VICE’s Dark Side of the Ring pro wrestling series returned earlier this month with a two-part season 2 premiere that’s a worthy, though heartbreaking, add to any true-crime binge list.
These days, Chris Benoit is best known as the WWE star who killed his wife and 7-year old son before taking his own life over one tragic weekend in June 2007. But Dark Side‘sexploration into the wrestler’s life and career in “BENOIT” shows a fuller picture — from interviews with Benoit’s elder son, David, and sister-in-law, Sandra Toffoloni, to an exploration of the wrestler’s deep friendship with fellow pro Eddie Guerrero, whose own death in 2005 deeply affected Benoit’s mental state.
The Benoit murder-suicide initially garnered media speculation about “‘roid rage” — and while the doc doesn’t shy away from claims about the wrestler’s use of steroids and other substances, it also sheds new light on another potential factor in his erratic and horrifying behavior, one that has become more well-known in recent years.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as CTE, is a neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated head injuries. While the disease has recently become a major concern in the NFL, “BENOIT” explores how the past few decades of professional wrestling have also been a fertile breeding ground for CTE cases, and the examination of Benoit’s own brain yields shocking results.
Perhaps the most impactful part of Dark Side of the Ring, however, is the spotlight it shines on Benoit’s victims, primarily his wife, Nancy, who was a successful pro wrestler in her own right, competing and managing fellow stars under the stage name “Woman.”
While Benoit has been all-but-erased from the WWE’s history books, the family and friends interviewed for the special do their best to remind fans of Nancy’s impact on the sport, and make their case for her place in the history books as more than just a footnote in the story of her tragic murder.
“She’s a Hall of Famer, all across the board, in my opinion,” explains Dark Side season 2 narrator and family friend Chris Jericho. “She was a pioneer, and one of the best at a role that doesn’t exist anymore. She created the role, she perfected the role, and then when she stopped doing it, the role basically disappeared… I would like nothing better than to see Woman be put into the WWE Hall of Fame.”
Season 2 of Dark Side of the Ringincludes upcoming specials spotlighting controversial wrestling figures like New Jack, Jimmy Snuka, Dino Bravo and more. New episodes premiere Tuesdays at 10 p.m. PT/ET on VICE.
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