By Jared "JJF" Jackson-Ferrans
Every so often, there comes a talent with the ring ability and x factor to be a high level star, that the WWE just doesn't use correctly. These are the analysations of those talents. welcome to Missed Connections.
In 2000, the WWE took a scouting trip to the University of Minnesota, and left with two of the most incredible athletes that the company's developmental system would ever see. They were very quickly assigned to Ohio Valley Wrestling, where they performed as a team and wowed people with their athletics and technical acumen, and it was no surprise when both men were called up in early 2002, albiet seperately. But while one of these men went on to become the business' arguable biggest star of the early 2000s, Brock Lesnar, the other struggled to remove himself from the midcard shuffle and was ultimately released after a long tenure with the company. Now, as always we'll open the file and take a look at why WWE missed out.
Upon being called up from OVW, Shelton Benjamin was paired with Charlie Haas as protegés of Kurt Angle in his feud with Chris Benoit, and the duo quickly claimed the WWE Tag Team Championships in early 2003, trading them back and forth amongst Los Guerreros, and when Kurt Angle fired them in June, they embarked on a run as "The (self proclaimed) World's Greatest Tag Team", until a knee injury to Benjamin halted their momentum. Beginning in March 2004, Benjamin moved to Raw, embarking on a solo run, which kicked off with several victories over the former WWE and World Champion Triple H. That year, he captured his first singles championship, defeating Chris Jericho for the Intercontinental Championship.
Over the course of his time on Raw, Benjamin amassed several Intercontinental Championships, and even managed a brief reunion with Haas, and was a standout performer in the first Money In The Bank ladder match. The lowpoint of this run came when he was managed by actress Thea Vidalle, playing "Momma Benjamin," an overbearing mother to the former All-American athlete. It was an insulting way to attempt to fix Benjamin's lackluster mic skills, and overall it flopped, though he did claim an Intercontinental Title win over Ric Flair.
In 2007, a switch over to ECW helped Benjamin reinvent himself, as the cocky and brash "Gold Standard." While he never earned the ECW Championship, his feud with Kofi Kingston helped epitomize what the brand was all about: veterans and newcomers alike helping each other improve. He was drafted to SmackdDwn in the 2008 Supplemental Draft, and claimed the United States Championship from Matt Hardy. He would go back and forth between SmackDown and ECW for the remainder of his tenure, feuding with Hurricane Helms, Sheamus and R-Truth, before being quietly released in 2010.
Simply put, Shelton Benjamin is an incredible athlete. From his days at the University of Minnesota through his WWE tenure, he showed an athletic prowess that could rarely be matched, especially in Money in the Bank matches. While technically sound, his high spots were what attacted many to Benjamin. He was capable of incredible things for a 250 pounder, such as his OVW finisher, the 450 Splash, and his incredible vertical leap helped to legitimize his finisher, a swinging reverse STO known as Paydirt.
Benjamin's other great asset is that, being a former college athlete, he had the natural confidence that a WWE Superstar absolutely needs. Every time he walked through the curtain, he had swagger, he had self-assurance, and we knew exactly who he was before he opened his mouth.
As I said, Shelton let us know exactly who he was without opening his mouth, and we should all be thankful for that, because talking wasn't his strong suit. However, unlike his former teammate Brock Lesnar, he didn't have the size to let his actions alone speak for him, nor did he ever have the likes of Paul Heyman to speak for him. While by no means was he terrible, Shelton didn't have the top level mic skills to succeed as a top level WWE star.
WWE did try to rectify this fact twice, once by bringing in a manager, and later by giving him a gimmick to match his natural arrogance, but neither really helped. While the Gold Standard gimmick helped grow his character beyond that of an amazing athlete, it didn't change the fact that his mic skills weren't great, and the manager was the aforementioned Momma Benjamin, which did more harm than good.
The obvious solution would be to either let his actions speak for him, or to find a manager who worked with his natural arrogance. The first option would include replacing any promo segments he'd be given with highlight packages, showing off his abilities in big matches such as his contests with Triple H and the Money In The Bank matches. Limit speaking to rare occasions, when he would absolutely need to, otherwise give him the chance to use a higher risk offense to add to his technical ability.
As for a manager, there are several options. The first would be to pair him with Teddy Long, who had experience as a manager and could speak about the mistreatment of talents well that fit Benjamin's narrative. The other option would be to pair him with former WCW head Eric Bischoff, a cocky and brash man who can hype with the best of them, who fits perfectly with the Gold Standard character. Finally, there would be the option of moving a wrestler to managing, such as MVP or Elijah Burke, both who have history with Benjamin. In any event, Benjamin deserved a chance to have a mouthpiece that wasn't his Momma.
The class of 2002 produced five future World Champions in the WWE, and Benjamin deserved to be the sixth if he had the machine behind him. His mic skills weren't quite up to par, but were definitely no worse than other World Champions such as Jack Swagger around the same time. Unfortunately, he remains the Jannetty of the Minnesota Stretching Crew to this day.
SEE ALSO: "WWE Missed Connections - John Morrison"