Remembering Chris Benoit

By JEFF WILEN
JAWBREAKER

It’s difficult to say why people do certain things. Police reports this week involving the late Chris Benoit say Benoit killed his wife and his young son before killing himself.

Without getting into the question, "Why, Chris, why?" it’s simply a tragedy and a loss for the world of professional wrestling.

JAWBreaker is not condoning the actions of Benoit the person whatsoever.

At this time, until more information is available or maybe never, I won’t discuss the specifics involving the Benoit tragedy. That includes Benoit’s state of mind, motives, text messages, whether WWE was OK to air a three-hour tribute to Benoit (that was OK by the way), marriage issues, safety deposit box rumors, and/or rumors of needle marks on Daniel, who also reportedly had Fragile X syndrome.

My only comment is that steroids ALONE DID NOT cause Benoit to do this. Anyone who thinks that is out of the loop.

However, I do want to comment on Benoit the wrestler. There is a difference between the two.

"The Rabid Wolverine" Chris Benoit was one of the best active technical wrestlers and one of the best technical wrestlers in the history of the business. Ever.

I’ll remember Benoit for a match I saw in Orlando several years ago. While I don’t remember those involved (I believe it was a six-man matchup), I do recall the specifics toward the end of the match.

It had been a long night. This was the final match on the card. Fans weren’t sticking around for the end. So, since the match was being taped for television, WWE implored the fans in the first level to move down to ringside.

My buddies and I jumped at the chance. I can’t ever recall this happening at any televised WWE or WCW show I was at. We got right up to one of the ringposts, up close and personal, as if we had purchased front-row seats.

The fans that night were so into his wrestling, and appreciated his every move. Each move Benoit delivered, the crowd popped. I still remember the electricity that went through the building when he delivered his flying headbutt off the top rope.

I was proud to be one of those fans. He made me yell, scream and smile, and most importantly, enjoy the show.

Benoit was a perfectionist at his craft. This was his game. This was his spotlight. Each and every night.

Benoit the wrestler makes me proud to be a wrestling fan. He was not a great speaker at all, and it held him back for years and years.

But, after a long road from Canada to Japan to ECW and to WCW, he finally made it to WWE. Then, he won the 2004 Royal Rumble to earn a shot at Triple H at WrestleMania 20. In that match also involving HBK, Benoit overcame the odds and made Triple H tap out. His dream was fulfilled, as he became the WWE World Heavyweight Champion.

It was a happy moment when Benoit hugged the now-late Eddie Guerrero, showing everyone two guys who fulfilled their dreams.

Sadly, that image of Benoit will not be one people remember.

THE OTHERS

Chris Benoit was not the victim from this week’s incidents. Let’s not forget the others involved in these senseless deaths. There was a child and a son, Daniel, just seven years old. And there was Benoit’s wife, Nancy (a.k.a. "Woman"), who carved out quite a successful career as a manager in the business.

Sadly, most people will forget about them. I won’t.

While I didn’t know Nancy or Daniel, I did speak to DeLand’s Jim Daus on Tuesday night. Daus was Nancy’s first husband.

If you saw Wednesday’s News-Journal, you read my comments from Daus and now know of the local connection this tragedy had. Nancy graduated from the area in 1981. Kevin Sullivan, who had one of the strangest wrestling angles to real-life situations ever involving Benoit and Nancy, also lived here for some time, in Daytona Beach Shores.

Talking to Daus, a class act by the way, was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do as a reporter. And this was someone who had been divorced from Nancy for about 20 years, and had last spoken to Nancy in an e-mail about 6 years ago.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all those who knew anyone involved in this senseless tragedy.

SULLIVAN REACTS ON BENOIT SITUATION

Efforts to reach Kevin Sullivan were unsuccessful Tuesday. However, he did talk to two other media organizations.

To Brenda Goodman of The New York Times:

"I’m in the dark. I wrestled with him (Benoit) a lot. I thought he was a great performer Last night when I found out, it was shocking, just shocking."

Foxnews.com had this:

"It’s surreal. She was a nice person. We just went our separate ways. She was nice and very loving, and I’m sure she was a good mother."

The story said Sullivan said he did not know Benoit well outside the ring. "I never associated with him, so I really don’t know his personality," he said. . . "(But) I’m sad for all three, especially the child."

IRONY OF IRONIES

In my April 12 column, in my WrestleMania 24 predicted matches, I somehow did not have Chris Benoit listed. Check the archives if you don’t believe me. And don’t ask me why I didn’t list him. I simply forgot, I guess. But, wow. Talk about strange!

WWE REACTION, AND MORE, ON BENOIT

It’s not too often WWE has to deal with reality. But, for the second week in a row (Sensational Sherri last week), wrestling has lost one of its own.

WWE.com became a site for real news, unlike the past few weeks with the Vince McMahon story line death. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had hundreds of posts and thousands of hits Monday night after fans heard the news of Benoit’s death.

Sadly, most fans (including myself) were going to that site to make sure the story of Benoit’s death wasn’t fake.

On Monday’s Raw, personalities Vince McMahon, Stone Cold Steve Austin, John Cena, all the show announcers, CM Punk, Dean Malenko, Stephanie McMahon, Chavo Guerrero, William Regal, Edge and Triple H commented about Benoit.

While the reality of Benoit’s death didn’t hit home right away with me, it did later when Stephanie mentioned her marriage to Triple H and her pregnancy, and how happy Benoit was for the Helmsley family. Stephanie’s marriage to HHH is something that’s never discussed in the story lines, because WWE doesn’t want all of its fans to know about it and harp on it. Later in the show, I had a tear in my eye when HHH talked about Benoit, as HHH’s words were very powerful. He’s a great speaker.

When wrestlers and fans think of Benoit the wrestler, the words respect, dedication, passion and intensity are used. Simply put, Benoit the wrestler gave 100 percent.

Benoit was a master of German suplexes and "The Crippler Crossface." He loved to use "The Sharpshooter." He modeled a lot of his work after The Dynamite Kid. And fans respected him when they held up a sign that said, "Toothless Aggression."

I thought WWE did an excellent job throwing together a three-hour show at the last minute. The emotions had to be running high. Yes, there were some wrestlers I wish would have spoken, such as Ric Flair, but that time will come later. Wrestlers have a right not to speak, and to grieve in their own way.

Raw showed some great matches of Benoit’s career with the 2004 Royal Rumble match being one of them. It was very strange seeing five of those six wrestlers at the end of the match — RVD, The Big Show, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle and now Benoit — no longer being with WWE. Cena was the lone exception.

It’s proof of how cyclical this business is, with wrestlers coming and going, and in some cases, dying.

I enjoyed the whole show, and it made me appreciate Benoit the wrestler. His last television match vs. Elijah Burke from last week’s ECW show was typical Benoit.

The 1996 match vs. Malenko was strange, as it had the now-deceased Nancy Benoit and the late Miss Elizabeth at ringside. There was also talk of the NWO, but that’s a whole different issue. Malenko confirmed what many people believed, that Benoit was like "Houdini" as a very private person.

The 2006 match vs. JBL and the 1990 Japan match vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, with Benoit as the Pegasus Kid, were not bad selections. The 2001 ladder match vs. Chris Jericho, which included Benoit being put in "The Walls of Jericho" on top of a ladder, was a classic match — even if WWE blurred out all the WWF references.

Ending the show with Benoit’s defining moment — winning the WWE title — was powerful. The fans wanted him to win, and he did.

I’ll miss Chris Benoit the wrestler, regardless of the circumstances involving his death.

Fans should remember the good times with Benoit, and let the authorities deal with the unfortunate times of the Benoit family.

LATEST ON VINCE MCMAHON AND ECW

After Tuesday’s news, it seems WWE will drop the Mr. McMahon angle entirely.

On ECW, McMahon acted apologetic for Raw having devoted three hours to Benoit. But, at the time, WWE didn’t know the specifics of the tragedy. McMahon said a healing process would begin, with wrestling, and that Benoit’s name wouldn’t be mentioned again.

As for ECW, it wasn’t the best show, as it had only two matches. John Cena vs. Johnny Nitro wasn’t all that exciting. Nitro didn’t impress me at all. The Roddy Piper-Matt Striker-Boogeyman segment was likely something that would have taken place on Raw. It seemed to drag out here. The third pinfall match between CM Punk and Elijah Burke was strong and easily carried the show. Punk deserves the title.

With the McMahon story line likely ending, these points will be forgotten:

Michael Cole saying Finlay can’t possibly be a McMahon suspect, as he was in Ireland.

Through Sunday, a fun survey on WWE.com has 32% of people saying Jonathan Coachman is the McMahon suspect. Bobby Lashley got 16%. In other, WWE had no mention of my Mr. Kennedy prediction.

WEEKLY HEADLINES AND MY REACTS

Dan Rodman. REACT: WWE has huge hopes for this guy. Former columnist David Rosenberg said this guy would be a future superstar.

Johnny Nitro to ECW, due to the distraction of Melina. REACT: If that’s what has been holding Nitro’s character down, it’s about time. It’s a shame he prospers due to the Benoit story.

Ric Flair’s last match at WM 24. REACT: Is he the McMahon suspect? It’d be a strong buildup to WM 24 if he was.

Paul London’s smile during Vince’s stroll out of the arena. REACT: London reportedly can’t keep a secret (Ashley on "Survivor" ), and it almost got him fired. But, Paul, next time, sell Vince’s final steps, will you?

ECW diva Trinity released. REACT: No loss. She wasn’t doing a thing.

Mr. Kennedy’s work habits. REACT: Kennedy got hooked on wrestling thanks to Stone Cold Steve Austin. If he continues picking people’s brains, he’ll be running Raw before long.

Jesse Ventura Dusty Rhodes in GM roles? REACT: Those are big names that could play commish roles. I only see Rhodes happening.

X-Pac to TNA? REACT: Wouldn’t surprise me, as WWE likely has no use for him.

Viscera push on ECW, and then a monster push on Raw or Smackdown. REACT: Wow. This one comes out of left field. I don’t believe it.

Fast Cars and Superstars. REACT: Cena’s third-place finish was respectable. John Elway was the odds-on-favorite going in, so there’s no shame in finishing behind him. The show, although brutal to watch, was good publicity for Cena and WWE.

SMACKDOWN COMMENTS

The good — Batista and Flair reuniting, with Edge spearing Flair and Batista Batista-bombing Edge for the pin; the cruiserweights; Matt Hardy beating Finlay, with Hardy losing his knee brace playing a role. The bad — Mark Henry over Funaki and Chris Masters’ debut. What’s next for these two? And shame on WWE for not releasing the PPV opponents of Deuce and Domino. The ugly — Wrestler weddings rarely work. The Teddy Long-Kristal "will you marry me" segment was well done, but there better be a strong payoff. Long tripped trying to get into the ring and fumbled the microphone, showing his nervousness. But why would she say, "Can I see the ring again, please?" Just weird. Top comment: JBL saying Magnum TA was giving advice to MVP on how to beat Ric Flair.

WWE VENGEANCE (JUNE 24) REACTION

It’s been a long week, and the PPV seems like weeks ago. But, it was still noteworthy.

WWE champion John Cena vs. Mick Foley vs. Randy Orton vs. Bobby Lashley vs. King Booker: Cena retains. I’m 1-0.

Edge vs. Batista: Edge retains, via countout. I’m 2-0.

Intercontinental champion Santino Marella vs. Umaga: Santino retains on DQ, so I’m 2-1.

U.S. Champion MVP vs. Ric Flair for the U.S. title: MVP retains, so I’m 2-2.

World tag-team champions Lance Cade/Trevor Murdoch vs. The Hardys: The champs retain, so I’m 3-2.

Cruiserweight champion Chavo Guerrero vs. Jimmy Wang Yang: Chavo retains. I’m 4-2.

Women’s champion Melina vs. Candice Michelle: One of two title changes, and I’m 5-2.

ECW Title match: Chris Benoit vs. CM Punk: Benoit pulled out of this match. Even if I had picked Punk, I’d still miss this pick, as Johnny Nitro won. I’m 5-3.

Smackdown tag-team title match: I finish 5-4 as Deuce and Domino retain vs. the strange team of Sgt. Slaughter and Jimmy Snuka.

WRESTLEMANIA 24 UPDATES

Each week, leading up to WM 24 in 2008 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, I’ll post any new information here. You can count on this being your only weekly source for WM 24/Orlando news.

When: March 30, 2008.

What: Five-day celebration of the biggest annual event in sports entertainment.

Where: Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

Latest news: WWE and Citrus Bowl officials are currently planning out WM 24 week. I expect them to have some sort of news after the June 5 show at the Amway Arena.

Outside?: Yes. WWE has had only one other completely outdoor WM (WM 9 in 1993 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas).

Vince McMahon, commenting to me March 21 about the weather factor: "We have little concern about the weather. It’s worth the risk. WrestleMania will go on, regardless of the weather."

Expected crowd: 60,000.

Tickets: Not yet on sale. Expected to go on sale this summer.

Expected profit: $25 million in new direct spending for Central Florida. WWE sources say Detroit made $30 million in revenue on this year’s event.

Other: The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be March 29, 2008. The location is reportedly the Amway Arena, but that has not been confirmed. Possible entrants could be Ric Flair, Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat.

Wilen’s predicted matches from April 12, 2007 column: The Undertaker vs. John Cena; Triple H vs. Ric Flair; Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage; Jeff/Matt Hardy vs. Paul London/Brian Kendrick; Mickie James vs. Victoria; Chris Jericho vs. Edge; Batista vs. Mr. Kennedy; Bobby Lashley vs. Mark Henry; Six-man ladder match (Randy Orton, Shelton Benjamin, HBK, CM Punk, Johnny Nitro and Rey Mysterio); Carlito/RVD vs. Umaga/The Great Khali.

PWTorch.com predicted matches from June post: Triple H vs. John Cena; The Undertaker vs. Edge; Shawn Michaels vs. Randy Orton.

GOING TO WRESTLEMANIA 24 IN ORLANDO?

Are you from Volusia or Flagler County and will you try to get tickets for WM 24 in Orlando? If so, The News-Journal is interested in speaking to you (No, I don’t have free tickets to give away. Sorry!) Again, you must be from the Volusia or Flagler County area. Let me know at jeff.wilen@news-jrnl.com

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