WWE: Shelton Benjamin’s understated legacy in wrestling

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 5: Shelton Benjamin (top) and Christian during the Money In The Bank Ladder Mach at WrestleMania 25 at Reliant Stadium on April 5, 2009 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bill Olive/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 5: Shelton Benjamin (top) and Christian during the Money In The Bank Ladder Mach at WrestleMania 25 at Reliant Stadium on April 5, 2009 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bill Olive/Getty Images) /

Two weeks ago on WWE Raw, Shelton Benjamin competed in the Qualifying Last Chance Gauntlet match for a spot in the 15th annual Money in the Bank ladder match.

It was a cool Easter egg as the 20-year veteran was a human highlight reel in the initial Money in the Bank ladder matches. Shelton Benjamin was instrumental in the success of the stipulation match in its formative years. He never actually secured the briefcase, but his performance in those matches became one of his claims to fame.

Benjamin was a part of the legendary OVW Class of 2000 with Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, and John Cena. During that time, he and Lesnar, his roommate from the University of Minnesota, teamed up to form the “Minnesota Stretching Crew.” The unlikely duo captured the OVW Southern Tag Team Championship three times in 2001.

When “The Beast Incarnate” left the developmental territory, Benjamin won the tag title one more time with Redd Dogg Begnaud⁠, better known as Rodney Mack. This prowess as a tag team specialist led to his jump to SmackDown as a member of “Team Angle”. Under the tutelage of Kurt Angle, Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas won the WWE Tag Team Championship a mere month after their debut.

In March of 2003, the new team successfully defended their titles at WrestleMania XIX. They lost them a few months later to Eddie Guerrero and Tajiri at Judgement Day, which eventually caused Angle to fire them.

That’s when Benjamin and Haas started going by “The World’s Greatest Tag Team.” The team regained WWE Tag Team Championship on the July 3 episode of SmackDown. Unfortunatelytheir second reign was cut short when Shelton suffered a knee injury three months later.

In March, Shelton Benjamin returned in time to appear alongside Haas at WrestleMania XX. However, WWE split the promising pairing up a few weeks later as Benjamin was drafted to Raw in the 2004 WWE Draft. This paved the way for his best year with the company as a singles competitor.

First, he pulled off an improbable upset over Triple H, kicking off a program with the former WWE Champion. Then, a groundswell of votes from WWE Universe granted him a shot at the Intercontinental Championship at Taboo Tuesday.

At the event, Shelton Benjamin defeated Chris Jericho to when his first singles title. He went on to enjoy the longest reign with the IC title of the decade. To date, he holds the eighth longest consecutive tenure with the belt at 244 days.

At WrestleMania 21, Shelton participated in the first Money in the Bank ladder match and delivered one of his career highlights when he ran up a ladder and clotheslined Jericho. The inventive spot would become routine in the years to come. Everyone knew if Benjamin was in the ladder match, he would do something awe-inspiring by the end of the night.

A month later, he competed in a pair of excellent matches in May. At Backlash 2005, he and Jericho tore the roof off of the Verizon Wireless Arena. The next day, he lost to Shawn Michaels in a classic match on the May 2, 2005 episode of Raw.

That summer, Shelton Benjamin seemed poised to become a fixture in the main event and possible world champion. Instead, he never really made it out of the midcard picture. He lost the Intercontinental Championship to Carlito on June 20, 2005. Then, he went on a losing streak, and WWE inexplicably saddled him with a dated and problematic ”black mama trope.”

Benjamin never really recovered the legitimacy that he earned alongside Kurt Angle after this. Yes, he won the IC title two more times and had a brief stint with the United States Championship. But he was never taken as seriously again and it seemed like WWE hit a wall with him creatively. “The Gold Standard” gimmick had some potential but it never paid off.

WWE released the collegiate wrestling champion on Apr. 22, 2010. That fall, he and Charlie Haas reunited to work with Ring of Honor, where they became two-time ROH World Tag Team Champions. During that same time, Benjamin also traveled abroad to wrestle for New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

Benjamin actually had an impactful three-year run with NJPW. At Wrestle Kingdom VI, he and another WWE mainstay, MVP, teamed up to beat Masato Tanaka and Yujiro Takahashi.

The duo, known as “Black Dynamite,” also competed in the 2012 World Tag League, where they finish with a record three wins. In the following year, Shelton unsuccessfully challenged Tanaka for the NEVER Openweight Championship Wrestle Kingdom 7.

In 2013, Benjamin reemerged as Minoru Suzuki‘s mystery partner in the main event of NJPW Road To Wrestling Dontaku. As a member Suzuki-gun, he and the Japanese legend defeated Kazuchika Okada and Shinsuke Nakamura and feuded with CHAOS deep into 2014.

Now going by “Shelton X Benjamin,” he participated in the 2013 G1 Climax and worked several Intercontinental title programs with Nakamura.

At Wrestle Kingdom 8, he and Suzuki overcame The Great Muta and Toru Yano after an impressive push in the 2013 World Tag League. Benjamin never won a singles title with New Japan but much like his early days with WWE he took part in several memorable matches. For example, in the 2014 New Japan Cup, he picked up a big win over Katsuyori Shibata before he lost in the semifinals.

Benjamin made his last appearance for NJPW at Wrestle Kingdom 9. For the next two years, he worked with several independent promotions before he returned to WWE in August of 2017.

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It’s kind of a shame that Shelton Benjamin never won a world title like his contemporaries from OVW. Still, he’s a true renaissance man who has experienced unbelievable highs and stood amongst some all-time greats.

From his arrival as an athletic newcomer in the “Ruthless Aggression Era” to his time as a “gaijin” menace in New Japan, he has made his mark on pro wrestling and he deserves more credit for that.