I love professional wrestling. For a multitude of reasons, it has such a unique power to bring joy to people and transcend simple entertainment. Whether it be the magical stories, the unforgettable memories, the music, the noise, the pomp and circumstance, or more – we attach ourselves to this wonderful thing and most of us love it forever. For me, nothing is better as a wrestling fan than the people, whether they are the superstars themselves or the fans. The interactions we have with these individuals can have such lasting impacts on our lives.
My first such impact was watching – and later meeting – my first favorite superstar, Chris Kanyon. I wish I could remember what initially drew me to him, as I mostly remember him as a heel on screen. I like to believe that I recognized his immensely underrated talent but seeing that I was just six years old and far from a wrestling prodigy, it was far more likely his hair or his clothes. What I do remember loving about him above all else though was his smile. To me, there was “nothing betta!”
That’s what mattered to me most as I sunk deeper and deeper into wrestling in the beginning. I loved the matches, the stories, and the athleticism, sure. But the genuine joy on the faces of the men and women in the ring, absorbing the spotlight and living their dreams, that hooked me more than anything did. It still does.
Chris was made for that spotlight, and it was clear that he loved nothing more than being in the ring. When he walked down the ramp with his music blaring, his swagger took over but if you looked into those bright eyes of his and watched his smile grow larger by the second, you just knew he was right where he belonged. I can’t help but smile, even now, as I think back to some of those moments. The fun he must have had in “The Jersey Triad” with DDP and Bam Bam Bigelow. The dramatic melancholy he created with Raven. The nightly “Who betta than Kanyon” statements which were meant to elicit a specific answer from the crowd, when what the crowd always returned was always anything but! The sacrifices and the inspiration. The hard work. The smiles.
In the ring, he was brilliant. Even that word, defined as “exceptionally clever and talented,” as flattering as it may be, doesn’t seem like near enough. Chris retired for good in 2007, and fell out of the spotlight years before, but even still: all these years later his fingerprints can be found all over the wrestling business. He earned the nickname “The Innovator of Offense” by constantly evolving, not just his character but his work. He was crisp and strong. Giving and unselfish. He was a professional in every sense of the word.
One doesn’t have to look far to find those in the business who Chris impacted. He was so extremely well-liked and talented. In fact, he was so eager to lift up the business he loved that he was often tasked with helping to train incoming celebrities for ring work! His peers regularly praised him for his innovative mind and move set, as well as his ability to sell so incredibly for whomever he worked with. Legendary performers such as Diamond Dallas Page, Shane Helms, Chris Jericho, Ernest Miller, Brian Cage, and the Young Bucks still do this to this very day.
On the 83 Weeks Podcast, Diamond Dallas Page called Chris “one of the most underrated guys ever,” adding that he “didn’t have to think out there” when in the ring with him. It may seem like a simple compliment, but that fluidity in the ring is not something performers talk about so highly unless it’s unquestionably deserved. Page’s comments are echoed everywhere as one researches Chris and his legacy.
In wrestling eras past, it could be difficult to find those who were widely regarded as unequivocal “good ones.” Due to a great love for the business and a heart many sizes larger than often found in the world, Chris’s legacy in the ring is everlasting. One of the most electrifying performers in the world today, AEW’s Brian Cage, credits Chris greatly when it comes to his own career and its trajectory from the start – touting his kindness and generosity along with his genuine adoration for the business. Cage continues to dedicate much of his ring work and actions to his memory.
I think about Chris’s work, and I cannot help but imagine how appreciated he’d be today and what a remarkable career he’d have working with other transcendent performers like Jon Moxley, Sami Zayn, Brian Cage, Kevin Owens, or Kenny Omega. That is meant not as a sad wish, but as a compliment of the highest regard from a wrestling fan, one of fantasy booking in a fantasy world.
Chris came before his time, no doubt. But he bettered the business while he was there. With his work, his love, and his eagerness to share both with whoever crossed his path, he was one of a kind. He also came before his time as a LGBTQ man and performer in a business that has not historically valued that diversity. I often wonder what he would think of today’s wrestling landscape, both the constant innovation in ring that he helped to father and the avalanche of inclusivity in recent years. I like to think he would be proud. He’s got to be smiling down watching it all continue to evolve in the right way.
Chris struggled in his life. This shouldn’t be glossed over as we talk about how amazing his wrestling career and impact inside the ring was. He was gay and he hid that; for reasons all his own. Chris also struggled with depression and bipolar disorder. Ultimately, Chris’s life was cut short in 2010. He was just 40 when he succumbed to a combination of these oftentimes devastating struggles. When he passed, I found it to be extremely difficult. As someone who could relate to some of his struggles, it felt like a hopeless moment. But as I thought back on his life, his accomplishments, and his lasting influence, it didn’t feel so hopeless at all.
I was lucky enough to meet Chris once. I wish I could remember more specific details, but those have been lost with time. The year was 1999, I believe, and my Grandad had surprised me with my very first wrestling show. At some point during that trip, we found ourselves at a hotel and I vividly remember seeing Chris’s face across the lobby from where I stood.
I don’t know how we came to be in front of him, but I just remember feeling so warm and happy to be with this giant of a man who was nothing if not polite and kind to a little girl he didn’t know. I finally got to see my favorite smile up close and give him a high-five. After, he pulled me in close and my Grandad took a picture. While I couldn’t see Chris’s face, I remember my Grandad’s well and his smile as he watched us together.
Over twenty years later and I don’t know what ever became of that picture of my first wrestling hero. I’ve searched high and low unsuccessfully. But though the picture is lost, the memory of meeting such a caring and joyful man is much more important.
His death may have hit me hard, but the memories make me smile. We can look back on his accomplishments and be proud of what he did. We can appreciate what he helped transform the business into. Thanks to YouTube and the WWE Network, we can watch his matches and still be in awe of creations we saw first through him, and sometimes only through him! Most importantly, especially to a much younger me, the smile that started it all lives on. And the heart bigger than most is memorialized within all of us who adored him.
I strongly urge everyone who is unfamiliar with Chris’s work or his impact in wrestling to watch some of his old matches in WCW and WWE. One of my favorite things about wrestling is the timelessness of raw talent and innovation, and his matches are shining examples of both. On recent podcast episodes, one with the Young Bucks on Talk is Jericho and another with Brian Cage on AEW Unrestricted, his wide reach and kind heart are talked about at length. In addition, on a special upcoming episode of Talk is Jericho, Le Champion dedicates a show to Chris’s memory and shares stories with guests such as Diamond Dallas Page, WWE’s Shane Helms, and AEW’s Rafael Morffi.
Chris must have asked countless times from inside of a wrestling ring, “Who betta then Kanyon?” Depending on his status at the time, as a heel or as a babyface, the answer could vary. Phrased differently though, I think we could all agree there is only one acceptable answer.
“When it comes to having witnessed the greatness of Chris Kanyon in action, who betta for it?”
We miss you, Chris. There was never anyone betta.