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Fighting Scandal's Fallout: Ring of Honor Wrestling Comes to Deer Park As TV Ratings for Matches Have Dropped After WWE Star Benoit's Alleged Murder-Suicide

Newsday, Melville, N.Y., 2007-07-27
By Alfonso A. Castillo, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

Jul. 27 -- In the ring, pro wrestling star Chris Benoit would have fit right in with Ring of Honor. But on the eve of its return to Long Island, the Philadelphia-based wrestling outfit is not looking to be identified with the man police say killed his wife and son before committing suicide last month. "Chris Benoit was a wrestler's wrestler," said Gabe Sapolski, head of talent relations for ROH, the country's third-largest wrestling promoter. "It was devastating ... We saw our hero fall from grace in the worst way possible."

As ROH's wrestlers suit up for their Deer Park Community Center debut tonight, they hope Long Island fans will welcome back big-time wrestling with a desire to lose themselves in a good match -- not with thoughts straying to one of the biggest wrestling news story in decades.

"I would say it's more motivating than anything at this point, because we're tying to make people forget about this," said ROH star Roderick Strong. "There's a huge shadow over pro wrestling right now."

The discovery of high levels of testosterone in the body of Benoit, a World Wrestling Entertainment star, and large quantities of anabolic steroids in his home fueled criticisms of the pro wrestling culture. According to figures compiled by Newsday, nearly 50 well-known wrestling personalities have died under the age of 50 since 1997. But Sapolski said he runs a clean shop.

"WWE does not represent the entire industry," said Sapolski. "Just because someone is a professional wrestler doesn't automatically put them in this category that they're going to be a drug user."

But in the wake of the Benoit scandal, there is evidence fans are simply not in the mood to watch wrestling right now, including slumping TV ratings for WWE. But local promoters say Sapolski shouldn't worry about ROH's return to Long Island.

"There's obviously a buzz. Everybody's asking about it," said veteran wrestler Will "Brimstone" Kaye, a trainer for the Dix Hills-based wrestling group, Pro Wrestling Revolution, which ran a show last weekend. "But as far as a drop-off, I haven't seen anything different."

Copyright (c) 2007, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.
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