In what many are calling the most shocking development in the world of professional wrestling in recent months, World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. and Kurt Angle have “mutually agreed” on the early release of Angle from his contract with the company. While for many fans outside the business, this decision sent shocking waves through the spine, for those following the story closely, this made sense. However, what didn’t make sense is the cover story the two sides came up with, which in 2006, is probably on the same level of the Watergate scandal from decades ago. Kurt Angle’s release has been in the making for a long time – especially more so since November of 2005. This column will try to reason out an argument as to why Kurt Angle was really let go, as well as focus on things from the past that few are probably aware of.
Kurt Angle won an Olympic gold medal at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, after which he signed a developmental deal with WWF (at the time). While learning the craft of pro wrestling with Dr. Tom Prichard in CT, and then WWF developmental territory PPW (Power Pro Wrestling) in Memphis, he proved he was a natural in the ring. A very successful switch-over to the big time occurred as Angle captured every singles title in WWE, won the 2000 King of the Ring tournament, and also got to main event at WrestleMania 19.
These were the first signs of the trouble Angle has gotten himself into. From his debut, Angle has always tried to outdo himself with every time he entered the ring on PPV, and sometimes even on national television. Known for his amateur style, Angle was a fighting machine whose repertoire of moves included a lot of throws, suplexes, and high-risk maneuvers. Known for having one of the most beautiful moonsaults in the business, Angle would often perform the move. One of Monday Night RAW’s most memorable moments in history took place when Angle fought Chris Benoit in a cage match, and tried the moonsault from the top of the cage, literally risking being broken in half.
The falls, bumps, and holds took their toll on Kurt Angle’s body, and the more he did, the more he climbed up the WWF ladder of success, and the more his ability to draw fans increased. Known to be a very quiet company guy backstage, Angle was never the center of controversy, but was rather infamous in wrestling circles for his quiet mouth. Kurt did his talking in the ring, and it showed. Some memorable feuds in the beginning of his career involved Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Triple H, The Rock, Steve Austin, and Shane McMahon. In that timeframe, Angle often stole the show with his amazing work, and continued high risk in order to satisfy the fans who paid to see him. He became known as a machine inside the ring, a man with a very unique ability to grapple, brawl, and adapt to just about any style out there.
Kurt Angle is a man whose purpose in life is to compete. Inside his head, the only satisfaction life can give him is to know that he’s number one at what he’s doing. Winning an Olympic gold medal “with a broken friggin neck” as he would often say himself, definitely involves stamina, adrenaline, and desire like no other. And how appropriate is the word desire in order to describe Kurt Angle? Unfortunately, desire means little in professional wrestling when a promoter or the fans look at you. When people like me and you look at Kurt Angle, we see a man ready to give up just about everything in life to become the best in his craft. A man ready to sacrifice whatever is necessary to just get the recognition he deserves. A real competitor that stops at nothing to achieve his goal. When Vince McMahon and his WWE looks at Kurt Angle, perhaps, they too see that very same man. But they also see big dollar signs, and rightfully so. The years where people from pro football, and amateur wrestling would enter the ring of professional wrestling have long gone. In Angle, WWE had an amazing winning card. A credible athlete, probably a man that will represent the company like no other – an American hero, an Olympic gold medalist, and a member of Amateur Wrestling’s Hall of Fame. While many interviewers and sports broadcasters might have laughed at pro wrestlers before, it’s hard to laugh at an athlete like that. It is, however, unfortunate that nobody in WWE told Angle that he can’t go on with the risks he’s taking. Eventually, Fortuna will not be on your side. Luck runs out they say, and it did.
Going into the biggest match of his career against Brock Lesnar at the dreamed-of by every pro wrestler stage – WrestleMania – Kurt Angle knew that he had suffered a horrendous neck injury, that was to require surgery. With two weeks before the event, many had written Angle out of the main event at WrestleMania, and with a card that also contained matches like Steve Austin vs. The Rock, and Hulk Hogan vs. Vince McMahon, we all thought that Kurt and WWE would do the right thing – not hold the WrestleMania main event. Those hopes and thoughts came pretty close to reality when WWE schedule a title match featuring Lesnar and Angle on SmackDown! two weeks before WrestleMania. With rumors running rampant on the Internet that Angle has a “broken” neck, nobody thought that he was even able to last in the TV match. Many had mentioned it will be a very short match to just switch the title. While it created for a great visual when Eric Angle (Kurt’s brother) switched with Kurt to fool Lesnar, and Brock beat up Eric for a while, just for Kurt to get a roll up shocking victory, there were a lot of unanswered questions. Perhaps our hero was fine? Maybe the rumors were just spread around to get a high rating on SmackDown! for the title match? As credible sources reported an additional hamstring injury the day after the show, things weren’t looking good. By this point in time, it was official – Kurt Angle is a disturbed man who is willing to risk everything including his life, in order to be the best. And a main event at WrestleMania was not something Kurt was going to miss.
Although Lesnar and Angle had a tremendous bout that would have been rated as a 5-star match had it not been for a botched ending where Lesnar nearly killed himself, Angle barely made it out of the arena that night. A neck surgery followed that took him out of action for a year. Upon his return, Kurt Angle had become a locker room leader, a veteran, and a man who understood the business a whole lot better. Or so we thought. While the suplexes, and the throws were no longer a part of his repertoire, it wasn’t long before they were brought back in small doses, that constantly increased over time. The drive to succeed is unstoppable, when you’re addicted to passion and glory.
It was obvious that Kurt was doing too much. Only a few months after returning, his neck was once again injured and needed time to heal up. It’s hard to keep a swimmer at bay, when there’s no shore around him, says a proverb. Angle was introduced as the General Manager of SmackDown! in a role to keep him busy until he was fully healed. Up until today, that never happened. Groin injuries, pulled hamstrings, neck pains, and nagging traumas chased Kurt Angle ever since, and they never stopped. Unfortunately, he didn’t stop either.
Reports were filling the Internet that Kurt Angle is no longer the same person. The once cool, calmed, quiet athlete, had now become an infuriated, egomaniac. His cry to be the top guy was often the topic of conversation between wrestlers, and his complains to management about his matches, spots, and finishes increased. An aggressive side of Kurt Angle had surfaced. One that nobody had ever heard of before. It didn’t add up. It just didn’t make sense. A man that always did all his talking in the ring, and who, still, even after being limited due to his neck injury, was without a doubt one of the top performers in the company, had turned to bitching, moaning, and complaining. It just wasn’t typical of Angle. This was the first hint of what was to come.
The second major hint that brought attention to Pro Wrestling Torch newsletter’s editor – Wade Keller – happened one unfortunate night in November of 2005. After WWE superstar Eddie Guerrero passed away unexpectedly at age 38, Vince McMahon gathered all his wrestlers to a meeting. He announced the creation of a wellness program, which was his attempt at decreasing sudden deaths – much like Guerrero’s – in his company. Many argue over how credible and useful that program is, but that’s a completely different topic. What’s more important for the topic at hand is that when McMahon asked everyone, after his announcement, if there were any questions, the only wrestler that was vocal and questioning was Kurt Angle, and that’s hardly a coincidence. It is also hardly a coincidence that Angle asked how thorough the procedures and tests will be, and what the penalties of getting caught will be. Shortly after, Keller in his Torch newsletter announced that many wrestler sources from the back are reporting that a main-event superstar is on the track that Eddie Guerrero had once been in. Although Keller never revealed the name of the main event superstar, he continued to drop hints in his material that he was talking about the Olympic hero.
It is also no coincidence, that a bulked-up Kurt Angle – once the quiet, collected guy – had become hard to work with, loud, and continuously persistent in pushing for his character on TV. In the midst of nagging injuries, he was constantly given rest, and put back on the road, recently added to the defunct ECW brand. His body had undergone obvious changes, and so had his attitude. Angle’s wife filed for divorce.
It is also hardly any coincidence that WWE.com announced that Kurt Angle had been let go the other day, saying it was for personal reasons, and that the company – unlike other occasions where they use their favorite “we wish him/her the best in his/her future endeavors” line – stated they’re looking forward to working with Angle in the “short future.” This obviously means that the two sides are at good terms, but it also makes the entire story way too convenient to be true. Like much everything else in wrestling, this was nothing but a work – a great cover-up.
One can’t help but ask the obvious question – if Angle has had personal reasons, as well as nagging injuries he had to heal up, like WWE.com stated, why was he released? Not one of WWE’s top dogs had ever been let go before for situations like that. When Shawn Michaels suffered a “career-ending” back injury a few years ago, not only was he not fired, but he was still paid the minimum guarantee on his contract for years. When Triple H suffered a horrible torn quad injury in 2001, he was paid in full, and kept while he prepared himself for recovery, and WWE, just like with Angle was looking to work with him in the “short future.” When JBL was going through a tough divorce last year, he wasn’t let go. Neither was Steve Austin, who had even bailed at the company twice, and chose to do whatever the heck he desired.
If you believe that Kurt Angle and WWE “mutually agreed” to end their relationship in a convenient matter over Angle’s so-called “personal problems,” then you’re both right and wrong. You’re getting worked. The decision seems like a way to keep the credibility of both Kurt Angle and WWE strong, from the real reasons between Angle’s leave of absence. The fact that they want to work with him again in the near future shows that he’ll be back, and I won’t be surprised if his physique is changed when he returns. Ultimately, the only thing that’s destroying Kurt Angle in this business is Kurt Angle.
To think Kurt Angle will jump to another promotion (TNA) is perplexed at this point in time. Angle knows it’s for his best not to do that, as the money and the ever-so-wanted fame for him is in WWE, and nowhere else. It is a hard, vital time for Kurt Angle, where he needs to make a life-changing decision. He needs to remember that sometimes, those that end the race in second place are remembered best, and it’s also best to be second, then not finish at all.
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