Kurt Angle is perhaps the most gifted wrestler to ever lace up a pair of boots. He’s the type of worker that could get over in any era, no matter the region or opponent. Part of this is due to his amateur wrestling background—winning an Olympic gold medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics—and the notoriety that it brought him. The other part is his pro wrestling abilities, both physical and psychological.
These were qualities that former ECW creative genius Paul Heyman sought after in 2006, drafting Angle was one of two WWE Superstars to be the face WWE’s third brand—the resurrected ECW.
“Mick, who [Angle] is is somebody that embodies the new vision for ECW,” Heyman said in a debate with Mick Foley. “What he is is not what you describe. What he is is someone we have been paying attention to and have wanted to for the longest time because my pick from SmackDown embodies exactly what the new vision for ECW is going to be.”
What’s ironic about this promo is that it was more likely than not a shoot about how Heyman always felt about Angle. Not only was Angle supposed to be the future for the brand’s revival that year, but the four-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion was also supposed to be the company’s face back in its heyday.
Former wrestling journalist Andrew Khellah defines the terms “3:16 moment” and superstar as such:
3:16 Mo·ment (mmnt)
1. The rise to superstardom
2. A particular period of importance, influence, or significance in a series of events or developments
3. The wrestling promo that can make you a legend
1. A widely acclaimed star, as in movies or sports, who has great popular appeal.
2. One that is extremely popular or prominent or that is a major attraction.
In essence, the 3:16 moment represents the small window of opportunity a wrestler has to connect with the crowd and ultimately
make the impact that is going to cement his status at the top of the card.
Vince McMahon has famously stated that WWE grants opportunities, not promises. It is the job of the talent (and to a degree the writers) to make the most of the opportunities they are afforded to climb the corporate ladder and reach levels of success they only could have dreamt of.
Steve Austin’s tirade after King of the Ring is perhaps the best example of what a 3:16 moment is, considering he coined the infamous phrase, “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!” Other notable 3:16 moments include Shane Douglas throwing down the NWA World Heavyweight Championship to usher in a new era of extreme, CM Punk’s pipe bomb, and Hulk Hogan cutting a promo on Hulkamaniacs everywhere when he joined the Outsiders in WCW.
For as many 3:16 moments as there have been however, there have been nearly ten times the amount of 3:16 moments that never were. This new series of columns aims to take a deeper look at missed 3:16 moments with an open mind as we think about what could have been.
Angle was just a couple months removed from a historic run in the ’96 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Ga., where he won his gold medal with a broken’ freakin’ neck. Pondering a new career with his amateur wrestling career having ended, pro wrestling became the option for him.
Fellow Pittsburgh native and ECW’s notorious franchise player Shane Douglas made contact with Angle through mutual friend Mark Madden and invited him to a live event on Oct. 26. The event, High Incident, and was being taped for VHS. Angle agreed to appear on the show and even participate in an angle, as long as he wouldn’t be associated with anything deemed to be hurtful to his reputation.
Sure enough, Angle’s appearance was booked for the same night that the Raven-Sandman feud reached its fever pitch.
Raven and the Sandman’s beginnings harkened back to January of that same year, when Raven defeated the Sandman for the ECW Heavyweight Title. Later in the feud, Raven made things personal by brainwashing Sandman’s wife and son, persuading them to join his cult. Raven told Sandman’s son, Tyler, that his father was to blame for his parents’ divorce, which generated some serious heat for Raven and his cult.
The feud peaked at High Incident.
It was Raven’s first show back at the ECW Arena post-rehab. He knew that he and the Sandman, two of the promotion’s most violent characters, needed to step it up in front of the rabid crowd and make an impact. Their solution? An angle that would end with the Sandman being crucified in front of a live audience.
When Raven and his henchmen—Stevie Richards and the Blue Meanie—tied his rival to the cross, the raucous Philadelphia crowd went dead silent.
Raven’s justification to the crucifixion was that he claimed to be a martyr for society’s dysfunction, and by crucifying the Sandman, he would make Sandman the martyr so he could feel the pain that the Raven character always felt. Regardless of the spin Raven has tried to put on the incident, the spectacle failed to get over.
It also did not get over with the Olympic Champion.
Not only did it not get over with Angle, he berated Joey Styles on his way out of the building and threatened Heyman with legal action if his name or character ever came up on the same show as the crucifixion.
Heyman and ECW owner Tod Gordon claimed that Raven took matters into his own hands and that the duo had no knowledge of what was going to happen. Whether Heyman and company was aware of the angle or not, he made Raven go back out and apologize as soon as he got backstage. The incident caused such a stir that it even contributed to the delay ECW’s pay-per-view debut with Request TV.
This was the last known contact Angle would make Heyman, until Heyman became SmackDown’s lead writer in 2002. Angle went on to sign with WWE in 1998 and ECW ultimately closed its doors in 2001.
But what if the crucifixion angle occurred on a different night? Better yet, what if it never occurred at all? Would Angle have taken his gold medal and services to the corner of Swanson and Ritner Streets in South Philly?
That, in essence, is the missed 3:16 moment.
Heyman always had an eye for talent. But it’s clear that he missed the boat on Angle. If he had just put the extra effort into coaching Angle on the way his shows came together, and if he was able to sell to him on the business that an Angle run in the company could do, Angle might have signed with ECW instead. Angle wasn’t quite on WWE’s radar at the time and he was a bit hesitant to get into pro wrestling to begin with. The crucifixion angle killed all interest in the profession, until WWE finally made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Up to that point, Angle was making most of his money off of horrible commercials.
Wrestledelphia.com columnist Jack Goodwillie can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jackgoodwillie.