By Charlie Snyder // usolympicteam.com // November 7, 2002
When Kurt Angle was 16, his dad died. That day he vowed to become a champion. In 1996, he made that goal a reality by earning an Olympic gold medal wrestling in the 220-pound class. His story is classic. Kurt Angle’s road to Atlanta had a couple of bumps. His coach was murdered at the beginning of the Olympic year. And Angle broke his neck in a match prior to Olympic Trials (a match that he went on to win). Today, Angle is a superstar of professional wrestling for the WWE. In 2000, he won coveted WWE world title over The Rock in less than one year of joining the company. Since then, he lost the title, won the title, lost the title, had a cage match, a match with a woman, and lost a loser-gets-his-head-shaved-bald match. On Nov. 8-9, Angle is helping pave The Road to Athens for America’s top wrestlers, giving back to the sport of wrestling with a tournament named in his honor, the Kurt Angle Classic.
Q1: What’s the Kurt Angle Classic all about?
KURT ANGLE: This is probably, besides winning the Olympic gold medal in amateur wrestling and actually being inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, this is right up there with them because for the first time ever an American wrestler will have a tournament named after them. I remember when they use to have the Grand Championships of Wrestling in Pittsburgh, Pa., in the late ’80s. We would go down and watch this and this place would be completely packed at the downtown civil arena. It would be the USA’s Olympic team against World’s All-Star Olympic team and I thought, ‘Wow, this is like the best of the best in the whole world.’ I use to get so excited as a teenager and I actually get to name this after me. The same exact thing. Unfortunately, we’re not going to be able to have it in Pittsburgh or Iowa, where you want to have all of your wrestling events. We decided to have it in a place where wrestling isn’t quite as popular to promote wrestling. You know you’re going to get your wrestling fans from all over the country coming there in an area where maybe we can bring a spark to amateur wrestling in Louisiana and make people as excited about wrestling as we are.
We’re real excited. A lot of big names are coming. The one I’m most excited about is Rulon Gardner making his big return. I’ve been friends with Rulon for a long, long time. I use to compete against him. To be able to see him come back and hopefully make a big impact here at the Kurt Angle Classic makes me feel really good. Not that I’m any part of his success, but to be able to see him wrestle in my tournament, that’s a big honor for me.
Q2: You had a chance to visit the Training Center a few weeks. What was that like for you? What memories did it bring back?
KURT ANGLE: It brought back numerous memories. I trained there quite often for seven years. I do have to say that things changed dramatically since I was there. It’s amazing how quickly the Olympic Committee and all of their sponsors have been to upgrade the Olympic Training Center. When I first started all that was there was basically one training building; the cafeteria was very small and it only served a couple of items. The dorms were way in the back behind the track – there used to be a track there. Then as I slowly progressed up through the ranks by 1996 it was very impressive. They had a great cafeteria and they started building a couple more buildings. It’s been six years. Now it’s unbelievable. I can’t believe the new dorms that they have with the cafeteria right there. We use to have to walk at least a half-mile to get to the cafeteria. In the middle of the day, when you are tired from training, sometimes some of the guys would be too tired to actually walk down and go, so they’d skip their meals. It’s amazing how quickly the Training Center has progressed and turned into basically a training dynamo. There were a lot of things that stayed the same and a lot of things that changed and for the better.
Everybody there remembered me. (The people in the cafeteria) remembered what I use to order … when I ate food, where I use to go … so it was great … and I remembered all of their faces too. It was kind of neat to see that, I’m glad that they’re all still there.
Q3: What was your workout like with the wrestlers?
KURT ANGLE: It was good. You know I’m in no shape to be out there competing against these high-caliber Olympians. It was fun to go out there after six years of being laid off, not wrestling at all, it was fun just to get in there and roll around with the Olympic athletes. It’s amazing how much further they’ve progressed with their technique. It’s completely changed since I was there. It continuously evolves. I can remember when I first started in freestyle in 1988 to eight years later in 1996, the whole technique evolved and changed. It’s changed even more now. You feel like almost like a fossil … a dinosaur … you go in there, you’re doing these old techniques and they’re like, “What the hell are you doing?” When you are away from it for a long time and these other athletes are changing with the times, if you bring these old techniques in sometimes it becomes highly impactful because their not use to defending a technique like that, because they’ve never seen it. So I was able to get my little share of offensive moves in because of that, so it was fun and it was also fun to learn new techniques.
Q4: How close are you to deciding on a comeback for 2004? KURT ANGLE: I’m going to decide in January. Right now, if I were to say, yes or no, I’d say no because I’m so banged up from what I’ve been doing. But they’re giving me some time off here; the WWE is actually encouraging me to go on and train for the Olympics. I’ll have to see. Right now, I banged my knee up pretty badly and I have a back problem. In the next couple of months, if everything heals up, I’m going to go for it. Like I said, right now I’m not healthy enough to, so if I feel this way in January, I know I’m not going to be able to train the right way, so I probably won’t do it. A lot of people think it’s going to be impossible. A lot of athletes have been able to come out of retirement and make an impactful return, but wrestling is a little bit different. Wrestling is a very physical, brutal sport. To be older and to be out of it for a long time, it does make it a lot harder to comeback. You’re competing against another wrestler that’s younger, stronger, using new techniques that you’ve never seen before … the chance for injury becomes highly possible, especially during your training.
My goal is to come back in January, hopefully I’ll be healthy, and enter my first tournament by May. My goal is just to place in that tournament. A lot of people think I want to come back and win every tournament that I enter; that’s not going to happen. I just have to be very realistic about my goals. If I place in my first tournament and then I can place in the top three in the second one and then I can actually go for a shot at winning my third tournament. Then, as I progress along, I’ll know where I am. I’m not expecting to come in and dominate; not against these guys, these guys are incredible. We’ll see what happens, hopefully by the Olympic Trials next year, I’ll be at the top of my game and I’ll have a shot. And you know what if it doesn’t work and I end up placing sixth or seventh in the Nationals in the Olympic Trials’ year, then I’ll be happy with that as long as I continue to progress because I don’t know where I stand right now.
Q5: What’s a typical month like for you?
KURT ANGLE: This year has probably been my busiest year for me. I’ve been averaging five to six days a week on the road. We have four shows a week usually, sometimes five. There’s three house shows, sometimes four, and then we have our televised program. Usually I have an appearance one day a week on one of my off-days where I travel to a city and promote the company or a product. I’m averaging about five days a week on the road and I’m home for two days a week. I don’t have any time off. I don’t get any days off. I continuously do this every single week every year. There’s no off-season.
Q6: How is your wife doing? I understand you are about ready to have a baby?
KURT ANGLE: We’re excited. It was a big step for us. She’s due in five weeks. I’ve talked with the WWE — and this was a very difficult thing to do – I had to let them know that I can only do … I’ll do whatever they want me to do for the company on the days I’m working on the four days of the shows; they can keep me as busy as they want, but those three days off, I will be at home with my wife and child. They’ve agreed to that, unless there is some exception. For instance, I do a campaign for “Get Tough on Angina”; it’s a heart condition. If I need to do a special appearance for them, I will. Or Make-A-Wish or the Smackdown your Vote campaign, which encourages young people to register to vote … those kinds of things, but it has to be an exception.
Q7: What’s the most memorable thing you’ve done in the WWE?
KURT ANGLE: This is kind of an oxymoron. The most memorable thing that I ever had was a Triple Threat match with The Rock and Triple H, which was two years ago at SummerSlam. It was the main event. Within the first two minutes, I suffered a concussion and I don’t remember anything after that until I woke up and I was being wheeled off to an ambulance with an oxygen mask on my face. The funny thing is I suffered a concussion … probably don’t remember 40 minutes … I kind of lost time there. Those 40 minutes could be perhaps one of the best matches that I ever had. That match escalated my superstardom in the WWE because it told the boys, especially Mr. McMahon that, not only am I a guy you can count on when I actually know what I’m doing, you can count on me when I absolutely know nothing about what I’m doing. It gave Vince a lot of confidence in me. Although I don’t remember it, it was my most memorable experience in the WWE.
Q8: How does it work in the WWE? I remember one match where you jumped off the top of a cage. Do they come to you with that kind of idea or is that something you suggest?
KURT ANGLE: That was one of my idiotic, stupid ideas.
It was painful. I actually hurt my knee that night doing that. I could have broke my arm, my ribs … I could have broke my neck. That was, without a doubt, one of the top two or three most dangerous stunts that the WWE has ever done and nobody knew I was doing it except for Chris Benoit and myself. So Mr. McMahon was really mad at me because he doesn’t like me leaving my feet, period. It’s not my style. I’m a feet-on-the-ground, technician amateur wrestler. I’m not a high-flyer, so Vince was very upset with me. But he also told me that they wanted something special that night. It was the main event and he wanted to give the crowd something special, so we had a cage match. The cage is like 12-feet high, so when I climbed up there to give Chris Benoit a moonsault, I didn’t even think about it. I climbed up; I didn’t even pause … not realizing what I was actually doing. When I landed on my stomach … ah man … I knocked the wind out of myself. I tore a cartilage in my knee. When I was lying there I thought I could have actually killed myself. I’ll never do anything like that again. That was early on in my career and I realized now the important part of this is not what you do, but how long you can be in it and having longevity and consistency, so you can be a top superstar. You can’t be a superstar if you’re sitting out all the time. That’s what I need to do, keep myself healthy.
Q9: I know you have four older brothers. Did you ever pin any of them?
KURT ANGLE: The one thing I’ve been never able to do in my career was pin my older brother. The one thing I was able to do – and I couldn’t for a long, long time – was beat all of them. After years and years of training, by the time I got into college I was able to beat all of them. And by the time I got out of college, none of them wanted to wrestle me anymore. So I never got that chance to at pinning my older brother, but I’d like to have a crack at it now … especially with the oldest one who use to beat me up all the time.
Q10: The current WWE champion is Brock Lesner. He was an amateur wrestler, but I don’t think he ever went to the Olympics. What do you think is going to happen when you face Brock Lesner?
KURT ANGLE: The people, who’ve been watching the show, the one thing that they take notice to is, why haven’t Kurt Angle and Brock Lesner touched. That’s because that will be probably … in my mind and in many other people’s minds … the biggest match-up ever. When you talk about a Rock-Stone Cold showdown, when you talk about a Hulk Hogan-Andre the Giant showdown … a Kurt Angle-Brock Lesner showdown is of that caliber except you’re going to see a much better match then the other ones … and I’m not taking away anything from Rock and Stone Cold or Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan, but you’re not only going to see a professional wrestling match, you’re going to see a wrestling match that consists of amateur wrestling, pro wrestling. You’re going to see the brutality. You’re going to see two of the world’s best athletes go at it – true, best athletes – so they’re holding off on that. You’re probably going to see something like that at something like, WrestleMania. There’s a lot of curiosity from a lot of fans. And I’m more excited about that match than I am about guys like Chris Benoit and Edge and wrestling Rock and Stone Cold and Triple H and Undertaker … I’ve enjoyed wrestling all of those guys. But this one is going to be extra special because him and I come from the same roots. We were trained the same. We have the same beliefs. We have the same background, so this is going to be not just explosive, but very competitive. And I can’t wait for that to happen, but then again I’m very patient because I know this is probably one of the biggest – if not the biggest – showdowns ever. We’re going to have to hold this off for as long as we can.”
This interview originally appeared on usolympicteam.com.
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