Wednesday, October 28, 2009

SLAM! Wrestling’s Muchnick Benoit Book Review a Flawed But Valuable Resource

The headline is cheeky – deliberately echoing the one over the review of CHRIS & NANCY published earlier today at SLAM! Wrestling.

In the next post I’ll make my most pungent comment on what David Bixenspan did and didn’t choose to write. But let’s say this much up front: Bixenspan has penned a good piece that grapples responsibly with how to reconcile the perspective of a hard-core fan like himself (and like his SLAM! readers) with that of softer-core fans like myself with more general interests.

Go ahead and read the review for yourself at

“Incredibly well researched … incredibly valuable resource” – these are selective promo fragments. The full flavor of Bixenspan’s take is expressed in this passage: “While the negatives are there, there is enough strong reporting that I have to recommend this book. The good parts are absolutely fascinating, and the bad parts were at least expected for the most part. The fact that the flaws largely come from exploiting holes in the official story and searching for the truth make them more tolerable than they would be otherwise.”

An author can’t ask for much more than that: a reviewer’s full, good-faith read. Criticism goes with the territory.

Let me address some of the reviewer’s specifics – starting with the mistakes he alertly nails.

Without as yet having looked further, I am assuming that Bixenspan is correct in noting that I misspelled the real last name of Johnny Grunge. When you have a name like Irvin Muchnick, you try real hard to avoid that sort of thing. Sorry. This will be corrected in future editions of CHRIS & NANCY.

I’m also pretty sure Bixenspan is right when he asserts that I erred in stating that Chavo Guerrero’s June 25, 2007, video tribute to Chris Benoit, which the book quotes in its entirety, appeared on the WWE website but not on Raw. Evidently, the website content here was identical to the cable TV show’s. The reason this is significant is that I hold up this tribute as a purported contrast with what Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer, among others, described as Guerrero’s strange demeanor on Raw. In truth, in my viewing, this particular clip was not strange at all – just a garden-variety tearjerker monologue.

I’ll have to check more into this aspect of the story. In the meantime I want to acknowledge Bixenspan’s catch and thank him for it. Indeed, Bixenspan busted me on this one in a private email before the review was published, and the review itself proved very gentle with it (perhaps because Bixenspan regarded it as not so important in the big picture, but perhaps more because he is a decent guy).

The rest of Bixenspan’s criticisms are more complicated and – in my obviously biased opinion – less convincing.

* The reviewer thinks the book “overanalyzes” the 911 calls and “gives too much credence to the possibility” that WWE security consultant Dennis Fagan was involved in “some sort of misdirection.” Such a subtle ruse would have been fruitless, according to Bixenspan, since “the correct time of the messages would be readily apparent.”

My response is: So what if possible chicanery would become clear later on? When you’re spinning in the world of the 24/7 news cycle, you’re living in the moment. Days later the correct time of the text messages not only would be apparent – it had already been published on WWE’s two similar-but-different timelines. Yet, as CHRIS & NANCY exposes, that didn’t stop the Associated Press – apparently influenced by lawyer Jerry McDevitt – from falsely transmitting to newsgathering clients the world over that the Guerrero and Scott Armstrong texts were sent after, rather than nearly 24 hours before, the “Wikipedia hacker” eerily reported Nancy Benoit’s death.

(As an aside, Bixenspan is being obtuse when he claims that “Fagan didn’t even seem to know the proper name of the company he was working for.” Fans call it “WWE” or “World Wrestling Entertainment,” but a lot of outsiders and corporate types refer to it as “World Wrestling.” For example, that was the term used by CBC’s Bob McKeown, the Walter Cronkite of Canadian broadcasting, in his documentary on Benoit. “World Wrestling” may sound clunky to Bixenspan, but it is hardly improper.)

* Bixenspan seriously low-balls the case against Chavo Guerrero’s credibility when he writes: “At one point, Guerrero said he was woken up by the new message notification sound on his phone early Sunday morning, and at another, he claimed that he had cellular reception problems and didn’t get the messages until Monday morning.”

“Woken up by the new message notification sound on his phone early Sunday morning” – what an odd truncation of the detailed account he gave Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. My book reproduces the relevant transcript in its entirety.


* According to Bixenspan, and contrary to what the book states, Benoit didn’t do all that many benefit shows for dead wrestlers. And Benoit’s Brian Pillman Benefit “hardway” bloodfest with William Regal didn’t earn Regal his new lease on life with WWE – he was already working there.

I’ll let Bixenspan and Meltzer duke it out over these pieces of arcana.

* Finally, in a “shocking omission,” my book fails to develop sufficiently the relentless mind game by which WCW booker Kevin Sullivan threw his wife Nancy together with Chris – “working” not only the public but also the other wrestlers.

This is not a shocking omission at all, but a matter of emphasis. The reviewer is trying to say that if he were writing the book, he would have tapdanced on this point for pages. That the author decided to toss it off succinctly and move on to his own agenda is somehow unacceptable. Well, blow me down.

As Bixenspan knows, I had already covered the origin of the Chris and Nancy romance in one of the pieces in Wrestling Babylon. And the topic had been discussed to a fare-thee-well elsewhere. There is no way that anyone reading CHRIS & NANCY should not understand how they met. And there is no way readers wouldn’t see that they were being invited to draw their own conclusions as to what it meant in terms of the rest of the sorry saga. For Bixenspan, it was “a major force in Chris and Nancy getting together for real.” For me? “Only their hairdressers knew.”

Here is where wrestling fans – and wrestling journalists, who are “fans by other means” – can get truly nutty. If I had written more about Kevin Sullivan, the booker who booked his own divorce, then I presumably would have opened myself up to the cousin criticism that I was stealing material from others or rehashing what everyone already knew.


I conclude by returning to the theme of my appreciation of this review. David Bixenspan is one of those fan-journalists who, at least intermittently, seems capable of imagining a world and a life outside the four corners of his television screen. For that, he deserves credit, as well as my thanks for sharing his insights with SLAM! readers.

Irv Muchnick

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