In August of 2002, Kurt Angle submitted Rey Mysterio to the ankle lock at SummerSlam 2002. Angle and Mysterio went on to become cornerstones of the “SmackDown Six,” and were involved in 2002’s Wrestling Observer Match of the Year (in a tag match also involving Edge and Chris Benoit). In late 2005, Eddie Guerrero passed away from heart failure. The entire wrestling community was shocked by this news, but the show, as it always does after a tragedy, went on. In January 2006, Rey Mysterio won the Royal Rumble and dedicated his win to the memory of his late friend. He went on to win the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 22 in a triple threat match with Kurt Angle and Randy Orton.
On March 20, 2016, Kurt Angle and Rey Mysterio once again crossed paths on the first show of the newly-started URFight promotion. The two competed on the same card as an MMA fight between two fighters with a combined 61-83-5 win-loss record, a grappling match between suspended MMA fighter Chael Sonnen and current UFC middleweight Michael Bisping, and a boxing match that was promoted as “Roy Jones Jr. fights a fan.”
The Angle/Mysterio match was commentated by Jim Ross, and for one brief moment, time felt like it could have been 2002 all over again. Looking at the card, it’s clear that’s exactly what the producers of the show were banking on. From the originally announced MMA fight of Ken Shamrock vs. Dan Severn, a matchup that originally took place 21 years ago at UFC 6, to the Roy Jones, Jr. bout as well as the Angle vs. Mysterio match, the show was aimed at fans who longed for days gone by.
During the match, Angle and Mysterio both were not immediately hampered by their advancing ages. Despite Mysterio’s chronic knee troubles and Angle’s general body breakdowns, the two went through familiar spots and counter exchanges, albeit at a much slower pace than they would in their primes. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for the match, as it allowed time to breathe instead of devolving into a spot-heavy, quick match with no time between moves that Angle matches often devolved into over the past decade, though it did fall into the familiar trap of Angle matches having multiple finisher kickouts.
As the match wore on, Angle slipped into a heel role by taking shortcuts, which ultimately led to a referee bump, a low blow and a chair brought into the ring. As Angle prepared to hit Mysterio with the chair with the referee down from a prior bump, he was stopped by intermission performer RiFF RAFF, who was able to overpower the professional wrestler, which led directly to Mysterio hitting a 619 and a top rope splash for the win.
It was a low-rent, third-rate rip off of the ending of SummerSlam 2015, where at least the celebrity interference led to the heel winning the match and keeping onto his title. Nobody looked good coming out of the finish. Mysterio looked goofy having to rely on a non-wrestler to win, and no wrestler would ever helped out by being outfoxed by someone who has nothing to do with wrestling. On a card with legitimate MMA, grappling, and boxing fights, professional wrestling once again looked inferior by involving an entertainer in the finish, even though it was the only bout on the show where the small audience in the building was engaged and chanting throughout.
Nostalgia in wrestling can be a powerful emotion. When deployed correctly, it can be as spectacular a moment as any (Shane McMahon’s recent return to RAW). However, it can be overused and a match can feel bloated and it misfires as a result (Triple H vs. Sting). Of course, the desire for a trip to the past also can lead to legendarily poor matches and segments (Los Villanos vs. Psycho Circus). Nostalgia also has the ability to hamstring a promotion and hamper its ability to get past older stars and build newer uppercard wrestlers, as currently seen in several contemporary promotions as well as numerous historic examples.
Ultimately, Kurt Angle and Rey Mysterio put what will likely go down as one last satisfying rodeo between former rivals. Despite certain circumstances surrounding the card and the booking of the match around the finish of a non-wrestler, the pair managed to rise above the initial spectre of nostalgia and riff-raff to put on an interesting match on an otherwise lackluster and baffling card.