On an episode of Smackdown back in August, 2000, Kurt Angle wrestled Eddie Guerrero in the main event. Both men were at the early stage of their WWE careers at the time, but would later go on to win multiple WWE championships, become Hall of Famers and ultimately be remembered as two of the all-time greats of the industry.
This match was far less memorable than some of the classics that the two men would have later in their careers, but it is notable for the fact that Angle was competing just days after he suffered a bad concussion at Summerslam, during a match with The Rock and Triple H. On a recent episode of his Kurt Angle Show podcast, the former Olympic Champion looked back on the match with Guerrero and the consequences of suffering multiple head injuries during his career.
I was really messed up. I actually took a hurricanrana and landed on my head on the mat, I popped up and all I saw was a bright light and then I forgot everything. I didn't know where I was and I remember Eddie telling me what to do... So Eddie talked me through the rest of the match. Honestly, I shouldn't have been in that match and I shouldn't have been in that situation...
I've probably had four concussions that I know of... I even, to this day, I'm starting to not remember things and I'm only in my early 50s. But I've got a little damage to my brain, there's no doubt about it. My memory is not that great anymore - I really have to think hard about remembering the past.
On this episode, @RealKurtAngle looks back on his match against Triple H in No Disqualifications for the love of Stephanie McMahon.#TAP: UNFORGIVEN 2000 is available NOW on all platforms! Get ad-free access on https://t.co/vcYW7EnwnH pic.twitter.com/DZ8QcNmVSd
— The Kurt Angle Show (@TheAnglePod) September 18, 2022
In many ways, Kurt Angle was the perfect pro-wrestler. A legitimate world-class athlete who also had comedic talent and was not afraid to poke fun at himself - traits that turned him into one of the most well-rounded 'sports entertainers' in WWE history. His in-ring style was more intense and believable than most and his commitment to that style, despite suffering multiple serious neck injuries during his career, only started to wane in the latter years leading up to his retirement match in 2019. The news of Angle's memory issues, while not surprising, is another sad reminder for wrestling fans of the price that many of these great performers have paid and will continue to pay in the years ahead.
Mick Foley, another legend of the 'Attitude Era' and arguably the biggest risk-taker of them all, has spoken in the past about the longer-term effects of suffering what he believes to be "dozens up to 100 concussions". In an interview with TSN's 'Off The Record' back in 2010, he described post-retirement struggles with memory and brain-fog as "like I'm just submerged under water, like things are not clear."
— Kurt Angle (@RealKurtAngle) September 16, 2022
The list of wrestling tragedies involving performers from that era is long and grim, and it often makes for uncomfortable viewing when looking back on what is considered as the 'golden age' of pro-wrestling. Unprotected chair-shots to the head and wrestlers working through un-treated concussions are thankfully a thing of the past, as WWE has since implemented a much stricter Wellness policy and injury protocol.
But for Angle and many others, much of the damage had already been done.
Back then, it's crazy, they gave you the option if you wanted to go on TV or not (following his concussion). I know at this particular time they wanted me to go on TV but they wanted me to take it easy and not do anything physical. But I actually did physical stuff on TV which was crazy. But you can't do that today, there are too many liabilities. But back then you could get away with it.
At all costs you finish the match, no matter what...It's just one of those things that you had to do, it was part of the business and it was instilled in your mind when you were training for it. They tell you you have to finish the show at all costs no matter if you're injured or not...
For many longtime wrestling fans, the current WWE product is a shadow of the high-octane, edgier show that the company produced in the late 90s and early 2000s, which made for some unmissable television. Star -power was never greater, the crowds were never louder and the soundtrack of JR losing his mind every night in the commentary booth cranked the drama up to a level not seen before or since. But knowing what we know now about the likes of Kurt Angle, a 53-year-old father of six, few could argue that the performers didn't deserve more protection.