Tuesday 22 March 2011

Gold Standard

I was delighted last year when Ring of Honor announced that Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas would be facing the league’s premier tag team, the Kings of Wrestling. These were two men who had been an impressive and integral part of WWE’s then-bearable tag team division from 2002 to 2004, first as Team Angle and then as The World’s Greatest Tag Team. They had competed against less able opponents in good matches, and capable opponents in great ones.

But, as with everything in Vince McMahon’s company that doesn’t immediately get over and make a profit, it wasn’t to last.

Under two years into their run as a team, with plenty left for them to do in the duos ranks, the decision was made to move Shelton from SmackDown to RAW and make him a singles star. That didn’t happen. Shelton’s poor mike work, combined with an inaugural feud against Triple H (then at the height of his “bury anyone a threat to my spot” phase), failed to create a buzz and he quickly found himself shoved into the mid-card for years on end.

There were occasional flashes of the man’s potential: his matches with Chris Jericho (at Taboo Tuesday ‘04), Rob Van Dam (at Backlash ’06), and Shawn Michaels (on the 2nd March 2005 edition of RAW), along with yearly appearances in the Money in the Bank stunt match, all showed exactly what Shelton could do. But mostly he was used as someone to make others looks good and enhance WrestleMania highlight packages.

When it was announced Shelton had been released from his contract, along with five others, on 22nd April 2010, not many were surprised. As talented as he was (and is) the creative team had made it clear they had no idea how to use him effectively and didn’t see him as someone that could become a star. From an angle which saw his “mother” become his ringside manager, to the enjoyable-but-ultimately-a-step-backwards reunion with Charlie Haas, nothing was done to try and make Shelton Benjamin someone fans would want to pay to see.

My first thought when I read of Benjamin’s release was “I hope he joins Ring of Honor.” I didn’t expect that to actually happen, as anyone who’s received any sort of push in Vince McMahon’s company tends to wind up in TNA. But, happily, that didn’t happen, and Benjamin and Haas debuted for RoH in the aforementioned match against the Kings of Wrestling. Just as happily, that match stole the show, which was not an easy task as it was one of the company’s biggest and best of the year. Not only that, but the two men were rewarded with a standing ovation and a chant of “please come back” from New York City crowd.

Since that first match the WGTT have become regulars with the company. Free of the restrictions of the WWE style (basically, don’t outshine anyone higher up the pecking order), working in front of appreciative crowds, and facing fresh, equally talented opponents, Benjamin and Haas are a relevant, entertaining tag team once again.

Which brings me to my main point. Before the 8th March SmackDown taping, Shelton Benjamin made a surprise appearance and beat job guy Curt Hawkins in a dark match. There’s been speculation that this may single the former ‘Gold Standard’ is headed back to World Wrestling Entertainment. Hopefully, this isn’t the case.

Shelton still has a lot to accomplish in RoH, both with and without Charlie Haas. For him to leave now would be a real shame. Still in his mid-30s, Shelton has enough time left in his career to stay with RoH for a year or two longer, building up a catalogue of matches he can be proud of before his ultimate return to WWE to finish his career earning better money and working a less demanding style.

That’s my wish this time, let’s see if I get it.

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