DISCLAIMER: This article represents my point of view about a series of wrestling matches by two performers with tremendous ability in the ring. The article’s angle judges the art rather than the artist. I understand if you cannot separate the two, but I hope you will enjoy my critique nonetheless.
From May 25, 1998 in Evansville, Indiana LIVE on WCW Monday Nitro:
Match 9 (best-of-seven #1): The “Crippler” Chris Benoit versus Booker T
Winner of the series becomes the #1 contender to the World TV title.
When Booker T gave him a cross corner whip, he backdropped Benoit.
He scored with a flying forearm causing Benoit to regroup on the floor.
As Booker T reversed an Irish whip, he countered a German suplex with a rollup for 2.
He gave Benoit a cross corner whip but ate a mule kick on his follow-through.
After Benoit attempted a Crippler Crossface, Booker T countered with a leg lariat.
He slammed Benoit and got 2.
While Benoit hung him out-to-dry, he punted Booker T down to the floor.
Benoit connected with a back elbow and got 2.
Feeding Booker T a snap suplex, Benoit got another 2.
Booker T countered a back drop with an inverted sunset flip for 2.
Responding with a chop, Benoit got 2.
He clotheslined Booker T for another 2.
Despite the broadcast team claim that the crowd was “50-50” on the match, the Evansville faithful remained silent during Benoit’s offense.
Benoit reversed a cross corner whip but ate boot on his follow-through.
Crunching Booker T with a backbreaker, Benoit got 2.
He mounted the top turnbuckle but missed a flying head butt.
Meanwhile, Fit Finlay, clad in street clothes, watched the match from the entrance.
Booker T rebounded with a spinebuster and pancaked Benoit.
Thrilling the Evansville faithful with a spinaroonie, Booker T escaped a belly-to-back suplex.
He dealt Benoit an Axe kick and followed with a sidewalk slam.
Mounting the top turnbuckle, Booker T missed a Harlem Hangover.
Benoit crawled over but only got 2.
Countering a clothesline, Benoit trapped Booker T in a Crippler Crossface.
Booker T submitted; thus, Benoit won at 11:45.
Summary: Excellent psychology as each wrestler knew his opponent well, and a great story was told. Benoit led the series 1-0.
This match set the tone for their forthcoming battles, and the local crowds’ interests would climb with each encounter.
From May 27, 1998 in Nashville, TN LIVE on Thunder.
Match 4 (best-of-seven #2): The “Crippler” Chris Benoit versus Booker T
Booker T reversed an Irish whip and powerslammed Benoit.
As he landed an elbow drop, Booker T got 1.
Benoit blocked an O’Connor roll but ate a thrust kick.
From the apron, Booker T fed Benoit an axe handle.
Benoit rebounded with a snap suplex for 2.
When he dealt Booker T a short-arm clothesline, Benoit got another 2.
He gave Booker T a HARD cross corner whip to injure the back and got 2.
After Benoit missed a chop, Booker T clotheslined him putting both wrestlers down on the mat.
Benoit attempted another snap suplex, but Booker T countered with an inside cradle for 2.
While Benoit backdropped him, he obliterated Booker T with a backbreaker.
He mounted the top turnbuckle and launched a diving head butt for 2.
Rebounding with an Axe kick, Booker T got 2.
Booker T attempted a leg lariat, but Benoit ducked resulting in Booker T crotching himself on the top rope. Good thing he hadn’t met Sharmell yet, right?
Earning a 2-count, Benoit hooked a German suplex with a bridge for only 2.
He stomped a mudhole in Booker T but couldn’t get 3.
Hearing the Nashville faithful chant his name, Booker T responded with a spinebuster.
Booker T planted Benoit with a belly-to-back suplex and performed the Spinaroonie.
Scoring with a Harlem side kick, Booker T mounted the top turnbuckle and connected with a missile dropkick.
Booker T won at 11:28.
Summary: Better than the Nitro match as the high-flying moves hit paydirt this time. The Nashville faithful got behind Booker T but let Benoit know they were NOT in his corner unlike Evansville. Booker T tied up the series 1-1. Bravo, gentlemen!
I realize we knock Michael Cole for his catchphrase “building momentum;” however, this match specifically accomplished that goal. With the series even, what would they do next?
From May 30, 1998 (taped 5/19) in Portland ME on WCW Saturday Night:
BONUS MATCH (best of seven #3): The “Crippler Chris Benoit versus Booker T
As Booker T slammed him, Benoit sought refuge on the floor.
Booker T countered a wrist lock with a standing leg lariat for 2.
When he reversed a cross corner whip, Booker T ate a mule kick on his follow-through.
Booker T responded with a pair of backbreakers for another 2.
After Benoit baited him, Booker T attempted a leg lariat but crotched himself on the top rope instead.
Benoit fed Booker T a snap suplex and got 2.
While he backdropped Booker T, Benoit got another 2.
Booker T tried to escape, but Benoit uncorked a belly-to-back suplex.
Mounting the top turnbuckle, Benoit missed a diving head butt.
Both wrestlers were down on the mat, and Booker T fought out of a Crippler Crossface attempt.
However, Benoit hooked a German suplex with a bridge.
Benoit won at 6:45.
Summary: You can tell this match was out of sequence due to the limited amount of back-and-forth countering. While there is some, it’s not enough to compare to the first two matches in the series. Benoit holds a 2-1 lead with match #4 on Nitro.
At times, it’s appropriate to poke fun at WCW. This is one of those times as their taping schedule got in WCW’s own way. Since the tapping occurs prior to the beginning of the series, it’s not intended to be included. On the other hand, WCW has no choice but to include it as the third match. As it stands, it acts as a DELICIOUS appetizer for the entire series. Anyone else hungry?
But I digress…
From June 1, 1998 in Washington, DC LIVE on WCW Monday Nitro:
Match 7 (best-of-seven #4): The “Crippler” Chris Benoit versus Booker T
Booker T slammed Benoit and connected with a back elbow for 2.
When Finlay emerged to watch the match from the entrance, Booker T gave Benoit a cross corner whip but ate a back elbow on his follow-through.
Booker T powerslammed Benoit for 2.
As Booker T fed him a sidewalk slam, he mounted the top turnbuckle and creamed Benoit with a flying forearm.
He leaped from the apron and dealt Benoit an axe handle.
After Benoit rebounded with a snap suplex, Finlay ran his yap in the aisle.
Booker T hit something off-camera and got 2.
While Booker T clotheslined him, he delivered a second flying forearm for another 2.
Booker T missed a Harlem side kick, but Benoit didn’t miss with a release German suplex.
Clotheslining Booker T, Benoit got 2.
Booker T scored with an Axe kick and followed with a belly-to-back suplex.
Countering a vertical suplex, Benoit hooked a Crippler Crossface.
Booker T couldn’t make the bottom rope and tapped out at 8:19.
Incredibly, Benoit held a 3-1 advantage in the series.
Summary: Fantastic match that kept the DC faithful engaged using psychology, workrate, and high-flying. Booker T has quite a mountain to climb if he’s to win the series.
Did you notice the German suplex from Benoit this time? It only got 2, yet he established the Crippler Crossface as the definitive end to this match.
From June 4, 1998 in Peoria, IL LIVE on Thunder:
Match 1 (best-of-seven #5): The “Crippler” Chris Benoit versus Booker T
When Booker T countered a hammerlock with a back elbow, he suplexed Benoit.
He scored with a leg lariat and got 2.
As he slammed Benoit, Booker T fed him an Axe kick for another 2.
He dealt Benoit another back elbow but couldn’t get 3.
After Benoit ducked a clothesline, he delivered a trio of German suplexes. Nifty!
He hooked a snap suplex and followed with his own back elbow for 2.
While he gave Booker T a HARD cross corner whip to injure the back, Benoit planted him with a belly-to-back suplex for another 2.
He clotheslined Booker T, mounted the top turnbuckle, launched a diving head butt, but couldn’t get 3.
In the meantime, Stevie Ray came to ringside to egg on his younger brother. Knowing Stevie Ray, it wasn’t sunny side up.
Benoit attempted a Crippler Crossface, but Booker T made the ropes to escape.
Reversing an Irish whip, Booker T landed a second leg lariat.
He obliterated Benoit with a spinebuster, pancaked him, and celebrated with a Spinaroonie.
Getting destroyed by a clothesline, Booker T sold it with a 360°. Woohoo!
Benoit got 2.
Tossing Booker T over the top rope to the apron, Benoit got distracted by Stevie Ray.
Booker T mounted the top turnbuckle and uncorked a missile dropkick.
Booker T won at 6:26.
Summary: Another solid match to add to their list. Booker T inches closer as the series stands at 3-2.
It took an external factor in the form of Stevie Ray to derail the Benoit train, but the intensity and the fury of these matches remains unyielding.
From June 8, 1998 in Detroit, MI LIVE on WCW Monday Nitro:
Match 4 (best of seven #6): The “Crippler” Chris Benoit versus Booker T
As Booker T and Benoit jockeyed for position, the Detroit faithful chanted “let’s go Red Wings.” I feel these guys need to turn it up a notch to win them over.
Booker T fed Benoit a hammerlock slam, won a test-of-strength, and dealt him a leg lariat.
When he delivered a back elbow, Booker T got 2.
He suplexed Benoit for another 2.
Upon attempting a flying forearm, Booker T got a mouthful of ropes because Benoit evaded him. Hopefully, it didn’t taste like octopus.
Benoit placed a knee into the midsection and hung Booker T out to dry on the top rope.
After Benoit planted a back elbow, he got 2.
Booker T countered a snap suplex with an inside cradle for 2.
While Benoit successfully delivered a snap suplex, he got 2.
He gave Booker T a HARD cross corner whip to further injure the back and earned another 2-count.
Separating Booker T in two with a backbreaker, Benoit couldn’t get 3.
He clotheslined Booker T, mounted the top turnbuckle, and scored with a diving head butt.
Since Benoit couldn’t immediately make the cover, he only got 2 thanks to a foot on the ropes.
Stevie Ray arrived in support of his brother and pulled Booker T from the ring to inspire him. Unfortunately for Booker T, Stevie Ray had yet to coin the term “fruit booty.”
Back in the ring, Benoit hooked a German suplex with a bridge but only got 2.
Booker T placed a knee into the midsection and landed another leg lariat.
Reversing a reversal of an Irish whip, Booker T flattened Benoit with a spinebuster.
Booker T pancaked him and performed a Spinaroonie.
Using momentum, Benoit sent Booker T into the second turnbuckle.
Benoit gave him a cross corner whip, but Booker T floated over and secured a sunset flip.
Booker T evened the series at three at 11:14.
Summary: It took good storytelling and solid wrestling to will the Detroit faithful into the match, and these guys pulled it off gracefully.
After the match, Benoit kicks Booker T’s leg out from under him out of spite. He continues to pummel Booker T until Stevie Ray jumps into the ring and pulls him off.
With Nitro on cruise control the night of this match, these guys busted their tails to garner a reaction from the crowd. Also, Booker T broke out a new move—a floatover/sunset flip combo--to win the match. Considering Booker T was 6’3” and 250 lbs., that move appeared rather difficult, yet he pulled it off to even this amazing series. Interestingly, Benoit tried some heel chicanery at the end of the match.
Do I smell an upcoming heel turn and what lies ahead in match #7?
From June 11, 1998 in Buffalo, NY LIVE on Thunder:
Match 3 (best of seven #7): The “Crippler” Chris Benoit versus Booker T
Stevie Ray accompanied him during his entrance, but Booker T sent him backstage because he wanted to handle Benoit all on his own. He must have remembered Don Corleone chastising Johnny Fontaine to “be a man.”
When Benoit fed Booker T a back elbow, he got 2.
He dealt Booker T a snap suplex for a 1-count.
As Booker T reversed an Irish whip, he leapfrogged Benoit and scored with a leg lariat.
The match segued to the floor, and Booker T rammed Benoit face-first into the apron.
After Booker T laid Benoit out with a back elbow, he got 2.
Benoit responded with a dragon screw leg whip and rammed the left knee into the mat.
Following a commercial break, Benoit gave him a cross corner whip, but Booker T’s knee gave out on him.
Benoit dished out another dragon screw leg whip, but Booker T rebounded with a backslide for 2.
While Benoit held a leg bar, Booker T countered with an enziguri. Sweet!
Benoit chopped Booker T down much like Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder did to one hundred thirty trees several years ago.
Countering a suplex, Booker T hooked an inside cradle for 2.
Benoit clotheslined Booker T for 2.
Trapping Booker T in a Muta lock, Benoit took Booker T’s arms away, but Booker T refused to submit.
Booker T made it to the ropes, and Thunder took another commercial break.
Afterward, Booker T demolished Benoit with a standing leg lariat.
He pancaked Benoit and performed a Spinaroonie.
Upon missing another leg lariat, Booker found himself the victim of three German suplexes.
The last one culminated with a bridge, and Benoit got 2.
Mounting the top turnbuckle, Benoit launched a diving head butt.
Do we have a #1 contender?
Tenaciously, Benoit stomped Booker T until referee Nick Patrick physically stopped him.
The distraction of Patrick allowed Bret Hart to approach ringside with a chair and CROWN Booker T with it. How dastardly!
After Patrick counted to 8, Benoit stopped to inform him of Bret’s misdeed.
As a result, Booker T won by DQ at 11:14 shown.
Summary: A great match spoiled by a bogus finish. They can’t end the series this way, can they?
After the match, Bret can’t believe that Benoit ratted him out. Eric Bischoff tells Bret they’re done with their nWo Hollywood scouting trip while Benoit stares them down.
Like the sixth match, Benoit inserted a trio of German suplexes which would become a staple within his arsenal for years following this series. The nWo Hollywood interference was a decent subplot to add intrigue as well as connect it to the long running nWo storyline.
Fortunately for both wrestlers as well as fans, the series was NOT finished.
Later on the same episode of Thunder:
At the entrance, Schiavone interviews Dillon who requests Booker T to join him. As Booker T emerges alongside Stevie Ray, he touts Benoit’s skills as a pro wrestler and demands another match with him. Ask, and you shall receive. Dillon sanctions match #8 at the PPV to become the #1 contender.
Whew! For once, WCW didn’t drop the ball.
From June 14, 1998 in Baltimore, MD at WCW Great American Bash ’98:
Match 1 (best-of-seven #7 8): The “Crippler” Chris Benoit versus Booker T
Booker T hip-tossed him, but Benoit responded with a drop toe hold.
When Booker T converted a hammerlock into a half-nelson, he got 2.
Benoit hooked his own hammerlock but ate a back elbow.
As he fed Benoit a second back elbow, Booker T got another 2.
He slammed Benoit, got reversed on a cross corner whip, but dealt a charging Benoit some Grade A USDA certified boot.
After Benoit rebounded with a dragon screw leg whip, he chopped Booker T and followed with his own back elbow for 2.
He delivered a belly-to-back suplex and got another 2.
While Booker T leapfrogged him, Benoit destroyed him with another chop but couldn’t get 3.
He hit a snap suplex for yet another 2.
Cross-corner whipping Booker T HARD into the corner, Benoit attempted another belly-to-back suplex.
Booker T, on the other hand, used leverage to land on top for 1.
Planting a knee into Booker T’s midsection, Benoit hung him out to dry on the top rope.
He clotheslined Booker T for 2.
Reversing an Irish whip, Booker T powerslammed Benoit.
He mounted the top turnbuckle, attempted a cross body block, but came up empty.
Trying to avoid a Crippler Crossface, Booker T grabbed the bottom rope.
He unloaded an enziguri followed by a spinebuster.
Pancaking Benoit, Booker T performed the Spinaroonie.
Booker T mounted the top turnbuckle, but Benoit caught, joined, and superplexed him. Wow!
Reaching his feet by the count of 8, Benoit made a cover and got 2.
Benoit tried to dismantle him with two German suplexes, but Booker T escaped a third.
Trapping Booker T in a full nelson, Benoit destroyed him with a dragon suplex for another 2.
Benoit gave him a cross corner whip, and Booker T floated over thinking Benoit was right behind him.
Regrettably for Booker T, Benoit wasn’t, so Booker T ate a short-arm clothesline instead.
Benoit mounted the top turnbuckle, launched a diving head butt, but couldn’t get 3.
Countering a snap suplex, Booker T secured an inside cradle for 2.
Booker T reversed a cross corner whip and hit a leg lariat to the back of Benoit’s head. OUCH!
Uncorking another leg lariat, Booker T mounted the top turnbuckle and unleashed a missile dropkick.
Booker T won at 16:20 to become the #1 contender to the World TV title.
Summary: What a fantastic match! Yes, they’ve wrestled eight times (on television) together, but this was their masterpiece. Bravo, gentlemen!
Why is it *****, you ask?
First, countering the belly-to-back suplex by using momentum to land on top was a sensational nod to prior matches where Benoit had been successful. Second, Benoit, knowing that Booker T was dangerous when flying from the top turnbuckle, evaded his cross body block whereas he had been susceptible to a missile dropkick beforehand. Third, Booker T escaped a Crippler Crossface having scouted it properly. Fourth, Benoit thwarted another aerial attack by joining Booker T and taking him down with an impressive superplex.
Fifth, since Benoit was unable to recover quickly enough, he couldn’t successfully pin Booker T. As we know, it added an element of drama to the conflict. Sixth, Booker T escaped a third German suplex knowing Benoit’s strategy. Seventh, Benoit upped the ante by converting a full nelson into an outstanding dragon suplex. Eighth, Benoit showed some intelligence by not falling for another floatover/sunset flip combo and proceeded to flatten him with a short-arm clothesline.
Ninth, Benoit attempted an aerial attack, but Booker T didn’t succumb to it. Tenth, Booker T countered another Benoit staple—snap suplex—with an inside cradle. The numerous callbacks to prior matches leaned tremendously into their psychology and storytelling. Eleventh, stunning Benoit with a leg lariat to the back of Benoit’s head, Booker T established the missile dropkick as his true finisher by conquering Benoit with one like he did during match #5. Hence, with everything stated including a HOT Baltimore crowd following the action from the edge of its seat, I graded the match handsomely with five stars.
Conclusion: This series stands the test of time as a legendary story within both WCW and pro wrestling in general. As history would dictate, each wrestler takes his career to another level following this series. While Booker T ultimately becomes a five-time WCW World champion, Benoit finds his greatest success in the WWF/WWE.
I hope you have enjoyed looking back at one of the positive things WCW accomplished during the Monday Night War era. In case you’re reading this elsewhere, I have a complete history of both Nitro and Thunder on my site for your reading pleasure. Thank you for reading.