I understand the content of this article may be considered controversial. So let me make this clear right off the bat. I am NOT here to discuss the circumstances surrounding Chris Benoit’s death, or any of the controversies regarding the murder-suicide and how the name Benoit is perceived in the wrestling community. I’ve already done that on the website I write a weekly column for, Veracity, which you can read by clicking right here.
By the way, bookmark Veracity to see a weekly wrestling column by me, as well as other great content! Thanks!
Back to the topic at hand. This article is not meant to glorify Chris Benoit by any means. But, being that he was at one time one of my top ten favorite wrestlers, I feel it’s only right to do at least one list about his career highlights. And with the tenth anniversary of his death having just passed, what better time than now?
So again, I ask that any feedback you give me here be kept positive. I’m not looking to have a discussion or argument about the wrestler I once admired. I simply want to acknowledge ten awesome Chris Benoit career moments that no one else out there (in the mainstream anyway) will be pointing out anymore.
Rest in peace to Chris, as well as his wife Nancy, and his young son Daniel, who all passed away in June of 2007. I wish the family all the best as they continue to deal with these unanswered questions.
Now, onto the countdown:
MY TOP 10 FAVORITE CHRIS BENOIT CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
Before we begin, here are two quick honorable mentions:
-The WrestleMania 21 Money in the Bank Ladder Match. This was the inaugural match that kicked off the Money in the Bank gimmick that now has a whole PPV event dedicated to it. The match featured Edge (the eventual winner), Chris Jericho, Kane, Christian, Shelton Benjamin, and Chris Benoit. While Benoit wasn’t the victor, or even one of the favorites to win, he did steal the show in the match with his incredible selling, making the audience believe he was actually working with one functional arm. Without his incredible work rate being put in, the MiTB Ladder Match may not have blown up into the spectacle it is today.
-WCW Uncensored ’98: United States Championship Triple Threat. One of the things that made WCW so successful in the mid 90’s was their amazing mid-card. Chris Benoit, Raven, and the rising star of Diamond Dallas Page competed for the US Title in a Falls Count Anywhere match. The match is considered more of a DDP highlight, as he walked in and out the champion, pinning Raven after a top rope Diamond Cutter “through” a table (the table not actually breaking with a final highlight in a vicious match). Still, the inclusion of Chris Benoit’s amazing work rate helped solidify this match as a must-see, on an overly gimmicked annual PPV that was often WCW’s worst show of the year. No matter what anyone said about WCW, their mid-card talent from 1996-mid 1998 were the best of the best.
10. WILD PEGASUS DEFEATED GREAT SASUKE TO WIN THE 1994 NJPW SUPER J CUP
No list of Chris Benoit’s career highlights would be complete without the moment that launched his career from that of a “good wrestler” to an “international superstar” and led to his American fame. The tournament, created by legendary masked Japanese wrestler Jushin Thunder Liger, showcases junior heavyweights from all across the globe. 1994 was the first of what would become a spectacle of Japanese wrestling. Benoit, competing under the name Wild Pegasus, would become the winner of the first tournament. He would defeat his close friend Eddy Guerrero (competing as Black Tiger) in the quarterfinals, the legendary Gedo in the semifinals, and the Great Sasuke in the finals. Not only was it rare for a foreign wrestler to win a major Japanese title of any kind, it was even rarer to have the fans cheer wildly for the result. This single tournament set dozens of eyes on Benoit, and got him steady work in the States, launching him into ECW where another important chapter would follow.
9. CHRIS BENOIT BECOMES “THE CRIPPLER” AFTER BREAKING SABU’S NECK
There’s nothing funny about breaking somebody’s neck. While the hardcore legend Sabu would bounce back from his injury, he still had to deal with a terrifying and potentially career-ending moment, all from a wrestling move gone wrong. On November 5, 1995 at the ECW Arena in front of a rabid Philadelphia crowd, Benoit’s release suplex went horribly wrong as Sabu, over-compensating for the lift, fell on his head and tweaked his neck badly. Benoit felt horrible about what he did, and according to wrestling legend, was relieved when Paul Heyman called him with good news. However, the news wasn’t to update Chris on Sabu’s condition, oh no. It was to inform Chris that Paul had coined a new nickname for him: The Crippler. Benoit would now become a vicious wrestler hell-bent on crippling people. This persona got him even more over with the ECW faithful, and the nickname stayed with Chris until the end of his career. Considering that the ECW fans were known for chanting things like “you suck dick” or “she’s a crack whore,” it is really a shocker that a nickname about crippling people got over with them?
8. CHRIS BENOIT & CHRIS JERICHO VS. STEVE AUSTIN & TRIPLE H, MONDAY NIGHT RAW, 5/21/01
May 21, 2001 should’ve been a highlight match for the ages. The Canadian Chrises, Jericho and Benoit, snatched the World Tag Team Championship belts away from the Two Man Power Trip, consisting of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Triple H. The match is considered to be one of the greatest matches in the history of Monday Night Raw. Since the show has been on the air weekly since 1993, that’s an extremely impressive feat to accomplish. The match can, and should, be watched by everyone involved in the professional wrestling business. Once again, the workhorse that is Chris Benoit helped make the match extremely memorable. Unfortunately, any positive memories of this match were destroyed when it was discovered that Triple H had torn his quad clear off the bone. Hunter, ever the tough professional, managed to finish the match and even dealt with being put into the Walls of Jericho (twice). His injury resulted in bittersweet memories of what Jericho has been quoted as calling “the rare and elusive perfect match.” In the grand scheme of Chris Benoit highlights, this one cannot be overlooked, despite the injury circumstances that followed. Triple H’s quad aside, it is indeed a perfect match.
7. CHRIS BENOIT & BOOKER T’S BEST OF SEVEN SERIES
While Chris Benoit will go down in history as being one of the best technical wrestlers in the history of the sport, Booker T will be a wrestler who deserves a mention when it comes to being an excellent worker. In WCW in 1998, they had a best of seven series for the Television Title, beginning on an episode of Nitro and ending at the Great American Bash. While Booker T would ultimately win the series, each match was an amazing showcase of athleticism that would cement both men’s careers as being all time greats. A best of seven series has a lot of potential to go south, since the fans are going to get seven matches between the same two wrestlers. This forces the wrestlers in question to get creative, and make sure that they give the viewers a different type of match each and every time. It is a testament to the abilities of both men that they made the series excellent to watch the whole way through. Booker T and Chris Benoit’s best of seven is still talked about to this day as a career highlight for both men. If any wrestler needed to know how to have a series of matches with the same opponent, and ensure that they’re all worth watching, they need look no further.
6. CHRIS BENOIT VS. KURT ANGLE AT THE 2003 ROYAL RUMBLE
Would you like a watch a perfect wrestling match between two master technicians that tells one hell of a story? Check out this WWE Championship match between longtime rivals Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle at the 2003 Royal Rumble. This was far from being the first time Benoit and Angle had squared off one-on-one, but most wrestling fans agree this was their best match of all. Not only is this heralded as a great wrestling match, it’s also labeled as one of the best in the history of the Royal Rumble PPV. That’s an accomplishment in itself, as the Rumble match is generally the highlight of the evening. Kurt Angle was the victor here, but keeping in tradition with how great of a wrestler Chris Benoit was, he didn’t have to win the match to have the match be considered a career highlight. In fact, his loss only made the fans endear him more, as he got a standing ovation after the battle. This match helped the fans forget the debacle that preceded it, with Scott Steiner blowing spot and spot against Triple H. With their pallets cleansed, the fans warmly applauded Chris Benoit for a job well done, even in defeat.
5. CHRIS BENOIT VS. CHRIS JERICHO, LADDER MATCH AT THE 2001 ROYAL RUMBLE
Okay, so Chris Benoit has certainly won a lot of matches, but this isn’t one of them. Of course, that speaks to the amazing quality performer he was that people are remember the match as a whole, and not necessarily that Chris won. The other Chris involved in this match, Chris Jericho, was your winner this evening. Although it was Benoit who thought of the brilliant Walls of Jericho spot atop the ladder you see pictured above. On the night of the 2001 Royal Rumble, Benoit and Jericho battled for Benoit’s Intercontinental Championship in an exciting Ladder Match. This match was the final battle between the two men in their long feud that began at the previous year’s WrestleMania. Benoit and Jericho spent the majority of 2000 having exciting matches and trading victories, until this match put a stopper on their long-term rivalry. In easily one of the best feuds ever witnessed by a WWF fan, Jericho and Benoit performed a spot-filled match that ended with Jericho retrieving the title belt and standing victorious. As good as the title match between Kurt Angle and Triple H was, Benoit and Jericho stole the show in another match that will be listed as one of the Rumble’s all time greatest.
4. BRET HART VS. CHRIS BENOIT, THE OWEN HART TRIBUTE MATCH
This will be the last item on the list that Benoit doesn’t win, although Bret had lobbied for him to win the match, but was shut down due to the match’s context. As illustrated by both the Hitman in his autobiography and by the authors of my favorite wrestling book “The Death of WCW,” Chris Benoit and Bret “The Hitman” Hart met on an episode of Nitro to wrestle a match dedicated to Bret’s younger brother Owen, who had tragically passed away. At this point on Nitro, the show was filled with TV crash matches, lasting only a few minutes in length. It was rare to see performers give a PPV caliber performance on free television anymore, but Bret and Benoit delivered, in the name of professional wrestling. The only thing the WCW executives nixed was Bret’s request to put Chris Benoit over, as they felt Bret should stand victorious in a match dedicated to his fallen brother. The fans gave both men a standing ovation as they embraced in an excellent match that exceeded twenty minutes in length – an eternity to Nitro fans at that point. These fans got great wrestling, and there’s no doubt that Owen would’ve smiled wide had he been there to witness it.
3, BENOIT WINS THE WCW WORLD TITLE & THE RADICALZ JUMP SHIP TO THE WWF
Souled Out 2000 would be a PPV event for the history books. On this night, Chris Benoit would make Sid Vicious tap out to the Crippler Crossface, and finally become the WCW World Heavyweight Champion. It was a moment that would finally allow Benoit and other Cruiserweight class wrestlers to finally get the exposure they had worked so hard for in WCW. Instead, Benoit, along with Eddy Guerrero, Dean Malenko, and Perry Saturn, would leave WCW the next day and jump ship to the WWF. This was a huge deal, as these four talents left WCW without the true soul of their product, and left them devoid of four of the best workers they had. In another historic moment, they would obliterate Nitro in the ratings with the Radicalz spot on the show being the true highlight. These four men were once told that they’d never put asses in seats, and they did just that to WCW’s competition. As for the title match itself, Sid’s leg was under the rope when he tapped out. The idea was that this would lead to an automatic rematch in the storylines, but instead, it was used as the reason why Benoit was no longer champion and the title was vacated. WCW would die out in March of 2001, while Benoit and his friends would enjoy success and freedom in the WWF. This was one of the many nails in the coffin of WCW, but it was a damn big nail.
2. CHRIS BENOIT WINS THE 2004 ROYAL RUMBLE
There is no doubt that Chris Benoit’s true banner year in professional wrestling was 2004. His top two career moments on this list are both from that year, and this is the event that started the ball rolling. Chris Benoit was forced to be #1 in that year’s Royal Rumble by Smackdown General Manager Paul Heyman. Benoit would have to go coast-to-coast to earn his main event spot at WrestleMania, just like Shawn Michaels did in 1995. That’s exactly what Chris Benoit did. In what would become my second favorite Royal Rumble match of all time (#1 being 1992 with Ric Flair), Chris Benoit would outlast 29 other competitors, including top talents like Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Rob Van Dam, Randy Orton, John Cena, and Bill Goldberg (who was #30) to secure his spot in the main event of the historic WrestleMania XX. This a great overall Royal Rumble to watch, because it has a satisfying conclusion to a match that was booked very well, even if nobody in their right mind saw Big Show as a credible person to throw Benoit out of the ring. Sorry Shawn Michaels, but Chris Benoit is the real #1 MVP in Royal Rumbles, because his Rumble didn’t have 60-second intervals between entrants, resulting in a match that only lasted 34 minutes.
1. CHRIS BENOIT MAIN EVENTS WRESTLEMANIA XX AND WINS THE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
Chris Benoit likely didn’t celebrate his eventual WCW world title victory because he was fed up with the place and knew that the belt wasn’t going to change his mind. This was different though. Chris Benoit earned a spot in the main event of the biggest annual professional wrestling show in history: WrestleMania. He also got to compete in the historic twentieth WrestleMania event at the world famous arena Madison Square Garden. And if that wasn’t enough, he defeated two WWE legends: Triple H and Shawn Michaels, in one of the greatest WrestleMania matches in history. Even funnier, the belt that he won was originally used in WCW, the company that never saw Benoit’s worth until it was too late. An emotional Chris Benoit finally achieved his dream, and his best friend Eddy Guerrero would embrace him to close out the show. Chris Benoit would hold the World Heavyweight Championship throughout the summer, until he lost it to Randy Orton at SummerSlam, but 2004 would forever be Benoit’s year. WrestleMania XX was truly the biggest highlight in the career of Chris Benoit.
With all that said, it is highly unlikely I will ever do another blog about Chris Benoit. Once again, I ask that any feedback you leave be respectful, or it will be deleted. I wish peace to the families, and hope the souls of Chris, Nancy, and Daniel will rest easily forever. They will never be forgotten by this passionate wrestling fan.