wrong with people not wanting to talk about the situation, as I get it's not easy for some. But think of it like this; When I was listening to Alex Shane on Wrestle Talk TV, he made a very valid point and said that if we did not talk about the issue then how are we meant to learn from it and prevent such an atrocity happening again. I'm sure the world would like nothing more than to have never again mentioned the horrors and atrocities caused by Nazi Germany, in which millions of innocent people were murdered because of their religion, sexual preference, or disability. But we don't shy away from talking about this event, and it's actually talking about the events and making future generations aware of it that have prevented a third world war occurring, because we learnt from the past and have moved forward. Even now in England, we honor the brave men and women who gave their lives, and those who lost theirs in this horrific period in history while in the USA September 11th is always remembered and honored, but when these events are talked about no one omits Hitler or Osama Bin Laden from their history because they formed a part of those tragic events, despite them being so heinous and despicable. By sweeping the Benoit story away it's almost like the world is trying to forget the memory of Nancy and Daniel Benoit, the real victims in all of this. Most of all by ignoring what happened and not trying to learn from it the industry isn't moving forward in trying to prevent such a situation happening again. Sure chair shots to the head are now banned in WWE, but the industry clearly hasn't taken the issue as seriously as they are not banned everywhere. It's something that seriously needs to be addressed and support needs to be provided for those who have been affected by unprotected chair shots, or other items, to the head.
While fans don't really want to talk about Benoit, it's a difficult situation for those within the industry to address too, especially people who were close to Benoit during his time in WWE with them. Montel Vontavious Porter, better known as MVP, has publicly gone on recording about Chris Benoit, saying that as a pro wrestler and athlete he looked up to Benoit, and was even inspired by him and thought of him as a good friend. However he doesn't feel comfortable being able to talk about Benoit openly because he is afraid that he may generate himself heat from the topic and fans and industry insiders and veterans may take MVP's friendship and feelings toward Benoit as a way of his sympathizing and justifying his actions. MVP has very publicly distanced himself from the actions of Chris Benoit, and spoke about the situation in 2013 in an interview on Wrestle Talk TV. I imagine MVP isn't the only one, as you have guys like Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, who were guys who all worked with Benoit, and even considered the man a friend that rarely will openly talk about the man and his contributions in the ring. Thing's have even got to the point where at one time Benoit's finisher, the Crippler Crossface, was banned from being used except by a select few, and even now it is only referred to (and quite rightly so) as the Crossface. And even recently the diving headbutt, made famous by Dynamite Kid, and used by Chris Benoit, became a move that was only used by Daniel Bryan, as no one else could use it for fear by the company of triggering memories of Benoit. It's almost a situation I feel that is impossible to avoid, as no doubt Benoit was an idol to some of today's stars for his in ring contributions and skill but I don't see them ever willingly admitting that for fear of the heat it would garner them.
And then we come on to the most controversial topic of them all. A question that many fans wonder and a question that no one wants to really say yes to; should Chris Benoit be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame? Ask any wrestling fan, or anyone clued up about what Benoit did and the answer is normally a very resounding no, and at one time I would have absolutely agreed with that line of thought. But as time has gone on I've learnt to look at things in a different light. Chris Benoit, the murderer, has no place in the WWE Hall of Fame, but Chris Benoit, the wrestler, deserves to be celebrated and honored for what he did for our business. Benoit was without doubt one of the greats in the ring and had some amazing matches. I remember watching him and MVP have a series of matches in 2007, and they were great matches. Benoit's matches with Kurt Angle were also a treat, as were generally any Chris Benoit matches we ever saw. The question remains though, can you separate the two and induct one part of Benoit without the other? I realize this is controversial but I believe this is something that could be done if WWE went about it the right way. Would it draw criticism? Absolutely. Would people possibly even boycott the Hall of Fame? I would expect so. But I think if WWE took the right action and made it clear that the man being inducted was Chris Benoit, the wrestler we watched perform in some of the greatest matches in our lifetime and made it clear that anything from the point of Benoit going after the ECW Championship was out of bounds then I think maybe it could be done. Is it likely Benoit will ever be inducted. No I don't think so as I think his actions as a murderer will always outweigh his in ring accomplishments.
I want to make it clear once again that I am in no way condoning the actions of Chris Benoit. What he did was a heinous, cold blooded, and unspeakable crime, but I have come to terms more over the years with what has happened that tragic day and don't think that Chris Benoit, the wrestler should ever be forgotten. I admit that for years I found it hard to watch any Benoit matches, and would usually skip them or do something else until it was over, but now in my mind it's easier to separate the two Benoit's and I find myself being able to once again enjoy those matches. No matter how much fans try to forget Chris Benoit, he will always be remembered for his contributions and sacrifices in the ring and should not be entirely erased from the history of wrestling for one selfish, unspeakable act. Ask yourself this; will you ever forget the emotion of seeing Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero in the ring at Wrestlemania 20, celebrating as WWE World Champions? Will you ever forget Benoit's contributions to the business as a wrestler? No, and you shouldn't. His memory as a wrestler will live on, and while many still struggle to deal with this controversial and dividing subject, I feel now is the time we slowly but surely start to talk about and remember Chris Benoit, the wrestler, and not that monster who murdered his wife and son before taking his own life. It may be controversial and may divide opinion, but he will always be a part of wrestling and WWE history.
I'm not the only person to tackle this extremely controversial topic, as my fellow writer Chris Surrency tackled the issue back in an article he published on April 15th 2013. I strongly urge you to give that a read too because he raises some very valid points in a piece he called 'Defending: Chris Benoit'.
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