Posted by Matt Sampson
Ric Flair is widely considered amongst wrestling pundits as the greatest professional wrestler of to ever lace up a pair of boots. It’s an opinion that I myself share. Greatness in professional wrestling is often based on opinion since there is no real competition involved. People tend to judge a wrestler’s greatness on factors that they as fans hold more important or less important than others. One fan’s judgment of a wrestlers pending greatness may be based solely on how many championships said wrestler has won during their career or how long that wrestler has spent on the top of the card. Other fans focus more on match quality and technical ability. Some wrestlers have an “it” factor where fans are inexplicably drawn to a wrestlers charisma or look. Professional wrestling is not like other sports where someone can stand out based on statistics and be universally accepted as the best in their field like Wayne Gretzky to Hockey, Michael Jordan to Basketball, or Tiger Woods to Golf. So why is Ric Flair considered the greatest of all time? Well, because he was the top of the heap in enough of the criteria or departments that we find important. My answer may differ from someone else’s but I believe Ric Flair “was” the greatest all around performer in the history of the wrestling business. Did you notice how I used the word “was”?
In 2005 TNA Wrestling’s landscape was completely different than it is today. I have stated this before but for today Ill focus on different reasons than I chose last time. As far as in ring talents go, TNA had a roster that in my opinion was far superior to WWE’s at that time. Talents, that are still with TNA wrestling but I believe were better utilized at this point in time. However, What TNA was missing at that point was someone to be “The” guy in the company. Jeff Jarrett had been a multiple time World Champion at that point but we as fans never really overcame the feeling that he was holding that spot for someone else to emerge as “the guy” in TNA. Would it be a homegrown talent such as AJ Styles to do so? Maybe, I feel his in ring work is as good as a wrestlers can be but feel he lacks a bit in the promo department to make me genuinely care about the buildup of one of his matches. Could someone that we weren’t even aware of yet emerge from obscurity and take the company by storm ala Bill Goldberg in WCW? No, and here is why. As popular as TNA wrestling was at this point amongst die-hard wrestling fans, it hadn’t broken that barrier into main stream popularity. Goldberg became popular because he was featured on a show that had already built a strong fan-base and viewership. Goldberg would have never been as successful in the TNA wrestling of 2005. What TNA needed was a talent that was in his prime, versatile, willing to help establish new talent and that was second to none inside the ring where it really counts. What TNA needed was an Olympic Hero.
So why did I start a Kurt Angle article by talking about Ric Flair? Simple, when it comes to value as a professional wrestler Kurt Angle is more like Ric Flair than any other wrestler past or present….where it counts. When I was younger, I watched Ric Flair have incredible matches with the likes of Terry Funk, Ricky Steamboat, and Sting. These matches have stood the test of time and are still great watches today and I suggest you do so if you already haven’t before you ever call yourself a wrestling fan. However, now that I am older and a more educated fan I look back at this time in Ric’s career and am more amazed by something else. During this time, Ric Flair was also having hour long “barn burner” matches with the likes of Ricky Morton, Jimmy Garvin, and Michael Hayes. All talented workers but none that were main eventers and none that were anywhere near the talent level of Ric Flair. The “magic” of these matches was in the fact that they were believable. We as fans believed that these men belonged in the ring with the champion of the world because Ric Flair did his job and made us believe. I still believe to this day that it is the single most underrated aspect of his career. The fact that Ric Flair could have a believable match with anyone on the roster, instantly increased the value of the entire said roster. Not many people can do this. Could you imagine Hulk Hogan having an hour long “Broadway” with Marty Jannetty? I hope that puts the time period into perspective. The only other person as versatile of a performer as Flair is Angle. Kurt Angle could walk into a TNA ring tomorrow night and tear down the house with A.J. Styles as he has done numerous times. However, what is amazing about Kurt Angle is He could come back the next week and do the exact same thing against Hernandez, Joey Ryan, or Devon. Kurt is so good at his job that we as wrestling fans “believe” that he can beat anyone on the roster as well as lose to anyone on the roster without affecting his value in the company. WWE has been heavily criticized by the IWC for their booking of Ryback because he has lost numerous pay per view matches in a row. When a worker is as talented as Kurt Angle, “shotty” booking just doesn’t play as big of a factor as it should. Kurt could go under at every big show of the year only to win the World Championship at the last one and it would be universally accepted by the audience because in part that he is established but more importantly because he is a very special talent.
So, obviously, since my last article heavily criticized the current state of the X division, I am going to talk about how TNA dropped the ball after bringing Kurt Angle in right? Wrong, I feel that TNA handled Kurt’s initial run with the company flawlessly. His original confrontation with Joe was one of those “moments” that wrestling fans are often in search of and it set up an amazing series of matches where both men were booked to look strong. So TNA establishes Kurt as a top guy in their company and Samoa Joe in turn is elevated and gets more validation after holding his own with a legit superstar. It was a big step in the right direction for TNA. I remember thinking that TNA had found their “guy” for the future. Think about the good spot TNA was in during 2007. They had a strong X-Division in the middle of the card, a tag team division that people actually cared about, and Kurt Angle at the top of the card who they could use to build their new stars. I will say that I believe the biggest steps forward towards TNA becoming legit competition for the WWE were made at this time and not during the Hogan Bischoff era.
Kurt’s career continued on a very entertaining road. At one point, he held every major title in the company. I was a fan of this decision, not because he was my favorite wrestler (Christopher Daniels is actually my favorite worker in TNA but I recognize Kurt Angle as the greatest worker of our era) but because I recognized the opportunity to elevate the career of whoever would take these titles off of him. By giving all of their championships to one worker for a short period of time, it said that Kurt Angle was something special as this had never been done. Whoever ended up going over him for these championships was getting an extra rub. Up until this point, TNA didn’t have a main event scene that could be looked at as just as important as their beloved X-Division.
Where I believed TNA dropped the ball was when they started pairing Kurt with workers that wouldn’t be elevated in any way by working with him. I understand that Kurt and Jeff Jarrett had some behind the scenes “heat” in regards to Jeff having a relationship with Kurt’s wife and that “real life” often makes for the best foundation for wrestling storylines but what I don’t understand is how having a lengthy feud with each other helps TNA take steps forward when they should have been focused on elevating unestablished stars. If I was a booker which I am not and I was trying to push a talent as a top player in the company I would pair him with Kurt from the get-go in the fashion that he was paired with Desmond Wolfe upon his arrival in TNA.
When the Hogan and Bischoff era began in 2010, I was actually impressed and intrigued by the feud that Kurt Angle was entered into with Ken Anderson. From that point on however, I feel that Kurt has been somewhat lost. I don’t know Hulk Hogan or any of the creative department from TNA personally but it seems to me that they don’t have the confidence in Kurt Angle to be “the guy” in the company. His one run with the World Championship during this tenure is easily his most forgettable as I feel he was booked more as a cookie cutter heel champion and less like Kurt Angle. Kurt went over Bobby Roode at Bound for Glory in a dirty finish only to drop the title on free TV in a minute long joke of a match to James Storm. Bobby Roode was on the brink of greatness during their Bound for Glory match. Instead of using that match to tell a story, TNA was more focused on the turn of Bobby Rood which in fact didn’t even involve Kurt Angle. Bobby Roode because he is an ultra-talented wrestler got over as champion in spite of TNA dropping the ball with the booking of his TNA championship match with Kurt Angle. Sometimes, wrestling companies commit collateral damage when trying to tell a drawn out story and that is what I believe Kurt Angle ended up being in the Bobby Roode, James Storm storyline. As good as Kurt is, I still believe he hasn’t been given the opportunity to truly recover from the mishap.
So TNA: Yesterday vs. Today, the winner in this week’s edition is somewhere in between. TNA is better than the yesterday where they didn’t have Kurt Angle under contract but not as good as the 2008 version where he was the focal point of most programming. I would like to see Kurt at the top of the card in TNA sooner than later. In a perfect world, I would like to see TNA “give up” on Jeff Hardy as the top baby face of the company and have Kurt step into that role against the Aces and Eights. I actually have hoped that this still may happen. For those of you who feel that Kurt is better suited as a heel, I ask you to look back on his feud with Steve Austin in WWE during the invasion angle where Kurt was booked as an undefeatable baby face to prove my point (the Summerslam 2001 match to be exact, where Jim Ross utters the line “Somewhere down deep inside, Austin’s gotta know that he can’t beat Kurt Angle”). The fact that we can argue about this at all proves just how good Kurt really is. I believe also that it is possible that we could indeed look back in a few years and say that Kurt was the greatest of all time. A few things need to happen first but one of them is not him returning to WWE. He can achieve what he needs to achieve in a TNA ring just smarter people need to be in charge.
If you agree with anything I have said or disagree with everything I have said, leave a comment. I would love to hear your opinions because we are wrestling fans and this is what we do.
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