I recently re-watched WrestleMania X-Seven for a podcast I’ll link to on my Twitter account when it gets posted. Many people call it the apex of the Attitude Era, and it’s certainly a memorable show for a litany of reasons. A really good show too, definitely worth the recommendation if you’ve got some free time. Most of you have free time these days.
After we finished talking about the Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit match, my podcasting partner asked me a question I hadn’t really thought about prior. Which is kind of weird because it’s something I would have thought quite a bit about in the past. He asked me something along the line of the following:
“Did you have a problem watching a Chris Benoit match?”
My answer kind of surprised me. As recently as June 2017, when I wrote a column about Benoit for one of Greg DeMarco’s sites, I would have told you “yes”. The circumstances around Benoit’s death were obviously very unsettling. The situation made a lot of us think about our fandom of pro wrestling, and changed many of our opinions on what we look for out of it.
I’ve become much more interested in the stories & the characters than I was the first time I watched WrestleMania X-Seven in 2001. Back then, I was all about the workrate. So I was always an advocate of Benoit’s even if he never really had much in the way of promo ability or charisma outside of the ring. I considered him one of the best in-ring talents of his generation, and based off that alone he deserved to be at the top of the card.
Yeah, I was a bit more simplistic back then. I also thought I knew who should be at the top of a card. In the time since, I’ve realized I have no idea. Other people get paid to make those decisions.
In any event, Angle vs. Benoit was something I was pretty hyped about as a high schooler that was all about the workrate. In my eyes, they were two of the best in the world, maybe even the top two at that point. Angle was an absolute phenom that took to pro wrestling like a fish to water. Benoit had been kicking ass for years and out-working everybody. It was one of those dream matches that seem so few & far between here in 2020.
Chris Benoit was also in the middle of the card.
Which was the absolute right place for it when you look at the card. You got a McMahon street fight. TLC 2. Undertaker vs. Triple H. Austin vs. Rock. THE GIMMICK BATTLE ROYAL. It was a loaded card! Angle & Benoit had fourteen minutes to work with, and they did the absolute best they could with them. It was a smartly worked match, which considering the reputation both guys have gotten over the years is tough to believe, but it’s true. They knew their place on the card. They knew their feud was going to continue after WrestleMania. There was no reason for them to put all their cards on the table.
So they worked a really great yet simplistic wrestling match. Some fun mat wrestling to start, a change of pace from most WWF matches at the time. They hit some spots, but nothing too dangerous or excessive. The story of the match was that Angle was out-wrestled, so he had to cheat to beat Benoit, and he rolled him up and used the tights to win. Simple! I wish some guys working today would watch it and learn something.
When you’re in the middle of the card, and you know you’re going to be wrestling your opponent for awhile afterwards, there’s no reason to do everything you can think of. Save something for later. This is a lesson being skipped over in the Performance Center, and maybe other wrestling schools today.
I got off on a rant there, but there’s a point I’m getting to.
I had no problem watching that Chris Benoit match. Then, I wondered if it was because of the match itself. See, there was nothing in that match that struck me as over the top. I didn’t see Benoit doing a tope suicida into a chair, which was one of his favored spots later on. I didn’t see multiple German suplexes. There weren’t missed moonsaults or missed diving headbutts. The moves that hit mattered. It was a smartly worked match.
Some Benoit matches might hit me a different way. I never liked when he did a tope suicida into a chair. I didn’t care for the diving headbutts off of cages. The rolling Germans were cool but kinda problematic. There were some suplexes that ended with head drops. When he was in Japan he did Tombstones off the top rope. The dude was almost always all out.
So that match hit me the right way. Or maybe it’s an indicator of the time that’s passed. It’s almost been thirteen years since the incident. Dark Side of the Ring kicked off their second season with a two-part episode about it. Perhaps enough time has passed where nobody should feel bad about watching his matches.
I still draw a line though. When Tyson Dux talks about it being an honor to play Benoit in the episodes, it makes me wonder. I mean, you can’t turn down work, and maybe the guy was your childhood idol. I wouldn’t mention it if I wanted to get more acting work. I’d like to have some range! But if Dux wants to get typecasted as the Benoit guy more power to him, I guess?
I’m just saying I don’t trust people that tell me they see Chris Benoit as an idol. As much as I liked him, once he did what he did I had to draw a line. Is that strange? I don’t think so. I feel it’s a lot less strange than these Benoit Truthers or the folks saying they still worship him after he killed some folks. But, here in 2020, apparently letting people die is a normal thing that one of our political parties wants to embrace so the economy can keep growing. So maybe I’m just out of touch.
I’m ok being out of touch.
I do feel like now is the time to watch those Chris Benoit matches. Some of you will love them. Some will hate them. We’ve got the time on our hands, so let’s swallow the pill. I freely admit that I may end up hating the experiment. I liked one match, but it wasn’t a normal match. Or maybe it was!
There isn’t a better time to revisit the Rabid Wolverine. Let’s do it now. Why not? People are telling me to watch this Tiger King thing on Netflix, and their pitch is that it’s a trainwreck. Wonderful. If you’re a hardcore wrestling fan, why not dig into some Benoit? Let’s decide his worth once and for all. Was he a Hall of Famer? Let’s find out.