Throwback to the Future

Comparing the ultra-talented Shelton Benjamin to one of my boyhood heroes who dominated both the collegiate and pro wrestling scene is not a stretch. Jack Brisco is a fellow Oklahoman of Native American decent who, along with his sisters and brothers, including the WWE’s Jerry Brisco, was raised by his mom after his father deserted them in the small town of Blackwell, Okla. Jack went on to become a national wrestling champion at Oklahoma State University and the NWA champion when that championship had major credibility. Back then, the champion would wrestle more than 250 days a year in a succession of one night stands around the globe.There are many comparisons one can make when comparing Hall of Famer Jack Brisco and former Intercontinental Champion and NCAA standout Shelton Benjamin. Let’s examine them.

Jack Brisco was born part Chickasaw and part Choctaw Indian when Native Americans, even in Oklahoma, were not given much respect, especially in the late 50’s and early 60’s when Jack was a young man by Caucasians. Shelton Benjamin is an African American who was raised in South Carolina where many old school South Carolinians still felt the “black man should know their place”. The race riots of the South were merely a couple of generations removed from the South Carolina that was Benjamin’s home when Shelton was a young man.  Shelton grew up hard, but was influenced by a strong, loving mother. The same can certainly be said for Jack Brisco who had NO father figure in his life, but did have a wonderful, hard-working and loving mother.

Brisco was recruited by the legendary Oklahoma football coach Bud Wilkinson who was going to play Jack at fullback and linebacker for the vaunted OU football team that had, in the decade of the 50’s, ran off winnings streaks of 31 and 47 games, which is a record that still stands to this day in Division I football. The "Great White Father", as Oklahomans called the scholarly Wilkinson, was also going to allow Jack to wrestle at OU, thus providing Jack the opportunity to be one of the nation’s first two sport superstars at a major university. Jack reluctantly made the gut-wrenching decision to say "no" to Bud Wilkinson and instead accepted an offer to wrestle for Myron Roderick at Oklahoma State University in nearby Stillwater where Jack’s mom and little brother Jerry followed and took up residency near the OSU campus. Jack lost one match in two years on the varsity team as a sophomore and a junior and won the National Title at 191 pounds in the 1964 NCAA Tournament.

Shelton Benjamin was one of the best football running backs, track sprinters and wrestlers to ever play athletics in high school in the state of South Carolina. Shelton was an All-State running back who could run a 4.4 forty. He was 122-10 as a high school wrestler and won two state heavyweight titles in both 1993 and 1994. In 1996, Shelton won the JUCO National title as a heavyweight wrestler while also running sprints on the track team at Lessen Community College in California. Think about that for a moment; a national champion heavyweight wrestler who was also running sprints successfully on the college track team! Shelton was 36-6 wrestling for the University of Minnesota for Oklahoma State alum and Brisco friend, Coach J. Robinson. That’s another Brisco/Benjamin connection. Shelton was also recruited to WWE by Jack Brisco’s brother Jerry, who has signed many great amateurs to WWE.

Both Brisco and Benjamin were multiple sport stars, but each wanted to focus on wrestling. Both made the right choice. That’s another similarity.

Brisco worked in many wrestling territories after leaving OSU and his National Championship-winning junior year to turn pro to support his family. Brisco’s first boss in wrestling was also yours truly’s.  Leroy McGuirk, another OSU NCAA Champion and NWA Junior Heavyweight Champion, was totally blind, but could "see" talent. Brisco’s career hit a zenith in the early 70’s when he won the coveted NWA World’s Heavyweight Title just as Jack’s idol Lou Thesz had carried so proudly over Thesz’ amazing career that started with winning his first major title in 1937.

Brisco, much like the Benjamin you see today, moved almost effortlessly inside the squared circle. Jack mixed his amateur style and amateur wrestling foundation with the pro style, and with it, a dominating style was developed with which few could handle. Brisco was cat quick. Shelton may be even quicker. Brisco was a 191-pounder in college who could beat most heavyweights while Shelton was a lean heavyweight who had a great run in the Big 10 at Minnesota. Neither Jack nor Shelton ever lost a match because their opponents were in better physical condition.

Jack discovered early on, perhaps it was the motivation to care for his young family, that he was REALLY good as a pro wrestler and to make the big money he had to be the best and beat people on a regular basis. Brisco had a sense of urgency about him from the get go.

Shelton Benjamin is starting to learn about that sense of urgency, and when he does there will be no stopping him.

When Shelton has been "on", we have seen him have jaw-dropping matches including outings against Triple H and Shawn Michaels. Shelton’s pure athletic ability exceeds that of anyone in WWE, on any brand, in my opinion. But much like many great ones in the NFL, the NBA, MLB, etc, for some gifted young men it takes a while to find themselves, and I believe that is what Shelton Benjamin is doing right now. He’s finding the style that makes him the most comfortable in the ring, and he is developing his mental approach to the pro game. Will it come? Absolutely.

Much like the legendary Jack Brisco, Shelton Benjamin will discover what makes him most successful. His style will evolve, and my predication is that Shelton Benjamin will one day be the WWE Champion.

Shelton Benjamin is a thoroughbred just like Jack Brisco.

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