Why did Shelton Benjamin leave WWE in 2010?
During the 2000s, Shelton Benjamin was one of WWE’s most underrated performers. He was an excellent natural athlete that could do incredible things inside the ring. This was seen through his excellent matches with the likes of Shawn Michaels and Christian in WWE and when teaming with the likes of Charlie Haas.
There were clear signs that Benjamin was a star on the rise in WWE, but this all came to an end when Benjamin left WWE in 2010.
So why did this happen?
Shelton Benjamin debuted with WWE in 2001 and made his main roster debut in late 2002 as a villain alongside Charlie Haas. Hass and Benjamin were quickly paired with fellow natural grappler Kurt Angle, and the trio became known as ‘Team Angle’. Shelton fit into this group perfectly as he was a collegiate wrestling champion, and actually served as Brock Lesnar’s wrestling coach while they were both attending the University of Minnesota.
Benjamin remained a tag team specialist for two years before being drafted to RAW and pursuing the WWE Intercontinental Championship. It was during this period that Benjamin started to show considerable skill as a wrestler and promise as an overall performer.
This led to several high-profile rivalries and matches, including a notable feud with Chris Jericho, a pinfall victory over then-ace of RAW Triple H, and a loss to Shawn Michaels in what many have called one of the best matches in RAW history.
Although he wasn’t the best at cutting promos at the time, many people saw great promise in Benjamin’s athletic abilities. This was particularly noted in the first two Money in the Bank matches, in which Benjamin was a participant. In both matches, Benjamin was said to have stolen the show with his incredible agility and in-ring creativity.
Based on all the emphasis Benjamin was getting in these big matches, one could conclude that he was in line for a major push in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, this never happened.
De-push and Departure
Some time in mid-to-late 2005, things took a drastic turn for Shelton Benjamin. Instead of winning more matches and looking strong in big matches, he was transformed into a ‘Momma’s Boy’, with the role of his ‘Momma’ being played by an actress who would scold and admonish him every time he lost a match (which was more often than not in those days).
It doesn’t matter how good of a wrestler you are or how tough you try to be; if you’re presented as a meek momma’s boy, the audience will never see you as anything more.
This sudden shift in direction for Shelton Benjamin was surprising for many people, especially since he looked like he was being pushed so strongly beforehand. Rumors that circulated at the time suggested that this new gimmick was given to Shelton to punish/humble him after he was alleged to have disrespected a WWE legend in the locker room.
Others suggested that Shelton was given ‘Big Momma’ as a mouthpiece because his promo skills weren’t up to par with the best promo men on RAW at the time, especially John Cena, Chris Jericho, and the remnants of Evolution.
Once that storyline had concluded, Shelton had effectively reached his peak in WWE. He floundered in the mid-card on RAW for a few years, feuding for the Intercontinental Championship for a while, before being drafted to the returning ECW brand.
This was considered as the ultimate demotion to many people, as ECW was widely perceived to be a ‘third brand’, i.e. the least-relevant in terms of star power and booking priority. Shelton did what he could on that brand and did have some good matches. But despite all that effort, Shelton didn’t accomplish much.
During his last year or so, Benjamin, now sporting blondish hair and being named ‘the Gold Standard’, became a fixture of the SmackDown mid-card. Unfortunately, SmackDown during this period was largely forgettable and very few stars actually developed into better performers. Benjamin became one of many ‘lost souls’, if you will, wandering aimlessly on the SmackDown brand without any major improvements or upward mobility.
He remained on SmackDown until just after WrestleMania XXVI, as he was released in April 2010, along with five other wrestlers for whom the creative department didn’t have any ideas or storylines in place.
After being released, Benjamin would spend the next number of years wrestling on the independent circuit and in Japan. He reunited with former tag team partner Charlie Haas while wrestling for Ring of Honor, and the duo managed to win the ROH World Tag Team Championships.
Benjamin’s time in Japan was also fruitful, as he got to challenge for major titles in both New Japan Pro-Wrestling and in Pro Wrestling NOAH. While he didn’t win any major titles there, he was taken much more seriously as a performer and was appreciated for his athleticism far more than he was in WWE.
In late 2016, rumors began to circulate that Shelton Benjamin was returning to WWE. His return, however, was delayed due to a torn rotator cuff which required surgery. Benjamin returned to SmackDown in August 2017, and was placed in a tag team alongside Chad Gable.
As soon as this announcement was made, people started making parallels between this new duo of Gable and Benjamin and Benjamin’s former pairing with Charlie Haas. Essentially, Benjamin had wrestled all over the world, had feuded with top names everywhere and had even challenged for world titles in different promotions, all to be back in the tag team picture.
Granted, his teaming with Gable has made him one of SmackDown’s more interesting acts, but it’s a far cry from where he was even in 2009 on ECW.
At 42 years old, things aren’t likely to change for Benjamin at this point. SmackDown has several top stars that are much more likely to be pushed into more prominent roles, and most of them are younger than Benjamin.
Despite being a proven solid worker in the ring, Benjamin’s purpose in WWE appears to be working in tag teams as the ‘big brother veteran’ alongside Gable. Clearly someone thought that splitting up American Alpha might’ve been a bad idea in retrospect, so they’re trying to at least mitigate one loss by giving Gable another athletic partner.
Unfortunately for Benjamin, this is likely to be the peak of his booking in WWE going forward, as the company probably won’t invest too much creative energy in someone that’s already in their forties and failed to meet their (often unrealistic) standards when he was still a rookie.