Kurt Angle

Kurt Angle

By Mike Mooneyham

March 9, 2003

Kurt Angle will work his final match for at least a year when he defends the WWE heavyweight title against Brock Lesnar this week on Smackdown.

Angle and the company received crushing news last week when an MRI revealed that his ailing neck will require surgery and extensive rehabilitation. The report placed a major kink in the plans for Wrestlemania, where the former Olympic gold medalist was scheduled to meet Lesnar in one of three main events.

Angle now will attempt to gut it out for one more match – not at Wrestlemania March 30 at Seattle’s Safeco Field, but Tuesday night in his hometown of Pittsburgh where Smackdown tapings are being held. The bout will be kept short as possible, with Angle relinquishing his title and most likely being “injured” in an angle that will explain his absence at Wrestlemania.

Angle, who has dealt with neck problems since his Olympic days, experienced numbness in one of his arms last weekend during the WWE tour of South Africa. Although he was encouraged not to work until he had the injury checked out by doctors back home, Angle fulfilled his commitments on the tour.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Angle’s condition is said to be the result of years of wear and tear on his neck. As disappointing as the injury is to Angle, who is regarded by many as the best all-around performer in the business today, sources say he’s looking on the bright side and will take advantage of the time off to spend with his wife and their 4-month-old daughter.

News of Angle’s injury came on the heels of injuries to The Evolution’s Randy Orton and Dave Batista, both of which occurred at a house show last weekend during a tag-team match with Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley (Mark Lamonica and Devon Hughes). Tests last week revealed that Orton suffered a broken foot, while Batista suffered a torn triceps that will put him on the shelf for several months.

Orton, who is said to be a couple years away from becoming a major star, had just come off a serious shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of his debut year. His latest injury, which required metal rods to be surgically inserted into his foot, could keep him out of action for as long as six months. Orton, son of former mat star Cowboy Bob Orton Jr. and grandson of Big Bob Orton, has been told by doctors that he can expect to experience pain in that foot for the rest of his life.

Edge (Adam Copeland), who has been on the brink of cracking the coveted top tier for the past two years, is also scheduled for neck surgery and is expected to miss about a year of in-ring action. Rhyno (Terry Gerin) recently returned from a lengthy absence due to similar surgery.

Angle’s injury isn’t expected to affect the two top matches at Wrestlemania (The Rock vs. Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan vs. Vince McMahon), but officials are scurrying to find a suitable replacement for Lesnar. Top choices include Chris Benoit and The Undertaker.

On a related front, behind-the-scenes talks with Bill Goldberg and Sting have intensified. A last-minute deal with either could affect the No. 4 bout at Wrestlemania, Triple vs. Booker T, a match which Hunter Hearst Helmsley reportedly is not overly enthused with since company brass doesn’t view Booker as a top drawing card. Booker’s sudden push has been due to the fact that the company hasn’t been able to come up with a bigger name to challenge Triple H at Wrestlemania.

Sources say Goldberg, whose bargaining positioning was bolstered by last week’s developments, is close to an agreement on highly favorable terms. Goldberg, who has said on numerous occasions that he doesn’t like the WWE style, has pushed for creative control and a limited schedule. WWE had proposed no more than 10 dates per month, but has been cool on Goldberg’s push for control of his programs.

Consideration initially had been given to a possible Triple H-Goldberg battle, since heat between the two had been highly publicized stemming from a confrontation at a New York licensing show three years ago. At that time Goldberg, infuriated over comments Triple H had made in a radio interview about Goldberg’s lack of experience and potential value to the WWF, launched an obscenity-laced tirade at Helmsley, who was stationed at a booth with future fiancee’ Stephanie McMahon.

“If you can’t get along with the people here, there’s no point in bringing you in,” Helmsley said of Goldberg in a 2001 interview. “My belief is that if Bill Goldberg had an issue with me, he should have personally walked up to me, pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey, can I talk to you a minute?’ and then if he wanted to threaten me face to face, fine. But it was wrong place, wrong time, wrong action. To go and embarrass himself and myself in front of a bunch of people who weren’t necessarily a wrestling crowd, but rather business people at a convention … they saw this gigantic bald guy threatening this other big guy, and they just freaked out.”

Neither Triple H nor Lesnar are on Goldberg’s short list of desired opponents.

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- The return of Steve Austin and The Rock helped boost Raw ratings to its highest level in 10 months as the show registered a 4.5 rating last week with hours of 4.3 and 4.7.

- Ted DiBiase, Sting and Nikita Koloff will present their religious-based, wrestling-themed “Acquire the Fire” production March 21-22 at the Greensboro Coliseum. The group performed before a crowd of nearly 10,000 in Tampa last month at a Christian youth convention. The play’s “finish” saw Sting clear the ring with a baseball bat after rebuffing worldly offers from The Million Dollar Man (DiBiase) and The Russian Nightmare (Koloff).

- Shane Douglas offered some interesting observations in an article last week in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Douglas called Lex Luger “a $10 million body and a 10-cent talent.” On Shawn Michaels, with whom he feuded in and out of the ring, Douglas said, “Shawn is an incredibly gifted performer, the best in-ring performer ever, maybe. But he’s three-faced.”

Douglas began his career in the mid-‘80s after being trained by former pro wrestler Dom DeNucci, who also trained Mick Foley and former South Carolina Gamecock and Pittsburgh Steeler offensive lineman Steve Courson.

- The new tell-all book by New York Yankees pitcher David Wells, “‘Perfect I’m Not! Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches and Baseball,” was co-written by former WWE writer Chris Kreski. In the autobiography Wells claims up to 40 percent of major-leaguers “are juiced” (heavy steroid users) and says amphetamines are readily available in baseball clubhouses.

- Spike Dudley (Matt Hyson) told the WWE Web site that three of his high school classmates died in the Feb. 20 Rhode island nightclub disaster.

“That was actually my high school bus stop,” added fellow Rhode Island native Chuck Palumbo, whose sister once worked as a waitress at the club. “I used to walk to that bus stop from my house. That tells you how close it was. That’s why I immediately knew that I had to know somebody in there. I’ve been going there for years. I’ve been going there since I was of legal drinking age.”

A friend of Palumbo’s suffered burns over 80 percent of his body and his lungs were damaged by smoke inhalation during the blaze. Palumbo, who now lives in San Diego, said he planned to visit the area and establish a fund-raiser for the victim’s families.

- Chris Jericho last week accepted trash talk radio host Howard Stern’s challenge for a celebrity “battle of the bands.” Stern issued the challenge on his national radio show. Jericho’s band, Fozzy, will take on Stern’s makeshift group, The Losers, with Stern on vocals. The bands will perform in front of music industry judges, and a winner will be announced.

“They sound pretty good, but I’ll still take them on,” Stern said of Fozzy. “Their song is not moving, they sound like a hair band. The music doesn’t match the vocals. Jericho isn’t very good. A boring song.” Stern’s sidekick, Robin Quivers, added, “You see how one voice can ruin a song.”

- The current plan is for WWE to hold separate Raw and Smackdown pay-per-views beginning in June.

- Jerry “The King” Lawler will realize a dream when the lascivious WWE announcer travels to Chicago to be a celebrity guest photographer. He will shoot nude Playboy models for Playboy.com, and his work is scheduled to appear on the Web site at the same time that Torrie Wilson’s Playboy Magazine pictorial is on newsstands (in the May edition and on sale in late March).

“My first reaction was, ‘Once again, it’s good to be the King,'” Lawler told the WWE Web site. “I’m just waiting to see who the Playmates are.” Other celebrities who have served as photographer for a day for the pay service include Carmen Electra, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Marilyn Manson, Tommy Lee and Nelly.

Lawler took photography courses while studying commercial arts at the University of Memphis.