The mid to late 90s was a unique time in wrestling history. Between WWF, WCW and ECW, wrestlers had a lot of options in terms of performing. Some of that era’s biggest names used all three companies to hone their skills or breath new life into their careers. Stone Cold Steve Austin falls into that category. After a 4 year stint in WCW, he was released because Bischoff didn’t see him as ‘marketable’. Austin hooked up with Paul Heyman and his hardcore promotion ECW.
Around 4AM one fateful night, Austin cut a taped promo that would showcase his mic skills and plant the seeds for his Texas Rattlesnake persona years later. Austin joins Rob Van Dam, Mick Foley, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit and Rey Mysterio Jr as former ECW stars who would go on to capture a WWE World Title. That list almost featured another superstar: Kurt Angle. That brings us to this week’s What If…
Paul Heyman has an unparalleled eye for talent. The guys he brought to ECW weren’t there because of their size, look or marketability. They were there because they could put on an entertaining and at times unbelievable match. It’s no surprise then that Heyman was courting Kurt Angle in 1996. Fresh off the heels of his gold medal victory, the PA native seemed like a great fit for the Philly based promotion. Signing a high-profile Olympian would bring a tremendous amount of publicity to ECW at a time when WCW was beginning it’s nWo angle and WWF was being headlined by DX, Bret Hart and The Undertaker. The signing of Angle was not to be…
Angle agreed to check out ECW on 10/26/1996. Heyman asked Angle to do some commentary during Taz’s match against Little Guido. A feud between the Human Suplex Machine and Angle seemed logical and the prospect was quite exciting. Unfortunately for ECW, Angle came on the wrong night. Shortly after Taz’s match that night, Raven and Sandman took part in one of the most controversial angles in ECW history. Raven along with Stevie Richards and the Blue Meanie beat up on the Sandman after his match. Once he was knocked unconscious, they tied Sandman to a cross and gave him a barbed wire crown of thrones.
Still backstage, Angle was horrified. After witnessing the crucifixion, Angle immediately approached Heyman . He asked to be removed from the TV airing and left the building. Three years later, he would make his pro wrestling debut in a WWE ring at Survivor Series.
Kurt Angle versus Taz in ECW in 1996 would have given the organization legitimacy that its hardcore nature often denied them of. When Taz(z) debuted in WWE in 2000, his first match- a match that he’d ultimately win- was against the undefeated Kurt Angle. Though it was only 4 years later, Tazz was already on the downside of his career and the feud never got the main event treatment it would have in ECW. Looking at Kurt Angle’s in-ring repertoire nowadays, one could only imagine the quality he would have brought to ECW.
Kurt’s semi-annual ‘off-the-cage-moonsault’ at TNA’s Lockdown is a testament to his high spot abilities. So after a suplex-laden feud with Taz, Angle could have meshed quite well with ECW’s other field of competitors. My mouth waters at the thought of an RVD-Angle feud over the TV Title. RVD held the title for 700 days. In that time his most memorable matches came against Jerry Lynn, but it’s easy to picture Angle and RVD putting on equally amazing albeit less acrobatic matches.
Would Angle have saved ECW? Probably not. Like so many outstanding stars of the ECW era, Angle would have probably been bought by WWE or WCW in due time. But his presence would have added another layer of quality to the ECW product that might have shifted the dynamic away from it’s greatest strength and biggest weakness: extreme violence. We can only imagine, what if….