The Problem with Kurt Angle Mowing Through the Top 10 in TNA

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The Problem with Kurt Angle Mowing Through the Top 10 in TNA

Let me preface my argument by saying this: I love Kurt Angle.

When I got back into professional wrestling in 2003 after a seven-year absence, he was one of the first “new” guys I saw wrestle, and I was immediately entranced. His series of matches with Brock Lesnar was hard-hitting, athletic, and unpredictable.

Over the years, his matches with Eddie Guerrero, Shawn Michaels, John Cena, Rey Mysterio, and so many more made him one of my two top favorites, the other, of course, being Shawn Michaels.

No one was more shocked and excited than myself to see Angle debut in TNA. It was surreal. Back then, I couldn’t have been more shocked and excited than if Eddie Guerrero rose from the dead.

But Angle’s matches in TNA got off to a somewhat shaky start. His debut match on pay-per-view against Samoa Joe was considered a bit of a disappointment, if only because it was barely 14 minutes long. It was bloody, athletic, and intense, but nonetheless too short to be the classic we all expected.

For the next year or so, Angle’s matches seemed to be missing that special “something.” His series with Joe never quite matched the level of his series with Lesnar, and his matches with Christian, Abyss, and Scott Steiner never hit their mark. It seemed that the key to Angle’s success was performing in the style demanded of him by WWE.

But all that changed in the main event of Bound for Glory in 2007. Angle defended the TNA World Heavyweight Title against Sting, in what many consider one of the best matches of 2007. He then had a couple of great matches with Christian, and his first series of matches with A.J. Styles. Their second match on pay-per-view, a “last man standing” match at Hard Justice in 2008, was again one of the best matches of the year.

The real Kurt Angle was back.

Since then, his matches with Jeff Jarrett have been instant classics, his “falls count anywhere” match with Abyss was an awesome old-school brawl, and he even carried the cumbersome Matt Morgan to the best match of the night at Bound for Glory in 2009.

Angle also has had classic matches with Desmond Wolfe, A.J. Styles, and most recently, Mr. Anderson, the last of which was a “steel cage” match that’s already considered one of the best of the year.

But then something happened. Following the cage match, Angle got on the microphone and declared that he was going to take some time off. He wanted to recharge, and that when he returned, he would be gunning for the TNA World Heavyweight Title. Whatever Angle had in mind, the seeds were planted for an epic return.

And that was the last time Kurt Angle’s current storyline worked.

Thanks to the inclusions of Hulk Hogan, Rob Van Dam, Jeff Hardy, Mr. Anderson, Ric Flair, and the returns of Sting and Jeff Jarrett, it was hard to notice Angle was even gone.

The first problem was how soon he came back. His last appearance was at Lockdown at the end of April. He was off of TV for a month, and returned to TNA on the iMPACT! following the next pay-per-view, Sacrifice.

It was too fast. No one had gotten a chance to miss him. More importantly, he wasn’t gone long enough for TNA to create a world that didn’t include Kurt Angle.

The reason many comebacks in WWE are so successful is because they’re well-timed. Yes, ideally, no one gets injured and is faced with the need to make a comeback, but comebacks are what great stories are made of. The wrestling world buzzes every day with anticipation for the returns of Triple H and The Undertaker. If Angle was going to take time off, he should have taken (or been given) enough time to garner some anticipation for his return. A month off hardly seemed worth it.

Upon his return, Angle’s first promo back was perfect. He addressed that there were a lot of new names around and that, because of that, he knew he was no longer top dog. It was honest without being a shoot, and lead nicely into his future plans.

He decided to take himself out of the Top 10 Contenders rankings system, and start from the ground up, facing every contender individually to earn the right to become number one contender, and eventually challenge for the TNA World Heavyweight Title. It was ambitious, honest, and promised a great series of matches (as Angle himself even said).

But the system itself was immediately flawed. It was introduced as a merit system, yet somehow the top contender was Sting, who had been in three matches in 2010, losing one in 20 seconds, winning the other in 14 seconds, was on the losing team in this year’s “Lethal Lockdown,” and had earned the disfavor of TNA management in Dixie Carter, Hulk Hogan, and Eric Bischoff.

And why was Angle the only one granted the right to move up through the rankings? Because he had taken himself out? By that logic, other TNA wrestlers lower in the rankings could have followed suit and promised to defeat those higher up. It seemed that Kurt Angle had a special privilege simply because he was Kurt Angle. It didn’t make much sense.

But then the series of matches was off to a great start. In the opener of Slammiversary this past June, Angle faced Kazarian to become number 10 contender. The match was athletic and thrilling, reminiscent of when Angle opened SummerSlam in 2002 against Rey Mysterio. And even though Kazarian lost by submission, he still looked like a main-eventer.

The next contender was an old rival, Desmond Wolfe. The match was merely a cliffs notes version of their series from 2009, and by this point, Wolfe had lost so many matches that it seemed unlikely his first victory in a while would be against Angle, but it was still an exciting bout.

Then I noticed something off.

The number eight contender was “The Pope” D’Angelo Dinero. Dinero had been injured at Lockdown and had since been recuperating. He was ready to return to action at Victory Road in July. He also happened to be next on Angle’s checklist.

People love Dinero. He’s over with the crowd and one of the biggest up-and-coming stars in the company. He won the 8 Card Stud Tournament at Against All Odds in February to become number one contender and then took A.J. Styles to the limit (but fell short) in a match for the TNA World Heavyweight Title at Lockdown. After nearly winning the title and being off of TV for some time, Dinero was primed for a major comeback.

And yet his comeback was nothing more than just a chapter in Kurt Angle’s ten-chapter book. Angle and Dinero had a great exchange before their match at Victory Road, and it seemed that in storyline, it was a case of “the irresistible force vs. the immovable object.” Angle was mowing through the competition, Dinero was making a comeback. Something had to give.

But TNA backed themselves into a corner. Neither competitor could afford to lose, and not just in kayfabe. Angle losing to the number eight contender would have killed the storyline, while Dinero losing his comeback match would have killed his momentum.

Then Angle said something that changed this storyline for the worse. He declared that if he lost any of these matches, he shouldn’t be wrestling in the first place, which commentators Mike Tenay and Tazz then misinterpreted as meaning that the next time Angle lost, he would retire.

So basically, they gave away the fact that he would win every one of these matches.

TNA has done this before. Last year, at Victory Road, Angle threatened to fire any member of “The Main Event Mafia” that lost their match that night, that including Kevin Nash challenging for the TNA Legends Title against A.J. Styles, Booker T & Scott Steiner challenging for the TNA World Tag Team Titles against Beer Money, Inc., and Samoa Joe facing Sting. Angle said that everyone had to win their matches, and you know what? Everyone did. In one backstage segment, less than twenty minutes into the show, TNA gave away the results of four main event matches.

Earlier this year at Lockdown, Hulk Hogan said that if his team lost in the “Lethal Lockdown” match, that he would leave TNA. Before the promo, there was suspense as to who would win. Ric Flair’s team had gotten the better of Hogan’s team leading up to the show, but Hogan’s team had gained the man advantage going in. But after the promo, there was no suspense, because no one believed that Hogan, who had debuted in TNA in January, was going to leave just four months later.

So, as expected, Angle defeated Dinero.

Now, you could make the argument that a loss to Kurt Angle is more valuable than a win over anyone else, and it’s true. Ken Anderson became a star in TNA not by defeating Abyss at Genesis, but by losing to Angle at Lockdown. Kazarian became a star not by winning the X Division Title again, but by losing to Angle at Slammiversary.

It wasn’t Dinero losing that bothered me. It was that he tapped out.

His first match back in nearly three months, and he tapped out. He was one of the most popular babyfaces in the company, making his return to pay-per-view, and he tapped out. There was a way for Angle to beat Dinero cleanly without making him look weak. Consider the ending to Angle’s match with Matt Morgan at Bound for Glory. Angle couldn’t take him out with the Angle slam or the ankle lock, so he caught him in a victory roll. He won the match, but the finish protected Morgan. Why couldn’t they do the same for Dinero?

The next match on Angle’s checklist made matters worse. Once again, TNA had backed themselves into a corner. Angle was set to face the number seven contender, Hernandez, who had recently returned after a three-month absence in June, looking leaner, meaner, and stronger, and had defeated Matt Morgan (the guy who took him out in the first place) in a “steel cage” match at Victory Road. Like Dinero, Hernandez had momentum going into his match with Angle.

But Hernandez didn’t just lose, he, too, tapped out. Here, you had another one of the top babyfaces in the company, who was fresh off of a return to TV and a victory on pay-per-view, and he tapped out to Angle. All that momentum going in, and he just gave up. Once again, Angle could have figured out a way to outmaneuver Hernandez without defeating him so decisively.

And the match wasn’t even that good. It didn’t go fifteen minutes. It didn’t show Hernandez taking Angle to the limit. It was short, mediocre, damn near a squash, and because of Angle’s declaration about losing, now there was no suspense. I mean, did anyone really think that Kurt Angle’s last match in TNA would be half-way through an episode of iMPACT! against Hernandez?

What was once a promising storyline has now been completely stripped of any suspense. Sure, one could make the argument that Angle could lose one of the matches, setting off a heel turn, but then why have Angle make the declaration in the first place? Or, of course, he simply won’t lose any of the matches, win the TNA World Heavyweight Title, and the story will end just as we had expected.

And worse, he has made everyone tap out; the heels, the faces, everyone. And there’s no indication that the rest of the matches will be any different. Some say he’s burying the talent. Others are saying that you can’t get buried against Kurt Angle, simply because he’s Kurt Angle. I think it’s somewhere in between.

Kazarian looked like a star because he was given enough time, took Angle to the limit, and is a heel, so the loss didn’t hurt him. Wolfe always looks great against Angle, and even though the match was short, he’s also heel, so tapping out didn’t hurt him anymore than every other loss this year (which is a considerable amount). But Dinero and Hernandez are both babyfaces who tapped out and now will go into their next feuds with so much less momentum than they would have had before they faced Angle.

Now, Angle is set to face the number six contender, the TNA Television Champion, A.J. Styles, and we all know how that will end. Angle and Styles have had some of the best matches in wrestling history, and there has always been that element of suspense. No one expected Styles to defeat Angle twice in 2008. No one expected Angle to nearly make Styles tap out right before Bound for Glory last year. No one expected Styles to defeat Angle by hitting him in the head with the TNA World Title belt at Genesis.

There has always been suspense. Now, there is none.

Now, we know Angle will win. We know that he will avenge his many losses to Styles. We also know that in doing so he will essentially bury the newly rechristened TNA Television Championship. This will no longer be an epic clash between two of the biggest stars in TNA. Nor will it be when Angle again faces Samoa Joe. Or when he faces Jeff Hardy at No Surrender in September. We already know that Kurt Angle will win, and that he very well might do so by making them tap out, too.

But I hope I’m wrong. I hope TNA has thrown us a curveball to make a once-promising storyline even more interesting. We’ll just have to wait and see. But knowing TNA, it’s just another case of them trying too hard and having nothing to show for it. They should learn to keep it simple.

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