About two years ago I wrote an article on former WWE and WCW champion Chris Benoit (check my archives if you'd like to read it). The focus on that article was if we fans could view his character and matches separately from the terrible and horrific tragedy that he committed.
In the end I determined (as did many of the commentators) that we could separate the tragic events at Benoit's Atlanta home from the character we cheered and jeered in professional wrestling.
This article takes a different approach. This past Saturday I picked up Chris Jericho's new book, Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps (review coming either tomorrow or Monday) at his book signing in Virginia (A side-note Jericho is an extremely cool and nice guy).
I hadn't realized that Benoit and Jericho were such good friends. Also, because of how the WWE essentially erased Benoit's entire career (and they can do that since they own the rights to WCW and ECW now), I had forgotten how many of Jericho's most memorable matches were with the Canadian Crippler.
In the book, Jericho recounts several of his matches with Chris Benoit—matches like the 2001 Royal Rumble Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Title. You know, the one where Jericho applied the Walls of Jericho to Benoit on the top of the ladder.
I'm a huge Shawn Michaels mark, and I can tell you that match is just as good (maybe even a little better) than Michaels' famous ladder match against Razor Ramon at Wrestlemania X.
Or the tag match in which Benoit teamed with Jericho to take on the Two Man Power Trip of Triple H and Stone Cold Steve Austin. During that match, Triple H tore his ACL clear off the bone but still finished the match. Even with the injury, he took the Walls of Jericho.
Those are just two matches that Jericho mentions, and every so often Jericho reminds us that it's just too bad that those matches technically don't exist anymore.
Now I don't presume to tell Vince McMahon how to run his company, after all he's seems to be doing just fine without my advice, but I think erasing Benoit's legacy from wrestling (or at least from the ECW, WCW, and WWE) does a disservice not to Benoit but to all of the guys who wrestled him.
Because Benoit was such a good worker and was considered so tough by fans and other wrestlers, if you had a great match with him (win or lose) it was more than enough to put you over.
The two matches listed above are just small examples of great matches that Benoit took part in. There is also the triple threat match at Wrestlemania XX against Shawn Michaels and Triple H. Said match, however, is not one of the best examples. That's when Benoit captured the WWE Title, but it was one hell of a match—one Michaels and Triple H still talk about as one of their favorites.
Although both wrestlers would probably want it included, that match will never again be released on any Wrestlemania or future HBK or Triple H DVDs.
Again, I can only give you a smattering of examples because there just isn't enough space to in this article to list all of his greatest matches.
Just listing some of his opponents show the worker he was. He had many classic matches with Rey Mysterio, Jr. and Eddie Guerrero from their days in ECW through WCW and onto the WWE.
He's taken on Triple H, The Rock, Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, and dismantled the Flock all by himself.
I'm not requesting the WWE make a DVD for Benoit (though I think a documentary chronicalling his life and death would be interesting). I do think, however, on future DVDs for other Superstars that engaged in a classic match against Benoit, that these matches should be included, or at least get mentioned.
As a husband and a father, I can't imagine how Benoit did what he did. But, you can't erase the past—good or bad—and I think the WWE by just ignoring Benoit all together is doing a disservice to all of their wrestlers who had great matches with him.
As Jericho has proven to me with his book you can look back on Benoit and remember the wonderful memories he gave you as a fan or friend without condoning what he did.
Though Vince McMahon prefers to pretend that Chris Benoit never existed I hope he at least has used his tragic end as a lesson for his wrestlers and for the WWE to be diligent to look for signs of substance abuse and depression.
The old ways of just ignoring a problem can no longer be applied, and hopefully the WWE provides some sort of help for it's employees who experience anything similar to what Benoit went through.