See also: Photo Series #12: WWE visits Halifax
Report on a WWE News Conference featuring Chris Benoit
05/01/2003, Halifax NS, World Trade and Convention Centre
Big News: Chris Benoit will compete at the SmackDown! taping on May 6th. Mr. America will also be at that taping.
Most Obscure WWE Shirts: Life and times of Brian Pillman (actually, she was looking at me as I wrote this), Team Angle
Incessant Nagging Music: Disc 3 of WWE Anthology
There was a good line-up outside by 2:15 or so, with the event scheduled to begin at 3. Outside, some representatives from the Halifax Herald handed out pens and contest ballots, drawing for, among other things, front row seats to see RAW. A few guys in front of me wanted to get a big hack circle going, but that never materialized. After a while, the line began moving briskly and as we approached the conference hall, we were given orange wristbands that meant we were guaranteed an autograph. People further back were given blue wristbands that indicated they might get an autograph, and when those ran out, the blank-wristed people would probably not get an autograph.
A brisk crowd was inside, and they quickly ran out of chairs. They told people that they had to sit down, but I was too slow even as new chairs were coming in. Standing was fine for me, though, because I could manoeuvre in for a decent picture when the time came.
A woman comes out and tells us that Al Snow is unable to make it. I suppose any Snowmen in the audience would have been bummed-out by that. She introduces the president of the World Trade and Convention Centre, who tells us how great it is that Halifax is hosting these events, and then he sits down and she introduces Peter Kelly, our Mayor, who says a few words, often interrupted by the infamous "What?" It was kind of funny. Next up was Carl DeMarco, president of WWE Canada. He told us that all the letters and e-mails from this area had finally broken through - we've been listening, we've brought RAW and SmackDown! (Personally, I think they should have taken the SmackDown! taping to St. John's NL because they have an arena as big as the Halifax Metro Centre. Having two TV shows in town just makes us jaded - I mean, that's the treatment reserved for Madison Square Garden (they did back-to-back for the Triple H comeback) and big cities like Seattle.) He says that the next step is to bring WrestleMania here (as if!). He tells us some of the superstars that will be at the TV shows, and he mentions Mr. America, resulting in a loud "Hogan, Hogan" chant (this is before SmackDown! aired, by the way). He smiles and says that, yeah, there's been a lot of speculation, but nobody really knows who he is. (Hilarious.) He thanks the fans for their support.
Carl sits down and the woman introduces Chris Benoit, who comes out to a big pop. He and Peter Kelly come up to the front, and Chris Benoit puts some holds on him for the cameras. Much laughter ensues. The floor is opened up for questions. Here are some of the highlights:
Someone asks Carl DeMarco when we're going to get a Pay-Per-View. He gives an encouraging yet indefinite response, and a "Pay-Per-View!" chant erupts. Someone asks Chris Benoit how he liked working with Paul Heyman in ECW and his thoughts on Heyman's current status. Benoit doesn't really say anything except some complimentary words, and he doesn't address the "current status" part of the question. Someone asks him what his easiest match was, and he says he doesn't think any of them were easy, but if he had to pick one he'd say it was his match with Peter Kelly. A little girl asks where he lost his tooth, and Benoit says it happened in Japan. Someone asks him when there'll be a Benoit v Lesnar match for the WWE Championship, and Benoit says a few words about how things are always changing, and how opportunities can come up from week to week. He says that since he lost to Cena, he's lost one opportunity, but he'll keep trying. In a response to another question about how he felt losing, he says that there's no shame in losing, as long as you've given it your all. Someone asks if he will be competing on the May 6th taping, and he says that he will. Someone asks about Stu Hart's Dungeon and if Bret Hart could/would/should come back. Benoit says that Bret Hart probably will never wrestle again, but he wouldn't mind seeing Bret come back for a proper goodbye. Someone asks who his favourite wrestler was when he was a child, and Benoit answers "Dynamite Kid" without hesitating. The person who asked that question continued to say that HIS favourite wrestler was The Ultimate Warrior, and he asked Benoit who would win between The Ultimate Warrior and Xena Warrior Princess. Someone shouts, "Take the mic away from him!" A "Xena" chant erupts. Someone asks who the hottest Diva is, and Benoit, after a second, says "They're *all* hot." Some fanboy asks how he likes Stephanie. Someone else asks about the work ethic in WWE compared to WCW, and how he felt leaving WCW after just getting to the top. Benoit said that he didn't like a lot of the things going on in WCW, but also that when he first got to WWE he had been motivated from his WCW experience to be wary of the "family" and it took him a few months to get comfortable with the WWE way of doing things and to realize that he didn't have to have his back to the wall all the time. He says that the McMahons have been gracious and friendly to him, and that they've always treated him with dignity and respect, and that he "can't ask for much more."
The questions wind down and the woman asks us with orange wristbands to line up to the left. Thinking that she was experienced enough to mean "your left," I walked away from my spot at the head of a forming line to HER left, our right, as did several dozen other people thinking the same thing. It turned out my gut suspicion was right, and I ended up far at the back of the room, which gave me time to read some of Douglas Adams' "Salmon of Doubt," a collection of writing retrieved from Adams' Macintosh after he died. Some WTCC staff members go through and tell people that they'll only have time to accommodate people with orange wristbands.
A *lot* of people there professed to not being dedicated viewers. People said that they weren't interested in going to house shows, and/or that they only wanted to watch wrestling a few times in a calendar month. A few people said that they hadn't watched ANY WWE programming since "they screwed Bret." Hmm... I think Earl Hebner is going to get the "You Screwed Bret!" chants big-time on May 5th. I, for one, hope to be able to restrain myself (but I probably won't, it's too much fun to get swept up in a big chant). As a matter of fact, I feel sorry for Earl Hebner. I mean, he's a referee in a worked business. He was just doing his job; what more could he have done? By the way, I think the biggest travesty of Survivor Series 1997 is that everyone wasn't on the same page, and it was Vince's responsibility to lay things out as clear as mud, no matter how much Bret Hart didn't like his plans for the title change. I mean, it was 1997, not 1947. THAT said, I respect Bret for not wanting to lose the title in Canada. I wouldn't want to either. Anyway, I think we as wrestling fans are finally putting all this behind us: Shawn Michaels coming back to an initial boo and then cheers at No Way Out 2003 in Montréal proves that people can move on if the characters involved are kept fresh and interesting (and this is hard to apply to referees who have fairly one-dimensional characters).
A staff member says that there will be time only for one autograph per person. There will be no personalization and no poses, but we were told we may take a picture of Benoit while he's signing the supplied poster paper or whatever it is we want him to sign. I was out of film by then, but I was relieved - the picture I'd have gotten of Benoit would thus be no more remarkable than anything one could find on the internet already. Anyway, I wrote these stipulations down in my binder, and the same staff member asks me if I'm writing an article. I nervously reply that I'm sort of doing something for myself, and then I get worried, and I ask her if we're allowed to write articles or take pictures. She says, "No, I'm not saying that there's anything you're not allowed to do; I'm just trying to make conversation. You don't have to be paranoid." Oh, damn. I tell her that I was scared because people are always telling me not to take pictures and not to write about things (I'm speaking as someone accustomed to getting a lot of hate mail on my website). Anyway, she was nice about it.
Eventually it was time for the great moment - time to meet Chris Benoit! Well, 'meet' might be an exaggeration because of the time constraints, but it was still worth the wait. I asked Benoit to sign over the ending/beginning of two short stories I wrote in my university's anthology. He asked me if I was a writer, and I told him that with hard work and a spark of creativity, I could be one eventually. He also asked me what kind of stories were the ones he was signing over, and I told him that the first was a story about a bullfighter at my university, and the second was a fantasy piece. I thanked him for his match with Kurt Angle at Royal Rumble 2003 while he was signing, "Chris Benoit, Smackdown 03," and in the blink of an eye, it was time to move on and take my exposed film back for developing. On the way out, I stopped and removed my wristband as carefully as I could for the benefit of a late fan and his friend – I told them to keep the separated but still sticky part on the lower side of their wrists. I hope they made it okay.
The Metro Centre is going to *cook* on Monday and Tuesday nights.
See also: Photo Series #12: WWE visits Halifax
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