On June 24th, 2007, one of the most respected wrestlers in the world, Chris Benoit, was set to take on one of the greatest indy stars of the decade and newcomer to the WWE, CM Punk, for the vacant ECW Title at WWE Vengeance: Night of Champions. After a ten-minute match, the result was CM Punk losing to Johnny Nitro (now known as John Morrison).
The next day, the world found out that Benoit, his wife Nancy, and their 7-year-old son Daniel were murdered in their Fayetteville, Georgia home. That night, Monday Night RAW was canceled and instead wrestlers sent their wishes to the Benoit family and shared their memories of Benoit as some of his best matches aired. During the broadcast, police determined that Benoit had murdered his wife, then his son, and then hung himself.
To the outside world, a steroid using professional wrestler had killed his family and himself in a fit of rage. To the wrestling world, one of the most respected men ever and arguably one of the greatest wrestlers of all time had hit a breaking point with his personal demons and one of the most unfortunate acts thinkable occurred.
Lives were changed that weekend. While the effect the events had on the families of Chris and Nancy and all of their friends are far more important, the events also affected the wrestling business.
The end of an era
Ratings fell for the WWE greatly instantly. It is obvious why having one of the biggest stars in your company commit the acts that Benoit did caused many fans to stop watching. It is just uncomfortable to watch knowing what happened and knowing that at some point the show must go on, despite the reminders of Benoit.
And more, parents across the nation became less comfortable letting their children watch wrestling. It’s understandable why a parent would not want their child watching pro wrestling. Kids are impressionable. Parents were likely to already not like that their kids watched men fight every week. Throw in the fact that one of those men was Chris Benoit and you understand why parents didn’t want their kids watching.
After the events of that weekend, Benoit’s name disappeared from WWE TV. His image was removed from the WWE website and all stories about him were taken down. To this day he has not been mentioned on WWE TV and is rarely ever visible on any DVD release. Only recently has he even begun to resurface in short mentions in historical context.
With him, Benoit took away a big part of wrestling history and the history of many wrestlers. So many great matches are essentially buried forever and technically do not exist anymore.
Today Benoit is a lot like OJ Simpson. The history is still there, but it’s not promoted. You won’t find a “Best of Chris Benoit” DVD to be released soon. Nor will you find him featured on the DVD’s of other superstars.
5 years later
Since those events, the WWE has been rebuilding. And they have not just been rebuilding, but they have been repackaging themselves as family and kid friendly. The days of the Attitude Era are long gone. The WWE needed to prove to the country that it was safe and okay to watch again.
John Cena has carried the company as the ultimate good guy and it has worked. But older fans are very displeased with the PG rating of the show. The best thing on the show for those fans is that up and comer that Benoit wasn’t able to face 5 years ago, CM Punk, who is now the closest thing this generation has to Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Is this all Chris Benoit’s fault? No. It’s smart business to market to families and kids. Kids are much more likely to buy merchandise and wear the shirts. Parents are likely to take their kids to shows more often.
But Benoit did kick that door wide open. The WWE had to reinvent itself as safe for families. What Benoit did in his personal live reverberated to the WWE and all of pro wrestling. His stigma stuck around for a long time. 5 years later there are enough kids who have watched or are new to watching that don’t know who Benoit is. But for those who do remember Benoit, especially all the way back to Stampede Wrestling in Calgary, there are a lot of memories that are buried, but wanted back.