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Kurt Angle
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By Paul Herzog

I donít know why it is, but I wrote more features for WrestlingClassics.com when Iím on business trips, a fact that would concern my employer if they knew about my ďother lifeĒ as a wrestling fan and writer.  As I write this, Iím in a TecForum session at the Global OSS Summit in Miami.  The conference, hotel, and my time are all quite expensive (my time, to be honest, less costly than the first two).  So it is with a somewhat guilty conscience that I ponder the topic of Kurt Angle.

Weíre blessed to have a wide base of posters on the WrestlingClassics.com Message Board with years of experience in professional wrestling.  Of interest to me especially are those who spent time in Memphis.  Not necessarily because I grew up there (I didnít) or because I love the products from that territory (I do).  What fascinates me the most about Memphis was the incredible grind of the schedule.  Their loop consisted during the Jerry Jarrett era of TV in Memphis on Saturday morning and a show in Nashville on Saturday night, the big Mid-South Coliseum show on Monday, Tuesday in Louisville and Wednesday in Evansville.  On top of that were usually spot shows and non-weekly territory towns (Jonesboro, Tupelo or Jackson, for instance) on Sunday Thursday, and Friday. If you got a couple of small shows off, there were only 26 or 27 shows a month, month after month, year after year.  The drives between each town ranged from 3 to 8 hours.  To keep this pace up, the style of match performance adapted.  It wasnít quite as stiff as Texas, not as hold-for-hold demanding as the Mid-Atlantic region, not as big-man driven as the WWWF.  Mempho was Mempho, now and forever, unlike anywhere else.

Being able to wrestle 200+ times a year and have an extended career meant that wrestlers had to take care of themselves, and of each other in the ring.  Itís something that Memphis wrestlers excelled at, the illusion of violence.  Itís a psychological thing, really.  Lawlerís punches always looked better after he pulled his shoulder strap down, and that little thing was something that the fans believed in.  It didnít take true brutality, life-risking bumps, or buckets of blood, although Memphis had all of these from time to time.  It took wrestling skill, brains, and a body to pull it off.

When I look at the business today, I see a lot of big muscular guys, with finely tuned bodies that look terrific on television and at the arenas.  These bodies arenít designed to take the day-to-day punishment of the style they wrestle.  Bumps arenít taken consistently.  Neck muscles arenít developed to absorb the impact of headfirst dives and drops.  This is the crux of the problem.  Amateur wrestlers can spar hours on end, day after day, without the risk of serious injury, because huge impacts arenít at the heart of their sport.  Today, you can see a 15-minute match without one real hold, just a rear chin lock so the combatants can catch their breath before the next flip over the top rope or brawl into the stands.

Which brings me back to Kurt Angle.  I believe that the wrestling business, to thrive into my childrenís generation, must evolve back to get back to the days of long careers.  It isnít easy to build a star, period, much less have to do it year after year as wrestlers are forced out due to injury.  Mick Foley is the best example of a wrestler forced to retire from ring action before he should have, but there are literally dozens of wrestlers today, at all levels, who are in constant pain.  It seems like every wrestler in WCW or WWF takes several months off to recuperate from a serious ailment at least once a year.  Their injuries range from nagging to chronic and permanent.  Itíll take a special performer at the upper echelons of the business to drive the style back to something where that doesnít happen anymore.  They will drive how matches are performed, the way that Lou Thesz did in the 40s, Dick the Bruiser and the Sheik in the 60s, Dory Funk Jr. and Jack Brisco in the 70s, Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat in the 80s.  That drive will bring us to a point where wrestlers donít need huge knee braces simply to run to the ring, and prescription pain killers to get through each day.  When we look at the 00s and beyond, that wrestler is Kurt Angle.  Help us, Obi-Wan, youíre the classic wrestling fanís only hope.

Paul Herzog has spent far too many hours as a columnist for various Internet sources, and the Wrestling Lariat newsletter, over the past six years. He is a systems engineer at Tellabs in Bolingbrook, Illinois, and is lucky to have a wife that likes the wrestling business, too. He can be reached at grapsfan@worldnet.att.net.

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