Ring of Hell
Matthew Randazzo V
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Buy *Ring of Hell: The Story of Chris Benoit and the Fall of the Pro Wrestling Industry* by Matthew Randazzo V online

Ring of Hell: The Story of Chris Benoit and the Fall of the Pro Wrestling Industry
Matthew Randazzo V
Phoenix Books
352 pages
June 2008
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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This is a book with a single message, repeated many times, in many ways, on almost every page. Its stunning truth is so obvious that one wonders why it had to be written, but it had to be written because so many people are unable to see the truth. The message: "Pro" wrestling kills - yet most of the people who die from it go willingly, like cattle to the slaughter. Such was the case with Chris Benoit. One could even tout Benoit as a martyr, trying desperately to send a signal to the world by dying in a sick, terrifyingly ugly way, after so many of his friends passed away unnoticed and unsung.

Benoit, presumably under the influence of years of drug abuse, smothered his beloved little son, strangled his wife (both were in some degree of sedation at the time of their deaths) and then hanged himself on his weight machine. This beyond-bizarre murder-suicide took place in the beautiful Atlanta mansion the prosperous wrestling star called home. Unlike many, many other senseless wrestling deaths, it made front-page headlines and stayed in the media for more than a few days. But by now, most of the general public has forgotten what opponents of wrestling "entertainment" - and even those who enjoy the "sport" - know so well: wrestling kills.

Let's make one thing clear: so-called "professional wrestling" is to the real sport of wrestling as pornography is to making love.

An average kid, Chris Benoit fell in love with the pro wrestling scene as a young adolescent, star-struck by the antics of the Tom "The Dynamtie Kid" Billington, an English street fighter who wound up as a pro wrestler in Canada (Billington is now wheelchair-bound from those antics). Canadian, Catholic, short but muscular, Benoit was a sports fanatic in high school who tried harder than others to succeed. He wheedled and go-fered his way behind the scenes with the wrestlers and there he stayed, enjoying a relatively healthy career in Japan. When he entered the mainstream world of American pro wrestling after Vince MacMahon took over the business and turned it into a total monopoly with the WCW, Benoit had to try harder again, had to look fiercer than the lumbering big guys and the established stars. He, Eddy Guerrero, and Mick Foley were a few of the slightly built men who learned to be part-acrobat, part-stuntman, part-bodybuilder, part-daredevil, and all masochist for the greater glory of WCW.

Vince MacMahon and his family had risen to prominence and then total dominance of the wrestling game by the mid 1990s. Vince knew how to turn a buck, like the carny entrepreneurs before him (pro wrestling, which is all fake except that the pain is real, had its start in the rough and tumble life of the carny). He got his fans hooked on ever-sleazier and more violent forms of entertainment while keeping his wrestlers hooked on steroids - whatever it took to make sure they put on a good show. He was known for yelling at exhausted wrestlers after a show, "Did I get it all?" Reputedly, MacMahon's on-camera persona is much the same as his real self - loud, bullying, selfish, and tyrannical. It was his insistence that stars like Benoit keep up the pace that has led to the unheralded deaths of many men and women in their prime, from steroid overdose after years of systematic drug abuse. From that, and from their sad, nearly inexplicable willingness to be bullied and to sacrifice their bodies and minds to a grotesquely sadistic overlord.

The night Owen Hart died by plunging headfirst onto the mat when the faulty equipment with which he was supposed to "fly" into the ring failed, MacMahon insisted that the "show must go on." He forced wrestlers to throw their moves on a mat stained with their co-worker's blood for a solid hour as the cameras rolled, letting the fans, who were used to being tricked by WCW's absurd and tasteless story lines, believe that Hart's death had been yet another twist, not real. But none of the wrestlers protested or refused. When Eddy Guerrero died of steroid abuse, MacMahon helped his desperate family by giving his widow a role as a performer in one of his stupid but popular storylines - which involved her humiliating herself by appearing to be a scheming, lustful, plotting female. But she went along with it. Benoit saw these scenarios play out - but even in the last days of his wasted, tormented life, he was trying to get himself ready for his next match.

This expose was written with daring, panache and the kind of language that Vince himself would understand. No fake suplexes or pulled punches here. Wrestling attracts the simple-minded and the children among us - and rakes in millions of dollars for the MacMahon empire. This book is simple, factual, and almost too unsettling to read at one stretch.

But it should be read. Matthew Randazzo V is making a bold attempt to pull the mat out from under Vince MacMahon's feet. I wish him well.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2008

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