By Mike Mooneyham

May 1, 2005

He was only five-foot-seven, but he set the bar high. Too high, sometime, for his own good.

Chris Candido wanted to do two things in life – become a professional wrestler and capture the heart of a blonde beauty named Tamara Lynn Sytch. He accomplished both, but they came with a price.

Just four days after suffering a broken leg on a Total Non-Stop Action pay-per-view, the 33-year-old died suddenly at his home in Matawan, N.J. His brother attributed the death to a blood clot brought on by complications from surgery.

A metal plate and screws had been inserted to repair Candido’s dislocated ankle, broken tibia and broken fibula on Monday. Just 24 hours after surgery, he dutifully appeared in the role of a manager at TNA’s TV tapings Tuesday night in Orlando, shortly before returning home. His final appearance aired Friday on TNA’s Impact show on the Fox Sports network. Friends say he would have wanted it that way.

Chris Candido

Chris Candido

“I just want to tell everyone that in their sorrow, find a way to be happy that he went out the way he wanted to … on top of the world, blond, tan and loving life up until the last minute,” said Johnny Candido, who called his brother his best friend and soul mate. “Every ounce of my brother loved this sport, and for him to go out two or three years ago wouldn’t have been a fitting end to the life of such a determined, passionate and benevolent human being.

“I truly view my brother as an angel as will all who knew him. Thanks to everyone for all your positive press, Chris went out a happy man and will forever live on as one of the greatest of all time. He would have had it no other way.”

Candido was an undersized performer who followed pro wrestling religiously as a youngster, lied about his age and had his first match at 14. The grandson of WWF journeyman Chuck “Popeye” Richards, Candido would go on to have a nearly 20-year career that unfortunately was marked by more downs than ups.

Along with his high school sweetheart, Tammy “Sunny” Sytch, Candido fought demons throughout his career. Drug addiction eventually tarnished their reputations in the wrestling profession. Once the most downloaded woman on the Internet and the most popular diva in the wrestling business, Sytch spiraled out of control and ended up working independent shows for chump change, with her ever-present companion in tow.

In recent months TNA had given Candido what appeared to be a second chance at his childhood dream. Friends say it also was a second chance at life, as Candido reportedly had been in good spirits, gotten clean and distanced himself from the problems that had made wrestling headlines over the years. Candido, who held the NWA title in 1994 and shared the WWF tag-team title in 1996 with Dr. Tom Prichard as The Body Donnas, told friends that he was excited just to finally be able to lead a normal life. Sytch had opened a tanning salon, and Candido enjoyed helping her with the business.

“I usually help Tammy out with the salon,” he said in a recent TNA interview. “I go over there with her when she opens at 8 o’clock every morning. I usually turn on the lights and drink a lot of coffee. I also tan in a different bed every day to make sure they all work. Then I go home and do the housewife stuff like clean the house and do the laundry. Then we go to the gym at night and get to sleep early because we’ve got to get up early.”

Despite the many setbacks and missed opportunities in his career, Candido was well-liked throughout the industry, particularly by those who admired his dogged determination in the ring and his love for the business.

The cruel irony is that his death comes at a time when he finally appeared to have shaken his worst demons, regained his reputation and found himself.

– Dustin Runnels missed TNA Impact tapings last week due to a domestic abuse arrest. Runnels, son of embattled TNA booker Dusty Rhodes (Virgil Runnels Jr.), was released on a $1,000 bond.

Runnels was arrested Monday in Orlando following a dispute with his girlfriend at the hotel the pair were staying at. He was charged with misdemeanor battery and taken into custody by Orange County authorities. He appeared in court Tuesday and was ordered to have no contact with his girlfriend, maintain a separate residence, and refrain from using alcohol or narcotics.

– A post-match scuffle with a Flair broke out recently in North Carolina, but this time it didn’t involve 16-time world champ “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Flair’s 17-year-old son, Reid Fliehr, was ejected during a N.C. 4A Western Regional wrestling meet and suspended for two matches next season. He also faces a court date May 23 stemming from the confrontation in which his mother claims he was defending his father’s reputation.

The Charlotte Observer reported last week that the North Carolina High School Athletic Association fined both South Mecklenburg and Providence high schools $1,000 as a result of the incident.

– A slight correction on an item last week regarding USC-Union’s Thomas Simpson. The esteemed professor, who moonlights as an independent wrestling promoter and recently was named winner of the University of South Carolina-Union Distinguished Teaching Award, has won three teaching awards at two – not five – schools over the past five years.

Simpson, who was instrumental in the early career of TNA star A.J. Styles (Allen Jones), formed the North Carolina-based OMEGA promotion with Matt Hardy prior to the Hardys signing with the WWF in 1998. Among those in that promotion who moved on to bigger companies were Shane “Hurricane” Helms, Shannon Moore, Joey Abs, Joey Matthews (now Joey Mercury), Christian York, Steve Corino, C.W. Anderson and Chilly Willy.

Simpson will begin working for NWA Anarchy, the promotion that will replace NWA Wildside, this weekend as the figurehead president on camera, and will be working as a booker in an attempt to revitalize the promotion.

– A special midgets wrestling match will follow the Charleston RiverDogs-Rome Braves game Tuesday night at The Joe. Tuesday will the RiverDogs’ “Salute to All the Small Things: Mini Bottles & Midget Wrestling,” featuring a post-game midget world title match between Bad Boy Brian and Little Kato.

Note to the Braves: Check the RiverDogs’ lineup card, lest they be enticed to unveil one of the little guys as a pinch hitter.

It’ll also be “Two for Tuesday” night at the park. Fans can secure two tickets for the price of one and double the fun by presenting a Harris Teeter VIC card at the box office. Game time is 7:05 p.m. For more information, contact the RiverDogs at 577-DOGS.

– George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the Backlash pay-per-view tonight at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $7.