Monday, September 25, 2006

Noble Intentions and Undesirable Consequences

The announcement by TNA on Sunday of the signing of Kurt Angle once again reminds us of a fundamental rule of professional wrestling. In professional wrestling, doing the right thing usually backfires. You end up hurting yourself, helping your enemies, and not even achieving the commendable goals that you sought to accomplish in the first place.

World Wrestling Entertainment and Vince McMahon, Jr. are frequently criticized for making morally bankrupt decisions. Indeed, the company has made many deeply problematic moral decisions over the years, with the exploitation of the late Eddie Guerrero this year coming immediately to mind. The release of Kurt Angle was not one of those decisions.

Kurt Angle is a tragedy waiting to happen, if not a tragedy already in the making. A man driven by an extraordinary desire to be the best, Angle has pushed himself hard throughout his life. He pushed his body to tremendous lengths during his WWE career, and refused to slow down. He continued on despite serious health deterioration, and competes with a level of pain that is extremely hard to manage without assistance. As he ages, and with serious health problems, the best course of action for Angle is clearly to take it easy on his body.

WWE attempted to push him in exactly that direction. By confronting Angle about his problems and pushing him out of the company, WWE was presumably driven by a desire to protect Angle from himself. While unquestionably not wanting a tragedy to occur under their watch played a role, one has to suspect the primary impetus for WWE’s stance on Angle was a desire to help his well being.

Angle isn’t getting help. Rather, he is simply moving on to a different pro wrestling company. He won’t have to work as grueling of a schedule, which is a positive. However, TNA needs him a lot more than WWE did, which will force him to go all out in his matches to try to justify his role in the company. He will still be in the same problematic environment with the same temptations and dangers. WWE’s intervention didn’t help Angle at all.

So what did WWE accomplish in trying to do the right thing? They simply handed one of the most marketable professional wrestlers in North America over to their primary pro wrestling competitor. It might have even been worse if Kurt Angle went to UFC, because he could have an even greater impact there. Angle could potentially top a million buys for a fight with Daniel Puder in the Octagon, while TNA seems to be teasing a feud between Angle and Jeff Jarrett that will do more to devalue Angle than benefit Jarrett. Still, TNA has a prime piece of WWE talent that they can use to entice WWE viewers to watch their shows.

WWE shouldn’t fret too much over this development, however. Angle’s departure to TNA isn’t likely to change the landscape of professional wrestling in spite of the rhetoric. The biggest threat to WWE success is still its own creative team. And for once, Vince McMahon can take pride in knowing that he did the right thing, even if it backfired from a business standpoint.


Anonymous Dave S. said...

Todd, you're right that the biggest threat to WWE is its own creative team, but I think that argument is even more true for TNA. I really, really want to like TNA, and I like a lot of their wrestlers, but Impact is a very poorly-done show. The booking in TNA makes absolutely no sense, and they push all the wrong people. For instance: Christian turns on Sting, costing him the world title and his much sought-after win over Jarrett. So what happens next? Christian feuds with... Rhyno? And Sting and Jarrett just fight again? How does that make any sense?

While Kurt Angle is one of my favorite wrestlers of all time, I think there is a pretty good chance that TNA will misuse him, just like they have done for most of their roster. And I can't see how Vince Russo is the answer to their writing problems.

10:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fear Kurt Angle will take a bump (Death Sentence? Black Hole Slame? Styles Clash? Angels' Wings?) that ends his career or his life. The question TNA will have to answer then, from the mainstream media and in a courtroom, will be "was it worth it?"

Denis Gorman

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Kane said...

Todd, it seems clear that this is TNA's sink-or-swim moment; unfortunately, in such cases, when you take on so much weight ( in some cases, dead weight...hello, Russo!) you tend to sink without a trace. Russo deserves a chance to see if he's 'changed' much; that'd seem to me to be quite unlikely. I don't know if it'll make all that much difference in an hour-long show,'s not, as this fellow mentioned, as though TNA's shows have been crisply written and booked in the past, anyway.
You're thoughts on Angle are, I think, sadly accurate; there have been few workers I've ever seen who I've enjoyed as much as Kurt, but it's clear that, physically, he is just not even close to the same as even a couple of years back. The advantages of the TNA schedule do help him, I think, and if they treat Kurt as more of a boutique item (kept solely to the PPV), and let him just use his mic skills on the shows, then he could be okay. But, as you noted, if WWE really thought that Kurt would be satisfied with this, they never would have let him go in the first place. I think, reading Angle's comments on Meltzer's site, that it is a case where he believes that he will finally become the number one focus of an organization instead of just one of the guys, something that he no doubt, and I'd agree, has been a long time coming. Unfortunately, I can't help but think that this will damage not only his body, but his legacy (even if only in his own mind, where it seems to be of tantamount importance ), and really see very little chance of this becoming a positive. I give TNA credit for taking on what many would call huge risks; in Russo's case, however, it's just a few meaningless dick jokes. In the case of Angle, it's so much more. We all could be proven wrong, and in many ways I hope I can, but I do believe that TNA is betting the company on Angle; when has that ever worked in the past?

4:42 PM  
Anonymous Dan Wahlers said...

Good column, Todd. You beat me to the punch. I also sent Dave a column about Angle last night, but he got yours first, and he didn't want to have two similar themed columns up on the same day. So mine will go up tomorrow, and I share a lot of the same sentiments you did in yours. I'd say between you, me, and Dave we have the readers of covered pretty well on the sunject of Kurt Angle going to TNA. :)

5:13 PM  
Blogger Todd Martin said...

Oh yeah, Dave, TNA's booking has been uninspired as well. I don't think it's been as directly harmful as WWE's, but that may change with Russo. In general TNA has seemed competent, but unable to find anything that really takes off. The problems start with the premise that Jeff Jarrett should be a main eventer. At that point it becomes really hard to book the product, because you're slotting someone at the top who will never headline a successful promotion and limiting your ability to groom others to occupy that role. I don't think TNA will misuse Angle so much as he won't feel like a very big deal after being involved with yet another feud with Jeff Jarrett where Jarrett hits him with a guitar and they have a match with a million run-ins.

I agree with you as well, Denis, that TNA is going to have some answering to do if something tragic befalls Angle. I think people are exagerrating on both sides. I've gotten e-mails suggesting Angle is fine physically, which is laughable. But I also tend to think some people are too pessimistic about Angle's current state. It's conceivable the lighter schedule allows him to get himself together and he will be fine. One can only hope.

TNA has had so many sink or swim moments already, Charlie, that one wonders if they've been sinking for a while now and they're just flailing for inches 25 feet under the surface. Wow, that sounds pessimistic, but seriously, we have had so many "breakthroughs" over the years that were supposed to be it for TNA. And it never came together. I thought the prime time TV deal on Spike combined with monthly PPVs was the setup that would give them their chance. And it hasn't panned out. It still could, but I don't see them being in a qualitatively better position now. I have no problems being really dismissive with Russo. I don't think he deserves a chance. I have concluded in advance that he will be a disaster. There is more than enough history with Russo that I don't have any real doubt about it. I think there are few figures in the history of professional wrestling that have done as much harm to the business as Vince Russo with so little in the way of positives. I totally agree with you in terms of keeping Angle special and using him in a more limited manner. He should feel extremely special, and that I think they can potentially pull off. I would love to see Angle do great, TNA thrive and Angle improve physically. But sadly we've seen a lot more stories like this in wrestling end sadly than end in triumph.

Look forward to your thoughts, Dan.

1:10 AM  
Anonymous Charlie Kane said...

In truth, I'm pretty sure you're right about Russo--any talk of his having 'changed' is likely the same sort of thing that women use to justify returning to abusive husbands ( perhaps an unkind metaphor, but, hell, in the past he would have made it into an angle)which, unfortunately, makes his signing much more damaging to the company in the long run than anything Angle can provide. As for TNA's future, I do wonder if this is 'it' other words, Spike and Panda have said to Jarrett 'It's time to justify your existence and our money'--mostly the money, as the time slot would likely just be James Bond movies or Axe Body Spray informercials or some shit. I can't say as I watch much TNA, although I prefer their talent in some's just that with an hour format, the show is always at such a breakneck pace it's hard to get emotionally, with Russo on the book, it's more likely I'd be emotionally stunted. I wish them luck, but, frankly, I don't think this'll go much more than another year, tops....

5:25 AM  

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