Monday, July 30, 2007

The Last Wrestler

Between innings of the Mets game Monday I switched to the USA Network to check out what was happening on “Monday Night Raw.”

For most of my life I had been a wrestling fan, starting as a boy, watching syndicated wrestling programs on Saturday mornings, and occasionally making my poor father take me to the Roseland Ballroom to see a live show. After one match my cousin and I both were able to give Chief Jay Strongbow a pat on his sweaty back as he walked from the ring, and excitedly held our palms up to show our fathers, swearing we would never wash them again, and then were promptly marched to the Men’s Room to wash our hands.

In my teen years I kept in touch with wrestling like it was an old neighbor who had moved away, bits of contact here and there, nothing sustained.

In my early twenties I was working for a local newspaper when my friend Ron got me hooked on wrestling again before the first Wrestlemania. Over the next two decades wrestling was always the first topic of conversation with us. We attended the first King of Ring event at Sullivan Stadium, becoming so intoxicated we lost the car in the vast parking area and barely made it home; we saw the second Wrestlemania at the old Providence Civic Center on a wide screen where the largest black man either of us had ever seen was seated behind us, and when his kids wanted refreshment he hunted down the vendor, dragged him to his kids, and asked us “You guys want anything?” “No sir!” we said. The second King of the Ring was held there as well and we watched the secretary at the radio station where we were working scream and yell like she was at the 7th game of the World Series. “Does she know?” I asked. “Oh no she thinks it’s real,” Ron answered. The last event we attended was with my son, a Royal Rumble, where, when Bret Hart was declared the winner, I came out of my seat and cheered, having momentarily turned into that disillusioned radio station secretary.

We rarely missed a pay-per-view, even after I was married, but slowly I stopped ordering them except if I could convince my wife that she would be entertained, which, she rarely was.

But still we watched “Monday Night Raw.” Most of the memories I have of that time were the comedy bits. Mick Foley bringing out Mr. Socko to visit Vince McMahon at the hospital; anything Foley and The Rock did; any Rock or Austin promo. The matches could be exciting as well but for me it was everything surrounding the matches.

We knew, and accepted, that it wasn’t real. The majority of entertainment wasn’t real, so we saw no problem. What we also knew, but accepted less truthfully, was that these people who entertained us, were dying.

The first was David Von Erich, a wrestler for World Class Championship Wrestling in Dallas, a hot promotion in the early 80’s owned by David’s father Fritz, who had five wrestling sons. When David died, they played a song called: “Heaven needed a champion.” Three years later when his brother Mike committed suicide we said: “Heaven needs a tag-team.” By the time brothers Chris and Kerry committed suicide it was no longer funny.

We were watching the pay-per-view in my living room when Owen Hart, a member of another famous wrestling family, fell to his death when a wire that was to lower him to the ring from the rafters snapped, making his heart explode when he landed. As they rushed him from the ring Ron and I expressed optimism that he was alive, but my wife, a former medical professional, said if they removed him that quickly he was dead. It had only been a few months earlier that Ron had come over for another pay-per-view to state that Brian Pillman wouldn’t be wrestling, dead in his hotel room.

These first deaths were the beginning gusts of a foul wind that was about to blow.

When I was a boy wrestlers worked in one of dozens of regional territories across the country staying in one multi-state area for months, and then moving to another territory. Today, with their only being two major wrestling promotions, one dominant, wrestlers travel throughout the world, with no off season to spend with family or heal injuries.

When I was a boy there were wrestlers and there were body builders, but Vince McMahon, owner of the WWE, built his empire around Hulk Hogan, with his huge arms, legs, and steroid supply. Without the impressive body you could no longer survive in the business, unless you wanted to take insane risks diving from twelve-foot ladders or twenty-foot cages through tables. Under McMahon you either needed the steroids to build your body, or other drugs to heal the wounds incurred because you had to compensate for not taking steroids. Add that to endless travel, little family time, lots of available wine, women, and drugs, and the results became predictable.

Ron and I both stopped closely watching wrestling when we turned 40. Maybe it was maturity; maybe the product had grown stale. We both still followed the sport through internet sites and newsletters, and during that time we saw the number of wrestlers who worked for Vince McMahon during the Wrestlemania Era who died grow to include: Louie Spiccoli, Crash Holly, Chris Candido, Adrian Adonis, Yokozuna, Leroy Brown, Eddie Guerrero, Davey Boy Smith, Vivian Vachon, Terry Gordy, Rick Rude, Miss Elizabeth, The Big Boss Man, Earthquake, Dino Bravo, Curt Henning, Bam Bam Bigelow, Junkyard Dog, Hercules, Andre the Giant, Big John Studd, Hawk, Dick Murdoch, Mike Awesome, Sherri Martel, Uncle Elmer, who, along with Pillman, Hart, Kerry Von Erich, and the recently departed Chris Benoit means heaven needed a 30 man royal rumble.

It was Benoit’s face, along with his wife Nancy and son Daniel that I saw in the left hand bottom corner of the screen as a repeat of one of his matches played on Monday night. I soon learned that the three were dead, and the show would be a tribute to his career. And I thought of writing this, about Chris Benoit being “The Last Wrestler,” because he was the last wrestler I wanted to watch, the last I cared about, and the last I would have thought would kill his wife and child.

The logical side of my brain was whispering: “How did all three die?” The WWE had a pay-per-view the night before where Benoit was scheduled to win a championship, so if it were a car accident the news would have broken then. Home invasion? Carbon monoxide leak? Fire?

Before the end of the night I had what I already knew confirmed, the only scenario that made sense was a murder-suicide, which was as impossible to believe as if Derek Jeter had done the same, some other guys, sure, but Benoit?

He killed his wife on Friday, his son on Saturday, and himself on Sunday, living with rotting corpses for 48 hours. It is the sickest, saddest, most despicable of crimes, and we have to ask, what could drive a man to do such a thing?

My answer: The job. The steroids to keep the body up, the pain pills to be able to move, the constant travel, the available drugs, the impossible strain on a marriage, the violence performed every night, it may have been more than all this that put their lives in his hands, but I have to believe the job was the weighing factor.

Vince McMahon is a brilliant promoter. Two weeks earlier he had crafted a storyline around his own demise, and had wrestlers pretend to give him tributes as they did for real to Benoit on Monday night. They did the ten-bell salute for McMahon, something, both Ron and I, ironically having gotten together alone for the first time in a year, in between the staged and real deaths, agreed was in bad taste.

Vince McMahon knows how to make money. He also knows how to issue denials, as his WWE website quickly did when it was surmised that steroids could have played a role in Benoit’s murdering his wife and child. What he doesn’t know, or refuses to admit, is that no one who is not a leader of a fire department, police force, or commander and chief of the armed forces, should lose 30 employees before they are 65, and claim their hands are clean.

McMahon’s most brilliant move was to announce that wrestling is entertainment and not a sport, thereby taking the state athletic commissions sanctioning rights away. He can trot anyone out in any physical condition on a multitude of controlled substances and no one can do anything about it.

Well maybe the deaths of the Benoits can change that. It’s time for athletic commissions to work with licensing boards so someone other than the guy with the most to gain is testing to see if his performers are capable of doing the matches they are paid to do. Maybe USA Network should institute its own drug testing for the WWE or walk away from their contract. It can get a 3.9 rating somewhere else. It can’t claim its hands are clean if they continue to fill McMahon’s coffers while his employees and now their families die around them. As should the cable companies who broadcast the Pay-Per-Views. Someone not named McMahon needs to keep these men and their families safe.

I am not waiting for any of this to happen. But I do believe that wrestling, unlike Benoit’s wife and child, will die a natural death, due to the rise of UFC, people’s disgust with McMahon’s practices, or just the stale and boring product that the WWE keeps forcing down its fans throat.

This is still titled “The Last Wrestler,” not for the original purposes, as a tribute to Benoit, but for my hopes and prayers that someone will step in to see that he is the last wrestler to harm his family, to harm himself, to be taken away by those he loved, and to take away those who are loved, way too soon. Just let him be the last.

Rest in Peace Chris Benoit.

Burn in Hell Chris Benoit.

I don’t know which. But I do know which I wish on Mr. McMahon; that is easy.

Between innings of the Mets game Monday I switched to the USA Network to check out what was happening on “Monday Night Raw.”

For most of my life I had been a wrestling fan, starting as a boy, watching syndicated wrestling programs on Saturday mornings, and occasionally making my poor father take me to the Roseland Ballroom to see a live show. After one match my cousin and I both were able to give Chief Jay Strongbow a pat on his sweaty back as he walked from the ring, and excitedly held our palms up to show our fathers, swearing we would never wash them again, and then were promptly marched to the Men’s Room to wash our hands.

In my teen years I kept in touch with wrestling like it was an old neighbor who had moved away, bits of contact here and there, nothing sustained.

In my early twenties I was working for a local newspaper when my friend Ron got me hooked on wrestling again before the first Wrestlemania. Over the next two decades wrestling was always the first topic of conversation with us. We attended the first King of Ring event at Sullivan Stadium, becoming so intoxicated we lost the car in the vast parking area and barely made it home; we saw the second Wrestlemania at the old Providence Civic Center on a wide screen where the largest black man either of us had ever seen was seated behind us, and when his kids wanted refreshment he hunted down the vendor, dragged him to his kids, and asked us “You guys want anything?” “No sir!” we said. The second King of the Ring was held there as well and we watched the secretary at the radio station where we were working scream and yell like she was at the 7th game of the World Series. “Does she know?” I asked. “Oh no she thinks it’s real,” Ron answered. The last event we attended was with my son, a Royal Rumble, where, when Bret Hart was declared the winner, I came out of my seat and cheered, having momentarily turned into that disillusioned radio station secretary.

We rarely missed a pay-per-view, even after I was married, but slowly I stopped ordering them except if I could convince my wife that she would be entertained, which, she rarely was.

But still we watched “Monday Night Raw.” Most of the memories I have of that time were the comedy bits. Mick Foley bringing out Mr. Socko to visit Vince McMahon at the hospital; anything Foley and The Rock did; any Rock or Austin promo. The matches could be exciting as well but for me it was everything surrounding the matches.

We knew, and accepted, that it wasn’t real. The majority of entertainment wasn’t real, so we saw no problem. What we also knew, but accepted less truthfully, was that these people who entertained us, were dying.

The first was David Von Erich, a wrestler for World Class Championship Wrestling in Dallas, a hot promotion in the early 80’s owned by David’s father Fritz, who had five wrestling sons. When David died, they played a song called: “Heaven needed a champion.” Three years later when his brother Mike committed suicide we said: “Heaven needs a tag-team.” By the time brothers Chris and Kerry committed suicide it was no longer funny.

We were watching the pay-per-view in my living room when Owen Hart, a member of another famous wrestling family, fell to his death when a wire that was to lower him to the ring from the rafters snapped, making his heart explode when he landed. As they rushed him from the ring Ron and I expressed optimism that he was alive, but my wife, a former medical professional, said if they removed him that quickly he was dead. It had only been a few months earlier that Ron had come over for another pay-per-view to state that Brian Pillman wouldn’t be wrestling, dead in his hotel room.

These first deaths were the beginning gusts of a foul wind that was about to blow.

When I was a boy wrestlers worked in one of dozens of regional territories across the country staying in one multi-state area for months, and then moving to another territory. Today, with their only being two major wrestling promotions, one dominant, wrestlers travel throughout the world, with no off season to spend with family or heal injuries.

When I was a boy there were wrestlers and there were body builders, but Vince McMahon, owner of the WWE, built his empire around Hulk Hogan, with his huge arms, legs, and steroid supply. Without the impressive body you could no longer survive in the business, unless you wanted to take insane risks diving from twelve-foot ladders or twenty-foot cages through tables. Under McMahon you either needed the steroids to build your body, or other drugs to heal the wounds incurred because you had to compensate for not taking steroids. Add that to endless travel, little family time, lots of available wine, women, and drugs, and the results became predictable.

Ron and I both stopped closely watching wrestling when we turned 40. Maybe it was maturity; maybe the product had grown stale. We both still followed the sport through internet sites and newsletters, and during that time we saw the number of wrestlers who worked for Vince McMahon during the Wrestlemania Era who died grow to include: Louie Spiccoli, Crash Holly, Chris Candido, Adrian Adonis, Yokozuna, Leroy Brown, Eddie Guerrero, Davey Boy Smith, Vivian Vachon, Terry Gordy, Rick Rude, Miss Elizabeth, The Big Boss Man, Earthquake, Dino Bravo, Curt Henning, Bam Bam Bigelow, Junkyard Dog, Hercules, Andre the Giant, Big John Studd, Hawk, Dick Murdoch, Mike Awesome, Sherri Martel, Uncle Elmer, who, along with Pillman, Hart, Kerry Von Erich, and the recently departed Chris Benoit means heaven needed a 30 man royal rumble.

It was Benoit’s face, along with his wife Nancy and son Daniel that I saw in the left hand bottom corner of the screen as a repeat of one of his matches played on Monday night. I soon learned that the three were dead, and the show would be a tribute to his career. And I thought of writing this, about Chris Benoit being “The Last Wrestler,” because he was the last wrestler I wanted to watch, the last I cared about, and the last I would have thought would kill his wife and child.

The logical side of my brain was whispering: “How did all three die?” The WWE had a pay-per-view the night before where Benoit was scheduled to win a championship, so if it were a car accident the news would have broken then. Home invasion? Carbon monoxide leak? Fire?

Before the end of the night I had what I already knew confirmed, the only scenario that made sense was a murder-suicide, which was as impossible to believe as if Derek Jeter had done the same, some other guys, sure, but Benoit?

He killed his wife on Friday, his son on Saturday, and himself on Sunday, living with rotting corpses for 48 hours. It is the sickest, saddest, most despicable of crimes, and we have to ask, what could drive a man to do such a thing?

My answer: The job. The steroids to keep the body up, the pain pills to be able to move, the constant travel, the available drugs, the impossible strain on a marriage, the violence performed every night, it may have been more than all this that put their lives in his hands, but I have to believe the job was the weighing factor.

Vince McMahon is a brilliant promoter. Two weeks earlier he had crafted a storyline around his own demise, and had wrestlers pretend to give him tributes as they did for real to Benoit on Monday night. They did the ten-bell salute for McMahon, something, both Ron and I, ironically having gotten together alone for the first time in a year, in between the staged and real deaths, agreed was in bad taste.

Vince McMahon knows how to make money. He also knows how to issue denials, as his WWE website quickly did when it was surmised that steroids could have played a role in Benoit’s murdering his wife and child. What he doesn’t know, or refuses to admit, is that no one who is not a leader of a fire department, police force, or commander and chief of the armed forces, should lose 30 employees before they are 65, and claim their hands are clean.

McMahon’s most brilliant move was to announce that wrestling is entertainment and not a sport, thereby taking the state athletic commissions sanctioning rights away. He can trot anyone out in any physical condition on a multitude of controlled substances and no one can do anything about it.

Well maybe the deaths of the Benoits can change that. It’s time for athletic commissions to work with licensing boards so someone other than the guy with the most to gain is testing to see if his performers are capable of doing the matches they are paid to do. Maybe USA Network should institute its own drug testing for the WWE or walk away from their contract. It can get a 3.9 rating somewhere else. It can’t claim its hands are clean if they continue to fill McMahon’s coffers while his employees and now their families die around them. As should the cable companies who broadcast the Pay-Per-Views. Someone not named McMahon needs to keep these men and their families safe.

I am not waiting for any of this to happen. But I do believe that wrestling, unlike Benoit’s wife and child, will die a natural death, due to the rise of UFC, people’s disgust with McMahon’s practices, or just the stale and boring product that the WWE keeps forcing down its fans throat.

This is still titled “The Last Wrestler,” not for the original purposes, as a tribute to Benoit, but for my hopes and prayers that someone will step in to see that he is the last wrestler to harm his family, to harm himself, to be taken away by those he loved, and to take away those who are loved, way too soon. Just let him be the last.

Rest in Peace Chris Benoit.

Burn in Hell Chris Benoit.

I don’t know which. But I do know which I wish on Mr. McMahon; that is easy.

3 comments:

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knicksgrl0917 said...

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knicksgrl0917 said...

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