If everyone was given a one sentence epitaph upon their death, what would Chris Kanyon’s be?
For Kanyon, who died on Friday, April 2, allegedly after an apparent drug-induced suicide, those of us who didn’t know him personally can’t really come up with much without mentioning professional wrestling.
It’s different for other performers that have graced the wrestling business. When you think of The Rock, you think of Hollywood. For Brock Lesnar, you think of his UFC Heavyweight Championship. Jesse Ventura has politics, Chris Jericho has music, Stacy Keibler has acting, Hulk Hogan has reality TV, the list goes on and on.
The point is this: how do you write a one sentence epitaph for Chris Kanyon without mentioning professional wrestling?
It’s simple. You don’t. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
After a lukewarm run as the masked Mortis in WCW, Chris Klucsaritis began competing under his most recognizable name of Chris Kanyon. I most took a liking to him in 1999, when he helped comprise a heel faction known as ‘The Jersey Triad’, with Diamond Dallas Page and Bam Bam Bigelow. To me, as a life-long New Jersey native, I found it inherently cool that my state was now represented so prominently.
I’ve long had this infatuation with New Jersey wrestlers. It doesn’t matter if it was Darren Drosdov or The Headbangers or King Kong Bundy or Steve Corino. If you were from Jersey, you automatically had brownie points with me.
Kanyon may have actually been from Queens, but hey, who cares? He was associated with Page from Point Pleasant and Bigelow from Asbury Park, so that made him royalty as far as I was concerned.
One thing that stood out most about Kanyon was his versatility. Look through Youtube sometime, and search for Kanyon or Mortis or whatever moniker of his you can come up with. The man created some amazing moves, some of which I haven’t seen before or since.
In addition, he’s had a few moves lifted from him as well. The man invented the Flatliner, which Edge borrowed and made his Downward Spiral. Edge also took the electric chair face-drop from him as well. I mean, I’m not blaming Edge here. He’s far from the first man to take moves from another wrestler. Kanyon just came up with some of the most amazing moves of the late nineties, and it makes sense that these moves wound up in the movesets of others.
What this proves to me is that Chris Kanyon loved wrestling with all of his heart.
You don’t often find wrestlers who have no passion going out of their way to create new moves. For that matter, a lot of wrestler’s who had Kanyon’s size (6’4, 270 lbs, fairly muscular) making the effort to put on fast paced matches. Chris could have easily relied on his size, look, and natural charisma to vault up the ladder.
But he didn’t.
There he was, working with the likes of Page, Chris Benoit, Raven, Saturn, among many others, putting on the best matches in an era where WCW was anemic beyond its own foul stench.
How many wrestlers gave up hope in that era? It didn’t seem like Kanyon did. He was still putting forth maximum effort night in and night out, futily stealing the show from the likes of Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Sid Vicious, Lex Luger, and others who hadn’t the desire to do their best.
How do you keep your hope maxed out and your desire to work afloat in an environment that’s not healthy to the creative psyche? How do you find the passion to work your hardest in front of dwindling crowds and clueless bookers?
Chris Kanyon just loved wrestling, it seemed.
The fact that I sat through the crappiest of shows that WCW put out in 1999 is one thing, but the fact that I can remember, ten years later, that Kanyon worked his hands to the bone to try and salvage said shows speaks volumes of the man’s desire and work ethic.
When Vince Russo took over in late 1999, it seemed like Kanyon was a man he was prepared to strap his rockets to. After all, the man had charisma in droves. He was the perfect fit for fast-paced “Crash TV”, and thus Kanyon took on a movie star gimmick, which paralleled the stunt work that he did for the fetid “Ready to Rumble” movie.
Quick note: As bad as that movie was, doesn’t it speak volumes that for a wrestling movie, they had the budget to hire anyone they wanted to coordinate the wrestling sequences and they went with Kanyon? He was Oliver Platt’s stunt double in the movie, for those who weren’t aware. He even coordinated stunts for a TV movie based on Jesse Ventura’s life, since there had to be some wrestling portions in it. Isn’t that a tribute enough for Kanyon’s wrestling knack? That he’s coordinating wrestling sequences for movies?
But I digress.
Let’s look past his in-ring talents for a moment and gander at his roleplaying abilities. It’s clear that the man loved to ham it up, and had a tremendous sense of humor. It doesn’t matter if he was selling disgust as the fans would blow his catchphrase for him (He would yell “WHO BETTA THAN KANYON?!?” and the fans would scream anything but “nobody”, much to his irritated dismay) or if he was running around, hitting passerby with random “Kanyon Kutters” as a means of mocking friend-turned-foe Diamond Dallas Page. The man was clearly having fun, no matter what role he was in.
There was even a time at Slamboree 2000, when Mike Awesome threw Kanyon off of a three tiered cage onto an entrance ramp, which was even more dangerous and perilous than text makes it sound.
Think about this.
WCW in 2000 was poorly run and horribly managed. Its own WRESTLERS would go on radio shows and websites to rip management, pine openly about going to WWF, and lambast their fellow peers. The promotion was plagued with piss-poor attitudes, general dumbfoundedness, and a lack of bona fide talents.
In Vince McMahon’s company, there are so many people who would step up to the plate and risk life and limb for one shining moment, because they know that to do what Vince asks would produce great rewards. That’s not to mention that, because it’s WWE, all eyes are on you, and it all bodes well for securing a rock solid position in the biggest wrestling promotion in the world.
In WCW, if you refuse, you….still get paid? Could possibly get fired so that you can go to WWF or ECW or Japan? Avoid having to work for one of the most notoriously laughable companies in wrestling history?
Why didn’t Kanyon refuse?
My guess is because he loves wrestling.
You don’t forget about things like that.
It’s what made it so disheartening when Kanyon went to WWF in 2001, after the sale of WCW was completed. Other than a fun run early on during the Invasion angle, in which Kanyon boasted openly about being the Alliance’s prime star after having done so little (He wore drab t-shirts that read “INVASION MVP” and “ALLIANCE MVP” for comic effect), he went out with injury in the fall of 2001, and was barely seen again.
In fact, he didn’t come back until 2003, long after the Invasion arc was dead, and long after the WWE fans (most of which don’t pay attention to WCW) forgot who he was. He was released a year later.
If you’re Chris Kanyon, and you’ve put this much effort into a business like professional wrestling, wouldn’t it be devastating to be thrown aside by WWE like that? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming WWE at all here. The roster needs to stay fresh, and people who aren’t sparking interest get cut from their contracts. It’s a business, and I totally understand it from Vince McMahon’s perspective.
But on the other hand, here’s Kanyon, who has the mind of a choreographer and the spirit and energy of a man half his age. He can outwork so many people, as well as be a great mentor for a younger generation. He doesn’t have to be a main eventer. He seemed just as content being comic fodder, so long as he got to be on TV.
Kanyon retired in 2006, on an obscure reuinion pay per view after he lost to DDP. After the match, Kanyon came out of the closet and revealed his homosexuality, although that’s come into question as he had made conflicting statements. He also invaded a WWE house show that year and had a minor altercation with Triple H before being removed by security.
Kanyon also made several appearances on Howard Stern, railing against WWE for his firing, among other things. Kanyon also was very vocal about Chris Benoit’s death and the prominence of concussions in the sport.
To top all of that, Kanyon joined Raven and Mike Sanders in bringing a case against WWE for their denial of insurance and other benefits for their wrestlers, although said case was soon thrown out.
For a man who retired in 2006, Kanyon certainly kept himself in the spotlight.
When I think about this erratic behavior, as well as the testimonials of Kanyon’s struggle with bi-polar disorder, I think of a man who missed being a part of the show. The operative word here is “part”. Kanyon didn’t seem like a guy who needed to main event every show or win every match.
From the comments of his peers and his general attitude, Chris Kanyon sounded like a man who, if you gave him six minutes and the opening match, he would do his best to turn in the best damn six minute opening match you’ve ever seen. If you told him to do a comedy segment that would end with a midget stomping on his crotch, then by God, Kanyon was going to make sure that every fan in that arena was sucked into the moment and laughing.
Chris knew it, too. It’s a universal feeling that, if you’re talented enough and do your job 110%, that you’ll always have a job. It had to be inconceivable to Chris Kanyon that he was released from WWE, when he had so much to offer, and when so many others had their jobs without his level of care.
His outbursts in recent years sound like a man who didn’t know how to function outside of wrestling. He tuned himself so into his work that, to live a life outside of wrestling, had to be a culture shock. His attempts to get back into the spotlight, sadly, reeked of desperation, and sounded like a man who craved one more shot at glory.
Of course, I’m just speculating. I’m not demeaning the man, and at least I don’t think I am. In fact, I’d like to think that I’m showing appreciation for a man who, as troubled as he was, gave us everything he had to offer. I can never recall a time where Chris Kanyon bored me, whether he was wrestling or involved in a talking segment.
When I look back on my time spent watching Chris Kanyon wrestle, I’m going to think of that phrase “WHO BETTA THAN KANYON”. If the phrase is applied to work ethic and passion and the ability to be a team player, as well as a respected peer, then maybe there is “nobody betta”.
Chris Kanyon: There was nobody ‘betta’.
Now there’s an epitaph.
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