As I alluded to earlier there really isn’t much in the way of actual news taking place in MMA right now so I thought I would give a public response to a question that was e-mailed to me over the weekend. In response to my unedited interview with Gareb Shamus that’s now available on the site, I was asked about whether I thought Kurt Angle is serious about getting into MMA.
I might be in the minority, but I honestly believe that Angle is serious about competing in mixed martial arts. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s talking MMA in order to get his name in the news but my prediction is that we will see Angle compete in an MMA bout within the next 12 months.
Angle recently fought Brock Lesnar in Japan in a pro wrestling match for Antonio Inoki’s new promotion. Angle ended up beating Lesnar in a match where the outcome was predetermined. He walked away with Lesnar’s IWGP title, which Lesnar had kept after he claimed New Japan pro wrestling failed to pay him all of the money they owed him. After the match, Angle said that he was willing to give Lesnar a rematch, but only if it’s MMA rules.
Angle’s post-fight interview was no doubt a wrestling angle and isn’t solely good enough of a reason to believe that we’ll see the two fight each other anytime soon. However, going out and testing the public’s desire for a match is something that I consider to be a first step.
Those who believe Angle is bluffing cite his age and injury history as being the big factors as to why he won’t actually try his hand at MMA. However, Angle is an extremely competitive person and like most star athletes has an ego. I don’t mean ego in a bad sense, I mean ego in the sense that there’s a drive in him to be the best at whatever he does. I think he sees MMA and how big it’s gotten and also sees former contemporaries of his from amateur wrestling having success. Guys like Kevin Randleman and Randy Couture were great amateur wrestlers, but they weren’t as good as Angle. I believe he’s sincere when he says he feels he can go out at his age and compete with the best. I’m not saying he’s right, simply that I believe he’s not lying when he believes he can compete with Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, and Randy Couture.
I also think that Angle might be regretting his decision to go into pro wrestling instead of MMA. If Angle had gotten involved with MMA right out of the Olympics, I think we’d be talking about him right now as the best pound-for-pound fighter to ever compete. Angle takes wrestling seriously but I think the opportunity to become a huge star in a legitimate sport as opposed to a staged sport has more appeal. The issue was that when Angle came out of the Olympics, MMA was on life support and couldn’t come anywhere close to the money that Angle was being offered by WWE and WCW.
There’s also the potential to make a ton of money. Angle would probably get a nice payday just for fighting a mid-grade opponent. And if he’s willing to step in with someone like Brock Lesnar, he could easily make $2 million for one match ($1 million guaranteed with the rest coming in the way of PPV bonuses). There’s also the potential that if promoted right, Angle vs. Lesnar could be one of the biggest PPVs in MMA history. The potential of such a huge reward for doing MMA might easily outweigh the risks involved for Angle.
According to the Wrestling Observer, Angle had canceled face-to-face negotiations with Bodog that could have resulted in a finalized agreement several weeks back. The Observer later reported that Angle and his agent, Dave Hawk had re-scheduled meetings with the Calvin Ayre-owned fight promotion. There’s been no update as to whether Angle has actually sat down with Bodog representatives but I would have to think that the leading candidates to land Angle would be Bodog, EliteXC, and K-1.
Bodog only was able to draw 15,000 buys for its Lindland vs. Fedor PPV that took place this past April. Based on the poor sales totals, Bodog decided that they will tape their July 14 event in Trenton, NJ for their Ion television show as opposed to offering in on PPV. In spite of the decision, Bodog has not given up on PPV. The belief is that the Fedor/Lindland fight didn’t do big PPV numbers in spite of a huge marketing campaign is because the U.S. public isn’t overly familiar with them. I think they understand that in order to do big numbers on PPV in the U.S., you need plenty of star power. While Lesnar and Angle have just one MMA match between them, their histories in pro wrestling qualify them as big potential box office draws in MMA.
Another idea that has been considered is a match between Angle and Daniel Puder, who won the WWE’s “Tough Enough” challenge several years back and was involved in an incident with Angle where the two had an impromptu shoot wrestling exhibition where Puder reportedly nearly tapped Angle with a basic keylock. The WWE was embarased by the incident and never followed up on the real-life drama even though Puder ended up being out seven other finalists for a guaranteed six-figure contract. Puder’s one-year deal eventually elapsed and the WWE offered him a longer-term contract at a reduced right. He declined and returned to MMA.
It’s been several years now since Angle and Puder had their little run-in on Smackdown and it remains to be seen how much marketing potential still exists in a real fight between the two. The fact that the WWE owns the footage of Puder nearly tapping Angle out makes it real difficult to market the match to people who weren’t already familiar with the legitimate heat between the two.
In the end, Angle vs. Puder may not make much sense for Bodog even though Puder is already under contract to the promotion (he’ll be fighting on this week’s episode on Ion, by the way). But the allure of a special attraction match between Lesnar and Angle not only makes sense for Bodog but for EliteXC and K-1 as well.
EliteXC might be better served taking a pass on the potential bout since they are trying to build for the long-term. With the money needed to spend on putting together a match between Angle vs. Lesnar, they could probably go out and sign 4-5 high profile Pride fighters to multi-fight contracts.
As for K-1, even though they fell flat during their U.S. debut on June 2 at the LA Coliseum they still are trumpeting the event as a success to their Japanese audience and they apparently are serious about doing another event in the States. Lesnar vs. Min Soo-kim failed to captivate the U.S. audience, but Lesnar vs. Angle not only has marquee value in the U.S. but in Japan as well. FEG isn’t afraid to lose money so they might be the most willing fight promotion out there willing to spend in order to make the fight happen.
Whether Angle truly believes he can be successful in MMA may be irrelevant in light of the fact that he possibly could be leaving a small fortune on the table by not trying his hand at it.