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Chris Benoit

June 26, 2007

"It's basil! Get it right!"
-My cousin Chris, to my brother Matt, at Bill Pickney's wedding reception (following Matt and I doing our "I forgot the parsley and dill" routine)

Congrats to my uncle Bill and my new aunt Dee, who had their wedding on Friday. I'm happy for them, though the 10 a.m. Friday start time ran concurrent with a yard sale taking place at St. Ann's and construction that had torn up most of the church/school parking lot. As a result, parking was a most challenging effort. We ended up parking across the street, between a building full of closed down businesses and a bank.

But it was a great time, as was the family get-together this past weekend in "rustic" Rock Island State Park. I'm still sore from the tennis/dodgeball action from Saturday, and I have chigger bites galore that itch like crazy, but it was good to finally be part of what has become an annual tradition for my extended family on my Dad's side.

I've had a few people e-mail me asking for my take on the tragic death of Chris Benoit, his wife Nancy, and his son Daniel. Investigators are calling it a double murder-suicide perpetrated by Chris Benoit, which is incomprehensible since that goes against all normal human instinct.

Benoit was one of my all-time favorite wrestlers, and he was certainly my favorite since Ricky Steamboat retired. Flair in his prime was off-the-charts great, but Benoit could work any style, from Lucha to Japanese to WWF/WWE punch-punch-kick-submission hold, and perform at an elite level. The only other person who I can think of who can come close to claiming that is Chris Jericho.

The first time I got to see Benoit wrestle in person was at Starrcade '95 in Nashville against another of my all-time favorites, Jushin Liger. I could name a ton of great Benoit matches off the top of my head; what's more, I *can't* think of any big-time choke jobs by Benoit. The guy always delivered the goods with an entertaining performance, regardless of the circumstances.

Chris Benoit vs. Edge
Chris Benoit (shown above diving mid-air into a chair shot from Edge) put himself at frequent risk for concussions.

Pro wrestling is a vicious, brutal industry. It's a business where people insult each other behind their backs, promoters use sleazy tactics, and many involved are known for being loose cannons. But Benoit was an exception; he was always known as a consummate professional. With the exception of Kevin Nash referring to Benoit and Dean Malenko as "vanilla midgets", I can't think of anyone who's ever had anything bad to say about him. Until now.

Trying to make sense of the senseless is impossible, so I won't do that. The timing was incredibly ironic given that WWE was pushing the tasteless "Who Killed Mr. McMahon?" angle, which utilized elements of real-life tribute shows (Owen Hart, Eddie Guerrero, etc.) in its on-air storyline.

In an unprecedented move, WWE canceled its RAW show last night to instead run a hastily thrown together Benoit tribute show; now there's speculation that tonight on ECW, McMahon will apologize for the tribute in light of the evidence that has since come out about the tragedy.

An issue that may play into this situation is that of concussions. Between unprotected chair shots to the head, using a flying headbutt as a signature move (sometimes from 10-12 feet in the air from the top of a cage), and in general working stiff matches on a regular basis for nearly 22 years, Benoit certainly exposed himself to potential concussions on many, many different occasions. And in an industry where injury means losing your spot, it would not surprise me at all if he had sustained multiple concussions through the course of his career but "worked through them" as the saying goes. I have no empirical evidence to support that theory, but it does seem like a distinct possibility.

Consider this: symptoms of concussions can include "Emotional instability, hallucinations, and cognitive problems." Did that necessarily lead to what happened at the Benoit home? I don't know. People with concussions don't always flip out and perform such bizarre actions. But the link certainly warrants monitoring.

The entire situation makes me feel sad. One of the last performers who I cared about in pro wrestling is dead, as is his family. How do you make sense of that? Quite simply, you can't.

June 2007 Commentary Page

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