It seems that, to many people, being a ?critic? means to be overtly negative and actively seek out ways to NOT be entertained. Moreover that negativity would in turn replace the enjoyment lost from critiquing the object, becoming the centre of enjoyment itself. In other words critics are deliberately ?cynics?. Unfortunately this has created a sort of disconnection between ?analysis? and ?enjoyment?, to the point where these two terms can?t exist together. That’s a dangerously narrow-minded, and in fact anti-democratic, view to have. And, in the case of this columnist, absolutely false.
Analysis is just another manner of achieving entertainment, not superior or inferior to sitting back with a bag of popcorn and whooping at the sight of two dudes leaping off a ladder and smashing through a ridiculous number of tables. To imply that analysis can?t result in enjoyment sounds of an elitist stance that highlights one form of deriving entertainment over another. There isn?t a single correct to enjoy anything, which obviously applies to pro-wrestling. So to those whom uphold the view of ‘stop analysing and just enjoy it?, I say no.
The purpose of this column isn?t to rant on people who?d rather sit back passively when viewing pro-wrestling (or anything else for that matter), and I?m not against those who do that either. I want to promote an understanding of analysis as potentially praising. After all I?d much rather spend my time writing about something that I liked, as anything else feels more like a chore to do.
So why the topic focusing on Kurt Angle? People who know my opinions regarding pro-wrestling would recognise that I?m pretty far from being an Angle fan. From 2005 onwards, in fact, I?ve found it quite difficult to not be disappointed with a match that involves Angle. It hasn?t always been as such though. Prior to 2005, I was a massive mark for the Olympic Gold Medallist. However, what better way to display my stance on analysis as (potentially) positive by applying it to a subject I normally dislike. Not in a forced ?appreciation? way, mind you. This isn?t like an English class where one of the course outcomes is to promote an ?appreciation? of Shakespeare’s work, as though it should be an aspect of education rather than of individual taste… No, this is true-felt appreciation of performances I legitimately enjoyed viewing.
Since I?ve undertaken a prolonged investigation into World Wrestling Entertainment’s product circa 2005, a piece on Angle would be inevitable. But rather than spend two weeks bemoaning how much the performer had regressed, I?ve decided to ignore the matches that, well, sucked. There are quite a few matches I was immensely entertained by, and already John Cena / Kurt Angle from No Way Out 2005 remains atop the best I?ve seen thus far from that year. So anyway here’s a collection of reviews for the other matches featuring Angle that, analytically speaking, weren?t bad at all!
Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels ? WWE Wrestlemania 21 04.03.2005
The opening moments whereby Shawn outwrestles Angle is a tad strange, particularly as the commentators emphasise the latter’s prowess as a grappler. It could be a perceivable reference to Michaels being an unexpectedly decent mat-wrestler, supposedly proven in his famous Iron-Man match with Bret Hart, but I wasn?t totally convinced in its execution. Furthermore, he is almost a decade older whilst Angle is fresher and, technically, superior to Bret Hart in that respect.
Maybe we are intended to understand this as a frustration technique, judging from Angle’s annoyed body language. Anyone can latch on a side headlock, and from the opening moments we acknowledge that HBK is of the mind to frustrate and taunt. But still… amplifying the taunting and perhaps brawl it out with Angle would?ve been a more believable strategy in my view, achieving the same plot point. It could?ve benefited from the ?arrogance? displayed in Michaels / Taker, designed to unsettle the usually focused former Olympian. So an iffy beginning, but the performance certainly sky-rockets from there…
Fears of finisher overkill begin early. That is, until I consider the motivation. Placing ourselves in the shoes of Kurt Angle, the character, looking at all times to lock in that killer hold is intelligent, especially to cause some early lingering damage. Wouldn?t you take the opportunity, any opportunity early and late, to nail a ?finisher?? Thinking back, from Benoit to Batista, early ?finisher? attempts are employed often in pro-wrestling. I make a big deal from a technical standpoint on the performance that Kurt Angle seems to overdo the finishers, nullifying their spectacle before the actual finish. But in all honesty, he can?t be exclusively targeted for developing matches around them, and on this occasion it doesn?t detract from the show. Every attempt achieves the desired reaction from the crowd, and their execution is nicely coupled with appropriate selling.
When calmed and paced, Angle makes a fantastic grounding presence. His characterisation makes rest-holds essential, and can dish out a bomb or two between them to maintain the audience’s interest. He can even attempt a riskier move as a ?killer blow?. In the early days of his vicious turn, but before his late ?05 feud with Cena, these control segments were even better due to the aggressiveness he invested moves with. Pins with grinding elbows, clawing and striking during holds etc. He’s particularly great in this respect against Cena at No Way Out 2005. It reappears here, as well.
Responding to Angle’s acquired dominance, HBK takes to the air in order to fight back. This simple dynamic, of grounding force versus risk-taker, results in some impressive and, dare I say, ?Wrestlemania moment? feeling spots. However selling isn?t compromised in the process, as Michaels? fatigue portrayal is almost spot on. He pauses before each strike, doesn?t ?fire up? after arm-drag countering the Angle Slam, slumps to canvas after sending Angle soaring over the ropes and so forth. The sloppiness of the first outside cross-body also conveys this. The stumbling quality to Michaels? eventual ?fire up? sequence is a measure to ensure its believability against the damage he has sustained throughout. He is fresher than Angle too, having connected with two spots to regain the offensive advantage, but it isn?t until he has had a decent amount of time on offense before he goes through the normative ?doom? routine.
Michaels kicking out of the Super Angle Slam and enduring the Ankle Lock for as long as he did all equates to his ?Mr. Wrestlemania? persona. It solidifies his resilience, especially relating to the event and how it inspires him. Meanwhile the continuous counters to Sweet Chin Music make its eventual success significant, the subsequent kick-out even more so. Michaels? urgency in the final Ankle Lock is also great, flailing about and twisting in excruciating pain before finally submitting, but not before lasting in the grapevine hold for longer than anyone I can remember.
I may prefer Batista / Triple H from the same night, but I can see why people praised this performance as much as they did. Very good stuff on an under-rated card.
Kurt Angle vs. Eddie Guerrero ? WWE Smackdown 04.14.2005
Considering the history between these two, one would think they?d have a touch more hate interweaved with their actions during this match. But a display of relationship isn?t the only method in conveying familiarity, and these two rather opt for counters as its sign instead. This constructs an exciting flow for the match, and not at the drastic compromise of selling.
Unlike Michaels, I buy into Eddie’s chances at competing on the mat (at least initially) with Kurt Angle. Not only is he far more acquainted with the Olympic Gold Medallist, but Guerrero is also accomplished on the canvas as well. Appropriately, though, Angle does get the advantage eventually which gives birth to a nice ?grounded lucha? dynamic where Eddie takes risks to get back offense, whilst Angle dominates with rest-holds and bombs to quell the shift in momentum. When back in control, Eddie doesn?t necessarily keep to the air which stops this performance from becoming a spotty affair.
Similar to Angle’s encounter with John Cena at No Way Out 2005, there’s a slow burn to his vicious mean streak. I prefer this treatment under most contexts, as it gives Angle reason to pace and sell, not to get lost in portraying his viciousness via excessive bombs-throwing and spots (see his feud late ?05 feud with Cena.) On this occasion, he layers most rest-holds with this viciousness, incorporating forearms, knees and stomps whilst he works targeted areas. Overall this allows the flatter moments of the showing to sustain interest as we await Eddie’s next fight-back. In this respect, I think Angle’s strikes are quite under-rated for the most part. I?ve noticed an impressive sense of velocity and sting in them, which shows up again in the next two matches I review. More brawling type performances probably would?ve suited Angle, in my opinion.
Throughout this match, Angle ceases all of Guerrero’s attempted momentum shifts with bombs (any of his usual suplex varieties, for example). Not dissuaded by a potentially quiet crowd, he lingers with the mat-wrestling whilst in dominant control. I don?t get the sense the he’s worried about being boring, and thus diverting himself from the mat to deliver a plethora of bombs that ultimately destroys pacing and selling. In this case the bombs are integrated exceptionally well, drawing on the crowd’s excitement due to Eddie’s latest adrenaline burst to create an effective feeling of impact as the move silences them.
What this particular match has is some fun Guerrero antics as well, not to mention storyline furthering stuff involving Rey Mysterio that factors into the finish. But really, unlike Summerslam 2004, Angle honestly matches Guerrero in most aspects of this contest. And I assure you, that’s a significant compliment from me!
Kurt Angle vs. Booker T ? WWE Judgment Day 05.22.2005
Booker T / Kurt Angle didn?t immediately strike me as a match-up to anticipate, but surprisingly the resultant performance was a good brawl. The perverse character development of Kurt Angle, and his subsequent interactions with Booker’s wife Sharmell, isn?t entertaining or thrilling. Quite disturbing at points, actually. Probably not the greatest compliment, but Kurt makes for a fairly convincingly perverted, sociopathic fetishist / rapist… But what it achieves is an unusually effective aftermath via this unsettling quality ? foreboding implications of Angle’s stalking and capture of Sharmell ? that is a measure to redeeming what was more than likely a jab at pushing controversial buttons than meeting the demands of the pro-wrestling audience. I felt uneasy, even suspense, as Angle grabbed Sharmell and attempted to handcuff her to the ropes. Strangely enough his downfall and the physical justice enacted upon him by Booker T and how wife created a sense of satisfaction that I haven?t felt since the days where all heels were to be booed, and all faces were my heroes!
The circumstances of the build and Booker’s rage grant Angle lenience to instantly undergo his vicious transformation, just to match the beef that his opponent is dishing out. As a result the performance is heavily strike-based (as it should be), with Kurt’s in particular having some notable OOMPH behind them. Logically, Kurt Angle’s character does attempt to employ mat-wrestling as a means to ground the highly emotional Booker T at several points early on. This mostly fails, so the storm is weathered until Booker’s over-emotionality creates a mistake or two. Then we have the raging face grounded by the heel, whereby the fight-backs (already layered with desperation due to Booker’s emotions) draw the crowd in as they wish to see comeuppance occur. That’s the story, willing Booker on in his emotional war with this sadistic Angle. The only flaws really happen as a result of Booker (a suplex and a spinarooni when you are battling the man that has sexually harassed your wife?) but all in all this was an unexpected triumph from Judgment Day 2005.
Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels ? WWE Vengeance 06.26.2005
I may be alone here… But I liked this performance a smidgeon over its predecessor. Maybe it’s because there’s no really competitive mat-wrestling magically produced by Shawn Michaels, or perhaps because the superficial epicness of forced evenness is removed for a simpler dynamic of HBK having to overcome a dominant Angle. Don?t get me wrong, I like an explosive crowd and a bunch of near-falls to steal my breath away, but not all the time. Sometimes a simply match from start to finish is enough.
Each time HBK attempts to mat-wrestle, Angle swiftly cuts him down. In fact Angle appears much more like how he’s billed by the commentary team in this sequel, especially in regards to his exceptional skills with grappling. He dominates Michaels, deploying bombs like he did against Guerrero above, but eventually returning to the rest-holds that are layered nicely with the viciousness largely discussed elsewhere.
Michaels? continuous and frantic counters to the Ankle Lock establish its deadliness, as does prior knowledge of how it ultimately defeating him at Wrestlemania 21, which positions his eventual overcoming of it as quite a significant feat. The performance self-references points within the feud, and builds upon them. For example, certain points like the Angle Slam to the turnbuckle are countered leading towards new spots that differentiate the two matches enough to escape a sensation of d?j? vu.
I guess, what I appreciate is the simplicity of this sequel. Matches that are designed to be epic usually fail to feel as such to me. Epicness, to me, isn?t necessarily artificial and those performances trying to create such a feeling seem inferior Rock / Hogan wannabes. This match has a mind that remembers what happened in April of 2005, but it doesn?t try to top it for epic stakes. It goes for a simpler story and succeeds. Both performances are worthwhile, but since one of the reasons why I can?t stand many of Kurt Angle’s recent offerings are due to their attempted construction of epicness which fail, and come at a cost to decent selling, it’s refreshing to come across something that tones it all down.
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Anyway that’s all for this ?Musings…?edition. Hopefully I didn?t come across as too whiny in regards to analysis as a form of deriving entertainment…
Until next time,