Till My Head Falls Off: Life After Kurt Angle


Okay, so usually I stay away from the wrestling commentary is and stick to the music side of things. But this is the LAUNCH of the NEW 411Mania, and the biggest story of the week doesn�t have much to do with rock and roll.

So let�s break the mold this week and talk a little rasslin�…

It looks like Kurt Angle�s neck injury (originally suffered back in 1995, before he won Olympic Gold) is back, and assuming they put the title on Brock Lesnar next week in Pittsburgh (whether by Angle jobbing clean in his home town, or whatever other situation you can think of, because let’s face it, they’re not leaving the belt on Kurt for a year without having him defend it), Angle’s injury leaves Brock without an opponent at WWE’s biggest show of the year: Wrestlemania. Head over to 411�s forums, and you’ll see how big a deal this is for all fans of good ol� professional wrestling.

Traditionally, Mania is the stage to either wrap up long-standing feuds, ending storyline arcs that began at the Royal Rumble or even a few months farther back, be a jumping point for big NEW angles, or a little of both. THIS Wrestlemania, however, may be the most important the WWE (or WWF for that matter) has ever seen.

We all know that the “golden era” (let’s say Wrestlemania 1997 – Wrestlemania 2001, and I’m being generous) is over, and the past two years have been flat to say the least. Sure there have been some bright POINTS, but overall, no one’s going to argue that WWF/E 2001-2003 has been a “success”. WWE’s mainstream presence is gone, ratings/buyrates/attendance are down, and while the jury’s still out on the roster split, the opportunity given to new, younger superstars to break into the main event have been few and far between.

But let’s take a step back for a second, and look at the projected card for WM XIX:

Steve Austin vs. The Rock

HHH vs. Booker T

Vince McMahon vs. Hulk Hogan

Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar

Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho

Undertaker & Nathan Jones vs. Big Show & A-Train

Wow! That doesn’t look too bad, now, does it? The fact of the matter is this: WWE has NEVER in its HISTORY had this great a mix of top-level names and young talent on its roster. Look a little more closely, and add Steiner and Flair’s likely participation into the mix, and you realize that every big name from the past 20 years of North American professional wrestling is on this card except a handful:

Kevin Nash (returning from injuries, still may be on the card)
Goldberg (in negotiations with WWE, so who knows?)
Sting (recently said he’s open to joining WWE)
Bret Hart (retired)
Macho Man (remember him?)
Ultimate Warrior (no one cares)

SIX. Every (living) big name from the past 20 years but SIX will be at mania. Incredible.

But now what? WWE can NOT drop the ball here. There is some great midcard talent around — some just called up to the big leagues, some hanging around the past few years just waiting for that extra push — and it’s up to the big gunzz to give them the rub they need so WWE has a pool of main-eventers-to-be, ready for when these guys fade away/stop drawing/have a career-ending injury.

Again, not much of this is a surprise. Everyone reading this knows it, and hopefully this is as obvious to the powers-that-be over at WWE as it is to us.

But what is a surprise is the recent news of Kurt Angle’s neck injury (according to most Internet sources, likely to keep the WWE Heavyweight Champion out of action for a year).

Is this a set-back?


Is this bad, bad news?

You bet.

But this is also a big opportunity for WWE to shake things up at the top of the SmackDown! main event scene, and hopefully they’re up for it.

The way I see it, and from reading SD spoilers for the 3/6/03 show, Brock Lesnar’s getting the title a few weeks before Mania. Either Kurt has one match left in him before surgery, or they’ll figure out a way to get the belt on Brock within the storylines. Needless to say, Brock will be in the WWE Heavyweight Championship match at WrestleMania, with one question left to answer: who will he be facing?

Here are the possible opponents, who WWE is probably considering based on three factors:

(a) making sense within the current storylines
(b) making sense for the future storyline progression, and
(c) drawing fan interest

Actually, (c) is probably the least of WWE’s concerns. This Pay Per View is NOT being promoted based on Brock/Angle. With Austin/Rock, Hogan/Vince, HBK/Jericho and HHH/Booker on the card, there are plenty of possible “main events.” Brock/Angle would have been great, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t going to make or break the PPV buy-rate or attendance.

So who are Brock’s possible opponents? Let’s run ’em down, followed by my comments…

Top SmackDown! Heels:
– Big Show
– A-Train
– John Cena

**Obviously, since Brock�s a babyface — and getting a pretty good pop — the logical thought is to put him up against a heel. Both Big Show and A-Train make sense within the storylines, as members of the Heyman Family that’s been out to get Brock since late last year. But Brock/Show has been done to death, and are we really ready for Brock/Albert? Gosh, I hope not. The best choice of the above three, however, would be a bold move on WWE�s part: John Cena. Cena�s been cutting great heel promos on Brock over the past few weeks; they should be comfortable with each other in the ring, due to their common past at OVW; and a good showing vs. Brock at Wrestlemania would be his chance to show his stuff and maybe even be taken seriously. I�m not sure they�ll pull the trigger on that one, but I�ll get back to him later.

Top SmackDown! Faces:
– Hogan
– Taker
– Benoit
– Rhyno

**Well, in order to do this, and get the most bang for the buck, you have to turn Brock heel. I know, I know, they�ve done face vs. face before and it�s worked just fine. But Brock�s still a �project”, no matter how you slice it, and WHO he faces is just as important as how he performs. And he HAS to win. So who do we have here? Hogan? I guess you can do the rematch they never had, and there�s definitely history between them, and facing Hogan = heel heat, but Hogan�s set to face Vince at Mania — and THAT�S a money match with YEARS of history and back-story, not months. Sure, you can align Brock with Vince to further beat on Hogan, but I doubt Hogan will agree to job in the last match of his current contract. Taker doesn�t lose at Mania, and has already jobbed to Brock, so I can�t see this one happening. There�s nothing at all compelling about a Brock/Rhyno match, and just the fact that he�s on my list shows how weak the babyface-side of the top of the SD card is if you turn Brock heel. The most interesting of the bunch would be a Brock/Benoit match. I think this would be a good in-ring exhibition, and they may not even have to turn Brock heel to pull it off.

On the other hand, let�s say they decide to write a trade into the storylines…

Top RAW Heels:
– Rock
– Jericho
– Flair

**Wow, do you think Hunter would push to drop the title on RAW, then move to SD? Or to have a Title vs. Title match at Mania? I can�t see it, nor can anything good come out of this situation, so I�ll choose to ignore it. Rock, Jericho and Flair have already faced Brock, are involved in solid RAW storylines going into Mania, and frankly, there�s no point in discussing this further because if WWE’s now planning to change the ENTIRE MANIA CARD based on this injury, there’s no point in guessing what they’ll do without your brain exploding. Of the bunch, the most logical choice would be Rocky reneging on his Austin challenge, and going back to SD to get his rematch with Lesnar, but a Rock win does NOTHING for either guy, and neither does Lesnar going 2-0 over Mr. Flex.

Moving on…

Top RAW Faces:
– Austin
– Booker
– Steiner
– Michaels
– Kane

**This is a bit more interesting, but still improbable. Let�s go down the line… Austin. I can see this happening before Rock going over to SD, since Bischoff hates Austin and would probably love to trade for some superstars in exchange for getting him off his hands. But then you have two faces battling it out, and I don�t like that — besides, Rock vs. Austin is what�s gonna sell this PPV. Booker? He needs to go over HHH to get the push he needs into the main event, and facing Brock would be useless and just bury him further. Michaels wouldn�t make any sense, and is in a great feud with Jericho. That leaves Steiner, Kane and RVD: three RAW guys with nothing to do. RVD is the only one with any history with Lesnar, and his act is getting more and more stale by the second. Seeing Steiner and Lesnar muscle-to-muscle in the ring would be impressive, and with SmackDown!�s post-production, maybe they can turn Big Poppa Pump into a Somebody again. And Kane wouldn�t be a bad choice either, since after jobbing to Brock, he can just get back into the mix with his brother the Undertaker. But will a trade actually happen?

The last scenario is bringing in someone new…

Four random names:

– Goldberg
– Sting
– Macho Man
– Ken Shamrock
– Ultimate Warrier

**Now let�s be honest with ourselves. Are ANY of these guys coming in by Mania? And even so, besides Shamrock — who I threw on the list as a goof — would you boo any of these guys? Sure, I know a lot of WCW-haters that would boo Goldberg for spite, but assuming he�s willing to do the job to Brock (something I maintain has to be in the cards), how gung ho will he be about playing heel? And no, I refuse to mention Kevin Nash coming back early from his injury. Refuse, I say.

After thinking about all of the scenarios, here�s the man I think they should go with:

John Cena

That�s right, John Cena. Let�s face it, WWE isn�t going to get any closer to signing Goldberg to JOB to Brock than they did trying to convince him to (probably) beat The Rock. It ain�t gonna happen. They�re not going to turn Brock heel after all this time building him up as a monster babyface. And if anyone gets traded from RAW, my money�s on Steiner, RVD or Kane, but why bother trying to write this stuff up convincingly at the last minute, when the answer is already on the SmackDown! roster?

Cena already has a storyline issue with Brock (the F5 into the post, injuring his knee), and can benefit SO MUCH MORE than anyone else listed above just by BEING in a WWE Heavyweight Championship match with Brock? Do you really want to see Benoit lose ANOTHER championship fight?

Cena�s great on the mic and solid in the ring;
Cena�s �paid his dues” in the WWE developmentals; and
Cena�s got NOTHING TO LOSE by being in this match at Mania.

He�s too goofy you say? What if, as was discussed on the 411 forums, it turns out HE was behind beating down Edge? Not enough? Have him beat up Kurt before next week�s title match, rendering him useless in the ring when he loses to Brock. Still not enough? What if he also takes out the competition (Benoit perhaps?) to sneak his way into a match with Brock? He can then lose to Brock in a solid match in Seattle, and still have issues to resolve with other guys once his feud with Lesnar is done with.

I�ve seen crazier in the world of professional wrestling… and a bad-ass-yet-goofy John Cena would be the perfect opponent for a champion Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania XIX. Is WWE ready to push him? With such star power already on the card practically guaranteeing a solid buyrate and general fan interest, I say they have nothing to lose, and a young, main event-level superstar to gain.

– Matt

Matthew Michaels is editor emeritus of Pulse Wrestling, and has been since the site launched.