Chris Benoit existed. He was a man some would like to see remembered as one of the greatest technical wrestlers of all time, and others would like to see him erased from the record books permanently, a stain in the face of wrestling.
But other than being He Who Must Not Be Named, Chris Benoit was the darling of smarky wrestling fans for many years. The bulldog/fire hydrant of a man who grew up idolizing men like Dynamite Kid and Bret Hart, and perhaps even surpassing both men in the ring. He hit hard, and everything he did in the ring had meaning. Everything was almost executed perfectly. He was The Rabid Wolverine. The Crippler.
And now his name is mentioned in a hush, if at all. His matches aren’t listed on any WWE DVDs, and the company did what it could to remove any mention of him. Even wrestling fans have spoken out about Benoit, most notably almost having him removed from the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2008.
Benoit will remembered in the wrestling world as a close friend of Eddie Guerrero, with their World Championship celebration being the most memorable moment of Wrestlemania XX. But whereas Eddie became known for facing up to his demons before his death, Benoit didn’t. And will be forever known as the man who almost killed professional wrestling.
I could go on and on about how hard it was to listen to sports talk radio the day after it was revealed Benoit was involved in a double murder-suicide, killing his family and then himself. It was brain damage. It was steroids. It was heart wrenching for myself, growing up a Benoit fan, and hearing all these sports reporters calling him a murderer. I went into an odd mourning period, hoping something would come to light about the murders, how Benoit may have been set up. But it is five years later, and Benoit is still a murderer.
I have moved on. Although I don’t own any Benoit DVDs, I can still watch and revel in his matches. I can still be amazed by his feats in the ring, when he went toe to toe with Kurt Angle, Bret Hart, Chris Jericho, or Shawn Michaels. I still own his Crippler t-shirt (which I bought at a WWE event, a tough choice over the Eddie Guerrero “Scarface” shirt).
Whenever Benoit showed his toothless smile, it made me smile. Whenever he celebrated, so did I. He was always the gruff, no-nonsense warrior who just wanted to win. He was never a “sportz entertainer”, he was a wrestler known for his snap suplexes, his flying headbutt, and his Crippler Crossface, a hold that looked especially painful when he pulled back on his opponent’s head.
Defining Match Of The WrestleMania Era: Chris Benoit vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XX
To me, the most defining moment in Benoit’s wrestling career is one that still brings a tear to my eye. A triple threat match at WrestleMania XX against Triple H and Shawn Michaels for the World Heavyweight Championship. My wife can still remember me yelling “TAP! TAP YOU BASTARD!” when Benoit had Triple H in the crossface, moments before winning the championship. While Benoit celebrated at MSG, then joined by Eddie Guerrero with his newly won WWE Championship… there’s the tear.
It’s still hard. Still hard to talk about Benoit, which is why I wanted to write this piece. To get it out of my system five years later, talking about something I’ve never expressed. For Chris Benoit to make it to this list, it shows how his efforts in the ring are still appreciated, as hard to watch as they may be.