By Mike Mooneyham
Sept. 23, 2001
The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin may be the two biggest stars in the wrestling business today, but Kurt Angle’s not far behind. It’s true.
Angle, a 1996 Olympic gold medal winner, looms as one of the most patriotic babyfaces in the world of sports entertainment. Angle has been bathed in the red, white and blue not just since joining the WWF less than three years ago, but since 1996 when he won the gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the Summer Games in Atlanta, waving an American flag and leading the crowd in chanting “USA, USA!” His smooth transition from amateur to pro and his rapid ascension to world championship status has put the Pittsburgh native on the fast track to superstardom.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]There would be no better time to give Angle the world title than tonight when he challenges Austin for the WWF crown at the Unforgiven pay-per-view. Jim Ross said Thursday that a decision to put the strap on Angle may be a last-second one, but agreed that it would be a nice touch for Angle to win it in front of his hometown fans in the Steel City.
Angle, one of the better-liked WWF performers backstage, hasn’t let success go to his head and is one of the company’s most visible assets, having recently released a book of his own while serving as a credible ambassador for the promotion. Even more amazing to longtime observers is that the 31-year-old Angle wasn’t even an avid follower of pro wrestling until he joined the WWF, although he watched occasionally and obviously had good taste as far as appreciating superior talent.
“A friend and I used to use a 1-5 rating system when we watched wrestling, with 5 being the worst and 1 being the best,” says Angle. “I won’t say who 2 through 5 were, but No. 1 was always Ric Flair … Ric has done a lot for the business. People enjoy watching him, and he’s very entertaining. He’s the complete package. I think this business and the people who are fans of the business owe a lot to him. Ric deserves to be that No. 1. When you’re comparing someone to the best, you’re comparing him to Ric Flair. Ric Flair is the best.”
The former Olympian took to the professional part of the sport like a duck to water.
“I believe I was meant to win the gold medal,” Angle said in an interview last year. “But I feel more comfortable in this ring than I did the amateur wrestling ring. And that’s a tough thing to say. It’s amazing how I caught on. I think that’s why when I went out and tried out the first day, the second day they came up to me with a contract. They didn’t want to see anything else. That was it.”
Ironically it was Angle’s super-patriotic persona that cast him as a heel when he debuted in the WWF. In the new era of WWF “Attitude,” Angle’s milk-drinking jock character seemed out of place. But that was the plan to begin with. Angle’s “Olympic hero” gimmick really wasn’t a gimmick, but rather an exaggerated extension of his real-life character.[ad#MikeMooneyham-468×15]
“I was looking to be just the opposite,” says Angle. “But they had a plan for me. They said, `Be yourself. Be America’s Olympic hero, and turn it up a thousand degrees. Have a ball and smile all the time. These people love you, even though they don’t.’ And it worked. From the first minute on it was amazing the reaction I got.”
_ Jerry “The King” Lawler, brought in as a guest of Jim Ross, showed up backstage at Smackdown last week in his hometown of Memphis. His son, Brian, was there as well. Lawler left the WWF on Feb. 27 after his estranged wife, Stacy Carter, was let go.
WWF officials have advised Lawler to tend to his divorce and get his personal life in order before discussing a possible return to the company.
Ross said on Thursday that he invited Lawler to be at Smackdown “because I thought it would be good for him and all the guys to see each other. It was more a social visit than anything else. We didn’t talk contracts or return dates or anything like that. Jerry is focused on his divorce and getting that addressed.”
Lawler discussed the status of his severed relationship on a recent post on his Web site. Wrote Lawler:
“Stacy is not coming back. We are now in the midst of divorce proceedings, and of course that is never pleasant. There was a lot of talk about wanting to ‘be on her own’ and ‘make her own decisions’ in my last updates, but the truth is, Stacy has a new man in her life. I wish them well … they deserve each other.”
Ross also put a positive spin on the Smackdown visit by Lawler’s son, Brian (the former Grandmaster Sexay who was fired several months ago after getting busted with illegal drugs on the Canadian border), reporting that he dropped by for a pleasant chat and informed friends that his wife was expecting a baby in October. “It’s really a blessing in disguise he gets to spend so much time with her during her eighth and ninth month of pregnancy,” said Ross, who added they didn’t discuss business.
_ Last week’s Raw drew a 4.8 rating. The number was up 0.2 from the rating it drew the last two weeks and equal to what it drew three weeks ago.
The Sept. 15 episode of Excess dipped to an 0.7 mark.
_ DirecTV will carry tonight’s WWF pay-per-view.
“We have progressed enough in our negotiations with DirecTV that both parties believe it is in their best interests, and the best interests of their viewers, to offer the Unforgiven pay-per-view on DirecTV,” said Stuart Snyder, President and COO of WWFE. “We are very pleased that we can do this for our loyal fans who are also DirecTV subscribers.”
The WWFE previously had indicated that discussions had stalled over a new agreement with DirecTV to replace the previous agreement that had expired at the end of January. The final contract extension WWFE granted to DirecTV expired at the end of August. At that time, WWFE said it doubted that Unforgiven would be offered on DirecTV because discussions had stalled between the parties over a dispute concerning the expired contract.
Contract talks are continuing.
_ In wrestling parlance, President Bush cut a pretty effective promo last week as he addressed the rescue workers at Ground Zero, declaring, “I can hear you. the rest of the world hears you, and the people that did this will hear from us real soon.”
_ Linda McMahon announced that the WWF was giving 180,000 pounds and more than $1 million worth of clothing from their warehouse to charity.
_ Former WCW performer The Wall reported on a radio show last week that he is recovering nicely after a long battle with drug addiction and has dropped in weight from 320 to 280 since June.
The Wall, who was one of the two dozen WCW wrestlers picked up by the WWF when the company was sold in March, was given time off when the WWF learned of his drug problem. He moved from Atlanta to New Jersey and referred to his tenure in WCW as “The Dead Years,” adding that the WCW crew was miserable most of the time. He called Terry Funk “his dad” on the road.
_ Observers report that David Flair has shown considerable improvement since reporting to the WWF’s development training camp at Louisville’s Ohio Valley Wrestling. Flair has been candid in recent interviews in admitting that he was thrown into a spot he wasn’t ready for in WCW.
_ The prize for silliest new maneuver goes to Shane McMahon’s “Mac-aroonie.”
_ WCW referee Billy Silverman left the company over an apparent rib. Jim Ross explained that Silverman didn’t come to work for a Raw on Monday and that he didn’t answer his phone or call any agents.
“We didn’t know where he was,” said Ross. “We were worried about his condition. After we worried about him all day, we found out he went home upset over a rib he felt he didn’t deserve. In my personal view, I think he overreacted. You can’t get too happy or too sad over any of those ribs. You laugh them off and move on … It’s silly stuff, but not nearly as abrasive of things I personally endured in my youth and college years, so I have a hard time. I love the business so much you’d have a hard timing running me off. Maybe Billy will come to that realization sometime soon.”
_ Bill Goldberg is donating items from what he is calling the last match of his wrestling career on eBay for auctioning with all the proceeds going to the American Red Cross disaster relief fund. Goldberg is offering the black boots and one of the gloves he wore at WCW’s Sin pay-per- view Jan. 14 in Indianapolis. He lost the “retirement” match and, due to the sale of WCW, hasn’t wrestled since.
_ Jim Ross reported last week that he has talked to Eddie Guerrero several times recently and hoped that he would be able to return soon. He said that Guerrero would probably have to go to the WWF’s developmental camp in either Louisville or Cincinnati to get his timing back for a few weeks before bringing him back to WWF television. He said that the company will continue to support Guerrero, who has been in rehab battling an addiction to painkillers, and that the WWF wouldn’t put a timetable on his return.