Former Golden Gopher and current WWE superstar, Shelton Benjamin, made his in ring debut in December of 2002. "Its All About The Benjamins" would play all around the arena as then rookie, Benjamin, would enter the WWE squared circle. Watching this amazing athlete compete in the ring was one of my many pleasures in wrestling.
I remember witnessing (in person) Shelton during a SMACKDOWN! event in Atlanta. I would tell myself, "Man, this kid has unbelievable athletic ability!” reminded me of Shawn Michaels (the pace he moved during a match).
I immediately fell in love with this young talent. Benjamin had a great feel for the ring and was one of the most pure athletic talents I've ever seen since Booker T.
Benjamin got his big break when he aligned himself with Kurt Angle and Charlie Haas, formally known as "Team Angle". This turned out to be a perfect fit for him as Shelton learned to develop a personality under one of the best in the business (I always thought Angle was underrated as one of the best personalities in wrestling).
Under the wing of Angle, Shelton learned how to play with and against the crowd during promos and matches. It seemed he learned how to connect and communicate with WWE crowd and carry a storyline.
Kurt Angle, being a main heel at the time, drew a lot of major storylines as well as main event matches to his team. This was great exposure for Benjamin at the time! Shelton wasn't overused though, because "The World's Greatest Tag Team" (Haas & Benjamin) had to deal with some issues of their own.
These two were main tag team heels during this time. They were the love-to-hate duo that performed unbelievably well in the ring. They had a great feel for one another (as partners on camera and in the ring) and had arguably one of the best tag team finishing moves (I forget what it it called, but Haas would hold the opponent and Shelton would jump over his back) I loved to watch!
Shelton was usually dealing with two storylines at one time. This gave him the exposure and practice he needed in the tag team division, while he "internship-ed" in the main event spotlight behind Kurt Angle.
Shelton proved he was championship caliber after "The World's Greatest Tag Team" claimed two Tag Team titles. All this kid really needed was a chance in the spotlight, and he could handle the rest. He had been learning under Kurt Angle for a majority of his early career, I had 100% confidence in this kid (still do).
Benjamin's next move came when "The World's Greatest Tag Team" would split, Shelton was drafted to Monday Night RAW! I went crazy, thinking to myself, "They want to push him! This is great!" Shelton was immediately approached by Evolution leader Triple H (basically calling him out). At first I didn't think too much of it, then the segment came where Benjamin asked (I believe Stone Cold) to be put in a match with The Game.
I was shocked, because I didn't think the WWE would throw him into the ring with that high of a caliber star. From a historical standpoint, I thought Benjamin would challenge for the Intercontinental title before trying to play The Game. I really didn't know how to react. I mean sure Benjamin is headlining the main event, but is he ready for Triple H on Monday night RAW (a live event)?
This match was excellent from the start! I was so impressed with Benjamin, because he performed so well in such a high expected situation. He connected so well with the ring, the fans and Triple H. They went back-and-forth mocking each other; which I didn't expect from Benjamin, but I loved it!
Benjamin was the underdog the entire match, and nobody expected him to pull the upset. Ric Flair would continue to beat Shelton behind the referee's back, giving Triple H more than enough support (Shelton was keeping it pretty close).
Chris Benoit came to the rescue by backing Flair into the corner; distracting Triple H. Shelton came out of nowhere and nailed a "Shelton Splashed" followed by a "School Boy Pin" to pick up the win.
The crowd went crazy and I don't even think Ric Flair saw that coming! I was so happy for Shelton and began to think I was watching a soon to be top star in the business (they even gave him fireworks to his entrance after this).
As history proved, Shelton would claim gold on RAW by capturing the Intercontinental championship. I began to think, "This kid will be in main events in no time!", and he proved he could perform.
He performed better than expected during a Money in the Bank Ladder Match at Wrestlemania! I will never forget Shelton running up the ladder, and then doing a front flip onto four superstars! He showed he had not lost an ounce of athleticism and is not afraid of taking risks. He did not win Money in the Bank, but I thought he would either win it the next year, or get a title match soon.
Benjamin lost his Intercontinental title, which I thought was going to be the major push I had anticipating since his "Its All About The Benjamins" days. This was the turning point in Shelton's career!
The WWE decided to get Shelton a companion, his "mother"! He turned heel and was determined to get his Intercontinental title back. At first, it didn't seem like a bad idea for Shelton's sake. He was going heel, which is what he was brought up originally as. He had a title he was determined on, and used his "mother" as a way to gain leverage.
As time rolled on though, his "mother" held him back rather than pushed him forward. He was too busy worrying about her that he never got the chance to seriously challenge for a major title. This was a very tough time for me to watch Shelton because it seemed he was loosing touch with his true self.
Shelton would be put back into the spotlight, momentarily, by competing in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Once again, Shelton's athleticism could not be doubted after he jumped off the ropes onto the top rung of the ladder! I have never seen hops like that before in my life (especially not in wrestling). I didn't expect Shelton to win, but wanted him to so bad; thinking of the RAW when he beat Triple H.
Shelton couldn't win the match and seemed to be lost in the middle of RAW's roster. He wasn't in any major storylines, nor was he headlining any main events. Shelton never lost his ability however (which keeps me confident in him).
RAW announced a match that I was surprised they made. The match featured Shelton Benjamin facing off against the "Showstopper" Shawn Michaels. I immediately thought, "If Shelton really wants to be a big time star, he will perform amazing in this match." It was the best match I had seen Shelton compete in recent memory! It was a back-and-forth match with a lot of intensity and a very upbeat tempo!
The moves were quick, aggressive, entertaining, exciting and most of all flawless! This was impressive because the match was so long (I think 30 minutes). Watching Shelton I thought, "This was the match he needed." Then the end came when Shelton jumped from the top rope (not turnbuckle) and catapulted across the ring. He was caught perfectly by a Sweet Chin Music in mid-air! Shelton lost the match, but in my mind, he was on the path to winning.
Nothing changed much for Shelton after that match though. Management seemed to use him less often and decided to make a change in his appearance. I don't know if it was Shelton's or the WWE's idea, but Benjmain became the Sisqo of wrestling (dying his hair GOLD?!).
I was crushed when I saw this! It seemed like once Shelton got a remake, he hasn't been the same talent that I watched growing up. It might just be me, but Shelton seemed out of place with his new look.
He didn't seem to communicate well with the audience during matches. He seemed to loose confidence when performing in promos backstage as well. Whatever it was, this wasn't the same Shelton that I used to enjoy, but I kept on watching him (he never lost his athleticism).
Shelton was moved to ECW and I pretty much knew that WWE had no big plans for this kid's near future. He took on a good but not great heel role on ECW. My hopes were for the now claimed "Gold Standard" win ECW gold. This never occurred however, and if anything Shelton took another step back.
Benjamin claimed the U.S. title, which is nice, but an ECW championship would be a better push. Benjamin's athletic ability never died, and he has worked hard to try and be the heel that the WWE desires. I sense he is just not comfortable with the character he currently has (he is the most under-used superstar in the WWE).
What kills me more than anything is Shelton never got the opportunity to take over as a major role. He proved he had attitude when he feuded with Triple H (both backstage and in the ring). His in-ring ability should not even be questioned. Shelton has fallen so far back (in my eyes) before he even got the chance to really compete as a big time star.
Yes Shelton is still young and still has a while before he is done. If not now, then when? In my opinion, the perfect time to bring Shelton in as a big name occurred back when he was drafted to RAW.
The fact he is still so young gives me hope for his future (I have not lost that confidence in him and never will), but he just seemed ready and primed during the time period he was on RAW.
I'm not blaming the WWE for the way they handled Benjamin; but ever since he changed his hair style, Shelton seemed to progress further and further from his true style (which I believe is what I saw a long time ago, and when he was at his best).
Agree or disagree, but from an overall standpoint, I think Shelton Benjamin was groomed for success in the WWE a long time ago. He has yet to hold a major title while CM Punk, Jack Swagger and Randy Orton all got their big push when the time came!
Always be yourself, because whatever happens nobody can take THAT away from you. I hope that is a golden standard the real Shelton hasn't forgot.
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