Musings of a Mark #18
John Cena & Kurt Angle
May 3, 2009
By: Scott Webster of

Musings of a Mark #18: John Cena / Kurt Angle (No Way Out 2005) Analysis

This column was originally intended to explore John Cena’s matches from 2005. That’s been delayed though, as one specific match has since stolen my interest this past week…

John Cena vs. Kurt Angle, #1 Contender’s Tournament Final ? No Way Out 2005

Not only does this performance depict the intrinsic qualities that I consider indicative of ?good? pro-wrestling ? effective character-acting and move logic ? but it presents several tendencies of both John Cena and Kurt Angle that outline my views on their talents. The minute detail in Cena’s performance exemplifies what I?ve come to admire and expect from him. In particular the manner in which small moments (usually insignificant in the grander picture of the whole match) are layered in importance, and bolstered with meaning, through Cena’s depictions are a marvel to behold. Nevertheless the notable plot points are just as effectively portrayed. It’s truly John Cena’s first great showing as a bonafide main-eventer.

On the flipside, Kurt Angle exceeds my expectation. That’s not to suggest that he out-performs his opponent, a fact far from the truth. For the first time that I can remember, I feel as though Angle’s characterisation has been treated appropriately. The amount of offense and the length of control segments ? particularly in the early stages of the match ? concern me when Kurt Angle is involved, as his character requires a certain degree of dominance to be believable. Moreover Angle’s character embodiment is perhaps to best I?ve seen from him, displaying an attention to detail and accuracy in portrayal beyond me wildest expectations of him. His presence here brings to mind the best of Eddie Guerrero, John Cena and Randy Orton ? A massive compliment, I assure you!

So instead of running through another year’s worth of matches relating to one central performer, I figured a deep investigation into this one encounter would be more fulfilling. It reveals (in my view) the best qualities of both performers, amidst surprising instances that I?d love to witness more of. Furthermore it stands strong as a brilliant, albeit overlooked, example of pro-wrestling from early 2005.

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The Entrances

The theatrical arrival of both individuals actually reveals a tremendous amount of information that directly affects the subsequent narrative. John Cena emerges, but with the unusual absence of showboating. This communicates his seriousness, designing an ?importance aura? for the match. His relaxed facial muscles connote no emotion or distraction, allowing us to read him as being focused and prepared for the task at hand. Angle, on the other hand, is more loose and aware of the crowd’s presence. He also deploys more showboating than his adversary, but minus the trademark fireworks.

We still arrive at the conclusion that Angle is serious (slaps head, shakes limbs) but his explicit confidence signifies experience. He has been here before, and is sure he?ll succeed. Cena’s expressions convey his inexperience; not that he’s unaware of this opportunity’s importance, but rather the fact that he needs to take advantage at this point in time. He’s never been here before, and may never again. It’s a career building moment. Thus the body language of each performer through their entrance constructs the ?importance aura? of this contest, as well as visibly presents the themes of hungry youth versus confident experience.

The Opening Moments

In my column recently on Batista, I picked out a few seconds during his rematch with Triple H at Backlash 2005. It came several moments after a Flair distraction early on leads into an attempted Pedigree by The Game.

?The manipulative characterisation of Triple H shines through in an otherwise flat match, with the opening moments being the best part of the show. With raised eyebrows (supporting the content of his trash-talking, conveying confidence), and the slight nodding associated with each word grants weight to Triple H’s speech, as he semi-consciously ?herds? (not necessarily an intended pun in reference to Batista’s ?The Animal? moniker) the World Heavyweight Champion towards Ric Flair. With the ?Nature Boy? assisted distraction, ?The Game? swiftly pounces on his adversary. This sequence soon leads to a near-successful Pedigree, which becomes more a mind game device than a serious win attempt. What I enjoyed especially about this minute exchange (in the grander context of the match) is Batista’s acting immediately afterwards. His reddened face and pain-induced watery eyes (which intermingle to create further expression of shock and nervous energy), combined with the hand clutching his jaw (recently punched by ?The Game?), the momentarily glance in the direction of Flair, before setting his widened eyes (though nowhere near his wide-eyed ?lashing out? expression thankfully) on Triple H; it effectively carries the point that the Pedigree is important. Not merely because it can end the match, but because somehow Triple H has supposedly unlocked this ?fear? in Batista through it.?

I?ve discovered another such minute exchange here, happening upon the instant they common elbow tie-up. Angle expertly swivels to Cena’s side, and drives him into the ropes. Observe Cena’s mannerisms whilst entangled in the ropes: his tensed muscles, highlighting strained effort in trying to get out of Angle’s grip; his gritted teeth as he grasps at Angle’s hand clawing his face; the reddened face; and finally, his stiff stance and glare once let go. This otherwise small inclusion in the match contains a number of messages. It conveys hurt dignity on Cena’s part via his body language, but it also reveals his character embodiment, crawling into the psyche of this character and being consumed by his motivations. How else could anyone give such a detailed performance, especially in regards to seemingly insignificant interactions? (I?ve grown to admire this level of engagement in Cena; it’s also strongly present in my views on Randy Orton and Eddie Guerrero). On Angle’s behalf, it resembles his intensity and skill. Thankfully he maintains this; switching through mat holds and grapples swiftly to off-balance ? yes, he deliberately makes John Cena appear clumsy, which is a good thing ? and frustrate (as noted above) Cena. A flaw I perceive in many of Angle’s recent performances is the purported evenness that goes against his characterisation, and often build. He’s a magnificently conditioned Olympic Gold Medallist. There shouldn?t be many people who can maintain toe-to-toe competition with him, let alone dominate. Unfortunately he now seems obsessed with the ?epic? fast-paced back-and-forth formula, regardless of opponent. Here he sticks with the acclaimed amateur wrestler character, grounding (thus negating a fast pace) and dominating Cena early on (no immediate back-and-forth ?epic-ness?).

The Transition of Control Segments

Following the initial chain of mat domination, Cena takes a lick: one kick to the gut, and then an unconvincingly applied (perhaps intentionally) headlock. What gives me the impression that it was ?unconvincing?? The momentary motion that witnesses Cena’s arm obstructed by Angle’s chin? Or was it the produced knowledge regarding the John Cena character? We understand him as a power wrestler of the ground ?n pound variety; he’s not a technical wrestler nor one to methodically wear another down. Sub-consciously then, I?d argue this ?unconvincing? headlock application was intended, crafted by our expectations of the John Cena character. And sure enough, Angle escapes relatively easily and returns to grounding Cena. Another miniscule interaction that contains greater meaning ?

What follows is convincing and keeps in line with our expectations of John Cena, as well as this character’s mindset established through his earlier body language. Managing to clothesline Kurt Angle outside, Cena takes a few steps back. Normally we?d expect some showboating from the Doctor Of Thuganomics, but on this occasion it’s different. John Cena is focused and serious, as victory here sends him to a World title contest at Wrestlemania 21. So he’s apathetic towards the now-vocal crowd; instead he raises his hands apologetically towards the referee (character embodiment) and slides out of the ring. Then he roughly tackles Angle over the announcer’s table, laying in some rights once their momentum halts. This is a (symbolic) response to the previous awkward headlock: Cena played Angle’s game and got burnt. Now though, he turns the match into a dynamic he, considering our positioned expectations of his character, feasibly could compete with Kurt Angle in. The slug-fest fight. It’s an intersection where two qualities meet: ?character-acting? and ?move logic?. When these inform each other and unify in a believable visual display, you are witnessing what I view as effective pro-wrestling.

Angle’s bearings have been rattled. Appropriately Cena therefore dominates the next few minutes, sticking with what got him the offensive advantage i.e. punches, pounding and bombs. He keeps this until he captures Angle in the FU position. At this point, Angle doesn?t merely counter. He frantically counters by flailing his arms and rapidly kicking his legs. It’s not a picturesque, fluid movement; it’s desperate. He’s not yet recovered from Cena’s brawling. In a movement that exemplifies his veteran characterisation, Kurt hurriedly scrambles from the ring. This in effect executes a number of functions: as previously stated it’s representative of Angle’s experienced characterisation; in regards to the narrative it allows Angle to regather his control; it gives room for Cena to emphasise his composure, waiting patiently for his opponent to re-enter the squared circle. He resists the urge to rush, again presenting the ?importance aura? of the match. He doesn?t even showboat, never breaking that focused seriousness. Moreover Angle’s reaction to the FU layers the move with significance. It produces a knowledge that that move can be conclusive, working to build excitement and expectation should it be hit in the future.

Angle’s Changed Demeanour

Pay deliberate attention to Kurt Angle’s facial expression upon re-entering. The slightly agape mouth and leering eyes suggest a change in his originally calculating demeanour. It’s the emergence of Angle’s noted vicious streak, shown as he grits his teeth and swings violently at John Cena’s head. Initially this frenzied mind-frame is depicted to fail, as Cena dodges and continues to pound the Olympic Gold Medallist. But that is a teasing device, building to the moment Angle does seize control. That ?moment? is the German Suplex into the turnbuckle. Immediately following Angle begins to stomp, elbow and boot Cena’s gut with intensified pace, before slamming him with a suplex. Of significance is the fact that these are the first instances of Angle striking in the performance, obviously deployed to signify this shift in demeanour. The pin attempt also portrays indicators of Angle’s newfound explosive tenacity. First he hooks the leg in an ordinary cover, which Cena kicks out of. Angle’s response is to drive his forearm into Cena’s face. His third consecutive pin attempt witnesses Angle grapple one arm to render it useless in a kick-out. Furthermore we witness increasing frustration levels as Kurt Angle bickers with the official. All these bodily signs reinforce this idea that Angle is now largely motivated by emotion and aggression.

What directs Kurt Angle’s mode of attack is his opponent’s mid-region, despite the commentators suggesting Cena’s selling as indicative of a neck injury. He applies a body scissors, but he employs signs throughout to sustain a consistency in his intense portrayal. As Cena commences to struggle, Angle digs his fingernails into his adversary’s eyes. Next Cena leans forward, prompting the Olympic Gold Medallist to hook an arm under his chin, dragging him back to the canvas. For good measure he also grinds his elbow into Cena’s face. A normal rest-hold is subsequently converted into a brilliant display of character embodiment, which is an aspect I often find lacking in Kurt Angle’s performances. John Cena does eventually escape, yet he persists with the impression of drained energy through wobbly mannerisms and looseness. This only serves to add to the effect caused by a normally inconsequential hold. The pin following three German Suplexes matches the detail of previous attempts. You can observe the force Angle utilises to embed that forearm into John Cena through his tensed bulging muscles in the limb.

The Imbalanced Control

From this point proceedings become more even as both performers vie for momentum. Of interest is the fact that Cena doesn?t compromise the effect of Angle’s latest control segment in favour of quickening up the pace. He sells fatigue and lingering pain, allowing the pace to brew steadily as he visibly regains energy. One clothesline is followed by a pause, as Cena catches his breath hunched over. The next clothesline is succeeded by a shorter pause as Cena is fresher. But the transition isn?t one-way traffic as Kurt Angle fragments the developing momentum with a slam here and a reversal there. It carries the point that Angle isn?t easily controlled.

It reaches the extent where neither man has a distinct advantage, as both can?t string together successive moves. Mostly because they are too drained. Angle, however, manages to latch on an Ankle Lock. It’s countered in short order, though its message is communicated clearly by Cena’s subtle limping afterwards. In other words it’s a dangerous hold, granting it emphasis a la the FU beforehand. Supporting this meaning is Eddie Guerrero’s words to John Cena prior to the match. He built up the importance of this match for John Cena, but also noted a loss could be devastating for the younger man’s career. Specifically he discussed the Ankle Lock and its danger, but implored John not to submit. Because what’s at risk is worth the sacrifice. At this particular moment we receive a hint at the damage the hold can cause, which builds anticipation for its future application.

Soon after this Cena snatches Angle into the FU and nails it. He’s moderately swift in covering ? a common indicator of impending conclusion ? which positions the pin as an effective near-fall. John Cena doesn?t register this though, and poses in glee as if Angle hadn?t kicked out. Once more the extreme focus of Cena is demonstrated as the referee explains what had actually transpired. Rather than depict frustration and disbelief, he visually calms. The arms lower with the hands reverting from his trademark signal; the relieved grin settles and disappears, he turns and approaches his opponent without indignant protest.

The Ankle Lock

Unfortunately for him, Angle has recovered. What follows is a deliberate assault of the already weakened ankle. Instead of utilising a variety of submission holds, Angle opts to stomp viciously on the limb. He doesn?t hold back on those either, stamping with furious velocity. Kurt also elbows the shin repeatedly, and smashes the ankle bone into the nearby ring-post. Simply put he doesn?t lose an ounce of intensity or viciousness as the match progresses. Conversely John Cena complements Angle’s aggressiveness with his blatant reliance on the ropes, not only to break the onslaught, but even just to lift himself up. He establishes that he cane barely place any amount of weight on the injured area.

An Angle Slam later and Cena’s easy pickings for another Ankle Lock. John Cena’s selling of pain and emotion here is fantastic. In response to the first twist, Cena pushes his body weight up on clenched fists. He tenses up his upper arm, causing the veins to protrude and his limbs to tremble. Releasing an agonised cry, face scrunched up and of a deep red colouration, we understand that he is suffering tremendously. I?d even argue that his performance exceeds what it would?ve been had he not endured the ankle-oriented assault moments earlier. He’s pulled back away from the bottom rope, which sometimes signifies imminent defeat. Yet perhaps recalling Guerrero’s advice, Cena tries to reach the rope again. His watery (pain-induced) eyes narrow and focus on his goal, straining his arms to eliminate the trembling and use his full forearm to push forward. This magnificent expression of determination is altered as Kurt Angle grapevines the leg ? almost always a signifier of defeat. Cena bows his head as the ?pain? increases, literally beginning to claw his way toward the rope. And he eventually reaches safety, at once nodding to Eddie Guerrero’s advice and encapsulating the importance of victory. It’s worth the sacrifice.

The Conclusion

A temporarily downed referee and a distracted Angle (looking to use Cena’s chain as a weapon) gives John Cena one final opportunity to win. He hits the FU and pins Angle to solidify his #1 contender status. But still there’s no break in character. Upon connecting with the FU Cena displays excruciating pain by grabbing his affected ankle, falling on his enemy in the process. And nothing changes after the final bell, though John Cena now has a relieved grin amidst the grimacing. He pulls himself up in the corner using the ropes, holding himself with his forearms to alleviate the pressure from his ankle. He can?t stand without support, which no amount of elation can remarkably heal. It’s fine consistency with how he constructed the injury within the match.

What’s emphasised is John Cena’s survival. He survived Kurt Angle, rather than beat him. This much is certain from Angle’s actions post-defeat. He’s more active; protesting and bashing the steel steps in immense frustration. The fact that he mostly (and rightly) dominated the majority of this contest and kicked out of the fatal FU a split-second too late supports this view. John Cena took into account Eddie Guerrero’s advice ? endure and capitalise ? and emerged victor. I consider that a most appropriate method in preserving the credibility of Kurt Angle, whilst doing a substantial service for John Cena in terms of elevation. It definitely established him as a credible, threatening and tough contender for the WWE Championship. Furthermore if you consider how these individual characters are billed, the narrative told was completely believable. Plus the body language and sacrifice executed by John Cena more than adequately created a special significance for the match. This achieved more for perceptions of John Cena as a main-event calibre performer than the actual attainment of the WWE Championship a month later.

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Next week I hope to continue my exploration of 2005 ? but for now I hope this extended look into John Cena / Kurt Angle interests and sheds light on my opinion of both performers. If you have any thoughts, please mail them to the following address:

As for now,
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