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  1. WWE Champion Kurt Angle vs Chris Benoit - Royal Rumble 2003 Before the Benoit murders/suicide, this wasn't just my favorite Benoit match this was my favorite match period. I just rewatched the match for the first time and it just doesn't hold up nor did I expect it too. This match and the Jericho/Michaels match are definitely harbingers of the current pro wrestling style in the WWE. The strong emphasis on moves and the total de-emphasis on in-ring character and the story of the match being motivated by the characters and storyline surrounding it. Whether the standing ovation after the match was a work or not, it was clear my fellow Bostonians were searching for a chant to describe the "awesomeness" of this finish run. They tried "Holy Shit", but that did not really fit. They were not really cheering for Benoit or Angle. They were just excited for all the neat spots. The chant needed would a few years down the road in the form of "This Is Awesome". The finish run of this match is the ultimate "This Is Awesome" string of moves. In deference to this philosophy, this was a damn hot home stretch and an entertaining one. This was clearly way better than Michaels/Jericho, but this in my opinion no longer belongs among the greatest matches of all time. It is not even the greatest WWE match of 2003. The match was basically wrestled face vs face. Angle is an entertaining heel on the stick, but as never been much of one in the ring. There is no bumping, no stooging. There is no real emotion. He just wrestles as a poor man's Benoit and is totally exposed. Benoit is Benoit. He always moves forward and is always bringing the fight to you. I love this style unabashedly. If he has no one to play off whether it is a Finlay going toe to toe or an Eddie bumping and running scared of him, it can be a pretty dry performance. The beginning of the match reminded me a lot of a toned down version of Benoit/Malenko from Hog Wild. I was like why the hell did I like this thing. Benoit did have the decency to at least attempt and then apply a Sharpshooter since Angle had a bad knee. The transitions in this match were pretty lame and did feel your turn/my turn. Angle was awful at heat segments especially around this time (fuck the chinlock/bodyscissors). The first half was boring once they did the double clothesline spot, the match kicked into overdrive and it was enough of a great finish run for me to call this a great match. Benoit blows an absolutely massive snot rocket and is always the first thing pops into my mind about this match. I am glad that held up. I liked the pop up top rope belly 2 belly. I actually liked the submission reversals in this a lot. I think Benoit pugnaciously applying the Crippler Crossface at every turn was awesome and the Crossface counter out of an AngleLock was sick. The Angle Slam counter to the Crossface was even better. Angle out-pugnaciousing the pugnacious Benoit by pugnaciously holding onto the AngleLock was bitchin. Was it overkill? Probably. Was it fun as all get out? Fuck yeah! In 2003, Scott Keith wrote this after giving the above match ****3/4 "But I bet that according to HHH, neither of these guys know how to work". Well what's funny Scott, is that Angle doesn't know how to work and Benoit left to his own devices could be a self-indulgent bore. The finish stretch clearly saves the match. Benoit was fine to great throughout the match. I thought Angle was badly exposed until the finish run. Give it the NJPW Juniors treatment and this is world-class as is it is merely great. ***3/4
  2. Chris Benoit vs Chris Jericho - WCW Fall Brawl 1996 You can tell how much Jericho wanted to be a great wrestler. Just how bad he wanted it is really admirable and looking back I can't help but at least root for him to succeed. That being said, I am shocked he did not cripple himself or someone else in this timeframe. He just would totally overly extend his capabilities in these matches in the ridiculously stupid highspots he would do and his general sloppiness. The falling springboard back elbow to the floor where he basically took a flat back bump on the apron was just ridiculous. Dusty was just hilarious, "Jericho is a tremendous athlete...silence...I think he just broke his back.". He goes from raving Dusty to Oh My God that stupid muthafucker almost killed himself in a heartbeat. I have always wanted to watch this match due to the names attached. It seems that besides the Eddy Guerrero match at Fall Brawl 1997 that Jericho just did not really have the framework to have a great match in WCW. Benoit did not really put it together until 1998, but boy, once he did he was great. He was really hit and miss up until that point. This match is just a standard spotfest. Benoit's spots always look great and he just tears into Jericho. Jericho's spots look better than normal because Benoit was better at selling and bumping than Jericho at this point. Up until the Swandive Headbutt, I thought this was a fun little spotfest and look at what these two could. Then after the headbutt they just ran out of gas. There was aimless walking then quick roll ups and then a surfboard. They totally had no fucking clue what to do next. Then it is like light bulb goes off we are in WCW, why don't we do a tombstone reversal. Hey, I am all for it. Jericho instead of covering goes for the Lionsault. For some reason, that little skip Jericho does over his opponent cracked me up. Jericho's nearfall is a top rope frankensteiner, but Benoit wins with a super back suplex. Jericho really did have no concept of psychology until WWF. Wow! Benoit in 1998 would have been mature enough to extract a lot more out of Jericho in a bout like this, but in 1996 Benoit is just as spotty (better spots and safer) so it is just a clusterfuck.
  3. The year 2002 is the only year since 1997 that I did not watch any wrestling at all during a calendar year. I was still smarting from the WCW buyout and the pathetic Invasion. Even bringing back the NWO did not get me to give a fuck about wrestling. I have gone back and watched a handful of matches from 2002, but I thought I look at the 8 or 10 best. This period of time will be crucial for how I rank Benoit, Mysterio and Guerrero for GWE. Chris Benoit vs Rey Mysterio - Smackdown! 10/3/02 This was a tremendous TV bout! It is amazing that this is pretty much their signature singles match. For all the time spent in WCW and WWE, they very rarely crossed paths in a singles setting. They had tag feuds in WCW 99 and as part of the Smackdown Six, but this match represents their most famous signature encounter. It is even more surprising because they were both signature Smackdown stars during the Brand Split era. Guess you can chock it up to them both being babyfaces for the majority of their runs. Hearing Tony Chimel's voice took me straight back to high school. That was crazy. This match needs to be shown to the entire modern day locker room. This is the blueprint for an action-packed match where storytelling and selling are still critical aspects to the match. It is clear that Benoit and Mysterio are huge influences on today's wrestling, but I think a lot of wrestlers/agents have the wrong takeaway from matches like this. Yes, there are a lot of moves and the moves are over, but the characters, context and motivation around the moves are really what gives these moves their impact. I love how all of Benoit's cool moves are counters to Rey Mysterio getting a little too cute. Rey due to his size disadvantage needs to use speed and finesse. I am not trying to demean this technical acumen, but when compared to the cold, rigidity of Benoit's straight-forward assault, these are very cute moves, but they are effective. My main point is Benoit is robbing you of seeing Mysterio hit his cool armdrag, wheel-barrow, and 619 and Benoit is countering with badass impactful moves like backbreaker, wheelbarrow suplex and shoulderbreaker. Since Benoit is robbing of these moments, he and his moves are not getting over like a babyface, but instead it is putting him over as a badass heel and Mysterio as an underdog face. Another credit to this match is the beginning. I have been all over the extinction of the babyface shine from pro wrestling. I think it is incredibly crucial in getting a crowd invested in a babyface before the heat segment. I think it is 100% essential when a wrestler is new or not that over. Nobody wants to cheer for a loser. An unestablished babyface that goes into a heat segment without a shine is an almost guaranteed death sentence. Not does Rey Rey necessarily need a shine no, but I think it is a great way to get a crowd going. I love how this shine plays out with Benoit firing all cylinders early really laying in his shit early only to have Rey use his finesse to counter and then setup 2-3 really slick high spots and I loved the somersault splash to the outside. That was a perfect punctuation on a great shine. Now when his fancy armdrag gets countered into a vicious backbreaker, I am spending the heat segment cheering to see more cool Rey offense and see his bully get his comeuppance. That is why the shine is important. The finish sequence was very nicely done. Rey was able to set up the 619, but Benoit countered into a nasty shoulderbreaker. From there, it was the typical Benoit full court press with the diving headbutt and Crippler Crossface (too close to the ropes). Rey is able to use movement to create opportunities for an awesome legdrop onto Benoit that was quickly set up and totally credible into the 619. Angle, who was Benoit's partner that did not like Benoit, interferes to set up the Latino Frankensteiner (TM Michael Buffer) for the Rey Rey win. One last point, Rey Rey's strikes were on point and he surprisingly had not problem going blow for blow with the heavy handed Benoit. One of the best TV matches I have seen in quite some time. Really well-executed. A perfect, action-based, movement-oriented match that stayed true to face, heel dynamics. ****
  4. Chris Benoit & Kurt Angle vs Edge & Rey Mysterio - No Mecy 2002 WWE Tag Team Titles Here is an early 00s classic that I have never seen before. The Survivor Series Triple Threat made a DVD, but did not seem to get as much love as this did at the time. I will say this had a double hot finish stretch that in a very weak year for the wrestling world (guess I have not seen any ROH, but this is a weak Japan year) makes this a match of the year contender. I love the Angle & Mysterio interaction early and definitely need to rewatch their Summerslam match. Angle is great as the cocky jock and the look on Rey's face when he realizes he needs to stomp on Angle's foot to break the waistlock is priceless. Mysterio was great at showing up Angle with speed and Angle was bumping and stooging for him so well. Benoit and Edge was fine. Credit where credit is due, Edge actually worked a nice, tight heel in peril based on Benoit's ribs and laid in his stuff well. They did a good job playing off some Angle interference with Benoit selling the ribs on the first one, which led to Angle getting speared off the apron, but on the third go around Angle caused enough damage to get Benoit out of there. Edge is not particularly good at any one facet of wrestling, but in his defense he is not particularly bad at anything (I guess emotion is his greatest weakness). It is annoying that with Rey right there we get an extended FIP with Edge. I forgot about Angle's lame chinlock/bodyscissors. Angle and Benoit throwing Edge was fun. I know a lot of people don't like the rolling Germans, but I always dug them. Edge could have done more in the way of hope spots. The superplex is the transition of the heat segment and Little Rock does not give a fuck. REY IS IN!!! The crowd is awake. Rey is rockin n rollin. Didn't love the set up for the leg drop while Benoit was dangling, but it was pretty sweet. Benoit counters the wheel barrow by splating Rey and then going for the Crossface. That is perfect counterwrestling. Edge saves and Rey looks 619, but Benoit counters looking for shoulderbreaker and Edge hits a nifty missile dropkick. That should have been his finisher! Zack Ryder is crying somewhere. Angle overuses that pop-up belly to belly, but when timed right in a match, it is the perfect interjection and this was one of those moments. That sets up the Rey FIP. Double Face in peril, shades of AWA! Rey is so much better at selling than Edge. Loved Angle and Benoit throwing him around. Up until this point, I would say I watched a great match and the finish stretch does a great job to kick up a notch. I can see why action-oriented fans dig this match. Edge is a decent hot tag. He has lame offense, but at least he showed some energy. Credit where it is due, he did hit one of his best spear ever on Benoit during this run. Rey was great double teaming with Edge and giving this run a bit more pep. Edge goes for the cover sees Benoit diving headbutt and lets Angle take it. I have always liked that spot in all its variations. Though nobody ever loses to the diving headbutt and nothing changes here. In the spot of the match, Benoit has Edge in the Crippler Crossface and Rey hits an awesome 619 to break it up. I popped huge for that. Edge throws Rey Rey onto Benoit, before the usual Angle Anglelock reversalfest ends with Angle on top. The Rey stuff was really awesome. He had really good chemistry with both Angle and Benoit. Edge was alright. I thought the finish stretch was hot. Needed more of a story hook to kick it into next gear for me. Still a very entertaining bout, even if a little overrated. ****1/4
  5. World Heavyweight Champion Chris Benoit vs Shawn Michaels - RAW 5/3/04 Where the flying fuck did this match come from??? This was absolutely terrific! I think I may need to rewatch again because I cant believed how much I liked it. I am talking like "Best WWE match ever" contention after seeing it for the first time since I originally saw it. Shawn Michaels haters be damned. He fucking brought it in this match. This was his best offensive performance since the AWA. He knew he was going up against Benoit and just laid all his shit in and really brought to Benoit. I thought this was one of Benoit's all-time best selling performances. I really cant think of a better Benoit match in North America, but I have seen only a smattering of his matches since their original airing. For HBK, I think only Wrestlemania 25 or one of the Cena matches (I cant remember, which one I like a lot) can compete with this in terms of his post-comeback. I can't say enough how good I thought this was having just watched it. Stone Cold says you can tell how great a match will be based on they lock it up and it was ferocious lock up. You expect that out of Benoit, but when I saw HBK lock up like that I knew the muthafucka meant business. They established right from the get go how serious Michaels was taking this as he went chop for chop with the heavy-handed Benoit. I liked Michaels keeping Benoit grounded early. It is exactly the perfect strategy against Benoit to sap that energy. Once Benoit got a head of steam, he crushed Michaels. If you let Benoit create movement, he will win and he is pouring it on snap suplex and backbreaker. Michaels actually uses a slugfest to hit his flying Burrito/kip up. Ballsy. Benoit teases the Crippler Crossface. I love the early finish run tease. Coming back from commercial, Benoit takes a hard, hard back bump into the turnbuckle. PITCH PERFECT SELLING! Awesome! Awesome. He takes a back body drop and is now in the ab stretch. Michaels works the back like a champ. I have never seen Michaels work such a great heat segment. He was laying those knees in and another whip into the turnbuckle. I loved Benoit busting a barrage of quick nearfalls for his hope spot. It was ballsy with the more "likeable" and "charismatic" also "weaker on offense"Shawn Michaels playing de facto heel against his polar opposite. It worked great! Michaels hits a wicked clothesline. Who is this man??? Top rope elbow and he is tuning up the band. Rolling Germans counter and when he sees HBK stirring it is a fourth one for good measure, but still misses the diving headbutt. Michaels going for the cover there was the right move, but only gets two. He goes back on top and Benoit unleashes a crazy onslaught of chops that Michaels sells so fucking well. This was just awesome to watch. Suplex to the floor! I am such a mark for that. Michaels nails a moonsault from the top to the floor, probably his best ever! They tease the double countout and when they both get up, Michaels shoves him into the post and busts Benoit open. Blood! Shawn hits a wicked dropkick. This is Shawn working like he is in All Japan. Michaels returns to the back and goes Liontamer, but too close to the ropes. Benoit reverses an Irish Whip (to send his back into the turnbuckles for a 3rd time) and in total desperation goes for his one bomb the Crippler Crossface, but he is too close to the ropes. Now Michaels feeling the desperation that he may be losing his grasp on the match and basically choking goes for Sweet Chin Music, but Benoit catches the foot looks Sharpshooter! If that was the finish, I think I would have gone the full monty, but when Benoit kicks him off there is a ref bump. Michaels hits Sweet Chin Music, but HHH pedigrees him to mar the match. Benoit gets a tainted victory. Tremendous match. I cant praise Shawn's offense enough in this match. He went after this one and worked the best heat segment of his life. The finish stretch starting with the elbow drop was perfectly worked. Benoit was trying to avoid Sweet Chin Music at all costs, but was in too much of a hole to climb out of and then being ran into the post made it seemed insurmountable. I loved that his first move upon regaining the advantage was to apply the Crossface. It was avoid the Superkick and apply a finishing hold down the stretch for Benoit that was perfect strategy. Michaels was looking for finishing hold targetting the back or his bang bang Sweet Chin Music. Benoit's selling was off the charts good. Honestly, besides the finish I cant find much wrong with this match. Best WWE match of the 00s so far. ****3/4
  6. World Heavyweight Champion Triple H vs Shawn Michaels vs Chris Benoit - Wrestlemania XX I think with triple threat matches you basically have to resign yourself from trying to have a story-based match and just commit to having a balls to the wall, action-packed affair. Instead of fighting against having a third person, you embrace it by just going all out and making sure there is never one dull moment. There really shouldnt be because basically everybody gets a built in breather. I will say HHH was the MVP of this match. After a terrible, terrible 2003 (aside from the last match of the year), he was the total lynchpin of this match. Everything flowed through him and he did an admirable job. As the lone heel in the match, he spent the most time in the match basically having one one on matches with each opponent. I loved the escalation of this match and the feeling of competitive struggle to do all you can to win the match. Benoit and Michaels really brought out the best in each other and even though HHH did a great job I would have liked to seen more of them (definitely check out their RAW 5/3/04 match if you havent). The escalation of the finisher teases from the outset was the perfect way to set the tone that everyone meant business. They had some fun triple threat spots like the HHH ramming Benoit into the apron and then baseball slide into Benoit, HHH whipping HBK bad shoulder into Benoit's tree of woe and the awesome suplex throw of Benoit through the table. Until, I wrote all that I did not notice how much HBK/HHH worked together. I think it was a very subtle nod that this was Benoit's night not Shawn's by making Benoit the ultimate babyface. In New York, which historically never really liked Shawn, Benoit was way more over. Benoit having to earn his diving headbutt was great escalation. Shawn hitting a German was the best heel heat of the match. I think that was one thing the match did lack was stronger heelishness from HHH, who kept up with both guys but could have done more to raise the crowd's ire. I think more hijinx would have been a boon to this match. Shawn is the king of the bladejob. This may be his greatest one ever for speed, secrecy and amount of blood. HHH tapped a nice gusher himself. The pop for the Sharpshooter was awesome and Michaels hit a pitch perfect superkick to break it up. I would have liked to seen Michaels eliminated in more grand fashion than being thrown over the top rope. The Crippler Crossface sequence with HHH was just as fresh in my memory as it was in 2004. I stopped it before the celebration with Eddie. Too damn depressing. Watching this match emotionally cold, there actually was not much emotion in the match to even get you behind Benoit. You had to be invested in the Benoit character beforehand to be invested because the match was so focused on action. They did a great job with the escalation in this match. The suplex of Benoit on the table was a great red herrig to play into the idea he was an afterthought in the HBK/HHH show and that was going to be blown off only for him to return and win. I think this is another early 00s match that is hurt by not having a stronger heel presence even though HHH played ring general well. Would have liked more hijinx. As an action-packed main event spotfest, this is tough to beat. ****1/4
  7. WWE Intercontinental Champion Chris Benoit vs Chris Jericho - Royal Rumble 2001 Ladder Match I have never seen this match before, but is always one that has intrigued me. They have greatly improved from Fall Brawl 1996. The beginning of the match was well-executed with Benoit constantly one step ahead of Jericho and always throwing him shoulder first into objects. I liked Jericho's pluckiness and Benoit' sterness in the early going. After a bit, it turned into a great violent carwreck of a match. Comparing this match to Harper/Ziggler shows why I think Harper/Ziggler should be rewarded because of the great story they told based on face/heel dynamics. This match was totally bereft of face/heel dynamics. If you watched this match on mute (mostly due to commentary, there was only one Y2J chant), I think you would be hard pressed to tell which one was the face and heel. I liked that Jericho needed to use the ladder as an equalizer because he was in rough shape and that Benoit is such a force of nature. They both took some really nasty bumps. The chair shot to Benoit on his tope is really disturbing to watch. I appreciate them saving the slow climbs until the very end. They escalated nicely to the finish run. In the the finish run, they messed up the order of things. At first they did a good job with the different ways they tried to eliminate each other. Then they went to the Walls of Jericho on the ladder, which was a really cool spot and got the biggest pop, but they did not use that as a finish. I thought Jericho got up way too quickly from the Crossface. I hate when they do ladder spots not in the center of the ring, but the missed diving headbutt was a Holy Shit spot. The actual finish spot was pretty tame compared to the other ones even if it was more dangerous and barely got a reaction. I think you go Crossface, but Benoit wants to really finish Jericho so he misses diving headbutt. They both milk it. Jericho climbs first then Benoit, Walls spot, huge pop. Benoit is thrown off and Jericho wins. It was an entertaining violent spotfest, but lacks substance. It will be hard to remember any spots except the Walls on the ladder and the chair shot on the tope. It is an entertaining 20 minutes or so, but nothing classic. ***