Chris Benoit- a name that creates divisions among the wrestling enthusiasts; a name that WWE does not want to mention and has almost tried to erase from their history. 10 years after his death, Chris Benoit is still a controversial name among today’s wrestling fans. Even today, wrestling fans find it difficult to believe that their favorite wrestler, one of the best technical wrestlers of the world, had murdered his son and wife, before committing suicide.
Chris Benoit is a tragic story in the history of WWE. It has been 10 years since the day Benoit murdered his wife and son before committing suicide. The incident changed the WWE landscape forever. WWE aired an episode of Raw giving a tribute to Chris Benoit when the news of his death first surfaced. However, when the news regarding the double murder and suicide started to spread, WWE quickly distanced itself from the entire Benoit story.
Chris Benoit’s career in WWE peaked in 2004 when he won the Royal Rumble after entering at No.1 and surviving the entire bout, a record shared by only Shawn Michaels. Towards the end of the match, Benoit was left alone in the ring with Big Show. The difference between the sizes of the two men and Benoit’s heroic effort to finally eliminate Big Show resembled his own struggles as a wrestler and the way he had to fight all the adversities to progress further in his career.
WWE noted the wild reaction from the overjoyed crowd and inserted Benoit in the World Heavyweight Title picture alongside Shawn Michaels and Triple H. The naysayers who felt that Benoit would be completely overshadowed due to the narrative of the HHH-HBK story-line and their intense feud, were all proven wrong by him. He carved a place of his own and finally won his first world title in WWE at Wrestlemania XX in Madison Square Garden by beating the D-Generation-X duo.
Benoit’s post match celebration with the then WWE champion, Eddie Guerrero was a historic one and still remains one of the most emotional segments in WWE history. His title defense, a rematch of the Wresltemania bout at Backlash (2004) was another fantastic match. He held the title for 154 days, before dropping it to Randy Orton at SummerSlam (2004). His rise to the top as an ultimate underdog was a fabulous story-line after that of Shawn Michaels and in later years, WWE continued following the same story-line for other superstars, such as CM Punk and Daniel Bryan.
Fast forward in 2005, Eddie Guerrero passed away and Benoit was stunned at the loss of his best friend. His colleagues later testified that Benoit was never the same again after Eddie’s death. Almost two years later, Benoit too had passed away, but in doing so, had committed a double murder and suicide. But the tragedy did not end there. Investigations and medical tests on Benoit’s body revealed more horrific details and forced WWE to change a lot of their policies.
Medical tests revealed that Benoit received illegal steroids that were not compliant with WWE’s Talent Wellness Program. He also had elevated levels of testosterone in his system. However, the most surprising revelation came after his brain tissues were tested. His brain was damaged to such an extent that it resembled that of an 85-year old Alzheimer’s patient. This was attributed to the repeated concussions that Benoit experienced while wrestling including the open chair-shots to his head and performing the diving headbutt move. His father propounded the idea that this brain damage and drug abuse might be a key reason for the crimes that Benoit committed.
The result of the tests and Benoit’s actions forced WWE to take a number of initiatives regarding programming and talent wellness. WWE banned all open chair-shots to the head and even punished veterans Triple H and the Undertaker for violating this rule during their bout at Wrestlemania XXVII. For wrestlers who experienced repeated concussions, WWE did not allow them to return to in-ring action that even led to their retirements e.g. Christian and Daniel Bryan. The company also banned all forms of blood loss from live programming. In cases of accidental blood loss, the company had medical personnel intervene during the matches to stop the blood loss first and then resume the bout.
While these have been attributed as being too PG by the fans, a deep understanding of the circumstances and the reasons makes fans realize that this is indeed in the best interest of the wrestlers. Furthermore, WWE also started imposing their Talent Wellness Policy strictly and even suspended top superstars e.g. Roman Reigns in 2016 and reigning champions e.g. Rob Van Dam in 2006 as well as other superstars for violating the policy. While discrepancies do exist within the programming, it surely is the correct direction towards which the company is heading.
Amidst all these reforms, the name Chris Benoit still remains hidden. WWE Network does air clips of Benoit’s matches but a search of his name on the network fails to provide any result. His name has been removed from all broadcast programming of WWE and their website. Addressing this controversy in a 2009 interview, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon remarked,
“It’s not right to pretend he didn’t exist. The situation is very similar to that of O.J. Simpson- despite his controversy, O.J. was still a part of the NFL scene. You can’t deny that he existed.”
His fans still want him to be inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame adding that personal life incidents should not be mixed with someone’s wrestling career and achievements. Others even blame WWE for Benoit’s terrible health problems and crimes. But his colleagues think otherwise. WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle believes that Benoit himself was responsible for the crimes that he committed whereas former WWE superstar CM Punk, on being asked if WWE was trying to erase Chris Benoit, responded by saying that while the history books could not be changed, it made no sense for WWE to promote him due to the horrific crimes that he committed.
WWE veteran, Chris Jericho remarked that Benoit should not be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. However, amidst controversies and a recall election later in 2008, Chris Benoit remained as an inductee in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Hall of Fame class of 2003.
Wrestler Benoit’s career has been overshadowed by the real life Benoit’s actions. While he was an outstanding wrestler overall, it is his heinous deeds that will define his life. WWE has a duty towards it fans; to promote wrestlers as role models. Benoit’s life does not fit that objective at all. His death has ushered in a new era in WWE. And while there are criticisms regarding the quality of WWE’s programming in the current era, WWE should be applauded for taking the issue of the well-being of their talents seriously. They are after all, human beings just like us.
Chris Benoit can never be erased from the history and neither can his accomplishments as a wrestler be questioned. But there are other important factors that bar WWE from promoting him or celebrating his career- a double murder and a suicide, crimes committed in real life that bear more weight than a professional wrestling career. Therefore, it is in the best interest of WWE not to promote him but to keep the history as it is and not meddle with it.