Say the name "Chris Benoit" to a wrestling fan, and you will invoke one of two images, if not both: That of one of the greatest professional wrestlers to ever perform in a ring, or that of a man who spent his last days committing a series of horrendous acts that would shake the wrestling industry to its core.
The third person to receive Cauliflower Alley Club's Future Legend Award, Christopher Michael Benoit (May 21, 1967 – June 24, 2007) spent his youth idolizing fellow Canadian wrestlers such as Bret "The Hitman" Hart and the Dynamite Kid. In 1985, at the age of eighteen, Benoit made his wrestling debut in Canada's Stampede Wrestling and make his way all the way down to the tip of North America, wrestling in the Mexican based Lucha Libre Internacional, AAA and CMLL. From there, he traveled to various overseas promotions, mainly to defend the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title belt of New Japan Pro-Wrestling as "Pegasus Kid", for a number of years, then made his debut in ECW in 1994. It was in ECW where Benoit became known as "The Crippler": During a match with Sabu, Benoit performed a back body drop, but Sabu landed on his head and broke his neck. Despite the act being an accident, the "Crippler" nickname stuck with Benoit for the rest 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 made Benoit a member of The Four Horsemen stable. During this period of his career, Benoit feuded with Kevin Sullivan, who also booked for WCW at the time. The feud centered Sullivan's on-screen valet—his actual wife, Nancy—having an affair with Benoit; to keep the angle steeped in kayfabe, WCW forced Benoit and Nancy to spend time together so the illusion would appear real. Chris and Nancy turned the angle into reality by having an affair, and Nancy soon left Sullivan to marry Benoit.
Benoit won fans over with his in-ring work over the next few years, but management refused to push him into the main event level until Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara took over booking duties WCW in 1999, near the peak of the Monday Night Wars. But when Russo and Ferrara were suspended by WCW management, the higher-ups placed Kevin Sullivan back on the booking team. Benoit, alongside a number of other wrestlers, saw this development as a hazard to their careers, and thus they delivered an ultimatum to management: "He goes, or we go." Management tried to appease the group by booking Benoit to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship at Souled Out 2000. But it proved a fruitless endeavour: Benoit—along with Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, and Dean Malenko—asked for, and were given, their releases after the event. (WCW stripped Benoit of the championship the next day.)
Weeks later, Benoit, Guerrero, Saturn, and Malenko showed up on WWF Raw—they emerged from the live audience to attack several wrestlers. The debuts of Benoit and his fellow ship-jumpers, dubbed "The Radicalz", signaled the beginning of the end of WCW; a little more than a year after The Radicalz debuted in WWE, WCW folded (and was bought by WWE).
Over the next four years, WWE built Benoit up into a main event caliber wrestler. He produced classic matches with the likes of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero and Edge. His time in SmackDown's tag division during 2002 made him part of a trio of teams fans referred to (then and now) as the "SmackDown Six": Benoit, teaming with Angle, faced 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. Those two teams eventually feuded the Guerreros (Eddie and his nephew Chavo), which led to several matches between both the teams themselves and their individual members—matches that ultimately made SmackDown a must-watch show.
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), he 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). Benoit lost the title to Randy Orton at SummerSlam 2004, but stayed near the main event level for the rest of the year as he feuded with Orton, Edge, and Triple H and continued to vie for the World Heavyweight Championship.
After 2004, WWE shuffled Benoit back down to the midcard, deciding that his skills could better help push new talent up the card. Benoit won the United States Championship several times and feuded with up-and-coming star Montel Vontavious Porter (MVP) for months. In 2007, WWE placed Benoit on the renewed ECW brand—a move that instantly made him a top contender for that 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 no-showed the event.
The next day, Atlanta police found the bodies of Chris, Nancy, and their seven-year-old son Daniel in their home. They didn't reveal until later that evening—and a number of fans would not find this out until after WWE had run a Benoit tribute show in place of Monday Night Raw—that over the course of the previous weekend, Benoit had strangled his wife and son, then hanged himself in his home gym.
From that day forward, controversy about Benoit's life and career erupted. Did the multiple concussions he suffered over the years play a role in his actions? Should fans bring him up when discussing the best wrestlers ever, or is it right to even remember him as a great wrestler in light of what he did? Should WWE glorify Benoit's abilities and career accomplishments, or should it keep its current course of only recognizing him as a matter of historical record? What should the pro wrestling industry itself do to prevent something like this from happening again—if it could even do so?
The debate about how to remember Chris Benoit continues amongst wrestling fans and pundits to this day, but no one denies the truth: June 25th, 2007, was the darkest day in professional wrestling history.
The following tropes are associated with Chris Benoit:
- Arch-Enemy: Kevin Sullivan, both onscreen and in Real Life. Their never-ending feud in WCW ensured Benoit was never going to move up the card (Sullivan was head booker at the time). In fact, it was Sullivan returning to WCW as head booker that caused Benoit to finally jump ship to the WWF. Oddly, he was still made WCW champion while Sullivan was supposedly holding him back.
- Ascended Extra: Benoit's second WCW run saw him start out in the Cruiserweight Division; eventually, he was made one of the Four Horsemen.
- Big Brother Mentor: According to his book Undisputed, Chris Jericho considered Benoit this. Paul London and Bryan Kendrick described him as this and a Stern Teacher in a shoot interview, and named Jamie Noble as another of Benoit's charges. CM Punk also seemed to consider him this, judging by his memorial message to him on the tribute show.
- 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.Vince McMahon: It's not right to pretend he didn't exist. It's one thing to include him as part of a historical perspective, which I believe is OK, and it's another thing to promote him, which is not OK. 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.
- Many of Benoit's close friends took a similar approach, such as Chris Jericho and Batista, trying to remember him as the friend he was rather than the person he turned into during his last days. While none of them condoned what he did, it still didn't change the fact that Benoit was their friend for varying periods of time, and that they loved him, and because of that, they couldn't deny the part he played in all their lives.
- 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.
- Broken Pedestal: A very sad case of this after how his life ended.
- The Bully: Benoit was the locker room leader for Raw during the days of the brand extension and one of the leaders of Wrestler's Court and if he liked someone he had no problems helping them and getting them over. However if he didn't like you then all the exact opposite would come into play.
- The Miz, on one of his best worked shoots talked about how he was excommunicated from the WWE Locker room for over six months because he spilled some crumbs all over a ref's bag. note
- Matt Striker would go on to talk about how he was bullied by Benoit for no other reason than to make an example of him for the others to follow. Benoit had actually complimented Striker for his commitment to wrestling as a whole but told him that in front of others he would treat him like trash.
- ECW Wrestler Nova, who wrestled in WWE as Simon Dean once told a story of how Benoit and JBL pounded on ring announcer Justin Robert's hotel door so violently that he prayed Justin was not in there because he was afraid what they would do to him.
- Captain Ersatz: His Pegasus kid run inspired inspired Human Entertainment to start putting them in Fire Pro Wrestling.
- 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.
- Earlier on in the original ECW, he was working a sociopathic gimmick, and he would call back things his opponents would say, then calmly state that "he disagreed".
- In 2004, he began declaring that he was "for real" (his tights and t-shirts would render it as "4-REAL").
- Before that, he was all about "toothless aggression."
- Charles Atlas Superpower: Wasn't a very-big man, but could still German-Suplex even guys as big as Viscera note .
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Still hasn't been mentioned on camera to this day, leading to a joke between fans that he never existed. (Chris Benwho?)
- 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 when the inevitable occurs." 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.
- Dented Iron: After a fashion; while Benoit's body was still in pretty good nick at the time of his death, the multiple concussions and excessive substance abuse his career had brought on him had given him the brain like that of an eighty-five year-old Alzheimer's patient! That's Not Hyperbole either, that was actually the exact wording of the official autopsy done on his brain. Had he lived he would likely be completely mentally incapacitated within 10 years.
- Despair Event Horizon: It's theorized that Eddie's death sent Benoit across this. Benoit already had it pretty rough prior to Eddie's death, having lost several friends over the years (detailed in Trauma Conga Line below), marriage problems (according to Nancy Benoit's sister, he was abusive and Nancy tried to file for divorce because of this), injuries, etc. But when Eddie died, that seemed to be the breaking point. According to his close friends and his own journals, Benoit was completely unable to move on from Eddie's death, which may have robbed him of his own will to live.
- 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.
- Expy: Started as one of the Dynamite Kid, even calling himself "Dynamite" Chris Benoit.
- Fallen Hero: To some fans in Real Life. To some wrestlers as well. Pre familicide, Chris Benoit was widely regarded as a "wrestler's wrestler" who did everything right, except cut promos. After the incident, at best, you can add "protect his head" to the things he didn't do right.
- 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.)
- 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 Marella uses a standing variant, but he barely connects with it.
- Daniel Bryan uses the diving headbutt as a signature move, though he does it safely and never actually connects with his head on the bump.
- 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.
- Humiliating Wager: LLI ignored the fact Pegasus Kid had been unmasked by Jushin Thunder Liger on a New Japan show, albeit only so they could follow through with their own plans to have Villano III unmask him.
- 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.
- Living Emotional Crutch: Eddie Guerrero. Chris was never the same after Eddie died. It's generally agreed upon that Eddie's death is a big part of why that weekend in Atlanta happened (with Benoit's own journals confirming it), though how much in comparison to the multitude of injuries, drug abuse, and deaths of other friends of his that also played a part is something we'll never really know.
- Loophole Abuse: After winning the Royal Rumble, Benoit (A member of the SmackDown roster at the time) proceeded to jump to Raw to challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania rather than stay on SmackDown & challenge for the WWE title, citing that the Royal Rumble contract didn't specify that he can't do that. Every year afterwards, this has been part of the official stipulation for the Rumble.
- He might've done that to avoid challenging best friend Eddie Guerrero, allowing for a program where both would hold the World Titles following WrestleMania XX.
- His kayfabe motivation for the switch is strongly believed to be to get away from Paul Heyman, then-GM of SmackDown, whom guaranteed that Benoit would never get a title shot as long as he was on the show and had intentionally put Benoit as the #1 entrant to give him the least chance of winning.
- Must Have Caffeine
- Was noted by many people who knew him for his enduring love of/addiction to coffee. He also constantly gnawed on coffee straws, according to Chris Jericho. He even had his 25.5 second match against Orlando Jordan at Summerslam 2005 play on a split-screen while he prepared a cup of coffee.
- On an episode of his podcast marking the tenth anniversary of the Benoit tragedy, Jericho remarked that, before going to the ring, Benoit would drink a up of coffee, and take aspirin and ephedrine to get himself charged up.
- Nothing Is the Same Anymore: Benoit's death, and the circumstances surrounding it, was one of the factors that lead to the death of Kayfabe as it had been up to that point.
- Pater Familicide: One of the most infamous cases of the 2000s and definitely in pro wrestling's history.
- Pegasus: Wrestled in Japan and Mexico for a time under the names Wild Pegasus or the Pegasus Kid.
- Power Stable:
- 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.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: After he won the Royal Rumble, he jumped from SmackDown to Raw in order to get away from Paul Heyman who had made his life difficult. This was before the winner could choose who he would challenge, as the Brand Extension was in full force, and the only way to appear on another show was via the Draft.
- Slasher Smile: Just watch his entrance video. Quite unnerving, considering what happened...
- 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.
- Take This Job and Shove It: The day after he won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, he asked for his release alongside Eddie Guerrero, Dean Makenko and Perry Saturn. Legend has it that he even went as far as dumping the title in the trash (though by that point its prestige had fallen so far that many considered it little more than a fancy prop) to show how much he wanted out. WCW was going down the drain by that point, a literal hell for anyone who wasn't Hulk Hogan or Kevin Nash. However, what really incited this decision from Benoit was the news that Kevin Sullivan was returning as head booker — the rest, being his close friends, followed him out of fear of being collateral damage.
- Tournament Arc
- Wild Pegasus defeated The Great Sasuke in the final match of NJPW's 1994 "New Super J Cup"
- In 2002 he and Kurt Angle teamed together to win a tag team tournament.
- 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.
- It's been mentioned several times, especially on Chris Jericho's podcast, that Benoit broke down when he heard that Big Boss Man had died (they'd met in WCW), crying to the effect of "I can't stand seeing all my friends die anymore!" (Another friend of his and Eddie's had also died a few months prior to Bossman in Mexican wrestler Negro Casas).
- This is a reason why the Benoit tragedy still generates so much controversy to this day. Benoit had numerous personal issues involving his family, his mental health, and his physical well-being, and that was why Eddie's death is generally considered to be his breaking point, since Eddie was The Confidant to Benoit, as said by the man himself. With Eddie gone, Benoit's life spiraled downwards, and thus any of those aforementioned issues could be blamed for what happened, if not all of them. And since fans will never have conclusive evidence as to why, exactly, he did what he did, the debate will continue until either the tragedy fades from memory (unlikely) or the wrestling business no longer exists (just as unlikely).
- Uncanny Family Resemblance: His oldest son David◊ is the spitting image of him.
- 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.
- Not only did Montel Vontavious Porter win the United States Championship from Chris Benoit just a month before his passing, but he held on to it long after, all the way until April the next year. This whole time however, it was never said just who Porter won the championship from, just that "he won it in a 2/3 Fall Match at Judgement Day".
- 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.
- 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.
- The episode "The Fall of WCW" of the WWE Network series the Monday Night Wars did show limited footage of Benoit, and have Jim Ross's commentary call him by name, but he was not mentioned in the actual series.
- Benoit IS included in the most recent edition of the WWE Encyclopedia, though his entry ends with Randy Orton defeating him for the World Heavyweight Title at Summerslam 2004.
- Unexpectedly, a more recent book by WWE that chronicles its history, not only has a blurb mentioning Benoit, but the blurb explains his death by murder-suicide.
- His matches are on the WWE Network, most of which are shown in their original unedited forms. That said, trying to plug his name in the search engine yields little results, and the matches he's featured in never mention his name; for example: his WWE title challenge against Kurt Angle at the 2003 Royal Rumble is titled along the lines of "Kurt Angle in a WWE Championship match".
- Even the fans tend to not acknowledge him. On some forums he'll be referred to as 'Crispen Wah' or 'Kris Penwa' so as not to use his name. Other name replacements include [Redacted], Hardcore Holly and Stevie Richards. This often leads to ridiculous statements such as saying that Wrestlemania XX's main event was a singles match between Shawn Michaels and Triple H which ended in the title being vacated when Hunter started tapping out in the middle of the ring to nothing.
- Worthy Opponent/The Rival: Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho.
- Wrestling Psychology: Benoit was hailed as one of the best in the business in this area.