Wrestling with the Horror that Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport
Steven Johnson, Heath McCoy,
Irv Muchnick and Greg Oliver
Synopsis: Essays about the life and death of Chris Benoit.
Benoit cried in the dressing room, worried for his friend. He left Philadelphia that night, not knowing that Sabu's neck was all but broken. He followed up once he returned to Edmonton, calling ECW boss Paul Heyman, who was over the moon with excitement.
"It's great, you're going to be called The Crippler. This is awesome, we're going to make so much money," Benoit recalled Heyman telling him excitedly.
All the while he just wanted to know the status of his friend. Benoit still grappled with the potentially lethal mistake years later. "Things do happen, accidents do happen. I think the people that I work with know me, and the people that know me personally know I'd never take advantage of a situation or someone in the ring like that," he said. "They know that it was a mistake. Things happen. It's a physical, contact sport, and and injuries are going to happen." Still, he would admit to liking The Crippler nickname. "It grew on me and I'm proud of it."
I have to admit, the subject matter in this book is not something I love talking about. Like many of us, I was absolutely devastated when Chris Benoit reportedly murdered his family in 2007, before taking his own life. And I was equally shocked by the media feeding frenzy that ensued and how every Tom, Dick and Marc Mero ever associated with wrestling were using this incident to further their own agendas. I was concerned that this book served no other purpose but then to make a quick buck.
And I will also admit I was wrong.
Benoit (the book) is comprised of five short essays by known wrestling columnists, each different enough from the last to make for a very interesting read. Whether I agreed or disagreed with the points raised in the content, each essay is informative and well written. Almost five years later, the information largely holds up. There's also a comprehensive Chris Benoit championship history that covers everything from working in Stampede to his final days in WWE.
Greg Oliver, known for his Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame books and contributions to Slam! Wrestling, covers off two essays (as well as the aforementioned championship history). The first is a comprehensive biography about Benoit which also documents the struggles he had in later years (namely coping with the loss of many of his friends). Oliver also includes an email sent to him personally by Benoit shortly after Eddie Guerrero's death. The message is telling and almost worth the price of the book alone.
Oliver's second essay is dedicated to Nancy Toffoloni (a/k/a Fallen Angel, Woman, Nancy Sullivan and Nancy Benoit) and a look at her long career inside and outside of professional wrestling. It's a story that isn't nearly as well-known as her former husband's, and needs to be told. Kudos to Oliver for getting past the Cliffs Notes version of who she is and providing some proper context.
The third essay is written by Heath McCoy, a Calgary-based reporter who put together the phenomenal Pain and Passion biography of Stampede Wrestling and the Hart Family. His story, of course, looks at Benoit's Stampede career, the unusual relationship he shared with Dynamite Kid, how people like Bad News Allen and Bruce Hart shaped his career and how his transformation from scrawny fanboy to Stampede wrestler upset some of the locker room. There's nothing earth-shattering or ground-breaking here, but it does make for a good story.
The fourth essay is from Stephen Johnson (also of the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame books) and is perhaps my favorite one in the book. The story analyzes how the mainstream media dealt with the Benoit tragedies, what kind of ratings their "reporting" got them and how everyone on the fringes of the wrestling industry tried to get in on the action.
Johnson addresses how often Geraldo Rivera, Nancy Grace and, yes, even Linda McMahon perpetuated silly rumors instead of sticking to the facts. He also gets comments from wrestling journalists such as Dave Meltzer, who described his behind-the-scenes role in helping inform television talking heads.
The final essay is written by Irv Muchnick, an author and columnist who specializes in prof wrestling scandals and sports concussions (he's also the nephew of legendary NWA promoter Sam Muchnick). His story is, somewhat predictably, about how the Benoit tragedy personifies the very worst in an industry of con men, flim flam artists and shysters (well, it does have Irwin R).
While we'll never know what prompted Benoit to do what we did, Muchnick argues, the so-called "wrestling lifestyle" undoubtedly played a part in it.
How do I feel about this? To be honest, I'm less opposed to his essay than you'd think. Unlike some websites that made ridiculous points to garner attention, Muchnick's work is meticulously-researched and he works hard to seek out the truth.
He's not afraid to contact police, researchers and other people so that he has ample ammunition to make his points. And while I don't really agree with his tough take on the wrestling business, it's hard not to respect him for putting together some compelling arguments.
Overall Rating: Transitional Champion. Do wrestling fans need to read this book? Probably not. But it provides some unique insights into arguably wrestling's darkest period and Chris Benoit, and I have no problem recommending it for a read.