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#MustWatchMonday (8/1/16): Shelton X Benjamin in Japan



On last week's episode of SmackDown Live, it was announced that Shelton Benjamin would finally be making his return to the WWE after a five-year absence. Along with Charlie Haas, he was a member of a tag team known as the World's Greatest Tag Team, which is basically the mid-2000s version of the American Alpha.

Despite his five-year absence, Benjamin has been far from idle. He worked American promotions such as Ring of Honor and other independent promotions; but for most of his time away, he worked in Japan for New Japan Pro Wrestling, and more recently, Pro Wrestling NOAH.

Benjamin initially debuted in NJPW with fellow WWE alumnus Montel Vontavious Porter (MVP), but eventually moved on to the stable where he would remain for the entirety of his Japanese run: Suzuki-gun (SZKG). This heel group is led by Minoru Suzuki, a wrestler who is well-regarded both in MMA and professional wrestling circles. Benjamin was around the middle of the NJPW pecking order, but was able to hang around in such a promotion with a high standard in terms of work rate and match psychology. Benjamin did receive title shots occasionally, but failed to win any. Despite this, he was always reasonably well-pushed during the promotion's annual G1 Climax tournament. Some notable matches that he had with this promotion were against Shinsuke Nakamura, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Yuji Nagata.



In 2015, Bushiroad, the company that owns NJPW, also bought into Pro Wrestling NOAH, in order to try and spark a fire in what was once the top promotion in Japan. In order to bring some life into it, Bushiroad sent Jado, one of NJPW's bookers, to NOAH. Once there, Jado booked an invasion angle featuring Shelton Benjamin and the rest of SZKG, in move that both made room for a new heel stable in NJPW known as Los Ingobernables de Japon, and brought new wrestlers and new matchups into the dying NOAH.

Shelton Benjamin was pushed much harder in NOAH than he was in NJPW, and played the role of the grumpy veteran almost to perfection. In addition to this, Benjamin could be viewed as Suzuki's second-in-command in the promotion. From October to November, he participated in NOAH's Global League, this company's equivalent of NJPW's G1 Climax, and went undefeated until the finals, save for a draw against his stable leader, Minoru Suzuki.


Another notable feud he had during his time with NOAH was against current G1 participant Katsuhiko Nakajima. The story went that Nakajima couldn't find a way to win against Benjamin, as he was always one step ahead of the younger and less experienced Nakajima. Eventually, at NOAH's biggest event of the year, Nakajima was finally able to overcome Benjamin, in a hard-hitting match that does not disappoint.



One of Benjamin's last, if not the last, notable matches in NOAH was against the GHC Heavyweight Champion at the time, Go Shiozaki. This match further emphasizes the importance of Benjamin in NOAH, and is a testament to how well-regarded he was in Japan. While he ultimately fails to capture the title, he pushes Shiozaki to his limits, as it takes Shiozaki 31 minutes to beat Benjamin and retain his title.


While Benjamin didn't build up his resumé in Japan through winning titles, he definitely established himself as a wrestler who can keep up with the high standards of work the Japanese have, and showed that he more than belonged. Here's to hoping he can keep up that momentum in the WWE and continues to thrive there.

Are you excited for Benjamin's return? What's your favorite non-WWE Shelton Benjamin match? Leave a comment!



*****

Brandon Sy is a PhD student in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics currently based in Sydney. Since he wasn't allowed to watch wrestling as a kid, he's been overcompensating ever since. Despite being a huge fan of Japanese wrestling, he still holds a soft spot in his heart for WWE's Kane. He's good for recommending matches from pretty much anywhere, whether it be Japan, Europe, the US or Mexico. He'd be ecstatic if you watched Dragon Gate though.

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