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What We Learned From Dark Side of the Ring: Chris Benoit

Joseph Kingsley-Nyinah looks at what we learned from VICE’s two-part ‘Dark Side Of the Ring’ documentary of Chris Benoit.

A certain iconic character states all it takes for someone to go from man to monster is “one bad day”.

Perhaps this is true, but there is more to an individual than their worst day on this planet. The two-part opener to Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring series shows that, focusing on the life and death of Chris Benoit.

And Vice did not pull any punches.

They pinpointed the performer, a super disciplined artiste who started ahead of his time, and as time and his chosen industry caught up to him, rose to the top of every major promotion he worked for. A man hailed by his peers as a pioneer, and thought of by many who came after him as a hero.

Vice even talk about Nancy’s body of work – first as the Fallen Angel, then as Woman in WCW, codifying the role of the valet in wrestling to the point that her role was often imitated, but never duplicated. A Hall of Fame career that’ll never go acknowledged.

They also looked at the couple outside of the ring – described as a “gentle giant”, Chris was first a safe haven for Nancy towards the end of her marriage to Kevin Sullivan, and eventually became a loving husband and father to her and his three children.

Unfortunately, it all went wrong.

Benoit is a figure that is almost a boogeyman in this sub-culture we’re all immersed in, and as chilling as the details may be, the analysis of the murder-suicide is fascinating. What we think we know is constantly garnished with information most do not.

We all know what apparently happened on the darkest day in wrestling. We didn’t know that it was almost immediately called in as a murder-suicide by the police officers who were first at the crime scene. We all know that Benoit eventually took his own life in his gym. We didn’t know how bleak his last two Google searches were, and that he apparently considered going to work at Vengeance that Sunday. We all know about the focus on steroids by the mainstream media, but we didn’t know the extent of the WWE’s negligence. At one point an old message is displayed by Nancy, who plainly states:

“…we both know the wellness program is a joke.”

The research in CTE undertaken by Chris Nowinski is also widely known, but when put into the context of both the decay of the emotional part of his brain and the marital problems the Benoits were apparently having? The events of that June day almost seem inevitable.

This inevitability brings us to possibly the most heartbreaking aspect of this work – the early passing of Eddie Guerrero. While some might argue that Eddie probably needed his own dedicated episode, you truly cannot talk about one without the other – from Japan in the late 80s, to the Three Amigos in WCW and the highs of Wrestlemania XX to the more personal moments between them, like Eddie introducing Chris to religion. Eddie is so ever-present in the first half of the documentary that his sudden death is a sucker punch all of its own, and you can’t help but agree with the sentiment of Chris Jericho:

“Chris Benoit’s fate was sealed when Eddie died.”

The one thing that sets Vice’s work apart are the contributors they have augmenting it. The aforementioned Chris Jericho, who also narrates both episodes; Chavo and Vicky Guerrero; Dean Malenko, third of the Three Amigos; Sandra, sister to Nancy; David, son of Chris. And your heart goes out to all of them as they share what they knew of the departed key figures of this story. Sandra dealing with her guilt for helping Nancy and Chris to reconcile. David struggling to align the father he knew and loved with what he did. Chavo having his uncle die in his arms.

Unsurprisingly, the WWE do not necessarily come out of these 90-odd minutes looking like the good guys. The fact they may have possibly already known about the nature of their deaths before their tribute show adds a new dimension it all beyond just hindsight. The funeral incident that Sandra describes as a “work” also leaves you wondering just what was planned. And while wiping Benoit from existence is the right call, never once reaching out to David? That leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.

Nevertheless, the documentary ends with Jericho reuniting Sandra and David, estranged due to all of the bad blood at the time. And that’s the main thing to remember at the end of this watch – an act like this leaves those left behind as collateral damage, and they are the ones who have to build themselves from the ground up.

I urge you to go and watch this series. As a wrestling fan, you’ll go in morbidly curious, but as a human being, you’ll come out chilled and relieved – that Benoit’s death changed things for the better; that those left behind have each other for solace; that “one bad day” hasn’t yet come your way.

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You can find the author of this article on Twitter @JoeKingley. Thanks for reading!

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