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In March, a new season of “Dark Side of the Ring,” a show that’s premise is about some of the most controversial moments and subjects in the history of professional wrestling, premiered. After the first season discussed the death of Bruiser Brody and the “The Montreal Screwjob,” the next season started off the new season with perhaps the most divisive moment in the history of all combat sports: Chris Benoit’s double-murder suicide.
In the wake of it all, one statement by former World Wrestling Entertainment commentator and current All Elite Wrestling commentator, Jim Ross, had wrestling fans engaged in debate. “I get the question all of the time, ‘does Chris Benoit deserve to be in the WWE Hall of Fame?’ And I say ‘absolutely not,’” says Ross.
“The issue is—if Chris were here, we could talk to him and he would say ‘putting me in the Hall of Fame is going to be one of the great distraction of the entire event. All it’s going to do is bring up Nancy (Benoit) and Daniel ( Benoit) and Chris and their last 24 hours, so therefore I say Chris Benoit does not belong in the WWE Hall of Fame now, or ever.”
However, the wresting community has since taken the debate to a whole new level. Some people claim that Chris Benoit the wrestler should be separated from Chris Benoit the person. What should matter is what’s done in the ring, not outside it.
Others claiming that the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) he suffered from is what made him commit the atrocities from 2007.
These raise two questions. The first being, do they hold water? If they hold validity, than it could be time to reopen the conversation completely. The second question, is it time for WWE to fully recognize Benoit instead of tuck him away in their memories?
Starting with the second claim, CTE has always been prevalent in contact sports such as boxing or football but it didn’t make the rounds in the media until the 2000’s when more football players were starting to pass away after showing unusual behavior.
Since 2008, athletes from all sports including boxing and wrestling started pledging to donate their brains for CTE research, each one building more attention to the subject. Knowing what’s known now, it’s safe to assume that CTE is what could have caused Benoit to kill his wife and son.
Further proof comes from the revelation of his Google search history before he died. According to Matthew Randazzo’s book “Ring of Hell: The Story Of Chris Benoit & The Fall Of The Pro Wrestling Industry” Benoit had searched for a story about the prophet Elijah from the Old Testament regarding the resurrection of a young boy.
He then searched “quickest and most painless way” one could break their own neck. He had killed his wife and son over the course of the weekend, before taking his life on June 24.
As for the first claim, to separate the wrestlers while in the ring from their personal life, it’s hard to separate because around that time there was no medium to do so. In today’s day-and-age, wrestlers break character often on their social media platforms, often training with someone who isn’t seen on the same side as them.
It also helped show that the wrestlers had a life outside of the ring. In 2007, nobody knew what wrestlers did in their free time unless something came out across the news or online.
It’s easy to say that people need to separate one’s work life from their personal life, however, it’s hard when one doesn’t know their personal lives and habits. The only facts to go off of in this scenario are what is known; Benoit had been divorced prior to marrying Nancy and that she had filed and dropped a divorce suit and a restraining order for alleging cruel treatment.
In the beginning of the piece following the two claims, there were two questions asked, do they hold water and should WWE fully recognize Benoit? The answer to both, is no.
Starting with the first claim, while an individual who knows Benoit’s work in the ring can separate it, there will come a time when they’re gone. If a future generation were to conduct an internet search on him, they wouldn’t find his wrestling career but more so his criminal history.
Given even Nancy had claimed he would break and throw around furniture, it shows that even outside the ring there may have been a violent nature.
As for CTE, it can be assumed that if boxers were getting it, wrestlers most likely would have it seeing that some of them had trained as boxers, as well as other forms of martial arts.
Like any sport, the risk of injury is always present, it’s why most companies and even children leagues make them and guardians sign waivers clearing them of responsibility. If someone knows the risk and continues to do so anyways, it’s out of the companies control, no matter how much they may try to protect and compensate them.
As for fully recognizing Benoit, WWE has since put footage and matches featuring him on their network. While some content has been removed from his career, mainly around his death, it marks the first time WWE has allowed this to be seen. However, don’t expect his name to be dropped during Monday Night RAW or a Pay-Per-View.
The one last question to answer is should Benoit be in the Hall of Fame, no.
While his in-ring career was great and deserving, the red tape and baggage are too much. It’s a nearly impossible sell, especially when dealing with sponsors.
There may come a day when it’s not viewed this way but it’s very unlikely. Until then, at least there’s video to watch of him.