I’m a big fan of the Steve Austin Show, as it’s cool to hear from the biggest star of all time. That gives him a certain credibility that few others can have and it means that he’s a bit more worth listening to than some others. If there’s one thing that he enjoys doing, it’s praising Kurt Angle as one of the best performers he’s ever seen. The following exchange sums up Austin’s thoughts on him quite well:

Indy wrestler, talking about one of his friends: “He took to wrestling really fast. He was kind of a natural.”

Austin: “Hang on. Was this friend Kurt Angle?”

Indy wrestler: “No.”

Austin: “Then he’s not a natural, because Kurt Angle is the only natural in the history of wrestling.”

While that might be a bit of hyperbole, it shows you just how revered Angle is. Last week on Monday Night Raw, Angle announced his impending retirement from professional wrestling after nearly twenty years in the ring. His final match is going to take place against WrestleMania 35 and that’s really quite a sad thing to think about. I know Angle isn’t quite what he used to be, but he’s one of the greatest of all time, which is what we’re going to look at today.

The first of a lot of many:

Angle debuted in 1999 and took wrestling by storm, winning the European Title, Intercontinental Title, King of the Ring and WWF Title in his rookie year, making him the most successful rookie in the history of wrestling. Then he started to get the inner workings of the sport and got even better, which was kind of hard to imagine after a first year that saw him going toe to toe if not being ahead of established stars like Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit.

What impresses me more than anything else about Angle is how he didn’t just rely on his amateur abilities. There was no one in the company who could actually hang with him on the mat, but Angle wound up adding in things like brawling and even a little high flying to mix it up. You can only take someone to the mat in a hold so many times and it was very cool to see Angle switch things up that much. Angle became a treat to watch because you knew that he had the wrestling abilities to fall back on and he would bring them out at times, but there was so much other stuff to see.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the best part of Angle’s career: his goofy comedy that worked so well. Angle is one of the funniest people you’ll see in wrestling, as his over the top All American character at the start of his career is some of the best work I can remember from anyone. The Three I’s are as condescending as you can get while maintaining a grin, but when you add in the fact that he really was the best amateur wrestler in the world, it added such a layer of seriousness that it was a nearly perfect combination.

That’s where Angle really shined: by having such an incredible balance of wrestling, comedy and character work. It wasn’t just his time as a heel either, as he had some of the best face performances of his generation, including his incredible run against Austin in 2001 (his promo where he ripped off his neck brace and said Austin was scared of him because Austin knew Angle was the only man that could beat him still gives me chills), which couldn’t have come at a better time.

For America:

Let’s go with some more specifics now, including his best rivalries. Angle wrestled just about every big name over the year, having great matches and feuds with all kinds of people. At the top of his list though has to be Austin, Lesnar and Jericho, but the stuff with Benoit is just second to none. You can pick any of their matches and just never come up with a bad performance.

The idea of Benoit being the one person who could hang with Angle on the mat was a great story that showed a vulnerability from Angle that he didn’t often give off and added a new dimension. The fact that the matches, including the masterpiece at the 2003 Royal Rumble, were incredible somehow made things that much better.

That brings us back to how versatile Angle could be. Yeah he could go on the mat with someone like Benoit (well of course) but at the same time, he could brawl with someone like Edge (an incredibly underrated feud that left Angle bald), trade suplexes with Austin, go intense enough to get back at Rock for the insulting jokes, or be the perfect straight man to people like Enzo Amore and Big Cass (Amore: “He’s seven foot tall and you can’t teach that!” Angle, looking up at Big Cass: “You sure can’t!”). Who else has that kind of range? There are a handful of people, but they’re few and far between with Angle at the top of the list.

He really is versatile:

I always appreciated Angle, but the more I’ve seen of him over the years, including his underrated run in Impact Wrestling, his first years in the business where he was instantly one of the most talented people around, and his years in between where he was a legend after only a few years in the ring, the more amazed I am at how talented he really is at just about everything he does. Angle is a one of a kind talent and someone that we’re never going to see again. Even though he’s a shell of the shell that he was ten years ago, he’s still able to look intense and do his signature stuff.

We’re less than a month away from Angle’s retirement from the ring but you can imagine that he’ll have a job in WWE for almost as long in WWE as he wants to. His skills in the ring and on the microphone would certainly be worthwhile down at the Performance Center or as an ambassador for the company (Olympic Gold Medalist is the kind of thing that gets some attention from people outside the business). Angle has certainly earned the right to do whatever he wants in wrestling and that’s something he’ll get to do.

You never get to see wrestlers like Angle, because there has never been another like him, nor will there ever be again. The all time great amateur background and the world class natural charisma are a mixture that you can’t duplicate and thankfully it really hasn’t been tried. Angle is one of the best of all time and the more I see from him, the more amazed I really am. He’s the kind of legend you can only have in wrestling and I’ll leave you with one incredible story.

Jonathan Coachman was on ESPN Radio a few years back and was asked how good Angle was at amateur wrestling. Coachman told a story about Lesnar calling Angle out for an amateur match in the locker room. Angle was at catering having a sandwich when he heard what was said. Allegedly, Angle went to the back, tied Lesnar up in knots, and went back to his sandwich. It was still hot.

Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his Amazon author page with 28 wrestling books. His latest book is the the Complete 2000 Monday Nitro and Thunder Reviews Part 1.

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