Kurt Angle used to have hair. Some of you were, like, six years old when he lost his hair 12 years ago, but it's true, he used to have hair. This week's Deep Cuts featured theme, as voted by You, The Fans, is Kurt Angle, when he had hair. That covers a span of just late 1999 into mid-2002. Well, I mean, in his wrestling career. He had hair a long time before late 1999. Many years, in fact.
Let's get to it!
Kurt Angle vs Steve Blackman (WWE Armageddon 1999)
Angle made his pay-per-view debut at the 1999 Survivor Series, beating Shawn Stasiak rather handily. This was his first competitive PPV match, as he and Steve Blackman had been teaming a bit, and on the prior Smackdown, had lost to the Dudley Boyz after a miscommunication of sorts. Angle claimed that loss did not reflect on his perfect record, since it was Blackman who was pinned, and thus at fault.
This match is important because it's nice to remember there was a time when Kurt Angle was not good. It was extremely brief, and it doesn't matter, but boy, was he not good at this point. A few months after this, he was really good, then shortly after that, he was great, and he's been there more or less for the past 13 years. He's still a hell of an in-ring performer to this very day.
But this match reeks. It's a couple of guys who know moves and little about structuring or pacing a match. There's a pretty big "boring" chant, followed by an "Angle sucks" chant. Angle winds up winning with a belly-to-back suplex, bridged, and he stays undefeated until the next month's PPV, when he lost in the opening match at Royal Rumble 2000 to the debuting Tazz, which wound up the high point of Tazz's WWF career, and started a whole to-do about the Tazzmission being an illegal choke or not.
That match was better than this one, which sort of looks like watching a couple of mid-level indy guys doing a bunch of stuff they've just learned. I don't mean that to bash The Indies, either -- it's a learning ground. But this might as well be Trik Davis vs Eddie Edwards in 2004.
Kurt Angle vs The Undertaker (WWE Fully Loaded 2000)
Angle's first WrestleMania in 2000 was a three-way match against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, and he stayed working with those two a bit for a while, plus a Backlash 2000 match with Big Show (pretending to be Hulk Hogan in his Big Show Does Impersonations phase). Angle also won King of the Ring in 2000, a big deal, sometimes, when the guy who wins doesn't suck.
By July, he was part of the trio, with Jericho and Benoit, who were being "tried out," as it were, in main event-type roles for Fully Loaded. Benoit faced The Rock in the main event, Jericho was against Triple H in a Last Man Standing match, and Angle was put with Undertaker. Before the match during this show, Angle had been sitting on Undertaker's motorbicycle, and that made the Undertaker so mad he called Angle a BITCH.
This is the height of Bikertaker, which again I will say both sucked and was vitally important for Taker's career. It sucked artistically or whatever, because the WWF didn't really need another big foul-mouthed Texas redneck, but it was important because it allowed him to pick up his pace during matches, and work a different style than he had been for about a decade at this point. By 1997-99, he was doing a little more than he had from 1990-96, but this is when Taker went to another level in the ring, for me.
This is seven months after the Armageddon match with Blackman, and Angle is notably better than he was then. He was a phenom in picking things up -- I can't remember many guys who were as good as quickly as Angle was, when considering total ring time. Steve Austin was another guy who became very good, very fast.
This show pissed off a bunch of nerds back in 2000, because Angle, Jericho, and Benoit all lost, and dudes were complaining about the GLASS CEILING! because people like to bitch and moan all the time. I'm not even saying it's not warranted sometimes, but rasslin' nerds generally lack the patience that is required. WWE has generally had a formula for making top stars. Roman Reigns isn't going to be champion by the end of 2014, either, unless a lot of things go really crazy. And we'll probably hear about him being buried. Angle was supposedly being buried here, and Jericho, and Benoit. Three future champions, three clear Hall of Fame careers. (Careers. I know Benoit's not getting in.)
This match is decent, with Taker dominating early, Angle taking over after focusing on Undertaker's leg, and then Taker turning the tide to finish it off. It feels like it could have been put together a bit more dramatically, but it...wasn't. I don't know.
Kurt Angle vs The Rock (WWE No Mercy 2000)
Now, I know I said Reigns won't be champion by the end of 2014, but it is possible if all those things go crazy, or he just breaks out in an even more massive way. Angle just kept getting better at an absurd pace, and three months after his "tryout match" in a main event type role with Undertaker, Angle got a shot at the WWF title against The Rock at No Mercy.
Angle was in his love triangle (with Stephanie and HHH) stage here, and trying to win the WWF title quicker (from debut in the company) than anyone ever had before. This was made a surprise No-DQ match during the entrances, one of the 80 or 90 times WWE has done that in the last 15 years.
This is a pretty typical WWF main event brawl of the time, because The Rock and Steve Austin were in the majority of WWF main events back then, and that was the best style for them -- high-octane brawling. Austin could still do the technical stuff if needed, but as his knees and neck and back (and...no, I'll avoid Khia lyrics) went out, he transitioned to straight-ahead brawler for the most part, and he was as good at that as he was the more "normal" style of his younger days, arguably even better. This also hid the remaining mild, largely unnoticeable deficiencies that Angle had left. There weren't many, and they weren't a big deal, but against Rock, who needed help to have great matches, it was the right style.
Stephanie is ringside for this one, mostly helping to give the camera crew something to look at during a chinlock by Angle. Again, it's remarkable to watch how much better Angle has gotten from late 1999 until this point in October 2000. He's even better than he was in July. Angle is truly a rare bird.
This goes bananers in the final act of the match, as you'd expect, after Stephanie runs in to keep Rock from dropping the People's Elbow on Angle, which gets her Rock Bottomed after she takes a swing at Rock. Following that, Angle prevents Rock from dropping the elbow on Stephanie, and then HHH runs in to beat up Angle and throw him out of the ring, then hit Rock with the Pedigree and drag Stephanie across the ring like a caveman before carrying her out of there. So after all that, it's down to one-on-one, Rock vs Angle.
That is, until a battered, bandaged, bloodied Rikishi comes out. Austin had beaten the crap out of Rikishi earlier in the night, about a year after running over Stone Cold with a car, "for the Rock, for the people." He helps Rock, who doesn't want the help and didn't want it before. There's a lot going on in this match, you guys.
Anyway, Angle wins his first WWF title about a year into his WWF run after Rikishi accidentally squishes Rock with his butt, then accidentally kicks Rock in the face with his foot, then misses Angle with a kick and gets Olympic Slammed. Rikishi is a goddamn disaster out here. Angle gets the Slam on Rock to win.
Kurt Angle vs Chris Benoit (WWE Judgment Day 2001)
"My poor gold medals are resting comfortably against your genitals," Kurt Angle said in one promo leading up to this match, which explains the story behind it: Chris Benoit had stolen Kurt Angle's Olympic gold medals and stuffed them in his crotch. He kept leaving them in his crotch at all times, leading to Angle eventually reaching down into his junk and retrieving them, then kissing them, before making an, "aw, yuck!" face, after which Benoit crossfaced him and stole them back and probably stuffed them back under his penis and testicles.
This is a 2/3 falls match, but with a twist! First fall is pinfall-only, second fall is submission-only, third fall, if necessary, is a ladder match with the medals above the ring. Angle and Benoit had tons of matches, and it was probably the best in-ring feud of Kurt's entire career, and one of Benoit's best, too. They had great chemistry, a similar approach to their work, and a strong desire to always be the best thing on the card. I think their best match was at Royal Rumble 2003, when they rescued a deflated Boston crowd after HHH and Scott Steiner embarrassed themselves. But Angle was bald by then, so we're going with this one, in part because it's a weird setup for a match and involves lots of groin business.
Despite the unconventional setup, this goes with a classic 2/3 falls format, with the babyface winning the first fall quickly (Benoit pins Angle with the Angle Slam in about a minute), then Angle winning the second fall after a longer, more prolonged beating. So Benoit enters the third fall sort of at the disadvantage, but since it's a ladder match, it's all weird, and the classic type format goes out the door at that point, and it's just a ladder match that goes about even up again.
This show notably used the Slim Jam "snap!" sound effect to introduce and exit replays. And then the end comes with Benoit in control, but Edge and Christian run in to help their pal out. Later in the night, Benoit and Chris Jericho beat Edge and Christian to become No. 1 contenders to the tag title, so there was some story reason for that.
Kurt Angle vs Edge (WWE Judgment Day 2002)
A typically good but not great Angle-Edge match, from my perspective. Edge is not my favorite, and I never really loved his matches with Angle, though I never disliked them, either. And they weren't mediocre, they were good, just never great. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
I'm sticking to it even after rewatching this, which I was kind of hoping would be better than it used to be for me. I've grown to like Edge more than I used to (from years ago, not from the preceding paragraph), and Angle has done nothing but go higher and higher on my list of modern greats, even counting the fact that half his career has been spent in TNA purgatory. But it's still just "pretty good," and the first portion of the match isn't very good at all.
This is also the match where Angle lost his hair. He'd been pretty clearly going bald for a while, so why not? It gave him a whole new look, and a fun thing to do that got him over even more.
Hey! Next week I'll have a special all-week treat for everyone, as I count down the 100 Greatest Matches in SummerSlam history from Sunday to Saturday, leading up to WWE's premier event of the summer. SummerSlam. That's what it is. But I'll still be doing a Deep Cuts. No theme to choose this time, as I think I'll just bounce around a few matches, or maybe do a theme I choose, I don't know. But I've got a lot of wrestling left to watch between now and this Saturday, so I'll get to that.