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The Downward Spiral of Chris Benoit
October 3, 2003

by Erin Anderson
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


Author's note: My apologies for not turning in a column last week, but I think I had a pretty good reason. My 21st birthday was last Wednesday, and so I was far too hungover the following day to even think about writing something coherent for OO. And dammit, I still have yet to be carded when buying alcohol. Also, a belated congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Jeb Tennyson Lund.

A phrase that I commonly come across on the Internet with regards to wrestling is "Booked to fail," but it is one that I rarely use. I believe that if a wrestler is talented enough, the fans will eventually catch on, and WWE will have no choice but to push that wrestler on the basis of a strong fan reaction. The process may be agonizingly slow, but it does happen. Just look at Eddie Guerrero, who holds double gold and is the hottest star on SmackDown! right now. And hey, Mick Foley eventually got to hold the World Title, not once, but three times.

WWE, however, is trying to throw a wrench into my logic. Matt Hardy, a talented wrestler and over heel who has improved by leaps and bounds on the mic, was glossed over last night in favor of an Eddie/Big Show feud. Rick questioned the wisdom of that in his Wednesday column, and I'd have to agree. I could write pages on the poor handling of Chris Jericho when it comes to the booking of his matches; he is an excellent wrestler, but is rarely allowed to look like one.

At least Jericho has his mic skills to fall back on. More often than not, he's the highlight of RAW, and he doesn't have to wrestle to be in that position. But as I've watched SmackDown! these last few weeks, those three words, "Booked to fail," constantly come to mind whenever I watch one performer: Chris Benoit.

I'd like to take you back to the beginning of the year, and Benoit's place in the company at that time. Remember the Royal Rumble? Benoit and Kurt Angle spent 22 breathtaking minutes fighting it out for the WWE championship in what I consider to be not just the Match of the Year, but one of the best I've ever witnessed. Benoit eventually tapped out to the ankle lock, but the Boston crowd showed its appreciation by giving Benoit a standing ovation before he left the ring. On the following SmackDown!, the pop he received when he walked out for his match was so big that even Benoit seemed taken aback.

It seems like it was ages ago, doesn't it? In reality, it's only been nine months. In nine short months, Chris Benoit has gone from WWE Championship material to a feud with A-train. What the fuck is going on here?

To be fair, it's not all the booking committee's fault. Since his return from neck surgery and rehab last year, Benoit has been on the receiving end of bad luck and bad timing more times than I can count. To start things off, a high-profile feud with Steve Austin was cut short when Austin walked out of the company. But for a while, it seemed to be smooth sailing for the Rabid Wolverine.

He quickly won the Intercontinental title, and from Summerslam on, Benoit didn't have a single sub-par pay-per-view performance in 2002. Summerslam saw him facing Rob Van Dam, and the rest of his pay-per-view outings were against members of the famed SmackDown! Six. After taking part in two of the best matches of the year, first against Kurt Angle at Unforgiven and then teaming with Angle against Edge and Rey Mysterio at No Mercy, someone high up in the chain of command at WWE noticed. Benoit defeated Eddie Guerrero at Armageddon and became the #1 contender for the title, then stole the show with Angle at 2003's Rumble.

Everything went downhill from there.

Benoit had tremendous momentum, but his timing couldn't have been any worse. Brock won the Rumble, and immediately became Angle's focus for the next two months leading up to WrestleMania. Benoit was kept in the title mix for a month and teamed up with Brock Lesnar to face Angle, Benjamin, and Haas in a 3-on-2 tag match. Unfortunately, Edge's untimely neck injury meant that Benoit had lost a potential tag-team partner to continue a feud with Team Angle while Brock and Kurt picked up steam for WrestleMania.

WrestleMania had Benoit even farther down on the card, teaming with Rhyno against Team Angle and Los Guerreros. He then completely fell off the radar, not even having a match at Backlash and opening Judgment Day with Spanky and Rhyno in a six-man tag match against John Cena, Chuck Palumbo, and Johnny Stamboli (a match that clocked in at 3 minutes and 55 seconds).

Benoit was stuck in curtain-jerker hell, but a golden opportunity presented itself to suddenly make him relevant again: the return of the U.S. title, and a tournament to determine its winner. When Benoit and Eddie Guerrero made it into the finals, we were assured of a great match, and they gave us one.

Unfortunately, the match couldn't have come at a worse time for Benoit: Eddie was supposed to be the heel of match and had been built up as such, but the fans had other ideas. He was just too damn good to boo, and is now getting more airtime than anyone else on SmackDown! Turning Benoit heel wouldn't be in the Fed's best interests, either: we already have Brock, the Big Show, A-train, Matt Hardy, John Cena, Haas, and Benjamin on the heel side. The card is severely lacking for strong mid-to-upper-card faces (especially with Edge gone), and Rhyno had already turned against Benoit in the Vengeance match to cost him the U.S. Title.

It was a smart move, and should have been the start to a long, drawn-out feud between Benoit and Rhyno. It's a classic setup in wrestling: a falling out of former friends, ending with one turning on the other. Inexplicably, A-train was thrown into the mix, and when Benoit finally got in the ring one-on-one with Rhyno, he defeated him cleanly in a good-but-short TV match. And just like that, the matter was dropped and Benoit went on to a feud with A-train.

Again, I say: what the fuck? Benoit has more cause to be feuding with Rhyno, and if their TV match several weeks ago was any indication, they could have a hell of a pay-per-view contest if given more time. The same goes for Matt Hardy, who's also had good-but-short TV matches with Benoit. In either case, all competitors involved would get some much-needed time in the spotlight and a chance to elevate themselves.

Instead, we get A-train. I was willing to chalk up the halt of Benoit's momentum to bad luck and bad timing, but at this point I'll go out on a limb and say that yes, Benoit is being booked to fail.

A-train, of all people. A wrestler with poor mic skills and sub-par wrestling ability. A wrestler who has never been carried to a match that qualifies as better than "watchable." A wrestler who has heat not for what he says or what he does, but because he's hairy. A wrestler who has been given repeated pushes, yet never goes anywhere with them.

Unlike a performer such as Chris Jericho, Benoit doesn't have some of the best mic skills in the business to keep him interesting when he's stuck in an awful feud. What he does have, however, are his skills in the ring, which are more than enough to get him over. Just look at Unforgiven last year, where he faced Kurt Angle: both men were heels at the time, but easily won the crowd over and got a huge positive reaction. Besides, what's not to like about relatively silent guy who completely dismantles his opponents in the ring?

Throwing Benoit in the ring with A-train completely negates his wrestling skills, and thus his ability to get over. Benoit will bump all over the place to make A-train's offense look good, have a few comebacks, and probably lose in the end. When Benoit has already beaten A-train twice in recent weeks, I can't imagine this feud ending in anything other than the hairy guy finally getting the win. The losers? The fans and Benoit's credibility.

Isn't WWE aware of this? Haven't they figured out by now that A-train will never be more than a mid-card heel? Their logic (or lack thereof) baffles me, and a brilliant wrestler who can work any main event is stuck with A-train when promising opponents like Matt Hardy and Rhyno are completely being ignored.

Just when I thought that "Booked to fail" was bullshit IWC jargon, I see it happening right before my very eyes.


Erin Anderson is an Atlanta native and a student at Georgia State University. Since writing about wrestling didn't go over too well with her English professors, she vents here at Online Onslaught.

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