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Benoit: Lord of the ring
Alberta's Benoit has spent 18 years climbing to the top of the wrestling world
By CAMERON MAXWELL - Calgary Sun


Chris Benoit has spent 18 years to reach the pinnacle of his craft -- and now he's enjoying the view. As the reigning World Wrestling Entertainment world champion, the 36-year-old is now one of the main focal points for the company and, as such, his life has become a lot busier since he won the belt at Wrestlemania XX.

But the Edmontonian doesn't mind a bit.

"It's part of the notoriety that comes with being a champion and it's something you have to accept as part of the responsibility of being a champion, so it's fun," said Benoit while visiting the Sun office this week.

"It's an honour to be in this position and have the opportunities that I've gotten."

Never mind a cross-country media blitz earlier this week that saw him on TSN, MuchMusic and A-Channel in Calgary as he pumped up tonight's Backlash pay-per-view in Edmonton and tomorrow's Raw show in Calgary at the Saddledome.

Indeed, the spotlight on Benoit -- who broke into the business through Stampede Wrestling in the mid '80s -- has never been brighter and he's loving every minute of it.

"Every time I go into the ring, I love what I do -- I've never felt pressure like that," said Benoit, one of the best technical grapplers in the business.

"To me, it's a form of art and whether there's one camera or 10 cameras on me, pressure never comes into my mind because I love what I'm doing."

While the man they call the Rabid Wolverine can handle the spotlight, he's had to get used to being billed as hailing from Atlanta, Ga., where he resides, rather than from Edmonton.

Just before Wrestlemania, WWE executives, decided certain Canadian wrestlers, including Benoit and Winnipeg's Chris Jerico, would be introduced as Americans when they stepped into the ring.

While it's true Benoit now lives in Atlanta, he still considers himself a Canadian first and foremost and took issue with the new label.

"When I found out they were going to (do that), I didn't just go with it," explained the 5-ft. 11-in., 220-lb. Benoit.

"I went and sat down and had a one-on-one conversation with Vince (McMahon). I went right to the horse's head and said, 'I don't feel quite comfortable with it. Why are you doing it?' "

McMahon, the WWE's top executive, told Benoit the company was going with a different approach and the Canadian, probably a little reluctantly, accepted the reasoning.

"Am I supposed to quit? Who's going to take care of my family? If that's the direction they want to go in, what am I going to do? I'm going to make the best of it, which is what I'm doing," said Benoit, who has three children: David, 11, Megan, 6, and Daniel, 4.

"A lot of things happen to you in life and it's up to you to make it positive or negative."

Benoit notes the WWE hasn't yet stripped him of his Canadian identity by asking him to turn heel on Canada and play villain to wrestling fans north of the border.

"They haven't asked me to go out as an angle on TV and renounce my citizenship or knock Canada or knock where I'm from," he said.

Would he consider going anti-Canadian if asked to do so?

"I'd have an issue with it, just like when I found out they were going with where I reside," said Benoit, who trained in the legendary Hart Dungeon with the late Stu Hart.

He's a got a work visa to ply his trade in the U.S. and Benoit has absolutely no intention of becoming an American citizen -- ever.

"Yeah I live in Atlanta and two of my kids (Megan and Daniel) were born in Atlanta and it doesn't take away from where I'm from and what I'm about," Benoit said.

"And believe me, when I retire, I'm going to be back up here in Canada, in Calgary or Edmonton or B.C.

"I'm a Canadian at heart."

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