Shelton Benjamin just doesn’t resonate with the WWE fans. Period.
If you don’t believe me, check out this master work by Ray Bogusz over the weekend, which methodically outlined the reasons why he believes that Shelton is overrated and should be released.
With his blessing, I am using his article as a jumping-off point, and trying to ascertain just why it is he’s right.
Now, I agree with just about his entire premise, except the necessity to release the still-young (34 years old) superstar. I believe that’s a bit harsh.
But there’s no arguing with the ideas that 1) Shelton is mediocre at very best on the mic, and 2) he’s feuded with some of the best and brightest that WWE has to offer and still doesn’t generate enough heat to melt a stick of butter.
Remember his aborted feud with the Undertaker just last year? How in the world can you feud with ‘Taker and not get over?
In elementary school, we were taught to attack a problem by analyzing it with a series of questions: Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?
So let’s start there:
Who? Shelton Benjamin, decorated amateur wrestler, best pure athlete on the WWE roster, and quite possibly one of the best athletes to ever enter the squared circle.
What? The vexing problem of why he cannot get his character over with WWE fans.
When? The entirety of his career in WWE, or nearly seven years now, since September 2002.
Where? Arenas and venues all over the country.
Those two questions remain. Let’s try to answer this logically.
Would it be fair to blame the WWE creative team? Has Shelton been burdened with gimmicks that no one could make work?
In a word: no.
The self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Tag Team,” with equally tepid Charlie Haas, really wasn’t a bad idea. That could have been one of the best heel gimmicks in the history of tag team wrestling.
It just wasn’t properly pulled off, and part of that—no, all of that—falls at the feet of the two wrestlers who couldn’t make themselves believable enough to get over as a couple of cocky, condescending amateur wrestlers who were going to show these “sports entertainment guys” how it should be done.
Here’s an exercise for you: imagine that a young Kurt Angle had been teamed with Bobby Lashley (I know the ages don’t match, just bear with me for a minute). Give them the “World’s Greatest Tag Team” gimmick and cut ‘em loose.
Can’t you see them getting over big time? So why couldn’t Benjamin and Haas do the same?
We’ll draw a conclusion in a moment; one more comparison first.
Let’s take this whole “Gold Standard” character that Shelton has been given.
I hear people pan it all the time. But I don’t think the gimmick’s bad at all; I think the problem is the way SB has gone about portraying it.
Just imagine Ron Killings (aka R-Truth) with that gimmick (minus that hideous blonde hair!) and imagine Ron holding the Intercontinental belt for eight months.
He would probably rival Honky Tonk Man in the future annals of WWF/E history as one of the best IC title holders ever.
Benjamin holds the belt that long and we let out a collective yawn and say, “He did? Oh, that’s pretty cool.”
So what’s the difference? What’s the why and how of Benjamin’s problem?
The ultimate problem is that SB has been miscast as a heel, and he just can’t pull it off. Why upper management hasn’t figured that out long ago—unless, as Ray surmised in the comment thread of his article, WWE brass knows something we don’t—is beyond me.
Part of the problem, I suspect, is that Benjamin is an introvert who long ago learned to project a crusty exterior in order to gain acceptance.
I hold this theory because he literally walks the walk; he has an arrogant stalk that would make a person think he would have premium heel potential.
He can give an intense stare that would likely stop a charging rhino in its tracks.
However, that’s about it; that’s as far as he gets as a believable heel—the walk and the stare. Nothing else particularly makes you want to love the guy, hate the guy, or even pay him much attention at all.
Yet a muscle-bound, lumbering dolt like Batista, largely because of his early associations with Ric Flair and Triple H, is over to an insane extent, and will probably remain that way until he retires.
How did that happen?
Batista was in the right place at the right time, and he displayed the right combination of intensity and passion.
Earlier in his career, the Animal got a pass because he looked like a force of nature unleashed. Of course, being paired with Flair and Trips was fortuitous, but it was still up to Batista to follow their lead and mature as a character.
Not surprisingly, he has stagnated on his own. In fact, if not for the early momentum he garnered from working with two of the best ever, he would probably be in Benjamin’s shoes right now, except worse.
Because Batista can’t wrestle.
Jeff Hardy found a way to invoke his passion, and went from being the “other” Hardy to a huge favorite, because the fans connected to his struggles and embraced him as an example of what can be done if they work hard enough and never give up on their dream.
Jeff embraced his humanity, and combined with his boundless passion and utter disregard for his body, he overcame his (still) pathetic mic skills to become a hugely popular WWE headliner.
What could do the same for Shelton Benjamin?
I’m not suggesting that he should indulge in some self-destructive behaviors that lead him to rehab, a suspension/firing, and a run in TNA (which would likely be Benjamin’s graveyard).
What I am suggesting is this: wrestling fans want to see some passion out of Benjamin. Some fire, a willingness to take chances. Make us believe, Shelton, that you really give a damn about us, about your profession, about your dreams. Make us believe you care!
Ray agreed with me that an extended sabbatical, followed by a face turn and a big push, might work in a case like this. The time off lets people forget about the struggles and wonder where he is, when he’s coming back, and what to expect once he returns.
It also allows him to soul-search and re-discover what drew him into the business in the first place.
What is uncertain, however, is whether or not Shelton Benjamin can pull it off. (Ray thinks he cannot.)
In a February 2002 interview with Jason Scales of Wrestling Digest magazine, Shelton ironically had this to say about what he needed to develop most:
“Learning in-ring psychology,” was his answer. “There aren’t a whole lot of moves I see that I can’t do. It’s just putting them in their proper place that’s difficult.
“Learning how to know what a crowd wants and projecting to the crowd is the hardest thing to figure out, because the fans don’t want the same thing every night.”
Seven years later, Shelton Benjamin still hasn’t figured it out. If he doesn’t get it soon, it just might be too late to salvage a once-promising career.