Wherever you looked on social media last week, the main two topics of conversations in the wrestling world were COVID-19 and Chris Benoit. Unfortunately, neither in a positive light. In the case of Chris Benoit, it’s one of negativity and hatred over the events that led to the 2007 tragedy. What some people may not care to admit is that the ‘Rabid Wolverine’ was one of the greatest technical wrestlers to ever lace up the boots and a true pioneer. We remember Chris Benoit as the influential wrestler, not the man whose actions are, to this day, deplorable.
Benoit began his pro-wrestling career in 1985 for Stampede Wrestling under the guidance of Stu Hart. Benoit won several championships under that promotion including the Stampede British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Championship, International Tag Team Titles, and the British Commonwealth Titles. Needless to say, this was an incredible start for the man that would be destined for bigger things. In 1989, the promotion closed its doors and Benoit was referred to New Japan Pro Wrestling.
In 1989, He would make his Japanese debut under a mask dubbed ‘The Pegasus Kid.’ Benoit would go on to have some incredible matches with Jushin Liger, Shinjiro Otani, Black Tiger, and El Samurai, and in August 1990, Benoit would capture the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship from Liger.
Their program would span roughly a year where he would eventually drop his title and later his mask. Benoit would wrestle under a new moniker named ‘Wild Pegasus.’ Some of his final accomplishments in NJPW would be winning the Best of the Super Juniors tournament two times and The Super J Cup Tournament.
In 1992, Benoit would have a brief stint in World Championship Wrestling where he didn’t find much success and headed back to Japan. Two years later, he would find his way to Extreme Championship Wrestling where he worked as a vindictive and cold-hearted heel dubbed ‘The Crippler.’ Benoit would form a tag team with Dean Malenko and capture the ECW Tag Team Titles. The duo would align themselves with Shane Douglas and hold all three major championships at the height of their run.
During this time, Benoit’s Visa card had expired and he was forced back to Japan. Fortunately for him, NJPW and WCW held a talent exchange program which allowed the ‘Canadian Crippler’ to return to WCW and wrestle in their cruiserweight division. WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair was highly impressed with Benoit’s work ethic and had him join the reformed Four Horseman.
A few years later, Benoit would enter into a program with Booker T over the WCW World Television Championship, where the two superstars would engage in a best of eight tournament. Benoit would lose to his rival at the Great American Bash pay-per-view but later found success in the tag division where he would capture the WCW World Tag Team Titles alongside Malenko.
The ‘Rabid Wolverine’ would remain in WCW until 2000 when he and several other smaller superstars who felt underappreciated including Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, and Perry Saturn, left for World Wrestling Entertainment.
The four degenerates entered the scene in a stable dubbed ‘The Radicalz’ where their services were acquired by Triple H, who was feuding with Mick Foley at the time. At WrestleMania XVI, Benoit would capture the Intercontinental Championship in a triple-threat match from then-champion Chris Jericho. He would later drop the title to Rikishi on Smackdown and then challenge The Rock for the WWE Title at Fully Loaded. Benoit initially won the title in his first main event on a pay-per-view after his manager Shane McMahon interfered, but the match was restarted.
Benoit would stay in between the mid-card and main event title scene over the next few years, capturing the Intercontinental Championship several times, WWE Tag Team Titles, and continuing his pursuit of the WWE Championship. But as his cult-fan base grew, at the 2004 Royal Rumble pay-per-view, the ‘Rabid Wolverine’ won the Men’s Royal Rumble and deciding his spot in the main event of WrestleMania XX.
Since Benoit was an exclusive SmackDown superstar, many believed he would challenge for the WWE Title, but he found a “loophole” and instead showed up on Monday Night Raw to challenge the World Heavyweight Champion Triple H. This feud went on to define his career as a whole.
Benoit became the first of many superstars in WWE history to go against the grain and not challenge for the main title on their respective brands. The match was supposed to be a one-on-one until Shawn Michaels, who had been feuding with HHH over the past year, inserted himself into the main event, turning it into a tremendous triple-threat match at WrestleMania.
In what was arguably one of the greatest main events in Mania history, after twenty-four minutes of gruelling technical wrestling and hard-hitting action, the ‘Rabid Wolverine’ tapped out HHH with his signature Crippler Crossface submission hold to capture the World Heavyweight Championship. During his post-match celebration, his longtime rival and friend Eddie Guerrero, also the current WWE Champion, embraced him in a hug as confetti rained down in the middle of the ring.
This would remain the lasting image of Chris Benoit’s success in WWE.
Despite Benoit falling back down into the mid-card fray after losing his World Heavyweight Championship to ‘The Legend Killer’ Randy Orton, Chris continued to wow fans with sensational, hard-hitting affairs that were more akin to a shoot-style NJPW match than a WWE spectacle.
It’s easy to see how Benoit’s tenacious wrestling style influenced other characters in the world of pro wrestling. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the closing moments of WrestleMania XXX as Daniel Bryan tapped out Batista to become the new World Heavyweight Champion, reminiscent of Benoit with confetti falling from the sky during his celebration.
There are a plethora of other superstars that may never have made it in WWE if not for Benoit’s perseverance, and flair for the technical-side of wrestling: Finn Balor, Roderick Strong, Johnny Gargano to name a few.
Thanks to Benoit’s hard work and dedication to making it to the pinnacle of pro wrestling, the landscape has been changed forever. The ‘Rabid Wolverine’ was one of the absolute best technical wrestlers in the game, and thanks to his work in the wrestling ring, we wouldn’t see the amount of incredible wrestlers in WWE today.
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