October 9, 2006
A different Angle on TNA's big catch
By NICK TYLWALK -- SLAM! Wrestling Columnist
Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the moment. Excitement is a feeling that can take hold of a person and push all other thoughts to the back burner.
It happens all the time in wrestling, a business that lives on such moments. And it happened recently for the employees and fans of TNA, who experienced a truly thrilling, memorable moment when they learned that Kurt Angle would soon be joining them.
Many around the wrestling world have already weighed in on what the acquisition means for TNA, and the benefits are so obvious they're almost inarguable. For a promotion whose top names tend to be a little too old (Sting) or a little too unproven (Samoa Joe), adding a proven main event attraction equally comfortable as a face or heel -- at the exact time its TV show is about to move to a prime time slot -- can't be anything but good news.
So while the excitement around Angle's arrival is understandable, the man at the center of the moment can get lost in the shuffle. Signing Kurt Angle, the Olympic hero, was absolutely the right move for TNA. What's not as clear is whether or not the timing was right for Kurt Angle, the man.
The reason given for Angle's release from the WWE was that his battered body just couldn't hold up to the grind. If injury was the only issue, maybe some time off would be enough to do the trick. By the time Bound For Glory rolls around, it will be almost two months since he last competed in a ring. It's likely to be even more than that when he starts wrestling full time in the six-sided ring. Numerous insiders have pointed out that he'll be working a lighter schedule once he's a regular, which should help keep him healthy.
There was more though, hinted at by Vince McMahon himself when addressing Kurt's departure.
"I think Kurt has some issues to face, as we all do from time to time," McMahon told WWE.com on August 28. "We all have our demons, and as human beings, it is important for us to overcome them and become better human beings, athletes and business people."
McMahon never elaborated on the true nature of Angle's demons, but plenty of stories alleged that they were a one-two punch of dependence on painkillers and trouble at home. If these are indeed the culprits, it's a bit more complicated than healing broken bones or torn muscles. The initial time off and reduced travel will still help, but Angle will ultimately be working through his issues in the very bright spotlight of the wrestling ring.
Wrestling history is full of stories that show why this might be cause for concern. The names are familiar, from Jake "The Snake" Roberts to Scott Hall to Eddie Guerrero. The track record for grapplers continuing their craft while simultaneously attempting to straighten out their lives isn't great. That doesn't mean that Angle is destined to share the fate of any of those who came before him, but fans and others who care about him have to hope he's at least heeded their lessons.
And even they may not prove adequate for Angle's unique situation. The others were great wrestlers, champions, but none had the hopes for the future of an entire promotion linked to them. Angle isn't entering his new job as a savior, because TNA is not in need of saving. It is, however, in position to take a big step forward, to live up to its potential as true competition for the WWE. To many, it's the presence of Angle that will allow them to make that step, putting him under enormous pressure to succeed.
It won't be long before the world gets some insight into Kurt's current state of mind. TNA is hyping the upcoming episode of Impact by teasing an interview with Angle, who apparently has something to offer regarding his former employer. Smart money says it will follow the pattern of previously released wrestlers (the Dudleys come to mind) and suggest that the WWE made a mistake in letting him go. Only Kurt, if he's being honest with himself, will know if that's the truth.
There's no doubt that Angle isn't ready or willing to live without wrestling. In signing with TNA, he's been as determined and uncompromising as his style in the ring.
"Being with TNA feels like I found my home," said Angle in his initial press release upon joining his new company. "Thank you TNA for saving my career, my life and desire to do what I love."
Here's hoping his new home turns out to be the right fit at the right time for the man as well as the performer. Here's hoping for many more exciting moments from Kurt Angle in the months and years to come.
Nick Tylwalk has been a SLAM! Wrestling contributor since 1998, and his column, Walkin' That Aisle with Nick Tylwalk, appears most Mondays. Comments, compliments and complaints can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like to see a response to your question or comment in a future column, please include your full name and hometown in your e-mail.