I recently had a chance to read the much talked about Ring of Hell: The Story of Chris Benoit and the Fall of the Pro Wrestling Industry and was left with mixed feelings. On one hand, you sometimes forget the roller coaster ride that the professional industry went through during Benoit's career, and it's all here in the book. All the major landmarks of the past 20 years are delved into in some fashion, whether it's Hulk Hogan going to WCW, the birth of Monday Night Raw and Monday Nitro, WCW taking over the ratings war with the nWo, the rise of Steve Austin and WWE regaining the lead in the ratings war, the tragedies of Brian Pillman, Owen Hart and Eddie Guerrero, WWE buying WCW, etc.
However, the book is written with such disdain for professional wrestling, it's fans and performers that I was left wondering who the book is meant for and what it's meant to accomplish. The entire book is written with such an incredibly negative slant towards the industry that anyone in the industry would immediately dismiss it and not take any of it to heart. Longtime fans can quickly point out many of the glaring factual inaccuracies throughout the book, making it hard to take seriously the facts in it that are true that aren't as well known. People not familiar with the industry would read it and would have basically every negative stereotype that they have towards professional wrestling re-affirmed and wonder if there is any point to saving an industry that is as morally bankrupt as it's made out to be. Take into account the following passage in the very first chapter of the book, which basically summarizes the tone of the book: "Child-killer Chris Benoit is no victim – the voluntary choice to pursue a pro wrestling career is fundamentally too stupid, irresponsible, and silly to ever allow for victimhood".
The biggest problem I have with the book is that I agree with a lot it's intent. The book at one point recommends that WWE implement the following measures to help the industry:
- Breaks in the schedule so wrestlers
- Comprehensive drug and steroid testing without loopholes
- Stop hiring and pushing talent based with clearly unnatural, chemically enhanced physiques
- Comprehensive pension and health care plans for wrestlers so they don't have to wrestle for decades past their primes
Most people would agree with all four points. However the message is lost completely with the book's incredibly negative tone. Had the book treated the industry and it's fans with some respect, it might be easier to take seriously the very real suggestions that the book makes.
However, with that being said, the book is never a boring read and is often quite engaging. There are tales about Chris Benoit's time in New Japan and his dealings with the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) that I found very interesting. However, once again, it's hard to take some of the stories in the book seriously. For instance, one story talks about how Leon White (Vader) made a mistake by getting rough with a member of the Yakuza and was subsequently tied and sliced with razor blades. I'm not sure if that story is true or not, however obvious inaccuracies with some of the other stories, as well as sources with obvious agendas (at one point you have a source questioning the credibility of another source cited throughout the book), make you wonder if there's any truth to them at all.
One glaring example is the famous "Squeegee Sid" incident. Long time fans know that Brian Pillman and Sid Vicious got into an argument in a bar one night and a hot headed Sid went out to the parking lot and came back with the only weapon he could find – a squeegee. With all the wrestlers in the bar laughing at him, he was calmed down and he left the bar shortly thereafter. At no point did the altercation ever get physical, although the book claims that Sid had gotten the squeegee after Brian Pillman had beaten the s--t out of him. There are inaccuracies like that throughout the book that it's hard to know what's real and what isn't.
Overall, the book isn't boring, it's just disappointing. It's a book that could have been a lot more. I know a lot of people after the Benoit tragedy had ideas on writing books or producing documentaries that would help bring change to the industry. Ring of Hell: The Story of Chris Benoit and the Fall of the Pro Wrestling Industry is one such book that tries, but ultimately fails because it forgets to treat the subject matter, its fans and performers with any respect.
You can purchase Ring of Hell: The Story of Chris Benoit and the Fall of the Pro Wrestling Industry from the WrestlingInc.com / Amazon bookstore by clicking here.