On Wednesday, Shelton Benjamin set foot in a Canadian wrestling ring for the first time since his decade-long WWE run ended five years ago.
Benjamin, a former WWE Intercontinental Champion and two-time WWE tag team champion, currently is touring with Canadian Wrestling’s Elite during the company’s The Planet Funk Tour in Alberta. Though Wednesday was his not only his return to Canada, but his CWE debut, Benjamin said preparation was “standard procedure.”
“I’ve been in a million matches… but it was fun,” Benjamin said of his first night on the tour, during which he wrestled Travis Cole. “I get to work with new people, new guys, new up and coming stars, so for me it was a pretty fun experience.”
Danny Warren, of CWE, said Benjamin is someone the company has wanted to bring in for a while, but it wasn’t until two former WWE stars cancelled that it came to fruition.
“Originally, we had Brodus Clay booked — who withdrew from the tour — who was replaced by Eugene, who got scheduled for shoulder surgery the day after we announced him,” Warren said, “and then through calling in some favors got Shelton Benjamin, who is someone we’ve been after a long time.”
Warren said Benjamin has added “world-renown star power” to The Planet Funk Tour, along with “an in-ring reputation that goes hand-in-hand with the style of wrestling we pride ourselves on.”
“The response for Shelton has been incredible and much stronger than our two previously announced headliners,” Warren said. “So what started out as a major damper on the tour with cancellations has turned into a major positive.”
Throughout the four-day stint with CWE, Benjamin is still set to face Silas Young and Tommy Lee Curtis. Though he hasn’t locked up with any of his CWE opponents in the past, Benjamin said he always anticipates putting on crowd-pleasing bouts, regardless of his opponent.
“I always expect to have a good match no matter who I’m in the ring with,” Benjamin said. “It’s interesting to see what kind of new innovations… the younger guys have brought to the table. I’ve been around. I’ve seen a lot, (but you) never stop learning in this business. A new person, a new challenge.”
While he’s continuously learning, Benjamin also said that he has spent his time on the independents trying to pass along his biggest take-way from WWE.
“They have a very different philosophy as far as how one should perform that I try to teach guys on the indies everywhere I go,” Benjamin said. “It’s a very different WWE style/TV style.”
He also offered up three pieces of advice to anyone looking to make it to WWE — “Save your money. Have fun. Take care of your body. In that order.”
Before making his way to WWE, Benjamin garnered accolades as a wrestler for the University of Minnesota. During the 1998 National Duals, Benjamin was the last of his team to wrestle — and against Iowa’s Wes Hand, who had beaten Benjamin in the past — in a must-win situation. At the time, Benjamin told The Minnesota Daily that the win in that tournament was the most important victory of his career. More than a decade later, he still holds the pin in high regard.
“No doubt. That was the biggest team-wrestling tournament in college wrestling, and we’re in a clinch match, where it’s either I pin him or we lose,” Benjamin said. “It was literally a fairytale ending. For me, that was the biggest, most defining moment of my college career.”
While many collegiate wrestlers work toward the Olympics after graduation, Benjamin’s goal had always been to step inside the squared circle. He garnered a WWE contract and headed to Ohio Valley Wrestling two years after pinning Hand.
“I’ve been a pro wrestling fan since I could walk, so it was a plan, it was a childhood plan… I’m one of the few people who actually bee-lined straight to what I want to do,” Benjamin said.
Making that transition was relatively seamless, according to Benjamin, who took to the pro ranks “like a duck to water.”
“Because I was a fan — like every other fan, I mimicked pro wrestling all my life,” Benjamin said. “I’m a pretty good mimic, and when I actually reported to OVW to get real training, they’d thought I’d already done training. I was very good at stuff I shouldn’t have been good at.”
As a result, the biggest challenge he faced was not athletics, but rather the show business aspect.
“That was my rough spot,” Benjamin said.
Regardless, the man ranked No. 9 on Pro Wrestling Illustrated‘s 2005 list of best singles wrestlers debuted in WWE as part of Team Angle (with Kurt Angle and Charlie Haas), won the Intercontinental Championship from Chris Jericho and competed in the second Money in the Bank Ladder Match during WrestleMania XXII, among other accolades. Amid those accomplishments, Benjamin said his only regret in the “10 good years” with the No. 1 pro wrestling company is not being WWE Champion.
“That’s my biggest, if you would call it regret, but for the most part, I had a good experience there. I did a lot of cool things,” Benjamin said. “I was part of something huge. I mean, when you look back hindsight is 20/20, but I don’t really care to focus on things that (are in the past).”
And in focusing on the future, Benjamin is set to face Tommy Lee Curtis tonight in Red Deer, Alberta. Once the CWE tour ends, Benjamin said he will be back home for three to four days then leaves for a three-week tour of Japan Sept. 3, after which he’ll be on shows in New York and Tennessee.
SHELTON BENJAMIN STORIES
- Feb. 23, 2011: Haas & Benjamin reborn in Ring of Honor
- Sep. 25, 2010: Benjamin, Helms, Grenier, Demolition cook up hot T.O.W. show
- July 11, 2007: Shelton Benjamin hard to faze