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Posted in: Requesting Flyby
REQUESTING FLYBY: The Quest To Restore Glory To The Intercontinental Championship (Part 2)
By Maverick
Apr 9, 2015 - 2:10:11 PM

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The Quest To Restore Glory To The Intercontinental Championship
Part 2: Shelton Benjamin, 19th October 2004 to 20th June 2005

Last time out, we discussed how Randy Orton’s seven month run with the Intercontinental Championship was the first of many attempts to restore some lustre to the legendary belt worn by the likes of Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, Rick Rude and The Ultimate Warrior. It wouldn’t be long before another young buck would step up and have a similar dominant run with the strap; indeed, it was only a few short months after The Legend Killer dropped the title that the most exciting young talent in wrestling at that time would pick it up. You’ve guessed it, the time was ripe for Shelton Benjamin to show the world what he was made of.

Ain’t No Stoppin’ Shelton

The young stud’s opportunity came at Taboo Tuesday, where he won an overwhelming 37% of the vote up against fourteen other competitors to face Chris Jericho for the strap; whether this was purely fan vote or fan vote with a pinch of fixing thrown in there is debatable, but he was certainly the most over choice with the Milwaukee crowd, and his entrance got a very nice pop. The match that followed was one of those ten minute minor classics that do so much to enhance a card, and within that time frame, Benjamin was very definitely the babyface, with the veteran Jericho playing the tweener role in order to give his challenger room to breathe as the fresh face on the block. The opening of the match sees the typical Shelton thrills and spills, before we settle into a long period of Y2J dominance, as he seeks to ground his uber-athletic opponent, but the story of the match is very much one of the former tag team star being impossible to contain, and a superplex sees him start to gather momentum, followed by a big time lariat off the top. However, the youth of Benjamin also sees him make mistakes, and his Stinger splash in the corner misses, almost leading to the Walls being locked in. The challenger shows his resilience by kicking out of the Lionsault, then hits the T Bone out of nowhere for the victory; it’s really a classic way for a young competitor to win their first singles title. It would be the start of another long championship reign.

The first challenger was Jericho’s old sparring partner Christian, who was the ideal man to continue the good work of Y2J in putting the young super athlete over, particularly with the further threat of ‘Problem Solver’ Tyson Tomko at ringside. Once again, the unique style of Benjamin, a hybrid of mat wrestling and high flying offense, puts the veteran off his game in the early going, and Captain Charisma continually has to bail and hide behind his Problem Solver to try and gain any kind of advantage whatsoever. Once Tomko does intervene successfully, the selling of the former All American is top notch, easily soliciting sympathy from the audience. Benjamin shows his ability to innovate with an awesome rope assisted reverse vertical suplex, and even when Tomko again interferes moments later, Shelton kicks out, reverses the Unprettier and nails the T Bone for an impressive clean win.

Having taken on two bona fide legends in a row, the South Carolinian had a much easier challenge at New Year’s Revolution, taking on former Tough Enough winner Maven, who had turned heel following a feud with Eugene and William Regal. The popularity of the champion compared to the challenger puts Maven right off his game in kayfabe, as he stalks the ringside area yelling at the fans who are catcalling him, as Benjamin is prevented by the referee from coming out there after him. After spending almost six minutes talking, Huffman walks right into a roll up for the championship retention. Just for good measure, after the heel demands a rematch, the champion goes right back to the ring and beats him again, this time with the T Bone. It very much played into the narrative of Benjamin as a dominant fighting champion, but the young man from Orangeburg would not be defending his title again for a while...he had a potentially bigger fish to fry.

Money In The Bank, Y2J, and a Gold Rush

Ever since the heyday of Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage, the idea of stealing the show has been prominent in Wrestlemania lore, and in entering the inaugural Money In The Bank ladder match, Shelton Benjamin stepped up to take the opportunity to do just that. It was a star making performance, which ten years on, none of us have yet forgotten. As great is his run in the tag ranks was, as impressive as his first run as a singles midcard champ had been, it was Money In The Bank which made his name conclusively. Sadly, as we all know, the opportunity to make Benjamin the next big player was ultimately squandered, but in 2005, it seemed inevitable that he would make it, and him coming into the match as Intercontinental Champion undoubtedly put a bit more shine on that belt. The spots stand out even today; the leaping springboard double clothesline, that incredible scamper up a diagonal ladder to clothesline Jericho to the outside, and best of all, a T Bone from the very top of a sixteen foot ladder. What a human highlight reel he was; for the rest of his career and even once he finally retires, Shelton will always be able to proudly recall that he was the star of Money In The Bank 1.

The kudos that Benjamin gained from his performance on the grandest stage was further enhanced when he got the opportunity to take on Chris Jericho again a month later at Backlash, defending his Intercontinental Championship in a reverse of the situation from Taboo Tuesday. Once again, both men were aligned as babyfaces, and here, with Shelton now far more experienced and battle tested, the match tells quite a different story; where Jericho had dominated the first encounter, here, Benjamin equals Jericho’s mat smarts and has the superior athletic ability, but the veteran Canadian bides his time and takes advantage of a mistake from the champion to revert matters to how they were in their first match, although this time, Jericho’s period of ascendancy is markedly shorter, with far more back and forth. Shelton’s absurd vertical leap to the top turnbuckle to catch Y2J in a superplex is a sign of the huge confidence of the long reigning champ, as is the huge springboard bulldog and the leap off the turnbuckle into the T Bone. In his time holding the IC gold, Benjamin had developed into an incredible sports entertainer, someone everyone loved to watch, and the way he retained his title here, countering the Walls of Jericho into a pinning predicament, showed his range yet further.

However, even better was to come the next evening, when the collegiate colossus took on Shawn Michaels in the Gold Rush tournament a month later. It should go without saying that, in his own youth, Michaels had taken athleticism in pro wrestling to new heights just as Benjamin was doing in his, and the combination of the two was mouthwatering before they even locked up. What happened next was one of the greatest TV matches of all time. Considering Michaels had locked up with Kurt Angle a month before, it puts over Shelton hugely that HBK has such trouble with the younger man’s amateur signings, as does the visible frustration he shows after being caught in a series of deep arm drags that Ricky Steamboat himself would be proud of. In fact, Benjamin seems to have counters for all of Michaels’ offense, countering a superplex by turning his body in midair to make it into a crossbody and then catching HBK in a Samoan Drop. This theme is further emphasised by the double nip up followed by the roll up counters that the IC champ once again has the best of and a Sweet Chin Music counter into a spinning heel kick that elicits a heart stopping near fall. Moments later, Benjamin blocks it again and hits a straight thrust kick for yet another incredible false finish. Finally, all of the up and coming midcarder’s effort proves in vain, just barely, when another gravity defying leap lands on the Sweet Chin Music of the grizzled Michaels. The Intercontinental Champion taking on legends from above him on the card has always been a great story, and it again proved so here. At this point, it seemed as if there really was nothing stopping Shelton from climbing all the way to the top of the card.

Carlito’s Way

As with most of these long midcard title reigns, when the time is deemed right for the man who has held the belt to take advantage of the heat they have gained and ascend the card, they drop it so as to free them up for bigger and better things...or so the theory goes. In Shelton Benjamin’s case, he did the job for Carlito, who had come across from Smackdown in the annual WWE draft that very evening. Even in this final match as champion, Benjamin put together some amazing moves, including a plancha all the way over the top to the floor that was much less common then than it is now, as well as his signature top rope lariat. A breathtaking series of offense quickens up the pace as the match nears its finish, with a sunset flip off the second rope and a Samoan drop both nearly retaining the title for Benjamin before Carlito steals the victory out of nowhere with a rope assisted pin that the referee fails to spot. A rematch at Vengeance would see the prodigy from South Carolina fail to regain his championship, and although he held the belt twice more, the magic was never recaptured, not to mention the advent of “Shelton’s Momma” which the poor guy just couldn’t quite recover from.

Vital Statistics

At 244 days, Shelton Benjamin’s reign eclipsed that of his fellow OVW alumnus Randy Orton, as well as those of legends like The Ultimate Warrior and Tito Santana. As with The Legend Killer, Benjamin did not get to defend the belt at Wrestlemania due to being placed in a much bigger match which leant more prestige to the strap than a short title defence would have done. All in all, Shelton defended his title a total of five times, with legendary names like Jericho and Christian on his list of victims (though I’m afraid we must give minus points for the two defences against a jabroni like Maven). It’s not in doubt that Shelton’s run as a fighting champ on the rise did a great deal for the belt; his series of entertaining matches during that time frame made him the most must-see performer on the planet at that time.

What did you think of Shelton Benjamin’s lengthy run with the second strap? And how do you feel the current plan to raise the status of the belt is going? Be sure to let me know below or you can tweet me here:

I will be back with part 3 of this series before you know it: can you guess the identity of the next Intercontinental Champion I will be discussing?

Until then, this is Maverick, requesting flyby!