Chris Candito died Thursday at the age of 33.

Had I written this two years ago, this news wouldn’t have been that surprising. Candito had his demons, and struggled with them as many other professional wrestlers do. The problems he went through with his girlfriend/wife/whatever Tammy Sytch were known my many “smart” wrestling fans. Candito could have easily down that route and had his life end as so many other professional wrestlers have. Candito didn’t though. He straightened himself out.

Candito, unfortunately for him, straightened himself out at a time when the industry didn’t necessarily need him. He had a gig with Titan (the horrible Bodydonnas thing) and made his money that way, but he wasn’t in it for the money – I can honestly believe that. The money was nice, but Candito seemed to really enjoy wrestling. He went back to ECW and he wrestled his ass off on numerous occasions, then eventually made his way over to the slowly dying WCW, where he could have been a real asset, had WCW not been run by complete morons.

He ended up coming back to TNA most recently, clean and willing to work. He broke his leg on Sunday at TNA’s PPV, working a tag match. The injury was a fluke – Sonny Sakai threw a dropkick and apparently landed wrong on Candito, breaking his leg. Candito ended up having pins placed in on Tuesday. He was dead Thursday, the result (apparently) of a blot clot due to his surgery. A completely healthy athlete, finally free of drugs, fallen by a complete fluke of an injury. Sometimes life really isn’t fair.

You could tell Candito loved wrestling. Small guys always get into wrestling for the love of it (unless they’re part of a wrestling family). Big guys are often former football players or just genetic freaks who get into wrestling because it’s an easy way for them to make money. Small guys don’t get any breaks unless they have a look, can cut a promo, and can work their ass off. Candito could do that.

Candito was involved in one of my all time “mark out” moments as a wrestling fan. I made it a habit to go to the ECW Arena for at least a few shows a year, and always the Cyberslam shows. 1999 promised to be a good show, but then again, any ECW Arena show promised to be a good show.

Midway through the card, Taz (then ECW Champ) came out talking about how great he was, how he could take out any of the boys in the back, how he’d beaten everyone in the company, etc. The beauty of Heyman as a booker was that when he got someone to make an appearance or work for the company, it generally didn’t get out, so there was actual surprise. In contrast, someone like Jericho coming to WWF was known months in advance.

Anyway, Taz cut his promo and finished it, standing in the ring. A couple of seconds later, AC/DC’s “Back In Black” pumped through the PA and I heard one of the best pops I heard at the Arena. Everyone pretty much knew about Candito and Tammy’s problems, and they kind of disappeared for a little while, but when the two came out, they looked great. Tammy looked incredible (and half-naked), which looking back is pretty sad, as it’s the last time I saw her as “attractive”. Candito was pumped up (in more ways than one) and the two had a great match, going into the crowd (something that ECW tried to play down more recently due to various lawsuits).

The crowd thing led to the markout. When we’d hit ECW Arena events, we’d leave from Queens as a group, and we’d get pretty good seats, generally in the bleachers on the “TV side”, so that there was a slim possibility that we’d get on TV. I was in the upper left-hand corner (TV-wise) so that you could barely see me – you might see my knees.

Anyway, Taz and Candito started brawling into the crowd, and when you’re in an ECW crowd, you generally move a little bit and let the two midgets fight (neither Candito or Taz was a legit 5’7″). They kept going further into the crowd and going up the bleachers, until they couldn’t go any further – because Candito had pinned me against the wall. Taz and Candito were brawling and going backward until they stopped and were brawling inches away from me – camera right there. For several seconds on ECW TV, I’m standing there like a mark kind of looking at the two of them brawling, trying to get a picture.

It was just a cool experience, and I always figured if I met Candito, I’d tell him about that day. I’ll never get that opportunity.

Dave Meltzer (he of the Wrestling Observer) had some good words. I’ll leave today’s post with him.

There are times when famous wrestlers pass away and everyone starts talking about what wonderful people they were, and sometimes, you almost have to bite your tongue. This is not one of those times.

Through thick and thin, through the bad times, and they were many, I don’t think you’ll find anyone arguing whether Chris Candido was a really nice guy. He made a comeback at a time when everyone in the industry had given up on him. He was recently brought into TNA just as a test to put people over, and wound up winning a roster spot and was liked by everyone. If the circumstances of his death that are stated are accurate, it is one of the greatest tragedies of all. Practically everyone in wrestling who was at death’s door at one point in their lives will say or have their friends say that are reformed. As history has shown, the vast majority of the times, it isn’t true. What a lot of people don’t understand, is for the minority who it turns out to be true about, it is a daily battle, as some, like William Regal and Eddie Guerrero will openly talk about.

Chris loved pro wrestling, even though it came close to killing him at one point in his life. It was more living out his childhood dream than making money. I think he enjoyed it every bit as much when he was barely making ends meet than when he was under a six-figure contract. He was on the road right out of high school. He had a bright future. He squandered that future. But he was determined the end the story of his wrestling career on a high note and with respect of the people in the profession that he had at times let down. He was on the road to doing all that.

What happened is one of those things that happen in life. There is no rhyme nor reason. Life isn’t fair. You can question all you want about a guy who fought back from something that most never come back from, but then suffered a fluke broken leg, and suddenly, with no warning, this happened. Chris was very excited about his future in wrestling, particularly because he was starting to escape from the shadow of his past. The 6/10 and potentially 6/12 (if he was to be allowed to participate) were huge deals for him, and whether he would be able to wrestle or not, he was excited to be part of them.

Candido’s last pro wrestling appearance will air today on the TNA Impact show. I’m told they will do a tribute graphic for him on the show, I believe at both the beginning and the end of the show. Before the show started, Candido came up with his own angle, because in a cruel twist of irony, he had been in a wheelchair at a ruse for the last few weeks on television. Candido came up with the storyline that his real broken leg on Sunday was his karma for the ruse, which led to the tag team title change and what was told to me was the best Impact match in a long time. There was debate whether the match should air at all. Shane Douglas who was his best friend in the company, felt 100% certain Candido would have wanted it to air. So that was the decision.

No death of a people you know at a young age isn’t sad in some form, whether you know them personally, or followed their lives simply watching them work from a young age. Many people followed Chris from when he was a very young man, and some since he was just a teenager But for many reasons, this one is harder than most. It’s not just because it doesn’t appear to have been self-inflicted, but because this was the phone call for years that many people feared we could get at any time. And just when we thought we knew it would never come, it came.

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