Wrestling Stars of the Past
This is my first article for TWG and is also the first of what I hope to be one of the most exciting articles around. Entitled “Wrestling Stars of the Past” my articles will take an in-depth look at some of the most influential wrestlers in the history of the sport. I have no doubts that the more of these articles I write, the more controversy will ensue over whether or not my selections deserve to be credited as one of the “all-time greats.” The only response I can provide to this is, if you don’t like the articles stop reading!
For those of you still with me to this point I have provided for your reading pleasure, one of the most controversial selections of them all as my first induction. He is a man that was respected by all in the locker room. His fast-paced, smash-mouth, technical wrestling style was second to none and he was one of the most watch World Heavyweight Champions in WWE since “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. He has been known as “The Canadian Crippler” and “The Rabid Wolverine.” He was Chris Benoit.
Now I realize that the name Chris Benoit has been considered a dirty word since his death in June of last year. But I truly believe that the way Chris died was nothing like the way he lived his life. And if it weren’t for the way his family passed, he would no doubt be a lock for the WWE Hall of Fame.
He may not have been the most charismatic wrestler the industry has ever seen, and admittedly, his microphone skills left much to be desired. But what Chris Benoit lacked in promotional skills, he more than made up for in the ring. Chris Benoit brought an unmatched level of intensity to every match he was in and fans knew that if Chris Benoit’s name was on the card they were in for a treat. It didn’t matter who he was up against, Chris Benoit had the rare ability to carry a match and make any opponent look good.
Growing up, Chris Benoit’s favorite wrestler was “The Dynamite Kid” Tom Billington, and if anyone were to compare their fighting styles they could see the resemblance. In fact, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, one of the few men to have the honor of facing both Benoit and Billington, said that Chris emulated Tom to the tee. As homage to his childhood hero, Chris Benoit won a large portion of his matches with “The Dynamite Kid’s” finishing maneuver, The Diving Headbutt. It was a move that very few men even attempted and that none to perform nearly as beautiful. His other finishing move, known as “The Crippler Crossface” was a gift from a good friend of Chris’ named Dean Malenko. Those who know Dean may recall that in WCW he was known as “The Master of 1000 Holds” and Chris Benoit decided that his character needed a submission maneuver to finish off his opponents. As a result, Dean taught Benoit the Crossface, and it has become a trademark move of Benoit.
Throughout his career Chris Benoit has faced all kinds of opponents within multiple federations including Stampede Wrestling, various promotions in Japan, ECW, WCW and of course, WWE. He has faced many of the sport’s greats including Bret Hart, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero and Tiger Mask as well as some of the worst. But Benoit had the ability to turn a nobody into a star and a star into a champion. Case in point, I only had the esteemed pleasure of watching Chris Benoit live in one match. And while I will attempt to take you through this match, I implore you to look it up and watch it for yourself as there is no way that my words can do it justice. But of course, I’ll attempt it nonetheless.
The day was August 15, 2004 and the Air Canada Centre in Toronto was hosting a major WWE pay-per-view entitled Summer Slam. While the show claimed to have two main events, everybody in the arena knew that Benoit’s match would steal the show as John “Bradshaw” Layfield defending the WWE Championship against The Undertaker ended up being a giant snooze-fest. But Benoit’s opponent on that night was a young man with a bright future ahead of him, and a man who the WWE hoped was a champion in the making. On this night, Chris Benoit defended the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against Randy Orton. And I have to say that this match was by far Randy Orton’s greatest match to date. I don’t think I sat in my seat at all during the match.
The match up began very fast paced with Chris Benoit on the offensive for more of it. At one point, Benoit had Randy Orton locked in the Crossface for so long I thought for sure the match would be over, but of course, for those who know their WWE history, Randy Orton made it to the ropes. The turning point of the match came when Randy Orton was on the outside of the ring and Benoit went for an unsuccessful suicide dive, that resulted in his head smoking the barricade and I was sure his neck was broken. Orton then rolled Benoit into the ring and gave him a move that I’ve never seen before which I can only describe as a gutwrench neckbreaker. It was at that moment that I realized that Benoit was bringing out the best in Randy Orton and trying to establish him as a championship contender. And wouldn’t you know it; the finish came with an RKO seemingly out of nowhere and resulted in Randy Orton becoming the youngest World Champion in WWE History.
The problem with Randy Orton was that he was almost too young to be champion and after failing to have a match anywhere near the level of his Summer Slam clash with Benoit, that he ended up losing the belt to Triple H just one month later. And while this match did mark the end of Benoit only Heavyweight Championship reign in WWE history, it did show that he had the ability to put just about anybody over. As a result, Benoit won the United States championship a few months later and was placed in storylines to establish the careers of many of the younger talent on the roster such as Orlando Jordan, Ken Kennedy and MVP just to name a few.
The tragic loss of Chris Benoit and his family was a huge loss to the world of wrestling. There will never be another Chris Benoit, this much is for certain. But I certainly hope that people will one day be able to see past the terrible last moments of his life and acknowledge the tremendous accomplishments he has made for the world of wrestling. I pray for the day that Benoit’s name is once again acknowledged by those other than me. I have no doubts that the day will come and Benoit’s name will be acknowledged in the WWE’s Hall of Fame. Benoit lived to wrestle. He lived a life that few would be able to live, filled with long car rides, plain rides and little time for family. He lived a life that took a toll on his body and his mind. As a result of a series of undiagnosed concussions, researchers concluded that Chris Benoit had the mind of a 65-year-old with dementia when he passed. It was a mind that was no longer his own. On June 25, 2007, Chris Benoit took the lives of his wife and son before taking his own. I hope now, that the Benoit family is at peace. I’m sure that this article will receive a number of comments filled with people enraged that I would honor a man who killed his wife and child, but I hope that this article also brings out others who would like to see Benoit honored for his accomplishments in the ring. I don’t expect everybody to agree with me. I’m not that naïve. But I hope there are at least some other people out there who would defend my views as I’m sure this article will spark some debate. I am and always will be a fan of Chris Benoit, and while I am by no means trying to justify what he did, I hope the day comes when Benoit is remembered for how he lived and not how he died.