Shelton Benjamin’s rolodex of iconic WWE moments is sheepishly long. His innovative maneuvers in Money in the Bank matches, his monumental upset of Triple H, his Match of the Year worthy performance against Shawn Michaels were all moments that allowed him to build an impressive resume during his initial run with the WWE.
Now, Benjamin is returning to the WWE to take a part in the New Era, where WWE has chosen to have a programming format that favors in-ring action over the theatrics that the worldwide leader of sports entertainment has become known for. After almost 10 years in WWE, despite an impressive array of moments, Benjamin never seemed to be primed for a premier spot within the company. Now, he has returned to the WWE at a time that should find his agile arsenal, combined with his acquired independent experience, should allow him to be a premier addition to SmackDown Live.
What makes the New Era so refreshing is the WWE electing to acquiesce its focus from character-driven programming to programming that, for the most part, allows the in-ring performances to determine the quality of the program. Being the best athlete on the roster always allowed Benjamin to have a prominent spot on WWE cards, including multiple Money in the Bank inclusions, three reigns as Intercontinental Champion, two as Tag Team Champion, and one as United States Champion during his 11 years under a WWE contract.
Benjamin’s initial run with the WWE is also defined by the handful of iconic moments he took part in. After his run with Charlie Haas as part of Team Angle and The World’s Greatest Tag Team, Benjamin would score an upset pinfall victory over Triple H on Monday Night Raw in early 2004. He would also compete in a Match of the Year candidate on May 2, 2005 with Shawn Michaels, an even, hard-fought match that ended with Benjamin taking a heinous Sweet Chin Music in midair after a springboard off the ropes. He also had a knack for stealing the show in every Money in the Bank match he took part in, providing maneuvers using ladders not seen since Jeff Hardy’s stunts in the TLC series.
Time would come to show that Benjamin’s exceptional in-ring ability and ample iconic moments were not enough to be considered amongst the WWE elite. Due to possessing a lopsided skillset that highly (if not completely) favored in-ring ability, he was saddled with less than favorable roles, including being put on WWE’s fledgling version of ECW where he would be frequently fed to a developing future WWE Champion in Sheamus. He would also be weighted with an embarassing role that found him taking his “momma” to the ring with him.
Apparently, WWE creative did not watch old tape of Buff Bagwell in WCW, because Judy was so over.
After years of various utility roles, Benjamin was released from his WWE contract on April 22, 2010.
The years that would follow his WWE release would best prepare Benjamin for his reintroduction in the midst of WWE’s New Era renaissance. When an outright release from WWE often serves as an anchor to one’s wrestling career, Benjamin used his release to the fullest. Within months of his WWE release, Benjamin would reform The World’s Greatest Tag Team with Charlie Haas in Ring of Honor. There, he and Haas would put on tag team clinics against the likes of The Kings of Wrestling, the All Night Express, and the Briscoe Brothers. He would continue his outside-WWE experience with successful tenures with New Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling NOAH.
Wrestling veterans such as Stone Cold Steve Austin and Chris Jericho are often quoted talking about how great wrestlers have had the chance to craft their own style from the various experiences they have had in various territories. Japan is often a destination for these types of wrestlers. Japanese wrestling provides a combination of a older WWE-like, character-driven format with the technical focus that tends to be showcased on the independent circuit.
Benjamin was an ultra-athletic talent that was homegrown by the WWE. Now, like rising stars such as Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and Cesaro, and much like older legends like Jericho and Austin, Shelton Benjamin gained valuable outside experience that should provide a smooth transition into WWE’s New Era. This time around, Benjamin should find himself in a company unlike that one he once was a part of. His superior agility and technical expertise should now be accepted with arms wide open.