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Benoit glory bound
Big things appear in store for Alberta's Chris Benoit


Chris Benoit is two months away from the biggest moment of his career -- finally winning the WWE championship in front of a rabid crowd in his hometown of Edmonton. Of course, nothing is official -- yet -- but sometimes in wrestling, you just have to read between the lines to figure out where things are headed.

When Benoit won the Royal Rumble and secured a spot in the main event of Wrestlemania XX, those in the know assumed he was finally going to get that elusive big win.

Toppling Triple H at the biggest show of the year would definitely solidify Benoit's status as one of the brightest workers of his generation and also allow WWE to have a dedicated champ who embraces the new ring style it's trying to enforce.

At meetings before Raw and Smackdown last week, WWE boss Vince McMahon made it clear the days of crazy stunts and heavily choreographed climax spots are over. For the benefit of the long-term health of all involved, matches are being toned down and the focus is being switched from flashy high-impact moves to intense physical storytelling.

Benoit is the right person to hold pole position during this type of style transition but doubts about his potential as a drawing card are lingering. His record-setting stint in the Rumble match was expected to elevate him to the top tier but audience reactions to his appearances on Raw have been tepid at best.

In fact, WWE is already leaning towards switching the 'Mania main event to a triple-threat match, with both Benoit and Shawn Michaels challenging Triple H for the gold, possibly in a ladder or cage match.

On paper, it looks like the company has lost faith in Benoit as a headliner but I think the real intention is to cover his weaknesses while they enhance his character, rather than carelessly bump him back to the mid-card.

By making the match a three-way, Benoit can put in another strong showing at the biggest event of the year, while the more established feud between Michaels and Triple H is responsible for drawing the numbers. The Crippler can get the rub from his co-stars and come oh-so-close to winning the belt only to fall short again.

That leaves Benoit as the No. 1 contender (and underdog babyface) to challenge for the gold at Backlash, which, not coincidentally, is set to go down at Rexall Place in Edmonton.

Now, if there's one city in the world where a Benoit title win is likely to get a Hulkamania-level crowd pop, Edmonton is it.

Add to that the fact this is the city's first pay-per-view and audience response will be off the charts, making Benoit look like a mega-star and hometown hero for a worldwide TV audience.

The timing is perfect because Benoit gets an extra month to chase the title and make viewers care about his quest for gold, Triple H gets to drop the belt before he heads back to Hollywood to work on his latest movie venture and WWE gets to elevate Benoit in a city where the atmosphere and crowd reaction will be electric.

The only doubt WWE should have is whether Benoit can stay over as a long-term babyface champ outside of Canada. But that's a non-issue since the WWE can always drop the face act after the initial hype wears off. Providing the company doesn't pull a buzz-kill stunt like turning him into a heel in his hometown (which the WWE tried last time it taped TV in Edmonton), this one just can't-miss.

The Backlash pay-per-view goes down April 18 at Rexall Place and the fallout from the show will be broadcast live from the Saddledome on Raw the next night.

WWE is also toying with the idea of running Smackdown brand events in Alberta that same weekend, with a tentative schedule of Sunday/Monday house shows in Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, followed by a Smackdown taping in Calgary April 20.

Unless something huge is planned, such as a Bret Hart appearance, the Alberta market likely isn't strong enough to hold three WWE broadcasts in short order.

A final Alberta itinerary is expected later this month.


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