We start this tribute column with Mike Lightning’s piece, followed by my own. Enjoy!
When names were discussed on which superstars to include for nominations for the Thunder & Lightning Pure Pro-Wrestling Hall of Fame, our second inductee, Chris Benoit was immediately mentioned. Despite anyone’s personal feeling about the man, no one can deny Benoit’s pure wrestling ability and athleticism in the ring. Benoit was one of the most popular mat technicians of our time. He was also one of the most respected wrestlers in the business by fellow wrestlers, wrestling officials and wrestling fans alike. Because of his pure wrestling genius, Chris Benoit, the wrestler, was a perfect candidate for our Pure Pro-Wrestling Hall of Fame. As voted by you, the fans, Benoit has become our second inductee into the PPW HOF.
Benoit debuted internationally in Canada for Stampede Wrestling in 1985. From there, Benoit went on to have a stint in Japan before briefly coming to the United States where he debuted with World Championship Wrestling in 1992. He only stayed with WCW until 1993, where he then headed back to Japan. Benoit would later resurface in the United States in Extreme Championship Wrestling in 1994. After a botched move with Sabu during a match, Benoit immediately went back to the locker room and broke down over the possibility of having paralyzed someone, but Paul Heyman saw an opportunity and gave Benoit the nickname “The Crippler.” In 1995, due to his work visa expiring and not re-applying in time to continue working in the US, Benoit left the company and went back to Japan, where he toured until WCW called.
In late 1995 WCW, who had a work relationship with Japan, called upon Chris Benoit to join the company. He stayed with the company until 2000, when himself along with Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, and Dean Malenko all jumped ship to WWE. During his five year period with WCW, Benoit’s singles career was catapulted during his long feud with Booker T over the WCW Television Championship. Benoit and Booker had a “Best-of-Seven” series to determine who would become the number one contender to the Television Championship, which was held by “Fit” Finlay at the time. Benoit, having gone up 3 to 1 in the series, eventually lost the series in officially eight matches. The seventh and final match between Booker and Benoit ended in a no contest after Bret Hart interfered on behalf of Benoit in an attempt to lure Benoit to join the New World Order. Benoit refused to win the match that way and told the referee about how he won, which got himself disqualified from the match. Having learned what transpired, Booker T went on to refuse to win the match by DQ, and agreed to fight Benoit for an 8th time at the 1998 Great American Bash. Booker went on to beat Benoit and then beat Fit Finlay to become the new Television Champion.
As a fan of wrestling, I distinctly remember Benoit and Booker’s “Best-of-Seven” matches because I became a fan of both wrestlers. I believed that both of them did everything they could for the fans during the series of matches and put on a lot of high quality wrestling matches during that time period. It has been widely considered that the “Best-of-Seven” series between these two catapulted them into singles stardom.
From 2000-2007, Chris Benoit was with the WWE where he went on to have his most successful run of his career in any organization. Benoit won the tag team championship a total of four times with Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho and Edge being his partners. He was a three-time WWE Intercontinental Champion and a four-time WWE United States Champion(five-time United States Champion total between WCW and WWE). He’s a one-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion, having won the 2004 Royal Rumble, where entered number one, being the second person behind Shawn Michaels to ever win the Rumble from the number one spot. He went on to WrestleMania 20 to win the World Title from Triple H in a triple threat match also involving Shawn Michaels, and forced Triple H to tap to the “Cripppler Crossface.” It marked the first time that a WrestleMania Main Event had ever ended in a submission. Benoit was also the 12th Triple Crown in WWE history.
On June 19th, Chris Benoit competed in his last match in the WWE, under the ECW Brand, where he defeated Elijah Burke. That weekend, Benoit was scheduled to win the ECW Championship for the first time, but we all know what happened to stop that from happening at Vengeance. Benoit in 1995 was booked to win the ECW Championship by Paul Heyman, but due to his work visa not being renewed those plans were scrapped. So, twelve years later at Vengeance, Chris Benoit was booked to win his first ECW Title, which subsequently never took place either.
Say what you want as fans, or as haters of Chris Benoit, but there’s nobody that can deny what Chris Benoit did for the industry and the sport of professional wrestling during his days as a wrestler. Benoit will forever be considered on the greatest technical wrestlers to ever grace a professional wrestling ring.
*My discussion of Chris Benoit is acknowledging and honoring what Benoit did in the ring as a wrestler and performer, and beyond that nothing else is going to be addressed by me. -JT
Chris Benoit was beyond a shadow of a doubt one of the most technically gifted superstars that I ever had the privilege to watch on television. From his days in WCW as a member of the Four Horsemen to his days as World Champion in WWE, Benoit’s career was incredible to witness and is one that will never be forgotten.
My first favorite memory of Chris is the intense athletic matches he had with Kurt Angle. Three of their epic matches came on pay per views. The first was an awesome battle of athleticism at WrestleMania 17(widely considered to be the best WM of all time). The second great match on pay per view was the two out of three falls match they put on at Judgment Day later in the year. My final favorite ppv match would come at the 2003 Royal Rumble for the WWE Championship. Any true wrestling fan could watch these matches over and over and know they’re witnessing some of the finest wrestling to ever take place in a WWE ring.
Going back a step, I think of the battles that Benoit had before he entered WWE. Benoit wrestled amazing matches in Japan as the Pegasus Kid. Some of his greatest work ever before entering a major American promotion came against the legendary Jushin Thunder Liger. Many people aren’t aware of the awesome technical contest that Benoit put on as the Pegasus Kid against Owen Hart as well. If you haven’t seen it, it’s nine minutes of wrestling that’s worth every second of viewing. My all time favorite Benoit match in WCW came against his good friend, Dean Malenko. During the first ever(and only Hog) Hog Wild pay per view in 1996, Benoit and Malenko wrestled a near thirty minute clinic that any true wrestling fan would appreciate. My last favorite non-WWE memory of Benoit would be the tribute match in Owen Hart’s memory that Benoit wrestled with Owen’s brother, Bret. The two actually wrestled the tribute match inside the Kemper Arena, where Owen Hart was killed just months earlier. It was a classy move on the part of WCW to do that for Bret.
As time went by for Benoit in WWE, he proved himself worthy of being the top guy on the Smackdown brand, and in 2004 he won the Royal Rumble. Instead of challenging the WWE Champion on Smackdown at the time(Brock Lesnar), Benoit opted to challenge Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship; the match became a triple threat when Shawn Michaels signed the contract as well. Together, the three had what is arguably the greatest triple threat match in WWE history at the history 20th WrestleMania event at Madison Square Garden.
The last thing I want to talk about is what Benoit was doing for the business near the end of his career. Benoit was helping build the mid card talent into huge stars. During the second set of seven matches with Booker T(the first happened in WCW), Booker got hurt and was replaced by Randy Orton. Orton would go on to win the series on Booker’s behalf. Benoit also feuded with Chavo Guerrero before he entered the final feud of his career with MVP. Benoit wrestled an excellent match at WM 23 against MVP where he retained the US Title after a diving headbutt finisher to get the win. Benoit would go on to defeat MVP the following month at Backlash, but then would drop the title to MVP in a two out of three falls match at Judgment Day(best match on the card that would feature John Cena defending the WWE Title against the Great Khali). Benoit’s final month in WWE would involve him being drafted to the ECW brand to work with CM Punk. Benoit’s match with Punk for the vacant ECW Title never took place.
Chris Benoit worked memorable matches on all levels during the course of his career. For his dedication to the business and his incredible mat performances during his career, and because the majority of you voted for him, we are proud to induct Chris Benoit into our Pure Pro-Wrestling Hall Of Fame.
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