By Mike Mooneyham

Jan. 1, 2006

WWE will unveil its version of “That’s My Mama” this week on Raw when Orangeburg native Shelton Benjamin’s on-screen mother makes her television debut.

The company put out feelers in recent weeks for an actress to play the role of Benjamin’s mother. A Los Angeles casting call required that the actress fill the following specifications: African American, 50-60 years of age, heavyset, good personality, willing to travel. The notice said that the character would be used for three to six months.

While Benjamin’s current storyline revolves around him getting an attitude adjustment, it’s the legitimate hope of company brass behind the scenes that the angle will help the talented wrestler round out his total character and give him a new edge. One of the best in-ring performers in the business, the knock against Benjamin has been his inability to relate to the audience and deliver on the microphone.

“I think he’s missing that X factor to make him more real,” WWE star and 1996 Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle recently said of Benjamin. “Although he is a real deal, a two-time All-American in college, he’s a little bit shy. I think from a character standpoint, I’d rate him about a six or seven out of 10. He needs to let that energy and that character come out a little more. He’s actually a real funny kid. I guess he doesn’t feel comfortable yet doing that in front of fans.”

Shelton Benjamin

Shelton Benjamin

The 29-year-old Benjamin agrees with that assessment.

“I don’t think I’m going to do too much more improving wrestling-wise. I can do anything and everything at the tip of a hat. But fans still don’t know how to relate to me. They never really hear me talking. They know I’m a great athlete and they know I’m a great wrestler. But they really don’t know what type of personality I really have. That’s a big hindrance in my career until I get that aspect across to them so people can relate to me and buy into who I am.”

In his defense, though, the former Orangeburg-Wilkinson High and University of Minnesota standout hasn’t had the greatest material in the world to work with. Hopefully WWE’s attempt to inject personality into Benjamin’s character will work. Here’s also hoping WWE treats this storyline more tastefully than it has other recent angles, including the mock suicide of referee Tim White, the destruction of Eddie Guerrero’s lowrider just weeks after his death and having Kurt Angle get cheap heat by ripping the troops days after a WWE contingent returned from a goodwill tour of Afghanistan.

– It’s an appropriate time to reflect upon the many influential wrestling personalities who passed away in 2005. They all touched the lives of fans and the profession in general.

They were athletes and performers who lived by the credo that “the show must go on.” Most lived out of a suitcase, spending more than 300 days a year on the road. Unlike today’s crop of sports entertainers who play roles and recite scripted promos, these stars of yesteryear truly were originals, with names as colorful as the profession they represented.

Among those we said goodbye to in 2005:

Don Evans (Nov. 28, age 88); Eddie Guerrero (Nov. 13, age 38); Robert “Legs” Langevin (Oct. 8, age 91); Reggie “The Crusher” Lisowski (Oct. 22, age 79); Bob “Czaya” Nandor (Aug. 30, age 84); Gene “Mr. America” Stanlee (Sept. 22, age 82); Ed “Sailor” White (Aug. 26, age 56); Chris Tolos (Aug. 13, age 76); Al Kashey (July 17, age 75); Lord Alfred Hayes (July 21, age 74); Miguel Perez (July 16, age 68); Rod Trongard (July 16, age 72); Shinya Hashimoto (July 11, age 40); Maurice “The Matador” Catarcio (May 12, age 76); Guy Brunetti (May 8, age 76); Frances Patrick “Black Angus Campbell” Hoy (April 21); Chris Candido (April 28, age 33); Luis “Chief Black Eagle” Torres (April 7, age 72); Bobby Whitlock (April 3, age 68); George Culkin (Feb. 26, age 78); “Mighty Joe” Esposito (Feb. 20, age 89); “Mighty Yankee” Roger Mackay (Feb. 19, age 76); “Pistol” Pez Whatley (Jan. 18, age 54); Tony Lanza (Jan. 20, age 84); Ray Villmer (Jan. 9, age 92); Buddy Porter (Jan. 5, age 59).

– ESPN ombudsman George Solomon took ESPN Radio talk show host Colin Cowherd to task last week regarding his comments on the recent death of Eddie Guerrero.

Suggesting that Guerrero’s death should be covered in the obituary section, Cowherd remarked on his show, “Why couldn’t you put Eddie Guerrero’s picture in the obituary with a big mask on? He’d be like a wrestler. He passed away doing steroids.”

Solomon called Cowherd’s remarks a major lapse.

“Colin asked if Guerrero’s obit belonged in the sports pages and, regrettably, made a reference that steroids might have been a factor in his death,” said ESPN Radio general manager Bruce Gilbert, who added he spoke with Cowherd “about the seriousness of implying things we cannot prove.”

Gilbert further said Cowherd (and other ESPN commentators) cannot do “off-kilter rants and bits” and what’s reported on the network should be “factual and accurate.”

Guerrero, who died last November at the age of 38, left behind a wife, three daughters and a body whose arteries were hardened and narrowed and whose heart and other organs were enlarged. All of which, the autopsy report observed, related to a history of anabolic steroid use and recent usage of narcotics medication.

– Booker T suffered a strained groin muscle during a match with Matt Hardy last Monday night that is expected to keep him out of action for at least a month.

– Quote of the week comes from Bret Hart. On a recent edition of TSN’s “Off the Record,” Hart said of arch-nemesis Shawn Michaels: “He’s probably the one Christian who should be fed to the lions.”

Not far behind in the quotable department is this gem by Ohio State freshman linebacker James Laurinaitis bragging about his 45-year-old dad’s (“Road Warrior Animal” Joe Laurinaitis) physique.

“My dad actually has abs. Ric Flair, his skin’s sagging,” boasted Laurinaitis, who apparently hasn’t seen his old man up close in a while.

Laurinaitis, who is expected to start for the Buckeyes in their Fiesta Bowl game Monday against Notre Dame, credited papa Joe for his brawn and his mother, Julie, for his speed. Julie was a swimmer and state prep champion hurdler who later won the state power lifting championship – “300-pound dead lift at 123 pounds,” according to Joe.

James Laurinaitis, whose uncle John Laurinaitis (Johnny Ace) is the head of talent relations at WWE, recently told the Akron Beacon Journal that his dad “was a fan of tough guys. He was a big fan of (Chris) Spielman and (Andy) Katzenmoyer. He always thought Woody Hayes was awesome, that he shouldn’t have gotten in trouble for hitting that Clemson player. He doesn’t think Woody did anything wrong. He said Woody should have just said he slipped or something.’