April 3, 2004
Benoit relishes road to victory
By TJ MADIGAN - Calgary Sun
The Madison Square Garden fans were on their feet as Chris Benoit locked the crippler crossface on Triple H. Time seemed to stand still as The Game struggled to break the hold until finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he slapped his hand on the mat to signal submission.
The MSG crowd erupted with a roar of approval, while TV viewers around the world jumped out of their seats in a spontaneous mix of excitement and disbelief. In a match that represented everything great about pro wrestling, Chris Benoit became the heavyweight champion of the world.
Benoit was born in Montreal in 1967 but moved to Edmonton with his family in the late '70s. There, he got hooked on Stampede Wrestling and, inspired by the technical prowess of the Dynamite Kid, embarked on a pro-wrestling career of his own.
Almost 20 years later, he was widely regarded as the most talented mat wrestler in the world but at 5 ft. 10 in. -- substantially below Vince McMahon's preferred height for a main-event mega-star -- it was assumed Benoit would spend the rest of his career bumping his head on WWE's infamous glass ceiling.
On March 14, not only did Benoit smash his way into the upper echelon with a solid win over Triple H, he did it on the biggest stage of all -- the main event of Wrestlemania XX.
"It was very emotional," Benoit said, talking to the Calgary Sun from his home in Atlanta.
"I had all these thoughts going through my mind. Visions of training with Stu Hart, my first matches in Calgary and Edmonton, those years working on the road, going to Japan, Mexico, Europe, WCW, ECW, WWE. It all just flashed before me.
"I'm so happy it happened when it happened, though.
"A hundred years from now, at Wrestlemania 120, they'll look back and see Chris Benoit made Triple H tap out at Madison Square Garden. It was such a huge event that carried so much meaning, it's hard to find the accurate words to describe it."
With industry domination taken care of, Benoit's next order of business is to return home as the conquering hero. He'll be making his first big title defence at Backlash in Edmonton April 18 this month, taking on Triple H and Shawn Michaels in what's expected to be a triple-threat ladder match.
Needless to say, he's excited at the prospect of performing for his hometown crowd, especially at the first major wrestling pay-per-view to ever touch down in the city.
As things are booked, Benoit looks set to hold onto the title at Backlash, which means he'll be showing up as the champ for the Monday Night Raw taping in Calgary the following evening.
But returning to Calgary, where he first learned the art of the grappling game, will be a bittersweet experience for the Crippler.
"This is going to be our first show there since Stu (Hart) passed away," he said. "I really think it's going to be emotional. I'd like to be able to go out there in Calgary and say something about how I feel, on behalf of the guys who met Stu and had the opportunity to spend time with him. I'm really proud to say it all started out for me down in the dungeon."
One of the things Benoit is looking forward to on his stop-off in Calgary is the chance to check up on the next generation of Hart family grapplers who are proudly carrying on the tradition started by their grandfather.
"It's truly amazing to see such a strong generation," Benoit says.
"I watched Teddy Hart, TJ Wilson and Harry Smith wrestle in the ring at BJ's gym when I was up there and they blew me away. I told them I hadn't ever seen guys with this chemistry and technical ability. They're extensions of the Stampede Wrestling I grew up watching."
No doubt a lot of Calgary's up-and-comers will be anxious to meet Benoit, the wrestling hero they grew up watching when he comes to town.
"I want to be a role model for the rest of the wrestlers who aspire to be here in the WWE," Benoit notes.
"I've been to a lot of territories where the people who held the title weren't so professional and weren't the role models I thought they should be.
"I really feel proud about how I've done it and how I've gotten here. Now it's about the prestige of the title, going to all the towns and being a leader. I want to be that role model."
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