Kurt Angle is one of the greatest wrestlers to ever step foot inside the squared circle. He is a 12-time World Champion and has held 20 titles during his career in WWE, TNA and NJPW. Not only that, in WWE Angle was a Grand Slam Champion and is a Triple Crown Champion in both WWE and TNA.
The 45-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is also the only Olympic gold medallist in professional wrestling. Angle won the gold medal with a broken neck, beating Iranian Abbas Jadidi in the final of the 100kg freestyle at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Angle will finally be inducted into the TNA Hall of Fame during the upcoming TNA UK Tour after declining the offer during the Bound For Glory weekend.
We caught up with Angle to talk about his favourite matches and opponents, which wrestlers he enjoys watching, whether he will go back to WWE or fight in UFC plus much more.
Congratulations on being inducted into the Hall of Fame at London’s Wembley Arena, why London?
Yeah, we thought the best place for me to be inducted into the Hall of Fame would be where we have our biggest and best crowd, London, England. I was originally going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame during our biggest PPV of the year Bound For Glory last October.
Sometimes we dabble from real life into storyline and that’s what we did with the Hall of Fame. They wanted the induction to be here in England so we’ve kept it hanging, when I heard the plan early on I was kind of sceptical, it is a real honour, it is a real award, I wasn’t too sure of using it as part of a storyline.
They explained to me why and what they wanted to do with Bobby Roode and I, that they would have the big ceremony here in London which I thought was a great idea.
What have you made of TNA’s progression over the past few years to doing a Live episode of Impact in the UK and filming a PPV?
I would say there have been some growing pains, you obviously read the news and we’ve had to downsize our on the road travelling and TV’s, where we were going to go and what we were going to do. You have to have those growing pains if you want to grow as a company, you have to make mistakes, Vince McMahon will be the first one to admit that.
Vince McMahon is a genius with what he has been able to do with the WWE but I believe he also went bankrupt on four different occasions. It just shows the tenacity he had and I feel TNA needs to take those same chances or there is no way they are going to break out. They can remain a small company forever but who wants to remain a small company, nobody.
What has it been like from being on the road to being back in Orlando as a permanent base?
It is tough, our attendances weren’t great on the road. I know it cost the company a lot of money but we didn’t have terrible crowd numbers, it was pretty good, it just wasn’t good enough to cover the costs. When that happens you can only go in debt so much before you have to say, ok we need to regroup.
What we have decided to do is have some shows in Orlando and some on the road so we are going to bounce back and forth and get a feel. Before we just went full steam ahead and did all the shows on the road but that kind of backfired. We are at the regrouping process and we are being very smart about where we do shows.
What are your thoughts on some of the recent departures from TNA, Jeff Jarrett, AJ Styles and Sting?
It’s tough, even Hulk Hogan was a tough loss to accept. Sting has been the cornerstone of the company, Jarrett founded the company and I think he might be the best heel in the business, and AJ is just the best athlete I’ve ever been in the ring with.
From three different perspectives it is a tough pill to swallow because they are three of the best. When you don’t have them in the company you hope to god that the young talent steps up, guys like Bobby Roode, Austin Aries, and James Storm seem to be stepping up.
Will they replace Sting? You can’t replace Sting, will they replace AJ? Probably not, AJ is irreplaceable, but will they become their own characters and do really well, yes they will do phenomenally well and it’s not about replacing anymore, it’s about making new stars.
What do you make of the TNA’s most recent signings, Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards, have you seen much of them?
I think they’re an amazing tag team, the one thing that we’ve been lacking this past year is the tag team division, it has been horrendous. When you look at Kazarian and Christopher Daniels and how much potential they bring and then the BroMans are coming through, we had Chavo Guerrero and Hernandaz but obviously that’s not going to happen anymore.
We needed a good shot in the arm with a good tag team coming in and these guys, they’re about as good as it gets.
What have you made of the Brits in TNA, Magnus becoming World Champion and Rockstar Spud?
I think the timing has been perfect, Magnus we’ve had him for years and really didn’t give him that opportunity until recently and he has embraced it. From his promos to his wrestling ability, I can’t speak highly enough about what Magnus has done.
Spud I always knew he had it, I just knew we had to put him in the right place at the right time and this is it. I’ve already told people Spud isn’t going to be an X-Division wrestler, he is a heat seeker, and he is going to work very well in the heavyweight division.
When you have a guy that little who can work the way he does and can draw negative energy from the crowd you don’t put him in the X-Division you put him in that heavyweight division. You have him cheat wins and sneak wins over the guys, you’re going to see how big of a star Spud can be, I believe in him, I think he’s going to have that ability.
What can we expect from Kurt Angle and TNA in 2014?
It’s is a new era, you’re going to see new stars, My job at this point of my career is not just to make myself look better but to create new stars.
I’ve taken a two year hiatus where I wasn’t used very properly and I didn’t really speak up and let everyone know how I felt. Yeah I was making a great pay cheque but what was I really contributing, what was I doing to help the company?
Not that it was my fault but there is a time where you have to speak up and say, hey I can help. I’ve been able to do that this past four months with Bobby Roode and you look at the matches we’ve had, Bobby Roode is now set in stone as a main eventer in the company and he deserves it, I think he is one of the top three best wrestlers in the world right now.
You have broken your neck on numerous occasions, what goes through your mind when you do the moonsaults off the top of the steel cage?
When you are climbing the cage you are praying and when you get to the top you don’t think you just go, you are praying on the way down you don’t get hurt, you land and you feel like you have everything intact, you are like thank you lord, time to move on.
A lot of people ask me what do I think when I get up there, when you think that is when you get hurt, you can’t think you just have to go, that is why I don’t stay up there very long. I saw Jeff Hardy get up there once, stood, looked over at Dixie Carter did some hand gesture and I was thinking he was going to get hurt, he is stood up there and he is thinking now. I can’t do that, I don’t even look at the fans, Jeff might be braver than I am.
We land on ply wood and everybody thinks it’s a soft surface, there is nothing soft about it, you can hear it when we land, it’s a hard bump to take. I don’t plan on ever doing it again, of course I said that before so I can’t promise you anything.
How would you describe your two bosses Vince McMahon and Dixie Carter?
You can’t compare Vince to anybody, if it wasn’t for Vince McMahon I wouldn’t be here talking to you. He knows how to make money and make stars, I wouldn’t be working for Dixie Carter right now if it wasn’t for Vince McMahon doing what he did for me.
Dixie is a woman and she has that caring aspect about her, sometimes she lets personal [issues] get involved with business because she can’t help it. She cares about the wrestlers and their wellbeing and their welfare. Other than that I think Dixie has done a great job, we are talking about a woman that has been involved in the entertainment business but not the wrestling business.
It is different when you are involved in music and go over to wrestling, there is so much difference, I think the last 12 years she has had to learn on the job and I think she has done a good job. I can’t say anything bad about her, one thing I’ll say is that I’m not sure she would have made it without the help of Jarrett because she did need someone to help transition here and there and Jeff has a great mind for the business.
She has learnt a lot during her time at TNA but at the same time she has to make business decisions that she doesn’t necessarily like. Lately she has made some very rash business decisions when you are talking about Hogan and AJ but she has to do what is best for the company, if she thinks that is what is best for the company she has to do it. Would other people agree, no, but she is doing what is best for her company and you can’t blame her for that.
As one of the more senior guys in the TNA locker-room do you ever give Dixie advice or does she come to you for advice?
Up to two years ago I was very vocal but for the past two years I have taken a backseat and let things transpire, there is a reason for that. Did it help my career, no but it was time for me to kind of back out and let others speak their minds, people that needed to be closer to Dixie for whatever reason. I just felt it was time to hand the ball off and take my career for what it’s worth, am I done, no, not by any means but there is a time to hand the ball off and not carry the whole company on your own.
I’m not saying I carried the whole company but up until two years ago I was probably on six out of ten segments a show and the Main Event Mafia before that. I would have four pre tapes, a promo, and a match, I was very busy. Now I might have a match and a pre-tape or a promo and a pre-tape, I’m playing lesser of a part in the show, is that okay, yeah, because we have a lot of talent.
I’m not nearly as vocal and nor should I be, I’m at the point in my career where I feel comfortable as long as I’m used wisely I’m cool with it. I’m kind of in the same spot Undertaker was a couple of years ago when he started doing just strictly building up to WrestleMania and WrestleMania. I don’t need to do a lot, just protect me and do the right thing with me.
You of course won an Olympic gold medal in 1996, what was it like making the transition from amateur wrestling into professional wrestling?
It was hard, I didn’t realise how difficult it would be. You are taught your whole life to kill and now you’re told to put yourself in other people’s hands and let them slam you around. I had to turn off all my instincts and learn from scratch, what I had to learn was not to lead but to follow, let guys do what they wanted with me, listen to them and let them kind of carry me through the match.
As I did that I started learning, I was learning more in ring physiology, I adapted, thank god I adapted very quickly, I think I won the title within 10 months of when I started, against The Rock. All of a sudden I’m structuring my own matches, I’m leading the matches and it just came to me, it came to me very quickly, I was very blessed.
I had good teachers, I had Triple H who is one of the best ever, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Rock, Undertaker, Big Show, all of these guys were teaching me as I was going up. After I won the title then I had the likes of Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, John Cena and Edge, I had another round of five star work wrestlers in my second and third year, by then I was a seasoned wrestler.
When growing up were you a fan of professional wrestling?
I never watched it, I knew who Hulk Hogan was, I had heard of Bret Hart, Ric Flair and Andre ‘The Giant’ but that was about it. But when I started professional wrestling I became obsessed and started watching old clips of Harley Race, Ric Flair, Ted DiBiase, Dick Murdoch, the list goes on but gosh these guys were so much fun to watch. I wish I would’ve watched when I was little but I didn’t.
You’ve had so many great matches and won so many titles, what are some of your personal highlights during your career?
I’ve been very blessed to have some of the best matches, Chris Benoit at the 2003 Royal Rumble, Undertaker at 2006’s No Way Out, Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 21, oh man, it is hard to top that match. I’ve had amazing matches with just about everybody, Austin and Rock.
The one that I wanted and still want is Triple H because when I was wrestling him I wasn’t very good and I know he had to do a lot of carrying me around when I first started. I would love to do a programme with Triple H someday because he is that good, to be where I’m right now and where he is right now I can’t imagine what the match would be like but maybe that is something that can happen down the road.
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Do you think we can see you back in a WWE ring again and in the WWE Hall of Fame?
Yeah, I never say no, I love TNA, I love Dixie Carter, I’ve had a lot of fun here but I never countout going back to WWE. It is always there, the opportunity is there, a lot of people don’t want to retire unless they go out at WrestleMania, it is tough when you have the ability to do that it is hard to just walk away. I’m not saying it is going to happen soon but there is going to come a time where I will have to make a decision and I have to do what is best for Kurt Angle, as much as I love TNA I have to do what’s best for me and that’s what I’m going to do.
Who are some of the wrestlers that you enjoy watching at the moment?
Right now in TNA I love Austin Aries, James Storm who I haven’t really been able to mix it up with yet, Magnus, that is a five star match in the making. There are some great athletes right now, I’ve just about wrestled everybody else. My dream matches were Samoa Joe and AJ and we’ve had many with both.
In WWE I’ve not wrestled Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Jack Swagger is an obvious match do to, I watch Dolph Ziggler, he is freaking amazing. Seeing this young talent in both TNA and WWE gets my palm sweaty because I would love to mix it up with them.
Another kid that neither company has signed, I had one match with him and I’m not sure why nobody has signed him is Amazing Red. Man that kid can go, he is the next Rey Mysterio but for some reason no one has picked him up.
What have you made of Brock Lesnar and Batista’s ventures into MMA and back into wrestling?
They are both doing what is best for them, I respect both of them. Batista, he was an awesome pro wrestler, he jumped in MMA and did pretty well, you can’t say he didn’t. Brock he’s just a freak, he can do anything, it doesn’t matter if it’s wrestling, MMA, football, baseball, hockey, whatever he does he is going to be the best. He was the last cut of the Minnesota Vikings, if he just went to Europe for one season he would be in the NFL right now.
Brock was never going to be an Olympian in amateur wrestling nor did he want to be, did he have the ability to be, yes, but he knew he wasn’t, it was a good transition for him into pro wrestling and he’s good at it, he is very good at it. I didn’t know he was going to become UFC champion but it didn’t surprise me.
Brock doesn’t surprise me at all, there is nobody that can compare to Brock, he is a freak of nature as an athlete, at 300lbs nobody is supposed to move that fast. Batista is another great athlete, they both had a lot of success in MMA but they both came back to their true love, their true love is professional wrestling, both of them.
Do you still harbour hope of competing in the UFC?
No, I found out at 43-year-old when I was training for the London Olympics and kept on getting injured, if I can’t train the way I want to train because my body keeps breaking down I’m not going to get in the Octagon, there is no reason for it. I had an opportunity twice to sign with the UFC but I declined both times due to personal issues, starting dates, since I didn’t sign either time I had my opportunity and let it slip away, do I regret it, sometimes yeah. I make a lot of money in pro wrestling but I probably would’ve made a lot more in the UFC, but it isn’t always about money, I love pro wrestling, I have a passion for it, I’m not sure I would have had that same passion for MMA. I would have been good at it but would I love it the way I love pro wrestling, probably not.
If UFC was as big as it now when you first came into wrestling which route would you have gone down?
I would not have done pro wrestling, I would have gone straight into MMA, UFC, I know that for sure. Would it have been the right move, I don’t know but that is the route I would have taken.
For more information on Kurt you can follow him on Twitter @RealKurtAngle