Arnold Furious: Before Chris Benoit was better known as a murderer, he was considered one of the greatest wrestlers of his generation. The Wrestling Observer end of year awards listed him as “Best Technical Wrestler” five times and “Most Outstanding Wrestler” twice before he entered the Observer Hall of Fame in 2003. Due to the nature of Benoit’s demise the Observer issued a special recall ballot where 53% of the voters chose to oust him from the Hall of Fame (albeit short of the 60% required to get rid of him). This is the problem with Benoit’s legacy. He was hoping to become a legend, he’d already laid all the groundwork (Japan, ECW, under-pushed/underrated in WCW, WWE superstar and both World Champion and WrestleMania headliner), but felt he needed a string of World Titles, rather than just one in WWE. Hard Knocks came about after that first World Title win in 2004, so it’s set at the perfect time for the story to end. There are no disappointing drops down the card, no underwhelming trades to the already half-way doomed ECW brand, and no murder-suicides to conclude the story. Hard Knocks is how everything should have ended, in an ideal world. It’s a story of battling to overcome adversity, working hard to achieve your goals and being the best.
Tangent: I always thought the title was a mistake. After all WWE had already named a tape Hard Knocks and Cheap Pops for Mick Foley in 2000. This is one of the issues with Benoit having no catchphrases. The only other option was “Toothless Aggression”. Or perhaps just “The Crippler”. Maybe that wasn’t upbeat enough for the marketing guys.
The documentary part of the DVD is eighty minutes long, which is enough time to cover Benoit’s entire career and life away from the ring. Benoit’s first line in this documentary is, “Wrestling has consumed my life.” Wrestling consumed Chris Benoit, as it has dozens of others, taking everything away and left nothing but a husk.
The Early Years
Benoit was a quiet kid whose life was transformed at twelve years old after seeing The Dynamite Kid wrestle. Ever since Benoit first saw Dynamite in Edmonton, he became obsessed with not just becoming a wrestler, but becoming a wrestler like Dynamite Kid. As soon as Benoit realised he needed to gain weight to be a wrestler he started pumping iron. He played football in high school as a defensive end and despite being smaller than most of his opponents he used his speed and strength to become a top player. Almost every success story in wrestling starts with fandom, then is followed by weightlifting and other athletic endeavours. When Benoit was still in high school he approached the Hart Family about training to be a wrestler. They go inside the Hart house to film because it’s so key to the story. It was the Harts who broke Benoit in.
Tangent: Benoit remembers his first match correctly. It was November 22, 1985 in Calgary where he teamed with Rick Patterson to defeat Karl Moffat & Mike Hammer. However, he claims that the following night, in his home town of Edmonton, was a rematch with the same finish. He actually teamed with Bruce Hart against Mike Hammer & The Cuban Assassin. One of his friends claimed Benoit came back to Edmonton a champion, which is also wrong, but it was also a long time ago. Memory is funny like that.
Skipped: The DVD covers just about everything of worth, but Benoit’s extensive run in Stampede is largely overlooked. He had a successful tag team with Lance Idol and another with Biff Wellington, winning tag gold both times, and a feuds with Johnny Smith and Gama Singh over the Mid-Heavyweight Title. It’s two years that are considered largely inconsequential by the feature makers.
Benoit knew that Dynamite Kid wrestled in Japan so he wanted to as well. It was Bad News Allen who pitched Japan to him and Benoit was eager. He went for six months as a young boy (between June and December 1986) where he didn’t wrestle at all. He worked there for a year in 1987 (technically three extended tours) before being invited back in 1990 to become the masked Pegasus Kid. By August 1990 he’d won the Junior Heavyweight Title, defeating the legendary Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger. Pegasus Kid was a gimmick Benoit didn’t want to do, but when NJPW wanted him to drop the mask and called him Wild Pegasus, he’d become accustomed to working masked. He dropped the mask in July 1991 to Liger and became an even bigger star. Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko both chip in to talk about the wrestling in Japan. Eddie claims Benoit knocked him out in their first match. We then skip ahead to the 1994 Super J Cup, one of the most highly touted cruiserweight tournaments of all time. It features heavily in the extras. It’s one of those tapes that every tape collector used to have in the tape trading days. You couldn’t call yourself a wrestling fan without owning that.
Skipped: The major events of Japan are covered although it wasn’t quite that simple. Benoit continued to work for New Japan up until 2000, on and off, and that’s largely ignored. Also skipped is a run in Mexico with UWA in 1991-1992, which is interesting, to me at least, as he won the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship there. Maybe WWE themselves had forgotten that belt went on tour while they had no division for it. Benoit also worked for CMLL, where he teamed with Haku in trios matches. Finally Benoit spent time working for NWA affiliates including classic matches with Al Snow and Sabu. He was also in the NWA World Heavyweight Title Tournament that Shane Douglas won, going out in the quarter finals at the hands of Scorpio, who he’d already wrestled in WCW by that point. The first WCW run is also overlooked, but it consists mostly of tagging with Bobby Eaton as WCW didn’t really know what to make of him at the time.
Paul Heyman used Japanese tapes for talent scouting and had Benoit pegged as a potential ace. Even though they skip over Benoit’s earlier WCW tryouts in 1992 and 1993, he actually worked less matches in ECW, in total, than he did in WCW in 1993. Heyman had the bright idea to call Benoit ‘the Crippler’ after he hit a flapjack on Sabu, and Sabu tried to flip and landed on his head. Sabu broke his neck, Benoit got a new nickname. Once Paul E got Benoit’s character together and forced him into cutting promos for the first time the package started coming together, which is when WCW swooped in again. It was almost a little different as Vince McMahon was interested too but wouldn’t let him stay in New Japan. Benoit carried on wrestling for NJPW, on and off, during his WCW tenure until his actual move to the WWF.
Skipped: The 1995 Super J Cup where Benoit reached the semi finals, losing to Gedo. That was hosted by WAR and featured Benoit vs. Chris Jericho, before it took place in WCW. The ECW run was pretty brief so it’s mostly covered. Some of the diverse opponents Benoit faced in ECW included Norman Smiley, Cactus Jack, Osamu Nishimura and The Steiner Brothers.
Benoit puts over Malenko and Guerrero for being there and making the WCW journey a lot easier because they were all in it together. WCW almost immediately put him in The Four Horsemen, with Ric Flair and Arn Anderson keen on ‘the Crippler’. This was the same incarnation that had Brian Pillman, so it helped to balance out the group. Benoit talks candidly of his dislike for Kevin Sullivan, claiming Sullivan sabotaged his push and made him suspicious. We get a few words about Nancy Sullivan without really delving into what happened (Benoit was paired with Sullivan’s wife Nancy, who worked as Woman, in an angle. Life imitated art and Nancy left Sullivan for Benoit, leading to bad blood between the two grapplers) before quickly skipping on to the Best of Seven series with Booker T in 1998. Booker puts Benoit over for making him look good, and notes how the crowd were totally into Benoit. We move on to Owen Hart’s untimely death at Over the Edge ’99 and how Benoit had been friends with Owen, going back to the Stampede days, and was honoured that Bret Hart wanted to wrestle him in a tribute match. That match is one of the best in Nitro history. They move on to Benoit’s WCW departure and Benoit becoming incredibly frustrated with the politics and the treatment of the boys. He told the office he was leaving so they tried to apologise by putting the WCW World Title on him by having him beat Sid Vicious. Even that moment was soured because Benoit saw through the politics of it and still wanted to leave. WCW had made him hate wrestling. “I’m sick of it. I’ll just go back to Japan”. Should have done, Chris, should have done.
Skipped: Benoit’s WCW feuds were largely against like-minded workaholic midcarders like Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko, Jeff Jarrett, Raven and Booker T. The meaty stuff is in the documentary.
Benoit was really nervous about making the big move as all the big stars were in the WWF. What made it feel real for him was working at WrestleMania. “In WWE it’s more about the opportunities than the politics” – Benoit. Hmm. The Radicalz don’t get much of a mention and they skip ahead to Benoit putting The Rock over as being incredibly charismatic, and he always wondered how good he was and whether he could go. Benoit puts over his matches with Rock as being really good, before they move on to WrestleMania X-7 and the match with Kurt Angle. Benoit puts over the chain wrestling they did and how much he enjoyed that style. The whole WWF section of the DVD is very shill and clip heavy, especially compared to the rest of the DVD.
Skipped: Considering how much time Benoit spent working against Chris Jericho, there’s no mention of it. Also, and this is odd, despite it featuring in the extras the Steve Austin mini-feud is skipped over too.
We get clips from the cage match against Kurt Angle where Benoit already had a bad neck yet still hit his flying headbutt off the cage. It had gotten to the point where he’d got no strength on his right side, intermittingly losing it. That was when he realised he needed to get it checked out. After King of the Ring 2001 Benoit needed surgery and missed a year getting his neck fused. Benoit mentions Paul Orndorff and how he’d suffered a similar injury and ended up having his right side atrophied. The Brand Draft allowed Benoit to come back.
Benoit returned May 22, 2002 in his home town of Edmonton, although he didn’t wrestle again until July 2002. We skip over the six months of the SmackDown! Six and onto Benoit’s big title shot at Kurt Angle.
Royal Rumble 2003
There’s more talk of the Benoit-Angle matches being great. The Royal Rumble meeting is particularly stellar, and Benoit gets a massive standing ovation for his performance. Best match of Benoit’s career? I think it probably is.
Royal Rumble 2004
A year later Benoit went from #1 to win and finished by dragging The Big Show out with a choke hold. He points out he was “spent” by the end of the contest, having never wrestled for anywhere near that long before. When Steve Austin came out to celebrate with him, Benoit was so damn thirsty that he drank the entire beer he was given.
Benoit calls this a dream match for him. Everything that he’d ever wanted out of the business in one match. When Benoit won, “everything went into slow motion,” and he burst out crying. The best part, easily, for me is when he turns around and Eddie Guerrero has gotten into the ring without him seeing, and there he is with the WWE Title. That was a moment that shook me to the core because of how long I’d been watching those two guys wrestling. Wrestling is often disappointing, but when it delivers it delivers in ways that are practically unimaginable. The emotion of that moment was breathtaking.
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