Monday, August 8, 2011

The Goofy Bad-ass: Reflecting on What Kurt Angle Was and What He Could Have Been

Pictured: Unrealized potential
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Jason Mann and Joe Drilling were discussing the 2000 SummerSlam main event on last Wednesday's installment of the Wrestlespective Radio SummerSlam main event series. Towards the end, they got to talking about Kurt Angle, one of the participants in the match, and how his class clown character never really resonated with them until he eventually dropped the har-har part and got more serious, saying that it made him more of like a Honky Tonk Man quality to his first title reign in the fall of 2000, that he was always getting by by the skin of his teeth. While that was good for the Intercontinental Championship, they said it wasn't good for the World Title. I disagree with that to a point; I think a Honky Tonk World Champion would work, but it has limited shelf-life, if you smell what TH is cookin'.

But onto a greater point, I was then given a shoutout by Mann about how I was a fan of Angle's goofy badass character. Certainly, that iteration of Angle was my favorite, mainly because he made me laugh, but also because of the unique synergy that he had as being a wholly comedic character with the potential to tangle with the best of the lot due to his amazing wrestling ability and his legit amateur background. He hit both my wheelhouses, funny guys and great wrestlers. How could I not enjoy the hell out of him? I will admit to people not buying him until he stopped being funny and started using drugs in a super hardcore fashion to be ZOMG INTENZ!!!1

Honestly though, that's not a fault with Angle per se. You see, in WWF/E, people have roles, and those roles sometimes are so narrowly defined that if you put someone outside of the archetype just a little bit, Kevin Dunn's head may just explode and then Johnny Ace has to clean up the brain matter, or at least find Winston Wolf to do the job for him. And Vince hates when Johnny Ace has to clean up brain matter.

The funnier a wrestler you are, the more comically inept you are in the ring. Think about it. Santino Marella, despite having legit judo/wrestling chops, is relegated to the Superstars Zone despite being one of the most naturally talented guys at getting people to like him. Chris Jericho never fully broke through until he came back from hiatus and started calling the fans gelatinous tapeworms. The Rock made people laugh, but was there really anything comedic about his demeanor? The only exception here is Triple H, but at the same time, if all his attributes aren't maxed out to 99 at all times, he turns into a pumpkin. Or so I have read.

Honestly, that's why I feel like Angle was Honky Tonk Man, only basically impersonating himself circa 1996 rather than Elvis. WWE never felt comfortable taking the reins off him and letting him be a full on badass in the ring while being a jokester out of it. It would have made for a very interesting paradox in character, one that would have had so many different storytelling options without staying in the same stale boxes that WWF/E would keep guys in.

So basically, while Angle's credibility rose, at least my enjoyment of him declined as the years went on. It's to the point where yeah, the majority thinks he has great matches in Impact (For me, he's lost too much of his flair for psychology for me to say he always has good matches), but his character has been wholly drained of the panache that attracted me to him as a fan in the first place almost 12 years ago.

I get why pro wrestling, and sometimes, mainstream media on the whole, puts characters into archetypal boxes. For the most part, those archetypes are there because they're tried and true. However, Kurt Angle, the jokey ass-kicker, was a moldbreaker that had legs. It wasn't contrarian for the sake of being on the contrary. It was fresh and people latched onto it, whether it was the smarks like me who gravitated to him or the regular fans who wanted to see him get his ass kicked because of it. Sometimes you have to take a chance.

WWF/E could have taken a chance with Angle all those years ago, but instead, they didn't. You can argue over whether or not it was successful or not, and I'd say aside from the drug use that got him booted out of WWE, it was. But I can't help but wonder what could have been if Angle was allowed to develop as more than just an inept clown evolving into a more and more humorless legit wrestler.

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