Chris Benoit and the WrestleMania Classic WWE Can't Acknowledge
Few WrestleMania matches have thrilled WWE fans as much as Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H, but because of the tragic way in which Benoit's life ended, WWE is forced to keep that classic locked in its vault.
At WrestleMania XX in Madison Square Garden, Michaels, Benoit and Triple H fought for the World Heavyweight Championship in a spectacular match that ended with an iconic image that WWE has understandably stopped showing fans.
On June 24, 2007, Benoit killed his wife and young son before committing suicide.
No one can blame WWE for distancing themselves from Benoit, from all but erasing him from the company's history. It's impossible to relive Benoit's ring work without then thinking about his horrific last acts.
When WWE rolls out a video package of WrestleMania's biggest moments, it of course won't be showing a victorious Benoit, standing in a shower of confetti, his friend Eddie Guerrero at his side.
The Intensity, The Violence
The match that led to that photo-op was an intense, bloody battle between three great performers.
Benoit had won the Royal Rumble to earn a shot at Triple H's title. Michaels forced his way into that main event.
It was clear from the very beginning how desperate each man was to win, how much they'd be willing to put themselves through to end the night as champion.
The three men landed stiff chops to each other. They tossed each other out of the ring. They fought a fluid and hard-hitting fight.
Along with the usual suplexes and spinebusters one might expect from these performers, blood served as a means to display the wrestlers' pain, their desperation and struggle.
As Benoit wrenched Michaels in the crossface, blood dripped from Michaels' head onto Benoit's hand. The crimson prop was later smeared across Benoit's torso as he lie atop a decimated announce table.
The excitement of this match was about more than the sum of its violence though.
It was the culmination of a long journey for a wrestler who purists fans loved.
The undersized Benoit had paid his dues in Canada and Japan. He'd been a major player in WCW. Now here he was, toiling at Madison Square Garden in the main event of a WrestleMania against two icons.
He didn't disappoint either.
Along with Michaels and Triple H, Benoit crafted a piece of theater that sucked fans in early and took them on an emotional ride.
The Finish, The Moment
When each man was nearly spent, Michaels looked to be readying for a victory. He waited in the corner for either opponent to rise so he could then crack his boot against their jaw.
Michaels charged at him, but Benoit ducked, hurling Michaels out of the ring. Triple H then tried to pedigree Benoit, but the Wolverine managed to counter it into his most dangerous weapon, the crossface.
Triple H held out for what seemed an impossible amount of time. He stretched out to the ropes, only short by inches. Eventually, the pain was too much and he gave in, his submission awarding the title to Benoit.
Jim Ross who had all but lost his voice talked of Benoit's journey to that championship, "Year after year, mile after mile, continent after continent, but Benoit never gave up."
Guerrero entered the ring to celebrate with his friend.
Both tearful, they raised their respective championship titles in the air as confetti rained down on them.
This is the type of moment that WWE must dream about creating. It was a convergence of beloved stars reaching the mountain top together. It is a moment that is now a ghost.
The way the doctor in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind cut out the unwanted portions of his patients' memories, WWE must wish it could erase this match and the man who won it from our collective minds.
Benoit's crimes can't be separated from his ring resume. To look back at his defining moment with WWE and not think of what became of him and his family is an impossible task. Nothing exists in a vacuum.
Reality seeps into the fantasy of WrestleMania XX's main event.
The entertainment that WWE provides can sometimes dip into darkness, but even that is nowhere near as black and overpowering as the worst real life has to offer. In the end, this is just a wrestling match, a match that now remains obscured by tragedy.
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