Dark Side of the Ring debuted last year on Viceland as a documentary series looking at some of the more tragic and otherwise unfortunate events from throughout the history of professional wrestling. It was a way to look at these stories without any of the slickness, nor the corporate ass-covering, that comes from the usual WWE-approved documentaries.
For the first episode of its second season, Dark Side of the Ring explores one of the stories that WWE likes to talk about the least: When WWE wrestler Chris Benoit, in 2007, murdered his wife Nancy and son Daniel, and then killed himself (later in the season, Dark Side of the Ring will explore WWE’s other worst hour, the in-ring death of Owen Hart in 1999).
It was a way to look at these stories without any of the slickness, nor the corporate ass-covering…
The two-hour, two-part documentary interviews Benoit’s older son, David – a dead ringer for his father – as well as wrestlers Dean Malenko, Chavo Guerrero, Jr., and Chris Jericho and legendary announcer and executive Jim Ross. It’s a very difficult watch, but an illuminating one.
Having the two-hour running time allows more in-depth examination, as it’s about Benoit’s entire career, not only the murders. The first hour includes the WCW incident in 1997 in which Nancy was married to wrestler and booker Kevin Sullivan, and then left him for Benoit in real life, who was in engaged in an in-ring feud with Sullivan at the time. The doc also goes into Benoit’s arrival in WWE, his winning of the championship at Wrestlemania in 2004, and the death the following year of his close friend Eddie Guerrero.
Giving a Complete Look
The documentary does establish something often lost in looking back on the Benoit murders: When he was alive, Benoit was a beloved figure. Even moreso, Benoit was especially loved by wrestling’s online fandom, of “smart” fans who had a nearly worshipful attitude towards Benoit’s in-ring skill. It was as if the rock star most beloved by music hipsters had snapped and killed people.
The second hour is mostly about the murders and their aftermath and it also looks into WWE’s decision to air a three-hour tribute to Benoit on the Monday night after his death, when it was known that he was dead but not yet established that he had killed his wife and son. And that’s part of why the episode is so jarring- WWE has essentially erased Benoit from history since that night, not even making his name searchable on WWE Network.
There’s also the media frenzy that followed, with the case a major cable news staple for months in 2007, as the murders were blamed at various times on steroid use, other drugs, concussions/CTE, Benoit’s depression following Guerrero’s death, WWE’s poor treatment of its employees, and joke of a drug-testing program, among other factors.
There’s likely some degree of truth to all of those things, although it’s clear that the falling headbutt move that Benoit regularly used in the ring was practically a concussion delivery system.
The Benoit episode recalls in many ways the recent Netflix documentary about Aaron Hernandez, Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez, which also looked at a great athlete who turned out to be a murderer and later died of suicide, with CTE likely a factor. The Hernandez doc, though, was structured poorly, jumping around in time in a way that made it very hard to follow. The Benoit show goes in a much straighter line.
The Benoit episode recalls in many ways the recent Netflix documentary about Aaron Hernandez…
The doc also explores the sad story of Benoit’s older son David, who not only lost his father, stepmother and brother, but now walks through life looking almost exactly like his disgraced father.
Sure, the episode includes unnecessary reenactments, which are always in the Dark Side of the Ring episodes. And perhaps unsurprisingly, no one who currently works for WWE is interviewed on camera. But the Benoit examination is a fine start to the series’ second season, and a refreshingly complete look at Benoit’s tarnished legacy.