The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling
Author – David Shoemaker
1. Though I’d catch a Saturday show ever so often, I didn’t started watching professional wrestling regularly until 1996, after a middle school friend told me WWF wrestlers Diesel and Razor Ramon started raiding rival promotion WCW. That caught a 12-year old Geoff’s interest, but I caught the bug after I saw this insane no disqualification match between the ‘Crippler’ Chris Benoit, a gritty Canadian technician, and the Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan, an old school NWA fading past his prime. Their fight spilt from the ring into stairwells and hallways of the Baltimore Arena, into the bathroom (The American Dream Dusty Rhodes’ shouting “Dere’s a lady in the men’s room!” still cracks me up) and finished with a superplex off a folding table. I became a hardcore fan from that period through to 2000, and through that time Chris Benoit was my favorite wrestler. In an era that pushed the sports entertainment envelope, Benoit was old school. He was smaller than most wrestlers, but made up for that with a physical, high-flying style honed from years working in Japan and ECW. Benoit captured what I thought wrestling could be. Later, after he joined the WWE, original fans like myself rejoiced when he beat Triple H and Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XX in Madison Square Garden for the championship.
2. Chris Benoit is dead. He hung himself on a nautilus machine, his final act following a heinous weekend where he murdered his wife, Nancy Benoit, a former wrestling valet who went by the stage name Woman, and smothered his son to death in their house near Atlanta. During Benoit’s autopsy, doctors said his brain resembled that of an 85-year old alzheimer’s patient. At the very least, twenty years of steroid and drug abuse, diving head butts, chair shots to the head and general physical misery contributed to the construction of a monster.
3. Benoit’s murder-suicide is the rock-bottom finality in a long lineup of dead wrestlers featured in “Squared Circle: Life, Death and Professional Wrestling,” written by Grantland and Deadspin.com writer, David Shoemaker, also known as the Masked Man. His death, along with the passing of longtime running mate Eddie Guerrero, marked the end of a troubling era for sports entertainment. Steroids, painkillers, alcohol and cocaine abuse, and the physical toll of dropping your body onto hard material 30 times a night, contributed to the deaths of stars like the British Bulldog, Mr. Perfect Curt Henning, Ravishing Rick Rude, Chris Kanyon, Road Warrior Hawk, Macho Man Randy Savage, Flyin’ Brian Pillman and dozens of lesser known grapplers, many who died regularly in their early 40s or even late ‘30s. I cheered most of them on at one time or another.
4. Wrestlers have apparently died relatively young arguably since the grappling moved from the traveling carnival sideshows to America’s top arenas. Early heros like Gorgeous George and territorial greats like the Von Erichs and Bruiser Brody all met early ends. Like rockstars, life on the road and in the smoky backrooms took its toll, often in blood, from wrestlings greats.
5. Benoit’s murder-suicide was without question the sport’s darkest moment. Since his passing WWE has made a concerted effort to clean up the industry, implementing a drug testing program and and paying for rehab. The sport’s top stars are open straight edgers and pescaterians. I”m still a fan, though probably more on an analytical level. Benoit’s final days still echo in his original fans. Am I who Maximus shout at, after slaughtering another round of slaves in the arena. Am I entertained?