Kurt Angle: One Last Rise to Greatness

In 2019, WWE programming will feature hundreds of verbal claims, insults and admissions. Even still, I’m confident in saying that the year’s most subtly stirring quote has already emerged. This past week on RAW, Kurt Angle stood in center ring with an announcement to make. This was the culmination of his recent struggles, a result of consecutive failures but more than that, an apparent acceptance of the end. Before Angle could reach his conclusion, things changed and this chapter was extended but before that, Kurt’s aforementioned quote captured my attention.

Angle referenced his famed “three I’s” but then admitted that in truth, they’ve recently evolved into “The three D’s. Doubt, defeat and depression.” Within the full speech, that individual line may have flown slightly under the radar but frankly, it was a fitting encapsulation of this current direction. In a world of flashy characters and glossy storylines, here stands the most relatable character of all. A champion at the end of his career, a champion suddenly matched with his toughest opponent yet: father time.

It’s a reality that often plays out rather graphically in combat sports but in the fantasy-driven world of professional wrestling: age isn’t always a factor. Instead, we are almost allowed to live vicariously through our legends’ revivals, watching heroes of the past return to roll back the years for at times, just one night only. Angle is currently different though, wrestling on two consecutive RAW episodes and appearing almost startlingly human too. Just like back in November, Kurt’s in-ring return resulted in struggles and to a disappointed silence, ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

This recent direction has only really came to fruition over the last few months but realistically, its effectiveness relies on the whole story’s length. WWE audiences first met Angle almost two decades ago and it’s fair to say that regardless of ups and downs, this has been a ride undeniably worth watching. Angle was almost immediately one of the industry’s most spectacular performers, and he quickly built a resume that befitted his brilliance. That included a decade-long IMPACT run too of course but with that chapter closed, a return home suddenly felt inevitable.

That’s indeed what happened too, with Angle being inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame before becoming RAW General Manager. It’s quite remarkable that Angle’s comeback begun two years but initially, Angle still seemed relatively distanced from his in-ring past. Eventually though, Angle’s wrestling return arrived in the most unexpected fashion imaginable: as an honorary member of The Shield. That showing quickly resulted in another too, appearing in the traditional Survivor Series match as well. With Rousey by his side, Angle then famously returned to the WrestleMania stage, a triumphant moment of what I can only assume was sheer redemption and validation.

Since then, Angle’s latest stint has taken shape, no longer as an authority figure but instead, as the aging hero that so profoundly mentioned “the three D’s” this week on RAW. Since then, Angle first lost to Dolph Ziggler but then also suffered defeat opposite Drew McIntyre, even submitting to his own Ankle Lock. That particular match was a perfect example of this direction’s effect, with Angle initially entering full of fire and energy before fading and eventually, falling victim to his very own finishing hold.

It was poetically disheartening, a fitting spotlight of Angle’s decline and one that elevated McIntyre too. Kurt was no longer just a returning legend but instead, a character once again in development. That arch continued in Angle’s brief Royal Rumble showing and then in his sudden Baron Corbin defeat also. After losing his role in management, the Kurt Angle character was now seemingly without options. That brings us back to where we started: this past week’s Monday Night RAW and Angle’s looming announcement as well.

That announcement was of course halted and that’s the beauty of this current situation. Professional wrestling allows us something that in reality, this story rarely finds. In this world, Kurt Angle’s battle with father time doesn't have to end in sorrow but instead, it’ll hopefully reach its fairy-tale finale. With WrestleMania looming, Angle’s journey is allowed to end in a blaze of glory and ideally, that’s exactly what will happen. If that’s indeed the destination, this direction’s understated brilliance will be a rare case of wrestling’s range being utilized.

By its nature, wrestling allows us a rather unique access to its talent's development. We grow with the characters and in doing so, watch their performance evolve too. We’ve been following Kurt Angle’s journey for 20 years and at times, it’s been a tough watch. Angle’s story isn’t one without struggle but the truth always remained that once the bell rung, Kurt made himself at home. Well, right now on RAW, the Kurt Angle character is in the midst of his greatest struggle yet.

Fortunately though, this time the response is for our enjoyment only as together, we wait for Kurt Angle to rise to greatness one more time.

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