February 12, 2006
Chris Benoit vs. Triple H
Taped November 13, 2005
The parting shot of WrestleMania 20 was Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero embracing in celebration, each with their respective world championship belt, as confetti fell from the ceiling.
It was a moment few could predict ever happening, especially on the grandest stage of them all at the world’s most famous arena. I will forever cherish being at Madison Square Garden that night and witnessing that historic and emotional scene.
Fast forward 607 days.
The wrestling world wakes up on a Sunday morning to the news that Eddie Guerrero had died. While millions around the world were saddened, few were affected more than Guerrero’s close friend Chris Benoit.
The Raw / Smackdown Supershow taping scheduled for that evening was rearranged at the last minute as a tribute to Eddie’s memory.
During the taping condolences were shown featuring everyone from JBL to Kurt Angle, Shawn Michaels to Triple H, and Vince McMahon to Rey Mysterio Jr. All were emotional and heartfelt.
The one that touched me most of all was given by Benoit. It is more than unnerving to watch a man who is portrayed as tough as nails and unstoppable and whose career I have closely followed for over a decade break down in front of the camera.
“Eddie Guerrero is my best friend. And I’m sure there’s a lot of people that he knew that would be able to say the same thing about him. He was such a beautiful person, such a kind hearted person. I couldn’t find the words, words couldn’t describe what kind of a human being Eddie truly was. I’ve known Eddie for just about 15 years and I spent a good portion of those 15 years with him on the road. We’ve laughed together, cried together, fought each other. We’ve been up and down each and every mountain, each and every highway. Eddie always led by example. He was the one friend that I had that I could go to and pour my heart out to if I was going through something, if I had a personal issue or a personal problem. He was the one guy that I could call and talk to and he would understand and he would talk me out of it because of all the experiences that he’d been through. I believe by leading by example and Eddie always led by example through his life, through the obstacles that he went through, and conquered and became a better person. And he often used that as an example.
We never left each other without telling each other that we loved each other. And I truly can say that I love, I love Eddie Guerrero. He is a man that I can say I love and I love his family and my heart and my thoughts and my prayers go out to his wife Vicky, Shaul, Sherilyn, and Kaylie. I can’t imagine the sorrow that they’re going through right now and the emotions that they’re feeling. But I want them to know that my prayers and my thoughts are with them. And Eddie … I know that you are in a better place and I know that you’re looking down on me right now. And I want you to know that I love you and I miss you.
Eddie you made such a great impression on my life and I want to thank you for everything you’ve ever given me. I want to thank you from my heart and tell you that I love you and I’ll never forget you and that we’ll see each other again. I love you Eddie.”
Benoit walked out into the Target Center hours later to pay tribute to his fallen friend with an in-ring performance against the very man he defeated a year earlier on that cold March day in New York City – Triple H.
“Time to Play the Game” hits and Triple H makes his return to Smackdown TV after an absence of three years.
The Game perches himself on the turnbuckle and urges applause for Guerrero’s memory. The crowd happily obliges.
“Whatever” by Our Lady Peace brings out Benoit, tapping his heart with his fist to signify the emotion involved with the night’s bout. He slides his hand across Guerrero’s low rider parked in the aisle before entering the ring.
Hunter approaches Benoit, points to his own heart and then to Benoit’s, no doubt giving encouragement to a man who was going through a lot at that very moment.
The opening minute sees Hunter take control with a headlock, shove Benoit to the mat while coming off the ropes, and narrowly avoid being locked in the Crippler Crossface on his way off the opposite side, the hold that spelled doom for Triple H at WrestleMania. Triple H slides to the floor to regroup.
A more cautious Hunter reenters the ring and powers Benoit into the corner before landing two stiff punches. An Irish whip sends Hunter into the opposite corner with Benoit following with a backdrop and again attempting the Crossface, with the Game once more escaping to the floor. A confident Benoit stands on the middle turnbuckle and dares Hunter to try him again.
A chant of “Eddie” begins as Hunter breaks the count and is caught in a headlock by his foe. An exchange sees Hunter land on his back, with Benoit once again going for a submission, this time the Sharpshooter. Triple H escapes to the floor but Benoit follows and continues the assault with a series of stinging chops and by ramming Hunter face-first into the steps.
Back inside the ring, Benoit leads the crowd as he lands 10 hard shots in the corner, with Triple H following with a Flair face-first drop.
Hunter finally gains the advantage seconds later by sidestepping a charge and sending Benoit over the top to the floor.
We’re back just as Benoit bounces out of the corner after being thrown in by his opponent. Triple H throws Benoit into the opposite corner to pick up the first near fall of the match. The assault on Benoit’s back continues with two hard forearm shots.
Benoit is thrown to the ropes, with Hunter attempting a third shot to the back, but he counters with a forearm to the face, knocking both men down. The Crippler lands a series of chops in an attempt to regain the momentum but runs into a big spinebuster from the Game leading to a near fall.
Hunter pulls Benoit up by his trunks and applies an abdominal stretch. The crowd continues to chant “Eddie”, with Benoit almost escaping the hold before Hunter grabs the ropes for leverage. Referee Jimmy Cordaris eventually catches Triple H and makes him break the hold, allowing Benoit to regroup enough to land a series of hard chops before being caught in a sleeper.
Benoit wills himself enough energy to shoot Triple H into the ropes and catch him with his own sleeper. Hunter attempts a back suplex but Benoit lands on his feet, takes Triple H down to the mat and once again attempts the Sharpshooter only to be kicked away.
With both men back to their feet, Hunter lands a kick and tries for the Pedigree only for Benoit to reverse it into a catapult which sees Hunter hit the top turnbuckle face-first. The Crippler follows with the three rolling German suplexes.
A mentally and physically exhausted Benoit, holding his back, gives the signal for the diving headbutt. Benoit drops onto his opponent, hurting both men, but can only obtain a near fall. The Rabid Wolverine continues his assault in the corner but is shot into the opposite side where he hits chest-first.
Seeing his opportunity, Hunter sets Benoit up for the Pedigree but forgets what happened when he tried the same thing at WrestleMania and once again ends up being caught in the Crippler Crossface.
After 14 minutes of trying, Benoit finally had a submission hold applied.
The crowd is more and more vocal as Triple H frantically waves his hand above the mat, doing all within his power to avoid submitting. The crowd chants “Tap out” as Benoit cinches up on the hold.
In a last ditch effort, a counter Hunter also used at MSG, he attempts to roll out of the hold but Benoit rolls with him and both men end up in the middle of the ring, the hold still applied. Then, out of nowhere, Benoit appears to break the hold himself, lock Triple H in a crucifix, and get the 1-2-3.
Time of the fall (commercial break included): 14:51
Benoit sits on his knees and stares up, perhaps looking for approval or perhaps just looking, as an excited crowd gives their applause to the performance of both men.
A strong chant of “Eddie” begins as both wrestlers shake hands and embrace, Triple H noticeably hiding his face as he no doubt had more words of condolence and encouragement for Benoit.
Dean Malenko, who has not had a role on TV since his quiet retirement in 2001, enters the ring and embraces Benoit as a tip of the hat to Eddie and Benoit’s moment at WrestleMania 20. The two men shake hands, embrace, and raise their hands not in victory but to the memory of their fallen friend.
There are few occasions where a match is so inherently emotional.
Triple H was a much more subtle heel here than in his usual performances. He kept the action in the ring and his only heel activity was grabbing the ropes during the abdominal stretch.
Since there are so many ties between this match and WrestleMania 20 wanting to compare the two matches is natural. I think both were very well worked but Mania will always be the more remembered.
Honestly, Mania was the better match, no question about it. But in terms of emotion – and this sport is built on emotion, according to Dusty Rhodes at Summer Slam 90 – they stand head to head.
I would be curious to know what Benoit regards as his personal favorite between the two bouts. I’m willing to believe he would choose this one.
There were 6,000 fans on hand in Minneapolis that night but for Benoit and Triple H they were catering to an audience of one. And they didn’t disappoint.