Posted: Monday April 3, 2006 4:36PM; Updated: Thursday April 6, 2006 4:41PM
Shelton Benjamin is not only a skilled athlete, but he can also hold his own playing video games.
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SI.com's Arash Markazi traveled to Chicago and chronicled WrestleMania weekend. Here's his diary of the scene.
Thursday, March 30, 3:30 p.m.
So maybe covering WrestleMania isn't as glamorous an assignment (depending on whom you ask) as covering the Final Four (which I should actually be at), and I have to allot a few seconds for my colleagues to laugh each time I tell them what I'm doing, but I don't mind. They have no idea what they're missing. They can say what they want about WrestleMania, but it's one of the few events that is easily recognizable by its very name the world over. I should know, after watching three of the last four WrestleManias on television while in Toronto, London and Hamburg, respectively. While I had to explain what the Final Four was to most folks in Germany, they were the ones lecturing me when the WWE came on the screen.
So there I was, in Rosemont, Ill., getting ready to talk to the Big Show instead of Big Baby and discussing the attributes of Triple H instead of the triple post. My guide during this wild and crazy journey was Gary Davis, the WWE's vice president of corporate communications, who met with me as soon as I got to the hotel, with a 21-page itinerary of all the activities that the WWE had during the days leading up to WrestleMania on Sunday. "Let me know what you want to do," he says. "We have more than enough to keep you busy."
The first event we headed to was the fourth annual THQ Superstar Challenge, a competition designed to decide the best video-game-playing wrestler, at the House of Blues in downtown Chicago. We arrived around 4 p.m. to find a line of more than 500 fans waiting to get inside to watch wrestlers go head-to-head in a Sweet 16 bracket tournament that crowned the THQ Superstar champion. Intercontinental champion Shelton Benjamin, who was one of the best amateur wrestlers in the country before coming to the WWE, has won this event the past three years.
Benjamin is skilled on the controller because he spends most of his off time mastering all the new games that come out -- he beat Call of Duty in less than a week -- but he makes no bones that he is far from the best gamer on the planet after testing out his skills online against other players. "Some people need to get out of their basements and see what's going on outside," he says. "These people know every little thing as soon as a game comes out. I'm not playing Halo online anymore. I died like 50 times in a minute. It's ridiculous. There's no reason someone should know that much about one game."
On this night Benjamin, who wore his Intercontinental belt on his right shoulder the whole time, was as good as he needed to be in making quick work of his competition, completing the four-peat in less than 90 minutes in defeating Johnny Nitro. "What did I tell you," Benjamin said. "I told them to give someone else a chance, but they didn't want to listen to me."
Friday, March 31, 7:30 a.m.
The day began early with a trip to Robert Morris College in Chicago, where the WWE was holding its first Big Time Reading Challenge. Students were asked questions about the book Athletic Shorts, by the author Chris Crutcher, Benjamin and Rey Mysterio while Jimmy "the Mouth of the South" Hart served as emcee as students competed for WrestleMania tickets.
The "greenroom" for the event was one of the administrative meeting rooms at the college, and when Mysterio, Benjamin and Hart walked in, everyone in the office stopped what they were doing to greet the wrestlers. Mysterio was probably hard to recognize, not because he is one of the most diminutive guys in the business at 5-foot-4, 170 pounds, but because he had traded in his signature mask for a cell phone earpiece (he later put it on when he was introduced to the students). "I don't always have to wear it," said Mysterio. "I'm going to the museum after this with my family and I'm not going to wear it there."