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Today in Wrestling History- Bret vs. Benoit

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Guest TSMAdmin

Today in Wrestling History (October 4)

by Jared "JHawk" Hawkins


NOTE: Special thanks goes out to kingofoldschool on our forums for providing a Real Media version of this match.


Every so often, there is one match that transcends simply who wins and loses--a match that has historical significance or simply leaves people talking for years to come. Notable examples in North America include the Flair-Steamboat series in 1989, the Bret Hart-Owen Hart series in 1994, and the WrestleMania X ladder match. These are matches where your jaw drops at the tremendous action, and by the time it's over, you know you've seen something special. So today, we analyze one of those matches that you can't help but marvel at, only this is one that came about due to some unfortunate circumstances.


The story so far: In one of the saddest days in professional wrestling history, Owen Hart fell from the rafters of Kansas City's Kemper Arena during the WWF's Over the Edge pay-per-view on May 23, 1999. The entire wrestling community, from the wrestlers to the promoters to the fans, mourned the loss heavily, but nobody took it harder than Bret Hart. Bret Hart cancelled a scheduled match with Kevin Nash that was to take place on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno the next night and didn't step in the ring again for several months.


On October 4, WCW was to hold an edition of WCW Monday Nitro at the same Kemper Arena that saw Owen Hart's tragic death four and a half months earlier. In order to properly commemorate the memory of Owen Hart, WCW allowed Bret Hart to pick his own opponent in what was billed as an Owen Hart Tribute Match and granted him as much time as he wanted. His choice was fellow Canadian and former Stu Hart Dungeon graduate Chris Benoit. Interestingly enough, it was also the second anniversary of the death of another man who had a history with both of these men--Brian Pillman.


Without any further ado... We take you to October 4, 1999 at Kansas City's Kemper Arena for WCW Monday Nitro. Your broadcast team is Tony Skee-a-vone, Iron Mike Tenay, and Da Brain.


Your special guest ring announcer is 8-time former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race, who seems legitimately touched to have been granted the opportunity, even if his introductions are rather bland.


One fall Owen Hart Tribute Match: Chris Benoit (WCW World Television Champion) vs. Bret "The Hitman" Hart


Benoit and Bret hug each other before referee Mickey Jay calls for the bell. A huge chant of "Owen" from the crowd, and Bret appears to be fighting back tears as he listens to it. The bell rings. Lockup, and Benoit into a side headlock. Hart rolls it into a pinning combination and gets a count of one, but Benoit turns back to his knees and maintains control of the side headlock. Bret gets to his feet and turns it into a top wristlock. Benoit turns it into a hammerlock, which is quickly reversed by Hart. Bret moves into a side headlock. Benoit shoves Bret into the ropes, but gets taken down with a shoulderblock. Into the ropes, over top of Benoit, Benoit with a leapfrog, and Benoit teases a monkey flip, but Bret hangs onto the ropes. Benoit kips up, and the crowd applauds both men. Handshake, and we restart. Knucklelock, and Bret gains the advantage, but Benoit maintains a bridge to avoid having his shoulders hit the mat, then pulls himself up and ends up behind Bret while maintaining the hold. He brings Bret down and maintains the submission move. Bret pulls himself up, but Benoit immediately moves his way into a hammerlock. Another "Owen" chant. Benoit releases and puts on a double wristlock, then he puts his head between Bret's shoulderblades to get a surfboard effect. Bret with a reversal. Benoit backs Bret into the turnbuckle and breaks the hold with a mule kick. Kick to the midsection, followed by a snap mare and into an armbar. Bret gets to his feet and works his way into a Russian legsweep to break the hold. Forearm smash by Bret, and then a snap mare into a reverse chinlock. Benoit gets to his feet, breaks with a couple of elbows and a forearm, and then goes off the ropes, only to be caught with a knee to the midsection. Bret with a legdrop. Bret picks up Benoit and puts him against the corner. Right hand, followed by a couple of European uppercuts and a headbutt. Another right hand, and Benoit fires back with a kick to the midsection and a chop. Bret stops any potential comeback with a jarring DDT, then hits his patented elbowdrop off the second turnbuckle for the first two count of the match. Benoit rolls to the ropes to buy himself some time. Bret finally goes after Benoit and whips him into the ropes, but Benoit counters Hart's attempted knee to the midsection with a roll up for 2, then immediately turns it into an elevated Boston crab without ever letting go of Bret's legs. Bret gets to the ropes to force the break. Benoit whips Bret into the ropes and backdrops him, then covers him for a one count. Benoit with a backbreaker and a cover for 2. A forearm smash sends Bret Hart out to the ring, and we take a commercial break.


We return from the break as Benoit nails Bret with a diving elbowdrop and covers for 2. Bret rolls away from another attempted elbowdrop. Bret with a headbutt to the lower abdomen. Bret with a snap suplex and a cover for 2. Bret into a reverse chinlock to try to wear down Benoit. Bret releases the hold, only to take Benoit down with a backbreaker. Stomp, kick to the back, springboarding into a stomp, kick to the back, and another kick to the back sends Benoit out to the floor. Bret outside after him, and he rams Benoit's back into the ring apron. Bret rolls Benoit into the ring, follows him back in, and stomps Benoit in the gut. Benoit against the ropes, and Bret hits him with a right hand. European uppercut, and an Irish whip, but Benoit counters what appears to be a gutwrench suplex with a Tombstone and falls on top of Hart for 2. Fatigue is beginning to set in, as both men are down for Mickey Jay's ten count. Benoit to his feet at six, and a Northern Lights suplex gets 2. Forearm, headbutt, kick to the ribs. Whip into the ropes, and Benoit returns the knee to the midsection and covers for 2. Turnbuckle smash, headbutt, chop, and an Irish whip, but Bret hangs onto the top rope and Benoit misses a dropkick. Bret with two hard elbowdrops. Bret with a vicious backdrop suplex, and the cover gets 2. Bret with a punch, European uppercut, punch, and another punch that sends Benoit down. Another right hand and off the ropes, but Benoit ducks and Bret hits the ropes and falls hard to the mat. Bret rolls to the outside, and Benoit takes advantage by executing a picture perfect tope. Both men struggle to get back to their feet on the floor as we take another commercial break.


When we return, Bret is in the ring, Benoit is on the apron, and Bret levels Benoit with a hard forearm to the chest. Bret goes for a suplex, but Benoit lands behind him and executes a rolling cradle for 2, which is reversed by Bret for a two count of his own. Bret with a headbutt that sends Benoit across the ring. A boot choke, one of the few blatant illegal moves of the match, and Bret pulls Benoit to the center of the ring. Bret goes for a European uppercut, but Benoit counters it into a backslide for 2. Bret with three headbutts to the small of the back. Bret sets up for a suplex, but Benoit quickly counters with a small package for 2. Benoit's back is still hurting, so Bret is up first and connects with a stomp to the back. Swinging neckbreaker and a cover for 2. Bret whips Benoit into the corner and catches him with an inverted atomic drop. Bret sets Benoit up for a superplex, but two punches and a series of headbutts by Benoit send Bret off the ropes. Benoit sets himself up to jump, but a right hand from Bret Hart sends Benoit crotch first onto the turnbuckle. This time Bret does get in the top-rope superplex ala Dynamite Kid, and Mickey Jay starts a ten count (and is joined by the crowd). Bret is up at 7. Bret goes for a Sharpshooter, but Benoit counters it into a Crippler Crossface. Benoit drags Hart away from the ropes, but Bret drags himself back over and finally grabs it to force the break. Benoit with a rolling snap suplex series, and he signals for the Swan Dive Headbutt. He connects from the furthest corner, but is slow on the cover and can only get 2 3/4. Benoit checks on Bret, then picks him up and drives him down with a backdrop suplex. Elbowdrop, and the crowd starts chanting "Let's go Bret", which distracts Benoit. A whip is reversed into a Bret Hart elbowsmash. Bret covers following a piledriver, but Benoit is able to get a foot on the ropes just before the three count. Bret pulls Benoit up, places him against the corner, and gets one shot to the gut in before whipping Benoit hard into the opposite corner. Benoit staggers backward, and Bret goes for the backdrop suplex, but Benoit flips over, lands on his feet, and gets a series of chops to Bret's chest. After a forearm, Benoit whips Bret into the corner, but Bret catches a charging Benoit with a boot to the face. Benoit sucks a clothesline and goes into the rolling German suplexes. Bret blocks the third one, and Benoit tries to weaken Bret with forearms to the back of the head. Benoit tries another German, but Bret blocks it, so Benoit tries to change it to a Northern Lights suplex. Bret blocks that too and frees himself with a few forearms to the back. Bret goes for a suplex, which Benoit attempts to counter with a Crippler Crossface, and Bret struggles to avoid it before using a nice but slow counter to turn it into a Sharpshooter. Benoit has no choice but to submit at 23:00 aired (plus anywhere between 4 and 7 minutes depending on the length of the commercial break). Mickey Jay raises Bret's hand, and the entire crowd gives a standing ovation. Bret and Benoit embrace in mid-ring and raises each other's hand to another standing ovation. Excellent match that probably should have been the North American Match of the Year, and it gets the first ***** rating I've given for any match since this site opened.


Aftermath: There really wasn't an aftermath due to the circumstances surrounding this one even happening, so allow me to instead tell you why this worked so well.


The Action: Simply put, this match was a technical masterpiece. A lot of terrific scientific wrestling, with very little brawling and just enough high spots to keep the casual fan from becoming bored. Plus nearly every move makes sense. Bret is working over Benoit's back to set up the Sharpshooter. Benoit works the back, but from time to time he also works over the neck and arm to set up the Crossface. In addition, a lot of the counters are subtle. You can see Bret struggle to get to the ropes when he's trapped in the Crossface, and he's moving a few inches at a time, rather than a foot or two at a time like you see from most wrestlers today. Then, when Bret counters the Crossface into the Sharpshooter, it's not a two second counter, but takes nearly 30 seconds of maneuvering his body and getting into position. Such little nuances are missing from most matches today.


The commentary: The commentary is spot on, especially from Tenay, whose grasp of the history between these two men in uncanny. Schiavone is even gold, as he describes exactly what each man is going for from move to move. The only gripe on commentary is from Heenan, who just couldn't resist the urge to crack a few jokes over the course of this match, and it was simply out of place. However, a nice touch by the trio, as they kept quiet and allowed the picture and crowd reaction to tell the story following the finish.


The crowd: Kansas City was a hotbed for its NWA territory before the WWF's expansion, and it's easy to see why. The crowd wasn't very loud, but they popped at the right spots, counted along with the referee's counts, and that ovation after the match can almost bring you to tears if you're not expecting it. It's not very often you see nearly 30 minutes of a technical masterpiece, and there's not one "boring" chant from a crowd of over 10,000 people.


An interesting tidbit: Supposedly Bret actually wanted to lose this match, and WCW vetoed it, thinking Bret shouldn't lose a match dedicated to his late brother (and possibly trying to avoid elevating Benoit any higher than they already had). Quite honestly, I think that was probably a good decision in retrospect. As it was, it ended up being one of the last truly great matches in WCW, Bret Hart's last truly great match ever, and one of the rare few that should go down as a candidate for the greatest match of all-time.


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