Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic


January through August 2004: this period in pro wrestling history was all about the Crippler, Chris Benoit. The man many fans were dying to see crash through the glass ceiling did just that, and in spectacular fashion. Benoit dominated WWE for the first half of 2004 and fulfilled his life-long dream. His 18-year journey culminated with a well-deserved world championship reign, complete with several spectacular victories and impressive outings.

TODAY’S ISSUE: The (Half) Year of the Crippler

Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu once said, “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” Benoit’s quest for the gold began in just such a way when he drew #1 in the 2004 Royal Rumble and survived 29 other competitors, setting an endurance record by remaining in the match for just over an hour. The last and most physically impressive opponent Benoit eliminated was the mammoth Big Show. At 7-feet tall and well over 500 pounds, it was nothing short of a miracle that the Rabid Wolverine could wrestle the Big Show over the top rope to win the match. Benoit pulled the Big Show out of the ring in quite dramatic style, in a way that emphasized his superior wrestling ability, and thereby earned a shot at the champion in the main event of the biggest show of the year, WrestleMania XX.

It was Benoit who discovered the Royal Rumble Victory Clause didn’t mandate which of the two brand’s champions he was required to face, and in an unprecedented maneuver, Benoit jumped from SmackDown! to RAW the following night to challenge HHH for his World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania.

At first, Shawn Michaels’ addition in the match threatened to take the focus off the Crippler. But worries of Benoit being overshadowed were quickly put to rest in the triple threat against HBK and HHH. Benoit not only hung with two of the biggest names and greatest performers the business has ever seen in a 5-star match of the year favorite, but he made the reigning world champion tap out in the center of the ring. When HHH conceded, it truly established the Crippler Crossface as a devastating submission move. Benoit’s stunning victory was immediately followed by perhaps the most beautiful, emotional, and real WrestleMania Moment of all time as his long time friend and WWE champion the late, great Eddie Guerrero embraced Benoit in the middle of the ring. Tears ran down both their faces while confetti rained from above. These two gladiators, who had both been told they were too small to main event, were now the two biggest stars and most respected warriors in professional wrestling. They had paid more than their share of dues, and were finally afforded the opportunity to take the ball and run with it. What a great time to be a wrestling fan.

The only thing better than dominating a legend and making him submit to win the title is dominating two legends at once, two months in a row, and making each of them tap out in successive matches. Which leads us to Backlash 2004, in Benoit’s hometown of Edmonton, Alberta. The three world-class competitors met in a triple threat WrestleMania rematch, this time for Benoit’s gold.

In an ironic wink (or as IWC legend Scott Keith dubbed it, an “apology of sorts”) to Canadian WWE fans and all other supporters of Bret “The Hitman” Hart, Benoit forced HBK to submit in Hart’s Sharpshooter hold. This made a sweet visual at the end of this fabulous main event match. Benoit was indeed on a roll, as any concerns of him being a one-hit wonder were obliterated when Michaels tapped out.

During his epic half year of dominance, the former Horseman not only defeated his old leader Ric Flair in a phenomenal singles match, but Benoit also managed to pick up a world tag team championship title reign to accompany his heavyweight title, partnering with Edge and defeating HHH cronies Batista and the Nature Boy himself. The Crippler also vanquished resident monster and giant Kane in the main event of the Bad Blood ppv, after wrestling in a tag team match earlier in the evening.

In July, Benoit defended the world title one-on-one against HHH at the Vengeance ppv. This was a grueling, aggressive, hard-fought match until the shenanigans began. The inevitable ref bump and distracting activities of Eugene took something away from the overall impact of the match, but the Crippler and the Game still gave us a great battle otherwise. This show marked another in the long line of terrific performances from the one man who could reshape the main event scene into the domain of great wrestling. Unfortunately, his reign wasn’t destined to last much longer.

For a fan like me who craves more wrestling action and less talk on Monday nights, and loves the Iron Man Match concept, the RAW episode two weeks after Vengeance was like an oasis in the desert of short matches, “Diva” segments and unfunny humor. Benoit and HHH battled for 60 minutes with the champion coming back from a 3-1 deficit and overcoming Evolution interference to once again defeat the Cerebral Assassin by a score of 4-3. This match was dramatic, intense, and worth every one of the 3,600 seconds it took to unfold. Once again, the “Vanilla Midget” proved his critics wrong and beat the best in the business.

Sadly, the dream came to an end at SummerSlam when Benoit defended the title against Evolution’s Legend Killer, third generation superstar Randy Orton. Benoit battled Orton in a classic, old school fight that thankfully ended clean, in the middle of the ring. There was no outside interference; the respected champion was permitted the honor of waging war like the gladiator he is before succumbing to the devastating RKO finisher belonging to the better man on that given night. No championship title reign could end with any more dignity than that.

Orton became the youngest world champion in WWE history, and defeating Benoit could have signified a passing of the torch to young master Randy, if only McMahon and HHH hadn’t sabotaged Orton’s championship reign from the very beginning. But that’s a topic for another day. Certainly it seemed at the time that the veteran Benoit, who has endless respect for the business, was doing the right thing by lying down for a skyrocketing young stud in Randy Orton. Benoit is a class act all the way, and even as he relinquished his title, he did what was right for the next generation.

So the Crippler’s glorious run was finished, and although he received a few shots at regaining the title, they all involved outside interference or questionable officiating, and none were contested in a one-on-one environment. The dream was definitely over.

If Benoit never reaches the pinnacle again, his loyal fans will always have the first half of 2004 to hold on to. Going back through all these matches and reliving the Crippler’s biggest victories was like reading old letters from your first true love. Fond memories of a time that may never come again, of the days when Chris Benoit ruled the wrestling world

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – I once heard that Orcas (killer whales) kill sharks by torpedoing up into the shark’s stomach from underneath, causing the shark to explode. If that’s true, then eeeeewwwwww.

Before you go, check out our Rasslin’ Roundtable for SmackDown’s No Way Out, then compare our picks to PK’s live coverage to see how we did. Roundtable results are listed below.

IP Staff Roundtable Results for No Way Out
NOTE: Certain matches were poorly advertised, and showed up on well after some staffers had already submitted their picks. This explains why everyone doesn’t have the same number of total matches.

SmackDown! No Way Out (18 Feb 07): 5-3
Total: 16-11

Pulse Glazer
SmackDown! No Way Out (18 Feb 07): 5-3
Total: 23-28

Danny Cox
SmackDown! No Way Out (18 Feb 07): 5-3
Total: 24-27

SmackDown! No Way Out (18 Feb 07): 5-3
Total: 30-21

Matthew Michaels
SmackDown! No Way Out (18 Feb 07): 4-3
Total: 38-34

Kace Evers
SmackDown! No Way Out (18 Feb 07): 4-3
Total: 11-7

Eric Szulczewski
SmackDown! No Way Out (18 Feb 07): 4-3
Total: 60-59

Allen Noah
SmackDown! No Way Out (18 Feb 07): 4-3
Total: 4-3

Vinny Truncellito
SmackDown! No Way Out (18 Feb 07): 4-4
Total: 73-49

Iain Burnside
SmackDown! No Way Out (18 Feb 07): 3-3
Total: 54-39

Troy Hepple
SmackDown! No Way Out (18 Feb 07): 3-5
Total: 16-18

Charlie Marsh
SmackDown! No Way Out (18 Feb 07): 1-5
Total: 3-8

Master Sergeant, United States Air Force