For Queen and Country #13
May 3, 2008
By: Daniel Browne of
Greetings. In a business as schizophrenic as professional wrestling it hardly qualifies as surprising when previously accepted wisdom dwindles into irrelevancy. Apparently, the geniuses in charge of WWE are considering rehiring a man who, in 2006, suffered the ignominy of being fired for his own good, only to consistently confound expectations by continuing to flourish. Such is the fabric of Kurt Angle’s existence. If you trusted in the actions of WWE in 2006 and all subsequent statements and comments thereafter, the most consistent, versatile and hard-working main event performer in company history was finished; the prime stud that spawned many a memory now destined for gluey oblivion. Kurt begged and pleaded and cajoled to no avail. In the wake of Eddie Guerrero’s untimely demise in November 2005, the WWE could take no chances with a man who needed a cocktail of powerful prescription medication just to get out of bed in the morning. Granted, whilst in the midst of falling to pieces Angle registered performances that were the envy of countless younger thoroughbreds. Nevertheless, the man was a spiralling time-bomb, primed to explode catastrophically. The WWE had to fire him.
Post WWE, Kurt arrived in the ambitious TNA as the undisputed star of the show, initially looked revitalized. His initial series with then-superstar in waiting Samoa Joe was an electrifying example of bait and delivery. As both were men of genuine physicality, they were able to furnish their exchanges with believable intensity and lashings of brutality. Their pull-apart brawls and face-to-face encounters were some of the best examples of the form as yet encountered in wrestling, and lent legitimate sporting credibility in the process. The first couple of matches were undeniably superb; alas TNA’s law of diminishing returns soon came into play, and with each month the conflict endured, the “big fight” aura was diminished.
If it wasn’t for the aforementioned virtue of versatility, Angle would have possibly faded into the crowd. Despite being a legitimate drawing card and money-maker in WWE, Angle’s star power waned in TNA. After the initial Joe feud concluded, Angle meandered somewhat, treading water alongside the entertaining but otherwise washed up Scott Steiner. The solution was simple: turn heel. Some men are born babyfaces, others heels. Some can portray both psychological settings with near equal verisimilitude.
Anyone who knows more than an iota about The Olympic Hero knows he’s a natural born heel. Whether it’s cocky, swaggering, psychotic, cowering or plain scoundrel, Kurt Angle has always done his very best work as a bad guy. TNA convincingly portrayed Angle as a suited and booted millionaire mega star who knew just a little too well the strength of his standing. The introduction of the really rather delectable Mrs. Karen Angle spiced things up considerably, and once again for a while Angle looked like a star of unshakable grounding. Feuding with the best TNA had to offer in Christian Cage, Sting, AJ Styles and Samoa Joe (again), Angle seized and asserted a vice-like grip on the main event picture of TNA.
The initiation of the Main Event Mafia saga once again highlighted Angle’s aptitude for all things grappling. His in-ring work remained nothing short of stellar, and his articulate conveyance of perceived grievances, ranging from violent and threatening to calculating and composed, played an instrumental role in registering the central issue of respect with the masses. Upon the foundation of the group, so called figurehead Sting issued a statement of intent noteworthy only for its brevity. It was Angle who shone as spokesman and the sadistic instrument of the Mafia’s ideology.
Though few will deny the mutual benefits of the TNA/Kurt Angle alliance, the road to relative prosperity has been littered with the debris of Angle’s own demons. Justifiably fired in an altogether unedifying fashion by WWE, Angle placated the personal humiliation of his termination by venting his frustration. This took the form of several well received yet fictional accounts of his emergence in TNA, claiming himself to have been a long time TNA fan seeking to leave the politically claustrophobic WWE for the safe havens of TNA. This was pure fantasy on Angle’s part, dismissed initially as the usual babyface toadying. Alas, Angle has continued to perpetuate this nonsense, gradually spinning an elaborate narrative replete with questionable verbiage. At one time or another, Kurt has claimed to be drug free whilst obliquely mentioning ’93 pain-blockers ’94 and other such ’93legally prescribed ’94 euphemisms, and consistently claimed a likely affiliation with various unspecified MMA groups without ever seriously negotiating with any of them. He has repeatedly savaged Vince McMahon and the men once his peers in a rambling and inane manner, whilst plucking fantastical ’93inside info ’94 out of thin air. For the record, TNA makes a profit only because of the money Spike TV ignorantly chucks in its direction. The Carter family are not even close to the McMahon family in either material or liquid wealth, and TNA is no threat to WWE in any capacity in the ratings. Notions to the contrary represent the looney tunes material repeatedly spewed forth from the seemingly addled mind of Kurt Angle. It has been said he should just shut his gob when in public. Sound advice.
Truth be told, Kurt Angle is a modern miracle. The man allegedly can’t bend down to tie shoe laces, yet wrestles in a fabulous match every time he graces a ring. Make no mistake, Kurt Angle is the most consistently brilliant worker in the history of the business, and were it not for injuries, politics and a champion ego, Kurt would be king of the universe right now. The price for his continued involvement in wrestling will probably be best addressed by Tom \’93Dynamite Kid\’94 Billington, who knows only too well the cost of excellence in execution over a healthy body. For those who don’t know, the man Bret Hart believes to be the best wrestler ever (other than quite possibly himself) spends his days confined to a wheelchair. That Kurt has continued on and maintained his NASA-sized standards is ostensibly a laudable feat; not so when you consider the painkiller addictions, dissolution of family and marriage and endless physical agony, leading inexorably to permanent physical decrepitude.
When Angle chose his Bound For Glory hyperbole spot to extend an olive branch to Vince McMahon (’93He’s like a father ’94) it was clear Angle wasn’t big on company fidelity. His (and the Mafia’s) beat down of the WWE-bound Christian Cage offered a timely insight into the machinations of Kurt’s mindset. Whilst busily berating Christian for his treachery in the storyline, Kurt was publicly courting the WWE with his sudden appreciation and sycophancy towards all things Vince. It was an act so utterly graceless and indelicate that an outraged Jeff Jarrett used a scripted promo as pretence for verbally dressing down Angle in front of the TNA fan base. Dixie Carter-Salinas must have felt doubly betrayed by Angle’s frankly astonishing bout of diplomacy, having staked her reputation and the welfare of her company on the professional integrity of Kurt Angle. Angle is too valuable to wrestling to just summarily discard, but this act of biting a hand that has fed him so well was in poor taste, even for Kurt \’93let me molest your wives, have my way and brake their ankles ’94 Angle.
To give Kurt his due, his in-ring commitment to TNA has been and remains first class. He has bled, sweated and given everything to the athletic cause, and he remains, medical status and all, one of the finest talents in the business. Should he return to WWE, his options would be myriad, but ambiguous. The boys in the back would never let Kurt forget he betrayed them by attempting to find life beyond Mars, and the likes of the omnipotent Triple H (who hates Angle passionately, primarily because he is the real heir apparent to Ric Flair’s mantle) would always seek to damage and undermine his standing. Angle, as a seven figure player, would always ultimately be safe from professional assassination. The vices of his private life are a different matter entirely. Though allegedly drug-free and focused, the skinny, pallid looking man who somehow wrestles great matches in perpetuity would have to work very hard to convince the Congress-weary McMahon’s of his health. It was the bloodthirsty WWE schedule that so exacerbated Kurt’s health issues in the first place, by marrying insufficient time to recuperate with competitive zeal, and Angle would be expected to carry the load. The ‘Life of Riley’ routine he enjoys in TNA would cease to exist, and without such dogged support, Angle would have to remain sincerely motivated. A moratorium on public speech would be advisable in this instance…
A fit, focused and vibrant Kurt Angle is a smashing asset to any company. My sad contention is this man no longer exists. Angle’s physical heroics will not endure forever, and the man you see is far from well; a ‘smoke and mirrors’ apparition destined to one day keel over and give up the ghost. I want and I miss the Kurt Angle who could not only carry a box of Bran Flakes to a Flair/Steamboat 60 minute classic, but could get up in the morning and breathe lucid, healthy air. That man is dead, and Vince McMahon knew this in 2006 and nothing, all achievements noted and considered, alters matters in 2009. If the WWE hires Kurt Angle in any capacity beyond thrice yearly special attraction, they will most likely live to regret it. However, I really rather hope Kurt Angle can continue to prove me wrong and live to fight another day for a while yet. Then again, thinking about it, maybe not… Till next time, boys and girls.
Daniel R. Browne.