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Favourite son
Benoit makes triumphant return to Rexall Place
By TJ MADIGAN - CALGARY SUN


Backlash is traditionally one of the less spectacular pay-per-views on the WWE calendar. But when the action kicks off from Rexall Place in Edmonton tomorrow night, mat fans from all over Alberta will be treated to a way-above-average offering from the Monday Night Raw wrestling crew.

The show will revolve around the main event rematch from Wrestlemania XX -- a three-way title tilt between Triple H, Shawn Michaels and world champ Chris Benoit.

Jim Ross dubbed it 'The Final Encounter' but he might as well have named it 'A Star is Born', since the primary objective of this match is to solidify Benoit's status as a bona fide grappling superstar.

The crowd will need little encouragement to blow the roof off Rexall Place for the return of their hometown hero but WWE will throw in some not-so-subtle coaxing for the American TV audience, which has been slower than its Canadian counterpart in getting behind Benoit as the biggest babyface on Monday nights.

A film crew has been following the Rabid Wolverine on his homecoming publicity tour of Alberta over the past few days, compiling footage to air during the pay-per-view.

They were on hand for Benoit's arrival at Edmonton airport on Wednesday (WWE took no chances, advertising his flight number and landing time to ensure fans would be at the terminal to greet him). They also taped his appearance at Edmonton's City Hall Thursday afternoon, where Mayor Bill Smith announced April 18 is Chris Benoit Day in the provincial capital.

Yesterday, Benoit made the trek down to Calgary for a string of media appearances, including a stop at the Calgary Sun offices to take pictures with the hardest- working sports team in the city. He's back in Edmonton this morning, making his final preparations for the big night.

As for Benoit's chances of walking out of Backlash with his arm raised? Let's just say with Triple H headed to Hollywood to shoot his next movie and Michaels set to receive a heel reaction here in Bret Hart country, there's really only one sensible outcome -- a happy ending to Benoit's fairytale homecoming.

Moving down the Backlash card, the semi-main will be a no-holds-barred match for the intercontinental title between Mick Foley, who will slip into his darker Cactus Jack persona for the occasion, and Randy Orton. A heavy-bloodshed warning is likely to come into effect, as this one will be fought throughout the arena -- in the crowd, in the locker-room and maybe even out onto the streets of Edmonton. This is expected to be Foley's last appearance for the company until after Summerslam, so Orton is the obvious choice to take the win.

Edge will battle Kane in a grudge match that seems to be lacking a noteworthy grudge but hopefully Johnny Nitro will get involved to add some heat to the disappointing storyline.

Edge needs to be pushed to the moon here and WWE is likely to let him steamroll over Kane, en route to main- event stardom.

Chris Jericho will take on Christian and Trish Stratus in what should be a fun two-on-one. Christian, whose heel character is finally starting to get over with the crowd, needs the win far more than Jericho, so if common sense prevails, he'll get the duke.

Rounding out the card will be a women's title match between Lita and Victoria, Shelton Benjamin extending his winning streak against Ric Flair and some comic relief action from Tajiri and Jonathan Coachman.

A bonus match is expected to be added to the card tomorrow afternoon.

One big star who won't be strutting his stuff in the Rexall Place ring is Raw's co-general manager, and arguably the biggest star in the company, Stone Cold Steve Austin.

At an impasse with WWE management over the renewal terms of his contract, Austin walked away from the company last night.