I was rather shocked this week while perusing the Internet to find out that Kurt Angle had asked for his release from World Wrestling Entertainment (and equally as shocked to find out that it had been granted to him.) I had heard the rumors of Kurt making a few rumblings behind the scenes about wrestling for the ECW brand or that his body might have been under an unusual amount of stress. There were also a few rumors that he might have been having some marital trouble or other related trouble within his family. Whatever the reason, I was taken aback to hear the news and it made me reflect on what might be the close of a short but incredible career.
Unlike many other wrestlers, Kurt made the rather unusual decision early in his career to wrestle under his given name — Kurt Angle. I remember first hearing the name, “Kurt Angle” — I kinda thought it was a joke. An “angle” is wrestling insider talk for “a made up storyline”. (For instance, currently the WWE is playing up the angle that Vince McMahon’s spirit has been broken as a result of the actions of the faction, Degeneration X.) But Kurt was certainly no “angle” in that sense of the word. He was actually more “real”, if you will, than most of the other wrestlers on the roster. While “The Rock” was playing the superstar and “The Undertaker” was playing, well, an undertaker from the “dark side”, Kurt Angle was pretty much himself. Winner of a Gold Medal for Wrestling at the 1996 Olympic Games, Kurt wore the medals to the ring. (Initially he wore the actual medals from Atlanta, but after realizing the risk, duplicates were created.)
Kurt could have probably had a successful career on the strength of his Gold Medals alone. However, the “angle” that the WWE created for him was one of slight arrogance. Kurt was to play up the fact that he was so great that he’d become a hero to people all around the world. He would come out and shoot promos and give interviews to highlight his program for success: “the three ‘i’s” as he called them — “Intensity, Intelligence and Integrity”. Kurt would do interviews as if he were the guy on the Wheaties box speaking to kids who wanted to grow up to be like him. And while the promos were a bit obnoxious, you certainly couldn’t argue with success. Kurt had won the WWE Intercontinental Championship, the now-retired European Championship and finally the WWE Championship — all within the first year of joining the WWE.
WWE went to great lengths to make Angle a “heel”, or a “bad guy”. Aside from the obnoxious promos, Kurt would be put in programs with other top WWE favorites where they would poke fun at his “American Hero” image. Before choosing to go bald, Kurt was put in a match where “the loser would have to shave his head.” After losing, Kurt wore an obvious wig to the ring — occasionally with a chin strap. But one thing was true — as much as you might laugh at the antics of Kurt Angle, you certainly couldn’t deny his talent.
Kurt brought a unique mix of traditional in-ring and Greco-Roman styled wrestling that was a throwback to wrestlers of old. Kurt could have a great match with just about any other wrestler regardless of their size or skill. Kurt went on to have historic feuds with The Rock, Steve Austin, the Undertaker, HHH and Shawn Michaels. Kurt even managed to have one of his best matches against Vince McMahon’s son, Shane McMahon, who clearly has never been to a formal wrestling school and if he has, certainly didn’t retain much of what was taught.
I don’t know what the backstage Kurt Angle was like. All I know is that the guy who I saw every Monday night was every bit as hard a worker as the Pittsburgh town that bore him. He was a talent that didn’t need a championship belt to be interesting. As a matter of fact, the better Kurt Angle matches I saw were the ones where he didn’t have the WWE Championship. Kurt would shed the good guy image later in his career and simply follow his three “i”s. He was as intense and intelligent an in ring wrestler as anybody that has ever laced up boots and stepped in a ring. He sacrificed his body. In one of the most incredible moves I have ever seen, Kurt climbed to the top of a steel cage enclosure and did a moonsault (or a backflip), crashing to the ring below.
Selfishly, I’ll miss tuning in to see Kurt. He was a funny guy. As much as his on-screen persona was entertaining, you could almost tell this guy had some of the best laughs with his buddies behind the curtain. But if this means that Kurt will be able to enjoy his life, his wife and his children, I’m all for it. The WWE isn’t as entertaining as it was in the mid-late 90s. Kurt has pretty much done all there is to do. He’s earned time at home enjoying his life while he can still play with his children and enjoy his family. And while I’m sure that Kurt will return to the WWE someday (he’s been given an open door to return by Vince McMahon), even if he doesn’t return in a wrestling capacity, Kurt has done more for wrestling than even he realizes.
I remember growing up hearing that “real” wrestlers were “amateur wrestlers” and that they hated professional wrestling because it cheapened their sport. And while many pro wrestlers were former amateur wrestlers, Kurt was an example of someone who excelled at both. Being a true Gold Medal winner and a WWE Champion, he vindicated “professional wrestling”. Here was a guy who legitimized professional wrestling. He had won a medal and rather than griping about how fake pro wrestling was, now he was off to prove his skills in the pro circuit. And prove it he did — Kurt was a four-time WWE Champion.
Regardless of how you felt about Kurt Angle, you had to respect him. He won me over after his first match and has entertained me greatly over the years. And so, Mr. Angle, I salute you and thank you for all that you’ve done to entertain us and to advance the sport of professional wrestling. You are the modern day Bob Backlund that is a tough American made champion who made us all believe. May God bless you, your marriage and your children with as much success as that which you enjoyed in the ring.
And if you never wrestle another match, know that you’ve left us with a legacy of great feuds that will be talked about for years to come.
Information and image courtesy of Wikipedia.org.