“WWE relies on part-timers.”
“WWE can’t make new stars.”
Those are two of the most common complaints you’ll hear on the wrestling web. They’re ones I’ve made many times myself in the past. And the main event of Raw from Manchester on Nov. 5 doesn’t entirely disprove either. But it did prove that they don’t have to be true.
WWE can use a non-full time performer to tell a story other than the ones which exist in Triple H & Undertaker’s respect-i-verse, or variations of the Roman Reigns/Brock Lesnar/John Cena/The Rock “I’m here more often so I care more” meta-feuds. And in telling that story, they can continue what’s been a great build for a performer who should (finally) be a top star for them.
The aging Superstar trying to hold onto his legend isn’t a new tale. We’ve seen versions of it from Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels. But it’s not a well Vince McMahon goes to often, because then he’d have to admit his larger-than-life creations (and maybe he himself) aren’t immortal. Watching wrestling, you can tell the storytellers wish acts like Hulk Hogan and Taker were Superman or Captain America, characters which could always be drawn as being a certain age, or recast for a new set of movies.
But they’re not. Especially not one like Kurt Angle, a bridge from the Attitude to the ‘Reality’ Era. From the Olympics to his addictions, Angle’s real life has always been a part of his kayfabe narrative. Now, time is catching up with both the man and the character. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
Except use it to tell a story that’s as relateable as it is uncomfortable. And use the reality of the situation to help the larger story, and the business itself, by making a younger wrestler someone who helps drive home the point - Angle doesn’t “still got it”.
That’s what we saw on Monday night, from bell to bell. Actually beyond that, as Kurt’s desperation was on display from before the official start when he attacked Drew McIntyre in the middle of his own introduction, and the drama played out beyond when he tapped to his own signature submission, the Ankle Lock.
There were several sequences where Angle played his role to protection, fighting against his own realization this was a battle he couldn’t win to mount another comeback. Those comebacks were put down quickly in what amounted to a slow squash. They built to the cliche wrestling moment where it looked like the heel McIntyre had talked a little too much trash and would pay for it. But with remarkably little effort, he escaped an ankle lock and set about defeating the Hall of Famer in the most humiliating way possible. Even Michael Cole sounded surprised on commentary when Kurt pushed his face into the mat and submitted.
The Celtic Colossus’ rise was served well in Manchester, not by the ferociousness of his assault or a willingness to break the rules, but by how methodical and cruel his victory was. McIntyre’s slowly been presented as a charismatic threat for months now. In his biggest spotlight, he made himself a veritable Cerebral Assassin, chosing the most humiliating way to put Angle down.
This wasn’t Miz struggling to beat Jerry Lawler in 2010, or Seth Rollins and Triple H at WrestleMania 33. Drew didn’t take everything the Olympic gold medalist could throw at him, because he didn’t even let Kurt throw it. He laughed off what shots Angle could muster. Then in the seconds after escaping Kurt’s best chance at victory, McIntyre opted to prove he could not only win, but he could do it using the veteran’s own moves against him.
Now, as much credit as I’m giving WWE, they can throw it away in an instant. It seemed they’d (perhaps inadvertantly) told this story at last year’s Showcase of the Immortals in Orlando, but the Dead Man rose again rather than ride off into the sunset after losing to Roman Reigns. This could be leading to Kurt getting the better of McIntyre somewhere down the road, or starting a new story as if this one never happened. A great piece of storytelling could be wasted.
I hope not. Even as a huge Kurt Angle fan, if he’s going to be performing in the ring a month before he turns 50, this is exactly what he should be doing. Wrestling needs Drew to be a big deal right now, and Angle got us closer to that being the case last night. He did so in a way that showcased his own gifts as an entertainer. Maybe not the ones which first made us cheer him decades ago, but isn’t it even more impressive he’s showing us new tricks at this stage of his career?
Wrestling’s stories never end, which is part of why their biggest stars never really the stage. But at least for one show, last night in England WWE proved they can use their older stars to great effect.
We’ll take it.