Originally published in The Kingston Whig-Standard, all rights reserved.
‘The difference from before
the surgery and after is nothing but a miracle.” These words come from a man who won an Olympic gold medal with a broken neck.
Let’s just say that Kurt Angle, the World Wrestling Entertainment superstar, has nothing on Kurt Angle, the man.
Angle, who chatted with yours truly last week, is spending some rare time away from the squared circle recovering from neck surgery.
But don’t expect this workhorse to be sitting at home for long. In fact, Angle says he’ll be back in about three weeks.
“I don’t like taking time off,” said the man who missed a grand total of three days after having knee surgery. “If I really had to, I could go [back] right now but I’m enjoying time with my wife and my baby.”
That Angle is preparing to return to the ring mere weeks after his surgery is nothing short of miraculous when you consider the problems he’s had with his neck since breaking it months before the 1996 Olympic Games. There’s been calcium buildup, bone spurs, two discs jammed against his spinal cord, nerve damage, spinal damage and all around wear and tear.
Enter Dr. Hae-Dong Jho, the neurosurgeon who may have saved Angle’s career – not mention his life – but may have also saved the WWE in the process. The company can ill afford to have arguably its top performer out of action for a year, which is the normal shelf time for superstars who’ve undergone neck surgery.
Jho performed the surgery, which Angle described as more of a cleaning up procedure than a repair, in Angle’s hometown of Pittsburgh on April 11. Fifteen days later, Angle told No Holds Barred he was basically good to go.
Kind of makes you wonder what the long-term prospects are concerning Angle’s health.
“I don’t see this affecting anything long term,” Angle said. “I’ve always had neck problems. I’m going to be more careful in the future.”
Let’s hope so, anyway.
Angle was asked how his close friend and fellow superstar Edge took the news when he heard, only days after surgery on his own neck that will keep him out for at least a year, that Angle was to have a less invasive procedure that would put him back in the ring in no time.
“Edge made the right move,” Angle said, adding that he’s in constant communication with his friend. “I just had a different belief. I made my own decision based on my own opinion.”
Unfortunately, neck injuries have become commonplace in the high-flying, risk-taking wrestling world. Besides Angle and Edge, serious neck injuries have sidelined Stone Cold Steve Austin, Rhyno, Chris Benoit and Lita among others.
While Austin’s injury is regarded as the worst neurosurgeon Dr. Lloyd Youngblood has seen, Angle says his is a close second.
“[Austin’s] and mine are almost exactly the same. Dr. Youngblood compared mine to Steve’s,” Angle said.
The only difference at this stage is that Austin appears to have wrestled his last match, while Angle is getting ready for his next one.
Considering the frightening number of neck injuries to befall the WWE, I asked Angle whether the company pressures superstars to perform risky moves and take the dangerous bumps that often lead to such injuries. He answered quickly and matter-of-factly.
“No. If anything, the company has told us to stop.” Angle said today’s wrestling crowd – a demanding truly bunch – and stiff competition in the industry probably have as much to do with risky moves and dangerous bumps as anything.
Take Brock Lesnar, for instance.
Lesnar, who defeated Angle for the WWE championship prior to Kurt’s surgery, nearly joined the injured-neck club during their match at WrestleMania.
With Angle down late in the match, the 300-pound Lesnar climbed the ropes and attempted a Shooting Star Press, a dangerous move for any performer, let alone a man the size of Lesnar. The attempt was unsuccessful and Lesnar landed on his face, rendering him concussed and bloodied. Angle cites this as a perfect example of competition and the desire to impress fans driving a superstar to push the envelope.
“The fans come to watch Brock compete,” Angle said. “They don’t come to watch him do a Shooting Star Press.” Angle said he admired not only Lesnar’s courage, but his guts to be able to finish the match.
So perhaps, it was suggested to Angle, it’s time for a change.
A few weeks ago, during an interview on The Score, The Undertaker was asked what needs to happen to reduce the number of serious injuries threatening the profession. The Dead Man said superstars need to return to more traditional moves and matches.
Angle agreed with Taker’s assessment.
“I feel the same way. I’d love to go back to more traditional wrestling,” said the man who built his legacy around amateur wrestling.
Obviously something needs to be done. Let’s just hope it’s done sooner rather than later. At the very least, Dr. Jho has graciously delivered one of the greatest pro and amateur wrestlers in the world back into the hands of the WWE and its fans.