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  • Writer's pictureBen Veal

Kurt Angle on Winning Gold, Retirement and The Future

Kurt Angle's path in the world of wrestling has been paved in gold. Unquestionably the most successful amateur wrestler to ever transition into the larger-than-life professional wrestling industry, the 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist accomplished every possible goal across two decades inside the squared circle, retiring in 2019 as a WWE, TNA and Wrestling Observer Hall of Famer.

Five years on from stepping inside a WWE ring for the final time as a competing athlete at WrestleMania XXXV, Kurt Angle joined Wrestling Life Online's Ben Veal on episode 015 of the #WrestlingLifePod to talk retirement, explore the joys of family life, relive some special moments from an extraordinary grappling career, and look towards the future.

In this open and honest conversation, Angle speaks candidly about:

  • Making the decision to walk away from being an in-ring competitor with WWE

  • His respect for John Cena

  • How close he came to ending The Undertaker's WrestleMania streak in 2006

  • Dream matches with Kenny Omega and Bryan Danielson

  • How his daughter saved his life

  • The WrestleMania 21 classic clash with Shawn Michaels

  • His final match ever against Baron Corbin

  • Creating comedy gold with Stone Cold Steve Austin

  • Being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame class of 2017

  • Becoming an unexpected internet meme

  • The single greatest moment of his career.

Wrestling Life with Ben Veal: Spotify | YouTube | Apple Podcasts | Amazon Music  

"WWE had a different plan for me than I did"

Kurt Angle's two runs with World Wrestling Entertainment couldn't have been more different. The first, spanning from 1999 to 2006, saw the former Olympian win over fans globally as a Grand Slam Champion, the 2000 WWF King of the Ring winner and Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Wrestler of the Year in 2003. After a decade spent plying his trade in TNA, which saw fans treated to numerous classic, hard-hitting encounters with the likes of AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Nigel McGuinness, Angle would return to WWE in 2017, but this time, under very different circumstances.

"The problem was, when I came back to the WWE, I'd had a lot of injuries before, when I'd left WWE for TNA [in 2006]," shares Angle. "I had a painkiller issue as well. So when WWE brought me back, after I'd spent eleven years in TNA, they had a different plan for me than I did. They wanted to bring me back slowly and let me get comfortable, and they wanted to induct me into the Hall of Fame first."

For Angle, a performer who had built up a reputation for in-ring excellence, this was not the way that he had envisaged that his big return to the biggest pro wrestling company on the planet would play out.

"I remember, I was like, Vince [McMahon], the Hall of Fame should be last, when I retire. But he said, I want to induct you into the Hall of Fame, get a feel for you, and make sure you're doing okay. I'd imagine it was because he [and the company] wanted to make sure that I didn't get injured too much, that I wasn't going to go back to the painkillers ... I think they were really taking it easy on me."

"But then, they [WWE] said that what we want you to do after the Hall of Fame is to be the General Manager of Raw - and I was like, Vince, I want to wrestle. Unfortunately, he had different plans ... eventually, he got me to wrestle, but it wasn't the way I wanted to go out. When I left TNA, I was still wrestling really good. The year before I returned to WWE, I stayed active: I was doing a lot of independent shows ... so when I went back to WWE, I wanted to wrestle for the World title."

"The problem with first being inducted into the Hall of Fame, then becoming the Raw GM, and then wrestling again, was that I was inactive that whole year. I wasn't in the ring, I wasn't wrestling, I wasn't doing it every single night - and when you get away from it, at the age I was, fifty years old, and you're away from it for 6-12 months, you don't get it back."

"Fans could tell that I was not the same wrestler"

It's clear, in speaking with Angle, that he found his final run with WWE to be a disappointing conclusion to a truly unrivalled career. The combination of age, serious injuries and time away from the ring all added up to no longer being able to perform at the same incredibly high level that the multiple-time WWE Champion had been synonymous with in fondly-remembered clashes with the likes of Brock Lesnar, Eddie Guerrero, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and Shawn Michaels.

"A lot of fans could tell that I was not the same wrestler when I went to WWE the second time," reflects Angle with honesty and humility. "I looked older, I wrestled like I was older, I felt like I was looking like an old man and I didn't like what I saw. So that's when I told Vince: I need to retire at WrestleMania [in New Jersey]. Vince said to me that he had plans for me to wrestle after that, but I couldn't do it. I was too old, too banged up, and I didn't want the fans to remember me [like that], I wanted them to remember me from a long time ago."

"I wanted to retire at WrestleMania and I asked if I could retire with John Cena," shares Angle. A one-on-one clash with the 16-time world champ turned Hollywood star would have been highly fitting for both men and truly worthy of the 'Grandest Stage of Them All', with Angle having given Cena his first public 'rub' inside a WWE ring back in 2002 when the fledgling superstar made his unannounced debut on an episode of Smackdown.

"Vince said no, because you and Baron Corbin are doing a program and you've been doing it for six months. But if you wait until WrestleMania next year, I'll give you John Cena. But I didn't want to wait ... that's why I retired spontaneously, because I didn't like what I saw."

"The Olympic Gold Medal will always be my biggest honour"

Kurt Angle amassed over twenty professional wrestling championships over the course of his career, including thirteen world titles. No competitor in the history of the business has ever risen to the top faster than Angle, who won the WWF's European, Intercontinental and World Heavyweight Champions all within eleven months of making his on-screen debut at 1999's Survivor Series pay-per-view.

The Pittsburgh native is universally respected by his peers - John Cena has called Angle "the most gifted all-around performer we have ever had step into a ring", while Kenny Omega, regarded by many as the best in the world today, regularly studies tape of Angle's classic matches to better his own performance.

There will never be another sports entertainer like Kurt Angle. His seamless ability to interweave intensity, athleticism and psychology inside the squared circle with highly comedic and beloved moments outside of the ring left behind numerous memories that will stand the test of time amongst wrestling fans.

Yet when asked about his greatest accomplishment, almost 30 decades on from standing proudly atop the podium in Atlanta, Georgia, representing his country at the 1996 Olympics, there remains one moment that shines brighter than all.

"The Gold Medal is the biggest attribution I could ever ask for. That is the epitome of being the greatest in the whole entire world. That opened up doors and avenues for me like the WWE and other endorsements that I would've never gotten if I didn't win the Gold Medal. I honestly believe that if I didn't win the Gold Medal, I wouldn't have been in the WWE. I had an incredible career in the WWE, probably just as good as my Olympic career, but the Olympic Gold Medal will always be my biggest honour."



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