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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business presents Watch of the Week: A Mania of Professional Wrestling (Kurt Angle vs. The Undertaker, No Way Out 2006)
By Samuel 'Plan
Mar 4, 2017 - 7:18:35 PM




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Just Business presents Watch of the Week: A Mania of Professional Wrestling (Kurt Angle vs. The Undertaker, No Way Out 2006)


Kurt Angle vs. The Undertaker at No Way Out 2006 is the WrestleMania main event we never got, but should have. Never before or since has a pairing of talents in WWE so succinctly summarised everything that is great about WWE and, by extension, professional wrestling as an entity. This is why I selected it as one of my entries in my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die.

Here is what I have to say about this marvel of a match.

***


What is the best example of a mania of professional wrestling? Oddly enough, one that never even occurred at WrestleMania.

The pre-match promo on this occasion highlights just how big a deal this meeting was. Hearing the line “When that bell rings…I don’t have a soul either!” from Angle remains chilling even now. The promo pushes Angle as the best wrestler in the world, a soulless, relentless machine. It pushes Undertaker as something otherworldly, as a power that extends beyond the average pro wrestler. Then you see clips of them both taking other famed competitors out, including legends like Foley, Michaels, Triple H, The Rock, Austin, Nash, Sid, Big Show, Edge, Flair, Cena and more. This isn’t just another throwaway monthly title defence; this is a big, big deal.

It’s a fantastic set-up. Undertaker brings a big fight feel to any scenario. Couple that with the legitimacy Angle always brings to the ring, particularly during his closing days in WWE under the Wrestling Machine gimmick, and what you get is something that feels so much like a sporting main event but with that unique WWE gloss; the gloss of performance art. WWE shows here the unique world-exclusive product it supplies. In its pairing but also through its execution, what this match presents is a hybrid of fantasy and fact, at times documentary and others fiction; it is perhaps that potent cocktail that made Angle and Undertaker such a fascinating, acclaim-worthy duo.

The early tone is of the Striker against the Grappler. ‘Taker, the striker, takes the early offensive, exploding out the gate and proving to be the quicker man in the first few minutes. Angle plays his role by showing a great deal more measure; it’s important to note such measure is deliberate and not, as is so often with ‘Taker opponents, trepidation. These two are presented quite clearly as equals and that pervades the larger discourse.

There are certain elements of this epic that do feel rather indulgent. WWE, though not pushing it overtly, show signs of their sometimes-fascination with “reverse psychology,” as Undertaker, despite being established both by announcers and his actions as the striker, instead opts for submission; Angle vice versa. However, like most things indulgence is a double-edged sword and has its positives - it’s interesting to see Undertaker’s performance be so enthused in a manner not often seen from a predominantly character-driven author. It’s almost out-of-character; an Undertaker that cuts loose and indulges in what he seems to love most: professional wrestling.

Angle, meanwhile, has a validating outing. His speed is insane and he maintains his usual crisp execution from start to finish. Of particular worth is his increased intensity. As a performer in WWE, Angle seemed to grow increasingly intense each year. By 2006, what you had really was a Wrestling Machine. Angle had an almost incomparable balance of speed, skill and intensity by the time he departed WWE and, had he stuck around, Shawn Michaels may not have enjoyed his comfortable lead as being considered the best ever in the company. That individualistic style is certainly on show in this instance; Angle at his best.

The pace is fairly even. Sometimes it borders on slow, but there’s enough shifting momentum to maintain interest. They make complete use of their environment, not limiting the action to between the ropes, but at the same time not getting carried away and allowing most of it to happen outside. This is a balanced blend of theatrics, athleticism and psychology. Amidst all that, as if it weren’t impressive enough, is the sheer amount of content. It’s a hefty volume of a match; a weighty tome filled with a myriad of offensive and defensive moves and counters from both men. They dance their way through the thirty minute run time, masters of their craft in a visitation of a psychology that does not talk down to its audience, but rather trusts their ability and desire to invest.

Remarkably, the psychology that somehow feels so complex and demanding of its audience is actually pretty standard - Angle’s focus on ‘Taker’s knee is a major plotting point, and Undertaker commits himself fully to it. There’s also a wonderful moment where Angle tells the referee not to count out Undertaker following his crash through the announce table; another psychological aspect that plays up ‘Taker’s toughness, Angle’s attitude as champion and the importance of actually winning a title match actively. The questions resulting from a simple couple of seconds are many. How much must a definitive victory mean to these two? Is that as a result of the fact that their respective opponent is who he is? When you ponder it, it’s a moment that brilliantly contextualises the eventual finish.

#67 is an absolute masterpiece punctuated by a lead-in to the finish that consists of some of the crispest and most sublime counter wrestling ever put to canvas. Smooth, restrained and peppered with a number of finishing moves and near falls - including a trademark Undertaker sit-up, sold as it should be by the champion - it all has the crowd positively manic with excitement and pumped for that final bell. It is literally exhausting in its brilliance, concluding prose of Dickensian scale with a climactic pentameter of Shakespearian quality; a perfect closing match of a WrestleMania defined as performance art.

The key is the beating heart of this opus – the documentary of Angle’s skill clashing with the fantasy of The Undertaker’s character.

On the one hand, this dynamic informs the grand narrative. Angle portrays his Wrestling Machine character with aplomb. He has an answer for everything thrown at him, locks his Ankle Lock on out of some extraordinary positioning and with seamless fluidity. His level of endurance is not what necessarily keeps him moving inexorably forward towards eking out his narrow, debatable victory; rather, it’s his grit. The Undertaker, on the other hand, has a character famed for his endurance in the fictional realm of WWE. His ability to absorb seemingly endless degrees of punishment and continue sitting up afterward often sees his work deploy an increased ante in the final act. The character unveils a new layer of his lethal retinue on this occasion, revealing the true extent of his own ring acumen as he, too, has an answer for everything Angle throws at him; the only difference between these two soulless characters is that Angle’s effort is informed by his natural abilities and The Undertaker’s by his unnatural abilities. It is a clash of two worlds, see-sawing back and forth, unpredictable and impossible to foretell.

On a more practical level, it comes to define the performance art theory’s version of a mania of professional wrestling. Who is Kurt Angle? The most accomplished and competitively successful athlete WWE has ever recruited; an Olympic gold medallist. Who is The Undertaker? The most beloved, famed and respected fictional character WWE has ever created; a spiritual successor to André the Giant himself. They are two sides of the same coin; WWE’s coin. What #67 then becomes is an invasive real world presence clashing with a fictional universe’s height of fantasy. One for his athletic success, the other for his fictional character, both individuals embody the pinnacle of the two spheres of performance in WWE. Together, and specifically in the case of #67, they created art.

So not only is #67 a great example of performance art through its story, but also in its holistic amalgamation of WWE’s many faces; of sport; of fiction; of art; of affecting success and of memorable entertainment. Contested over the Big Gold Belt – as prestigious a championship in its prime as the WWE Championship is today – were it handed the prestigious honour of closing WrestleMania, it would have perfectly defined the number one professional wrestling show on the planet; a mania of the many things professional wrestling is capable of in its transcended state.

In simple terms then, if #68 was a mania of professional wrestling when considering professional wrestling as simulated sport, #67 is a mania of professional wrestling when considering professional wrestling as performance art, perfectly, succinctly and successfully defining the performing arts Mecca that is WrestleMania.

***


This column is an extract from my first book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, spawned from the acclaimed LOP column series of the same name. So for more of the same, click below to pick up your paperback or e-book copy today!


Click here to pick up your copy of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die from Amazon.com


Or click here to pick up your copy of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die from Amazon.co.uk







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