In this latest series of posts, titled ‘Remember When?‘, we take a look at one off or fleeting moments in wrestling history. In today’s post, we look back at when Chris Benoit won a WWF title back in 1991, almost a decade before the Radicalz jumped ship to the WWE.
From 1981 to 1995, the WWF had a business partnership with the Universal Wrestling Association (UWA), a Mexican lucha libre-based promotion, which resulted in the creation of the Light Heavyweight Championship for that promotion.
On March 26, 1981, Pedro Aguayo Damián, better known as Perro Aguayo, defeated Gran Hamada in a tournament final to capture the ‘WWF/UWA world light heavyweight title’. Bar a few defences in America, the title was almost exclusively contested in Mexico and Japan.
When the UWA ceased operations in 1995, the WWF lent the title to the Japanese New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) promotion; however, the WWF ended their partnership with NJPW in 1997. As a result of the WWF owning the trademarks to the championship, NJPW returned the title to the WWF. The following month, the WWF started to promote the title on their TV, leading to a tournament to crown the inaugural champion, a tournament which was won by Taka Michinoku.
But that’s not what today’s piece is about. Today is about a victory six years prior to that. A night that saw a future WCW and WWE Champion, a man now virtually removed from wrestling history, capture that title. I am, of course, talking about Chris Benoit.
After training and competing in Stampede Wrestling, Chris Benoit arrived in New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) in 1986.
Upon arriving in New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), Benoit spent about a year training in their “New Japan Dojo” with the younger wrestlers to improve his abilities. While in the dojo, he spent months doing strenuous activities like push ups and floor sweeping before stepping into the ring. He made his Japanese debut in 1986 under his real name.
In 1989, he started wearing a mask and assuming the name The Pegasus Kid. Benoit said numerous times that he originally hated the mask, but it eventually became a part of him. While with NJPW, he came into his own as a performer in critically acclaimed matches with luminaries like Jushin Thunder Liger, Shinjiro Otani, Black Tiger, and El Samurai in their junior heavyweight division.
In August 1990, he won his first major championship, the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, from Jushin Thunder Liger.
In 1991 Pegasus Kid, sent to Mexico by New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) to train and gain experience. He was immediately paired up with Villano III and the two competed in a series of matches. During this time, Pegasus Kid won the WWF Light Heavyweight Title on March 3, 1991. He held that title until September 1992 when he lost it back to Villano III.
Reinvented as Wild Pegasus, Benoit spent the next couple years in Japan, where he won the Best of the Super Juniors tournament twice and won the Super J-Cup Tournament in 1994, defeating Black Tiger, Gedo, and Great Sasuke in the finals.
So, there’s some trivia for you: Chris Benoit’s first WWF title win technically happened in 1991.
You can read all previous ‘Remember When’ pieces here.