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Benoit's triumphant return
By SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun


WWE Champion Chris Benoit poses for a photograph with Jordan Romaniuk, 8, (left) and his brother Jesse Romaniuk, 10, (right).

From driving a 1974 Gremlin to riding in the back of a black stretch limo, Chris Benoit certainly has come a long way in the world of professional wrestling. Benoit stepped off a plane yesterday and into the spotlight of attention from his hometown fans who wanted to catch a glimpse of the World Wrestling Entertainment's new heavyweight champion.

Benoit will be defending that honour in a triple-threat match Sunday night at Rexall Place against Triple-H and Shawn Michaels in the pay-per-view event Backlash.

"It's awesome to be back," said Benoit as he heaved the gold belt above his head.

"The airport's a long way out of town and it's a school day and with the weather, for all these fans to show up out here means a lot to me."

Benoit, who missed more than a year of action recovering from a broken neck before returning to the ring in the summer of 2002, reflected back on his 18 years in the business. It all began as a teenager with Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling promotion in Calgary.

"It was the first Friday in December 1985, that was my first stop in this industry," said the 36-year-old.

"Eighteen years later, I'm here at the airport holding the world title - it's been one hell of a ride.

"I never, never, thought it would be like this. Driving down to my first match I had about 20 bucks in my pocket and I thought it was my big chance, my big opportunity.

"I never thought 18 years later I'd be here holding the world championship belt. That's a little too storybookish for me."

That championship belt is quite a prize at home in Atlanta as well.

"We should have a camcorder in my home to see all the funny things my kids do with it," chuckled Benoit. "They'll put my tights on and play tug of war with it.

"I can't imagine how loud the crowd is going to be when I walk out with the belt. It gives me goosepimples just talking about it."

The small horde of fans who gathered to welcome home their hero weren't disappointed. He signed every autograph and posed for every picture.

"My favourite is Chris Benoit because of how strong he is," said nine-year-old Brennan Friesen, who had eight-year-old brother Nicholas - the proud owner of a toy WWE championship belt - in tow. "We talked our dad into watching Wrestlemania 20 with us."

"They talked dad into paying $50 for it," smiled dad, Perry. "They're WWE wannabes. We watch it together."

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