Overnight SmackDown Rating, Chris Benoit Interview

Tara Brautigam (Canadian Press) Interviews Chris Beniot.

After 20 years of broken teeth and bones, Chris Benoit is wrestling's top dog.

Riddled with nicks, scars and misaligned bones, Chris Benoit's body tells the tale of a man bruised but far from beaten.

For 18 years the 36-year-old Edmonton native nicknamed the Wolverine has scrapped all over the globe, losing teeth and shattering vertebrae along the way to becoming World Wrestling Entertainment's heavyweight champion. Unlike many of his wrestling brethren, the five-foot-10, 230-pound Benoit is not known for his overwhelming size, magazine cover looks or motormouth mike skills.

"I'm a very laid back, quiet person. I'm not a big talker," he says on the phone from Atlanta, his tone a notch less gravelly than that of his more familiar, onscreen persona.

"I'm more of a person that will act as opposed to someone that will sit there and argue. My wrestling character and real character somewhat parallel themselves."

Last month at WrestleMania XX, considered the Super Bowl of wrestling, Benoit's career hit its pinnacle when he defeated Triple H and Shawn Michaels in a blood-spilling, three-way match. It was the first time Benoit won the coveted heavyweight title, and the third time a Canadian has done so in wrestling's modern era (Bret Hart and Chris Jericho have won it previously).

"I saw Andre the Giant in a handicapped match at three years old," Benoit reminisces, pinpointing the moment when his love for headlocks and dropkicks was lit.

Benoit would watch wrestling tapes religiously, studying the various holds and counterholds of his favourite stars. He trekked down the road to Calgary to train in the infamous Dungeon, wrestling's closest thing to a West Point training academy run from the basement of Bret Hart's father.

"It's where I really got my feet wet. I wouldn't be who I was as a wrestler had I not accomplished that."

There he made friendships with the Hart family and other grapplers who visited the Dungeon, including British Bulldog, Davey Boy Smith.

Contrary to his gruff demeanour, memories of Smith draw out Benoit's more solemn side.

Benoit was driving to a non-televised wrestling event in Macon, Ga., in May 2002, when Bret Hart phoned him saying Smith had died of a heart attack in Invermere, B.C.

"I pulled over and cried," Benoit recalls. "He was one of those guys on my superhero list growing up. It was very difficult."

Another difficult moment in Benoit's life was when he shattered three vertebral discs after an ugly landing from a suplex at a live pay-per-view event in June 2001. He was out of wrestling for a year, recovering from neck fusion surgery.

"It was one bad landing that made me realize that anything can happen to you," he says. "I never looked at it as a sign that I should quit ... (but) I was really afraid for the first time in my career."

In a career where he could compare battle wounds with the toughest of other wrestlers, that injury was by far the worst. But of all the blows he's endured, it's his missing front tooth that WWE fans most appreciate.

While in Japan in the early 1990s, he was kicked in the mouth, giving him his now widely recognized toothless grin.

"There's so many different styles over there, guys that incorporate a lot of judo, submission fighting," he says, outlining the differences between North American and Asian wrestling.

"Guys that kick an awful lot."

For all the injuries and years of toiling in the ring, Benoit would be forgiven if he decided to give up wrestling entirely, especially now that he's achieved all he has ever set out to do.

Of course, sticking true to form, that's not on Benoit's agenda. When he decides to hang up the wrestling boots, he would like to remain involved in some capacity, possibly training the next generation's superstars.

"I truly hope I'm never finished."

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