Category Archives: Alcohol

Welcoming home a hero: my tribute to Kurt Angle

I couldn’t contain my excitement yesterday evening when ESPN broke the news that Kurt Angle will headline WWE’s Hall of Fame class for 2017. One of my childhood heroes, and a man who in his day made anybody’s top five, is to take his rightful place on wrestling’s most prestigious platform. Given that Angle has been absent from WWE for well over a decade now (yes, it has been that long), the induction feels long overdue.

For WWE, this year’s Amway Center ceremony will mark the first time since 2012 that an Attitude Era star will feature as the Hall of Fame’s primary attraction, and for Kurt’s fans it will be an opportunity to honour one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. Of course, in the time that Angle has been away, an entirely new, younger generation of fans has immersed itself in the product, so many viewers will (unless they are avid WWE Network enthusiasts) not be particularly familiar with his body of work. So I wanted to spend a little bit of time outlining why I think Kurt Angle isn’t just worthy of a Hall of Fame ring, but that an argument can be made that he should have his own wing come WrestleMania 33.

In-ring work

I would go as far as to say that Kurt Angle is the single greatest *wrestler* I have seen in my lifetime. I use the word ‘wrestler’ deliberately, as it can easily be confused with ‘biggest star’ or ‘best performer’. Since Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels quite easily claim those two respective titles, the burden of best wrestler falls to Kurt. This does not, of course, mean that there is a lack of competition. AJ Styles has emerged as one of the finest talents in the world, Randy Orton is exceptional between the ropes and Brock Lesnar has conquered different styles better than anyone. I consider Angle to be the best, though, for three reasons.

Firstly, he could adapt and have great matches with opponents of all sizes. Secondly, fans always seemed far more emotionally invested in his matches than with the likes of Lesnar and Orton, who on many occasions were showered with ‘boring’ chants. Thirdly, nobody matched Kurt Angle’s intensity in the ring. Classics that anybody unfamiliar with should check out include his matches with Shawn Michaels and Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, his match with Chris Benoit at the Royal Rumble (2003) and his match at SummerSlam (2001) with Steve Austin. And while you’re scouring through old content, try to find me a bad Kurt Angle match, because I’m yet to find one. It is no wonder that Wrestling Observer Newsletter awarded him ‘Most outstanding wrestler’ for three years straight, between 2001 and 2003. .

Charisma

What is less appreciated about Kurt Angle, and indeed what set him apart from other amateur wrestlers who tried to make it at professional level, was his superb comedic timing and promo ability. To just be able to wrestle clearly is not enough to make it at the top level. When Kurt Angle’s promos and comedic timing caught up with his wrestling ability just after the turn of the millennium, there wasn’t a better performer on the card. See, for instance, his backstage segments with Edge, Steve Austin and Brock Lesnar or his back-and-forths with Stephanie McMahon and The Rock, for evidence of just how funny Angle could be. Amateur wrestlers seldom excel at this aspect of professional wrestling, likely due to how completely unfamiliar they are with it. But Kurt could entertain, and he was damn good at it. I mean, the milk truck segment, anybody?

Supremely decorated 

Some months back, I wrote a blog in which I credited Kurt Angle for the greatest achievement in modern Olympic history. Winning a gold medal at the 1996 Games in Atlanta with a broken neck will forever stand the test of time, and it is symbolic of the lack of respect shown to the sport of wrestling that Angle’s win is almost never recognised by mainstream sporting commentators. I think his gold medal win showcased both mental and physical toughness, as well as his passion in doing what he loves, even at the very real risk of paralysis.

Fast a forward a few years, and just months inside his WWE run, Angle had already captured the WWE Championship. After beating The Rock at No Mercy (2000), Angle became the first Olympic gold medallist to win a world championship in professional wrestling. His list of accomplishments continued to grow, winning another five world titles, every singles championship available to him during his seven-year stint in WWE and the King of the Ring tournament. As accolades go, most do not hold a candle to Kurt Angle.

The final stop on the road to recovery

It is no secret that Kurt Angle has fought his fair share of demons. His problems with alcohol and drugs, fascinatingly recounted during his appearance on Steve Austin’s podcast, are well known. An arrest in Texas back in 2013 was the point at which I became especially worried for his life. It was his fourth alcohol-related arrest in just a couple of years, and when you look at the fate of many wrestlers who have dabbled with drugs and succumbed to the seduction of alcohol and other addictive substances, Angle only really had two options: spiral into legacy-destroying turmoil and personal hell…or fight, recover and once again stand proudly on a WWE stage, honoured and placed firmly into the annals of history. I am so proud that he chose the latter, and when he stands glossy-eyed in his tuxedo at the Amway Center podium later this year, he’ll know he deserved it. His Hall of Fame induction is symbolic, not just for the fact that it brings his career full circle, but also because it stands as a measure of his resilience and fighting spirit. He battled with a broken neck, entertaining millions, and he turned his life around after struggling with addiction.

It shall be interesting to see who inducts him in on March 31st. When I heard the news, my gut feeling was Brock Lesnar. That would seem to me the most appropriate choice, given their historic rivalry in 2003 and eerily similar career paths. But there is one thing we all know for sure: very few men are synonymous with the WWE. Even fewer are synonymous with wrestling. Kurt Angle sits in both of those elite categories. The hearts and minds of fans the world over will be grateful for him, the bar for amateur wrestlers was raised by him and the Hall of Fame wouldn’t be complete without him.

Welcome home, Kurt.


A few reflections on an historic referendum result

Joyous tears, sleepless nights and a fair few units of alcohol later, the result of Britain’s EU referendum has finally sunk in. In truth, I feel pretty numb. I played a part (however modest the role) in changing the course of British and European history, in salvaging our plundered democracy and in setting a powerful precedent for the future of national and international politics. It’s a day I will never forget, and one for which I will be eternally proud.

A lot has happened over the course of the last 48 hours. I managed my first uninterrupted night of sleep only last night, a Prime Minister has resigned, Hilary Benn has been sacked, and the pound is bungee-jumping its way round the international markets like never before. British politics is at least interesting again, and that must count for something.

Hysteria after such a monumental result was to be expected. Spiteful, bitter Remainers are grasping for excuses and accusations. This is not, I dare say, something likely to end any time soon, and Brexit campaigners must be prepared for this. I’ve already received three death threats over social media thus far; something I’ll be speaking to my local police force about a little later. For the next few months, expect any tragedy or instability to be associated (not always unfairly) with Brexit. Waves of attacks will be launched as a last-ditched attempt at trying to reverse the decision and overruling the British public. I urge readers and fellow campaigners to ignore such petulance and focus on their triumphant victory.

Two especially horrendous sources of this disdain have been Lib Dem leader Tim Farron and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon. Frankly, it is to their shame that two senior political figures have stooped to the anti-democratic lows of the union they seek to keep us in. Mr Farron said on Saturday evening: “The Liberal Democrats will fight the next election on a clear and unequivocal promise to restore British prosperity and role in the world, with the United Kingdom in the European Union, not out. If you agree with us, join us to make this happen.”

The comments came after his pathetic outburst on the BBC News just hours after the referendum result was announced, in which he said: “What a tragedy that other voters have chosen to damage their [young people] future.” He quite correctly notes that 75% of young people voted to remain, but he forgets to mention that youth turnout was, as was expected, very low. Pensioners and parents did not betray young people, young people let themselves down by not speaking up and voting – or at least those, unlike myself, who support EU membership.

The great irony here is that Mr Farron, leader of the Liberal *Democrats* is actively seeking to overturn the democratic desire of the British people. I am certain he and his party will lose respect and support for this. A party of democrats showing their support for the European Union is a bemusing contradiction in and of itself, but an abject refusal to accept Friday morning’s mandate leads me to believe that Tim Farron, along with Nicola Sturgeon (whom I shall come onto in a moment), is a charlatan.

But the arrogance of political leaders doesn’t stop here. In typically opportunistic fashion, Nicola Sturgeon ensured that she herself be the first senior voice to speak out after the referendum was lost. A second independence referendum (timed quite remarkably after the UK’s vote for independence) ‘must now be on the table’, she asserted. She did, I will admit, warn us prior to the vote on many occasions that a second Scottish independence referendum was inevitable, but sensible people are left wondering why such a prospect is necessary after June 24th was quite defiantly proclaimed Britain’s ‘Independence Day’. I’m starting to respect David Cameron more and more by the minute. At least he had the decency to abide by the result and stand down.

Enough negativity, though. This is a victory for me personally, after months of passionate campaigning, a victory for democracy and, perhaps most significantly, a victory for our country. What a pleasure it was in the early hours of Friday morning to witness the quiet residents of England’s rural heartland stand up and roar. An oddly appropriate coalition between the grassroots communities of the Labour and Conservative parties, each with their own largely ignored concerns about EU membership, was forged – and the UK achieved something most commentators and investors deemed impossible.

Such unity between usually divided parties was not as shocking as it may seem. There is real disconnect between the beliefs of those in Westminster village and those who are suffering in their local neighbourhoods. Many traditional Labour voters retain social and moral conservative values, just like the Tory grassroots, and this vote has exposed this brutal fact quite unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. This referendum will go down not just as an impassioned defence of democracy, but also as a reminder that the British people remain noticeably distant from those that govern. They threw everything at us, from dire pension warnings to shocking projections from authoritative economic institutions, and they were still defeated. I couldn’t be prouder.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank everybody I’ve met along the way, everybody I stood at street stalls with, everybody I worked with at Vote Leave HQ, everybody who veered off with their own enterprises (from Students for Britain to BeLeave) and everybody who came into Westminster Tower to volunteer by phone or by leaflet – thank you all. I’ve had the honour of meeting some very genuine, bright and enthusiastic young people along this incredible journey (many of you know who you are), and I appreciate the outstanding effort that you’ve all put into to this remarkable campaign.

We all knew that if we kept our heads down, stuck to our key messages and fronted the positive, patriotic case for leaving, we would win this referendum – and the finger-pointing and accusations of xenophobia from the Remain campaign post-defeat shows how successful we were, and how disappointed they must feel. We are democrats, not xenophobes. We love this country, we believe in this country, and we refused to talk down this country, and that is why we won this EU referendum. Britain is in for a period of turbulence, no doubt, but the erection of a petition onto parliament’s website last night calling for an independent state of London was desperation personified. And they call us little-Englanders.

Anyway, that’s enough from me. My warmest congratulations go out to everybody who helped make this dream a reality, right across the political spectrum. My second full day as a member of the Tory party is a happy one, and I’m confident that, given time, we have a great future outside of the European Union. Believe in this country, believe in its people, and we can make independence work…for all.