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Archive for October 9th, 2008

A quick chat with Shelton Benjamin

I forgot to eat lunch at the proper time. I realize this is hard for many to believe, because A) I like eating and B) I’m usually right at lunch around noon or within 15 minutes of it. Today wasn’t quite the same, I was responding to some internet chatter when I realized it was almost 2 p.m.

Instead of hitting the Subway about a block up the street, I decided to hop in the car and drive over to Dinkytown, an area next to the University of Minnesota with shops and cafes and some decent fare. I decided on Qdoba and a mammouth Ancho Chile Chicken Burrito. Stuffed. As in, the burrito and myself. One is all you need.

After leaving, I stopped by the Gopher wrestling office to mill around and just make small talk on my way to the office. Coach J Robinson’s wife is in a triathlon in Hawaii, and as a supportive husband, he’s there grueling along with the travel (yeah, no trip to Hawaii is grueling, unless it’s coming back and it’s Snakes on a Plane).

WWEs Shelton Benjamin was a two-time All-American at heavyweight for Minnesota.

Shelton Benjamin was a two-time NCAA Division I All-American at heavyweight for the University of Minnesota.

I was greeted by Joe Russell, who immediately introduced me to Shelton Benjamin. A pleasant surprise. I’d never met Shelton. When Coach Russell put the start on practice, I got a chance to just chit chat with Shelton and it was rather enlightening.

Like many first-timers in wrestling, Shelton had recalled his first wrestling practice and how he thought it would be like the stuff he saw on TV. “I remember watching John Smith win the Gold in 1992 on TV, but still thought what was on TV was wrestling,” he said.

A two-time All-American at Minnesota, Benjamin has been a popular star in the WWE, or as we refer to it in the college game, “the fake stuff.” Now, I grew up watching this on TV. I have pictures with the Rock-N-Roll Express, Chief Wahoo McDaniel, the Dynamic Dudes … and even a more recent one with Scott Steiner. I often had friends yell at me for being a “real” wrestling writer and watching “the fake stuff” on Monday nights.

Benjamin had a similar story.

“Even in college, when it was Monday, I was watching RAW,” he said. “They always asked me why I watched it, but then try to change the channel …”

Wrestling purists around the country, save Mike Chapman, will tend to look down upon amateur wrestlers who “sell out” for the money and hopeful fame of the WWE. This is apparent with the public perception of 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle. Commonly, detractors will say he didn’t give back, or isn’t giving back, or is making a mockery of his medal. Some type of high and mighty judgement on an athlete who accomplished the top goals in college and international wrestling — NCAA titles and an Olympic Gold.

Who are we to judge. I was impressed by Shelton based on just 15-20 minutes of conversation. I had some basic questions as it related to my past with “the fake stuff,” mainly about travel, any references to college wrestling from fans and the “mark” terminology.

Obviously he wasn’t there to give an interview, so I didn’t fire question after question about the correlations between college wrestling and the WWE’s brand of sports entertainment.

Current Gopher heavyweight Ben Berhow approached and gave Shelton a handshake — Berhow obviously shook Benjamin’s hand out of respect as a Gopher wrestler rather than a TV persona. Prior to practice, Russell told of Minnesota’s improbably win over Iowa in Carver-Hawkeye 10 or 11 years ago. Benjamin got the fall in the last match to give the Gophers a one-point dual win. Russell still tells that story with a big smile.

Benjamin’s simple swing through the wrestling office didn’t get any press, in fact, it would have gone completely unnoticed had I not dropped by on my way back to the office. But things like this, they don’t get press, they’re not meant to get press, does this mean those former college wrestling stars don’t give back and remember their roots? I think this proves just because we don’t read about it or see it first hand, doesn’t mean they don’t give back. I’m wondering if Angle swings through Clarion’s room from time to time, or stops in to talk to the wrestlers at Mt. Lebanon High School in the Pittsburgh area. We don’t hear about it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

I can’t give a review of Shelton Benjamin in just 20 minutes, but you can see how grateful he is to have come from such a program. College wrestling gave Benjamin the opportunity to get into the WWE. It’s giving wrestlers chances to get into MMA, it’s giving wrestlers a chance to work towards making an Olympic team.

Let’s remember wrestling has given so much to teachers, coaches, mentors, fire-fighters, police officers, actors … so why do we chastise those who pick another form of entertainment? There isn’t much that’s “real” about pro wrestling … they know that, I know that, but why do the detractors seem to eliminate that fact. Let them make a living as the best one-take actors in the business. It’s athletic, and you can’t go one match without Jim Ross or Jerry Lawler mentioning the college background of Shelton Benjamin everytime he steps in the ring.

That does, in its own way, expose the sport of college and high school wrestling to a bigger audience on a Monday night than we think.

Written by Jason Bryant

October 9, 2008 at 3:53 pm

Posted in Good Stuff

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