(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Shawn Michaels vs. Shelton Benjamin – WWE Raw, May 2nd, 2005
This is perhaps the most fun ‘random’ match in WWE history. It’s a random contest that took place not on a high-profile Big Four show or even one of their B-show PPVs. This match took place on a random episode of RAW and somehow withstood the test of time as one of the best matches in RAW history.
Don’t believe me? Just ask WWE’s official YouTube channel, which uses the exact same words to describe this contest.
Today we revisit the classic singles match between Shawn Michaels and Shelton Benjamin from RAW on May 2nd, 2005
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
This match took place during something then-RAW GM Eric Bischoff called the ‘Gold Rush Tournament’. It pitted eight wrestlers in a single-elimination tournament to crown the new #1 Contender to Batista’s World Heavyweight Championship. That year, WWE held a draft, but said draft was held over the course of several weeks. Then-WHC Batista wouldn’t be drafted for some time yet.
In this first-round match, Shelton Benjamin, then a rising star in the company, was looking to make a name for himself. Yet to his (and everyone else’s) surprise, his opponent was none other than The Heartbreak Kid himself, Shawn Michaels.
And as soon as Shawn’s music started playing, JR said what all of us were thinking: ‘This is gonna be awesome’. Damn right, JR.
This match original took place on May 2nd, 2005 and was rated 4.5-stars out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. Yes, he gave this match the same rating as the original Money In The Bank match and Shawn vs. Kurt Angle from Vengeance 2005.
Shawn takes Benjamin down with a waistlock takedown and we get a lightning-quick chain grappling sequence from both wrestlers. Shelton breaks cleanly as the crowd chants ‘HBK’. Another great chain grappling sequence ends in Benjamin’s favor. Shawn takes Benjamin down with a headlock takeover, reverses Benjamin’s whip with a shoulder tackle, and then reverses a hip toss attempt with one of his own. He tries to capitalize but Benjamin kicks him in the head and lands a pair of arm drags. A standoff ensues. This has been pretty neat thus far.
Another lockup ensues and Benjamin takes Shawn down to get a two-count pin. Shawn rolls him over for a two-count of his own, twice in quick succession. Shawn escapes the headlock with a shoulder tackle, Benjamin ducks expecting Shawn to jump over him in that typical every-match running-the-ropes sequence, but Shawn turns it into a bridging pin. Clever as always, Shawn.
Shawn knocks Benjamin down with a forearm then chops him hard. Benjamin reverses a scoop slam and goes for a rope-assisted rolling clutch pin but Shawn hangs onto the ropes. Benjamin responds by clotheslining both of them out of the ring, gaining the advantage.
After the break, Shawn has Benjamin on the top rope and clubs away with forearms. He goes for an avalanche back suplex, but Benjamin reverses into a crossbody pin in midair. Wow, what an excellent counter. Both men go down. Michaels lands hard chops and charges, but walks into a Samoan Drop from Benjamin. Benjamin begins his comeback with forearm shots and a single-knee backbreaker for a close two-count. Shawn reverses a back body drop attempt with a kick and answered a Benjamin whip reversal with his patented flying forearm smash. Shawn kips up at the ref’s count of eight and Benjamin follows soon after. Benjamin kicks, Shawn grabs his leg and goes for the atomic drop. But Benjamin reverses. Sunset flip. No, Shawn reverses into a pin. NO, Benjamin reverses that. The referee counts one, two, no, Shawn kicks out at 2.5. Great sequence. Another hard chop to the chest sends both men down.
The fans chant for HBK as Shawn chops Benjamin some more. Benjamin reverses a corner whip and lands a stinger splash. He goes for the T-Bone but Shawn fights out of it. A back body drop sends both men down once again. Shawn goes for Sweet Chin Music, Benjamin ducks, goes for a kick of his own, Michaels grabs his leg, spins him away, but Benjamin lands a Dragon /Whip kick. Damn, what impact. The referee counts one, two, thr—no, Shawn kicks out at 2.8.
Benjamin teases the superplex but Shawn fires back with forearm shots. Shawn’s bleeding from the mouth a bit as he lands his picture-perfect diving elbow drop. The crowd’s going absolutely insane as he tunes up the band. He goes for the kick, Benjamin grabs his leg. Big high kick to the head from Benjamin. He pins, but Shawn kicks out at 2.75 again.
Benjamin lands some elbows to Shawn, then he leapfrogs straight to the top rope with a flying clothesline. Holy shit, what athleticism. He crawls to pin Shawn, but Shawn kicks out once more. Benjamin charges Shawn but Shawn dodges, sending Benjamin to the apron. Benjamin springboards…and FLIES INTO A SWEET CHIN MUSIC! OH MY GOD IN HEAVEN, WHAT A SUPERKICK!! The referee counts one, two, three! there’s the match. Shawn advances to the next round of the tournament.
Winner after 14:50 (officially): Shawn Michaels
This is, without question, one of the best matches in RAW history. The story here was all about Shawn trying to use his veteran instincts to try and beat the younger Benjamin. But Benjamin outpaced and actually out-grappled Shawn in the opening minutes, setting the tone for a classic ‘rookie vs. veteran’ story. And Benjamin seemed to have Shawn’s number throughout the match with his wide array of counters and big moves.
And Benjamin almost won, were it not for that amazing ending. That was easily the best superkick Shawn ever landed. Everything about it was top-notch: his execution, the timing, both JR and Jerry Lawler losing their minds over it, and how the crowd reacted. You can clearly see one guy in the front row dressed as Hulk Hogan. His expressions and reaction to that move speaks for everyone, from those in the audience with him to those watching from home. It was an epic, historic match finish that was great not just because it looked cool, but because it fit the story. Benjamin kept trying to rely on his superior athleticism to win him the match. Yet his drive to use that cost him the match because he simply lacked Shawn’s veteran experience and ring awareness.
But this match was more than just that epic finish. The body of the match was great as well. It was filled with excellent grappling, back-and-forth momentum shifts, and fantastic near-falls. And all of this was put into a random RAW match that went under fifteen minutes in total.
Yet as much as I liked this match, I don’t think it was worth the full 5-stars. Not because anything in the match was bad or illogical. But because the match didn’t kick into a higher gear. If these guys got maybe five more minutes to do what they were doing, or if they spent more time working a limb or something of that nature, this would’ve been at an even better match than it already was.
Final Rating: ****1/2
I don’t mean to sound old or curmudgeonly, but this match really makes me yearn for the ‘old days’ of wrestling. Even WWE was better in the past than it is now, and this match is but one example as to why. And one of the reasons for that is because back then the superkick wasn’t the overused transitional move it is now. Thanks to an overly-spotty independent scene, a kick to the face just doesn’t mean what it used to. If this match happened now, I can guarantee you that people would brush it aside as being too simple for the modern wrestling landscape.
But this match still holds up so many years later because it’s not just about that legendary finish. Yes, Benjamin nearly got his head kicked off by one of the greatest wrestlers in WWE history. But up to that point, Benjamin was in control and seemed poised to not only win the match, but out-perform a star of Shawn’s caliber. This match was something of s star-making performance for Benjamin, while being nothing more than another day in the office for Shawn Michaels.
Ultimately, I think this match should be re-watched because of just how great the performers involved were. This was a random TV match, yet it was just so damn good for what it was. There was nothing too high-risk or dangerous done here; it was a simple, WWE-style competitive TV match. Yet it was an astonishingly good one that holds up incredibly well, even today. That speaks volumes of the skills and level of talent of both wrestlers involved. Definitely something to revisit time and again. Especially for that amazing finish.
Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.