Greetings. For reasons not lacking in clarity, I have elected to postpone the second part of my analysis of TNA until next week. It is a sad yet chillingly familiar routine to be in, contemplating once again the revelation of a professional wrestler’s untimely demise. I can still vividly recall my disbelief upon hearing of Owen’s accident; my tears as I sat and wrote an obituary for Eddie Guerrero on my 21st Birthday and my stunned shock when I read of the murder-suicide of the Benoit family on this very website. Nothing adequately steels you for the arrival of death in your midst. Alas in wrestling, the morbid details are both frequent and predictable.
At the time of completion, no formal details have been released concerning the discovery of Andrew “Test” Martin deceased in his home at the ridiculously early age of 33. At a time when WWE and TNA, as the most conspicuous and financially viable examples of the wrestling industry at large are being investigated and questioned regarding the possible reasons why Wrestling has such a high mortality rate, the timing of Martin’s death is unfortunate to say the least.
If one was inclined to speculate, Andrew Martin was fired by WWE in 2004 and hired and then very quickly fired by TNA in 2007 (Once it became clear all he’d achieved in the interim three years since his WWE sacking was to turn a curious shade of orange.) The Police are not treating the death as suspicious, leaving two possibilities. Either, his multiple sackings (and subsequent break-up with Stacy Kiebler) had contributed to a period of depression culminating in a decision to end his life, or whatever substances Martin was taking to maintain his ripped-to-shreds physique manufactured or exacerbated a condition resulting in a massive heart attack (ala Eddie Guerrero.)
There will be considerable focus on this because of the steroids issue dominating the perception of wrestling at this moment in time. If the death is an arbitrary occurrence, yet induced by chemicals, then it’s another body blow to the integrity of wrestling at large. Even if it’s concluded Martin took his own life, the presence of steroids in his system (should it transpire he was on the juice at the time of his death) would automatically be noted by some dot-to-dot soul as contributing to a depressive state with potentially deadly consequences; precisely what was concluded in the case of Chris Benoit’s mental state at the time of his death.
Any death of an individual associated at one time or another with the wrestling industry has received more focus and deliberation than ever before. Any combination of the words “wrestler” and “death” has become a potential cause celebre in recent years. Obviously, the younger the person(s) involved the more concentrated the attention. I share in the cynical view that the mainstream media only truly finds copy in wrestling when terminal controversy is at play. I do not subscribe to the paranoid and deeply delusional view that such focus is the result of a personal vendetta against the very existence of professional wrestling.
As an entertainment medium, wrestling has survived various generational and cultural shifts for over a century, thriving and booming as it has done so. The psychology of wrestling, the notion of a bombastic morality tale, is the continued fulfillment of a need in people’s lives dating back to the Roman Coliseums. Wrestling has continuously clothed itself in the colors of its chosen era, be it the Reagan-inspired embodiment of American pride and power in the 1980’s (Hulk Hogan), or the rebellious anti-society movements of the 1990’s (“Stone Cold” Steve Austin.) Despite the increasingly senile ranting of Vince McMahon, wrestling has a place in this world and no one, even the most befuddled and prejudicial of characters, seeks to destroy it.
The fear from the establishment is obvious and unsurprisingly self-absorbed: regulation. The McMahon family (in particular) fear the creative and (mostly) financial constraints incurred if the wrestling industry were to be regulated properly by an independent athletics commission. The Sanders/Kanyon/Raven lawsuit pertaining to employee classifications used by the WWE, and the twenty year odyssey spent trying to get wrestling acknowledged as “entertainment” rather than a sport tell you all you need to know about Vince McMahon’s mindset and priorities. Every time a performer dies it prompts questions to be asked for which the answers could potentially change wrestling forever; change it in ways that are both essential and morally correct, in my opinion…
I would like to remember Andrew “Test” Martin, a 33 year old man who is now dead. However his passing may (or may not) be woven into the hazy, bloody tapestry of wrestling, Congress and the media, it’s important to remember the human tragedy in and around us. Whatever the reasons and causes, an innocent life cut so pointlessly short is always reason to pause and remember, and sometimes to ask questions we don’t like (or want) the answers to. But ask them we must.
I always felt WWE should have gone all the way with Test in 1999, when Big Show won the WWF Title at Survivor Series. Test was maneuvered out and beaten down, yet the ovation he received at the 2000 Royal Rumble was dwarfed only by The Rock. The fans might have supported his elevation to stardom. We’ll never know. C’est la vie. R.I.P.
Daniel R. Browne.