It was March 2007 in a Chelsea hotel, when the 'Special One' encountered the man recognised as the world's greatest pro wrestler.. and I was there to witness this historic event.
When Former Chelsea Boss José Mourinho Met Wrestling Legend Chris Benoit
It was March 2007 in a Chelsea hotel, when the ‘Special One’ encountered the man recognised as the world’s greatest pro wrestler.. and I was there to witness this historic event.
Before that day – you know, that day – Chris Benoit was the guy wrestling fans turned to when they tried to persuade their friends there was more to the ‘sport’ than steroid abuse and muscle oil. Just check out this WCW match-up from 1997 – everyone knows wrestling’s a work, but the man nicknamed the Canadian Crippler had a knack for making it look all too real.
Benoit was a real one-off: a master thespian in a world full of ham actors. As such, I couldn’t have been more delighted when I had the opportunity to interview him ahead of WrestleMania 23. Over the years I’ve been lucky to meet a number of my heroes – Stephen Fry, Simon Pegg, Davids Attenborough and Hemmings – and contrary to the adage, not one of them proved a disappointment. And nor did Chris Benoit. Modest, affable, enthusiastic about his craft – he was everything you could hope for both in an interviewee and someone you especially admired.
Benoit was a real one-off: a master thespian in a world full of ham actors.
The things we discussed at length are probably only of interest to die-hard wrestling fans (you can find the interview proper in issue 14 of Fighting Spirit Magazine). But what struck me as unusual was how interested Benoit was in my ‘proper job’ – then as now, I make my living writing about films – and the fact that I’d spent several years in Sydney (“Such a beautiful city – the only place outside the US I’d even contemplate living in”). Having been doing this for a few years, I can tell you it’s rare for an interviewee to express interest in anything that doesn’t directly concern them. The fact Chris Benoit did just that suggested to me that he was i) a good bloke and ii) in no way the sort of person you’d imagine might murder their wife and child before committing suicide.
You didn’t have to be a wrestling fan to be affected by the Benoit tragedy. If it proved particularly troubling for this writer it was because, besides sharing a beer with Chris Benoit, I was also introduced to his lovely wife Nancy – aka Woman, one of the hottest valets ever to accompany a wrestler to the ring. To see them together that day, you’d think domestic abuse was as much a stranger to their home as it is to mine and yours. Indeed, just before Benoit embarked on our interview – the last stop on an exhausting day of promotional duties – Nancy turned and gave her husband a particularly tender kiss; aware how tired he was, it was as if she wanted to revive him for one last go-around. That these people could become so distant in so short a time is so strange and terrible, it seems almost to defy science.
To see them together that day, you’d think domestic abuse was as much a stranger to their home as it is to mine and yours.
And no sooner had I met the Benoits, than José Mourinho swanned into the hotel bar! About to hold an informal meeting with Claude Makélélé, the ‘Special One’ – dressed in a thousand-wash grey tracksuit and trainers – strolled up to the Rabid Wolverine and explained that his son was a huge fan of wrestling in general and Benoit in particular. Proof not only of Mourinho Jr’s genuine love of grappling but of the fast friendship that developed between pro football manager and pro wrestler emerged but a few weeks later when Benoit returned to London for a live WWE event for which the Chelsea boss’s family had front row seats.
They had a lovely night by all accounts, the Mourinhos. Then, not long afterwards, headlines like ‘Mourinho’s Mate Goes Mental’ began to appear in the red tops. I wonder how long it took José to put the whole sorry business behind him. Me, I don’t know whether I’ll ever fully recover…
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