Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Chris Candido: Too Good For This World

A golden-hearted wrestler lost before his time, remembered
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Chris Candido died in 2005 after a blood clot in his leg spread to his heart. He was 33 (same as me, good lord). He left behind his long-time girlfriend Tammy Sytch, known to the world as Sunny. Not exactly a household name, Candido was beloved among his peers in the wrestling business, who saw him as the consummate professional - working harder than everyone around him, and never complaining about anything. Candido has been discussed on two podcasts in recent months: this week on Killing the Town with Lance Storm and Cyrus, and back in December on Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard. Both episodes shed much light on Candido, but in very different aspects of his life.

Lance Storm worked closely with Candido, both in Jim Cornette's Smoky Mountain Wrestling and in the glory days of Extreme Championship Wrestling. They wrestled each other countless times and became very close, both in and out of the ring. Using his podcast as a platform for the topics about which he thinks people should know, Storm used this week's episode as a tribute to his friend. They bring on others who worked with Candido, such as Tommy Dreamer, Tom Prichard, Christopher Daniels and America's human bullhorn Cornette.

Nothing changes here as far as Lance Storm being a sentient robot, but he is certainly showing the very most of whatever passes for emotion in his tone of voice and the lengths he goes to tell us how great Candido truly was. For a guy who values professionalism and purity in pro wrestling, there was hardly a better example of that than Candido. He exercised like a maniac to get in such good shape, and he was much stronger than most guys his size. In every one of his matches, Candido was committed to giving the paying fans in attendance their money's worth, sometimes to the detriment of his own health. Cornette thinks he put too much damage on his body in his years as a wrestler, but of course Cornette thinks that, so who cares. Maybe there is a grain of truth in it, as Candido did develop some substance abuse problems due to his constant pain, but we'll probably never truly know certain details of his life.

One thing that did recently come to the surface was Candido's private writings, some of which were given to Dreamer. He was going through the diaries and journals, and found something that didn't jive with what people knew about Candido. Despite the generally lazy way in which he was booked by Vince McMahon, Candido never once complained to higher-ups about his place on the card. Everyone saw him as a guy who lived and breathed wrestling, and loved it so much that just being in a major company was good enough for him. However, his private writings show a guy who was secretly always thinking about how he could advance in the WWF. Dreamer found several pages in which Candido achingly detailed a potential headline run that would take him to the main event of WrestleMania. This broke Dreamer's heart, both because Candido's run with the WWF was so lukewarm, but also because he had such great ideas but none of the courage necessary to advocate for himself. Not advocating for himself is, unfortunately, what Candido is most remembered for by many of his peers.

When Tom Prichard is talking to Storm, he vaguely mentions the backstage issues between Candido and Sytch, and how this caused a lot of emotional turmoil for him. Storm doesn't pursue this topic, and maybe for good reason. What Prichard is referring to is the confirmed fact that Sytch was openly cheating on him with Shawn Michaels. This topic is very much embraced on the December episode of Something to Wrestle With, in which Bruce Prichard and Conrad Thompson use Sytch's autobiography as a guideline for the history during their WWF run. Prichard says that when the rumors linking Sytch and Michaels first started, everyone in the locker room felt terrible for Candido, especially those who already resented Michaels for being an asshole. This perfectly nice guy was getting his beautiful girlfriend stolen from him by the meanest guy in the company, and no one was happy about it.

Other guys would have confronted their girlfriend, or would have even confronted the guy with whom she was sneaking around. But Candido never said a word about it to anyone. He went about his business and acted like everything was normal. Sytch would stay overnight in Michaels's hotel room, and Candido wouldn't ask her where she was. The most egregious example occurred when Michaels took Sytch on a week-long sex-fueled vacation to Jamaica. There was literally no good reason why his girlfriend would be doing this, but Candido let it happen, and when Sytch got back, their life together went on as if everything was fine.

Candido lost a lot of respect for this. The guys in the locker room wished he would leave Sytch, or would at least say something, if not outright clock Michaels in the damn jaw. To let it happen right in front of his face meant to his peers that Candido had no integrity. Everyone stopped feeling sorry for him, and some even began to resent him.

Not only is it unfair for us to judge Candido's actions today, it was also unfair for his peers to judge him at the time. If anything, Candido can be rightly cast as a guy who loved being in the wrestling business so much that he was willing to do anything to stay in it. There is no doubt that had he confronted Michaels in any meaningful way, he would have been out of a job soon after. Michaels can still claim to this day that he didn't hold anything close to the backstage power he's been said to have, but almost all other accounts contradict this. Michaels and his friends called the shots, and if he wanted to have sex with another guy's girlfriend, he got to do it, no questions asked. Candido was nowhere near Michaels's standing in the WWF, and he knew that to keep his job, he had to keep his silence.

How horrible would that be, to lay awake in an empty bed, knowing your girlfriend was choosing the more popular guy over you, and being unable to stop it? Forget what Bruce Prichard or anyone else thought of him at the time - I do feel sorry for Chris Candido. He found himself in one of the toughest spots anyone in the WWF ever had to deal with. No one can truly say what he should have done. And he definitely shouldn't be dismissed as a coward, considering how much of himself he gave to pro wrestling. Candido bled and hurt and cried and ultimately lost his life because all he wanted to do was wrestle. We should all wish that we had such passion for anything.