A Professional Wrestler Is Murdered

Chris Benoit, the pro wrestler found murdered in his Fayetteville, Georgia home last night, was one of the reasons why professional wrestling, despite its ridiculous pretenses and bewilderingly predictable storylines, remains popular, profitable and culturally relevant.

I grew up a fan of wrestling and still admit to checking a pro-wrestling website from time to time. Not really sure why I enjoy watching it; I can come up with a string of theories as to why the WWE and its various competitors attract millions of fans: escapism, primal-rage satisfaction, morality-play substitution, soap operas for guys, homoerotic frustrations, cultural traditions, the will to violence. Maybe it's the athleticism -- a unique combination of genuine athletic skill, agility, grace, and acting. Consider: Ultimate Fighting Champsionship -- which is really real -- is a bit more bloody and not nearly as fun to watch. The wrestlers mostly spend their time locking one another in painful holds, rolling around on the mat, and trying to put those painful holds on the other guy.

Maybe it's the possibility, however faint, that we'll see something "real" -- someone get hurt, someone start to close his punches -- the NASCAR crash phenomenon.

A really good wrestler like Benoit can make even the most jaded fan suspend disbelief for just a few seconds. Benoit was characterized as a "scientific wrestler," which really meant that his performance skills blended a mix of Olympic (ironically, "amateur"-style) grappling with an unmatched ability to sell his interaction with other wrestlers. He was built like a pit-bull, and even he looked a little like one: he had a small, pug face that looked as if it were smushed into his neck. Speaking of necks, he was fond of breaking them -- he was probably the only active wrestler whose career survived these accidental injuries he inflicted upon others.

A horrible irony: the script for Monday night's World Wrestling Entertainment broadcast was supposed to feature a three-hour "commemoration" of the WWE's chairman, Vince McMahon, who was "killed" by a car bomb two weeks ago. McMahon, of course, was very much alive. At the beginning of tonight's Raw, a red-eyed, haggard-looking McMahon informed fans that Benoit had died, and that the night's broadcast would feature a real, tribute to Benoit.