WWE seems intent on elevating fresh talent into the main event picture and that is likely to give different men their chance at claiming world title gold – MVP, John Morrison and John Cena’s latest nemesis, The Miz, a possible three.
But one other man has been waiting in the wings for quite some time. Since 2002, Shelton Benjamin has wowed many with his athletic prowess and technical qualities and numerous figures have implored for the ‘Gold Standard’ to be given a championship run – so far, to no avail.
However, amid the spate of new pushes, is it time the phrase ‘Shelton Benjamin: WWE Champion’ switches from long-held dream to actual reality?
May 2, 2005: The date Shelton Benjamin’s stock began to soar. While defeating Triple H a year earlier had put him on the map, this was the day when the world woke up to Shelton’s full potential. Benjamin battled Shawn Michaels in the Gold Rush tournament intent on getting his chance at the World Heavyweight Championship. A spectacular match ensued and while Michaels edged it – catching his younger opponent with a stunning mid-air Sweet Chin Music – Benjamin had arrived on the big stage.
Unfortunately for the South Carolinian, his WWE career has fluctuated since then. Reigns with the Intercontinental and United States titles have been high points as have his constant show-stealing manoeuvres in the annual Money in the Bank ladder match at Wrestlemania. But too often the ‘Gold Standard’ has been floating in the mid-card or lower, unable to showcase his full array of talents with WWE seemingly unconvinced of his top-level credentials.
Benjamin’s current position fits that image perfectly. On one hand, he is embroiled in an energetic rivalry with John Morrison where – having been given the time – their matches are enthralling. Yet on the other, Shelton has been powerless to defeat the ‘Shaman of Sexy’ and seems to be slipping back down the card to team up with his long-time ally Charlie Haas.
The chances of Benjamin fending off others to be the main title holder on either of the top two brands appear slender but this apprarant lack of faith from WWE hierarchy is understandable. For while Shelton is quick, nimble and mechanically excellent inside the ring, he may just lack the most important attribute needed to thrive in WWE’s upper ranks – it.
That vital two letter word that is so difficult to explain but, when someone has it, is plain to see and the three superstars mentioned at the top of this article have that in their make-up. MVP and the Miz are good wrestlers and Morrison is outstanding but more importantly than that, though, the trio have star quality. And for all of Benjamin’s death-defying stunts, dexterity and technical proficiency, personality is one area where his armoury is deficient, and personality is one asset that Vince McMahon’s main-event talent must have.
Some fans may be disgruntled by the inflexible nature of WWE’s top stratum but Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker Randy Orton, Batista, John Cena, Edge, Jeff Hardy and Chris Jericho all sell. Readers of this piece may have had their fill but the vast majority of the ‘WWE Universe’ lap that list up with vigour. People care about them between the ropes, but crucially, outside of them as well. They are hooked on the story behind the in-ring glory and are entertained by the performer even more than the wrestling. For Shelton, it is the other way around.
Personality is not solely based on mic skills, though, where admittedly Shelton is a tad sketchy. Batista and Jeff Hardy, for example, are far form adept at speaking but have that magnetism that draws people in, making them constantly chant for the ‘Animal’ or the ‘Charismatic Enigma’. Benjamin does not. Even the lumbering Great Khali – not in Shelton’s league as a wrestler – garners a louder fan reaction than Kurt Angle’s former protégée. The X Factor – as Simon Cowell may describe it – is not something that can be taught, you either have it or you don’t and unfortunately for him, Benjamin falls into the latter group.
No doubt the ‘Gold Standard’ will beguile us all again, invent breathtaking moves, win some matches and get to grips with his favourite metallic element. It is just regrettable that any gold he does hold up will not be of the world title variety – the pinnacle looks to be out of Shelton’s reach.