This weekend was one of ‘those’ weekends. On Friday, the Nobel-Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney died. Then came the news of journalist Sir David Frost’s passing. On Monday night I heard about the boxer Tommy Morrison. Three very different men but three men who have gone some way into making me who I am. I’d studied Heaney at University. I’d admired David Frost’s journalistic work for years and, well, Tommy Morrison had had a troubled life but I remember watching him in ‘Rocky V’ and then being amazed that he could actually punch like that in real life too on his way to the WBO World Heavyweight title. Three very different men. Three very different legacies.
When someone passes on who you admire in any way, it hurts. It’s confusing because, usually, you’ve never met them but they have helped shape and mould something in you. Musicians passing away is always a huge one because we grow up with a soundtrack to our lives. That song reminds me of when I first kissed a girl. That one reminds me of that halcyon summer of my life. That one reminds me of realising I’m in love. When someone who ‘soundtracked’ that moment moves on, it’s like a friend who helped has gone. It obviously doesn’t hurt as much as when someone truly close to us goes but it still hurts.
We all watch wrestling, regardless of promotion or favourite era, for entertainment. We love the moments when we think, “This is it...the streaks over!” or “Kick out, for God’s sake, kick out!”. We go along for the ride and we get emotionally invested in these men and women who put on the show for us. Put their bodies on the line for us. In the same way an actor performs for the audience, so the wrestler wrestles for us. Maybe that’s why wrestling fans have a bit of a reputation for criticising...because we love the business, because we want those moments all the time. There are those moments that make us cheer, laugh, even cry on occasion. It’s those men and women who create this in ourselves.
When one of them passes on, it really hurts. We’ve followed their careers but, through their performances in the ring and on the mic we’ve seen them forge friendships, battle enemies and fall in love. We’ve seen them grow from debuting rookie with a bad hairstyle to a champion of their promotion. A person who will represent us, heel or face, as the reason to keep on watching and to cheer or to jeer. When one passes which connects with us, it really hurts and that community of fans, those that criticise and those that don’t, all come together and support each other. No, we never met them, or if we did it was only for a moment, but it doesn’t change the fact that they played a part in making us who we are. As much as a poet, or a journalist or a troubled boxer.
When Randy Savage passed on it was strange. Here was a man who had helped mould wrestling into what it is now. He had the intense feuds but he’d also had the great matches, the wedding proposals and the snake bites to justify his place in the history of the business. This was a man who had won six world titles and become King of the Ring but, for those who didn’t watch wrestling back then, he’d also stolen the night at Wrestlemania III with his match against Ricky Steamboat. A match that has influenced so many since, Chris Jericho included, to go out there and perform for the crowd. His name is still chanted now in arenas around the world and, with CM Punk now using the diving elbow drop in his repertoire, his name will never be forgotten.
When some of the lower card wrestlers pass on, it still hurts because these were people who were working so hard every night without getting that moment, that break. It could be argued that Lance Cade was one of those people. He’d come up through the regional promotions before tagging with Mark Jindrak during a boom time for the tag team division. When injury forced him back to OVW, he carried on working hard before debuting his new gimmick as a smooth talking cowboy alongside rough trucker Trevor Murdoch. They won the titles before dropping the belts to The Big Show and Kane. When that tag team dissolved, Cade found himself working with Chris Jericho. He was always there or thereabouts but couldn’t quite break through. When he was eventually released from his WWE contract, after suffering a seizure on a plane, he moved back to the independent circuit before suffering a heart-attack in 2010.
Two very different people. One of whom helped mould the business and give us so many moments to laugh and cry at. Another who worked and worked, at live tapings and house shows, for us but never got to that point in his career where the crowd chanted his name. One suffered irreconcilable differences with Vince McMahon, one ‘made a major league mistake while utilizing bad judgement’ (Jim Ross). One stood up to the ‘man’ the other made a mistake. Does it change what they did for us when we saw them in the ring or on that mic? No. Although at different ends of the card, they put their bodies on the line for the people who watched them. Most of us will not get public recognition for the things we do, does that make us feel less of a person than those that do? No. So when these people pass on, it’s hard to ignore the wrestlers that never quite make it because they are most like us.
Chris Benoit. I even paused after typing that name because I have never used it since I started writing for this site. He is always ‘he who shall not be named’. This is one of the hardest ones for wrestling fans because he was a ‘fan favourite’. The only way I have dealt with it, until now, was by pretending he doesn’t exist. Since the truth came out about what he did, I have not watched one match he was in, including one of my favourite Royal Rumbles, because I feel genuinely nauseas at the thought of enjoying his work anymore. When he was alive, before he did what he did, I watched him and I loved his work. I can’t deny that, and that’s what makes it so hard because his final acts defined him as a monster. We, as a fan base, trusted someone who not only let us down but ripped something from us. I know there are fans out there now who are very vocal in saying he is still their favourite wrestler and that is their point of view. One of my favourite actors is, was, Klaus Kinski but I find it hard to watch his work now because of the revelations of what he did to his daughter. I can only get away with watching one of my favourite films, ‘Fitzcarraldo’ now because I’m also a huge Werner Herzog fan. I feel betrayed though by a man I invested so emotionally in and for me, apart from this one paragraph, Chris Benoit does not exist in my world anymore because when the truth of his passing came to light, it was a punch to the gut that will always hurt when watching wrestling, and he did that.
There are always going to be passings in wrestling that come either through age or the past abuses of the body. This column isn’t about listing names because that in itself would be inappropriate, but when we read about one now, usually on the internet, we stop for a moment. We watched them. They gave us a moment’s escape from our own lives, and the various peaks and troughs we feel, and often we smile and hunt out their work again. Some make their own tribute videos, some post online. Most of us don’t do anything though but that’s not through disrespect, it’s because we have our thoughts. Our memories. This is true of the songs that are sung and the books we have read but wrestling is no different. Umaga’s Last Man Standing brawl at the 2007 Royal Rumble. Hart versus Hart. Crazy Brian Pillman. Moments that we remember and enjoy. Yes, some made mistakes but who doesn’t? Some were the victims of fate. That’s harder to take but we can still remember those moments we stood and cheered.
This is the hardest one. This is the man who genuinely made us laugh. Genuinely made us hate him. He always, though, always brought it in the ring. Even watching the tribute video brings a tear to the eye. Yes, the combination of music and stylised rain promos combined with his wrestling journey will do that but it’s way more than that. It’s the shots of him jumping into the crowd, the pictures of him standing before an adoring arena, the signs, the T-Shirts, the smile.
I was going to re-watch the tribute show as part of this but I couldn’t do it. I don’t want to see the pain of those men and women again. The shock. Here was a man who was fallible. He had made mistakes and battled his demons but he had come through the other side to the point where he was trusted to lead the company and he realised the importance of this. When he won that WWE Championship, by landing a DDT onto the belt before frog-splashing Brock Lesnar, I cheered and I had tears in my eyes. My favourite wrestler had beaten The Beast. When he celebrated with the crowd, it was totally genuine from both wrestler and fans alike. When he turned on his friend Rey Mysterio after a long gestating battle to beat the little man, he was a despicable villain. When he held that chair in the middle of the ring against Mr Kennedy on November 11th 2005 and smiled at the crowd, he was ours again. We could cheer our hero. Then he passed away.
Similar to Macho Man, Eddie’s name is still chanted around the world wherever the WWE goes. He was an iconic wrestler because he battled through his demons and didn’t succumb. It’s also because, those of us that watched him, all have an ‘Eddie’ moment. That is what wrestling is about, remembering where you were when your favourite won gold. When we were allowed the cheer them again when they made a save for a fan favourite. When they stood on the ramp and smiled and waved. As much as that song that reminds us of a life-event, or when you read that book and thought ‘this writer understands me’, for us as wrestling fans, we all have those moments together. Even when we’re older, when we might have moved on from wrestling and no longer watch it, there will always be that conversation in a bar when some other person says, “Yeah, I used to watch wrestling, do you remember The Undertaker?” and you talk for hours about those men and women again.
As I said at the start, it was one of those weekends when many talented people passed away. As wrestling fans, we have been through it, and will go through it again. The beauty of the online world though is that we can share the memories of these men and women who simply want to entertain us. Us. Sat at home with a beer or in the arena with the programme. It’s us they want to entertain because that is their job and that is what they want to do. The thing is, we shouldn’t wait for a passing to remember how great someone was. We should enjoy them now. We should listen to those songs, read those books and watch those matches now, with a smile on our face. Go and watch one of your favourite wrestlers best matches and watch it today, with a beer, a smile and no regret. As Seamus Heaney texted his wife on the evening of Friday 30th August 2013, “Noli timere” – “Don’t be afraid, have no fear”. Amen to that.
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Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.