The SmarK Retro Repost: Hard Knocks, the Chris Benoit Story

I haven’t watched RAW yet, as I just got home from work and I’m trying to keep up with everything happening thus far.

If nothing else, Chris Benoit went from “debatable legend” to “immortality” tonight as far as wrestling fandom for the ages goes, although probably in the worst way possible. I’d like to pretend that his name won’t get dragged through the muck and that it was just a horrible accident, but I think by now we all know there’s a very seedy underside to wrestling that no one talks about, and this is more evidence of that.

Ideally, I’d like to remember Chris for what he did on-screen: The humble guy from Canada who was deemed “too small” by promoters and who had to fight for every push he got, who won pretty much every title there was to win and had nothing left to prove in the ring, who could be counted on for at least one good match on every PPV, and sometimes two of them. I’ve followed his career for 20 years, from his start in Calgary to now, and although it saddens me that he died, it saddens me more than we had to learn what kind of a person he really was on his way out of his life. If he did what they say he did, then I’m glad he killed himself rather than having to watch him (and wrestling) get dragged through the media circus of a trial and conviction.

It’s just all kinds of bad on every level. I’ll be appearing as a guest on Sideshow Radio at www.wrestlingrn.com on Wednesday night, and hopefully we’ll have more facts by then. Obviously Benoit discussion will dominate my interview.

The SmarK DVD rant for Hard Knocks: The Chris Benoit Story

– I of course have been DYING to get my hands on this DVD (and waiting years for one like it to boot), so believe me, the delay in reviewing it had nothing to do with my desire to see it. Just a lack of funds.

– So we start off in Edmonton, as Benoit and friends talk about his life and stuff. We get some clips of Dynamite Kid, thus explaining his fascination with wrestling. He even shaved his head to emulate DK, because he’s that awesome.

– Onto weightlifting and football in high school, which naturally led to getting involved with wrestling, and the boys from Stampede slowly coaxing Benoit into the ring. Finally, he got to meet Dynamite, and he was on his way.

– He got sucked into the Hart Family zone and trained by Stu, which provides an emotional moment for him.

– First match was a meaningless tag with Rick Patterson against Mike Hammer and Carl Moffat, who later became Jason the Terrible.

– He talks about the evolution of the diving headbutt, as a tribute to DK, and knocking himself silly a few times in the early years. Traveling was cool to him back then (“I’m going to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, YES!”) and he moved up so fast that he was already British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight champion by the time he got back to Edmonton again.

– Next up, Bad News Allen brings him to New Japan, which has Chris marking out. His mother didn’t take it so well, since he’d be away for 6 months at a time. Chris loved the wrestling experience, but he hated Japan and being the low guy on the totem again. But he went back, sucked it up, and created the Pegasus Kid persona to make the best of it. We get a clip of him winning the IWGP title from Jushin Liger. That’s pretty surreal for the WWE DVD.

– Eddie talks about wrestling Benoit for the first time in 1994″¦and getting knocked out by him. Whoops. Eddie and Dean talk about the friendship they formed at the time. Clips of Benoit beating Eddie in the semis and then Great Sasuke in the finals, in a match that was laid out as a tribute to DK v. Tiger Mask.

– Next up, ECW, and some clips of matches with Scorpio. And then the infamous match against Sabu where he broke his neck and earned the name Crippler. Benoit was pretty messed up because of it, but hey, he got a great nickname from it! Well, at least that was Paul E’s way of looking at things.

– We get some clips of Benoit’s promos from that point, which really established his badass image. Benoit and Malenko won the ECW tag titles shortly after, which was his first major title. Unfortunately, he had no work visa, and Paul, Mr. Reliability, wouldn’t come through with one for him, so he stopped coming to Philly.

– He talks about his tryout matches in the WWF (against Adam Bomb, Bob Holly and Owen Hart) and how Vince wouldn’t let him go to Japan, so he went to WCW instead. Soon enough, they started screwing him over too, and pretty soon they wouldn’t let him go back to Japan either.

– So in 1995, he joins the Four Horsemen, and that allows everyone to bitch about WCW’s treatment of them again. You’d think that WWE would pick up on that vibe and do something with the name again.

– And then, one of the great surreal wrestling storylines ever, as Benoit gets into a feud with Kevin Sullivan, steals his wife in real life and in the storyline, and gets drawn into a long conflict with him that would lead to his departure from the company in 2000. The explanation of the feud was a little vague here, however, as he doesn’t want his children finding out about the Nancy deal on a DVD. That’s pretty classy.

– Onto happier things, with the Best of 7 series against Booker. He was apprehensive about finding ways to keep it new each time, but they pulled it off, and made Booker into a singles superstar.

– We skip a couple of years, bringing us to 1999 and Owen Hart’s death. Bret and Benoit have the tribute match, which is awesome and sadly unavailable in full unedited form as of yet, but as Chris notes, it wasn’t intended as a great match, but as something else. Well said.

– Last stop in WCW, as Benoit wrestles Sid for the title at Souled Out in 2000, which was their last gasp at getting him to stay. It was a culmination of all the things he hated about the business and WCW in particular, but he wasn’t happy and wanted to leave. So he did.

– So the Radicalz show up on RAW a couple of months later, and Benoit makes his Wrestlemania debut with 2000, winning the IC title. I still like that match.

– His first main event feud was against Rock, at the mildly infamous Fully Loaded PPV where Benoit, Jericho and Angle were all screwed over by politics (after a speech by Benoit in the previous segment about how politics weren’t as important in the WWE). The power of the video packages shows itself again, as the buildup for the Rock-Benoit match is summed up nicely with a recycled video from 2000. He talks about the great chemistry with Rock.

– Onto Wrestlemania X-7, and the mat-wrestling classic against Angle. It was great, nuff said. This leads into the cage match where he does the diving headbutt off the cage and Angle does the moonsault, and both are promptly forgotten about by the fans. Sadly, he messed up his neck and it led to the surgery that put him on the shelf for a year. Of course, he got to miss the InVasion, so there’s an upside if nothing else.

– In 2002, he’s drafted onto Smackdown with the creation of the brand split, but ironically makes his return on RAW in Edmonton. He does debut on Smackdown, however, and this leads to a title match against Angle at Royal Rumble 2003. And it also ruled, holding up through the entire year as Match of the Year with pretty much everyone.

– We skip the entire year of 2003 (since he didn’t do anything of note anyway) and head to Royal Rumble 2004, where Chris gets stuck with #1 and then wins it.

– On RAW the next night, he jumps to RAW and wins the title from HHH at Wrestlemania XX, which was pretty much my greatest moment as a fan.

– His friends and family talk about him overcoming the odds and naysayers and reaching his goal in life.

– Finger Eleven’s “One Thing” video package closes things out.

An absolutely awesome main feature, much better than the usual fluff that leads up the extras. And speaking of the extras”¦

Disc One:

– IWGP Junior heavyweight title: Jushin Liger v. Pegasus Kid. I’m using the Cole & Tazz commentary here, and I’ll do the Benoit/Malenko commentary on the other Japan match. This from 1990, when Benoit was still very much an underground type of sensation. Pegasus wins a battle of takedowns, but Liger reverses him out of the ring. Back in, Liger flips out of a wristlock and Pegasus does his own into a fireman’s carry. Test of strength allows them to take it to the mat and Liger ties him up with a bow and arrow. Into a camel clutch and a cross-armbreaker, but Pegasus reverses into a backbreaker and grabs a headscissors. Liger pulls him into the Rita Romero Special and bridges him down for two. He wraps up Pegasus and rolls him over for one, but Kid breaks loose and goes to work on the leg, then presses him over the top rope to the floor. Whoa. They brawl outside and Liger gets whipped into the railing as a result. Liger comes back with a pair of dropkicks and a try for a crucifix, but Pegasus falls back with a fallaway slam and goes back to the headscissors. Next up, he goes to a half-crab as Cole and Tazz talk about the significance of Liger’s mask (short version: They don’t know) and Benoit transitions into a bridged Indian death lock. He goes back to the headscissors and locks up the arm so that Liger can’t break, but he opts to release and go up, which allows Liger to slam him off. Liger misses an enzuigiri and Benoit does some quick flipping into a press slam, but he whiffs on a charge and hits the floor. Liger follows with a crazy somersault plancha, killing both guys. HANGTIME, baby! Kid fights back to the apron and springs in with a sunset flip for two. Liger reverses for two. Kid reverses for two. Pegasus tries a slam, but Liger rolls him up for two. They fight for a german, which Kid wins for two. They head up to the top and Benoit gets a superplex, which sets up the diving headbutt. It misses, as it usually does, and Liger hits him with the Koppo Kick for two. Powerbomb gets two. Liger goes up with a swanton bomb for two. That looked pretty painful. Another powerbomb is reversed by Pegasus for two. Liger escapes a tilt-a-whirl, so Pegasus clotheslines him to set up a tombstone piledriver, and finishes with a flying legdrop at 15:00 to win the IWGP title. Felt like it lacked a big finishing sequence, but it was a different time. ****1/4

– Chris Benoit v. 2 Cold Scorpio. This is from Superbrawl III in 1993, and Jesse Ventura’s commentary has been edited out for legal reasons. They fight over a lockup to start and Benoit elbows him down, then hits him with a snap suplex and starts throwing chops. Scorp hits him with a cross body and a pair of high kicks that put Benoit on the floor, however. He takes a breather and comes back in to work the arm, and they do a wristlock reversal sequence. Scorpio flips out of it and takes him down, working a hammerlock. Benoit escapes and they do another reversal sequence, ending with Scorpio armdragging him out of the ring. Back in for a test of strength, as Benoit does the bridge spot, as does Scorpio, and they do a lucha-esque kip-up-and-flip-down sequence that leads to Scorpio dropkicking him into an armbar. That was sweet. Scorp legdrops the arm and bars it, and they do another reversal sequence, but Benoit misses a legdrop and gets superkicked for his troubles. Back to the armdrag on Scorpio’s part, as he takes Benoit back to the mat with an armbar. They counter each other and this time Benoit ducks a spinkick and flattens him. Clothesline follows and Chris works a backbreaker as a submission hold, then takes him over and chinlocks him. He suplexes him onto the top rope and stomps away, and gets two. Back to the chinlock, but Scorpio escapes, so Benoit catches him with a spinebuster, into a Liontamer (Walls of Jericho). Back to the chinlock. They head up and Benoit brings him down with a backdrop superplex, but he lands wrong and both are out. Benoit gets two, however. Russian legsweep gets two. Scorpio counters a slam attempt for two. Benoit comes back with a powerbomb for two. Another one is countered into a rollup by Scorpio, but he messes up and they roll into the ropes instead. Benoit misses a charge and Scorpio gets an enzuigiri and a clothesline, after missing a pair of spinkicks. Benoit backs off and Scorpio chases him into the corner, then follows with a spinning corner splash. He goes up with a twisting splash for two. Benoit counters a victory roll by dropping him on his face, and goes up with a flying legdrop for two. Scorp with a small package for two, and a rollup for the pin at 18:18, which is 19:59 in bizarre WCW-time world. I found this a bit slow, but with some nice near-falls. ***

– Super J Cup semi-finals: Black Tiger v. Chris Benoit. Black Tiger was Eddie Guerrero’s persona in Japan. I’m going with the Grisham/Benoit/Malenko commentary this time around. They trade wristlocks and Benoit takes Tiger down and goes for the leg, but Tiger reverses. He uses the face rake to escape and slingshots in to set up a backdrop suplex for two. He goes to a headscissors, but Benoit escapes and comes back with an inverted suplex. They reverse into a Benoit clothesline as Grisham’s comments get more asinine, and Benoit backdrops Tiger. Running knee and german suplex get two. Powerbomb gets two. Snap suplex gets two. He takes Tiger down with a headscissors, but Tiger reverses to a rollup for two. Rana and german suplex get two for Black Tiger. He goes to a rear chinlock, into a blockbuster slam. To the top, but he whiffs on a missile dropkick and Benoit takes advantage with a backdrop suplex for two. Benoit holds him down with a knucklelock, but Tiger rolls out and springs into a rana for two. Another rana, this time from the top, gets two. Brainbuster and Tiger goes up for a DDT, but Benoit tosses him off and puts him on top, which Tiger blocks. He comes off with a high cross, but Benoit catches him with an armdrag and gets the pin at 10:20. Felt a bit sterile, actually. ***

– Super J Cup Finals: Great Sasuke v. Chris Benoit. Back to Cole and Tazz on commentary, as Tazz admits to being biased against Sasuke. Cole is actually pretty funny, making fun of the ring announcer. They reverse off a wristlock to start as Cole gets ANOTHER funny dig in, this one on Malenko. What’s this world coming to? Benoit goes for the leg, but Sasuke kicks him off and it’s a stalemate. Benoit grabs an armbar and starts throwing chops in the corner, but Sasuke does the running flip out of the corner and kicks him down and out. He fakes a highspot and Benoit backs off. Back in, Benoit takes him down with a headscissors, but Sasuke reverses to a surfboard and a bow-and-arrow. Benoit fights up, so Sasuke armdrags him down and it’s another stalemate. Criss-cross and Benoit kills him with a clothesline, and a perfect german suplex for two. Sasuke comes back with a leg lariat and a legdrop for two. He keylocks the arm and works for a cross-armbreaker, but Benoit powers up. Sasuke armdrags him down, so Benoit catches him with another clothesline and then suplexes him on the top rope. Sasuke won’t go down, so Benoit springboards with an elbow that takes him down to the floor in a nice bump. Back in, Benoit gets the dragon suplex for two. I miss that move. Benoit goes up and gets the diving headbutt for two. Powerbomb gets two. He gets the Sharpshooter, but releases quickly and opts for a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker instead, for two. Benoit whiffs on a dropkick, but escapes a backbreaker, only to get clotheslined by Sasuke. Benoit recovers with another vicious german suplex, however, and gets two. Another dragon suplex is countered by Sasuke, but Benoit falls on top for two. Sasuke comes out of the corner with a high cross and a spinkick, and Benoit bails, so Sasuke follows with the SPACE FLYING TIGER DROP~! Back in, Sasuke hits him with another spinkick and another german suplex, for two. Fisherman’s suplex gets two. To the top again, but he puts the miss in missile dropkick and it’s comeback time for Benoit. Sasuke bails to the apron, but Benoit tries to suplex him, so he reverses and they both hit the floor on a crazy bump. A dropkick puts Benoit back on the floor, and Sasuke follows him out with a missile dropkick, to the FLOOR. Back in, Sasuke kicks him in the head and follows with a corkscrew moonsault for two. Sasuke pushes his luck and goes up again, so Benoit follows and knocks him down. A top rope gut wrench finishes at 18:45, as Benoit wins the 94 Super J Cup. A flawless classic that still gets the heart pumping today, 10 years later. *****

– Chris Benoit v. Sabu. OK, off to ECW now, (and there’s an Easter Egg to be found if you hit the left arrow while selecting this match), with November 2 Remember 94 and Sabu’s broken neck. Benoit gets a quick running knee and suplexes him on the top, then hits him with the fatal throw where Sabu lands on his head. Sick stuff.

– Chris Benoit v. Al Snow. This one had quite the reputation at the time, and helped to make Benoit’s name. They fight over a wristlock to start, and Benoit takes him down. They do the test of strength and Snow bridges, and then Benoit does as well. Benoit takes him down for two, and they do the pinfall reversals until Benoit legwhips him down. They slug it out, won by Benoit, but Snow gets a superkick and Benoit backs off. They trade hammerlocks and Benoit throws some NASTY chops in the corner and Snow does a Flair Flip, but Benoit clotheslines him off the apron. Snow comes flying back in with a springboard dropkick, however, and it’s ON. High kicks and a back kick put Benoit on the floor, and he regroups out there. Back in, Benoit suplexes him on the top rope, but Snow goes up and whiffs on a missile dropkick. Benoit hits him with a german suplex for two. Clothesline and Benoit slams him, then hits him with a running elbow. He whips Snow into the corner, with authority as they say, and a backdrop suplex gets two. Snow counters a slam attempt for two, but Benoit stomps him down again. Benoit goes up with the diving headbutt, but only gets two. Powerbomb gets two. They slug it out and Benoit snaps off a suplex, and stalls for a bit. Been a lot of thing going on here. German suplex gets two. He goes for a dragon suplex, but Snow counters to a wheelbarrow suplex and makes the comeback with a release german suplex. Clothesline and Snow stomps away in the corner and chokes him down, then follows with a backdrop and superkick for two. Fisherman’s suplex gets two. Benoit comes back with his own release german, but Benoit kills him dead with the dragon suplex at 14:36. I don’t think this holds up very well, with too much stalling and dead spots because of what I think was an injury to Snow partway through the match. ***1/2

Disc Two:

– Chris Benoit v. Eddie Guerrero. From Nitro, October 1995. Never seen this one before, actually. Eddie grabs a headlock and overpowers him, and they criss-cross into a wristlock takedown from Eddie. Benoit bridges up and snaps off a headscissors, as does Eddie. Crazy. Eddie teases a highspot as Benoit bails, but he follows with a tope instead. Great sequence. Back in, Benoit tries a backdrop suplex, but they both tumble to the floor in a crazy bump. That’s one you don’t see. They both charge at the post, and Eddie gets the worst of it. Back in, Benoit gets his nasty backdrop suplex and sends Eddie into the corner, then dropkicks him in the back of the head coming out again. Northern lights suplex sets up a snap suplex, and a back elbow. Eddie comes back with a flying armdrag and a tornado DDT, and he gets two, still selling an arm injury. Benoit then grabs the GOOD arm and rips his head off with a clothesline. Another hammerlock backdrop suplex is reversed by Eddie for two, however. Benoit keeps on him with chops and stomps on the shoulder, then takes him down with a judo throw and cranks on the arm. Eddie powers out and into a flying headscissors for two, however. Backdrop driver(!) as Eddie comes back, but the arm is still gone. Brainbuster and he goes up, but the frog splash hits knee, and Benoit powerbombs him through the ring for two. Man, they’re letting it all hang out here. Another is reversed by Eddie, but Benoit rolls through and finishes with the dragon suplex at 8:32. That was actually better than their Super J match from the year before, with Eddie selling the arm and both guys doing crazy shit and hitting everything with force. ***1/2

– Falls Count Anywhere: Chris Benoit v. Kevin Sullivan. Haven’t done this one in a while, so we’ll see if it holds up. They overdub the WCW music with the original WWF music for Benoit. They start brawling in the aisle right away and Benoit throws chops on the floor, as does Kevin. Into the crowd, as Tony actually calls it a donnybrook. They just beat the hell out of each other while going up the stairs, and into the bathroom. Dusty loves it. Kevin puts his head in the toilet stall and slams it on him a few times, then does the double stomp on the gut. Benoit fights back and almost gives Sullivan a swirlie in the urinal, but opts to slam the stall door on his head instead. Dusty is more concerned with the woman in the bathroom. Kevin, meanwhile, grabs a bag of toilet paper and uses that (good as anything), and then goes for the less surreal method and just hits him with a garbage can instead. They fight into the hallway again, throwing really stiff punches, and Benoit takes the inevitable bump down the stairs as they head into the arena again. Back to ringside, where Sullivan crotches him on the railing and throws a chair at his face. Benoit returns the crotching and tries for a table, but has trouble freeing it, so he throws Sullivan into the crowd again and is more successful on his second try. Into the ring, Benoit gets whipped into the table, but Sullivan charges and hits it. Benoit puts the table on top of the turnbuckles, but Sullivan backdrops him onto it and they fight up there. Superplex from the table finishes it for Benoit at 10:12, for a huge pop. Arn Anderson, in cahoots with Sullivan, comes out to prevent further damage from Benoit, and then turns on Sullivan himself and they put the boots to him. Unfortunately the overuse of the hardcore gimmick by Vince Russo in 98-99 really killed the impact that this match used to have, but it’s still a crazy brawl with lots of real-life intensity and hatred. I can’t really go any higher than **** with a good conscience anymore, though. Stupid Russo.

– Chris Benoit v. Booker T. This is the concluding match in the famous best-of-7 series, as a flashback from Thunder a few nights previous refreshes my memory about Bret Hart interfering and necessitating an eighth match in the series. Winner of this gets Fit Finlay for the TV title right away. The match is crazy over with the crowd, which must of course be a hallucination on my part because neither guy has ever drawn a dime or knows how to work main event style. They exchange hiptosses to start and Booker grabs a headlock, but Benoit takes him down with a drop toehold and sends him out. Back in, Benoit grabs a hammerlock, but Booker reverses him to the mat and gets two. Benoit tries again, but Booker elbows out and gets a back elbow for two. Benoit charges and hits boot, but suckers him in with a dragon-screw to work on the previously-injured leg. Benoit starts chopping and gets the back elbow for two. Backdrop suplex gets two. Benoit hits the chinlock, but Booker comes back and they criss-cross, into a Benoit chop that gets two. Now that’s a chop. Snap suplex gets two. Benoit sends him into the turnbuckles, but Booker counters another suplex for two. Back to the chinlock by Benoit, but Booker powers out again, only to run into a knee. Benoit suplexes him onto the top rope and slugs him to the floor, but Booker makes it back in again. Lariat gets two. Benoit chops him down again and goes back to the chinlock. I’ve always found it odd that WWE doesn’t let them use chops for near-falls. That was uniquely a WCW thing. Benoit switches to a nasty surfboard, using his head for leverage, and Booker powers out and gets a powerslam. He heads up and totally whiffs on a high cross, missing by a mile. Benoit tries to crossface him, but Booker fights it off long enough to make the ropes. Benoit goes back to the chinlock, but Booker fights out again, and this time counters the dragon-screw with an enzuigiri. MAIN EVENT SPINEBUSTER and Booker makes the comeback with a flapjack, and does a primitive Spinarooni, but the stalling costs him, as he goes up and gets caught by Benoit with a superplex. Benoit gets two off that after selling the bump. He used to take such a cool bump on that move before the neck injury, as he’d roll backwards and flip over in the process. Rolling germans are blocked by Booker, but he gets a dragon suplex for two instead. The crowd pops HUGE for that. Man, how did they ever f*ck these guys up so badly? Back to the chops, and then he blocks Booker’s sunset flip out of the corner with another chop. Awesome. Booker is DEAD, so Benoit heads up with the flying headbutt, which gets a MONSTER reaction, and both guys are out. Benoit recovers first and gets two. Booker gets a small package for two. Booker comes back with a sidekick to the back of the head, and a spinkick, and now Booker goes up with a missile dropkick that gets the pin at 16:19. Weak (albeit totally clean) finish, great match. Booker looked a lot less polished than he does today, but Benoit carried him like a champion through the whole thing, and made them both look like a million bucks. ****1/4

– Chris Benoit v. Bret Hart. This is the Owen Hart tribute match, from Kansas City in 1999, during one of WCW’s greatest eras, when they had no one in charge and they were just throwing shows out there with great wrestling on them, in the days before Vince Russo took over. Now, here’s a weird one: They overdub Bret’s WCW music with a generic music, instead of his WWF music, which they OWN. Lockup to start and Benoit grabs a headlock, which turns into a wristlock battle. Bret overpowers him and fakes Benoit out on a criss-cross. They start again and Benoit does the bridge off the test of strength, then takes Bret down with a straightjacket hold and turns it into a hammerlock takedown. He goes into a surfboard, which Bret reverses, so Benoit mulekicks him into the corner and grabs an armbar. Bret counters with a Russian legsweep and grabs a chinlock, but Benoit fights out, only to run into a knee. Bret drops a leg and pounds on him in the corner, but Benoit fires back with a chop, so Bret DDTs him. Bret gets an elbow from the middle and travels nearly 3/4 of the way across the ring to do so. Nice. Bret tries the knee again, but Benoit rolls through this time and gets a crazy variation on the Liontamer, until Bret makes the ropes. Benoit backdrops him for two. Backbreaker gets two. They take an ad break and return with Benoit dropping an elbow for two. Another one misses and now Bret does the headbutt to the abs and suplexes him. That gets two. He goes back to the chinlock and then hits him with a backbreaker, taking him to the floor and working on the back. Back in, Bret keeps stomping and throws forearms, but Benoit reveres a tilt-a-whirl into a tombstone for two. That was Owen’s thing, of course. Northern lights suplex gets two. Benoit gets his own knee to the gut for two. Benoit misses a dropkick, so Bret drops an elbow and then gets a vicious backdrop suplex for two. I wonder if Benoit just enjoys taking that bump or something. Bret hammers him against the ropes and charges, but runs into the ropes and knocks himself silly in the process. Benoit puts him out and follows with a tope suicida. Another ad break and we return with Bret hammering him on the apron and suplexing him into the ring. Benoit counters into a rollup, however, and Bret counters that for two. He goes for the direct approach, choking Benoit down and throwing a forearm, but Benoit backslides him for two. Bret works on the back, but Benoit cradles for two out of nowhere. Bret goes right back to the back and pulls out a swinging neckbreaker for two. He whips Benoit into the corner, and then catches him on the rebound with an inverted atomic drop, then puts him on top. Great transitions there. Benoit tries to catch him napping by coming off the top, but Bret crotches him into a superplex. Both are out, but Bret recovers and goes for the Sharpshooter, which Benoit reverses to the crossface! Awesome. I think he did that a couple of times in the WWE, too. Bret makes the ropes, however. Benoit pulls out Eddie’s rolling verticals and goes up, hitting the flying headbutt. Another nice thing about Benoit: You never know if he’s hitting or missing the headbutt. That only gets two. He returns the backdrop suplex favor from earlier, and drives an elbow into him. The crowd cheers for Bret, so Benoit gets upset and walks into an elbow. Piledriver gets two for Bret, but Benoit makes the ropes. Bret sends him into the corner again, but Benoit flips out of it and chops Bret into oblivion. He goes for a dragon suplex, but then opts for the rolling germans instead. Bret fights out of a fourth one by pounding on the back, but Benoit fights for the crossface, so Bret blocks it like a pro. Bret takes him down to the mat, still blocking, and then fights for the Sharpshooter, getting the move for the submission at 23:02. Benoit should have went over, but that’s minor, because the match was a classic for all the right reasons. And really, arguing star ratings on something like this is about as gay as you can get. *****

– WCW World title: Sid Vicious v. Chris Benoit. This is from Souled Out 2000, and it’s pretty much the low point for the promotion. The original match was Bret Hart v. Goldberg, but Goldberg injured his hand in the infamous limo-punching skit, so they slotted Sid Vicious in instead. Then, Bret Hart declared his retirement due to concussion, so the title was vacated and the match was set to be Jeff Jarrett v. Sid Vicious instead. Finally, Jarrett announced that he was unable to travel due to concussions, so US title challenger Benoit was stuck in the match and promised the World title instead. Vince Russo’s idea was to put the title on Tank Abbott, and that cost him his job. So you can see why Benoit wanted out. The match is actually a rematch from Fall Brawl ’99, where Benoit did the job for Sid in a match where Ross Forman had the unmitigated gall to go on WCW Live and say that Benoit “got the rub” from doing a clean job to the powerbomb and losing the US title. Sid powers Benoit into the corner to start, but Benoit grabs a headlock, so Sid clotheslines him out. Back in, Sid presses Benoit , and then uses HHH’s forward suplex. The crowd, not clued into the script, chants for Sid because he’s the bigger star. Benoit dropkicks the knee and goes to work on it, then pulls him onto the floor and dropkicks the stairs into the knee. Smart move. He starts throwing chops, which Sid actually sells, and they head back in where Benoit gets one. Figure-four, but Sid quickly reverses, forcing Benoit to make the ropes. He keeps chopping (with Sid on his knees so he can reach) and starts battering the knee in the corner. Legdrag gets two. He throws more chops in the corner and gets a snap suplex, and an elbowdrop gets two. Benoit ties him up with an Indian deathlock, bridged. All the wrestlers are out watching, and it’s truly a who’s-who of has-beens and jobbers out there. Benoit dropkicks the knee again and Sid bails. Back in, Benoit keeps hammering him, as the crowd gets behind Sid’s comeback. He bitchslaps Benoit to a big pop, so Benoit dropkicks the knee again. He keeps working on the knee, but Sid blocks a kick, so Benoit hits him with the german suplex instead. Sid, much more direct, powerslams him for two. Benoit does another dropkick to the knee and this time wraps him up in an anklelock, but Sid powers out of it. When he stands up, however, Benoit casually suplexes him and goes up. Diving headbutt gets two. Sid kicks out with authority and chokeslams him, but it gets two, as Benoit’s foot was under the ropes. He tries it again, but Benoit takes him down with a crossface and Sid taps at 14:51, thus giving Benoit the title. They left themselves an out with the rope thing, since Sid’s foot was under the ropes, and then used it when Benoit surrendered the title the next day and went to WWF-land. Sid basically let Benoit do everything, but it still wasn’t great. **1/2 Sid’s ridiculous speed in tapping to the crossface here actually reminds of a story stemming from their first match in 1999, as Sid had never wrestled Benoit before or taken a crossface. Not exactly considered the smartest cookie in the jar, the bookers took extra time to stress to Sid beforehand how incredibly important it was NOT TO TAP THE MAT should Benoit put him in the crossface. Of course, partway through the match, Benoit put him in the crossface, and while rallying the crowd Sid started tapping the mat, which the ref had to ignore, despite the whole crowd thinking Benoit had just retained the title. That’s why I love Sid.

– Chris Benoit v. William Regal. This is from the Pillman Tribute show in 2000, and it’s fan-cam footage used here. Cole and Tom Pritchard provide commentary. They fight over a wristlock to start, which Benoit wins, but Regal kips up and they counter into Regal’s advantage. Regal takes him down with a knucklelock, but Benoit powers into a bridge and takes Regal down. Regal bridges out as well and they start headbutting each other while in that position, and Benoit fires off an enzuigiri as Regal starts bleeding hardway. They bail and Regal boots him in the face, but they fight on the apron and Benoit DDTs him on the apron. Back in, Benoit gets two. Backdrop suplex gets two. Regal takes him down with a drop toehold, however, and wraps him up with a facelock, but Benoit makes the ropes. Regal throws a nice standing dropkick (when you do see THAT from him?) and takes Benoit down with the Rita Romero Special. Benoit fires back with a german suplex to buy some time, and starts throwing chops. Regal headbutts him straight in the face, however, and uses some stiff high kicks to put him down again. They slug it out and Benoit goes to the rolling germans, but Regal fights out and pounds Benoit into a butterfly suplex attempt, but Benoit counters him into a german suplex. He goes up and Regal catches him and superplexes him, for two. They collide in the corner and Benoit gets two. Slugfest, but Regal wraps him up for two. That was great. Backslide gets two for Regal. Dropped backdrop suplex gets two. CRAZY. He has to start using that again. Regal throws down and Benoit takes it, then reverses a tombstone attempt into his own, and a nice one. Back to the top, but the diving headbutt misses. Both guys are out, but Regal recovers, and they reverse until Benoit gets a release dragon suplex and the crossface for the submission at 12:47. Finish was a bit abrupt, but the rest was tremendous. ****1/4 By the way, pressing “right” on the menu selection calls up Benoit’s Wrestlemania XX promo spot.

– Cage match: Chris Benoit v. Kurt Angle. This is actually from the first RAW I did for Wrestleline in the post-CRZ era, June 11 2001. The original rant wasn’t so good, so I might as well redo it. This was during the brief-but-awesome Austin-Benoit feud of 2001. Angle attacks him with an overhead belly-to-belly to start, and then fires off another one. Angle sends him into the cage a few times and stomps away in the corner, but Benoit comes back with chops and just destroys Angle’s chest. Angle counters him into the cage again, however, until Benoit fights back with more chops and a snap suplex. He turns it into rolling verticals, but Angle counters with a gut-wrench suplex series of his own. Angle starts climbing, but Benoit follows him up and brings him down with a german suplex from the top rope. JR calls it ungodly, I call it awesome. Benoit climbs, but falls victim to the pop-up throw from Angle, and a top rope elbowdrop follows. They slug it out and Benoit sends him into the cage a few times, with Angle taking manly bumps in the process. Benoit climbs, but Angle gives him a shot in the nuts to bring him down again. Angle Slam, but Angle instead chooses to climb the cage and tries the moonsault from the cage”¦and misses. Benoit comes back and throws knees at him, but Angle reverses him into the cage again. He rams him facefirst into it, but Benoit comes back with the rolling germans, six of them. Benoit suckers Angle into charging by faking a walk out the door, then moves and catches Angle on the rebound with another three german suplexes. That’s incredible psychology. He then climbs the cage and sees Austin swinging a chair at the bottom, so he opts to come off the top of the cage with the diving headbutt on Angle instead. No wonder he needed surgery. Austin blocks the door, however, allowing Angle to recover enough to stop Benoit from leaving. He locks in the anklelock, but Benoit counters with the enzuigiri and crawls again”¦until Austin slams the door in his face and allows Angle to climb out at 14:29. I liked this one even better second time around. ****

– Smackdown World Title: Kurt Angle v. Chris Benoit. This is from Royal Rumble 2003, and I’m actually pulling this review from the new book because I can’t find the old one online at the moment and my archives don’t include 2003 stuff due to a virus I had. Team Angle gets the boot before we start, to ensure fairness. Benoit quickly goes for a Sharpshooter, but Angle bails to escape. Back in, Benoit grabs a headlock and kicks off an attempt at a single-leg takedown by Angle. Angle tries a sleeper, but Benoit armdrags out of it, and then legdrags Angle into another Sharpshooter attempt, which Angle again blocks and makes the ropes. Angle’s knee might as well have a big “kick me” sign on it tonight, as it’s braced and previously injured. Angle posts him and pounds away in the corner, into a vertical suplex that gets two. He starts throwing chops, but that’s a dumb thing to try with Benoit, and he fires back and pounds on him in the corner. Angle misses a charge and Benoit hits him with a clothesline to the back and a knee to the gut that gets two. More chops as he keeps wearing Angle down, but he gets suplexed onto the top rope to break up the momentum. Benoit necksnaps him, however, and they slug it out on the apron, leading to a Benoit DDT out there. Back in, he gets two. Flying headbutt comes way too early, however, and misses. Angle goes for the Angle Slam, and now Benoit really does get the Sharpshooter, having built up to it three times. Angle makes the ropes, however. Benoit hits him with a backdrop suplex and gets two. Angle responds with an overhead suplex and tosses Benoit, and they brawl outside. Angle wins that pretty handily and stomps away. Back in, Angle hits him with a short-arm clothesline for two. Angle goes to a chinlock and gets the hooks in, but Benoit powers out and armdrags him. He walks into another suplex, however, and can’t get the momentum going again. Angle drops him with a backdrop suplex for two. Back to the chinlock, but Benoit powers out again. This move actually serves two purposes within the match — it works on the surgically repaired neck of Benoit, and it causes him to expend energy escaping the hold. They collide with clotheslines and both are out. Benoit is up first and slugs away, and overpowers Angle into a backdrop. Rolling germans, but Angle reverses and starts throwing his own. Benoit then reverses after the first one thrown by Angle and throws his own, winning the battle 4 suplexes to 1. Benoit goes up after blowing snot on him (not just a great athlete, but a true gentleman), but Angle pops up with the superplex for two. Now that’s guts — taking a snot rocket for the sake of selling the injury. Benoit reverses the Angle Slam into the crossface, dead center of the ring, and Angle looks to be in trouble. He makes the ropes, however. Benoit then switches to an anklelock, but as generally happens, Angle counters that into his own version of the move. Benoit counters back into the crossface, but Angle rolls him over for two to escape. Benoit keeps coming, however, taking him down with another crossface. Angle rolls him over again, but Benoit adjusts this time and hangs on, so Angle adjusts to that and uses the Angle Slam, but Benoit kicks out at two. Angle gets pissed and grabs another anklelock, but Benoit rolls through and counters Angle into the corner, and then rolls him up off a reversed german suplex for two. He starts throwing more suplexes, but Angle switches and hits his own. Benoit then tops him by throwing him 180 degrees in the air and onto his head. Angle is ¾ of the way across the ring, so naturally Benoit hits him with the flying headbutt from all the way over there. He gets two as the crowd starts to get seriously into the match. Back to the crossface, but Angle rolls out of it and tries a powerbomb, then drops Benoit neckfirst onto the top rope, into another Angle Slam for two. That was a guaranteed finish in any other match, which only made Benoit a bigger babyface with the crowd. Benoit takes him down again with the crossface and Angle is about to tap, but he spins into another anklelock instead. Benoit kicks him off, but Angle hangs on tenaciously, thinking one move ahead. Benoit finally powers out, but is too weak to fight him off again, and kicking off won’t work a second time because Angle can anticipate now. Benoit goes for the ropes, but Angle pulls him off and turns it into a heel hook (a more painful variation where Angle wraps his legs around the knee) and that’s enough to tap Benoit at 19:47. Just a great hybrid of pure mat-wrestling and mixed martial arts psychology that not only got Angle’s shooter image over, but made Benoit into a huge babyface”¦for about two weeks, at which point they pissed it all away again. ****3/4 Benoit gets a standing ovation after the loss, and even limps back to the dressing room, selling the ankle injury the whole time.

– RAW World title: HHH v. Shawn Michaels v. Chris Benoit. Despite weeks of crappy booking, Benoit is clearly the crowd favorite here, as MSG’s traditional hatred of Shawn has kicked in again full force. And what’s with the white boots on HHH? Did Steph buy them for Christmas and withhold sex unless he wore them or something? On the upside, the gay bicycle shorts are gone and HHH is back to regular tights again. Shawn goes after HHH to start, but Benoit pulls him away and they fight over who gets to fight. Benoit takes him down immediately and starts chopping Shawn, to the delight of the crowd, but Benoit whips Shawn into HHH and slugs away. Shawn takes him down with a headlock, and they do the pinfall reversal sequence off that, and Benoit crosses Shawn up with another crossface attempt, which Shawn reverses for two. Northern lights suplex gets two for Benoit, and Shawn clotheslines him down, but HHH returns and lays Shawn out. He tosses Shawn, who skins the cat back in while Benoit pounds HHH, but Benoit gets dumped. Shawn backdrops HHH and throws some chops, but walks into a high knee, which gets two. Benoit fires away with shoulderblocks from the apron, but hits knee and gets sent into the apron by HHH afterwards. Shawn hits both of them with a baseball slide and follows with a moonsault. Guys with torn ACLs probably shouldn’t be doing that. Back in, Shawn gets two. He throws chops on HHH , but puts his head down and eats knee. Pedigree is broken up by Benoit, who goes right for Shawn again with knees, and sends him into the post. Snap suplex and he fires the chops, but HHH sends him into the corner and puts him on top, hanging him in the Tree of Woe to keep him occupied for a bit. HHH whips Shawn into Benoit, and gets two on Shawn. Now why hasn’t anyone thought of that before in a triple-threat match? Another try is reversed, and Shawn rolls up HHH for two. They slug it out and Shawn gets the forearm and kips up, but Benoit promptly clotheslines him over the top to get rid of him. Rolling germans on HHH follow, and he does the SNOT BLOW~! and goes up, only to get crotched by Shawn. Shawn tries to superkick HHH, but it backfires and he gets DDT’d, leaving Benoit hanging on the top. HHH & Benoit slug it out on top, leading to a superplex on Benoit for two. HHH pounds him on the mat, but Benoit fights back, winning a slugfest, but puts his head down and HHH goes for the Pedigree, but Benoit reverses to the crossface, which HHH is able to fight off until Shawn can save. Shawn hits Benoit with an attempt at rolling germans, drawing big boos, so Benoit reverses to his own, which the crowd enjoys more. Back up for Benoit, and the flying headbutt gets two. Shawn knocks him out of the ring with a forearm and comes back on HHH with clotheslines and a slam to set up the flying elbow, and the superkick gets two, as Benoit saves. They all brawl outside and Shawn brings Benoit back in and starts chopping. Benoit reverses him into the corner and takes him down with a catapult into the corner that triggers a gory bladejob, so fast that I couldn’t even see him do it. Benoit takes him down for another crossface, but HHH prevents him from tapping. Benoit and HHH fight outside and head over to the tables, where Benoit gets whipped into the stairs and HHH preps the announce tables. Benoit comes back on HHH, but Shawn recovers and joins them, and Benoit takes a double-suplex through the Smackdown table as a result. With Benoit apparently out of the equation, Shawn calls HHH into the ring while dripping blood everywhere. He’s about 1.0 Muta at this point. He slugs away on HHH and whips him over the top, into a cameraman, and HHH eats post and starts bleeding too, because apparently that’s what all the cool kids are doing at Wrestlemanias these days. Back in, Shawn slugs away, but HHH hits him with the Pedigree as the crowd starts going nuts for Benoit to recover and make the save. HHH gets two, and as desired by MSG, Benoit makes the save. Benoit starts chopping HHH, but HHH goes for the Pedigree, so Benoit reverses to the Sharpshooter. The pop for that would be massive if it was the finish. Sadly, it’s not, as Shawn saves with a superkick. He gets two on Benoit. He goes for the kill, and the crowd chants for Benoit as he sets up for the superkick (ouch, that’s gotta hurt), but Benoit dumps him. He looks like he’s gonna walk into a Pedigree, but he reverses to the Crossface in mid-move. HHH fights it and almost makes the ropes, but Benoit pulls him back. HHH tries one last desperation reversal, but Benoit holds on, and Edmonton goes insane as HHH taps to the crossface to make Chris Benoit the World champion at 24:46. Best three-way match I’ve ever seen, and although that’s not usually saying much, this was truly special, with HHH doing the right thing and everything hitting perfectly on all cylinders. If you can find a fault with this match, you’re nuts. *****

– Finally, three bits of odds-and-sods close out the disc, as you get the 90 second bit showing Benoit going in for neck surgery in 2001, a montage of crossfaces, and his RAW magazine photo shoot. There’s also an easily-found Easter Egg, in the form of a tooth icon. I’ll leave it to you to discover what it unlocks.

The Inside Pulse:

This DVD is truly representative of why Benoit is my favorite wrestler — he survived the adversity of the Hart Curse (as his friends and mentors either died or were destroyed by the business they loved), endured years of mistreatment in WCW, was handed a World title in 2000 but surrendered it rather than compromise his principles, and then fought his way up through politics and career-threatening injuries in the WWE to win the World title in 2004. It’s not only a bunch of great matches, but a great story to boot, and a great DVD.

Highest recommendation.

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