The Wrestling Review Corner: Death Grip

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANice guy, Chris Benoit – Source: Wikipedia

Thanks for checking out this weekly instalment of The Wrestling Review Corner. I’m continuing to look at documentaries, and today I have one in a similar vein to that of the ESPN piece on Scott Hall, that I wrote about previously. It’s the controversy-stirring, blood pumping Death Grip, a special program produced by the CNN: Special Investigation Unit. At about 40 minutes long, it’s a really slick, professional news feature which shines a spotlight of accountability on those who rule the business, while being unshackled by any sentimentality towards professional wrestling.

The program mainly focuses on the Chris Benoit tragedy, a topic which polarizes opinion among wrestling fans. For those unfamiliar with what I mean, I’m talking about the haunting, dark, horrific story of the Rabid Wolverine taking his own life, after murdering his wife and young son. The investigators are quick to scrutinize the WWE, and rightfully so. The show puts the heat on Vince in particular and holds him to account, but does recognise the positive elements of his success and dominance in the industry.

For the most part, Death Grip tries to work out what drove Chris to commit such an act, and generally how the business and it’s plights may be shortening the lives of wrestlers. Of course, the damning facts are brought to light once more, as the business we know and love is hounded. Drugs, performance enhancing and otherwise, are brought to the forefront as a possible reason for the serious heart and mental issues that many performers go through and ultimately die from. Vince and wife Linda vehemently deny that there is a link, and refuse to accept responsibility for the life choices and demons of their workers.

The rich selection of interviewees really save this from being too skewed. They add a certain balance and perspective to proceedings. Chris Kanyon makes an appearance, and talks about working with Benoit. It was really cool to see a young CM Punk at the height of his time in ECW flying the Straight Edge flag, too bad the interviewer was nauseating in his condescension towards him. John Cena is questioned on steroids, and denies ever having used them.

Perhaps the most sobering moment of all was seeing Dynamite Kid, living in a council house in Manchester. The documentary doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of one of the game’s best ever performers. He is painted as a man who the business turned into a monster. His former wife describes him as a drug user, a violent and threatening one. It’s even more shocking when Mike Benoit (Chris’ Dad) recalls his son idolising this man, through his childhood and career.

He idolised a man who was spiralling out of control behind closed doors, and hurtling towards a breakdown. The Kid’s wife spoke of him putting a shotgun under her chin once, a claim which he confesses to on camera, “but he was only pretending” – There is a scary similarity between the two, both inside and outside the ring. It’s so, so depressing to see Dynamite Kid in this shape. He needs some help. Hello DDP!

One really interesting discovery is made when former wrestler Chris Nowinski steps forward and reaches out to Mike Benoit, asking for a piece of Chris’ brain for examination. He was looking for brain damage, as part of his organisation’s studies into the effects of multiple concussions in sport. The findings were startling – at his time of death, Benoit is said to have had the brain of an elderly Alzheimers patient. He got that way because of excessive concussions, according to Nowinski’s organisation. CNN are quick to make a link between his signature move the Diving Headbutt and the mental problems. Vince McMahon criticised the findings of that report quite justifiably, by questioning how a man with that kind of brain damage could have operated on a day-to-day basis (performed, booked hotels, rented cars, etc)

Vince may not have been willing to accept that there may be a problem with concussions, but he has gone a long way to try and fix the company’s drug policy. The widely known Wellness Program hasn’t always been at the stage it is now, and some would argue that it still has a way to go. At the time of this film, they were still criticised for leniency. However, they were also recognised for bringing in the same man who perfected the NFL’s program to clean things up in the WWE. His work was ongoing, and I don’t know how successful it has actually was.

At the time of Death Grip, in the aftermath of the Benoit tragedy, there was definitely still a lot of questions to be answered by WWE. After an autopsy, Chris was shown to have had steroids in his body at the time of his death. It’s a pretty damning conclusion to a story drenched in speculation, criticism and controversy. I love pro wrestling and I love Vince McMahon, but the figures are scary and have to be analysed.

To love this business, you have to accept it’s problems. I hope they will be solved over time, but for now, give yourself a bitesize education on the darker underbelly of the modern WWE. Death Grip explains a lot, and I’m absolutely sure you won’t be bored by it.

Thanks for reading.

Craig [Editor]

Unsanctioned Wrestling: Episode Four

Video

This is Episode Four of the YouTube wrestling Q&A series Unsanctioned Wrestling. It features questions on CM Punk, John Cena, Chris Benoit and much more. Check it out! Get involved by leaving a question in a comment if you would like. Hit play and enjoy it.

Wrestlemania 22: Big Time

wm2006So I’ve been up to my old tricks again and picking up random WWE pay-per-views to watch for nostalgia. Pretty much any Wrestlemania is a safe bet to be a good show, so I got Wrestlemania 22. It was the year of 2006 and featured some of the most memorable matches of recent wrestling history. I’ve decided to write a little review of the show. I hope you like it and I recommend you pick yourself up a copy and check out this little gem. Here is my idea: Every match on the card in five lines. Sound good? Then please read on…

Big Show & Kane v Chris Masters & Carlito (for the World Tag Team Championship)

It’s gonna be tough to fill five lines with thoughts on this match. It was mostly forgettable and doesn’t paint a good picture of the circa 2006 tag-team division. Two mix and match teams with no real identity had a match of little significance. It was fairly nostalgic seeing bald Kane again, and the only wrestler who’s t-shirt I’ve ever bought: Carlito, but that’s about it. Big Show and Kane retained in an average opener.

Money In The Bank Ladder Match (Ft. Rob Van Dam, Shelton Benjamin, Ric Flair, Finlay, Matt Hardy & Bobby Lashley)

Rob Van Dam became only the second ever Money In The Bank winner in this thoroughly entertaining match. Five great athletes in their own right and Bobby Lashley were a part of something really special. Some memorable spots, some phenomenal risk taking and a roller-coaster ride from start to finish. It’s matches like this that make you wish they didn’t remove the stipulation from Wrestlemania.

JBL v Chris Benoit (for the United States Championship)

It’s always weird watching old Benoit matches now for obvious reasons, but every time I do it just reminds me of how sad it is that Vince and WWE try and deny his existence, because his work in the ring was some of the best in the business. I love JBL in and out of the ring and he pulled off the classic heel move here, using the ropes to pick up the win on the IWC’s favourite martyr Chris Benoit.

burningtableEdge v Mick Foley (Hardcore Match)

This is one of those classic matches I was talking about. There were no need for titles here. Just good, dramatic booking and you find yourselves with a rivalry literally on fire, one that can only be settled with an extreme brawl. This is a match I’ve seen countless times, and one of my favourite hardcore matches of all time. Edge picked up the win with the move of the night, spearing Foley through a burning table.

The Boogeyman v Booker T & Sharmell

Preluded by a very hokey backstage segment involving the King and Queen, and a role call of ‘freaks’ which unfittingly included Ted DiBiase Sr, this match was only memorable because of The Boogeyman’s awesome gimmick, and habit of beating his opponents by psyching them out with a live worm feast. Booker gave a solid performance as usual, in a good but not great match-up. Bring back The Boogeyman!

Mickie-James-vs-Trish-StratusMickie James v Trish Stratus (for the Women’s Championship)

Mickie picked up the win against multiple and long term Champion Trish in this bout which makes a mockery of the current ‘Divas’ Division. Trish was one of the best of all time and that’s why she is in the Hall of Fame. Mickie was just emerging at this point and brought something completely new to the WWE at that time. AJ Lee has stolen her gimmick, but can’t come close. Mickie James is wasted in TNA.

The Undertaker v Mark Henry (Casket Match)

Taker continued his streak, not a great surprise. He defeated Mark Henry in a very solid casket match. Knowing that Mark can’t do a whole lot at his size, Taker knew he would have to do a lot of the work. Even at his age, the man can still move like a great athlete. At this point he was still capable of walking the ropes, and leaping clean over them like a missile towards Mark Henry. Not his best Mania match, but a good one.

shawnShawn Michaels v Vince McMahon (No Holds Barred Match)

Just another reminder of how great both of these men were in their respective roles. Even when he was getting up there, HBK could still drag a 60 year old with no real wrestling background through a Wrestlemania worthy match. Vince showed how far he is willing to go for the company he built yet again. Shawn came off of a giant ladder to drop the elbow on the boss through a table. One superkick later, he was the winner.

Rey Mysterio v Randy Orton v Kurt Angle (for the World Heavyweight Championship)

Rey Mysterio picked up the win in honour of his dead friend and wrestling icon Eddie Guerrero. Some (especially Randy Orton) described him as a charity case. Whatever your opinion on that is, he was part of a very good Wrestlemania match. He did also work hard for an entire career, earning the respect of many people as an innovator and a high flyer. It’s never good to see Kurt Angle lose though.

Torrie Wilson v Candice Michelle (Playboy Pillow Fight)

This is definitely the hardest match to fill five lines. If I wanted to see gratuitous nudity, I would go to Brazzers. The highlight of this contest (Michelle did the job in the end) was Torrie pulling off a textbook vertical suplex. In all seriousness, I didn’t pay much attention to this. It was basically as close to being in a strip joint as wrestling can be, featuring an actual former porn star. The PG era has killed this art-form.

stfuqJohn Cena v Triple H (for the WWE Championship)

This pivotal match occurred near the start of the now historic Super-Cena era. An absolutely epic Triple H entrance, CM Punk on the side of Cena’s gangster car, and an awesome, educated crowd. The man who apparently buries all did the job by tapping out to Cena’s STF – something (at the time) I never thought I’d see. The crowd were all over Cena from start to finish, in a fairly average Wrestlemania main event.

Summary

What’s my overall impression of Wrestlemania 22? On the whole, it was so-so. However, as I mentioned before, it did feature some of the most memorable matches of the last ten years. In particular, Foley v Edge, Money In The Bank and McMahon v Michaels were extra special. I’ve managed to even keep my summary inside five lines. If you’ve enjoyed reading, please go ahead and follow my page, and tell your friends!