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Chris Benoit. The name invokes one of two images: that of one of the greatest professional wrestlers ever, or that of a man whose final days were spent committing the most horrific acts of his life.
Christopher Michael Benoit grew up in Canada idolizing wrestlers like Bret Hart and The Dynamite Kid; in 1985, at the age of eighteen, Benoit debuted in Canada's Stampede Wrestling. From there, Benoit went to various overseas promotions for a number of years (mainly in Japan), then made his debut in ECW in 1994. It was in ECW where Benoit earned the nickname "The Crippler": during a match with Sabu, he performed a back body drop, but Sabu landed right on his head and broke his neck. Though this was an accident, Benoit's "Crippler" nickname stuck with him for the remainder of his career.
In 1995, Benoit returned to WCW (he had a short run there in 1992 and early 1993), and after impressing management with his in-ring work, Ric Flair had Benoit become a member of the Four Horsemen stable; it was during this time that Benoit would feud with Kevin Sullivan, who was also a WCW booker at the time. The angle was that Sullivan's on-screen valet (his wife Nancy) was having an affair with Benoit; to keep the angle steeped in kayfabe, Benoit and Nancy were forced to spend time together to make it appear that they were having an affair. The end result, however, was that Chris and Nancy actually did have an affair, and Nancy left Kevin Sullivan to marry Benoit.
For the next few years, Benoit would go on to win fans over with his in-ring work, but would never break through to the main event level until Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara came into WCW in 1999 during the Monday Night Wars; however, when the two were suspended and Kevin Sullivan was placed back on the booking team, Benoit and a number of other wrestlers revolted and delivered an ultimatum to management: he goes, or we go. To attempt to appease this group of wrestlers, Benoit was booked to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship at Souled Out 2000. This was not enough to please them, however, and Benoit - along with Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, and Dean Malenko - were granted their releases after the event.
Weeks later, the four men would show up on WWF Raw, coming out from the crowd to attack several wrestlers. Calling themselves "The Radicalz", Benoit and company would end up signaling the beginning of the end of WCW; a little more than a year after their debut in the company, WCW folded and was purchased by WWE.
The next four years saw Benoit slowly built up into a main event caliber wrestler, producing classic matches with the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, and Edge. His time on SmackDown's tag division in 2002 resulted in the classic trio of teams known as the "SmackDown Six"; teaming with Kurt Angle, Benoit would face the team of Edge and Rey Mysterio, Jr. at No Mercy 2002 in what was easily a Match of the Year candidate and arguably one of the greatest tag team matches ever.
In 2004, Benoit had arguably the best year of his career: he won the Royal Rumble by lasting the entire match (over an hour after having entered #1), went on to Wrestlemania 20 to win the World Heavyweight Championship in Madison Square Garden in another Match of the Year candidate by making Triple H tap clean to the Crippler Crossface, and he retained the title the next month at Backlash by making Shawn Michaels tap to the Sharpshooter in Canada (a symbolic apology to the Canadian crowd for the Montreal Screwjob). Following that, Benoit stayed near the main event for the rest of the year, feuding with Edge, Randy Orton, and Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship (Orton defeated Benoit to earn his first reign with that belt at SummerSlam 2004).
After 2004, Benoit was shuffled back down to the midcard as WWE decided to use his skills to help push new talent up the card. He won the United States Championship several times and feuded with up-and-coming star Montel Vontavious Porter (MVP) for months. In 2007, Benoit was placed on the ECW brand and was considered a top contender for the brand's championship; at Vengeance: Night of Champions 2007, Benoit was scheduled to go up against indy darling CM Punk for the vacant ECW Championship.
He would no-show the event.
And then we all found out why.
The next day, Atlanta police found the bodies of Chris, Nancy, and their seven-year-old son Daniel in their home; it wasn't revealed until later that evening -- and a number of fans would not find this out until after WWE had already run a Benoit tribute show -- that Benoit had strangled his wife and son before hanging himself in his home gym over the course of the previous weekend.
From that point forward, controversy about Benoit's life and career erupted. Were steroids to blame? Did he go insane due to multiple concussions he suffered over the years? Is it right to bring him up when discussing the best wrestlers ever in light of his actions -- and is it right to even remember him as a great wrestler?
The debate about how to properly remember Chris Benoit continues to this day, but not a single person can deny that June 25th, 2007 was the darkest day in professional wrestling history.
Tropes associated with Chris Benoit:
- Alternate Universe Fic: Benoit was the star of a popular fan-fic on Game FAQs' PWB called 24-Real, a parody of the thriller series 24. In it, he had to thwart a conspiracy that would force Rob Van Dam to job to Triple H at Wrestle Mania.
- Ascended Extra: Benoit's second WCW run saw him start out in the Cruiserweight Division; eventually, he was made one of the Four Horsemen.
- Ascended Fanboy: The physical similarities between Benoit and his childhood idol, The Dynamite Kid, are eerie. Benoit even performed moves like him, most infamously his snap suplex.
- He would briefly seem to be on both ends of this trope, as soon afterward Davey Richards wore tights instead of trunks, cut his hair and adopted a more technical style, complete with similar moves. However, apparently it was actually Dynamite Kid (thus bypassing Benoit) that Richards was modeled after.
- Breakup Breakout: Benoit (and Eddie Guerrero) following the breakup of the Radicalz.
- Broad Strokes: If it were up to the WWE, he wouldn't exist. But since he's won so many titles and was such a great wrestler, they can't undo the past.
- In an interview with WWE Magazine in 2009, Vince McMahon stated that he took the O.J. Simpson approach when it comes to mentioning Benoit: it's not okay to promote him, but they can't ignore his accomplishments.
- Catch Phrase: Surprisingly enough, Benoit never had any; his mic skills weren't exactly stellar, so he let his in-ring work do the talking.
- He ran with the line of challenging others to prove him wrong, though.
- In 2004, he began declaring that he was "for real" (his tights and t-shirts would render it as "4-REAL").
- Convicted by Public Opinion: Quite a few people believe that Benoit did not kill himself or his family, rather they believe that Kevin Sullivan (a high ranking member of Satanic church)-Nancy's ex-boyfriend, murdered him and his family and the deaths were staged to look like a suicide, more info on this page. The theory could be motivated by people not wanting to believe that one of their favorite wrestlers brutally murdered his own wife and son.
- Curse: Some like to point out the fact that in one storyline in one of the Smackdown Vs. Raw games, Eddie Guerrero was involved in a storyline with The Undertaker that ended in him buried alive. The weekend the game came out... well, Eddie died. A game later, Undertaker said "Your grieving family will have no one but you to blame." to Benoit. The next year, Chris.. well, you know...
- Death of a Thousand Cuts: The number of concussions he received over his career were believed to have contributed to the circumstances leading to him killing his family and taking his own life.
- Demoted to Extra: Benoit's career following 2004 could essentially be seen as this, especially his move to ECW in 2007.
- Determinator: Broke his neck during a TLC match taped on 05-21-2001, continued wrestling for over a month until the King of The Ring event on 24-06-2001.
- Unfortunately, it can be debated that this determination was also what possessed him to wrestle through concussions, abuse painkillers and steroids, and any other destructive behaviors that led to that infamous weekend in Atlanta.
- Downer Ending: To his career and his life.
- Fallen Hero: To some fans in Real Life.
- Finishing Move: Benoit's most famous were his diving headbutt and the Crippler Crossface submission hold. (Following Benoit's death, the Crippler Crossface has been used by other wrestlers, and in WWE, it's referred to simply as The Crossface.) And later still when Daniel Bryan began using it in the WWE, the name was further changed (along with how the arm is held in the submission) to the Lebell Lock, presumably to continue distancing the move from Chris by having an incredibly popular submission wrestler use it.
- Earlier in his career, he would use a Dragon Suplex or a high-speed release powerbomb referred to as the Wild Bomb.
- And while it wasn't a finisher, Benoit popularized the usage of multiple German Suplexes in a row (infamously testing Steve Austin's surgically repaired neck with an unthinkable 10 Germans in a row in one match).
- Ditto the diving headbutt off the top rope, which -- taking nothing away from the tragedy of his death -- can't have been good to his head when coupled with the steroids and depression over Eddie's passing.
- Odds are, you'll never see the diving headbutt used again by a major wrestling organization after that tragedy. Harley Race has gone on record as saying he wished he'd never invented the move.
- Santino uses a standing variant, but he barely connects with it.
- Benoit himself fell victim to the Crossface in a Wrestlemania match with Kurt Angle. As the two men grappled, Angle eventually caught Benoit in the Crossface, and Benoit got him back a few moments later when he caught Angle in the Angle Lock.
- Game-Breaking Injury: Benoit did this quite well, on both ends of the spectrum.
- Best example: someone injured his arm with a chair during the first-ever Money in the Bank at Wrestlemania 21. He almost won anyway...until Edge hit his injured arm with a chair when he was at the top of the ladder under the briefcase.
- And, of course, there's the time he and Chris Jericho tore Triple H's quad. Definitely a Game Breaking Injury.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero are the second most remembered example in pro wrestling, behind Shawn Michaels and Triple H, especially in real life. When Eddie died, Benoit looked like he lost his brother. In fact, some friends say he never got over the depression of losing his best friend, and may have contributed to losing his own life.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: A lot of the long-term injuries in Benoit's brain and neck were derived from Benoit's signature diving headbutt and his penchant for taking and giving German Suplexes. In the wake of his death, the WWE began to phase out the German Suplex maneuver in the same way it did for the traditional piledriver.
- Kangaroo Court: Was a member of The Undertaker's "Wrestler's Court".
- Keep the Reward: After winning the vacant WCW World Title at the Souled Out 2000 PPV, Benoit forfeited the title and left WCW along with Guerrero, Malenko, and Saturn due to Kevin Sullivan's promotion to head booker beforehand, Benoit due to the "Woman" storyline and the other three for fear of being collateral damage.
- Large Ham: Subversion, and possibly the only wrestler of his popularity and success level who wasn't a large ham, and didn't have a manager.
- Benoit had managers throughout his career, just not as a main eventer -- with the possible exception of his brief run with Shane McMahon in 2000 as a challenger to the WWF Championship.
- Manly Tears: Just see how he felt after Eddie's passing...
- Pater Familicide: One of the most infamous cases in recent history.
- Power Stable: Benoit was a member of the Four Horsemen, one of the two biggest stables in WCW history (the other being the nWo).
- Reality Subtext: Chris and Nancy's on-screen affair in WCW resulted in them actually having an affair off-screen.
- The Rival: Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle.
- Rule of Three: One of Benoit's later signature moves was three German suplexes in a row.
- Run the Gauntlet: When the Radicalz crossed over to the WWE, Benoit took on and defeated Saturn, Guerrero and Malenko one after another in a Gauntlet match.
- Slasher Smile: Just watch his entrance video. Quite unnerving, considering what happened...
- Somewhere A Zoologist Is Crying: Benoit, whose nickname in WWE was "The Rabid Wolverine," would often be seen early in his career wearing tights with an image of a wolf on them. Never mind that wolves and wolverines, despite both being carnivorous mammals, are not even in the same family (wolves being canids, or dogs, while wolverines are closer to bears and weasels).
- Squash Match: In the summer of 2005, Benoit had a series of these with Orlando Jordan. The first, which lasted 25 seconds, cost Jordan the United States Championship; the subsequent rematches lasted 23.4, 22.5, and 49.8 seconds. This led to a small Running Gag in which Benoit would test himself on whether he could do something (such as make a cup of coffee or go to the bathroom) faster than he beat Orlando Jordan.
- The reason this happened is because WWE had Jordan beat Benoit semi-cleanly (he used an exposed turnbuckle bolt, but didn't have any outside help). The fan reaction was very, very negative; Jordan hadn't really connected at all, and no one believed that he was anywhere near Benoit's league, so WWE made the decision to give the fans what they wanted.
- Trauma Conga Line: Benoit had twenty of his friends within the wrestling business die young. Before Eddie, there was Brian Pillman (Benoit's original tag partner in WCW) and Owen Hart (who had been one of Benoit's friends dating back to his days in the Hart Family Dungeon). Mike "Johnny Grunge" Durham had been a next door neighbor of Benoit's, and had more or less become Benoit's best friend after Eddie's passing. He would also go over to the Benoit home and break up arguments between Chris and Nancy -- and he died in 2006, less than a year before The Tragedy.
- Benoit's old tag team partner from Stampede Wrestling, Biff Wellington, died on the same day, but his death was overshadowed, obviously, by that of Benoit.
- Unperson: The nature of Chris Benoit's death has caused WWE itself to essentially erase Benoit from history (except in situations where they cannot avoid having his name come up, such as event results and title histories).
- Title histories don't stop them. In a magazine chronicling every WrestleMania, while every other match lists who wins the match, the entry for WM20 states that Triple H lost the World Heavyweight Title in a Triple Threat Match.
- Triple H and Shawn Michaels use the Crippler Crossface from time to time, and several wrestlers still occasionally use the diving headbutt.
- WWE has since advertised the main event of WrestleMania 20 as a match featuring Shawn Michaels and Triple H to avoid mentioning Benoit anywhere on the cover.
- In a similar move, when WWE released the initial match listing for the Elimination Chamber anthology DVD, the listing for the third Elimination Chamber match - which Benoit was involved in - only mentioned that Triple H won the match. An updated listing from weeks before the DVD's release showed that the match was listed in full (with Benoit's name), and UK retailer Silvervision confirmed that the match was included in its entirety, making it the first WWE DVD since Benoit's death to include one of his matches. Several lines from the commentary team that painted Benoit in a positive light were edited out (and since Benoit was a face for much of his WWE career, all of the comments were technically positive unless one of the commentators was playing a heel), but beyond that, no substantial edits were made.
- For the next year following Benoit's death, the Gamefaqs PWB had a running gag of either attributing all of Benoit's accomplishments to his old friend (and fellow Radical) Perry Saturn or simply pretending he didn't exist at all, simply saying that Benoit's title reigns (specifically his World Heavyweight title reign and his final United States title reign) were non-existent, consisting of a vacant title that was vacant for however long those title reigns were. This was mainly to satirize the aforementioned striking of Benoit's name from the record books.
- Similar to the above, the former Wrestlecrap message board (now the Freakin' Awesome Network Forums) would replace Benoit's name with Hardcore Holly (e.g.,
Chris BenoitHardcore Holly won the 2004 Royal Rumble and defeated Triple H to win the World Heavyweight Championship), and would plaster Holly's face over Benoit's face. (It's also been done with Lance Storm on account of both being great Canadian technical wrestlers.)
- Similarly to Game FAQs, /wooo/ treats Benoit like a literal unperson - along with the vacant title reigns, any posted images of Benoit are met with reactions along the lines of "Why would you post a blank image?" and video clips of Benoit interviews are treated as if the interviewer is talking to themselves.
- Similar to the above, the former Wrestlecrap message board (now the Freakin' Awesome Network Forums) would replace Benoit's name with Hardcore Holly (e.g.,
- The Best of Smackdown DVD set has a video summary for the Fatal 4-Way TLC match from May 2001. Aside from a very short shot at the beginning, Chris Benoit was edited out. He was Tag Champs with Chris Jericho at the time. And on top of that, they won the match. The package almost makes you believe that Chris Jericho beat the Dudleys, the Hardys, and Edge and Christian all on his own.
- Likewise, when the inaugural Money in the Bank match is highlighted either during Wrestlemania season or in July for the Money in the Bank PPV, Benoit is completely absent from the video packages, with some bizarre camera angles used to ensure his presence is minimized. If you know what color tights he is wearing, you might be able to catch a frame or two where his legs are visible.
- Worthy Opponent / The Rival: Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho.
- Wrestler Existence Failure: Benoit's no-showing Vengeance: Night of Champions 2007.
- Wrestling Psychology: Benoit was hailed as one of the best in the business in this area.