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COMMENT





Benoit: Our lord of the ring
By BRIAN GRAY - Toronto Sun


Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Chris Benoit. (Alex Urosevic - Toronto Sun)


Canadian Chris Benoit has scaled the heights of professional wrestling glory -- but his path started in the dungeon. Benoit's claim to the World Wrestling Entertainment's Heavyweight Championship belt will be challenged at SummerSlam tomorrow night at the Air Canada Centre but his ties to Canada cannot be questioned, he says.

"I know where my heart is," says Benoit, 37, dressed for a workout in an Etobicoke gym earlier this week. "I'm on the road a lot but I'll always consider Canada my home."

Growing up in Edmonton, Benoit played hockey and football but those sports weren't the stuff of dreams for the youngster.

It was wrestling, it was always wrestling.

"I started as an 11-year-old folding chairs after the wrestling was over," he remembers, long before making his debut as a 17-year-old in December 1985 with Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling.

People associate Canadian athletes with hockey but the country's ties to pro wrestling can't be denied, and the legendary Stu Hart's role as the patriarch is tough to ignore. The Order of Canada recipient died last year at 88 but his legacy to Canadians in wrestling is still visible in the ranks of the WWE. It's still visible in Benoit.

"It all started in Stu Hart's dungeon," Benoit recalls.

The basement of the Hart family home in Calgary was transformed into a place where Hart could test the mettle of current and would-be wrestlers.

When Stu Hart -- who had 12 kids, including Bret "Hitman" Hart and Owen Hart, who died in the ring -- gave the nod to Benoit, the teen was on a path to fame and fortune that would wind its way around the world for the next 19 years.

Two years later, after graduating from Hart's Calgary-based regional circuit, he was travelling to exotic locales including Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Mexico and across Europe.

"That's part of what I like most," the soft-spoken champ says. "Seeing different parts of the world has been a big bonus."

Switching circuits -- Stampede Wrestling, ECW, WCW, WWE -- switching identities -- Black Pegasus, the Canadian Crippler, Wolverine -- allowed Benoit to find a corner turnbuckle all his own in the world of wrasslin'. But the nook he likes best is at home with his wife and three kids David, 11, Megan, 7, and Daniel, 4.

Earlier this year, Benoit's path from the dungeon crested in the squared circle of Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. In perhaps the most famous sports arena in the world, Edmonton's own locked his patented "crippler crossface" hold onto his opponent Triple H and won the professional wrestling's most sought-after singular achievement. Thousands of grappling fans thundered their approval of the new WWE heavyweight champion.

Benoit smiles. Wrestling in Canada is the ultimate, he says, regardless of where he won the title.

CRIPPLIN' CHRIS

- NAME: Chris Benoit

- BORN: May 21, 1967 in Montreal

- LIVES: Atlanta, but considers Edmonton his hometown.

- HEIGHT: 5-foot-10

- WEIGHT: 100 kilos

- FAMILY: Married with three kids

- ALSO KNOWN AS: Wolverine, the Canadian Crippler, Black Pegasus

- FINISHING MOVE: Crippler crossface

- TITLES: WWE world heavyweight champion, WCW tag team champion, WCW United States champion, WCW television champion, intercontinental champion, world tag team champion, WWE tag team champion.

- Heavyweight champion since March 14, Wrestlemania XX at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

- CHALLENGER AT SUMMERSLAM: Randy Orton

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