Book Review: Ring Of Hell: The Story of Chris Benoit & The Fall of The Pro Wrestling Industry.

With all apologies to Scott’s excellent book, “Dungeon of Death,” that book focused less on Benoit and more on the pervasive culture of death prevalent over the last decade and a half in pro wrestling. Randazzo’s book is focused on Benoit as the central character in professional wrestling’s toxic cocktail of morbidity.

Marvel at the ludicrous bargain even big name wrestlers accept with WWE: an independent contractor’s job at a multibillion-dollar corporation in which global TV stars enjoy the benefits and job security of migrant laborers, pay their own travel and health expenses, rarely see their families, and are obliged to maintain a naturally impossible physique and perfect attendance record despite a demanding 150-plus-days-per-year travel schedule and an ever accumulating inventory of bodily wear and tear. Worst of all, they must voluntarily sustain irreparable injury to their brains and bodies in the process of making what is usually laughably bad TV.”

With that assessment by author Matthew Randazzo V (really? V? Seems slightly pretentious to me), “Ring of Hell” makes the author’s intentions crystal clear: he does not like or respect pro wrestling. Indeed, at times this book becomes his personal dumping ground, and even in some of the subtle wrestling appraisals he gives, one cannot miss the seething pure hatred the man has for the business of pro wrestling. It practically jumps off the page.

This is going to be a slight departure for me. I generally prefer to review a book and generally summarize the careers and happenings of the performer named on the cover. I like to mention their memories and observations while also trying to provide perspective. This book is different. I have found it to be the best book written on Benoit, but for obvious reasons, it does not include Benoit. Add to that that it is a total, sweeping indictment of the professional wrestling industry as a whole, along with the author’s obvious disdain for the business we are all fans of, and it makes for a very difficult review. As well, I figure most, if not all, who frequent this site know the story of Benoit in its entirety, so I do not wish to insult your intelligence. I only hope I am up to the task.

For all I have said about the author, WrestleMania V, he obviously did his homework. Reading the bibliography alone makes that apparent. Add into the mix that he obviously understands the business and the terminology that abounds during this book proves that the man was pristine on his research. He picked the correct websites, the correct contacts, everything. To boot, he is obviously a gifted writer, as I found almost no egregious errors in the tome, either grammatically or analytically.

As well, the book gives a remarkably straight ahead account of the man before he became the monster. We all know Benoit was a hopeless mark of the Dynamite Kid. Dynamite might be one of the greatest in ring talents we as fans have ever seen. But it cannot be denied that he was, likewise, one of the most insufferable pricks outside the ring the industry has ever encountered. And the author, Clash V, does a remarkable job of pointing that fact out. Benoit could not have picked a worse role model. Dynamite was a phenomenal wrestler, no doubt, but it cannot be ignored that he was just an awful human being and, with his self destructive wrestling style, the LAST guy anyone should pattern their career after.

The book does an excellent job of chronicling Benoit’s rise to the elite. Author In Your House V should be commended for that. What is particularly intriguing is not necessarily Benoit’s wrestling indoctrination at Hart House in Calgary, but at the NJPW dojo. These are some of the more enlightening chapters, and it offers clues as to why Benoit became such a slave to the game of wrestling. Complete physical and psychological breakdown. Author SuperBrawl V discusses the ritualistic hazing in the dojo’s as unique to sports. Obviously, the author has never played a game in his life. Sure, having NJPW “Young Boys” in training have to perform such demeaning acts as collectively jerking off into a jar, only for one young boy to have to imbibe it, is extreme. But hazing, or in this case, ribbing, is prevalent in all of sport, all over the world.  I will admit that the NJPW dojo took it to the extremities of human nature, but some of the rituals described in the book are no worse than anything this author expedience playing high school, legion, pony league, ANY sport at any young level. To try and condemn pro wrestling as unique in this action is purely laughable. Although, pro wrestling is probably the worst in acting upon that particular medium.

Benoit, obviously, went on to huge Japanese stardom and success, along with, as author Bound By Glory V says, his wrestling doppleganger: Jushin Liger. The items on Liger in this book are outstanding, in my opinion. The Liger/Benoit self flagellation society climaxed with the Super J Cup in 1994, and again in 1995. It proved junior heavyweights were draws, and Benoit and Liger were kings amongst them.

Benoit, still a huge star, a demigod, in Japan, wanted to test his wares in the United States. To that end, he started with WCW in 1993, under a booker he liked, Bill Watts. Watts was seen by the rest of the WCW roster at the time as passe and too old school, too disciplinarian. Well, after Stu Hart and NJPW’s dojo, Benoit was refreshed. Unfortunately, Watts was let go. It is during this section of the book with WCW’s early ineptitude that we get some great one liners. My favorite? Dusty Rhodes was inexplicably named head booker after a disastrous late 80’s run that led to Jim Crockett Promotions being bought out by Turner. Upon being reinstated as booker in 1991, his line to Turner Executives and wrestlers alike? “Hi, I am ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes, and I the rake and you the leaves.”

What is, and was, even worse, was Hulk Hogan descending upon the promotion in 1994. While I have said the author is far from unbiased towards the wonderful world of pro wrestling. But author Big Daddy V seems to hold a special place in his contemptuous heart for Hulk Hogan, who he deems “Hiroshima” Hogan. To quote Scott Keith, I love shoot comments that aren’t supposed to be shoot comments. That might be the greatest nickname I have ever heard for Hogan during his WCW run. Author Clash of the Champions V just derides Hogan’s self destructive policies from 1994-1995, and it is refreshing to see, as many who viewed the product at that point, those of us who watched WCW as an ALTERNATIVE to the glitz, glamor, and pure sap of WWF, were troubled by the arrival of the very symbol of Vince glitz. I won’t lie, I was a Hogan mark up until then, even through his ridiculous title win at WrestleMania IX. Once he descended upon WCW? Wow. The level of discourse switched.WCW became Hogan’s plaything, and I do not think anyone can deny that. To further advance the level of ridiculousness, Kevin Sullivan was a main booker, and ended up becoming the bane of Benoit’s existence.

I will assume that the intelligent people reading this site realize the damage the Sullivan feud did to Benoit. Benoit was supposed to dupe the marks and the locker room into thinking he was actually schtuping  Sullivan’s sex symbol wife. Benoit was married with kids, and a total introvert. All Benoit cared about was his next match. Sullivan was eventually told, midway through his feud with Benoit, that it was unbecoming for a booker to still be wrestling actively. Sullivan, a shitty wrestler (one of the few times I agree with the author’s sentiments) was told once the feud was over, so was his in ring career. Sullivan did the oh so sensible thing: He dragged the feud out for almost two years. Initially, it was supposed to be Brian Pillman and Sullivan.

Pillman was a Stampede graduate and great friend of Benoit who was almost as talented in ring, but light years ahead of not just Benoit, but ANYONE on the stick. Pillman was also known as a drug addicted sexual deviant who sired child after child with varying women of varying provenance. Pillman went absolutely fucking crazy in 1996, with a purpose: he wanted to be able to support his expanding family. So he devised a plan to turn pro wrestling on its ear: The Loose Cannon. Trust me folks, this was brilliant shit from a man who was VERY smart to the business. Pillman, a jobber at least and a Horseman at best for WCW, did not want to be pigeonholed. He wanted to be transcendent, as his old partner Steve Austin was becoming.  So he perfected the “Loose Cannon” character and was signed to giant, first time, WWF guaranteed bucks.

What is important to Benoit was that Pillman died in the early morning hours leading up to the “Badd Blood” PPV in October ot 1997. It was the first of may deaths of friends Benoit would experience. Pillman, the man so strong that he could fuck a chick hanging upside down in gravity boots, a man alleged to have such sexual repartee that people accused him of having his sex life appropriated to Penthouse Forums, was the first of many experiences in death for the alleged “Best in the World.”

Benoit obviously departed from WCW once his interminable nemesis, and the man directly responsible for hooking up with Nancy Toffolini, was restored to WCW booker. It has been WELL documented what went on with the WCW title switch at WCW Souled Out 2000. Benoit, along with Guerrero, Malenko and Saturn jumped to WWF, luckily able to invoke a clause that Mike Graham invoked. In past years I would have mentioned it, but Mike died this past year, so it would be without taste to mention it here.

Benoit went on to a solid career in WWF/E. (From here on out it is WWE for my own sanity). He wrestled in main event PPV matches against Rock, Angle, Undertaker, and the whole lot. Unfortunately he fucked up his back and neck in a cage match against Angle, and was sidelined for almost a year.

Here is where the book gets touchy. A pure mat animal like Benoit was obviously going to doubt himself during this period. Add in the ungodly amount of steroids he was taking, and depression was a given. Randazzo V does a tremendous job of piecing together the manic-depressiveness Benoit must have been enduring. Benoit triumphed at WrestleMania XX with his best friend Eddy Guerrero in tow, but Benoit was already experiencing the effects of PTSD and tremendous brain damage.

When Eddy died, November 12, 2005, Benoit’s delicate psyche fractured. I do not think any wrestling fan can doubt that. By the time of the events of June 24, 2007 came about, Benoit was a fraction of a man. His brain was fucked. His marriage was fucked. The man was FUCKED. Listen, Chris Benoit was my absolute, #1, favorite wrestler of all time. Yet, when the news came on June 25, 2007, that he, his son, and his wife, were dead, I knew immediately. Benoit did it. That is not to say that realization was not a pure kick to the johnson. It was awful. Benoit is portrayed in this book as both the best of men and the scourge of society. Randazzo is an excellent writer, and, while he excoriates Benoit’s profession, he absolutely sings the praises of the man himself. I have mocked Randazzo V throughout this review, but the fact of the matter is, as much as the author hates wrestling, he has crafted a remarkably even handed account. That is the sign of a great writer,

In short, Randazzo V, for all the grief I have given him, is a great writer. He did his homework, tempered his beliefs, and has written probably the best of the quick, exploitative books authored on the monster Benoit. For that, my hat is off to him.

And Scott Keith, as good as your book was, this is better. I will now jump off the Sears Tower headlong onto a thumbtack for my transgression…