Return to Transcripts main page
CNN: SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT
Death Grip: Inside Pro Wrestling
Aired November 7, 2007 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: "Death Grip: Inside Pro Wrestling."
Drew Griffin reporting.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The dark side, beyond the wrestling ring, a shocking murder-suicide.
VINCE MCMAHON, CHAIRMAN, WORLD WRESTLING ENTERTAINMENT, INC.: How would we know that Chris Benoit would turn into a monster?
GRIFFIN: Pro wrestlers dying young and allegations of drug abuse.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The steroids started. The drugs started, prescription drugs, because of the injuries.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm glad that the WWE has taken the steps it has to clean up our industry.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Is the WWE steroid free, drug free?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Finally, Chris Benoit has become the heavyweight champion of this world!
GRIFFIN (voice-over): In the fall of 2005, following the year he wore the championship belt, professional wrestler Chris Benoit was at the top of his game.
In the ring, with the body of an Adonis, he was slamming opponents, being slammed, and putting on a show. Outside the ring, the former WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment, champion was quietly spinning into depression, and, in a sense, documenting his own mental breakdown.
MIKE BENOIT, FATHER OF CHRIS BENOIT: This is a an open letter to Eddie on November 24, 2005.
GRIFFIN: Mike Benoit is reading the diary his son wrote over an 11-day period in 2005. The diary consists of rambling letters to his best friend, a wrestler named Eddie Guerrero.
The first entry, the first note to Eddie, was written on November 23, 10 days after his 38-year-old friend dropped dead of a heart attack. M. BENOIT: "Eddie, I forgot to tell you about my dream last night. I dreamt that both my parents were taken, perished."
GRIFFIN: Mike Benoit believes it's the diary of his son going mad.
M. BENOIT: "And Nancy and I were trying to get to her parents in Daytona to save them, because we felt that they were being taken next. And these people after them were very powerful people, high-ranking people. When we got to Daytona, it was too late. Her parents were gone, too, perished."
We just didn't understand this was going on at that time in Chris' life.
GRIFFIN: Nineteen months later, during the weekend of June 22, Chris Benoit would suffocate his wife, Nancy, their 7-year-old son Daniel, then would walk into the basement of his suburban Atlanta home and hang himself. He was 40. The diary was found outside in the trash by a neighbor.
No one saw it coming, not his fellow wrestlers, not WWE boss Vince McMahon, and not his parents.
M. BENOIT: I would have set my son in a totally direction, had I realized. I do feel some responsibility for what has taken place here.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Because you encouraged his dream?
M. BENOIT: Yes, I did.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): And this is the dream, to be at the top, to be adored or hated by millions of fans. About 16 million people a week tune in to the WWE. Two of their cable programs, "Raw" and "Friday Night SmackDown," are weekly ratings giants. WWE pay-per-view specials generate an average of $100 million per year.
The action is fake. The pain is real. The grind never ends. And that's the dark side of wrestling entertainment, when many turn to painkillers and steroids. And that combination has fed a numbing statistic.
KEITH PINCKARD, MEDICAL EXAMINER: Their death rate was approximately seven times greater than that age group in the general population.
GRIFFIN: Dr. Keith Pinckard studied wrestling deaths over a 20- year span, from 1983 to 2003. He found 64 professional wrestlers, all just 40 years old and younger, had died. A CNN tabulation shows, in just the past five years, 18 wrestlers under the age of 50 have died.
Pinckard, a medical examiner in Dallas, did his own analysis and was astounded.
PINCKARD: About a fifth of those were drug-related deaths, either accidental overdoses or suicidal overdoses.
GRIFFIN: Each one of these professional wrestlers died of a drug overdose, a heart attack, or, like Chris Benoit, committed suicide.
CHRIS KANYON, PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER: I beat Chris Benoit for a title on pay per view once. That's the bond me and Chris had.
GRIFFIN: Chris Kanyon is one of those wrestlers who calls himself a survivor. He faced Benoit a number of times in the ring and faced the same personal demons.
KANYON: September 14, 2003, I took 50 sleeping pills and tried to kill myself. So, I could be another one of those statistics. I very well could have been.
GRIFFIN: Even Benoit, who once wore the championship belt, had he not killed his family, his suicide alone might have gone virtually unnoticed. But that spectacular crime has now gotten the attention of Congress and the public, and is again turning up the heat on the man who sits atop the world of professional wrestling.
Vince McMahon is chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment. His wife, Linda, is the CEO. Together, they are the business of professional wrestling.
MCMAHON: Nothing from the WWE, under any set of circumstances, had anything at all to do with Chris Benoit murdering his family. How would we know that Chris Benoit would turn into a monster?
GRIFFIN: In this hour, you will see the real side of fake wrestling, the ringmaster again under fire, performers who pump their bodies with drugs, and a mother who considered killing herself and her two children to escape life in the ring.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the only reason I didn't do it is because I couldn't guarantee that we would all die.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): At first, there was the special tribute. On June 25, 2007, Vince McMahon and superstars like Phil "C.M. Punk" Brooks remembering a champion, Chris Benoit.
PHIL "C.M. PUNK" BROOKS, PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER: Last night, I felt really overwhelmingly disappointed because I didn't get to wrestle Chris Benoit. And I tell you, I just can't get that out of my head, because Chris Benoit was my hero.
GRIFFIN: Just one day later...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, investigators are calling the horrific scene that they found inside this home a murder-suicide. GRIFFIN: C.M. Punk's hero had become a villain, and Vince McMahon and his wrestling empire were on the defensive.
MCMAHON: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
Last night, on "Monday Night Raw," the WWE presented a special tribute show recognizing the career of Chris Benoit. However, now some 26 hours later, the facts of this horrific tragedy are now apparent.
GRIFFIN: The Benoit tragedy put McMahon and his WWE back under the microscope, another dead wrestler, allegations of steroid and drug abuse, nothing new for McMahon, a body builder and promoter, who many say single-handedly changed the shape of wrestling.
DEL WILKES, FORMER PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER: Vince has changed this business more than anybody. He has had an unbelievable influence on this business, a lot of it good, some of it not so good.
Obviously, that look came from a lot of drugs, a lot of steroids.
GRIFFIN: Del Wilkes wrestled for McMahon and his former World Wrestling Federation as the Patriot. He says he was injured in the ring, became addicted to painkillers, and ultimately spent time in prison.
WILKES: The WWF was known as the company of big guys. Vince liked big guys. And they were all there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You had certain wrestlers who...
GRIFFIN: A former longtime WWE employee who asked us not to reveal his identity goes further, charging that McMahon not only changed the wrestlers; he also changed wrestling's legion of fans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you look at pictures of wrestlers before the mid to late '80s, they don't look like bodybuilders. They look like your unemployed uncle sitting on the couch. That's what they look like. They don't -- they're not jacked-up guys. But now there's an expectation among fans that a wrestler has to look a certain way.
GRIFFIN: As the wrestlers grew, so did the whispers of illegal steroid use. Those whispers turned into headlines when McMahon went on trial in 1994, charged by the federal government with distributing steroids to his wrestlers.
The government's star witness? McMahon's own Hulk Hogan, perhaps the most famous name in all of wrestling. Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, admitted under oath that he had used steroids. He estimated as many as 80 percent of McMahon's wrestlers were using steroids.
Hogan also testified McMahon knew his wrestlers were on the juice and said that McMahon had ordered steroids for his own use. Despite such damning testimony, McMahon was acquitted. But the trial did lead him to admit to steroid use. The government's long investigation had already led to him announcing an expansion of the drug testing policy for his wrestlers. McMahon tried to assure fans and critics he was serious, saying, "It should come as no surprise to you that the WWF has one of the most comprehensive drug testing, education and rehabilitation programs in all of sports."
The trial, the scrutiny, and defections to McMahon's biggest rival, the WCW, World Championship Wrestling, led to a downturn in McMahon's fortunes.
Eric Bischoff ran WCW for McMahon's arch nemesis, Ted Turner, who, at the time, also owned CNN.
ERIC BISCHOFF, FORMER WCW CEO: WCW really dominated the sports entertainment category from probably about 1996 through effectively the first part or the middle of 1998. We were still very, very competitive, if not number one, we were close to it.
GRIFFIN: The WCW and the WWF battled throughout the '90s. And both Turner and McMahon's organizations were dogged by allegations of steroid abuse. It was McMahon, however, who eventually won out. He bought the WCW in 2001, rolled it into his entertainment empire, and became the final word.
BISCHOFF: Yes, the WWE has -- you know, they're the last man standing in the world of professional wrestling.
GRIFFIN: Vince McMahon now lorded over all of wrestling, its profits and its pitfalls.
(on camera): Steroids, human growth hormones, and the quest for bigger people in this industry. You like big guys, right?
MCMAHON: Well, again, I take exception to the fact that, you know, our locker room now in terms of weight as far as big guys are concerned is lighter than it's ever been in history. There's an expression in our business, that here's where you make your money. It's your face. It's what you do with it.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): McMahon protests, but there's no denying the massive, chiseled, almost unbelievable physiques of many wrestlers, and McMahon's eagerness to promote this look.
Irv Muchnick, nephew of legendary wrestling promoter Sam Muchnick, is the author of "Wrestling Babylon."
IRV MUCHNICK, AUTHOR, "WRESTLING BABYLON": Wrestlers see what works for other wrestlers, and they copy it. There are only a handful of really top slots where you make huge money, so much money that you can really take care of your family and really take care of your health and really prepare for your retirement.
GRIFFIN: Still, the debate over steroids and its impact on who gets to the top divides the wrestling community.
KANYON: It's pretty obvious. You can sit down and watch the show and at least make -- decide to at least a percentage of who's on and who's not.
GRIFFIN: Former WWE champ Chris Jericho says you can wrestle and not be pumped up.
CHRIS JERICHO, PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER: I think wrestling has a very stereotypical image that it's all the big, huge behemoths and the Neanderthals that really make the big cash and really make it big. And, hey, there are a lot of huge guys that make it. But there's other guys that aren't as huge that actually had to go and learn how to be a good wrestler to make it.
GRIFFIN: Big, small, in between. Today, wrestlers may be split on what it takes to make it. But there's only one man who decides who wins and who loses, Vince McMahon.
(on camera): Is the WWE steroid free, drug free?
M. BENOIT: That's Chris as a 15-year-old standing in the Rocky Mountains.
M. BENOIT: He started lifting weights at the age of 13 in the basement. And he would not go out. If the guys called and said, come on out and hang out, he would say, no, got to lift my weights.
GRIFFIN: Even at age 13, Chris Benoit already knew what he wanted to be.
M. BENOIT: It was really a passion. And he wanted to be a professional wrestler.
GRIFFIN: Michael Benoit did not share that passion. But he loved his son. The weights were a present for Chris.
M. BENOIT: I dread the time that I even bought the weight set. You look back in your life and look at the mistakes you have made. That was the biggest mistake I ever made.
GRIFFIN: Young Benoit's passion turned to obsession. He grew stronger, bigger, and, on weekends, he would convince his father to let him drive the three hours from his home in Edmonton, Alberta, to Calgary, the very heart of Canada's wrestling empire.
M. BENOIT: He really thought (INAUDIBLE) the Dynamite Kid, that became his idol. And, really, his wrestling style, he really followed the Dynamite Kid.
GRIFFIN: Looking back, Mike Benoit believes allowing Chris to idolize the Dynamite Kid was an even bigger mistake.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It started with the verbal abuse, and, you know, putting me down in front of other people.
GRIFFIN: Michelle Smadu (ph) was just a teenager when she met and fell in love with Tom Billington, the Dynamite Kid. They married, had a child, and soon after, Michelle says the Dynamite Kid began to explode.
(on camera): He certainly wasn't the guy you fell in love with.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. He was the gentleman that kicked out his wife and 3-week-old baby.
GRIFFIN: And do you blame it all on the steroids?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Tom Billington came to Canada from Manchester, England, to become a pro wrestler. Like Chris Benoit, Billington was a small man in a big man's ring.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For the first time, they were allowing a smaller person to come in and take those top spots. The bigger he got, the more fame he gained, and the more in demand he was.
GRIFFIN: From Canada, the Dynamite Kid moved up to McMahon's WWF. He became one-half of the British Bulldog tag team. But, behind the scenes, he was crumbling.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The steroids started, the drug use, prescription drugs, because of the injuries, which also starts with the alcohol.
GRIFFIN: Michelle says, at home, the Kid was out of control, at one time, dragging her by the hair, holding a gun to her face.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It became so bad that I just wanted to get out. And the way I was going to get out was, I put my two children on the bed, the master bed, Browin (ph) and Merick (ph). And Tom had a lot of guns. So, I went to get his gun. And I wanted to shoot Browin (ph) and Merick (ph) and then myself. And the only reason I didn't do it is because I couldn't guarantee that we would all die.
GRIFFIN: Michelle never told her husband what you have just heard. The night before this interview, she finally told her children.
(on camera): I can't imagine how tough that was to tell them. Did they look at you differently?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, there was a lot of tears. And we didn't say anything. It was a quiet acceptance. They know that something horrible went on during the marriage.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The marriage ended in 1991, when Michelle bought her husband a one-way ticket from Canada back to Manchester, England.
This is the Dynamite Kid today. Tom Billington now lives in a public housing apartment outside Manchester. He has lost the use of his legs. A pin sticks out from one of his toes. He readily admits wrestling did this to him, wrestling, and the fact he ignored doctors who told him to stop.
TOM BILLINGTON, FORMER PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER: I needed the money. I went back to wrestling because I needed the money.
GRIFFIN: The other British Bulldog, partner Davey Boy Smith, his younger cousin, died of a heart attack at age 39. Billington, who is only 48 years old, says he might have suffered the same fate were it not for a drug overdose that led a doctor to discover an enlarged heart.
BILLINGTON: So, he said, it lies from taking steroids. So, he said, don't take steroids again and you will be OK.
So, I haven't touched them the steroids since 1991. Before that, I did regular, you know, for years.
GRIFFIN: In fact, he says, for years, many of McMahon's wrestlers took steroids -- the bigger the physique, the bigger the promotion.
BILLINGTON: I took it for the job, because I was in the WWF. Most of them was all big men. So, I thought, well, I will do it too.
GRIFFIN: Billington says the steroids came from doctors, from friends, even steroids meant for horses. He took them all, took a terrible pounding in the ring, and, like his now-dead partner, began taking extensive amounts of painkillers.
BILLINGTON: My back, my knees, oh Christ, my shoulder, different things. Yes, I took painkillers.
GRIFFIN: Tom Billington has never laid eyes on his 16-year-old daughter, born after his marriage broke up. He remains bitter about Michelle, saying she's brainwashed his children. He does admit holding a shotgun to her head, but insists he was not violent.
BILLINGTON: I don't think it was violent. I mean, I put a shotgun under her chin once, but it had no shells. I only pretended that.
GRIFFIN: This is the man Chris Benoit idolized.
Shortly after Benoit's death, a British newspaper quoted the Dynamite Kid, harshly criticizing Benoit. "We have all been through it," Billington is quoted, "but we didn't take it out on our loved ones."
He told us, maybe it was the drugs.
BILLINGTON: It can make you aggressive, the steroids. But I don't -- well, personally, I wouldn't. You don't want to kill any bleeding kid, do you? Or wife, whatever.
GRIFFIN: Coming up, new revelations about Chris Benoit's death and the Benoit family's search for answers.
M. BENOIT: I said to my wife -- I said, "It's our only hope."
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Coming up, new revelations about Chris Benoit's death, and the Benoit family's search for answers.
MIKE BENOIT, CHRIS BENOIT'S FATHER: I said to my wife, I said, "It's our only hope."
GRIFFIN: At his home outside Edmonton, Mike Benoit was in mourning. It was four days after his son's family was found dead in their Fayetteville, Georgia, home. The headlines declared his son a suicidal murderer. But why? Mike Benoit didn't know where to begin.
MIKE BENOIT, ERIC BENOIT'S FATHER: I call the funeral parlor in Atlanta to pick up his remains, and we're going to have them cremated. So I was in the process of -- of making those arrangements when I got a call from Chris Newinski.
GRIFFIN: Chris Newinski is a former WWE wrestler who left the business in 2003 after suffering multiple concussions. He founded the Sports Legacy Institute, an organization that explores the dangers of undiagnosed concussions in sports. Newinski was calling because he wanted a piece of Chris Benoit's brain.
BENOIT: And so that they could do some tests to see if there was any signs of brain damage. I said to my wife, I said, "It's our only hope." And I really knew in my heart that because this wasn't -- this isn't the son that we knew and loved.
DR. JULIAN BAILES, FOUNDER, SPORTS LEGACY INSTITUTE: Through cooperation from the Benoit family, we have had the opportunity to examine the brain tissue obtained from the autopsy of Christopher Benoit.
You see these -- these brain cells here --
GRIFFIN: In September, the institute held a news conference in New York to release its findings. Chris Benoit, the researchers announced, had the brain of an elderly Alzheimer's patient.
BAILES: This is a normal example on the left. It's smooth. It has the round cells. Christopher Benoit's brain, you see the projections, the connections here. GRIFFIN: The slides reveal severe damage throughout all regions of his brain tissue attributable to multiple, undiagnosed concussions.
BAILES: I think that these extensive changes throughout his brain, to me and I think the others in our organization, believe that it is enough to very likely explain aberrant behavior, including suicide and even homicide.
GRIFFIN: While other doctors have been more cautious about linking brain damage to violent behavior, the institute's finding was the answer Mike Benoit needed. And it turned his grief into anger.
BENOIT: Because the last paragraph said, it's because of the nature of the way Chris wrestled that this is why he sustained the brain injuries. So they were basically blaming my son for this.
GRIFFIN: Like the dynamite kid he idolized, Chris Benoit was a wrestler's wrestler. Small in stature, he made up for it with soaring maneuvers, including his trademark, the flying head butt. Chris Kanyon says Benoit would take the abuse for the love of the show.
CHRIS KANYON, WRESTLER: We made him wrestle each other a bunch of times, and it was never about what I can do to you to make me look good. It's what can we do together to make the match look good.
GRIFFIN: And looking good meant taking real hits to the head. Although the McMahons are aware of some of the institute's findings, they say they have not yet studied the report.
LINDA MCMAHON, VINCE MCMAHON'S WIFE: These studies, you know, have not been -- they've not been proven, if you will.
VINCE MCMAHON, CHAIRMAN OF WWE: Haven't been even critiqued by the other members of the scientific community.
GRIFFIN: As a result, McMahon is moving with caution.
V. MCMAHON: And the only thing we've done really is from a conservative standpoint is just don't use chairs to the head. But other than that, you know, it's what it is in the ring. You know, accidents do occur. It's not ballet, as they say.
GRIFFIN (on camera): He did have some kind of brain injury, to get back to that point. I would think from a business standpoint, Mr. McMahon, you would be concerned about that if you are concerned about your wrestlers.
V. MCMAHON: I -- there's no question we are. We're concerned about everything. But again, you're frying me with facts, if they are facts, they're after the fact.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The fact is, there is mounting evidence across all sports that multiple concussions can have devastating consequences. But McMahon just doesn't buy that concussions drove his former champion to kill. V. MCMAHON: The findings themselves say that Chris Benoit had the brain of an 85-year-old man with dementia. And I would suggest to you that from a layman's standpoint, Chris Benoit could not do what he did for a living. He could not function as a normal human being. He couldn't even go to the airport, if in fact that report were accurate.
GRIFFIN: Still ahead, is there a gaping loophole in the WWE'S drug testing program?
TRAVIS TIGART, HEAD OF THE U.S. ANTI-DOPING AGENCY: My 3-year- old could drive a freight train through it.
RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Randi Kaye in New York. Back to "Death Grip: Inside Pro Wrestling" in a moment.
First, here's what's in the news right now. President Bush says Pakistan's president should hold planned elections and step down from the military. In a press conference in Virginia today, President Bush with French President Sarkozy by his side, said he delivered that message to Pervez Musharraf in a frank phone call today.
The call comes as street protests continue to engulf Pakistan days after Musharraf declared a state of emergency, suspended the nation's constitution, and rounded up thousands of protesters.
Police in Broward County, Florida, say Michael Mazza has confessed to shooting and killing a 76-year-old deputy who was driving him to court. Mazza was arrested after a fast-moving manhunt earlier today. He was already serving two life sentences for previous armed robberies.
For the first time ever, missiles launched from a Navy cruiser successfully intercepted two targets. The test is another step toward developing a ballistic missile defense system.
Another update on Wall Street, the Dow industrials fell more than 360 points. Investors are worried about the falling dollar, skyrocketing oil prices, and the $39 billion quarterly loss by General Motors.
I'm Randi Kaye. Back to "Death Grip" in a moment.
GRIFFIN: On November 13th, 2005, wrestler Eddie Guerrero dropped dead of a heart attack in a Minneapolis hotel room. He was 38. A coroner determined the death was due to heart disease but noted a history of anabolic steroid use and narcotics.
Another WWE star dead before the age of 40. Vince McMahon needed to act.
DR. GARY WADLER, WORLD-RENOWNED EXPERT IN THE STUDY OF STEROIDS, DRUGS AND ATHLETES: And once again, age-old testing policy was implemented, although it has many, many deficiencies in my judgment.
GRIFFIN: Dr. Gary Wadler is a world-renowned expert in the study of steroids, drugs and athletes. He is also a long-time critic of McMahon. Walter testified as an expert witness for the prosecution in the federal case against McMahon in 1994.
During the government's investigation that led to that trial, McMahon announced the launch of what he called the most comprehensive drug testing in all of sports. McMahon says the program was successful, for a while.
V. MCMAHON: The cost of that at that time, we were not a public company, was extraordinary. We suspended that. We had to compete. We lost money. It was a private company. We lost millions of dollars for more than one year, and quite frankly, did not have the funds to continue this program and especially when our competition would not.
GRIFFIN: More than a dozen years later, Wadler is convinced steroids and drugs remain rampant in the WWE. He is also convinced McMahon could clean it up with a serious drug testing program, which Wadler insists the WWE does not have.
WADLER: Well, certainly it's far, far, far short of where it needs to be, and there is a gold standard. And I measure all these sporting activities and entertainment, if you will, activities against that gold standard. And it's miles apart.
GRIFFIN: That gold standard exists here at the Olympic training facility in Colorado springs, where Travis Tygart heads up the U.S. anti-doping agency. Under his direction, athletes are randomly tested and, if caught just once, face a two-year suspension from competition. If caught a second time, they can be banned for life.
TRAVIS TYGART, HEAD OF THE U.S. ANTI-DOPING AGENCY: There's a desire to have a truly effective anti-doping program and to be as clean as you possibly can be. I haven't seen any excuse that's been put forward up to this point why that can't be done.
GRIFFIN: Like Wadler, Tygart believes McMahon and the WWE are not serious about running a clean program. He says, look to the WWE'S own policy. Performers who are caught are given only a warning for their first offense. A mere 30-day suspension for a second offense, you need to flunk a drug test four times before you are actually let go. Then there is the loophole.
GRIFFIN (on camera): And that basically says, if you have a prescription, you're clean.
TYGART: Yes. It's just a loophole in my mind that guts the entire program. You know, my 3-year-old could drive a freight train through it, to be quite honest, because it's so easy.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Like many other wrestlers with the WWE, Chris Benoit found no problems getting a prescription. Authorities in Georgia say one of Benoit's doctors was prescribing a 10-month supply of anabolic steroids to the wrestler every three to four weeks. To his credit to build a better drug testing program, Vince McMahon hired Dr. David Black who helped the NFL develop its rigorous testing. Black says he was brought on to clean up the WWE.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Were you apprehensive about stepping into the ring with these guys, whether or not they would truly be serious and follow your recommendations?
DR. DAVID BLACK, CHMN., AEGIS SCIENCES CORPORATION: This has risk, yes. If I believe the talent were not going to cooperate, if I believed that the WWE was not sincere in this effort, then I've made a foolish decision.
But I've listened. I have seen action follow verbiage. And I've seen the determination in Vince's eyes when he's told me, "Dave, I want this deal addressed."
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Since the program began in February of 2006, more than 30 WWE wrestlers have been suspended, including two after our conversation with Vince McMahon. Dr. Black says twice that number have tested positive and been given a warning.
Black's program includes random urine tests four times a year, no advance warning. And he says he has full authority with an outside medical consultant to determine if a prescription drug being used by a wrestler is necessary and legal.
Black says he doesn't take orders from McMahon, but admits the program is not fool-proof. He concedes that some of the huge bodies in the WWE were built in a pharmacy, not in a weight room.
BLACK: We are working towards making sure that all the physiques presented are natural.
GRIFFIN (on camera): As a result, am I going to see smaller and smaller wrestlers in the ring?
BLACK: I think over time, the impact of the program will be that we will see healthier wrestlers in the ring.
GRIFFIN ((voice-over): Critics of McMahon say that does mean smaller wrestlers. This former employee, who wants to remain anonymous, sees that as a deliberate attempt to get steroids out of the headlines.
ANONYMOUS MALE EMPLOYEE: When the steroid scandal first happened in the early '90s and a lot of these guys came off the gas and they got smaller, the business also suffered.
GRIFFIN: Now, he says, it's happening again. The death of Benoit, the death of Guerrero, the allegations of steroid use run amok, and a congressional committee asking questions. Suddenly there are smaller WWE stars, one whose very gimmick is to be drug-free.
When we come back -- you're Mr. Straight edge.
PHIL BROOKS, ALSO KNOWN AS "CM PUNK," WRESTLER: I'm straight edge.
GRIFFIN (on camera): What the hell does that mean?
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Halloween eve. Phil Brooks, known to wrestling fans as CM Punk, arrives early at Long Island's Nassau Coliseum.
BROOKS: You want to strap this on for me?
GRIFFIN: Since winning the ECW title belt, Punk is more in demand than ever. Tonight, the company owned by Vince McMahon is putting on a free pre-Halloween battle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got a minute, bro.
BROOKS: See you, bro.
GRIFFIN: CM Punk is literally half their size but is suddenly becoming a big star. Promoted not only for his skill in the ring, but the lifestyle he calls straight edge.
BROOKS: It means I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't do drugs. You know. I guess I'm -- to a lot of people, I am boring.
GRIFFIN: Punk's clean lifestyle stands out at the WWE.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE ANNOUNCER: This guy's the current extreme championship wrestler.
GRIFFIN: He's getting star treatment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE ANNOUNCER: Y'all, give it up for CM Punk.
GRIFFIN: He's tapped for radio interviews.
BROOKS: I think what stuck with me from being a kid was the British bulldogs.
GRIFFIN: Even his workouts get interrupted with the press calls, like this one from Germany.
GRIFFIN (on camera): You've been at it for 10 years, but your sudden rise to fame at this time has to do with the fact that the WWE wants to hold you up as an example, saying, look, we've got a clean wrestler.
BROOKS: I think it was -- I don't think that's the sole reason. I think it was more -- it was more circumstance, you know. I mean, all this stuff started to happen, and I just happened to be there. GRIFFIN (voice-over): While the WWE is trying to put the Benoit story behind it, its wrestlers can't escape nagging questions about steroid abuse.
John Cena is a WWE superstar, now recovering from an injury in the ring. He doesn't like being asked if he has used steroids.
JOHN CENA, WRESTLER: This is a crazy question. And it's something that -- it's tough to answer just because of the way society is now. The way people conceive things because performance-enhancing drugs have got the spotlight, and it's a hot thing to talk about.
I can't tell you I haven't, but you'll never be able to prove that I have.
GRIFFIN: The McMahons, Linda and Vince, insist their drug policy is for real. And the accusation that it's just for show, to take the heat off, is not true.
V. MCMAHON: The federal government didn't suggest that we start a program of this nature. The media didn't suggest that we start a program of this nature. It started because it was the right time to do it. We had the funds to do it. It was the right thing to do.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Is the WWE steroid free, drug free?
V. MCMAHON: I don't think that there's any organization in the world, be it entertainment or be it sport, that can tell you that they are totally drug free.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Evidence of that surfaced just this past September, three months after Benoit's death. A prosecutor in Albany, New York, found 10 current wrestlers on the customer list of an Internet pharmacy accused of dealing illegal steroids.
V. MCMAHON: So we took action immediately. Same day.
GRIFFIN (on camera): They weren't actually caught by the WWE'S drug policy. They were caught by some local prosecutor.
V. MCMAHON: Sure.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Chris Benoit was one of them. But he had been caught earlier by the WWE, testing positive for testosterone. Because it was a first offense, he was only given a warning.
When Benoit retested just this past April, two months before his death, he was clean.
BLACK: Chris was someone I would have -- I did view as a very positive part of the program. He always indicated in those conversations that he did not want to violate the policy.
GRIFFIN: Autopsy results showed Chris Benoit had steroids in his system at the time of his death. L. MCMAHON: We're not looking to just say, got you. You know, we want to protect the health and well-being of the men and women who are part of World Wrestling Entertainment.
V. MCMAHON: As it turned out --
GRIFFIN: The McMahons are holding up their testing program, which now includes heart scans for their performers, as an example of a positive turn in a tough business. They have even offered to pay for drug and alcohol rehab for former wrestlers. But McMahon is not about to accept any blame for what others do to themselves.
GRIFFIN (on camera): From a humane standpoint, I mean, is that hard to swallow that so many of these wrestlers are dying so young?
V. MCMAHON: Well, again, I think that from a responsibility standpoint, I think that we all as individuals are responsible for our own actions. So when passes through our organization, certainly our organization is not responsible for someone's own personal activities.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): And what would Chris Benoit's father say to Vince McMahon if he has the chance.
BENOIT: It's too late for my son. It's too late for my daughter-in-law. It's too late for my grandson, but let's be concerned with the guys that currently work there. Let's do something meaningful.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com