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Bye Bye, Benoit
August 10, 2004

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com


There is absolutely nothing wrong with Chris Benoit as WWE's World Heavyweight Champion. In fact, it has been downright refreshing to have a guy like the Crippler wearing the Big Gold Belt.

Lord knows it has given the always-eager-to-bitch Internet contingent something positive to talk about. Benoit is not the total package. But he's pretty damn close. And for all he lacks in the "entertainment" department, he's got that "wrestling" thing down pat better than most WWE champions, past or present. 

And, now it's time for Benoit to say goodbye to the world title. And it isn't even his fault. Thanks for the effort, Chris... you've been a great top banana since WrestleMania. We hope the DVD sells well. We'll certainly see you in the main event many more times in coming years. Hell, the ratings even treaded water very well during your reign - the 

business is in a Down CycleTM right now, but despite Benoit's critics, viewership did not sink during his title run. In fact, the ratings spiked a bit here and there.

Bravo, Benoit. You've been a hell of a world champion. You've impressed even your harshest critics. But it's time to let go of that belt.

(Did you like how I addressed Chris Benoit directly, as if he's an avid reader of The Dungeon or something? Yes, in fact, I am just that jaded.)

If it were just a matter of Benoit being successful, then there'd be no problem with keeping the strap on him for another few months. But it isn't that simple. In fact, beyond the belt around his waist, this has little to do with Benoit.

Ask yourself three questions:

1) What does WWE need to do to strengthen its business for the long-term?
2) How might they do that?
3) What is the single most anticipated feud in WWE's current Raw roster?

I'll go ahead and assume a lot of you came up with answers like this (and if you didn't, I'll explain why I did):

1) Create new stars.
2) Take the most promising of the young WWE wrestlers and help them learn... if they remain dedicated and show constant progress, move them up the card.
3) Triple H vs. Randy Orton.

There are countless reasons why WWE needs to create new stars, all of which have been covered in excessive detail in every pro wrestling column on the Internet for the past eight years. The old (ahem - "established") superstars get stale/bored/broken down. Fans gravitate toward the new and exciting. There's a limit to how many times a viewer will buy the same main event on pay-per-view. "I believe the children are the future." And on and on and on... you get the idea. There simply has to be a steady flow of new talent, and a few of those guys need to grow into legit superstars if WWE is to remain healthy.

So WWE puts them in Ohio Valley until they ripen. They bring them up to the main roster and season them some more. The lucky ones - like Randy Orton and Batista - are surrounded by talent like Triple H, Ric Flair and Chris Jericho to help them learn from the absolute best teachers available. If WWE is lucky - and if they've chosen the right prospects - the Randy Ortons and Batistas appreciate their shot, embrace their career choice, and run like hell for the finish line, improving even single month. If the fans respond to them, you're 75 percent of the way there.

After that, it's a matter of timing. It's about striking when the iron is hot. WWE has a guy named Randy Orton who is young, showed tremendous promise, and has improved every single month. He's got tons of improving to do, but he's also come far enough to where he can hold up his side of a good match with a Mick Foley, and Edge or a Shawn Michaels. He's improving on the microphone. He's been in the upper card mix for over a year, and fans have yet to regurgitate him - for the most part, he's gaining popularity. He's not The Rock, as some writers like to claim. But he's moving in the right direction. Randy Orton is 75 percent of the way there.

WWE needs to get him to 100. They need to reach that anticipated Orton vs. Triple H showdown while they can still claim that fans care about both men. They need to strike while the iron is hot.

WWE needs to give Randy Orton the World Heavyweight Title. The Triple H feud needs to happen by WrestleMania XXI.

Chris Benoit is a fine champion, but he's not at the heart of the hottest potential feud on the Raw roster. Randy Orton is. Chris Benoit is established enough to remain a top star for the rest of his career, with or without a title belt. Randy Orton is not. Don't think for a second that Randy Orton doesn't need a world title on his resume, nor should we make the mistake of saying the World Title should be reserved for a wrestler who "needs it" to build his own heat. Bullshit.

Where I come from, the World Heavyweight Champion is supposed to be either the company's top draw, or the No. 1 nemesis of the company's top draw. I hate the school of thought that says a title belt should be used to prove to fans that a wrestler is actually talented. I have an idea! Why don't the TRULY talented wrestlers work their way UP to the World Title and EARN IT like the PRIZE it's supposed to be, rather than whining that they NEED it because they're ENTTILED to it (hi Goldberg!)? Chris Benoit is not in that category, but a small nugget of that opinion does apply to him: Benoit is definitely ENTITLED to the belt. He's earned it, no doubt. But it's somebody else's time. This is a timing issue, and WWE needs to capitalize.

Love him or hate him, Orton has NOT dropped the ball on his big main event push. If he had, then Triple H vs. Randy Orton would not be anticipated, and people would be turning their channels on Mondays. And don't give me the whole "ratings are down" argument either, because the ratings fell long before Randy Orton was depended upon to carry an audience. The ratings fell for guys like Kane, Goldberg, and Scott Steiner in the main event, and also because the truly exceptional perfomers were booked in such incredibly ridiculous storylines - if they were lucky enough to get TV time at all - that they were sunk before they even said "action." If anything, Randy Orton's ascension to the upper tier of WWE corresponds with the ratings STOPPING their downward spiral and leveling off a bit. I'd even suggest that as Randy continues to improve, so will the Nielsen numbers.

Let's put it this way: if Randy Orton does NOT win the World Title at SummerSlam - as many predict - then he either needs to win it soon thereafter, or Triple H needs to win it back. Either way, Chris Benoit's time is up, and when WWE's most anticipated feud finally happens between The Legend Killer and his mentor The Game, it needs to be fought over the Big Gold Belt. The feud deserves it, and the legacy of the world title deserves it.

Nothing personal, Benoit.


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