||[Jun. 26th, 2007|06:55 pm]
All of a sudden, gripes about work trying to twist your arm mean very little in comparison. Today, I've been in somewhat of a daze - some of it brought on by a cold as well as an ear infection... and the rest of it due to the news I got this morning that made my heart sink like a stone.|
I'm not one for emotions, but anyone reading this: whether it's to friends, family, lovers or whatever... anyone who means anything to you, tell them, because you never know when your time on this planet will be over.
And on that note: my first "proper" column in over six months. Another bloody obit:
A little over three years ago, I was among the thousands of lucky fans inside Madison Square Garden, watching on as Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero celebrated as World and WWE champions respectively. Fast forward to Monday, June 25, 2007 – some 39 and a half months later – and neither man is with us.
No matter what you think of the man for what he may or may not have done in his personal life, and WWE have started to do their bit by erasing virtually all mentions of Benoit from their website, but now is not the time to speculate over what happened this past weekend.
Like most wrestling fans on this side of "the pond", I found out about Chris Benoit's passing on Tuesday morning, courtesy of a barrage of IMs all with the same headline "RIP Chris Benoit". Having taped Raw, I played the first few moments, and sure enough, what all of those IMs had said was true.
As a wrestling fan, my first encounter with Chris Benoit would have been around 1996, back in the day when he was a part of the Four Horsemen, and into the classic best-of-seven (that really ended up being an eight match) series with Booker T. As the Horsemen disbanded and reformed, Benoit moved into his own faction in August 1999 – The Revolution – comprised of himself, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn and Shane Douglas, a quartet of WCW wrestlers who were frustrated at their lack of a push.
Life imitated art less than six months after the formation of the Revolution, when Benoit – alongside Malenko, Saturn and Eddie Guerrero – quit WCW, just a day after Benoit had won the WCW title from Sid at the Souled Out PPV in 2000. The World Wrestling Federation came calling for Benoit, as he would eventually get the push that so eluded him during his days in Georgia.
Starting as the Radicalz, Benoit (and company) quickly turned heel on Mick Foley after they lost a series of "tryout matches", instead aligning themselves with Triple H to "get work" in the company. Along the way, Benoit went through several babyface and heel turns, and pick up a hatful of title belts, the first one coming at WrestleMania 2000, pinning Chris Jericho in the first fall of a two-fall, triple threat match to win Kurt Angle's Intercontinental title.
During this time, Benoit would have flirtations with the WWF title, coming close to winning it from the Rock at the Fully Loaded PPV later in 2000, then again at the Unforgiven PPV a few months later. As Benoit was pushed as a serious contender for the World title, the "Rabid Wolverine" seriously injured his neck in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match – an injury that would keep him on the sidelines for a year.
In that time, the WWE started its roster split, with the injured Benoit being drafted third for SmackDown. It shouldn't be too much of a surprise to note then, that when he returned from injury, it was on Raw, albeit for a few weeks, during which time he aligned himself with Eddie Guerrero, won the Intercontinental title, then lost it back to Raw's Rob Van Dam.
As we headed towards the end of 2002, SmackDown was introducing its version of the tag team titles – a set of titles that were largely contested over by three teams: Los Guerreros, Rey Mysterio and Edge, and the dream team of Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit. Benoit only lifted those titles once with Angle, it was only something to keep him occupied until his next singles push began the following summer, as the United States title was reborn.
Making it all the way to the final, Benoit lost to Eddie Guerrero as the US title suddenly became a secondary concern – Chris had an eye on the big one, as he started to chase after the WWE title that was held by Brock Lesnar. Along the way, Benoit beat some of the biggest grapplers in the WWE, including Lesnar in a non-title match, but his ongoing storyline vendetta with then-SmackDown GM Paul Heyman saw that Benoit would never get a shot at Lesnar or his WWE title. That effectively ended Benoit's career on SmackDown, but we had to wait until he won the Royal Rumble – after starting the match as the first entrant – before he jumped back to Raw to challenge Triple H for his World heavyweight title.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Although Benoit's singles career had fluctuated since losing the World title to Randy Orton at SummerSlam 2004, he was always one of the most respected performers on any WWE card – and could be relied to get a good match out of just about anyone (not called Billy Gunn). It was that aspect of Benoit's wrestling skill that became the driving force behind his recent "draft" to ECW, with the view to him training several of the greener wrestlers on the brand, much in the way that Finlay did with Lashley last year.
Of course, that never happened. Benoit, who was by all reports, set to become the ECW champion (and the only person to hold major singles and tag team gold in WWE, WCW and ECW) at the Vengeance PPV this past weekend. The ill-fated family emergency saw Benoit miss that weekend's house shows in Texas, before the news broke on Monday evening.
As I write this, I'm still in shock: I cannot believe that the man who I idolised as a wrestler for almost a decade has died. I also cannot believe the way in which he left us.
None of us really knew Chris Benoit – the human being. From the comments that have been made since his death, that has become quite clear. The only side that I, and all of us reading this, knew of was "Chris Benoit: the wrestler". While the events surrounding his death will undoubtedly have tarnished his memory among wrestling fans, as far as his work in the ring goes, we're all going to miss him.