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Kurt Angle’s Passion for Self-Destruction

NOTE – Yeah, this was supposed to be posted three days ago. Whoops.

Kurt Angle and I both got new jobs this week. Mine, however, won’t end up killing me.

Last week, in a press release for their “No Surrender” pay-per-view that occurred this past Sunday, TNA (via perennial money-mark Dixie Carter) stated that there would be an announcement made at the pay-per-view that would “change the history” of the wrestling industry. The last time this sort of hyperbole was used in hyping a TNA pay-per-view, it culminated in a t-shirt with a Scorpion logo on it (teasing the eventual return of Sting)…which, as even those who haven’t watched in the past year can tell you, certainly didn’t deliver on that promise. Later in the week, it was leaked that former WWE and WCW booker Vince Russo was brought back into the promotion and became a part of their booking committee. Many assumed Russo’s hiring would be the “industry changing event” hinted at in the press release until The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer received confirmation that this was NOT the announcement that would be made at the pay-per-view. What we got instead floored everyone that was watching the pay-per-view or read about it afterwards…and not necessarily in a good way.

Taped days earlier at a late hour to avoid any potential leaks, a vignette aired to close the pay-per-view with a voiceover describing Angle’s accomplishments (both in his actual wrestling and “sports entertainment” careers). The promo ended with a shot of Kurt Angle taking out his mouthguard and enthusiastically yelling “it’s real…it’s damn real.”

Interesting choice of words, and not because of the whole “pro wrestling isn’t real” thing.

When Angle was first offered a deal with WWE (then the WWF) over ten years ago, he literally mocked their attempt to acquire him and ritually burned the contract. Having been an amateur wrestler in college and an Olympic Gold Medalist, the mere thought of him entering the industry was seen by Angle as an insult. For some reason – money, boredom, whatever it was – Angle finally caved in and decided to give it a shot. What Angle found was that not only was he an absolute natural (making more improvements in his first year than most guys make in their entire careers), but he LOVED doing it.

Over the next few years, Angle rocketed to stardom and became one of the industry’s biggest draws. Unfortunately, as any professional wrestler will tell you, there’s an inevitable physical breakdown that occurs when one works such a hectic schedule over an extended period of time. Neck problems are a fairly common side effect, and Angle was no exception. Some workers, like Chris Benoit, will give the neck as much time to heal as it needs. Angle wasn’t one of those workers.

At first, Angle was almost universally praised by both fans and those within the industry for his dedication, passion, and tireless work ethic. It wasn’t until roughly a year and a half ago that it became apparent that what we all thought was Angle’s passion for the business was, instead, what Roddy Piper often refers to as “The Sickness.” In short, it’s an obsession guys have with working in the industry. It’s detrimental to the point that even with their health and very lives on the line, guys simply won’t take the time off or quit when all other signs tell them that they desperately need to hang up the boots. In his autobiography, Piper dedicated an entire section to “The Sickness” and used it to explain why guys like Curt Hennig, Rick Rude, and many others are now good-looking corpses rather than living middle-aged men.

Even if you won’t find it listed in any medical journals, Kurt Angle most definitely suffers from this sickness. He developed not only an addiction to painkillers, but an outright reliance on them just to be able to function (a fact which he himself admitted). Naturally, abusing painkillers made his behavior erratic and caused some in WWE to start questioning whether he should be working at all. The death of Eddy Guerrero last Fall made the issue even more troubling. Some in WWE management even put him on what was referred to as a “death watch.” Another fall-out of Guerrero’s death directly impacting Angle was the establishment of a drug policy, resulting in Angle being suspended for 30 days this past Summer.

In addition to the physical and mental toll the industry was taking, Angle’s marriage was falling apart while his wife was pregnant with their first child. That fact, combined with an muscular atrophy (his triceps are said to be atrophying and one bicep is noticably larger than the other) and increasingly erratic backstage behavior, resulted in WWE demanding that he take time off. It may have even been suggested he attend rehab. Angle refused, and eventually WWE got to the point where Angle’s insistence on destroying himself in every sense of the word was too much of a burden for the company to bear. As a result they outright released the biggest star they’ve had over the past six years, hoping that depriving him of the sole source of all his woes would lead him to take the time off he needed and straighten himself out. Unfortunately, as we now know, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

Granted, there are arguments that signing with TNA has its benefits, even if taking time off completely would be a better option for Angle. For example, the company has at most three tapings a month – two television tapings and one live pay-per-view event. It’s a far cry from the full-time schedule he would have demanded to work with WWE. The problem with that and other arguments, however, is that Kurt Angle doesn’t just need time off or a lighter schedule. He needs to retire.

With his body deteriorating (don’t let his still-muscular physique fool you), the best case scenario for Kurt Angle right now is for him to work a part-time schedule over the next few years, at which point he’ll end up in a wheelchair. At worst, he won’t even make it to the wheelchair. Any way you cut it, the only people that will benefit from this decision will be the powers-that-be in TNA, who have the most marketable individual they’ve had in the company’s history. Kurt Angle and his family will benefit financially, but in my opinion it’s the only benefit they’re going to see in this situation.

To call this signing irresponsible would be generous. And while I place blame at the feet of TNA, Kurt Angle himself deserves some criticism for putting his addictions above his own health and his own family. The only silver lining in this situation is that most fans I’ve talked to are far more concerned with Kurt’s health than anything else, with all of them (thus far) saying that they’d rather just see him retire outright than face the possibility of another tragedy along the lines of Eddy Guerrero.

This all might sound very morbid, but don’t get me wrong. I don’t want, nor am I pulling, for either scenario to occur. I really do hope that Angle proves myself and others wrong. I hope that he overcomes his painkiller addiction, halts the physical deterioration, and he once again becomes an entertaining wrestler who goes on to live a very long life. However, the cynic in me…scratch that, the realist in me knows that won’t be the case.

It’s real. It’s damn real. Let’s just hope that eventually he realizes that.

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