In 1985, Hulk Hogan graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as the craze of professional wrestling had exploded on the mainstream consciousness of sports readers and in entertainment circles. There was something about a man who had a receding hair line, was bigger than most football players and preached to the masses to “train, say your prayers and eat your vitamins.” Hulk Hogan did his best to bring some legitimacy to the business at a time when Kayfabe walls were being torn down and the last bastion of a “sport” shrouded in secrecy was starting to crumble in each promotion amongst the NWA, AWA and WCCW.
In 1998, Kurt Angle, a decorated Olympic wrestling hero and champion walked into the then WWE as a new hope to add more “reality” to the business. What Angle delivered was “wrestling” to a business that moved further away from the days of Bruno Sammartino, Buddy Rogers and Pedro Morales. It was another attempt at showcasing the business as entertainment. It was also a move back toward the roots of what McMahon’s father and grandfather had built over the years before the wide-eyed promoter came in always wanting more, preaching bigger is better and living on the concept that professional wrestling is a production, not just a show.
For those reasons alone, it still shocks me that Angle did not re-sign with the WWE when his contract with TNA Wrestling was about to expire. And to show you how wrestling has come full circle, the man who went from grappling on a mat to performing super-human feats in a ring for thousands every night, was candid as he could be in an article in Sport Illustrated.
Angle spoke on many topics ranging from his out of the ring feud with Brock Lesnar, another decorated college wrestler, to his desire to wrestle other performers, to his desire to come back to the company where it all started and was stopped short of the front door. In this business, there may be times when wrestlers go off script and voice their opinions (whether it is a work or not) and then there are times when they are just plain real.
This is one of those times.
As read in the article in the “Extra Mustard” section of SI.com, by Justin Barasso…
Instead of wrestling every Friday night on Destination America, the 46-year-old Angle’s original plan was to finish up his TNA contract last September and re-sign with the WWE to finish out his career.
“I haven’t spoke openly about this,” said Angle, “but I opened up my options and was going to decide between TNA and WWE. I wasn’t going to leave TNA unless WWE was offering a fair deal.”
Angle, who lost his father when he was only 16 years old, developed a close friendship with Vince McMahon during his eight year run with WWE from 1998-2006. Yet, when Angle called McMahon, he was informed that a different man now runs the day-to-day operations.
“Paul [Levesque] is in charge,” said Angle. “I found that out when I contacted Vince. I’ve always had a good relationship with Paul, so I didn’t consider that a problem. But he decided they had enough talent.
“For the Vince McMahon who I knew, enough was never enough. He always wanted more. I don’t know what was going on over there, but they even canceled our meeting. I never went to see them. They didn’t even sit me down and talk to me.”
The experience was extremely humbling for Angle.
I consider Kurt Angle to be one of the best wrestlers of all time in this business. A throwback to the days when Ed “Strangler” Lewis was winning world titles and Vern Gagne was using his wrestling skills to promote his new creation call the AWA. A man who came to the business at the right time, to show there were “real” wrestlers out there who could excite and entice viewers and create a new genre of fans. For those reasons alone, finishing where he started was simple a formality in my mind. Guess I was wrong just like Angle. It also shows the fan of today just how different the WWE is from just a few years ago. There are return engagements for The New Age Outlaws, Lesnar (who Angle talks about in the first part of the interview) and guest appearances by Hogan and Ric Flair, DX and The Outsiders. But Angle is stopped before he reached the door of the WWE’s corporate offices. I find that to be one of the unkindest cuts of all.
The man Angle is now is certainly not the man he used to be. His body is beaten. His demons have affected him. His personal life has changed over the years. But when he is in the ring, Kurt Angle is still golden and in terms of the business, he is money.
Oh, It’s True. It’s Damn True. And the WWE, in its desire for change cannot see what it is missing or will miss once Angle finally decides enough is enough.