Before I started this Royal Rumble series I talked to Richard about it and he gave me the go ahead. Then after thinking about it and talking about it a bit I went back and asked Richard about this specific Royal Rumble and he gave me the go ahead to write it the way I wanted to. So I am going to write this about Chris Benoit the wrestler who won the 2004 Royal Rumble Match and the year he had following that. Not until the final paragraph will I address the elephant in the room. I'm giving you the chance now to not continue reading, but Chris Benoit was one I loved so much and I'm going to give his wrestling and career through 2004 the respect it deserves.
In the weeks leading up to the Royal Rumble PPV Cena and Benoit were low men on Heyman's totem pole on Smackdown. Cena and Benoit weren't playing by Heyman's rules, so they had to participate in a Handicap Match against the Full Blooded Italians to be able to qualify for the Royal Rumble Match. They won the match, but later in the night Benoit insulted Heyman and was shackled with the #1 spot in the Royal Rumble. A couple weeks prior to t Royal Rumble Benoit had to participate in a Mini Royal Rumble against the Full Blooded Italians to keep his spot in the Royal Rumble while Goldberg won a Battle Royal on RAW for the #30 spot. Prior to this Royal Rumble they ran qualifying matches for over a month. A number of participants won matches to get into the Royal Rumble Match while others just announced that they would be in the match and they were in.
The 17th annual Royal Rumble was on January 25th at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On Sunday Night Heat Victoria, with Stevie Richards, defeated Molly Holly. Starting on Royal Rumble Evolution – Flair and Batista defeated the Dudley Boyz to retain their Tag Team Champship in a Tables Match. Rey Mysterio defeated Jamie Noble, with Nidia, to retain his Cruiserweight Championship. Eddie Guerrero defeated his nephew Chavito, with Chavo. Brock defeated Hardcore Holly to retain his WWE Championship. Trip and HBK fought to a draw in a Last Man Standing Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Trip retained his Title in one heck of a match. This one is definitely worth watching!
The Royal Rumble Match started with Benoit and Orton as entrants number one and two. Orton lasted 33:43 only to be eliminated by Foley. Test didn't show up when it was his turn, #21, to enter the match he didn't show up. Test was found backstage knocked out. RAW Sheriff SCSA ordered someone to take Test's place and gave him Test's spot. This was Foley who had already been having issues with Orton. In the ring Foley attacked Orton. He clotheslined Orton over the top and eliminated himself in the process. Foley and Orton fought after their eliminations and out of the ringside area. Spike Dudley was supposed to be #13, but Kane attacked him before he entered the ring, so he didn't participate in the match. Big Show entered at #24 and fought with Benoit who had been taking periodic breaks throughout the match. He would lay under the ropes in the lower left hand corner of the ring (as seen on the TV) to regroup and catch his breath. I was impressed with how covertly he hid during the match. My daughter and I were on Benoit watch when re-watched the match so we could see how he lasted through it all. Goldberg entered at #30, the spot he won. Angle eliminated Goldberg in just over two minutes, but not much later Big Show eliminated Angle by sending Angle flying from the ring as Big Show kicked out of an ankle lock. In the end it was down to Benoit and Big Show. They fought and Benoit ended up out on the apron. Benoit locked onto Big Show and pulled him over the top rope and out to the floor. Big Show is almost always hard to eliminate from a Royal Rumble Match, but he helped Benoit by covertly climbing over the ropes as Benoit pulled. Benoit was only the second Royal Rumble winner who started as entrant #1, the first being HBK. Benoit broke Bob Backlund's longevity record by lasting 1:001:30.
Benoit won a shot to go after the WWE Championship as he was on the Smackdown roster, but he used a loophole and jumped ship to RAW. Benoit is the only Royal Rumble winner to ever do this. Of course a big part of it was to get away from Heyman who was doing everything in his power to make Benoit miserable. On January 26th Benoit was on RAW and challenged Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship when he interrupted an argument between Trip and HBK. On February 9th Trip and Benoit had their contract signing. Trip signed the contract, but before Benoit could sign HBK hit the ring. Trip and HBK had still been feuding and HBK wasn't done with Trip, so he hit sweet chin music on Benoit and signed the contract himself. The following RAW Sheriff SCSA announced that Trip would be defending his World Heavyweight Championship in a Triple Threat Match. On Smackdown Heyman put on a 15 Man Battle Royal to decide who would be facing Brock for the WWE Championship at No Way Out. Eddie won the match and went on to win the Title, as I stated in the previous article.
The main event at WMXX was the Triple Threat Match. This was the seventh Title defended at that PPV, the most ever at a WM. The match went back and forth until Benoit locked his signature cripple crossface on HBK. HBK was about to tap when Trip broke it up. Benoit ended up being suplexed through the announce table and most people thought he was out of the match for good. HBK and Trip went back and forth for quite a while until Benoit returned to the match. Benoit countered sweet chin music and sent HBK flying from the ring. Trip then tried a pedigree, but Benoit countered and locked on his cripple crossface. Trip had to tap out. And just to note, this was the WM that Brock faced Goldberg in what was both of their matches in the WWE, just over a year after Brock won the Royal Rumble.
Benoit carried the strap into Backlash where he was supposed to face HBK, but it ended up being another Triple Threat Match. Benoit won this by making HBK tap out to the sharpshooter. Benoit had managed to make both Trip and HBK tap out in the course of two PPV main events. The following night on RAW Benoit and Edge defeated Batista and Flair for the World Tag Team Championship. Edge and Benoit feuded with La Resistance over the World Tag Team Championship while Kane and Benoit feuded over Benoit's World Heavyweight Championship. Benoit pulled double duty at Bad Blood, and while he retained the World Heavyweight Championship against Kane, he and Edge lost the Tag Team Championship.
In August, at SummerSlam Benoit ended up dropping the World Heavyweight Championship to Orton. Benoit went on to feud with Edge who had turned into a wild and uncontrollable heel. On Taboo Tuesday Edge, Benoit and HBK were in a poll to see who would face Trip for the World Heavyweight Championship (which he'd won from Orton). HBK won the poll which left Benoit and Edge tagging against La Resistance. Edge abandoned Benoit who managed to win the WorldTag Team Championship on his own, but they lost them 13 days later on RAW. Going into Survivor Series Edge and Benoit ended up on opposing teams. Team Orton, with Benoit went over Team Trip, with Edge, but Edge got the pinfall on Benoit after a pedigree. The stip for this match was that the members of the winning team each had a chance at being in control of RAW for one night. On Benoit's night he booked a Triple Threat Match between himself, Edge and Trip for Trip's World Heavyweight Championship. Benoit locked on his cripple crossface, but Edge rolled so Benoit's shoulders were on the mat. The ref counted and Edge tapped out. The match was ruled a draw. The next week VKM vacated the World Heavyweight Championship. Bisch returned to his role as RAW GM and set up an Elimination Chamber Match between Trip, Edge, Benoit, Jericho Orton and Batista. The next week the Special Guest Ref was announced to be HBK. Trip came out of the Chamber the new World Heavyweight Champion.
Benoit had quite the year after winning the Royal Rumble Match. I always forget that it really wasn't that much after, just over three years, that Benoit killed his family and himself. He had always been one of my favorites. He was my daughter's favorite wrestler with Eddie coming in a close second and all of that came from her watching her first WM, that being WMXX. When Benoit won his the World Heavyweight Championship and was in the ring in tears with the fans going wild, then turning to find Eddie there, she crumbled. I adopted her not long after that and surprised her by taking her to her only wrestling show, a house show, in Portland (Maine) as Benoit was scheduled to be there. We had a blast. She called me from work in tears the night we found out Benoit had died, but didn't know the whole story. She was crushed by it all when the truth came out. That sealed it for her. First Eddie, then Benoit, she lost her heart for wrestling. She still humors me and enjoys interesting segments, but she will never be a true wrestling fan again.
I know it's really hard to remember Benoit's wrestling work without thinking about the tragedy. Honestly, I have separated Benoit into two men. I think it's been long enough that hopefully we can remember how great Benoit was as a wrestler and rejoice in all the great moments he gave us in the wrestling ring. Honestly, writing this has been very cathartic for me. I'm glad I did it. I hope it reminds some people about that great year in Benoit's wonderful career.