Remembering Chris Benoit: Was WWE Right To Destroy His Legacy?

It’s been a half decade since one of the WWE’s blackest days…

D. P. Milner

Contributor

It’s been a half decade since one of the WWE’s blackest days. An event that would truly change the landscape of the company and tarnish its all-important public image. As RAW’s 1000th episode approaches, it presents a perfect time to reflect on the past. It’s equally important to reflect upon, and learn from the negatives in the past, as well as to celebrate the positives.

Twelve years ago, Chris Benoit along with Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero arrived in the WWE as ‘The Radicalz’. It was a huge coup for the company at the time, and was one of the finals nails in the WCW coffin. They allowed some of their best and most technically gifted stars walk out the door. Chris Benoit was arguably the most gifted of the bunch.

He, and Eddie Guerrero (who may have been equally as gifted), quickly rose up the ranks in the company to main-event status. Ironic that they would both be seen in such different lights after their deaths. For the record, Benoit had been working his tail off since the late 80s, building a solid reputation for himself in the business as an incredibly worker. Chris Jericho speaks highly of Benoit, as an influence, in both of his books. The big knock against him in his career was size. At 5ft 11in, he wasn’t seen as big enough to compete in the World Title scene. With Vince McMahon’s adoration for bigger stars well publicised, it was all the more unlikely that Benoit would finally land the big one in WWE, and on the grandest stage of all no less.

Wrestlemania 20, 2004: A double main event was booked – with Eddie Guerrero taking on Kurt Angle for the WWE title, and Chris Benoit vs Shawn Michaels vs HHH for the World Heavyweight Title closing the show. In what would measure up to the all-time classic Wrestlemania main events (if it wasn’t redacted from the WWE record-books), Benoit became the unlikely victor. Vince McMahon showed a lot of faith in Benoit, putting him over at the 20th anniversary of ‘Mania, and against two of the companies biggest stars: HHH and Michaels. Benoit was at the top of the mountain, after all those years being told he would never make it. He and Eddie Guerrero, stood in the ring, with genuine emotion not often seen in a wrestling ring. Benoit raised his son Daniel in his arms, tears streaming down his face, to close the show out. Those who criticise wrestling for being fake, should look at that moment to understand what this means to the men who compete to be on top.

After more success, winning the US Title, and being one of the flagship stars on the flawed ECW experiment, the unthinkable happened in 2007. On the weekend on June 24th 2007, Benoit missed a live show, the night before the big PPV Vengeance: Night of Champions was due to take place. Benoit was booked to win the ECW title at that event, but sadly it was never to be.

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