****** – With Blair A. Douglas and KON (Chris Benoit, Woman, Kevin Sullivan)
Pulse has been doing anniversary articles recently and Sunday marked five years since the murder-suicide thing. Blair A. Douglas (BAD) joined me to talk about the man’s life…
KON: What was your first memory of Chris Benoit?
BAD: We didn’t get ECW up in Canada until 1999, or WCW until 1996, so WCW in early 1996 was the first I saw of Chris Benoit. Keep in mind, WCW at that point was filled with a lot of ex-WWE guys, and right at the start of the nWo angle. Chris Benoit was with The Horsemen at the time, who were only intermittently involved with that angle. And, it took a while to get fully immersed into WCW, as they had a huge roster at the time. Around that same time however, one of the “B” storylines on Nitro was the Horsemen and the Dungeon of Doom feud, which was centered around Chris Benoit and Kevin Sullivan. I had seen some of Benoit in a Cruiserweight capacity and thought he was quite good, but this very intense feud was the first time I saw Benoit in any kind of program which showed any of his depth. I was probably as impressed with Benoit around this time as I was with anyone in WCW or WWE.
KON: I liked the incarnation of The Horsemen with Pillman and Benoit, but the Alliance To End Hulkamania as a whole was quite shite.
I couldn’t stand Kevin Sullivan. He seems like a nice guy in his shoot interviews and whatnot, but back in ’95 he was a dwarf with yellow Hogan style speedos and the worse face-paint in the business. They did a thing where The Horsemen stole Woman (who I’m sure we’ll get to later) and Elizabeth from Savage (who was in the middle of a Mega Powers reunion at the time), you could see that Liz was six or seven inches taller than The Taskmaster.
BAD: In truth, I don’t know that much about Sullivan. He did okay in those brawls with a guy like Benoit, though. The Alliance To End Hulkamania was indeed terrible. I never saw it back then, but I’ve seen clips of it since and it looks dreadful.
From there, Benoit went back to more Horseman-related business. He teamed with Mongo against a tweener-Jeff Jarrett and Dean Malenko, and the interesting thing about this to me was that Benoit played a heel at the time, yet was clearly the same wrestler and character he had been when fighting Sullivan. This was the type of thing that WCW did quite well – in my opinion, WWE has struggled with this concept, at that time anyway, of having characters that were less black-and-white babyface and heel. After that, the Horsemen became more active against the nWo – this led to fights where he teamed with Flair and Mongo against bigger names that WCW had at the time like Kevin Nash. Benoit was obviously the youngest guy in there, and I thought he showed great fire, speed and ability.
KON: Benoit beat Sullivan in a retirement match during Bash at the Beach ’97, which was kinda nice of Kevin, given that Chris had taken his wife (which happened during a storyline were, uh, Benoit and Woman had an affair). Sullivan moved on to booking and Benoit moved on to the role of WCW Television Champion…
1998 was a strange year for WCW, but the under-card remained solid. Booker and Benoit faced off a bunch of times, then Bret Hart tried to convince the crippler to join nWo version 28342. Both Booker and Benoit came out looking quite good.
BAD: Whatever you thought of Sullivan, you have to give it to him for being willing to go down to Benoit after what happened, AND for giving up his career to a relatively young and somewhat unproven guy. As for 1998, that was when I think WCW started it’s slower decline. It wasn’t all negatives though – in addition to that GREAT series with Booker (which still holds up today, and which I would still buy a DVD box-set of), Benoit also had some great matches with DDP and Raven. I’m not a huge fan of DDP, but his matches with Savage and Benoit I think are his best work. The Raven stuff impressed me because Raven isn’t someone who wrestles Benoit’s style. I can’t say I remember Bret trying to convince Benoit to join nWo, but I do believe it was 1999 when Bret and Benoit had a couple of really great matches…
KON: Benoit teamed with Malenko to lift the WCW Tag-Team titles in early ’99. After a short-lived Horsemen reunion, Chris lifted the WCW United States Heavyweight Championship and formed The Revolution with Saturn, Shane Douglas and Malenko. It was supposed to be a bunch of guys who were angry about being held down, but Russo was on a massive South Park fix at the time and decided to turn it into an Anti-America thing. Benoit left them towards the end of the year and had an Owen Hart tribute match with Bret sometime in October.
In Sullivan’s Timeline DVD from Kayfabe Commentaries, he talks about being given a very short period of time to book a long period of time. Goldberg was out with glass window related injuries, so they decided to give the belt to Chris in order to lighten the mood backstage and re-package Sid as a more serious character (the idea being to have Goldberg beat Vicious upon his return). Benoit still wasn’t happy, so he, along with Guerrero, Malenko and Perry Saturn, walked to New York. Douglas was going to be part of the deal (he hated WCW management for not giving him a title the day he signed), but WWF didn’t really want nor know what to do with him.
It was a big loss to WCW. Sullivan talks about this on his Timeline DVD too. Those four were putting on solid matches every time they walked out, regardless of their slot on the card. WCW had lost Jericho about six months before, so they really needed those four to make other, newer guys look good. Without them, well, Jim Duggan ended up being TV Champion after finding the belt in a trash can.
BAD: I was initially very into the idea of the Revolution, and was a big fan of Benoit and Saturn in particular. It was clear by 1999 that WCW had to figure out what their next “big deal” was going to be, and I thought the Revolution could be it. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. The Owen Hart tribute match was indeed fantastic, but WCW’s problems became a lot more apparent on-screen by the time Benoit had left. I believe they had just re-formed nWo once again with Bret as the leader, but then Bret got hurt, and Hall and Steiner got suspended. I believe Benoit was thrown into the main-event against Sid AFTER all of that happened in the first place, so Benoit may have made his mind up before they actually decided to put the belt on him. From what I heard, he offered to lose it before-hand, but WCW told him “thanks but no thanks” so he just went to WWE with the others you mentioned. The revolving door that WCW was became a lot more apparent after this happened – as you said, they had lost Jericho not long before that, and Big Show not long before THAT.
Is that really what happened with Douglas? I hadn’t heard that story. Shane is a weird dude. Anyway, WCW clearly didn’t know what to do with Benoit and his friends, and WWE was incredibly smart to pick them all up. I was really stoked to see that happen – I also thought their initial entrance into the company and heel turn was very well done. They just showed up on RAW in the front row, and beat up DX, who were heels at the time. They aligned themselves with Mick Foley, who was Triple H’s biggest challenger at that point. They competed in singles matches to get regular contracts, but couldn’t get the job done. Eventually, they turned on Foley when Triple H was the one who offered them regular contracts.
KON: Of the four, Benoit seemed to get the biggest push out of the gate. As much as WWF thought they wanted Malenko and Saturn, it’s kinda clear that they had no idea what to do with them. Eddie won a title shortly after joining, but he was stuck buggering about with Chyna for most of the year. Wrestlemania 2000 was the night of Benoit’s first WWF title win, defeating Angle and Jericho to become the Intercontinental Champion. By the time summer rolled around, he was getting screwed out of the WWF Championship in several main events.
BAD: Actually, he cheated in those main events and Foley reversed the decision – you’re right about Malenko and Saturn too, although I think there was more they could have done with Saturn. Benoit winning that great Triple-Threat at WrestleMania against Angle and Jericho surprised me, as I was sure that was going to be Jericho’s win. Speaking of that, Jericho and Benoit also had a very long feud around this time, with several different types of PPV matches which stole the show. I remember a couple of the ladder matches in particular being quite good. This was my favourite part of Benoit’s WWE run.
KON: He faced Kurt Angle again at Mania XVII in 2001, won the WWF World Tag-Team championship with Jericho and fucked his back up just in time to miss the invasion storyline.
He returned in 2002 to win both the IC title and the post-Brand Extension WWE Tag Titles with, believe it or not, Kurt Angle.
He started 2003 by facing, you’ll never guess… Kurt fucking Angle (then WWE champion) at the Royal Rumble. After that, well, hold on…
What the fuck was going on?
Angle and Benoit couldn’t wrestle other guys?
Were they really close or something?
Did Vince just have no idea what to do after the Brand Extension?
BAD: I never looked at it like that – that’s a good question. Either way, Benoit’s team with Angle was cool, and his matches with Kurt Angle, where he just couldn’t beat him, were as good as any that WWE has ever had. I remember his match against Angle at the Royal Rumble being particularly off the charts. And I remember reading something along the lines that Kurt and Benoit loved working together, although who knows if that was true or not. Kurt was already a made man by this point, and I considered that program that he had with Benoit to be exactly what was needed to bring Benoit to the main-event stage. And Benoit didn’t even need to win any of the matches for that to be the case.
KON: Benoit would lose for most of 2003 before going on to win a match for “the best spot in the Royal Rumble”. When Rumble 2004 rolled around, Benoit was the first man in the ring and the last one out. The Crippler beat Triple H and Shawn Michaels in the main even of Wrestlemania XX, winning the WHC in the process.
It’s not often that HHH lets someone else go over. With Eddie and Chris holding the two top belts at the time, it’s a shame I was no longer watching.
BAD: There wasn’t a lot else going on at the time, so no one can blame you for not watching around then. Not RAW, anyway. I remember SmackDown being all right about then. I don’t think that’s actually true about Triple H (Batista, Orton, Hardy, HBK, etc.), but either way, this was a cool moment. I loved seeing Benoit win the RR, especially going in at #1. Everyone pretty much knew he would win at WM, and it was a cool moment, especially seeing him and Eddie at the end. And as much as we all enjoyed it, I think in our minds, we all knew that Benoit wasn’t going to be the face of the promotion for the long-term.
That didn’t bother me, though. I just thought it was cool to see a guy who I always thought was really good back when I started watching him in WCW, win the biggest belt you can win on the biggest show there is.
KON: He held the World Tag Team titles with Edge shortly after. Then, much like what happened with Angle, they feuded for quite a while. Edge won the feud in 2005 by hitting Benoit in the back of the head with a brick.
“Hey Vince, what about a steel chair? What about the ring bell? What about a ladder? what about the money in the Bank briefcase?”
“Shut the fuck up you god damn pissant, Edge will win by way of… a brick! Yes! I’m a genius, NOW GET BACK TO THE COCK SUCKING!”
I remember Benoit v Eddie at One Night Stand in 2005. Good match, good PPV, just not enough to get me back into wrestling. After that, Benoit beat the shit out of Orlando Jordan is a series of matches that lasted roughly 90 seconds when combined.
Eddie died in November of 2005. Benoit faced HHH in a tribute match, then Malenko entered the ring and the three paid their respects.
BAD: I remember the brick – sure makes a steel chair look like small potatoes, don’t it? That One Night Stand PPV was a thing of beauty, although I thought Benoit / Eddie should have been better than it was. Do not remember Benoit / Orlando Jordan, but that’s probably for the best. Eddie dying was a really, really sad thing – all the wrestlers did great tributes for him. Benoit looked completely destroyed that his friend had died. From some accounts, people said that this was when Benoit started (or at least accelerated) his descent into madness. (A phrase I’ve never had the opportunity to use in a wrestling column before now.)
After Eddie died, I remember Benoit doing another Best Of 7 series with Booker T, trying to re-capture the goodness of their WCW series. I think they did a damn good job, but if I remember, someone got hurt and had to be replaced before they could finish. Disappointing, but these things happen. I believe it was during this series that Benoit did a sick dive out of the ring and destroyed his spine on the announce table, a spot that made it onto the “Don’t Try This At Home” bumper. Benoit’s facial expression after he hit that table was… uncomfortable.
KON: After the Best of 7 he, uh, “broke JBL’s hand” during their feud, then faced Finlay for a while before a “Vaderesque” Mark Henry “broke” the crippler (the irony, she is not lost on me). Benoit then took time off to recover from non-kayfabe injuries.
He regained the US Title in his second match back, then feuded with Chavo and Vickie Guerrero for some strange reason. You’d think they would’ve teamed up after Eddie’s passing, but what the fuck do I know, I’m just a blogger…
Benoit spent most of early-2007 in a feud with MVP over the US Title, eventually dropping it in a 2 out of 3 falls match at Judgement Day.
In his time with WWF/E, he managed to rack up one WHC reign, three US title runs, four IC and Tag Title reigns… I can’t say the storylines were particularly memorable though.
BAD: I wasn’t watching much around the JBL / Henry stuff – I do vaguely remember the Chavo stuff. I do remember the MVP feud as being quite good, and that feud definitely helped elevate MVP. Keep in mind, this is back when people expected bigger things from him – I thought MVP held his own quite well in matches against a guy as good as Benoit. I would argue though, that a lot of his title reigns / chases were quite memorable – the IC run with Jericho, the WHC title run with Angle / Rumble / Mania, and the US Title with MVP – those were all strong programs in my mind because they were based on “who’s better”, or at least the matches themselves – and not some cheesy over-acted nonsense.
Around this time, I didn’t know if Benoit would get another World Title run or not – but I do remember thinking that he was perfectly placed on the card, and thought he had a long, useful future in wrestling ahead of him. He was still putting on great matches, still getting strong reactions, and helping younger guys in the process.
KON: I guess a lot of it had to do with me growing out of wrestling during the time when he got big.
In 2002 I had prelims, then exams in early ’03. My father had moved a few hundred miles away for work and our house was up for sale, wrestling just wasn’t that much of a priority. Obviously I don’t remember the matches I didn’t watch, but I hadn’t heard a great deal about much of the stuff past his WHC reign.
I always enjoyed his matches, especially the stuff on NITRO back in the day. WWF was leaning towards smaller and faster guys at the time, but they’d still drop everything they had planned for guys who looked like Diesel.
BAD: WWE has always been like that – and became more and more so around the time that the things we’ve discussed happened. I became much more of a casual fan around this time too, especially as time went on and I had less and less reason to stay tuned in with guys like Orton, Batista and Cena dominating the shows. Benoit though, he was a constant, and even if the programs he was in weren’t the best, I still found him entertaining.
The thing I most liked about Benoit over the course of his entire career, even after disappearing from the main event and entering the later half of his career, was that he never lost what always appealed to me most about him – strong, quick, agile, fast – the complete package – and he genuinely appeared dangerous. In my opinion, anyway – you genuinely believed that whether it was real or fake, the guy had several ways he could knock you out or break a limb, at any time he felt like doing it.
KON: On the 25th of June, police found the dead bodies of Chris, his wife and their child. Chris has been scheduled to win the ECW Championship at Vengeance (John Morrison won it instead, make of that what you will) but missed the PPV and several house shows leading up to it.
I was on the Ain’t It Cool News message-boards at the time, we were all really, really shocked. Various “reports” were flying around, but nobody knew what really happened. WWE held a tribute show in place of the regularly scheduled RAW (which would’ve revealed who “killed” Vince, iirc). I watched, but the hard evidence was starting to hit the news sites and the whole thing felt really weird.
BAD: I was kind of dreading getting to this part.
I don’t remember where I originally saw the news, but it read that early reports indicated that Benoit and his family had apparently been murdered, but that an investigation was commencing. They had tried to do the RAW tribute show in the same spirit as the Owen / Eddie tribute shows, but you’re absolutely right, it was weird and uncomfortable. I believe it was actually DURING that RAW that the news of what actually happened started to come out. I guess on the one hand, WWE had assumed kind of the same thing I did, that a murder of some sort had taken place, and they couldn’t exactly go out and do a regular show after one of their performers had died. Maybe the thought had honestly never occurred to them that Benoit could be responsible for such a thing. Regardless of which you believe, WWE was in a tough spot and did what they thought would be the best way to go at the time with the information they had. Was it the smartest thing to do? Probably not, but it’s not “continue the PPV after Owen dies” level either.
KON: I’d say they were right to pay tribute to him. RAW is a wrestling show and Benoit was a wrestler.
Think of it another way. Lets say WWE got word of the real events, or maybe they didn’t find out Chris had died until after RAW: We would’ve got a Vince McMahon tribute show instead (due to his “death” via exploding limo), something that would’ve been looked back on as one of the worst moments in history (not just because of the storyline, they’d face accusations of mocking Benoit’s death as well).
We would never have got the Benoit tribute show.
With WWE erasing him from their history, that tribute show was the only moment the fans will ever get to remember Benoit as a great wrestler.
BAD: Definitely agree with this. I’m just saying there may have been a better way to do it, but that argument hinges on the idea that they would have known what really happened beforehand anyway.
Experts said something along the lines that Chris Benoit’s mind resembled that of a 65-year old Alzheimers patient. The man was not well, that much is clear. Hopefully they at least un-erase him from history sometime in the future. I’m not saying they need to go out of their way to mention him or honour him or anything like that, but let’s be honest. As terrible as it was, every single person who is a wrestling fan (and many who aren’t) knows what happened whether WWE mentions him or not.
KON: Thanks for taking part, Blair.
BAD: My pleasure, dude. It was fun.