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SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, June 8, 2001

Rating the two Chris's

Eric Benner
By ERIC BENNER
Special to SLAM! Sports


A weekly
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' Sometimes it's so hard to decide what I want. It doesn't seem like it should be. After all, no one knows me and my preferences better than I do. Yet when it comes to making certain decisions, like what to order from a menu or what movie to rent from a video store, my mind draws a total blank. It's not because I'm indifferent, obviously. I do prefer some things to others. In fact, if you were to ask, I could rank pretty much any two things I've ever watched, heard, felt, or digested. In theory, if you can rank two things, then you can then use that information to rank everything, in order, from top to bottom. But it doesn't work like that, for some reason. So is the case with WWF wrestlers.

Two weeks ago, Steve Austin and Triple H, hellacious injury and all, put on one heck of a match against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. It was the match that suddenly made Raw 'must watch' for some fans and 'can sit through' for others. Not a day later -- well, three days later including tape delay, Jericho and Benoit wowed fans with their rendition of the TLC match. This time, the supporting cast consisted of The Hardy Boys, The Dudley Boys, and Edge and Christian.

The follow Monday, eleven days ago, both men wanted the title shot, so Benoit had to face Rhyno and Jericho had to challenge The Big Show to earn it. Ultimately, it was the Canadian Crippler who won out, though both men won their matches. He went on to lose to Steve Austin in an entertaining match with the 1997 Survivor Series Bret Hart screw-job ending.

One or three days later, depending on your perspective, the two Canadian rising stars continued their ascent, Jericho defeating Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit coming very close to pinning Steve Austin and win the heavyweight title. Only Vince McMahon's patented blatant interference stood in his way -- again. Oh yeah, and Chris Benoit landed ten consecutive German suplexes in this one. That was quite a sight.

Then Monday, on Raw, Chris Jericho gets his turn to face Austin amid some contract controversy. More interference in this one, and a botched chairshot by special enforcer Mick Foley adds another tainted victory to Steve Austin's win column. Big Show suffers again, this time losing convincingly to Benoit. Finally, last night on Smackdown!, the team of Benoit and Y2J defeated not one, not two, but three tag teams to retain their titles. They put down The Acolytes, then Rhyno and The Big Show, all to get to the dastardly duo of Steve Austin and Vince McMahon. They beat them too, to cap off a very interesting three weeks.

Not too bad, all told. Benoit and Jericho, over three weeks, go 5-0 in tag team action, going over pretty much every top tier tag team in the WWF and then some. Chris Benoit wins two and loses two, but both of those two losses are main event screw-jobs to Steve Austin, and that's got to count for something. Chris Jericho, meanwhile, scores the same tally: two wins, two losses. One of his losses counts the same as Benoit's, and the other is just a footnotes and a technicality resulting from Rhyno's well-timed gore on the stage to win back his hardcore title.

I'd say that fighting a combined six main events in three weeks with a combined record of nine wins and four losses (with all four losses totally undeserved) would qualify as a pretty good month for these two Canucks. At the same time, I'm just not hyped up to see them face Austin at King of the Ring, whatever the match.

Referring to my earlier analogy, I know I like Chris Benoit. I think he's the most credible wrestler in North America right now, and watching him gives me the distinct idea that fake or not, both men leaves his matches sore. Chris Jericho, dating back to his first heel turn in WCW, has always been one of my favourite personalities. Jericho is a proficient wrestler, though his moves don't come off as realistically as Benoit's, while Benoit does have an intensity but lacks the presence of Jericho. Still, I have always loved their work, and have been a big proponent of pushes for them in the past.

Despite those clearly laid-out preferences, I find myself not particularly enthused about the direction of things.

Most of the individual efforts have been great, that much I can say with certainty. The tag team match that started it all was awesome, as was the TLC match that followed it. Most people agree that everything up to the end of Benoit's first match with Austin was superb, though folks are pretty split about the homage ending. Benoit's second match with Austin also earned accolades all around, despite the interference. But you can't expect to have epic first-time encounters, TLC matches, and fifteen-minute matches between feuding main eventers every week. At some point, the matches simply must be brought down to the usual standard of weekly fare, like what we had on Smackdown!. At that point, though, I wasn't terribly impressed by what I was seeing.

I'm not sure exactly what it is that has dimmed my enthusiasm. I still feel that both Chrises are tremendous competitors who I would enjoy to continue seeing wrestling in the WWF's top tier. I know that Steve Austin has been a strong opponent, and that Triple H was for the time he was around. Even The Big Show and Rhyno have done a good job selling for these two Canadians. Yet still, something seems missing.

I hate to say it, but I think this is one instance where my penchant for following backstage and behind-the-scenes news in wrestling is doing harm to my own enjoyment of the show.

This goes back to what I was saying several weeks ago, about the seemingly stagnant WWF -- they had no rising stars. When the WWF was setting the wrestling world on fire, they always had rising stars. There was always the perception of the Next Big Thing being just around the corner, so that no matter what was on Raw, you knew there were better things coming. This perception also helped to lend an indescribable aura to Steve Austin, The Rock, and later Triple H. They seemed, and this will sound corny to the highest degree, almost destined to be WWF superstars. That's the way Jim Ross talked about them in his Ross Report and on national television, that's the way they behaved, and that's the way they were booked.

Jericho and Benoit are receiving a superb push, don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that this is akin to those half-arsed WCW ‘pushes' that talented grapplers used to receive. You know, like when Kidman 'feuded' with Hulk Hogan and got the tar kicked out of him match after match. Or when Kevin Nash 'put over' Rey Mysterio. This is not at all like that situation. Just watching WCW television, you could tell that those young guys were not budding stars. Goldberg was the only budding star in that federation for most of its post-nWo life.

But after several aborted pushes in the WWF, several cut-short hot streaks, several forgotten rising stars in Benoit and Jericho, this push seems almost bitter sweet. It's well-known that there are elements in the WWF who don't think this will work and would have preferred to push Kane and Undertaker until the cows came home. It's also known that other elements have had to fight for the younger and admittedly smaller Chrises.

It's the difference between getting what you want because you earned it, and getting what you want because you had to fight to get it. The former is all good, the latter can be bittersweet. If you've ever had an argument and then 'won' it, you know what I mean. It's not a terribly great feeling sometimes. That's how this feels to me. It's as if when I'm watching Chris Jericho fight Steve Austin, I'm thinking that Y2J has to prove himself in this very match or his push will be cut short, aborted again. The match can still be good, but it takes away from the story for me. It also takes away from that aura I talked about, that perception of inevitable superstardom, of destiny.

Fortunately, there's a solution, but one the WWF has been proven to rarely use. Last year around this time, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, and Kurt Angle were all in a similar situation, receiving main event pushes. They even triple main evented a pay-per-view. The problem was, though, that they didn't do spectacularly. Jericho fought a great match -- perhaps his best so far in the WWF -- against Triple H. Chris Benoit nearly beat The Rock for the title but the decision was reversed. Kurt Angle just jobbed like a loser to Undertaker. Sure, they all received 'pushes', but none of them seemed to be headed for the next level. For our countrymen Chris and Chris, that means a combined total of three reversed title victories and more or less an end to the experiment. For Kurt Angle, though, an extended heavyweight title reign was bestowed, and with time, he became and undeniable superstar.

It took time for Kurt Angle to get the monkey off his back, the aura that he was a champion-of-the-week and ultimately wouldn't last against Triple H. Today, I'd bet on him against just about anyone.

Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho are in a similar position. They are clearly main eventers at the moment, but whether they are main eventers to stay or main-eventers-of-the-month is unclear. They, too, will have to be given a chance to shake the monkey off, just as Kurt Angle did. This month's pay-per-view may not draw a tremendously high buyrate, but if they stay on top and get involved in some compelling programs, maybe even a feud against each other, then I think Summerslam will be their chance to really shine. It will take time, though. They're not rising stars. They've been just shy of main event status for over a year now. They're stagnant, and they've been given this sudden push. They're going to have to keep working hard, and the WWF is going to have to continue to support them, to make that push permanent.

And if along the way, anyone involved should give up, I fear that this may be their last chance to achieve real superstardom in the WWF.

Here's the mailbag.

Jason Armstrong, from jarmstro@cjib.net, writes:
"Interesting thoughts on the WCW's strategy of attack as they prepare to emerge from hibernation. Here's one advantage of the federation trying to initially separate themselves from the WWF; an eventual mammoth pay-per-view event which superstars from either fed would go toe-to-toe in sort of a 'Super Bowl' format. What do you think?”

I'm not sure that would work. I mean, I think the fans would love it and the fans would pay to see it, but I just don't see Vince McMahon and company allowing the WWF to ultimately sit on a level playing field with WCW. To Vince McMahon, Wrestlemania is the product of two decades of work, and the biggest wrestling event in the hemisphere. So he wouldn't try to upstage Wrestlemania with another 'Super Bowl' type pay-per-view, and I don't think he would want to change the format of Wrestlemania, either. So maybe we'll see cross-promotional matches, but if by 'Super Bowl' you mean an annual extravaganza, I do not expect that.

Ron Vidal, from RONVIDAL@btinternet.com, writes::
"Here in England, if a wrestler takes a chair shot they blank it out. But, you can see all sorts of sex and nudity on British TV and newspapers. Go figure!"

Maybe it's a conspiracy. Maybe it's because wrestling is just so hated by non-wrestling fans, as opposed to television dramas, which people are mostly either fans of or indifferent toward. Or maybe wrestling is perceived by regulators to be somehow more real, more influential, and thus not falling under the same standards. Or maybe it's that wrestling appeals to small children, children who probably don't see the charm of NYPD Blue or, less so, The Sopranos. I don't know, but either way, I don't like it.

That's all for this week. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.


Send email to ebenner@hotmail.com.


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