Or…the one with you-know-who
Sometimes the destination matters a lot more than the route taken. Sometimes the joy is in the journey. During this countdown we've examined matches that were good in spite of the mediocre build and great builds that led to less-than-great matches.
This match is an example of the former. It is a magnificent match brought down a few notches by the half-assed build and follow-up. But before we get there, let me talk a little about Chris Benoit.
There are two undeniable truths about Benoit: he was a brilliant professional wrestler and in June of 2007 he murdered his wife and young son and hanged himself. Obviously the later matters far more than the former, but, at least in my opinion, the former does matter a little. I'm in no way, shape or form trying to whitewash what Benoit did, but there's so much more to his life than how he ended it.
When people study history, they should look at the sum totality of a person or event, hold it in their hand up to the light and turn it a little to see it from all angles. Based on all accounts, Benoit had the brain of an elderly Alzheimer's patient, riddled with abuse from years of dangerous maneuvers (like a few in this match we'll get to) and a vicious, hard-hitting style heavily influenced by the de facto shoot-style practiced in Japan. He also, based on all accounts, loved his wife and son dearly. I don't know what caused the man to snap and commit the horrific acts he did. The mind, especially one as damaged as his, works in strange ways.
All I'm asking for is a little perspective. I leave it up to you to judge Benoit in your own way. If you can't ever get past the fact that the man killed two other people, that's entirely your call and I will not begrudge you one iota for making that call. Me? I'm going to hold him up to the light and look at Chris Benoit from all angles.
All that being said, let's start today's article in earnest.
At WrestleMania XX, Chris Benoit won the World Heavyweight Championship in the main event clean as a sheet over the guy who had not only been the champ for much of the past two years, but who was also married to the boss's daughter and wielded his influence like one of his signature sledgehammers. I can't emphasize enough how big of a deal this was. You had Chris bleeping Benoit, the original "Vanilla Midget," the man who wrestled all over the world for years before landing his big break, making Triple H tap out in the middle of the ring in front of a delirious Madison Square Garden crowd to win the Big Gold Belt in the main event of Wrestle-bleeping-Mania. It was a hell of a moment.
The problem was that Benoit, despite being the champ, was never the man. He was the third wheel in the years-long feud between Shawn Michaels and Triple H. At Backlash (in Benoit's hometown of Edmonton) Benoit retained the belt over Michaels and Triple H, but at Bad Blood he was forced into a nothing feud with Kane (hmmm…using Kane as a placeholder to wrestle a champ who is a favorite of the smark crowd…I think I've seen this act before) while Triple H and Michaels hogged the main event spotlight with a intermittently long Hell in a Cell Match.
Benoit and Triple H main-evented Vengance, where Triple H only lost because Eugene, who was the forth-wheel in this feud, accidently hit Hunter with a chair, allowing Benoit to get the rollup. Fluke wins are ok every once in a while, but not when you are booking your champ to be sort of a forgotten man, winning only with the help of Eugene of all people
Orton gets into the picture by winning a battle royal on Raw in late July to be named the #1 contender. Orton was made to look super strong, but then again, so was the rest of Evolution – mainly Triple H. Despite not being involved in the match at all, Hunter's fingerprints were all over the buildup. On the go-home Raw for example, Benoit beat Hunter and Orton in a mess of a handicap match via DQ.Main Event Time!
We were treated to a fun JBL-Undertaker brawl immediately before this match, but the match between Orton and Benoit wasn't anything less than a great wrestling match. Since Earl Hebner was reffing, and since this match was in Canada (Toronto) we got tons of "You screwed Bret!" chants from the crowd, who spent the entire match either chanting "You Screwed Bret!," "Chris Benoit!" or "Let's Go Orton!" the entire time, with a few other chants thrown in for good measure. At times it felt like I was watching a soccer game, but every chant had meaning and purpose. It wasn't a crowd chanting to ignore the match and entertain themselves.
The match starts with a lot of mat-based chain wrestling by both men. Counters and reversals abound. Orton is incredibly fluid and transitions from one move to the other with ease, and Benoit was only one of the greatest technical wrestlers of all time.
The two traded Sharpshooters much to delight of the crowd. Each guy got the heat on the other for a few minutes at a time. At one point Benoit did a running tope and smashed his head right into the barricade. Rewatching this spot made my skin crawl, especially because Benoit had a history of neck trauma. Watching old wrestling matches and seeing guys take unprotected blows to the head makes me cringe and Benoit's vicious style means he took a lot of blows to the head and neck.
Like the six German suplexes he hit Orton with. Orton sold this perfectly – he deadweighted Benoit, feigning unconsciousness as the crowd counted along.
The two trade moves more as we get to the top gear. After getting his feet up on a diving headbutt (another cringe-worthy moment), Orton went for a cover only the get reversed into a Crippler Crossface that he sold beautifully. He rolled out of the Crossface and hit his RKO out of nowhere for the clean win.
After the match and Orton's legitimate show of emotion on winning the title, Benoit offered a handshake, begging the new champ to take his hand and be a man. Orton shook Benoit's hand, hinting at a face turn, or at least a tweener turn.
The match itself rocks, the follow-up sucked. The night after SummerSlam Orton beat Benoit again for the belt. Evolution threw him a celebration that turned into an ambush as they beat the crap out of Orton. Exactly four weeks after beating Benoit for the belt, Orton jobbed out to Triple H in a very good match at Unforgiven.
It would be over three years before Orton won either of the WWE's two main titles again. We were denied a true "Age of Orton" and a full-blown changing of the guard so Triple H could keep himself on the top of the mountain.
Curtain Jerker's Star Rating – The match itself is an easy 4 star. Everything else keeps it this low.
Up next - This next one features one of the more famous botches in recent vintage. To be fair, it wasn't anyone's fault.Also in this series: