Professional wrestling is considered sports entertainment. It always has its hardcore fans, even though they know it is mostly scripted and even planned out to avoid a legitimate injury. While these occur often in the sport, unfortunately, so do tragedies. In this article, I would like to discuss a couple of extremely skilled performers who left us prematurely. The first wrestler I will write about is Owen Hart.

In the ring, Owen was a talented wrestler. He was very quick and fluid inside the squared circle. He was also willing to do anything to entertain the fans. He had intense battles with his older brother Bret, along with Stone Cold Steve Austin. He even defeated Bret at Wrestlemania 10. That result shocked a lot of fans, because Bret was a better wrestler, and he was battling for the championship later that night. But that win, in my mind, helped push Owen to become a better superstar. He accomplished another feat during his career –winning the 1994 King of the Ring tournament, defeating four of the WWE’s best, including Razor Ramon in the finals.

Owen was also successful as a tag team performer. He teamed with the likes of Koko B. Ware, Yokozuna, the British Bulldog, and Jim Neidhart. Owen and Yokozuna were very dominant as tag team champions, until they were dethroned by Shawn Michaels and Diesel in 1995. Unfortunately, tragedy struck this spirited and jovial individual, ending his career and life way too soon.

On May 23, 1999, Owen Hart was scheduled to make a “unique entrance” as part of his Blue Blazer character. As he was ready to make his entrance from the rafters of the arena, the harness he was attached to snapped, and caused him to fall. Watching this live, I thought it was part of the story. But then, the television cameras did not show anything else – just the crowd reactions. They also captured the commentators stating that what happened was not part of the storylines. Everyone was concerned. I am sure it was chaotic backstage as well. After a long while, it was announced to the television audience that Owen Hart had passed away. For some reason, the company decided not to inform the live audience, although I am sure some suspected.

The next night on Raw, the entire broadcast was dedicated to Owen. Wrestlers spoke about their friend and put over his sense of humor and some of the good natured pranks he pulled.

Bret left for WCW in 1997 after a dispute with Vince McMahon. He was not in the WWE when Owen passed. On October 4, 1999, Bret and Chris Benoit fought one of the greatest matches in the history of WCW. And, it was in memory of Owen Hart. The fans loved it and were appreciative of both men’s efforts.

I would like to share a personal story about Owen. In the 1990’s, Owen Hart was doing an autograph signing in Toronto. I had the privilege of attending and noticed his arm in a cast. I inquired about it, and he stated that his opponent at a live event landed wrongly on his arm, and as a result, it was injured. It just goes to show that no matter how much planning goes into a match, or how scripted it might be, if a wrestler makes one minuscule mistake, it could cause a legitimate injury.

I am sure that to this day, Owen’s fellow wrestlers miss him, his sense of humor and pranks. If he did not pass away when he did, he may have also had a run as WWE Champion. I still find it unfair, that despite his in ring talent and skill, the company never gave him a shot with the WWE title. But, he always tried his best and entertained fans when he was in the ring – and for that, we, his fans, should always be grateful.

In my opinion, one of the greatest wrestlers was the late Curt Henning, better known as Mr. Perfect. He was never afraid to tell the audience how great he was – but he always backed up his arrogant talk with “perfect” in-ring performances. He had great matches with Bret Hart, Ric Flair and Lex Luger. My favourite match was at the 1991 Summerslam event at Madison Square Garden. Henning battled Bret Hart for the Intercontinental title. It was a back and forth match, that kept the crowd energized throughout. After a lengthy contest, Bret made Mr. Perfect submit to the Sharpshooter to attain the title.

A few years after his first tenure with the WWE, he moved on to World Championship Wrestling. While there, he was a member of the Four Horsemen, or so fans were led to believe. In September of 1997, the Horsemen battled four members of the New World Order (NWO) in a Wargames match. Near the conclusion, Curt turned on his teammates and joined the other side. After he turned, Ric Flair’s head was positioned outside the steel cage. Henning then violently slammed the cage door on Flair’s head. The crowd in North Carolina that night was aghast.

In February, 2003, the man affectionately known as Mr. Perfect, was found dead. Curt Henning was a phenomenal in ring performer, and fans knew that they would witness a thrilling match every time he wrestled. He portrayed a wrestling character who was cocky and arrogant. He believed he was the best – and he truly was one of the best ever.

Currently, his son Joe (known as Curtis Axel) performs in the WWE. He won the Intercontinental title on Father’s Day a few years ago. He became emotional, as he remembered his father after the win. He defeated Triple H in one of his early matches. Unfortunately, since then he has not been able to find any consistent success. Hopefully, his current storyline as a member of a faction with the Miz will mean only positive things for Joe Henning.

The most shocking tragedy in pro wrestling occurred ten years ago, and it did not just involve the wrestler alone, but also his family. Chris Benoit was an extremely skilled and talented wrestler who was trained in the Hart Family Dungeon, by Bret Hart’s late father, Stu. He got his start in Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling, which was once owned by the patriarch of the Hart family. He made his North American wrestling debut at an Extreme Championship Wrestling event in 1994. In the original ECW, he had classic battles with the likes of Sabu, Taz, and 2 Cold Scorpio. He won the company’s tag titles with Dean Malenko, which was his first championship in America.

Benoit joined WCW in 1995, and was a brief member of the illustrious Four Horsemen group. During that time, they were feuding with the Dungeon of Doom. Once the group rivalry concluded, an intense and violent feud began between Benoit and the former leader of the Dungeon of Doom, Kevin Sullivan. The storyline was centered around Benoit having an affair with Kevin’s then-wife, Nancy. Well, sometimes pro wrestling can led to real life occurrences, as years later, Chris and Nancy got married.

He arrived in the WWE in 2002 and accomplished quite a bit. But his biggest achievements in the company occurred two years after his arrival. In January 2004, Chris was the first entrant in the Royal Rumble Match. The fans were thrilled when he single-handedly eliminated the Big Show to attain victory and a WWE title opportunity at Wrestlemania 20. It was turned into a three-way match involving Shawn Michaels. As a result, the main event of Wrestlemania 20 turned into Triple H defending the title against Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit. And, what a masterpiece that was. The crowd became involved from the opening bell. They cheered both Benoit and Shawn throughout the match. The end came when Benoit made Triple H submit to his Crippler Crossface. The crowd at Madison Square Garden was ecstatic, as Benoit realized his dream. He became emotional after the win when one of his closest friends, Eddie Guerrero entered the ring, to congratulate him.

In June, 2007, Benoit was “drafted” from Smackdown to the WWE’s watered down version of ECW. Later in the month at WWE’s Vengeance, Benoit was supposed to face CM Punk to determine the new ECW champion. There was one major problem. Benoit did not show up. He was unable to compete because he had a “family emergency.” So, Johnny Nitro took his place and defeated Punk to become the new ECW Champion. It was unlike Benoit to miss a golden opportunity like this, but it turned out to be much more than just a “family emergency.”

Everything that happened with Benoit and his family occurred between June 22 and 24 that year. Chris killed his wife by strangling her, and took the innocent life of his seven year old son, Daniel, who was suffocated in his bedroom. Then, Chris committed suicide by using a weight machine cord to hang himself. As great as Chris was as a wrestler, this indicates that he may have been mentally unstable. He should have gotten help if he felt he needed it. I am sure the WWE would have assisted in some way. The sad thing is, if Benoit wrestled the match at Vengeance, he likely would have emerged as the new ECW Champion – but he chose to prematurely end his life, along with that of his immediate family.

It is sad that we lost these talented wrestlers at such young ages – whether it is from legitimate accidents or wrong decision making. I truly believe that Owen would have had at least one reign as WWE Champion, if he did not have his accident. Along with winning the ECW title at Vengeance, 2007, I am sure if Benoit lasted a few years longer in the WWE, he would have had a couple more runs as champion. He may have even gone back to Japan to win some gold there as well. Unfortunately, nobody can change the past – all we can do is look ahead. For this generation of professional wrestlers, not only in WWE, but in other organizations as well, they will be, and remain successful if they believe in themselves, if they ask questions of the veterans, and make proper decisions for themselves and their families.

Both wrestlers and fans must be aware that mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, and help is available. Reach out for that help. The WWE administration should also keep an eye out for their wrestlers and pick up on any inconsistencies. They should also have counselling available for all their stars, since wrestling is high pressured and the schedule is demanding.

Be Sociable, Share!