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Chris Benoit: Were Steroids Only the Tip of the Iceberg?

Archive   ·   February 17, 2009

” The big killer in our industry is the drugs and alcohol-not the steroids,” said Ted DiBiase, who has been part of the wrestling community since 1975.

He knew Chris Benoit and found it hard to believe that the same man was capable of committing such acts. A double-murder-suicide is shocking regardless of who is involved.  Someone in the public eye polarizes that even more.

DiBiase, known in the wrestling circuit as ‘The Million Dollar Man’ and is currently a full time evangelist and motivational speaker for the Heart of David Ministry, had a hard time accepting what occurred that fateful weekend in June. “[Benoit] is the last guy that anyone would have suspected to be capable of doing what he did,” he said. “In his right mind, he wouldn’t have. There’s got to be something deep-seeded. A mental problem.”

Unfortunately, no one will ever know exactly what occurred in the Benoit home during those three days in June. What drives a man to bind and kill his wife; asphyxiate his 7 year-old son the following morning; and then take his own life via hanging a day later?

“Who spent the most time with the guy?” wondered Carmine Azzato, known as ‘Demolition Blast’ professionally. “There had to be some sign that something was going on. They keep saying that he was the best guy. There was no sign of some rage?”

Azzato knew Benoit from their days together when both wrestled for the NJPW (New Japan Pro Wrestling). He remembered him back then as being “skinny with a mullet,” and “always having a black eye or a bump.”

Benoit arrived in Japan in 1989, adopted a masked identity known as ‘The Pegasus Kid’ and won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship a year later. What transformed this thin-framed man competing in the juniors to the muscle-bound hulk that packed 220 pounds to his 5’10” frame?


Toxicology reports completed on Benoit showed that he tested positive for Xanax and hydrocodone and an elevated level of testosterone, and negative for anabolic steroids.  Investigators also discovered prescriptions for anabolic steroids at the crime scene. In April, Benoit passed a drug test for the WWE administered by Aegis Labs. How widespread are steroids in the wrestling industry?

“Very widespread,” said Will Kaye, who has been wrestling in the independent circuit since 1996, most recently with the PWR (Pro Wrestling Revolution) and is known as ‘Brimstone.’ “The kids today think that the only way to get that spot is to look like ‘The Rock’ or ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. At least 60 percent of the roster has done an illegal substance at one point in their career. You’re on the road over 300 days a year. Where do you find the time to work out that much? That’s why they take that stuff”

Azzato, who stands at 6’7″ and 350 pounds and has been wrestling for over 20 years, painted a clearer picture of the problem. “I personally witnessed guys shooting up steroids overseas in India, Germany. I was personally asked to do steroids. They even named them-Winstrol and Dianabol. People told me that if I really want to have my career take off [to take steroids], at my natural size, I would be a monster.”

Azzato and Kaye both stated that they have never used performance-enhancing drugs. “I saw what people go through,” Azzato said. “The mood swings, the rages. The guys that shoot up in the locker room, you’re in the ring with them 20 minutes later. They’re like a thoroughbred.

“Just one word, they erupt,” Azzato continued. “Being in this business 20 years, I’ve seen a lot of eruptions over the years.”

Bobby Riedel, an agent for some of the top names that have gone through the WWF/WWE such as DiBiase, Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine and George ‘The Animal’ Steele, admits that there are steroids present in wrestling.  “I think it’s there,” he said. “I think that it was more then than now because it was legal then. I’ve seen some of [the wrestlers] inject steroids in the dressing room, stars – but not in the WWE.”

Riedel commented on the OVW (Ohio Valley Wrestling), which is an independent promotion and serves as the official training ground for the WWE. “No one is going to say to you that you have to jump on the juice. But it could be implied. What they want you to look like is a pro wrestler. That doesn’t mean that you have to take steroids. But you can’t look like a backyard wrestler. I will be willing to say that steroids are implied.”

” I know for a fact that a lot of guys in the OVW, if they’re looking small, someone, maybe even one of their peers, would say to them that the may need to take something,” Kaye said. “It’s killing them early. For 10 or 12 years of fame, you’re losing your life. Is it worth it?

“They do their cycles [of anabolic steroids] and say, ‘we’ll be on and we’ll be off.’ They’re killing themselves. Look at ‘Davey Boy’ Smith [former WWF star who passed away in 2002 at the age of 39 of an enlarged heart with evidence of microscopic scar tissue, possibly from steroid use]. He has a son that’s training as a wrestler and his father goes and dies. Now that is going to taint his son.”

“Steroids are present all over athletics now,” said Gary Rannazzisi, who wrestled on the independent scene in the ESW, PWA and PWR as ‘The Italian Sensation.’ “They’re training in the gym, lifting weights. That’s where the pressure starts.”

Azzato further commented on the wrestlers he witnessed using steroids back stage before bouts, “They’re still alive and active, and people look up to them as role models.  I don’t want to say their names.

“It’s in the business,” he continued.  “I’m not saying Vince [McMahon, Chairman of the WWE Board of Directors] says you have to do steroids, but you look at some of the guys – they’re freaks of nature.”

DiBiase was not one of the biggest, but still a very successful wrestler in his prime. His feelings are that in order to succeed in the business, you have to be athletic and have charisma, as well.

“It’s not always the great big guys,” he said. “Look At Rey Mysterio. Any pressure is pressure that you put on yourself. At no time did I ever get pressured to take steroids. Do I think McMahon would expect the wrestler to look like an athlete and have presence in the gym? Absolutely. But I don’t think that anyone has been pressured to take steroids. I can only speak from personal experience. It may de different for other guys.”


Perhaps even more responsible for some of the tragedies in the wrestling world than steroids has been the ‘partying’ with so-called ‘recreational’ drugs and alcohol. Painkillers are also a problem, and go hand-in-hand with the physical abuse that their bodies take on a nightly basis.

The argument will be that wrestling is fake. A better way to put it is that it is fixed. The outcome of the match may be known before the combatants enter the squared circle, but they still have to entertain. And there is no way to fake falling from atop a steel cage to the ground.

The stars of professional wrestling can be on the road for more than 80 percent of the calendar year, going from city to city. The travel and demand can be stressful, and at times, they have resorted to drugs and alcohol.

“It’s not just the steroids killing the athletes now,” Rannazzisi said.  “It’s the lifestyle, the painkillers, the cocaine and amphetamines.”

At one point in his career, DiBiase also had a problem with ‘The Lifestyle.’ “I use myself as an example,” he said. “I succumbed to the temptations of the road. The drugs, alcohol and women. At that point in my life when I got confronted with it, I made a decision. Ted DiBiase had to make a conscious decision to do something about it. It wasn’t Vince McMahon’s fault that I was doing it.”

Azzato began traveling as a professional wrestler at the impressionable young age of 17 and also fell victim to the temptations. “Back then, I’d go out for a drink, we’d get hammered. When I got married at 21, I stopped. Seeing what I see, the painkillers and alcohol in this business, it’s ridiculous. Some guys even went into the ring intoxicated.”

Rannazzisi elaborated on what goes on when the lights and speakers aren’t on. “Living in and out of hotels every day. Planes, eating on the run, the pounding in the ring and going out partying – the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.”

Azzato added, “You always knew the wrestlers were there because they were loud and putting the beer and liquor away.”

Steroids are not the only issue here, as these gentlemen have made perfectly clear.


Wrestlers have died at an alarming rate since 1985. Not all of them have left us due to drugs and the like. There have been accidents and injuries suffered in the ring, as well. But to have a list of 96 names that have died before the age of 65, leaving this earth as a result of old age is not in the cards if you are a wrestler.

Eddie Guerrero was a big name wrestler in the WCW and WWF/WWE and had numerous issues with steroids and drug abuse. In 2002, he died at the age of 38 due to what the coroner ruled as heart disease, complicated by an enlarged heart resulting from a history of anabolic steroid use.

“I met Eddie at an independent show at the Elks Lodge in Queens in about 2002,” said Kaye. “He had lost his job with the WWF due to the drug use – not the steroids. That was his down period. You can tell he was a beaten man.

“One of the best guys that I ever met. A class act. He was friendly and opened his arms to you. He kicked the habit and stopped with everything – even the ‘roids. He went back there (WWE) and they gave him a championship. I even cried that day. I was very happy to see that. And then he had his heart attack. It was a big loss.”

“What’s killing them?” DiBiase said, asking himself the question. “Most of them died from recreational drugs and alcohol.”

On August 13, Brian Adams was found by his wife unconscious.  Responding paramedics could not revive the 43 year-old retired wrestler. His career in the WWF began in 1990 as ‘Crush,’ the third member of ‘Demolition’ along with Ax and Smash. It was speculated that Adams used steroids, but autopsy and toxicology reports were still unavailable at press time.

Adams remained a member of Demolition after Ax, Bill Eadie, had a falling out with the WWF, which resulted in a lawsuit over the name ‘Demolition.’ In 1992, Eadie and Azzato joined as a tag-team known as the ‘New Demolition’ – Ax and Blast,’ and competed in the UWS, IWF and NWA-NY. Because of their tight friendship, Azzato may have lost a chance at wrestling stardom.

In January of 1993, Azzato had ‘Classy’ Freddie Blassie, a wrestling legend, contact the WWF on his behalf. He was invited down to wrestle in a ‘dark match’ (not televised) on a WWF Monday Night RAW card. Following that, Azzato attempted to contact the WWF on numerous occasions without receiving a return call.

“Blassie told me that they [WWE] have an issue with Eadie, and that Vince hated him,” Azzato said. “Blassie said that if I ever wanted to see the WWF, I had to separate myself with Eadie. I committed career suicide. But I was not going to waver my friendship with Bill.”

Azzato did not know Adams well enough to comment on his possible steroid use.


The WWE first instituted drug testing in 1987 and in February 2006, instituted the Talent Wellness Program as a deterrent to steroid and drug abuse. “We believe our Wellness Program is at the very least comparable to those of professional sports and is a program that will benefit WWE superstars for generations to come,” the WWE released in a statement.  “For 20 years the WWE has been doing something to address the issue of steroid and drug use.”

Jennifer McIntosh, Vice President of Media Relations for the WWE, said in a statement, “The substance abuse and drug portion of the Talent Wellness Program is one of the most aggressive of its kind compared to testing programs initiated by competitive sports organizations such as the NFL, Major League Baseball, NHL, NBA, NCAA and the International Olympic Committee, and is unique for an entertainment company.”

“I believe that Vince’s policy is as stringent as any,” DiBiase said.  “They have a ‘3 strikes’ policy. First, a 30-day suspension without pay. Second, a 60-day suspension without pay. And third time – you’re gone.”

Critics have knocked the WWE’s drug testing, which apparently allows for a higher testosterone level than other sports before considering a test ‘positive,’ and that it prohibits only ‘non-medical’ use of banned drugs, giving a wrestler with a failed test an opportunity to produce a doctor’s note. Are these tests a sham?

“I think so,” said Azzato. “But that’s only my opinion. On the road, they  [wrestlers] would drink vinegar to wash drugs out. They had a remedy for everything, either the juice or from smoking weed. They gave them a 24-hour notice in the WWE.  I don’t know how strict they are with it.

“McMahon has the power to stop it in his company,” he continued. “He has to say ‘zero tolerance.’  He’s got to say that this guy was tested and suspended. And that means from the most popular to the least popular. Any wrestler.”

Kaye feels that testing is a step in the right direction. “I thinks it’s positive that he’s [McMahon} doing the testing. If they move forward with it, it will be better for business.  You’re keeping guys healthier.”

What is the answer?  “There is no answer,” said Kaye. “There’s always going to be somebody that wants to take it to the next level. If somebody is selling it, someone will be there to buy it. If it’s not wrestling, it’ll be baseball or football.”

In a statement, the WWE said that they “find the abuse of drugs to be unacceptable,” and that they “discourage” such behavior. The statement further reads that they “cannot account for the poor personal decisions a small minority may make outside the workplace.”


The Benoit case is extremely complicated in that there had to be so much going on in his mind that led him to the tragedy. The easy culprit is to blame his actions on steroids. But is that so easy to determine? Everyone that we interviewed came to the same conclusion that an incident that took place over the span of time that occurred could not have been as a result of a rage caused by steroids.

“The media is going to make this a steroids issue,” Riedel said. “I don’t want people to forget that three people died and what drove this person to do this. People are saying it’s ‘roid rage. But not over three days.

“I don’t believe that steroids caused this. It was way too thought out to be ‘roids.”

“Whatever was the beginning of it, there was a lot of thought. He was mentally unstable,” said Azzato. “It was more than steroids. I didn’t know the lifestyle he lived at that point. But to do something that crazy…”

“That’s deeper than ‘roid rage-over three days?” said Rannazzisi.

“Bottom line is, we all have out demons,” DiBiase said.

The phenomenon known as ‘roid rage’ is something that would seem to occur in an instant, similar to what Azzato called an ‘eruption.’ The Benoit case has many differences with the time frame and the way the bodies were discovered. Bibles were found next to his wife and son’s bodies, which has been speculated as Benoit trying to absolve their souls.


Considering that wrestling does not have a season, per say, there is no ‘offseason’ for the wrestlers to have time off to recuperate and spend time at home.

Insider websites reported that Benoit had requested some time off before the incident took place to ‘get his mental health in order’ and was denied by the WWE. He was allegedly told to ‘stay with it a little longer’ and then he would be granted the time.

In the past, Benoit did request and was granted time off. “I know that Benoit had three months off while his wife had surgery,” said DiBiase. “If you say to them that you need some time off, they’ll (WWE) work with you and give it to you. Two times in my career when I desperately needed the time off when I almost got divorced, I was given it. I was part of the tag-team champions with I.R.S. and I went to Vince and explained it to him.  He told me I got it and to come back when I can.”

The WWE responded in regards to the question of Benoit requesting time off with, “Over the years, we have worked to reduce talent travel and time away from home,” McIntosh said in a statement. “We provide time off for talent to address personal issues, as we did for Chris Benoit when he took time off from May to October in 2006.” McIntosh further stated that the WWE does not have a record of Benoit requesting any time off in 2007.


The general consensus is that you cannot place the blame on the WWE for what happened with Benoit, or for the matter, any wrestler that chooses to use steroids.  Everyone makes their own decisions in life, and unfortunately, some of those decisions lead to tragedies.

“You have to look at the individual and not the company,” Riedel said.  “who knows what they’re doing in their private time?”

Kaye added, “My biggest thing is that you can’t blame an industry on what one person decides.”

“He’s [McMahon] not their babysitter,” said Azzato. “A guy is going to do what he wants to, regardless.”

DiBiase concluded, “At what point do we hold responsible those people for their actions?  What do you want McMahon to do?  The NBA to do? The NFL to do? They talk about unions.  I don’t know what that will do.

“Can improvements be made? There’s always room for improvement in everything.”

In this instance, improvements may save a life or two.

NY Sports Day

NY Sports Day


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