On Sunday night at the TNA Slammiversary pay-per-view, Kurt Angle was introduced as the second inductee to the TNA Hall of Fame. There’s no doubt that Angle deserves the honor and is, quite honestly, one of the all-time greatest in-ring performers in the history of professional wrestling.
But I couldn’t help thinking about something when it comes to his career: how much greater would it be if he never left the WWE?
While Angle signed with the WWE in October 1998, he didn’t make his official debut until November 14, 1999 when he defeated Shawn Stasiak at the Survivor Series PPV. He left the company on August 25, 2006 after working out his release. So, his time there was roughly 6 years and 9 months, filled with great memories of him having matches against the likes of Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, Steve Austin and even Shane McMahon among many others.
Several weeks after his time with WWE, he signed on with TNA and made his debut on October 9, 2006 when he confronted Samoa Joe in the middle of the ring on Impact. So, Angle has now been with the company for 6 years and 8 months.
That’s right – Kurt Angle has almost been with TNA for as long as his entire career with WWE.
I still remember being in the Impact Zone at the No Surrender PPV back in 2006 when everyone was waiting for the big announcement TNA was going to make. This one was sealed up tight with only a handful of people in on what it would be. (I even knew someone who was in the know and tried every trick I knew all night long to get out of him but he wouldn’t budge.)
Right before the show went off the air, the video played showing that the former WWE World Champion had jumped ship, making him the biggest signing in TNA history at the time.
The building exploded. The online wrestling community went berserk.
TNA got a bonafide blue chipper even though he was already beaten and battered, going through the grind of the WWE for the past six years and was physically and emotionally beaten down.
Who cares because he was Kurt Angle, one of the biggest stars in all of wrestling at the time as he was leaving the big pond to make a splash in TNA.
How big has that splash been though? Sure, he’s been a big deal in TNA. He’s had plenty of very good matches in the company especially with AJ Styles.
But how many great matches can you point out at a moments notice? How many memorable moments had he truly has with TNA?
Of course, his debut was fantastic, confronting Samoa Joe and giving him a head butt right between the eyes.
And their match at the 2006 Lockdown PPV was incredible with them meshing an amazing mixture of wrestling and MMA moves in a match that some thought may bring about a stylistic change to wrestling.
In TNA, Angle has been very good but not overly memorable. And it’s not because he isn’t good because he has been. Part of that is because the company hasn’t blown up since his arrival or anyone else’s for that matter.
It seems like every week the company does the same rating as it always does or in the same ballpark. Some shows are fine, some are not but nothing that really sticks out in the long run.
And Angle has been caught up in this. He’s in TNA and they’re the #2 wrestling company. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just a fact.
But with WWE – the #1 wrestling company in the world – Angle was a big deal.
A really big deal.
He has classic matches like at WrestleMania 21 – a beautiful symphony of wrestling – of WrestleMania 19 where he and Brock Lesnar almost killed themselves in an incredible athletic display. And there’s others.
Most wrestling fans ever remember the funny Kurt Angle on television and his back and forth with Edge and Christian, Commissioner Mick Foley and even wearing a cowboy hat in conversations with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. And there are plenty more moments.
Moments that easily come to mind, all from his WWE days. Mind you, that was at the beginning and peak of his career (which came about very quickly) and was on wrestling biggest stage in the WWE. So, yes, there is an advantage there.
But with TNA, you don’t have that many specific moments that stand out involving Angle. Some of that is because it is TNA, a smaller stage than WWE. Some of that is because Angle – while still very good – has been past his prime and really beaten up. That’s fair. You can also make the argument that TNA hasn’t done a good enough job of creating those type of moments for Angle.
Which leads me back to the original question: what if Kurt Angle had never left the WWE? What if he was just given a break and allowed to freshen the batteries and continue to be a part of the machine?
Like I said, no one disputes how good, even great, Angle has been during his career. But he would be even greater if he had never left WWE. There would be more discussion of him being one of the greatest of all-time, a sure-fire WWE Hall of Famer.
He would be on a different level, one of the elite in the pantheon of wrestling greats.
It just wasn’t meant to be.