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By PWINSIDER.COM STAFF on 2004-02-08 20:00:00

by Mike Johnson

This past Sunday, Chris Benoit went over an hour in The Royal Rumble with a terrific marathon performance that electrified fans, especially hardcore followers of "The Crippler." When it was all said and done, Benoit received a standing ovation from the Philadelphia fans within the Wachovia Center. While Philadelphia, a city that has long loved Benoit and similar wrestlers of his style, were easily sold on his rise to the upper tier of WWE hierarchy, the rest of the WWE fandom may not be so quick to agree.

Benoit is an amazing wrestler. He is bar none, the best technical wrestler in the promotion this side of Eddy Guerrero or Kurt Angle. However, he's also very one-dimensional in many aspects. His promos are OK but have never set the world on fire, not even in ECW under the coaching of Paul Heyman. He's smaller than many of the stars WWE likes to promote to the top of the card. On Raw, he looked tiny compared to Triple H. It's going to take some work to get everyone to come around to the reality that most hardcore fans already believe is bible, that Benoit is awesome. Benoit is not seen as a major star. He's respected but I think to most fans that watch Smackdown, he's considered closer to Chavo and Eddy than Angle and Lesnar on their list of favorites. Hey, I love Chris Benoit, but even I realize he is going to need a little work.

I present this evidence to you: The fans live at Raw in Hershey, PA reacted favorably to Benoit, but his surprise appearance did nothing to cause them to react like something shocking had happened. Had Brock Lesnar or Goldberg hit the ring for that same segment, the electricity would have been in the air and a segment that was interesting may have been ground breaking in the eyes of casual fans.

Lucky for WWE and Chris Benoit, they have an angel on their shoulder should creative decide to call him in from the bullpen -- Shawn Michaels, who I firmly believe should be added to the Wrestlemania bout between Triple H and Chris Benoit.

This past Sunday at the Royal Rumble, Michaels and Triple H had a hell of a bloody brawl. While it didn't last the time of their great Raw bout, it was a great grudge match that was old school in its brutality and didn't feature any silly sledgehammers. The finish, featuring both men counted down at 10 after Michaels connected with a desperate superkick, was vehemetly hated by fans watching live in Philadelphia and on PPV. Everyone watching wanted to see a clean finish. Some afterwards commented to me that they would have just prefered Triple H had won the bout so it would have been a clean finish. While the fans chanted "Bullsh-t" live, it may have been anything but.

With Michaels and Triple H nowhere near done with their rivalry and Benoit now apparently a member of the Raw roster, I hereby suggest that WWE use Shawn Michaels to do what he does best; get an awesome match out of his opponents.

In the case of Michaels vs. Benoit, Shawn's prospective opponent is already awesome. The potential of Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit meeting for the first time in their careers is a great tease for hardcore fans, and more importantly, the end result will be exactly what WWE is looking for: a way to make Benoit look like a true star in the eyes of not just those hardcore fans, but all casual fans everywhere. The fans who looked at Benoit as an underneath guy, since that's how he was booked all these months and months on end.

Interjecting Michaels into the Wrestlemania match also insures an awesome performance for Triple H, who has been saddled with numerous injuries since he returned from his quad tear in late 2001. For whatever reason, be it their history or simply Michaels' innate ability to pull a great match out, Triple H truly shines his best against Michaels. Adding another tremendous worker like Chris Benoit into the mix can only help Helmsley get what has eluded him since his return to WWE: a match of the year Wrestlemania bout, something he has not been able to put together with Chris Jericho or Booker T, his Wrestlemania opponents the last two years..

Adding Michaels to the bout will also help the marquee value of the bout in the eyes of the casual fans as he is seen as something of a legend to them. He "made" Wrestlemania X in many fans' eyes with his ladder match against Razor Ramon. He rescued Wrestlemania XI with one of the only good bout that year, facing Diesel. He sucked it up against Steve Austin with a badly damaged back at Wrestlemania XIV. There was the Iron Man Match at Wrestlemania XII.

Fantasy time: Over the next 6 weeks, WWE can slowly build up a storyline where Michaels and Triple H take Benoit lightly because after all, he is "Just a Smackdown guy." Meanwhile, Benoit can talk about his "secret training" in Canada. Right before Wrestlemania, Benoit can announce that his trainer will be in his corner and it's someone who knows Helmsley and Michaels well. That trainer? Bret Hart, of course. Benoit would made as the Rocky Balboa with two Apollo Creeds, one hated, one loved in his path.

Now even throwing that fantasy booking aside, the topic here was making Chris Benoit and bringing him to the next level. Wrestling fans already love him. It's time to find a way to get the fans who casually flip by or love the storyline aspect of WWE to endear themselves to Benoit. It's also time to get a great match out of Triple H, who works hard but Father Time and injuries have worn him out. The best time to do both is Wrestlemania XX. The best way to do that is to add Shawn Michaels to that mix.

The fans chanted "Bullsh-t" in Philadephia. That "Bullsh-t" may have instead handed the WWE a Wrestlemania Diamond.

Mike Johnson can be reached at


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